formerly Diane's Addled Ramblings... the ramblings are still addled, just like before, and the URL is still the same...
it's just the title at the top of the page that's new

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Let It Be

During the move, Ryan and I realized just how many books we have. A lot. A ridiculous lot. Probably too many (is that even possible? Well, if it is, we do). But we unpacked them all, donated a few, and shelved the rest. I saved a couple to put out on the coffee table in the living room; one is a slender volume, titled, simply, Be.

It was given to me by my cousin, Alyce -- a remarkable young woman, half my age. Alyce lives in Australia and I have never met her in person, but I adore her. We began corresponding years ago, when she was about 15 or 16 and though we don't keep in touch regularly anymore, seeing her name in my email in-box makes me very, very happy. 

Anyway, this little book, compiled by Kobi Yamada, is lovely. Each 2-page spread consists of, on the left side, a 'be statement' (like, be present, be excited, or be amazing) and, on the right side, a quote that describes the statement. I read it often. Sometimes I forget (or find it impossible) to be any of the things in the book. Sometimes I try to hard to be all of them all at once. 


Lately, I'm trying to just be me... to just be... and to just let it be and see what I become

This afternoon, I saw the movie, Wild, based on the book by the same name, by Cheryl Strayed. I haven't read the book yet, but it's on my list (and after the movie, it jumped a few spots to the top). It's the story of a woman who, after the death of her beloved mother, hits rock bottom. Unable to forgive herself her failings, she attempts redemption by walking 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada. The decision to do the hike, made in one of her darkest moments, was intended to do, and to honor, something her mother did her whole life. She described it as such,

"I'm going to put myself in the way of beauty." 

When she uttered that line, my heart caught in my throat and the tears came. My story is not the same as Chery Strayed's. My failings are not the same as hers. But I understand the darkness. I understand debilitating sadness. I understand feeling beyond redemption. And I understand the need to put oneself in the way of beauty.

This journey of 1,000 miles allowed her to be... to be in her head... to be in the moment... to be in physical pain that allowed her to see her way out of emotional pain... and to be in the way of beauty. It was a story about fear... and facing fear. It was about wanting to quit but persevering... seeing something really important through. It was about a woman owning her mistakes, her story, her life, and looking inward for redemption. 

The last few lines of dialog in the movie found me hurriedly scribbling them down so as not to forget them:

What if I forgave myself? What if I forgave myself, even though I'd done something I shouldn't have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I'd done, other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn't do anything differently than I'd done? What if what made me do all those things was also what got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was? How wild it was, to let it be.

How wild it was to let it be.

I'm not going to walk the Pacific Crest Trail... not this year, anyway :). But while watching the movie, I realized that I've been working hard to put myself in the way of beauty... I realized that I've been taking steps to face my fears, and to own my mistakes, my story, and my life... I realized that I'm getting closer to the redemption I've been seeking within myself... and I realized that just letting it be is getting easier.

How wild it is. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015


As a mother, I delight in my child's accomplishments. I really and truly do. I mean, I'm supposed to. right? It's what we do. We teach them, guide them, nudge them, etc, etc, and when they achieve, we cheer and beam and bask and maybe even cry a little. 

Right? Right. 

And if our children are healthy and smart, we expect accomplishments. Right? We do. We know that if we provide what they need to grow and thrive, they will do just that -- grow and thrive. 

I've always counted myself so very lucky that my child is healthy and smart and she has done nothing but grow, thrive, and accomplish things her whole life. Even when she has struggled, I never doubted that she would succeed with effort. She met all the 'normal' milestones, often early; she is exceptional at many things; she will go on, I believe, to do great life's work. 

I am, and have always been, grateful. 

I have also wondered how I would have raised her had she not been healthy. I've wondered how I would have parented her had she been born with, or acquired, a disability. I was raised with a brother who is deaf; I've seen members of family parent a child who will never walk or talk or do any of the the things most kids do. So I've wondered what it would be like to watch my daughter struggle, not knowing whether or not she would succeed. 

I am ridiculously fortunate that my job allows me to work with people with disabilities. On Mondays, I get to teach a class for four adults who, in their hearts and minds, are children. It is the very best part of my week. We focus on reading and math but, because they are all at different levels, coming up with lessons that will engage all four is a challenge. It's one I love and in working to meet the challenge, I'm learning as much as I'm teaching. 

Because of their disabilities, all of which are intellectual and all of which are significant, my expectations about what they can actually accomplish are low. Now, I don't mean that I don't think they are capable of learning or making improvements. They are. I know they are. And I strive to help them do so. But unlike with my daughter, I don't expect successes. I hope for them. But I don't expect them. I have adjusted my expectations so that I don't push my students to the point of frustration; so that patience (not usually a word I use in reference to myself) is the quality I try hard to keep at the front of my mind and in my actions. Always. Everything is a struggle for them and they do not always succeed. Or when they do, their successes are, by 'normal' standards, small. And that's OK. As long as they are engaged and enjoying our time together, I consider the class is a success. 

This past Monday, the struggle was evident... and the success was sweet.

One of my students is a wonderful man-boy who is always cheerful and talking (even though much of what he says is simply repeating things over and over). He can read but doesn't comprehend much. He also doesn't really have the ability to think in the abstract. For example, in class on Monday, the assignment was to find pictures (in magazines) of words I'd written on flashcards (each student had 9 words, 3 beginning with one letter, 3 with another, and 3 with a third). I suggested that they look for several pictures at once, but this proved difficult for everyone, especially my non-abstract-thinker. I also suggested that if they couldn't find a picture for a word I'd written, they could find another beginning with the same letter (i.e. if someone couldn't find a picture a picture of a truck, a picture of a table would do). My abstract thinker really struggled with this. He would look for a picture of the truck for days, but to switch to the table? Impossible. 

Or so I thought.

One of the pictures he was supposed to find was a monkey. When he couldn't, I gave him a picture of M&Ms, since they start with M. He pasted it to his paper as I'd instructed, but when he referred back to it, he kept calling the M&Ms 'monkeys.' His brain couldn't make the switch from what he was supposed to find to what he did find.

And it was fine. 

I corrected him each time, explaining that the picture was of another M word. Then he started to look for a picture of a barn, but was unable to find one. After about 5 minutes of me making suggestions, like baby, ball, boy, bathtub, etc, he was still stuck on the barn. Again, his brain simply couldn't make the switch. 

And it was fine. 

Someone else needed my help, so I left him to search for the barn. Then, a few minutes later... 

"Diane! Look! Bottle! It's a B-word!"

Indeed, he was holding up a picture of a bottle. A B-word. Another B-word. Not a barn. His brain made the switch. And he was so, so proud.

And it was so much more than fine.

I was so incredibly proud of him and told him so. I cheered. He beamed. He basked. 

And I might have cried. 

Just a little. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

This Is What I'm Talking 'Bout...

The other day, I did a post about giving. You can read it right here, if you'd like. In it, I talked about a lesson I learned (one I thought I knew) about how, when I give a gift (any sort of gift), I have to do it without expectation of any sort of reward. The gift should be -- no, the gift is -- in the giving.

Today, I had lunch with my friend, Loren. Loren is pretty much the best person I know. He rescues animals and people, usually at some ridiculous cost to himself (in money, time, energy, possibility of jail-time, etc). And when you tell him what a nice guy you think he is, he just shrugs it off, head hanging in embarrassment, all aw shucks-like. I love that about him.

I love him.

He has given me more gifts than I can count -- some of the best I've ever received -- and more than I can ever repay. But he doesn't keep score. He can't, otherwise, he'd have stopped giving a long time ago (because he won, that's why). That, or he's expecting a whopper for his next birthday!

Uh oh.

Anyway, at lunch, he told me a story that I had to relay. He won't tell it himself because he doesn't want it to appear as thought he's looking for the 'attaboy' pat on the back. He never is. I told him that I wrestle with that, too, but here is what I know for sure: When I read or hear about someone doing something nice for someone, it makes me want to do something nice, too. So I figure that when I tell about something nice I've done, it might make another person want to do something nice for someone else. We're all connected like that.

Back to the story...

First, you should know that Loren's lunch stories often extend into dinner... and the weekend. He's... wordy. (And the fact that I interrupt with snarky comments every other word doesn't help). But he got it out today before our enchiladas were even finished (it was a Christmas miracle!).

Anyhoo... just before Christmas, he was in that big store I won't go to, picking up some last minute things. The lines at the registers were long and he was tired and cranky, ready to just be done. Then he saw a tiny old lady in a tiny old wheelchair, eyeing the candy in the impulse section (also known as the 'Here comes Diane, we'll get her now' section). Because he's helpful and because he's never met a stranger, he asked if he could reach something for her. She lamented that she couldn't find the Mounds candy bar she was looking for. Indeed there were no Mounds in the display, not even next to the Almond Joys (at this point in the story, I broke into the 'Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't' refrain... I told you, I'm obnoxious. I don't know why we're still friends). Loren looked in the display in another aisle for her, but still no Mounds. She explained to him that every Christmas, she gets herself one... because for 50 years, her husband always put one in her stocking.

For 50 years, her husband always put one in her stocking.

Well, that did it.

Loren said his good-byes, left her to check out, and sprinted (as fast as a short man laden with gifts can sprint) to the back of the store and the big candy aisle. He located the Mounds bars, packaged in sleeves, and picked up about $10 worth -- enough Mounds bars to see that sweet old lady to the end of days. Then he sprinted back to the front of the store, plowing a blonde lady down in the process, and got back in line. A long line. A long, slow line. But, as luck would have it, the heroine of our story was sat at the front of the store, waiting for a ride. Finally through the line, Loren made it to her and said,

"A fat man in a red suit said I should give these to you," and handed over the Mounds bars.

I don't know for sure how that little old lady felt, but I can imagine. I'm sure you can, too.

And Loren? He got all choked up when he told me it was the very best part of his holiday. The very best part.


The gift...

It's in the giving.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Good Stuff

The other day, a friend posted a photo of a 'gratitude jar' on Facebook... she said she was going to make keeping the jar a practice in her life for 2015. The idea is to write down something you're grateful for or something good that happened, each day, and drop it in the jar. And at the end of the year, you'll have 365 good things to reflect upon.

I like it!

I have, for years, kept gratitude journals. I'm not always good with keeping up with them but when I do, I find myself happier and able to maintain a more positive mindset than when I don't. It makes sense, of course. It has been my experience that when I focus on what I have, what I love, and what I'm grateful for, I'm not as inclined to be miserable about what I don't have.

I like this whole jar idea because it can be for Ryan and me (and what teenager do you know who wouldn't benefit from taking time every day to think about what she's thankful for?)... it'll be out in the open and not a journal tucked away on a shelf, easily forgotten... and it'll give me something to do with this enormous glass cylinder vase I unearthed during the move (heaven only knows what I bought it for in the first place).

I'm going to call it 'The Good Stuff Jar' (because that sounds better than 'The Good Stuff Glass Cylinder-I-Probably-Bought-On-Sale-With-Some-Project-In-Mind-But-Never-Followed-Through-With') and I'm going to put it in the dining room, I think, as that's the one room we have to pass through to get to almost every other room in the house. I might even use some chalkboard paint to gussy it up and label it. I might not, as it involves paint and a brush and I've had enough of that, thank you very much. We'll see.

So, what would you write down for your 'Good Stuff Jar' for January 1, 2015? Hmmmm?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What a Difference a Year Can Make...

I just re-read last year's New Year's Eve post. Though it ended somewhat optimistically, it wasn't a happy one. The post, I mean. Or the year, really. But I rang in 2014 determined (if a little doubtful) that it would be better than 2013.

Tonight, as 2014 departs and 2015 begins, I'm sitting on my comfy sofa, in my new living room, in front of a warm fire, a glass of wine on the table, a sweet kitten asleep at my hip, and my wonderful doggy snoring at my feet. My girl is out with friends (friends I adore), enjoying 'First Night' festivities downtown. I left work this afternoon, for four days off, excited at the prospect of returning to new projects next week.

All is right with the world.

Well, OK, a lot is right with the world. With my world. Some of it's still craptastic, it's true, but there's a lot more right than there was last year!

What a difference a year can make!

This year coming -- 2015 -- is the year I turn 50. Fifty. Five - OhMyGodHowDidThatHappen?! I haven't worked out exactly how I feel about it, to be honest. I've been saying, "I'm nearly 50" for most of the past year, so sometimes I forget that I'm actually still 49. But I am. I'm still in my 40's. For six more weeks.

Six more weeks.


The last decade has been hard, yo. I learned a lot. I fell flat on my face more times than I can count... but I got up. Every time.

And still I rise.

Although I don't know what the next decade -- or the next year, for that matter (or, hell, tomorrow!)-- will bring, my plan is to jump into it with both feet. This is the decade I plan to be -- the decade I will be -- unapologetically Diane. Unapologetically Me.

(I should note here that the apologizing I feel the need to do is not to other people... very few people have ever asked or expected [or maybe just plain wanted] me to apologize for who I am. And I didn't/haven't done it [and won't] for those few, anyway. No, the apologizing I do is to myself... for my failures, my shortcomings, my inadequacies, my weight, my procrastinating nature... for every single way I don't measure up in the ways I think I should.)

I made a decision yesterday... I decided to stop coloring my hair. This might seem like a little thing to lots of people but it's not to me. I decided to go blonde after my divorce... it was a declaration of sorts... a way to say, "I'm not the same person I was!" And I got attached to the blonde. Really attached. But it doesn't feel so much like Me anymore. However, I'm reasonably certain my hair is mostly grey now. And grey hair makes me think... you know... old. And I don't want to look... old. And I don't want to feel... old.

But you know what? I asked my friends, by way of Facebook, what they thought about just going grey. Though there were a few who said they were going to continue to battle Mother Nature on this front (which I totally, completely, 100% get!), more of them said they had done it (or are in the process of doing it) and they've never been happier! Turns out, it's kind of freeing! Who knew?

So it's the first step I'm taking toward being unapologetically me. Toward being authentically me. To being a freer me.

(And if I hate it, there's always L'OrĂ©al, right? Right.)

Anyway, I've got some plans for 2015. I've got some goals. I've got some stuff I want to do. There's a whole flippin' list in the works. But mostly? I want this to be the year I bloom... the year I can finally look in the mirror, see my perfect imperfections, and say, "Hey, you! You are fine, just the way you are!" I plan to do it -- I do! Even if I don't believe it at first.

At first.

My biggest goal for 2015 is to end the year believing it.

Won't that be something?

I can hardly imagine it.

But, hey... you know what I always say...

What a difference a year can make!

So... Happy New Year, my peeps! I hope 2015 is your best year yet, full of wonder and happy surprises and a million ways for you to be your amazing, authentic, unapologetic, blooming selves! XOXO

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Gift is in the Giving

I like to think of myself as a giving person... a generous person. It's true, I don't have much in the way of material things to give; gift-giving (in the traditional sense - i.e. presents all wrapped up in ribbons and bows) doesn't happen often these days. And I can no longer give much to the charities I have supported in the past, so when I can, I try to do for them by way of fundraising (though even that has fallen by the wayside in the recent past). But I try. I try to give my time, my support, my shoulder, or my ear whenever I can. That counts. Right? I always feel like my heart is in the right place. Even when I can't, I want to.

Even when I can't, I want to.

That counts.


Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. Regardless, I try to keep my heart in that place. I try to keep it open and non-judgmental. I try. I fail. But I try. I try to keep my spirit generous when my wallet can't be. I try. And since I believe you should give without expectation, I try to do that, too.

I try.

I fail.

Now, I don't mean that when I give a material gift, I expect one in return. I don't. There have certainly been times in my life, however, when I was younger and much more selfish than I am today, when I did. That expectation also resulted in my need to reciprocate for every gift I was given. But the last few years have humbled me. I have had to realize, having been on the receiving end of gifts I cannot possibly repay, that sometimes people give simply because a need is there... because their hearts are big... because they simply want to and because they can. Receiving gifts has always been hard for me. Very hard. But I am learning. I am learning to receive them, in whatever form they materialize, and simply say, "Thank you." It's hard. It's so hard. But I have had to accept that the people who have given to me don't expect anything in return.

And I have loved them for it.

That sort of giver is the person I want to be. The person I strive to be.

I fail.

Tonight, I got a lesson in giving. A lesson I needed...

I took a client out for dinner, to a fast food place (her choice). At the door of the restaurant was parked a shopping cart, filled with an old man's earthly possessions. The old man to whom the cart belonged was seated on the other side of the window, bent over the small table, a tattered old jacket pulled up over his head. There was no food on the table. There were no wrappers or a cup to indicate he'd just eaten. And his hands were shaking.

Standing there at the door, my heart sank. I knew his presence would ruin my dinner. That sounds horrible, I know, but I don't mean it the way it sounds. I knew it would ruin my dinner because he would weigh on my heart and mind; I would worry about him (long after I left the restaurant); I would want to make everything better, knowing full-well I couldn't.

When I got to the register to order, I asked the cashier if he had ordered any food when he came in. She told me he hadn't. She said that one of the managers usually feeds him but she wasn't there tonight. "So, if she's not here, he doesn't eat?" She nodded. I asked if she knew what he normally ate and she told me. I ordered it and a cheeseburger for myself.

While I waited for the food, I noticed a young woman speaking to him. I didn't know what the conversation was about, but I assumed she was asking if he needed anything. Just as I arrived at my table, she was walking toward me, so I stopped her, wanting her to know that if she was going to get him food, I had already done it. She told me she was talking to him about going to a shelter and she asked if I knew of any other than the program run by the local churches. Then she said he told her that he'd already eaten and he declined the food she offered to buy him.

I went to him anyway.

I said, "I wasn't sure if you'd already eaten," and he put up his hand to stop me. "I just ate," he replied loudly and then, "Oh. Is that a baked potato with chili on it? Well, if you're giving it up..." I smiled and told him it was all his, put it down in front of him, and went back to my table. I realized I'd forgotten to give him the straw I picked up to go with his water and by the time I got back to his table, half the potato was gone. He didn't say a word when I dropped the straw in front of him and I went on back to my table.

I felt pretty good, I have to say. It was clear he was hungry and I'd done something tangible to meet that need.

Yay, me!

Then I heard him complain to the girl cleaning the tables that she'd squirted the cleaning solution too close to him and now it was in his eyes. He went on, groaning about how she should be more careful.

And my good feelings turned into 'well-how-do-you-like-that' feelings. Old grump.

Then he got up, walked right past me without saying a word, and spoke to someone in line, suddenly all cheerful.

And I thought, Hmph! He's all nice to them but he can't even say thank you to me? I bought him dinner! Hmph!

Old grump! (Me this time, not him.)

And as I watched him engage with the couple in line, just chatting cheerfully -- a completely different person from the shaky, hiding old man I'd seen through the window 20 minutes earlier -- and there I sat feeling all snubbed and put out, I suddenly felt the proverbial smack upside my head.

How dare I? How dare I be offended that I didn't get a thank you! Is that why I bought him dinner? Because I wanted validation? Because I wanted to feel good? Yes? No? Which is it, Diane?

How dare I?

This man has nothing. Nothing. He is old and twisted. His every belonging fits into a shopping cart. He has no home and he depends on the kindness of a fast food manager for an occasional meal. He is proud enough to turn down the offer of a meal when he is clearly hungry. He has nothing.


And I dare to be offended because he didn't utter a thank you when he accepted something I offered? Something I should have offered with no expectation of anything in return? I dare to judge him? For his manners?

I sat there, ashamed of myself, imagining what I'd say to Ryan if she had behaved the way I just had, if she had articulated the thoughts I was thinking. When you give, you do so without expectation. The gift to yourself is in the giving... in the ability to give... in the desire to give. It is never, ever to receive a thank you or anything else in return. Always remember that.

And as the old man passed by my table again, he stopped. He touched me on the arm and said, "I want you to know, a baked potato with chili is in the only thing I would have wanted to eat tonight. The only thing."

And he went back to his table.

And with that, I had my (much appreciated) thank you.

But I learned my lesson.

That is true generosity. That is love. That is what the world needs more of.

And that is exactly what I shall try to do more of, consciously, in every area of my life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Word Up

At the end of last year, I did a blog post about choosing a Word of the Year. (It's right here if you'd like to read it.) It's a neat little practice whereby you choose a word to focus on all year... the idea being that you will bring into reality just that -- what you focus on. Last year, my word was light. The end of 2013 didn't feel good... it felt dark and heavy on my soul and my psyche -- and even on my physical being. I longed for lightness -- around me, in me, from me. 

Now, I'll be honest here... there were many times last year when I not only forgot my word, I forgot I even had a word. You know how it is... things like this word of the year hoo-ha are, in theory, all lovely and sweet, and they have this sort of spiritual, ethereal feel to them. Right? But Life? Well, Life is not always (usually?) all lovely and sweet and spiritual and ethereal. It's hard and dirty and frustrating and messy. It might do us well to remember the lovely and sweet in the difficult, messy times but... meh... we forget. I do, anyway. 

Regardless of my forgetting, my desire -- my need -- for light and lightness must have been so strong last year that I focused on it unconsciously. And lo and behold, it happened! Life got lighter in so many ways! My work environment, my work itself, my home environment, and my attitude toward myself lightened up dramatically. It was as though someone (I?) pulled the heavy drapes back, cleaned the dirty windows, and let the glorious sunshine in!

So I'm going into 2015 with a lighter heart (yay!) and that has prompted me to think about my new Word of the Year. Like last year, I pondered for a while... and like last year, my word chose me... 

One of my favorite quotes is by Anais Nin:

I said last year that I felt I was on the verge of some big change, though I didn't know at the time what it was. And things did change... both in small, subtle ways and in big, in-my-face ways. And I think all of the changes were good... I think they were. To accept most of them, I had to open myself up -- something I'd once been pretty good at but had, in recent years, seemingly forgotten how to do. I spent much time turned inward, curled up tight, fending off the blows it seemed Life was throwing at me right and left. It felt (it felt) that in order to provide the sort of environment that made it safe for my child to blossom and bloom, I had to remain in fight-mode, defensive, the protector.

I don't know if that was the best thing... or the right thing... but I do know that she has blossomed into a brilliant, creative, beautiful soul, and I have no reason to believe she won't continue on that path. As for me, well, one cannot remain defensive for long periods. This I know. It does damage. It hurts. And though the idea of opening up and allowing oneself to bloom is hard, not doing so is harder. I feel like I spent last year planting seeds within myself -- in my heart and my head. I've watered them... I've turned them toward the sunshine... and now it's time... 

And bloom is what I shall try to do.

What's your word going to be, my peeps?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Here. Now. Home.

The last few months have been a bit insane... a new (and wonderful) job and moving to a new house have taken up much of my time of late. Oh, and doing that whole single mom thing to an active teenager, too. Natch. Busy is, really, a perpetual state, though (for most of us, I suspect)... sometimes it's good... sometimes it's not so good. This latest busy has been good that hasn't always felt good. Does that make sense? It boils down to this:

Moving sucks.

It really does. It really, really does. I swear to all that is holy, I'd rather move across the country than move across town. When you move across town, you think, 'Oh, no big deal... I'll move a little here and a little there.' For the record? 'A'little here' and 'a little there' is STUPID. And AWFUL. And STUPID. And it takes 100 times longer than it would if you did it one fell swoop.

But the end result? The end result is worth it. Well, it will be. We're nearly there. And it's only taken two months. Two long, exhausting, body-breaking, patience-testing months.

We moved into the cutest little bungalow, built in 1928, with loads of charm and 'quirks' (that we hope will remain charming and not turn into annoyances after a few months)... it has hardwood floors and built in bookshelves and a fireplace and old-fashioned radiators and a big yard and it's three blocks from the park, on top of a busy hill, and, and, and, OH, and it has absolutely the sweetest front door you've ever seen!

Am I right? I'm right, I know. My friend Anne says it looks like a hobbit door. We're going to paint the outside of it a sunny yellow. Because I've always wanted a yellow door, that's why. We'll wait 'til spring to do that, though. Because all we have done for the past two months is paint, and I'm sick of painting. We have painted. And painted. And painted some more.

Did I mention that we painted? We did. Every room in the house. They were all awful shades Sludge and Pea Soup. I have honestly wondered if the people who lived here before weren't blind. It was dark and dingy and depressing and just plain ugly. But not anymore! We went with happy, happy colors in all the rooms! And, thankfully, Ryan has proved to be a pretty good painter. And she has friends who actually like to paint (or they like her enough to pretend), so they were a big help. But still, it felt like we were never going to finish. All that's left, as of today, is the fireplace surround (which is a muddy shade of brown currently and will be, in the next week or so, a lovely shade of cream).

It's a happy house. It was long-awaited and much-wanted and it felt like it was never going to happen. My girl is beside herself happy -- so much so that the fact that she's getting very little for Christmas hasn't fazed her in the least. I'm happy, too. I'm broke (anyone who says that "paint is a cheap way to change a room" hasn't painted seven rooms all at once!), but I'm happy.

I have often said (right here, in fact) that in my entire adult life, I've never felt that I've had a home. I've always felt displaced, or out-of-place, or temporarily in-place. And honestly, I can't say that this is any different. While this house feels good and happy, I know it's not a forever home. And for the first time in a long time, that feels OK to me. I don't feel that I'm missing something.

And that?

Is big.

I've decided that 'home' simply has to be where I am... where I feel good... where I feel warm and welcome and where I can be myself. And for right now, that's here -- right here with my girl and my fuzzy boy and the newest fuzzy addition to our family (a little girl baby-cat, named Rue).

So I'm going to give this little cottage on top of the hill a name:

Seo a-nis

It's Scottish-Gaelic (you pronounce it 'shaw a-neesh') and it means 'here, now.'

I like it. It works. This is where I am.




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Story Doesn't Have Anything to Do with What's Happening in Ferguson...

A few weeks ago, I had to take a client to one of those Emergi-care places. She'd gotten a ring stuck on her finger and it needed to be cut off (the ring, not the finger). Her doctor couldn't do it, so he sent us there, as he knew they had a tool that could cut the ring. In the waiting room, I met a young father, who was there with his sick toddler and an infant in a carrier. The dad was so gentle and patient with his little boy, which impressed me (I love to watch good daddies) and, as you do in situations like that, we struck up a conversation. The little guy had a stomach bug - the same one his older brother had a few days prior. Dad was hoping the baby wasn't going to get it, too. We chatted for a bit and then they were called up to the intake desk. I heard the girl who was checking them in ask if they'd traveled outside the US lately - to Africa specifically. The dad looked surprised and responded that they hadn't. The intake clerk explained that she had to ask everyone because of the Ebola scare.

Just as the dad and his two little ones were called back to the exam rooms by the nurse, the next patient was called to the intake desk - an older man with an injured wrist. Again, the clerk asked the travel/Ebola questions, Again she said, "We have to ask everyone, because of the Ebola scare."

Then my client was called to the intake desk. I went with her. She was asked a series of questions, which I helped her answer, and then we were told to go back to our seats in the waiting room and the nurse would call us back in a few minutes.

No Ebola questions...

My client went back to her seat but I leaned in and asked the intake clerk why she hadn't asked us if we'd traveled out of the US - to Africa specifically. She looked surprised. I said I heard her asking the young dad and the other gentleman in front of us (both of whom were, I might have forgotten to mention, black) and I heard her say she had to ask everyone. But she didn't ask us (my client, I might have forgotten to mention, is white).

She stammered that she guessed she forgot.

She forgot.


I said, "You know, I have friends from Africa and friends working in Africa right now. It's entirely possible that I could have traveled there recently. That guy in front of us, though? The one with three kids under the age of five? It's not likely he's gone anywhere lately, except to preschool, daycare, and the grocery store."

She was a deer caught in headlights.

"Well... um... have you traveled to Africa lately?"

"No. But that's not the point is it? If you really do have to ask everyone, you really ought to ask everyone." And I walked back to my seat.

This story doesn't have anything to do with what's happening in Ferguson.

Not really.

But it sort of does.

You might have to bear with me, though, as I try to get it out. I've been so disturbed, like so many, by what's been happening there. It makes my heart hurt on so many levels. I've been observing quietly from my little corner of Pigsknuckle; I've seen the anger and the pain and ugliness. I've seen amazing and beautiful little slivers of humanity and kindness and love. I've seen people judge and jump to conclusions, speaking as if they were there and know exactly what happened. And I've seen so many people take sides.

I can't take sides.

I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. I've read accounts and testimony that simply don't make sense to me, it's true. But I wasn't there. And since the grand jury declined to indict, I've read how legal experts and even the American Bar Association thinks the whole situation was mishandled. But I wasn't there (and I don't trust the media reports. At all). When it comes down to it, I don't know.

But here's what I do know...

I know there are some really amazing folks in law enforcement - people who always try to do the right thing and who do what they do because they truly want to serve and protect. I know this because I know some of those people personally. I'm related to some of them.

I know that there are times when good officers have to do awful things to protect themselves or others.

I know there are some people in law enforcement who are bullies - people who feel they are above the law and who don't tell the truth and do ugly things simply because they can. Not all officers are heroes. They're just not.

I know that you can support law enforcement and still understand and accept that your support is not (or shouldn't be) unconditional.

I know that the law is supposed to work a certain way. I know it is supposed to treat all people equally.

I know it doesn't. It doesn't come anywhere close.

I know that all kids make mistakes. All kids screw up - sometimes in big ways. Most kids are guilty of bad judgment at one time or another. Lots of kids push authority figures to the limit.

I know that unless you're in a kid's shoes and you live his life, you can't truly understand why he acts the way he does. I know that if you try to understand, you both give and receive a gift.

I know that people will lie to protect themselves or to get the result they want. Maybe not all people, maybe not in every situation, but people will and do lie.

I know there is inequality in our society. It is deep and abiding. It is pervading. It is damaging.
I see it every day. I saw it that day in the Emergi-care office.

I know that inequality breeds discontent and anger and frustration that is every bit as deep and abiding.

I know that anger and frustration can reach a tipping point and the result can be violence.

I know that the result can also be change.

I know the two are not mutually exclusive but I believe change without violence is better.

I know that we have the power to come together for change.

I know that we must come together for change.

I know that we must change how we view each other; we must begin to see ourselves - all of us - as simply HUMAN, as connected.

I know we have to do it soon.

I know that enough people have died.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day Three of the LBTL Challenge...

Today was hard. Especially hard.

First, someone at work ate my banana.

I wanted to cry.

Seriously. The tears welled.

Then, I misjudged the size of my rice/bean serving, so I only had about 2/3 of my lunch. Minus the banana.

Then I remembered I had swim team registration and a meeting right after work. I couldn't even go home. And I couldn't buy something out. So I didn't get to eat dinner until 8:30. I had two servings of Ramen noodles. Because I was starving, that's why.

I think I may eat tomorrow. This has been an awful three days. The challenge has been incredibly hard and while I don't want to fail, I also believe it did - for me, anyway - what it was meant to do.

I don't think for a second that I understand what it means to be truly hungry... to have no money for food... to having nothing but the most meager sustenance, which doesn't fill me up or make me feel good or healthy. I did this for three days, knowing full well that it was going to end sooner rather than later. I have known all along that as soon as the challenge is complete, I can go back to eating healthy food and plenty of it.

So I don't really understand. I don't know.

And I hope I never, ever do.

But I have gained a sense of what it must be like. These past three days, I have felt panicked... desperate... exhausted... irritated... frustrated... angry...


And this feeling of deprivation is different than any I've felt before. In the past, when I was on a diet or when I cut out different sorts of food to be healthier, I was depriving myself. I had control over it. But in this case, the deprivation felt different... it felt imposed...

It took away my control.

And losing your control is scary. It's scarier than feeling hungry. It's scarier than not having enough money for food.

I think it must be what truly poor people feel -- out of control.

Yes, this has been horrible and the idea that 1.2 billion people live this way breaks my heart. I'll be looking into ways to help. A few years ago, I met a little old man on Christmas Eve (you can read about that encounter right here) and I wound up feeding him for a whole year, until he fell in his home and was removed by Social Services. I didn't have much then but he got a quarter of my grocery budget every week. It wasn't easy but it made me feel good, knowing I was helping someone who really needed it. It helped me, too, as things were hard then and I believe that focusing on someone else's problems helps you take your mind off your own.

So I'll be finding a way to help... a real, tangible way. If I can help just one person to feel less desperate... deprived... out of control... it won't be enough... but it will be something.

And something is better than nothing.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Day Two of the LBTL Challenge...

Today I ate a carrot I dropped on the floor. And accidentally stepped on.

I also ate half a banana, the cut end of which was all slimy and gross... the end which, 2 days ago, I would have sliced off and thrown away.

My beans and rice and tomatoes, which were OK-tasting yesterday, were bland, gritty, and not-at-all-yummy today. I expect that by tomorrow, I'll have to choke them down.

But I will choke them down. Because last night I went to bed hungry. This morning I woke up hungry. And I'm pretty sure I'll go to bed hungry tonight, since it's 8:30 and I'm hungry now.

Next week, I'll be making a big donation to one of our local food pantries.

I'm not sure what else I can do... but I'm going to start looking at ways I can help; ways I can do my part to combat the sort of poverty that keeps people from being able to afford healthy food. Enough healthy food.

We, as a society - a global society - spend so much. We waste so much. We buy and buy and buy... we consume everything... and what we don't consume, we throw away. We do it so much, so normally, that we don't even think about it.

There is enough food to feed everyone. There is. There is no reason people should have to go hungry... the kind of hungry that makes them eat food out of dumpsters or steal from stores.

No reason.

We have to figure out how to fix this.

We do.

But right now, I want a cup of tea. Hot tea with honey and cream. It would make me feel so much better... it would ease the hunger pangs a bit and it would do much to soothe my soul.

Just a cup of tea.

Everyone should be able to have a cup of tea if they want.

Shouldn't they?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Day One of the LBTL Challenge

Well, I've just had dinner, such that it was, and thus ended Day One of the Living Below the Line challenge. If you haven't read that post, it's right here.

My worry?

It's only 6pm... I have about five more hours before bedtime... and a kitchen full of food. Mind you, last week I would have scrounged the same cupboards, looking for something appetizing, likely not finding much... but tonight?

I would eat baking soda right out of the box at the back of the fridge.

I'm hungry.

And tired.

I feel like a slug. Of course, I've had no caffeine or sugar today, which is not at all a bad thing. But I've had little in the way of good healthy, energizing food, too. I realized that while being hungry is not necessarily new to me (hello, I've been on lots of diets in my lifetime), not being able to eat anything, including a piece of fruit or a vegetable, is. Also, when I'm on a diet and I want something to drink other than water, I could have tea (and hot tea always soothes and fills me).

Not so today.

I floated through the day today, trying to keep full with water. It helped a little. Then I thought about those people who live like this daily and I wondered how many of them don't even have access to clean drinking water. I wondered how they try to feel full when there is no food to be had.

It must be really and truly awful.

While I was making my Ramen noodles for dinner (I ate my two carrots while waiting for the noodle water to boil, as I didn't think I could wait), I read the back of the package. I was about to fill up on 2 servings of starchy noodles with virtually no nutritive value but, for the same basic calorie count, I could have had a serving of salmon or chicken breast, a small serving of potatoes, and a big serving of broccoli, meeting pretty much all of my dietary needs, filling me up, keeping me healthy.

But you can't get a serving of salmon, potatoes, and broccoli for $.25.

And that one meal?

Would have been about half my food budget for the week.

Something to think about.

To recap my day, my $1.50 fed me the following:

2 eggs, scrambled (with no oil or butter, as I couldn't afford that)
1/2 a small banana (and I can't tell you how much I wanted the other half)
1 1/2 cups brown rice, black beans, canned tomatoes
2 medium-sized carrots
1 package of Ramen noodles

Up until the noodles, it wasn't too bad health-wise (though missing an awful lot of the recommended daily allowance of fruit and veg).

Now, the words I'd use to sum up my day are as follows:


I suspect those words will be magnified in the next few hours. I suspect I'll go to bed hungry.

We'll see what living below the line brings tomorrow...

Sunday, May 4, 2014


So, I went shopping this weekend for the 'Living Below the Line' challenge (if you missed Friday's post, which explains the challenge, you can read it right here). Now, I don't like to shop. Not for anything, but especially not for groceries. It might be my least favorite chore. But I figured since I only had $7.50 to spend, it would go quickly.

I figured wrong.

I wound up going to four different stores to find the very best deals. When you have very limited resources, it's important to maximize them, right?

Then I realized that someone living on $1.50 per day probably doesn't have extra cash to put into the gas tank in order to drive around town, comparison shopping. Hell, that person probably doesn't have a car. But I thought about that after the 3rd store, so I finished up and came home with my haul.

It's... meager.

Note that every single thing I bought was on sale. Every single thing. And I used my discount cards at the stores to get the sales (because they are free to obtain).

Here's what I got...

A dozen eggs.................................. $1.49
3 small bananas............................... $ .48
1 bag of brown rice........................... $ .77
2 cans of black beans...................... $1.38
1 large can of tomatoes.................... $1.00
1 small bag of carrots....................... $ .77
4 packages of Ramen noodles .......... $1.00
1 small can of green beans................ $ .50

The total, with tax, was $7.57, but I found a quarter on the ground outside one of the grocery stores. I used it. It counts. Damn it.

My plan is to eat two eggs every morning. I eat breakfast regularly and I need protein, so hopefully they will hold me 'til lunch. Additionally, mid-mornings, I can eat half a banana... until Friday, when I get a whole one. Lunch all five days will be a rice/beans/tomato concoction. I make it sometimes just because I like it, so that should be OK. Plus, it should be filling with all the fiber and protein. I can also eat a carrot at lunch or save it until dinner and have two... along with a package of Ramen noodles. One can of green beans will have to stretch out for 4 days. On Friday night, I'll have to eat the last two eggs and the last carrot in the bag.

It might be OK, during the day, anyway. Night time will be hard, I think. I'll be hungry and I'll be at home, where there is food in the cupboards, so that will make it even more difficult. But I have to work and if I'm expected to be somewhat productive, I can't be miserably hungry. I might be anyway, though. I don't know how far that rice/bean/tomato mess is going to go...

We'll see.

The shopping trip was really quite interesting...

My perspective shifted almost immediately upon entering each store, knowing I had so little to spend. Prior to this situation, I would look at prices in a sort of perfunctory way, just so I'd have an idea of what I was spending. I might buy the store brand of something rather than a name brand if it was on sale, but if the store brand was out of stock, well, no big deal... name brand it is.

Not this time.

Things I would have normally thought were crazy cheap ($.77 for a bag of carrots?!) became 10% of my food budget. One store's sale price for beans -- $.74 a can -- didn't stand up to a competitor's, on sale for $.69 each. A $2.50 bag of potatoes? Too rich for my blood. Five bananas at $.49 a pound (far cheaper than the $.58/lb at the other stores) were simply too heavy... I had to cut back to three. Bread? Milk? Meat? Frozen vegetables? Fruit? Pfffftttt. Not a chance. Even tuna, at $.89 a can, was out of the question.

Every. Single. Penny. Counted.

It was so hard.

I felt... almost... desperate.

Now, when I've worked with a tight budget in the past, I have felt frustrated in the grocery store. I've felt discouraged. I've felt whiny and even angry. I've certainly felt sorry for myself.

But I have never felt desperate.

Yes, my perspective has certainly shifted.

Let's see what happens tomorrow...

Friday, May 2, 2014

The 'Living Below the Line' Challenge

When I started my job, I knew I'd be working with unemployed/underemployed people, but I didn't realize that in order to qualify for our workforce program, participants would have to fall under the poverty line, as established by the state. The application for the program requires much information and corresponding documentation, including income verification. It's a lengthy, arduous, frustrating process. But one of the first things I learned was that if the potential participant is receiving any sort of benefit from Social Services, he or she is automatically eligible. We don't need to determine financial eligibility in that case because the state has already done it for us.

Yay for the state!

Sort of.

Most of our participants are receiving food stamps. Note that most of them are only receiving food stamps and nothing else from Social Services (except, in some cases, Medicaid for the children in the family).

Many of them (especially the parents of my kids) are working.

But they still need food stamps.

To give you an idea of what that means, the poverty line in Virginia is, for a single person, approximately $11,000 per year.

$11,000. So in order to be considered as living under the poverty line, an individual would have to take home approximately $175 per week, or $700 per month.

If an individual makes more than that, they are, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia, not living in poverty.

Yay for them, right?

Yeah. You don't want to know what the average rent is in Pigsknuckle.

A family of three would have to be living on less than $365 per week, take home, to be eligible.

That line? It's so far down, you could trip over it.

But that's the way it is. Those are the rules. That's what the state says. That's what we go by. And when I see the amounts my families get in food stamps, I wonder how on earth they're managing. I know what I spend at the grocery store for just Ryan and me. I don't buy much junk and I rarely buy meat, but I spend a lot more than a family of four gets in food stamps. And we eat out sometimes, too. I see these people barely scraping by, wanting to do better, stuck where they are for various reasons, unable to really and truly get a leg up, and my heart breaks for them.

I've been pretty broke a few times in my life... and I've spent many, many other times just living paycheck to paycheck. But I've never considered myself truly poor. I've never been eligible for any sort of assistance (at least I don't think I have) and, honestly, I wouldn't have sought it out if I had, as that's how I was raised. I don't ask for help easily. At. All. I've worked with grocery budgets so tight they squeaked, but there was always money for food... not fun food, but sustaining, reasonably healthy food -- for me, for my daughter, and even for my dog.

And I've always been grateful for that. And since starting this job, I am even more grateful.

So when my wonderful bloggy-turned-FB-turned-real life friend, Ronda, decided to do this Living Below the Line challenge, I was intrigued.

The organization that came up with the challenge is called The Global Poverty Project. You can read about them and the challenge right here.

In a nutshell, they determined that 1.2 billion people in the world today live in extreme poverty, with less than $1.50 (US) to feed themselves per day. So they challenged us to do just that -- to live for 5 days, spending only $1.50 per day (per person in your household) on food and drink. That's $.50 per meal. That's $7.50 for the whole 5 days.

I spent more than that on lunch today.

I'm going to do it. I'm not going to include Ryan in it, as she's swimming and there is no way I can feed her enough calories to keep her healthy and energized for $.50 per meal. Plus, she looked terrified when I told her about it. No wonder. It's kind of scary. I've spent the last couple of days popping in and out of stores, pricing various items, to see what I can get for $7.50.

Not much.

I'm going to try to keep it as healthy as possible but I can tell you that it won't be easy. Healthy food is not cheap. Even cheap healthy food is not cheap. My goal is to stay as full as possible. I expect there will be a fair amount of rice and beans on the menu.

Here are my guidelines:

1) I can buy the whole 5 days' worth of groceries at once, but I can't spend more than the $7.50 in order to buy things in bulk and divide them by serving. I figure people living at this level of poverty don't ever have a month's worth of grocery money all at once. I suspect many don't have a week's worth either, but I'm making that concession.

2) I can't shop at places that require a membership (like Costco), as if I can't afford to eat, I can't afford a club membership.

3) I can't avail myself of any free food/drink at work, as if I can't afford to eat, it's unlikely I'd be working, especially at a job where free food is available.

4) I can't eat anything currently in the house. I have to start from scratch and only use the $7.50 for the 5 days.

5) If I eat or drink anything I didn't buy with my limited funds, I fail.

Honestly, I'm a bit nervous. I'm even a little bit afraid. I am certain I'm going to be hungry and that scares me. But I figure that's also a big part of the reason for the challenge... to let us see how it feels. And let's face it, I still won't really know, will I? Because I know that when I wake up on Saturday morning, starving, I can hoof it down to my favorite bagel shop and get a big bacon, egg, and cheese bagel and tea. And I know that if the hunger pangs are too much in the middle of the night, there is food in the cupboard that I can eat. So I won't really know.

I am expecting that it will affect my perspective. We'll see. And I'm going to blog about it each day, starting with Sunday, to tell you what I wound up buying. So check in if you'd like to know how it's going.

I'll warn you now that I might be cranky. Hangry, even. I apologize in advance for any snark or unpleasantness.

Stay tuned, my peeps...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cray to the Z...

I work with a woman I really like a lot. She's older than I am, but I can't tell how much so. She has this odd air of agelessness about her and gorgeous skin that makes it very difficult to tell just what decade she might have been born in (she also never, ever tells anyone her age). But her youngest turned 30 today, and I know she didn't have her kids right out of high school, so I'm guessing she has a few years on me. But that's neither here nor there, really.

As I say, I like her a lot. And she likes me. She's not the sort who has a lot of close friends or who confides in many people but she's said she feels comfortable talking to me. I say it's because, along with my 'retail face,' I also have a 'therapist face.' It makes people tell me stuff. Lots of stuff. Sometimes they tell me things I really oughtn't know. It's cool, though. I like finding out about people. But that's neither here nor there either.

Anyway, she told me today that she feels so comfortable with me because I always seem so 'together'.






Um... er...

First, I snorted. As I do. Then I guffawed. Then I looked at her to see if she was lying or pulling my leg. She wasn't. Then I looked at her like she was certifiable. I waved a hand over my desk -- my desk that looks like, as my mother says, 'who flung it and ran' -- and I said, "See this? See this mess? This is what every area of my life looks and feels like. This, my friend, is so very much NOT 'together', unless by 'together', you mean, 'a friggin' disaster'."

She smiled and shook her head. "No. I think you're more together than you think you are."

As I say, I really like her.

But girlfriend? Is cray-cray.