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

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.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Be Still

Once, when Ryan was a toddler, I took her into a clothing store which, obviously, had no shopping carts. She'd gotten to the point where she didn't like to stay in her stroller, so I told her she had to stick close to me while I browsed. A little while later, having been absorbed in a display of spring sweaters, I looked down to where she should have been... and she was gone. My heart rose into my throat and then dropped immediately into my shoes, and I fought back the panic. After a few moments of frantic searching, I found her, giggling, under a rack of dresses. Needless to say, it was the last cartless shopping venture we attempted for a while.

I've discovered that Time is like a toddler, finally free from the confines of the shopping cart. It has an extraordinarily sneaky way of getting away from me, causing moments of panic when I look down to find an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a year just... gone.

It's been a whole month since I've written here. I didn't intend to stay away. It's just been a busy month, full of nothing particularly extraordinary... just lots of weird, up-and-down weather, overwhelming loads of work, a fall down a dark driveway (that resulted in a few x-rays, cracked ribs, and painkillers), chores, good news, bad news, disappointing news...

Just... Life.

Onward through Time it moves, this Life, more quickly with each passing year, month, week, day, hour...

Sometimes, it feels chaotic. Noisy. Overwhelming. And when it is this way (more often than I care to acknowledge), I don't know which way to turn or what to do first, or how to turn it town, how to slow it down...

It's exhausting.

I have a wonderful therapist friend who is always telling me to rest... to just be still. When she gives me this advice, I agree with her... I nod, promise to do what she suggests... and then I go back to juggling the dozen single-working-mother-balls I have in the air at any given time.

And I wear down even further... lose focus... fade.

Last year, I gave my dog a bath outside, with the hose. I dried him with one of our many brightly-colored beach towels and then left it to dry on the deck railing. I forgot about it and a couple of weeks later, after hanging in the bright sun for too long, it was pastel-colored -- shades lighter than it had been originally.

I feel like that beach towel. Except that instead of too long in the sun, I've been too long in the shadows of 'Too Much To Do and Too Little Time To Do It.'

Turns out? Shadows fade, too.

So, faded, out of focus, and worn down, I'm falling back to my therapist friend's suggestion. Rest. Be still.

It's going to have to be my quiet holy mantra for a little while...

Be still... be still... be still... be still...

Be still...

Just. Be. Still.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

We're All Just Walking Each Other Home

Today, I had lunch with a perfect stranger.

You should know, this is not something I do regularly. Or, you know, ever.

Now, don't get me wrong... I connect easily with people. I can make conversation in grocery store lines and elevators. Little snippets and pleasantries are easy. And I can talk for England when it comes to work conversations or interviews. But to sit down and have a meal with a someone I've never met?

I don't do that.

But I did it today.

I had just sat down in the food court at the mall, with my plate of chicken, vegetables, and rice from the Chinese place. There was an elderly man sitting at the next table over. He looked well-worn and tired, his face scruffy, eyes yellow. His clothes were not in good condition and when he smiled at me, his grin was gappy. He nodded toward my plate and said, "That sure do look good!"

I smiled back and agreed. Then, surprising myself, I asked him if he'd had lunch yet. He leaned down and reached into the bag at his feet. "I got me a banana."

Surprising myself again, I told him that if he'd keep me company while I ate, I'd be happy to treat him to Chinese. He grinned his gappy grin and told me that'd be "real nice."

During the next 40 minutes, I learned that his name was Henry, he was 82 years old, and the youngest of 11 children (6 of whom are still living). Here from NY for an old friend's funeral, he was waiting for another friend to take him back to the bus station in Charlottesville. He was waiting at the mall because he didn't want to see his friend's sister, whose heart he broke back in 1961 and "...she never quite got over it and still don't like [him] much." I also learned that his great-grandparents were slaves, emancipated by President Lincoln, that his father was a cook in the Army during WWI, that he fought in Korea, and that he'd marched with Martin Luther King and he even got to shake his hand. When I told him about the essay I had published in a book to honor Dr. King, he shook my hand, too, and told me it was his privilege to know a real author.

But the privilege?

Was mine.

It was the best lunch I've had in a long time, with the unlikeliest of partners. Henry thanked me profusely for the food and the company and I told him it was my pleasure. I left the mall to go back to work, grateful that I'd asked him if he had eaten; grateful that all he had was a banana; and ever so grateful that I'd stepped out of my comfort zone.

This job I have is hard. There are many reasons not to like it. There have been many times I've wanted to quit. But it has made me realize that the people we see with our eyes transform when we see them with our hearts, and only when we see them with our hearts can we truly get to know them or help them. It's something I thought I knew already... but I didn't.

This job has given me a wonderful gift that I did not expect.

It has made me realize that we are, indeed, all just walking each other home.

Today I met again with my "thug." If you haven't read the post about him and you'd like to, it's right here.

I gave him the books I'd gotten for him... and he cried. This kid -- this tough, street-wise, I-don't-care-about-nothin' kid -- cried because someone did something nice and unexpected and unsolicited and unnecessary for him. For him. I have earned his trust, which, given this kid's incredibly troubled past, is no small feat. And it happened because I was finally able to see him with my heart, which didn't judge him the way my eyes did (and I'm so ashamed for that).

What I know for sure is that we are all connected, even if we have forgotten it or, for some, never knew it. We are all in this crazy, messed-up, beautiful Life together. No one is -- not a one of us -- an island, try as we might to convince ourselves otherwise.

And we are all just walking each other home.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Broken Open

I wear my heart on my sleeve. Anyone who is even remotely observant can tell how I'm feeling within minutes of seeing me. Sometimes I wish this wasn't the case... sometimes I'd like to be able to tuck my feelings inside, out of sight, and go on as if everything in Life was always tidy and neat.

But I can't.

Life isn't tidy and neat and its chaos shines out of my expressions and my demeanor and my words the way the sun shines in July.

If you've been reading here for the past month (or the past several years), you've seen it. It's not pretty. It's not always pleasant. It can make people uncomfortable.

Someone from my 'real life,' who began reading my blog recently, remarked about how open I am here. And I told her that's true... to an extent. There are, of course, things I will never discuss here... or I don't think I will, anyway. I guess I don't know yet just how brave or open I'll be willing to be down the road.

And I'm sure there are people who think I'm too open; that I share too much; that I should hold some things back. And maybe they're right. I don't know.

But here's what I do know, right here, right now...

When I open myself up -- my heart and my head -- and I tell you things about my life and its chaos and how I deal with it all, it makes me feel a little less crazy... a little less chaotic. Very often, you come back to me, by way of comments or emails, and you let me know that something I've said has affected you; it's resonated with you; it's made you feel not-so-alone; it's given you a new perspective; it's made you want to reach out and open up to me...

And that?

Makes me feel good. It makes me feel validated. It makes me feel visible and necessary.

And I think we all need that.

Today, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a friend hers -- a friend who committed suicide on her 41st birthday. I didn't know this woman, though it turns out we have a few mutual friends. But hearing about suicide naturally makes us wonder why... so I looked at her Facebook page and through her photos, wondering why; wondering what about her life might have been so terrible that she felt the need to end it on the day commemorating its beginning.

When you look at my Facebook page and my photos, I think you probably get a fair picture of my life. As you know from reading here, I'm pretty much an open book. Pretty much. I'm sure that's not the case with everyone... maybe even with most people... and probably not with this woman...

Because her life appeared to be perfect.

Let's change the emphasis there, shall we?

Her life appeared to be perfect.

She was stunningly beautiful. She had a handsome husband and a beautiful home. She traveled often, to spectacular places, and, indeed, spent her birthday on a boat in the Virgin Islands. It was clear that she possessed a spirit of adventure. She had many friends, who seemed to simply adore her, and beautiful nephews, who looked ridiculously happy to be photographed with her. Her posts were creative, her words captivating, and she had a smile that lit up whatever space she was in.

Her life appeared to be perfect.

It was not, of course.

No one's life is perfect.

And I wondered if, in her 'real life,' she wore her heart on her sleeve; if the people who loved her knew that her soul was troubled. I wondered if she felt it necessary to tuck her feelings inside, out of sight, and go on as if Life was tidy and neat. I wondered if she was ever able to open up, to share too much, and to lay herself out and just say, "This is me -- in pain, fucked up, sad, weary, and broken open."

I can't begin to imagine the pain she must have felt. My heart breaks for her and for her family. I know how fortunate I am to have never felt pain to that degree. I know how fortunate I am to have always, always believed that no matter how messy Life gets, it will get better.

And I am incredibly fortunate to be able to open up, to share too much, and to lay myself out and just say, "This is me -- in pain, fucked up, sad, weary, and broken open."

It's not pretty. It's not pleasant. And it sometimes makes people uncomfortable.

But it's so necessary.

And I wish it for everyone.

Friday, February 28, 2014

If Not Me, Then Who?

I met him a couple of days ago, at an 'outreach' I did for my job. A coworker and I presented our workforce program to a group at a community center which does amazing work with the homeless and disadvantaged population in our city. Most of the people there had come for the free lunch, but several were there to hear us speak.

He sat at the end of one of the long tables being set up for lunch. Younger than most of the people in attendance, he sat, hunched over, still wearing his leather jacket, flat-brimmed cap, and very dark, wrap-around sunglasses.

My first thought was, 'thug.'

He didn't appear to be paying attention so I was surprised when, after the presentation, as I was speaking to several attendees who had questions, he motioned me over with one finger.

Oh, noooo. He did not just beckon me, did he?

But he had. And he did it again, a few moments later. I went, intending to tell him to remove his glasses while speaking to me. I didn't have to, though, as he took them off before telling me his name. His eyes revealed an even younger kid than I expected. I pegged him at 17 or so.

He told me he was interested in getting into a training program to be an interpreter for the Spanish-speaking community. He pulled a folded, well-worn flyer from the local university out of his pocket and handed it to me, asking if that was the sort of program we would pay for. I told him it was possible, but that I'd need him to come to my office and meet with me, so we could determine whether or not he was eligible for the program. We set up an appointment for him, at 10:00 this morning.

I doubted he would make it.

This morning, 10:00 rolled around and, as expected, he was a no-show. But at 11:00, I got a call from the front desk, letting me know someone was there to see me. It was him. He apologized for being late and said he'd fallen asleep on the bus, missed the stop, and had to take another round-trip to get there.

We went back to my office and I told him to sit. After a few cursory questions about his situation, I found out that he was 18, homeless, staying in a shelter that will close in a month, and just about a year out of seven years of institutional foster care.

I make it a point not to register shock or surprise or disapproval when listening to a client's story. I try very, very hard not to allow my own story or my personal idea of how people should live cloud my ability to remain open and understanding and non-judgmental. Sometimes it's hard.

It wasn't hard this time.

This boy's story, told with humor and heart-wrenching honesty, nearly broke me. This "thug" was nothing but a kid who never felt loved in his whole entire life; who never had anyone standing behind him, telling him he could be anything he wanted to be; who was unwanted and mistreated and abandoned; who was failed by everyone who should have helped him; who was told and made to feel that he was stupid, incapable of learning, and would never amount to anything.

He tried to shock me, telling me about things he's done. He said several times, "This might make you kick me out of here." There was no kicking. But I chastised him. I told him I was going to play 'mom' and tell him the same thing I'd tell my daughter if she was doing something unhealthy or dangerous. As he was leaving, he said, "You're a good mom, aren't you? I can tell. You care. You listen. And you didn't judge me for all the shit I've done. I wish I'd had a mom like you."

He made me wish I was his mom. This bright, handsome, personable kid deserved a mom who didn't put vodka in his bottle to make him sleep; who didn't beat him, leave him to fend for himself when he was too small to feed himself, or choose to terminate her parental rights because he was inconvenient. He deserved a mother who made sure he could read past a 3rd grade level; who told him he was smart and special; who read to him and held him and simply loved him.

When I asked him how he sees his life ten years from now, he told me he figures he'll be dead by then. I said I was sure the people who loved him wouldn't want that. He said, "Well, see, that's the thing. No one loves me. No one has ever really loved me. So there's not much to care about or stay here for. You know?"

I don't know. I can't even imagine. But I have to try.

I can't save everyone. I know that. I can't even help everyone. I know that, too. I might not be able to help him. He needs much more than I can offer within the realm of my position. But tonight? I went to the bookstore and I picked out three books on his reading level, which, I hope, will interest him. If he wants to reach his dream of being an interpreter, he's going to have to improve his reading and writing skills. It's a small act -- not much... and it might be too much, as far as work is concerned, as it's not exactly part of our program... but someone has to make this kid feel visible; someone has to make him feel like he matters; someone has to make him believe that the few dreams he has are not for nothing.


And if not me, then who?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Funny

When my dad was really sick, it took him a long, long time to move from Point A to Point B, even if the points were only a few feet apart. Lack of oxygen takes its toll on a body. On the rare occasion that he left the house, it was in a wheelchair (which nearly did him in), but in the house, he used crutches to help him keep his balance as he struggled from point to point.

Watching him struggle -- this man who had always been so independent and full of energy, who had always been my fixer -- was incredibly difficult, to say the least. I'm sure he knew this, though we never acknowledged it. Instead, we used humor to deflect the discomfort and pain.

I remember one time, about six months before he died, we were having a cook-out to celebrate my then-husband's graduation from Virginia Tech. Dad, connected to his oxygen machine, legs swollen with edema, made his way ever so slowly from the kitchen, through the garage, and to the deck. I followed behind and after several minutes, I said, "For crying out loud, old man, will you just hurry up?! Rob will have his master's degree before you get out there!"

My dad didn't stop moving... he didn't say anything... but he held up his arm, hand balled into a fist... and extended his middle finger.

(I said we used humor, not manners.)

Another time, a few months later, he was making his slow way down the hall, from the living room to the bedroom. Again, I was behind him. He stopped, wiggled his backside, threw his leg out to the side, and said, "I gotta dance!"

I very nearly wet myself.

That lesson -- that pain doesn't have to erase The Funny -- was one of the most valuable my dad taught me. And when my Funny goes into hiding, I remember his 'dance.' The memory works hard to coax The Funny out...

The Funny is being stubborn this time.

Maybe I should channel my dad...

And dance...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I'm Not Crazy. My Mother Had Me Tested.

I believe in therapy. Strongly. I don't believe seeing a therapist is anything to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and, indeed, I think every single person I've ever met could have benefited from therapy (or could still) at some point in Life. I know many people who have, myself included.

Now, while I know people who have been in therapy for the long-haul -- years at a time, I haven't felt that necessary. And though I know people who have found medication to be effective in dealing with psychological issues, I've never felt that necessary either. But I have found it necessary to ask for help to develop techniques for coping when Life gets really tough; to figure out how to find clarity and balance; to find some direction or a boost when I'm stuck in what feels like a deep, dark hole.

Clara was the name of the wonderful therapist I saw when I lived in Charlotte. She's the one who helped to guide me through the intense grief I pushed way deep down after my father died. I saw her then, on and off, for about a year-and-a-half. She also helped me a couple of years later, to navigate the turbulent feelings resulting from my ex-husband's cheating and departure from our marriage. That was another year of pretty steady once-a-week sessions.

Then she declared me sane. Heh.

And I declared her delusional. Heh heh.

She laughed.

Honestly, though?

I'm not certain I was actually kidding.

There have been other times in the past nine years when I would have given my right arm to be close enough to Charlotte to make it back to Clara's peaceful office and her welcoming, accepting, non-judgmental "arms."

(I have long wanted Clara to be my mommy.)

Alas, I'm not in Charlotte anymore. And therapy, while so beneficial, isn't always easy to come by, as it's not always covered by insurance... and we're not always covered by insurance. Sigh.

So there have been a few times in recent years when I've muddled through on my own, though I really could have used an objective ear.

See, that's what therapy is about, for me, anyway.


Talking to friends or family, while soothing to the soul and absolutely helpful at times, is not about objectivity. People who love you cannot be objective. They always want certain things for you -- they want what they feel is best for you. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. At. All. But what they want for you might not actually be what's best for you.

A therapist is someone who isn't invested in you on a personal level. Her goal is simply to help you figure out what's best for you... and how to accomplish what you need to do to be your healthiest self. And I think when you work out what you need for yourself, rather than having someone else tell you, you're more inclined to follow through... to actually do the work.

Since I haven't been able to figure out lately what I need to do to become my healthiest self, I recently sought the the assistance (again) of an objective, un-invested party.

It never fails to amaze me how easy it is to just spew what's on my mind and heart when I'm in a therapist's office. It's like word vomit and I simply can't stop talking. And the hour flies by and the tears pour out, and afterward, I feel spent. Utterly spent.

In addition to the talking, there are questions asked... and answers sought.

Today, the question was, "Why do you think you're so hard on yourself? Why do you think you don't give yourself the same consideration you give others?"

Ooooh. Good one.

So that has to be my focus for the next week, because I believe that particular trait affects me in every aspect of my life. Every single one. So I'll think about it... I'll write about it...

...and I'll work it out.

I will...

... with the help of my handy-dandy therapist.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Was Right

I was right.

Good-byes suck.

They suck monkey balls.

Monkey balls soaked in vinegar.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good-byes Suck

Tomorrow I will say good-bye to someone I care about a great deal. It's not a permanent good-bye... he's simply leaving town. But it still feels bad.

There are people who enter your life and affect it profoundly in a short period of time. Through them, you learn lessons -- about Life, about people, about relationships, about yourself. Sometimes the lessons are gentle; sometimes they are uncomfortable; sometimes they're just plain hard. (They are always valuable.)

There are people who enter your life and change your perspective, forcing you to view things you know to be so from alternate angles, making them look different and unfamiliar.

There are people who enter your life and with whom you connect quickly and completely and you know, immediately, that you will be friends for a long, long time.

I've been fortunate in my life to know several friends like that -- people who quickly became (and have remained) incredibly important to me. They are my inner circle -- the people I go to when I need support and when I don't want to feel all alone in the world.

This friend is such a friend.

But inner circle or not, good-bye is still on the agenda.

I have gotten used to my inner circle widening to encompass different states... it covers oceans and islands and continents.

Missing people I love is not new to me. I do it all the time.

But it's never easy.

Good-byes suck.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

10 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6...

When finding a blog topic is tough, I sometimes make lists about things I want to write about.

Even that didn't work today.

So I'm going to write a post that is a list. A countdown list...

10 Things I'm Thankful For
My amazing friends
Sunny days in February
Places where books live
My computer (most of my friends live there)
The color yellow
Chocolate (duh)
Merlot (double duh)

9 Places I Want to Visit
The Galapagos Islands
New Zealand
Puerto Rico
Bruges, Belgium
Machu Picchu
Whidbey Island, WA (there's a writer's retreat there)

8 Things on My Bucket List
Learn to play my guitar
Finish a book-length manuscript
Publish a book-length manuscript (or, you know, an actual book)
Take Ryan on a Scottish 'highlands and islands' tour
Walk 1000 miles this year (I'd better get off my behind)
Volunteer in Swaziland with my friend Maithri
Spend a month (or 6) in a cottage by the sea
Fit into the 'little black dress' in my closet (before it disintegrates)

7 Qualities I Want in the Next Man I Date
Social and environmental consciousness
A sense of adventure
A love of camping, dogs, and my kid
Supreme kissability (AKA chemistry)

6 Famous Living People I'd Like to Meet
Maya Angelou (so I can show her my tattoo!)
J.K. Rowling (I want to know how she kept all those story lines straight!)
Elizabeth Warren
David Sedaris
Malala Yousafzai
Gerard Butler (I have to meet him in order to marry him... duh)

5 Things I Love to Do
Swim (and coach my Little Sinkers)
Hang out with my girl and my fuzzy boy

4 Things Guaranteed to Make Me Laugh Out Loud
Farts (I'm an 11-year-old boy at heart... sue me)
Carol Burnett re-runs
The Big Bang Theory
My brown-haired bestie, Mel, and my red-haired bestie, Anne

3 Pet Peeves
People who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot
People who litter
People who drive on my bumper when I'm going the speed limit

2 Things I Worry About (just two?!)
The fact that we're systematically destroying the planet
Factory farming and the government-sanctioned poisoning of our food supply

1 Thing I Want More Than Anything
The Triple-P (to find my passion, my purpose, and peace)

What's on your list?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

On the Verge

This morning, a dear friend suggested a book to me: Pema Chodron's Comfortable with Uncertainty. She said it's her go-to book when she's feeling discombobulated. Even though I think I'm a few (dozen) steps past discombobulated, I am definitely feeling uncertain and uncomfortable, so I took a run to the bookstore tonight to look it up.

I found it quickly and sat down to read a bit, sure I would like it.

But it didn't resonate with me, even after plowing through the first 20 pages or so. I like Pema Chodron, though, so I had a quick look at some of the other books on her shelf in the Eastern Religions section...

And I landed on When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.

I can't recall ever coming across a more appropriate title at a more appropriate time, so I settled in to see if it might be something worth reading.

It didn't take long...

On page 8, I read this:

"When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness."

That paragraph felt very, very personal -- disconcertingly so. I've said several times lately that I feel as though I'm on the verge of something big... and that feeling is very unsettling; it has left me feeling extremely vulnerable and raw. I've spent a fair amount of time, recently and in my past (my whole entire past) shutting down and feeling resentful (or distracting myself with something - anything - else, to keep from facing it) when I land in that vulnerable place (it's scary!)... but I really do believe (and I've said it often recently) that I have to open up and feel the unpleasant emotions, the discomfort, and the fear, or, as she puts it, "... touch in on that throbbing quality."

It's not my M.O., that's for sure. But I think it's the road I have to travel...

I can't stay on the verge forever, after all...

Can I?

Friday, February 21, 2014

This I Know

This morning, I sat in a training meeting, only half paying attention to what I was hearing. I was leaning on the table, my head resting on my hand, and my fingers wandered, as they often do, to the knot on the right side of my neck. I can actually feel my cancer... or a small part of it, anyway. It's an odd thing, really, to touch a part of you and know it's just... wrong.

So much about me feels wrong lately.

The past few weeks have taken their toll. Last night, I sat here, feeling completely empty, deflated, flat... like a balloon that had lost all its air. Today, my boss asked me no fewer than 6 times what was wrong or if I was feeling better yet. All I could say, each time, was "I'm fine." I heard her tell someone else that I don't lie well (it's hard to lie believably about how you feel when you wear your heart on your sleeve). A little bit ago, while watching something funny on YouTube, a laugh turned inexplicably into The Ugly Cry. I wasn't prepared for it at all. Neither was my poor dog, who flew off the sofa and rushed to my side, to kiss my tears away.

I've been working on not avoiding painful feelings as they arise. I've always been good at rushing to find something to distract me when some unpleasantness comes to mind or heart. But I know, all too well, how that simply prolongs the pain.

So my job right now is to simply face it; to let it wash over me and through me; to sit with it until it subsides.

It's hard.

It's exhausting.

And I'm worn out.

I decided to take this weekend to breathe... to regroup and gain some perspective and balance. I'm going to go to bed early and, hopefully, sleep (I've been dealing with a bit of insomnia and a few nightmares of late). And tomorrow, when the weather is supposed to be nice, I'm going to spend an extra long time at the park with my fuzzy boy. Then I'm going to go to the gym and I'm going to sweat. And then I'll clean out my disgusting car and my messy bedroom, as the disorder in my surroundings isn't helping the disorder in my head.

On Sunday, I'm going to set some goals. I need a plan... direction... a target.

I'll be OK.

This I know.

You know how I know?

This morning? In that training meeting? When I took my hand away from my neck?

This is what I saw...

... and still I rise.

I rise. It's what I do.

Yeah. I'll be OK.

This I know.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I created a human being more than 14 years ago. I had help, certainly, as you must, but I did a lot of it by myself, as you do. And in the 14 years since she made her abrupt and rather painful entrance into the world, I've taken care of her, largely, by myself.

It hasn't always been easy.

But it has always been worth it.

She is a remarkable child. Well, I guess we're getting to the point where I can't call her a child any longer, even though she'll always be my child.

She is a remarkable young woman.

Her life is not perfect... and often, it's not easy. That is, sometimes, by design. And, sometimes, by circumstance.

But she lives it with amazing creativity and humor. And a bit of attitude. And, sometimes, with minor dramatic meltdowns.

She is 14, after all.

In the past few months, she has astounded me with her maturity. She has handled a few set-backs and confrontations with incredible grace. She has made me proud, as she does.

I love her. I love her more than I ever imagined it was possible to love another human being. And I have imagined some big, big love.

She is her own person. She sees the world in her own unique way. She thinks her own thoughts and feels her own feelings and lives her own life.

But she is mine. And she will be, forever, mine.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Remind Me Again Why I Like to Travel...?

I've been rather melancholy and introspective lately and I figure if I'm annoying myself (which I am), I'm likely annoying anyone who's reading, too, so I decided to lighten things up this evening.

I was talking to a friend recently about planning a trip to London. I haven't been in ages, I miss my peeps there, and though I have no traveling money at all right now, just thinking about a trip makes me feel better. While pricing flights in a wishful-thinking sort of way, I was reminded of the many hops over the Atlantic I took several years ago... and thought I'd relay the story of one of the more memorable ones...

For those of you who have never taken an overnight flight, they're not pleasant in general. Unless, of course, you can afford to fly First Class or in one of those nifty planes that have those cool bed-seats. Yeah. I fly Last Class. No fun. Especially since I simply cannot sleep on a plane. I've tried. I've even stayed up all night before the flight, thinking I'd be utterly exhausted and crash... er... pass out upon take-off. Yeah. No. I just wound up even more exhausted when I arrived than when I left.

Anyway, prior to this particular flight, which I took from Charlotte instead of Dulles for some reason I can't quite recall, I'd been running errands and feeling fine. I went back to my best friend's house, where I'd stayed the night before, to soak in the tub and relax before leaving for the airport. It was all good.


You know how the flu comes on really quickly, slamming into you like a freight train, leaving you fevered and in pain, curled into a fetal position, crying for your mommy? Yeah. That happened. Have you ever flown with the flu? Lordy. It's not pleasant. Not that doing anything with the flu is pleasant. But feeling like death or not, I wasn't going to miss the flight, so I loaded up on all kinds of extra-strength stuff and left for the airport.

The guy at the ticket desk checked me in and told me I must be excited, as I was glowing. I was reasonably certain my "excitement" was more about my "102 fever," but I thanked him anyway. By then, the meds were kicking in, so I had started to feel semi-human again and I was grateful.

It didn't last.

Upon boarding, I found out that my requested bulkhead seats had been given to a family with two small children. Damned children. But since the flight wasn't full, I was allowed to switch from my assigned seat to a row all by myself. I was happy about that, as my original seatmate had a rather peculiar odor about him. He smelled the way I used to smell after a long shift at the fast food place I worked at when I was in high school... and my mother wouldn't let me sit on the furniture until I'd changed out of my uniform. Anyway, even though my new seat wasn't bulkhead, it helped. As I say, I was happy enough.

That didn't last either.

You know that family with the two small children? Well, the littlest didn't like to fly. It hurt his ears. So he hurt everyone else's ears. Now, don't get me wrong, I felt for the little guy. I once flew with an ear infection and it was hell. I thought my head was going to split in two and I completely lost my hearing for a couple of days. It was awful. But by the end of this flight, I have to admit that I wanted to hang that tyke off the airplane wing by his little ears. And I was not the only one.

The rest of my flight mates left a wee bit to be desired as well. Take, for instance, they guy in front of me. We'll call him Mr. Stinky. He was, apparently, suffering from some pretty severe gastrointestinal distress. He sat, enveloped in an airy cloud of pure funk and quite happily shared his little gift with the rest of us. The woman across the aisle from me, who looked quite a bit like Lily Tomlin, kept looking over at me and mouthing, "OH MY GOD," while holding her nose. Even the flight attendant, after stopping in a particularly pungent patch of pong to deliver our drinks, whispered an, "Oh my" under her breath (which I'm sure she was holding at that point). It was bad.

The guy behind me, however, likely wasn't affected by Mr. Stinky, as I'm reasonably certain he couldn't smell. It wasn't for lack of trying, though, as he attempted (in vain) to clear his sinuses over and over and over, from the time we took off until we landed. Eight hours later. You all know the sound I'm talking about -- it's that utterly disgusting, wet, snorty sound people make when they suck big loads of snot back into their throats, only to hock it all back up seconds later. Sorry. I'm just trying to share the experience in all its... richness...

Bear in mind that the smells and sounds are hitting me when I'm feeling like holy hell. I just wanted to sleep. And after Mr. Stinky reclined his seat, which must have been broken, as it nearly landed my television in my lap (and I've never had a seat recline that far... or I likely would have slept on a plane before), I decided to move to the other seat in my empty row and recline. Sort of. I put my head on the armrest closest to the aisle and a foot on either side of the window. It was, actually, the exact position I was in when I gave birth to Ryan. Except I was more comfortable. During childbirth.

After dozing on and off for about an hour, I sat back up. Lily Tomlin (of the OH MY GOD Tomlins) had also fallen asleep. Now, when I see someone sound asleep on a plane when I desperately want to be sound asleep but can't make it happen, I usually just get pissed off. But not this time. This time I laughed. Out loud. You see, Ms. Tomlin apparently wore a wig. And as she napped, it... shifted... so that the part of the wig that should have been 'round her left ear was covering her face and the left side of her head was left quite exposed. At this point, Mr. Full-of-Snot, on his way back from the bathroom, noticed her little hair dilemma and he laughed out loud, too. That made me laugh even harder and we both caught a case of the giggles, which was not good, as laughing creates more phlegm, and Mr. Full-of-Snot did not need that, let me assure you. All the chortling woke Ms. Tomlin up, though. It took her moment to figure out what was happening, as she appeared to be a bit disoriented (as one would be if one's hair was not where it should be), and then she quickly tried to right her mop. I nearly peed in my seat.

Needless to say, I have never been so glad to reach my destination as I was to arrive at Gatwick. And I've been on flights with so much turbulence that I literally bounced off the ceiling... and flights where people have thrown up around me. This one was worse.

Thankfully, the flu didn't last long and I had a great time. The flight back was not completely unpleasant, as it was during the day, and I sat next to a lovely, funny guy, who kept me entertained. Well, I was entertained when I could hear him over the snoring from the Hagrid-like creature in front of us and the hard-of-hearing French woman who yelled at her traveling companion from London to Charlotte (not in an angry way... just loudly).

Remind me again why I like to travel?

Oh, hell. You don't need to remind me. Put me on a plane, going almost anywhere, and I'm happy. As long as I remember my noseplug, earplugs, sleep mask, and personal fan, it's all good.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Looking Forward to Beautiful

When I write longer pieces, I edit as I go. This is not a great practice, though it's one I don't seem to be able to move away from. I spend a lot of time (a lot of time) going back over what's already been written... re-reading, tweaking, changing, "perfecting" (as if)... fixing.

Sometimes I even fix what isn't broken.

I spend so much time doing this, in fact, that I wind up not moving forward. I get stuck, especially if I can't make a part of the story work out the way I want it to work out... like, if a character is being stubborn or I'm missing a bit of research or I can't find a good segue.

It's frustrating. It's also fruitless. It's definitely counter-productive. And it's resulted in a slew of unfinished pieces, several of which might just have the potential to be actual published pieces of writing.

I've realized that I do this in my life, too. I spend a lot time (a lot of time) looking back -- re-reading previous chapters, as it were. I think about how I could have done something better or said something different; how I should have seen the other shoe coming straight for my head; how I should have trusted my gut... or shouldn't have trusted someone... or confided in someone... or fallen for someone.


A dear bloggy friend read my last post and told me to try not to over-think everything.

That's sort of like asking the sun not to rise.

It's in my nature to over-think, I think.


It takes me a long time to make decisions. And even after I've made them, I second-guess myself. And if the decision turns out to be a bad one? Whoa, Nelly. I'm in for it.

I don't want to be this way. I really don't.

I made a new Facebook friend recently. She's the real-life friend of a few other people I know and, as such, I could see many of her posts (which I loved reading). She seemed like someone I'd just like to know, so I sent her a friend request. And she? Is kind of amazing. She's much younger than I am and she's on a long-term quest to become her very best, most authentic self. And it seems to me that she's succeeding. Recently she posted that about year or so ago, she woke up one morning, simply tired of her life. She was overweight, depressed, and on several medications she felt were harming more than helping. So she just decided she was finished with that life and was ready to start another. And she did. She's lost more than 100 pounds, takes no medication, runs every day, and now has this incredible (and contagious) zest for Life. People adore her. She's clearly inspired... and inspiring.

Can you imagine waking up one morning and simply making the decision, in a moment, to become a new person?

It's what she did. 

And I have to wonder, can I do it, too? 

Can I wake up tomorrow and just think, I'm tired of this life I've been living; I'm tired of re-reading chapters; I'm tired of looking backward and wishing for things that are lost... or never were and never will be; I'm ready to be a new person... 

Can I just do that? 

Can I take the good things about me and my life forward, and make them better?

Can I leave the crap behind and just not worry about it anymore? 

Can I, for once, simply not over-think it and just do it? 

Seems like it might be worth the effort, doesn't it?

Sounds like a beautiful Life.

I'll keep you posted. You know I will...