Thursday, October 1, 2015

Put It On The List

This year, my birthday gift to myself was to get my hair cut short and colored in shades of blacks and reds. It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time. The next day, while I was squinting at myself in the bathroom mirror trying to decide if I liked my hair or not, I thought Boy, I just do whatever I want anymore. This could get dangerous. I meant dangerous in a good way (Is that a thing?) I've had one adventure after another this year and I like it!

In August, I ran a 180 mile relay race with 11 other people through the Teton Mountains. It's not the type of thing I ever imagined doing and while I don't think I'll ever do another relay, it changed my parameters when it comes to running and what I'm capable of. Prior to that race, I'd never run more than six miles at a time. Now I'm looking at saying "A half marathon through Zion National Park? Sure, let's do it!"

My husband running in the Grand Teton Relay

These new realizations of my capabilities (with my hair and my running) have led me to re-evaluate my Bucket List.

I've had a Bucket List for years. I started it after watching The Secret and becoming enamored with The Law of Attraction and gratitude. I figured if there were things I wanted to do, I should write them down so I could focus on them. Occasionally I'll encounter someone else who has a Bucket List, but I've never met anyone else who keeps a physical list with them. I write my list at the back of whichever notebook I'm currently using for writing, which goes with me everywhere. That means every couple of months I have to transcribe it into a new book. It helps me remember what's on there and why, and it prompts me to think about how I can make some of those things happen for me.

Playing roller derby was on my Bucket List. I made that happen. As I've discussed before, derby was a powerful force in my life that showed me I can literally do anything I want to. That was the first thing I ever crossed off my Bucket List and let me tell you, that's an awesome feeling! This January I crossed another item off my list-a visit to Mount Rushmore.

A few weeks ago, my husband told me he's going to make his own list. I responded first with raised eyebrows, because of course I have been trying to get him to do this for years, but I quickly threw in words of encouragement! He explained, however that he doesn't want to call it a Bucket List. First of all because it implies he's going to kick the bucket and he doesn't like to acknowledge his own mortality (okay...) but mostly because Adventure List feels like a more fitting title for him. I like that idea.

Of course, my hubby's attitude caused me to re-think the title of my own list. I do kinda internally cringe at the thought that what I'm saying is "Hey, here's a list of things I want to do before I die," even though I know that's exactly what it is. But then again, isn't that what all of life is, really? I don't know that I want to change the title of my list so much as re-purpose it to Bucket List as in I want to fill up my bucket of life, instead of kicking over an empty bucket when the time comes.

Me running in the Grand Teton Relay
It has taken me a lot of time, tears, therapy and trial and error to find this "dangerous" adventurous part of myself and welcome her. It's certainly not something that can be perfected. Some days are happier and easier than others. During that relay race, which went for 36 hours, I didn't get any sleep and I pushed my body past its limits. Near the end, my feelings were hurt by something a teammate said. I cried and said "I'm done." I let someone else run my last leg. I was done and I couldn't push myself any more. It was not my best moment. Some of the other people on the team asked my husband "Isn't she going to be disappointed? Won't she feel bad about herself for not running the last leg?" and knowing me as well as he does, he reassured them that I was going to be just fine.

Am I disappointed I didn't finish my final leg? Yes and no. I ran as hard and as fast as I could for my first two, one of which was at 4am. I'm proud of that. I was more reactive than I like to be by getting upset, but that was real. That was me as raw as I could be, in front of a bunch of strangers. It wasn't pretty, but it was me and I don't feel bad about that.

Running a relay wasn't on my Bucket List but I kinda want to put it on there just so I can cross it off! That was a huge accomplishment and a hell of a life experience!

Now whenever I think of something I want to do or have or a place I want to visit, I turn to my list. I want to own a tank of sea horses, drive a race car and have a beer with Dave Matthews. What do you want to do? Just put it on your list!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reasons To Read Everyday

Often, when I tell people I read 60+ books in a year, I get a response somewhere along the lines of  "I wish I had time to read that much," in a tone that implies I'm wasting my precious time with all these silly books.

Making time to read every day is a choice I make and yet it's no longer a choice. Reading has become a part of my daily routine, like eating or brushing my teeth. Any time I leave the house, I grab my wallet, sunglasses, keys and a book. It's become habit. Over the years, I've learned little ways to sneak more reading time into my life. Along the way I've discovered how reading enriches my life and leads to more reading!

I take a book everywhere I go!
Here are a few of the reasons I love to read every day and how I make time for it.

1) Reading increases my vocabulary. The dictionary in my Kindle is one of my best friends! Reading classic literature in particular has exposed me to a completely different use of the English language that I didn't even realize had existed.

2) Reading motivates me to write. Reading a book that I find incredibly well written or exceptionally moving inspires me to tell my stories and hone my craft. Reading a book I find poorly written or disappointing makes me say "I can do better than that!" Either way, I'm motivated.

3) Reading helps me prepare for sleep. I try to climb into bed with a book at least an hour before I want to go to sleep. This forces me to put down my phone and spend some time in a restful state before expecting my body to go to sleep. The story I'm reading distracts my brain from all the things I forgot to do today or need to do tomorrow. The only side effect is that I often dream about the characters in the book I'm reading!

4) Audio books make travel time productive. I've been working in a flower shop for six months and spend a portion of each day alone in our delivery van. After a while, I thought my brain was turning to mush from all the Top 40 Radio I was listening to so I decided to try audio books. Now, I complete one or two books each week in this format. Listening to books is a completely different experience from reading them on my own. Some more difficult material (Can you say Hemingway?) is much more manageable with an audible narrator. I find it easier to follow dialogue this way too. My favorite type of audio book is memoir read by the author. It's like having a friend along telling his/her story while I drive.

5) Reading is something my husband and I can do together yet separately. In our house, we frequently have what we call Quiet Time, where we sit together in the same room and read our own books. Romantic, right? My husband and I are both self proclaimed Book Nerds. Together, we search garage sales and book stores for new additions to our home library. Reading is a hobby we can share and enjoy in our individual ways. We even hold a friendly competition  each year to see which of us reads the most books!

Book mail from one of my besties
6) My book club friends are some of my favorite people. I belong to two different book clubs. Both read one or two books per month and both frequently push me outside of my regular reading comfort zone. This broadens my horizons and exposes me to books, cultures, ideas and opinions that I otherwise wouldn't become familiar with. When we get togethr and discussly our monthly selections, even if it's fiction it leads to discussions of rea life issues and allows us to share our own stories in a small, safe setting. I have one particular friend who I've known for years and yet 95% of our conversations are about books! This has bonded us in a way that is different from any of my other friendships. The subjects in teh books we read bring up topics in conversation that may never have been braoched otherwise.

I know what you're probably thinking and no, I don't have kids. However I have a friend with two kids who reads more books than I do each year and some friends with no kids who read zero books per year. If you want to read, you can make time for it. Try using some of my tricks to squeeze more reading time into your days.

Tell me what you do to make reading fit into your life and why? What benefits have you noticed?

My favorite reading buddy

Monday, August 24, 2015

Life After Derby

A pin given to me in a birthday card last year.

This month marks one year since I retired from roller derby after suffering a head injury during a game. At this time last summer, I was still in the early stage of my recovery, wondering if I'd ever feel like myself again.

The answer to that question still isn't clear. Are any of us ever really "the same" after anything as we were before?

At my birthday party last August, I couldn't drink more than one beer and was devastated to discover I had to turn off the background music because all the sounds hurt my head too much.

As I prepare to celebrate my next birthday this week, I've been doing a bit of reflecting on my 36th year. (I'm a pretty reflective gal, if you haven't figured that out yet!)

I've realized that the past year has been about recovery and discovery for me. Recovering from my injury and all that entailed, physically as well as emotionally. And discovering who I am and what I want and need in life. I've tried a lot of new things and learned more about myself in the past few months than I ever imagined possible.

It's been a year since I played derby and I still miss it a great deal. When I got injured, I wondered who I'd be once I wasn't a "derby girl" any more. I've realized that a part of me will always be one. Even though I don't play anymore, I know that I'm capable of it and that's a powerful feeling.

Roller derby eliminated the shell I wore that separated the real me from the me I showed to the world. When you get knocked on your ass in front of a thousand people while wearing hot pants and fishnets, it's kinda hard to hide anything!

Roller derby allowed me to embrace who I am and who I strive to be. I formed strong bonds with like minded women (and a few men) who didn't judge me by my tattoos or the fact that I'm childless, and who helped me form a bad ass persona for myself based on the fact that I love candy.

Derby filled a void in me that I didn't even know I had. I had never played a team sport before. I miss the bond that I formed with my teammates. Now as I live a life without it, I wonder what will be next for me and where I might find that camaraderie. It's exciting to think there's something waiting for me that I haven't discovered yet.

If I had to sum up what I learned from roller derby in one phrase, it would be this: I can literally do anything I want to. I joined the team at age 33 and had never roller skated in my life.  Last weekend, I ran a relay race in the Grand Teton Mountains. It was tough. I sweat, I struggled, I cried. I turned into a monster from not getting sleep. But as I was pushing myself through seven miles with a 1,100 foot elevation gain, when I started to struggle I reminded myself  Hey, at least no one is chasing me or trying to hit me or stop me!

I've continued to support my derby team by going to bouts and fundraisers. My personal experience has allowed me to play a unique role for two of my former teammates who have retired in the past few months.

As I recovered from my head injury, I began to focus my energy on running, reading and writing. I've done some traveling and have tried my hand at floral design for the past few months.I am more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have been before. I have the confidence to wear whatever I want and braid my own pigtails!

Sure I'm a different person than I was before my head injury but I'm also a different person than the one who signed up for that 180 mile relay race!

It's fun to look back every so often and see the changes in myself. I've had experiences this year that I never would have anticipated at this point last summer. That's the beauty of change.

Teaching my niece to roller skate this summer.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I Really Don't Know What Time It Is

Two years ago, I stopped wearing a watch and replaced it with a bracelet that reads "Be Here Now.”

One of my personal resolutions over the past couple of years has been to work on being present and aware in my daily life. Far too often I found myself in the middle of a task I wasn't focused on, instead my mind was running through a ticker tape of all the stuff I need to do next. I realized I was missing out on the joy in experiences because I simply couldn't sit still and enjoy them.

On a recent evening, as my other half was considering some pre-dinner preparations, he asked me "Do we have time for this? About an hour and a half?" I looked up from what I was reading to reply "Sure. We've got all the time in the world. We're not on a schedule." With one eyebrow raised, he asked "Who is this new Ramona?"

He's justified in being surprised at my laxidazical attitude toward time. A year or two ago, I would have been stressed about the fact that it was "dinner time." For the majority of my life, I've clung to beliefs that certain things need to be done at certain times. That's how I was raised. Thanks to having a mom who always had me arrive an embarrassing thirty minutes early for any school or social function, I'd come to believe that promptness was a life or death issue. If you're going to be late, you might as well not show up at all.

As I grew up, I saw that not everyone held that belief as firmly as my mother and I did. Sure, it's understood that one should try to be on time for a commitment but that's generally about as far as it goes. I had professors who were always late, then worked for bosses who couldn’t show up on time. There was a time when I thought less of those people; You expect me to be on time but you can't be? I begrudgingly thought to myself. I started to realize that actually no, those people didn't put any expectations on me, I was putting them on myself. Sure, you can't be chronically late to work or there are consequences (usually) but occasionally, it happens. The alarm doesn't go off (or-gasp-you fall asleep without setting it), you get stuck in traffic or the roads are icy or any number of  hinderances that lurk between Point A and Point B. Still, I held tightly to my belief that had to be on time and if the people around me cared about me and my selves, they would be on time too.

Then I moved to Montana.

On multiple occasions, I've gotten behind a car with a bumper sticker that asks "Did you move here to be in a hurry?" Well...I guess the answer is no...

Montana slowed me down. A lot. Maybe it's the open space and the long distances between towns. Maybe it's the mountains, the fresh air, and/or the outdoorsy lifestyles but people who live in Montana have a different energy than people in the rest of the country. 

I moved to Bozeman eight years ago, after living in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina for close to a decade. I liked it there but headed West after my divroce, in search of a fresh start closer to my personal support system. After only a couple of weeks in my new home, it occurred to me just now welcome my lifestyle change was; No more daily commutes on the belt line in rush hour traffic, no hour long waits at the grocery store check out, and I felt safe walking my dog alone in the evenings.

My “Be Here Now” bracelet was custom made for me by a roller derby teammate who is a metal smith. The one I wear now is actually the second version because I wore the first one so much that it broke in half! My sweet friend made my second bracelet out of a stronger metal after taking measurements and other efforts to make sure this one would last me a long time. 

I glance at my bracelet when I need reassurance. When I’m feeling anxious, or rushed or uncomfortable, I look at the blocky letters to remind me to take a deep breath (I’m considering getting a second bracelet that reads “Just Breathe”) and stay with whatever situation and emotion I’m facing. 

Even after two years, I still occasionally look at my wrist when I want to know what time it is. It’s still a reflex after decades of wearing a watch, I suppose. And while there are certainly times when I genuinely do need to know what time it is, I’ve realized most of the time it doesn’t actually matter. And when it does matter, like for work, there's a clock I can look at, or I can always check my phone.

The result of my lacking a time piece constantly attached to my body is that I now “run behind” more than I ever have in my life. *GASP* And I’m still alive, still cruising along just fine. 

Sure, it’s stressful to me at times. I still believe that being on time proves your dedication to the task at hand and I don’t want to be late. But sometimes it happens. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t mean I’m giving the finger to the person I’m supposed to meet. Sometimes I just don’t get there exactly when I said I would. 

I’ve come to realize I was a slave to time for the majority of my life. Now, I’m likely to text a friend to say I’m running behind or ask to push dinner back by 30 minutes so I’m not rushing around like a maniac. 

I’ve learned that my time is valuable and precious. I’ve only got so much of it each day. I want to enjoy what I’m doing when I’m doing it and spend less time in the future or the past. 

How do you feel about time? Do you wear a watch? If so why or why not. I’d love to know!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don't Be Normal

I've decided that I would like to eliminate the word normal from my vocabulary.

According to Roget's Thesaurus, "Normal implies conformity with the established norm or standard for its kind." Synonyms listed include ordinary, usual, regular, typical, natural, average, common, run of the mill.

So if you don't conform to the establish norm, you're not normal? Who established that norm and did they ever tell us what it is?

I don't think normal has any synonyms that carry the same weight as it does. Common and average, I like to use. Those are tangible concepts, you can measure them. But what's normal? One can ask "What's the average age for a woman to get married?" then do research and come up with a number. When you ask "What's the normal age for a woman to get married?" that puts a different spin on things.

Part of my motivation to discard the word normal has come from my work in the flower shop. Each week we receive shipments of fresh cut flowers. I can have a bucket of 36 red roses and while they all look the same at first glance, each one is a tiny bit different. Instead of holding up a flower with misshapen petals and asking "Is this normal?" I've learned to ask "Is this one okay to use?"  because there is a wide range of traits that are considered acceptable. This should apply to all living things!

On the 4th, my Boston Terrier sat on my lap in our front yard while our family lit off fireworks in the driveway. His head would follow each hiss and woosh from the ground to the sky and he never flinched at the boom. My other dog laid at my feet as relaxed as if we were inside watching a movie. Someone said "Those dogs are not normal!" and I will agree this is certainly not the common reaction most dogs have to fireworks, but it's certainly preferable to them being frightened or needing to be sedated.

My thesaurus states that abnormal means strange, irregular, unnatural, unusual. Every time we say "That's not normal," what we're actually saying is "That's strange and unnatural," but I don't think that's what we usually mean.

As a writer, my thesaurus is my favorite tool and helps me hone my craft. When I write a first draft, I write by hand, putting down everything that comes to me. I type it, print it, read it through once, then start editing. One of the first things I do is circle words that need to be removed or replaced, such as very or huge or happy.  I want to use as few words as possible to say what I mean and I have an entire shelf of reference books to help me with that.

One thing I've learned from those books, besides an abundance of synonyms, is that sometimes we use words when we don't know exactly what they mean. I once wrote an entire essay about a trifecta and when I was done thought I better look that up to make sure I'm using it right, and it turns out I wasn't! I used it anyway and included a preface to explain why but the point is, I could have looked quite foolish if I'd not caught that. It's like how not all the examples Alanis uses in Ironic are actually irony. It's still a catchy song but I can't take it seriously.

Perhaps it's because I'm a writer and have a strong appreciation for words, but I believe we should be careful with the words we use. Technology has made it so that our lives are crammed full with people's opinions, with their words. Getting the opportunity to have someone listen to what you're saying is a gift that shouldn't be squandered. When someone chooses to read my blog or magazine article, I'm flattered because there is an endless list of other things for them to read and they chose my words. If someone uses their precious time to read my writing, I want it to be worth their while. I want to make them laugh or smile or give my piece thoughtful consideration.

Likewise, when I speak to someone I want to add to their day. We all have people in our lives with whom conversation is difficult or draining. It's not necessarily their fault. I think they simply haven't become aware of the power their words hold.

I'd like to challenge you. Over the next couple of days, keep your ears open for the word normal. And pay attention to the words you use often or that others use with you. I'd love to know what you hear and think about it!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Remember One Thing

Monday afternoon, I was manning the flower shop by myself when I received a phone call that was a wrong number. This isn't unusual, as our shop seems to have a phone number close to that of some sort of licensing office. The man on the other end of the line ignored my initial greeting and went directly into a rant about what happened the last time he attempted to call this office. In my usual kind tone, I explained "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number, this is a flower shop," while snipping the thorns from some roses. Instead of apologizing, as most folks do when they realize they've misdialed, this particular caller responded with an angry exclamation that included The N Word, then immediately hung up on me.

I'm a fan of expletives in general. There's an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants where he and Patrick find cuss words written on a dumpster and begin using them, calling them "sentence enhancers," and I love that description. I'm a writer, I love words and language and I don't think there should be "bad" words. There's a time and place for everything, even The F Word. However, I also believe words can be misused and that hate speech is a serious issue that exists in our society.

I'm not easily offended, and I believe everyone has a right to their opinion. It takes a lot to shock me but with all that being said, this man shocked me. I mean, mouth hanging open, dumb founded, flabbergasted. I stood there holding the phone listening to the dial tone in absolute awe. I could not believe what I'd just heard.

After I hung up the phone and regained my composure, I considered using Caller ID to call the man back. If it had been my personal phone and not my work place, I probably would have. (Although the next day my boss said "You can call him back right now if you want to, I don't care. That's not acceptable.") I didn't want to scold the man or insult him, I simply wanted to ask Why? Or more accurately, I wanted to say "Seriously? Five days after the Charleston shooting, and during an especially racially charged climate in our country, you want to use that word with a stranger? What exactly do you think you're contributing to society by talking this way?"

I've been thinking about that man all week, my faith in humanity a bit bruised. With all the horrific devastation in the news lately, I like to think that people are carrying on their day to day lives taking particular care to practice kindness and gratitude. I know I sure am. But I bet that guy hasn't thought about me for one second. He was just pissed that he was told to press 7 and when he did, he got disconnected.

This morning when I heard the news that the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage, I turned to my husband and said "Well, I'm glad to see that this can happen in our country, even if people are still using The N Word, " and we both laughed because really, you have to.

I still can't believe that in the year 2015, in The United States of America, anyone has to fight to be considered equal. We are all the same. I don't care what color your skin is or who you like to have sex with. I simply cannot understand why anyone who wants to get married should be denied that. I don't want to go into a political rant here, that's not my style. In fact,  I'm not a political person at all. I'm not a religious person at all. I'm a person who believes in fairness and love. It doesn't seem complicated.

Over the years, a few people in my life have tried to encourage me to change my blog title. More than a few people in my life are not exactly fans of following the rules. "Break some rules," they plead. And yes, I suppose we all do it from time to time. But I won't change the title of my blog because those are two huge fundamental parts of who I am.

Dave Matthews Band has an album called "Remember Two Things," and while I don't know what exactly that title refers to, I like to think it is along the same lines as what I find important in life. I guess it actually can be boiled down to one thing, which is simply: Be Kind. If you do that and you follow the general guidelines of being a considerate human being (even if you occasionally break a rule,) you should be okay.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some Thoughts On Tragedy

I sat up with a gasp a 2 o'clock this morning, in the middle of a dream about a high school classmate of mine who was in a horrific car accident earlier this week and is still hospitalized with severe injuries.

I woke from that dream sweaty, with a racing heart. I turned on my bedside lamp and leaned back against my pillows, attempting to get my bearings. I looked around my dim bedroom, at my dogs sprawled out around my feet, my husband curled up beside me sound asleep, and I thought How lucky am I?

I know that sounds cliche but there's a reason cliches exist, because they're relatable and generally true.

On one hand, I think How can I go about my day laughing and working when such suffering is happening to people I know? and then I think How can I not? That's my duty right now. There's nothing else I can do. I think of them and send positive vibes their way and then I go on living. I am overflowing with empathy and gratitude today.

One of the most beautiful yet frustrating things about being human is that the world doesn't stop turning when crisis befalls us. I have gone through experiences (grief, illness, divorce) where I've  wondered how in the hell everyone else was acting so normal. As I get older, I realize that they had to, just as I have to now. That doesn't mean I'm not acknowledging others' tragedies and creating space for them.

Hug your loved ones today, hug your dogs, hug yourself. Wave to the other drivers on the road and send them thanks for paying attention and not causing an accident. Do those things every day.

So often we travel around through our days without realizing how connected we all are, how much our lives are in the hands of the strangers around us. Saturday afternoon I was in Wal-Mart (I know, what was I thinking?!) when there was a sudden sharp BANG. I grabbed my husband's arm and hid my face in his chest. I thought it was most certainly a gunshot. I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for another bang or a scream. It turns out that a child had popped one of those large bright rubber balls and everyone was okay. But look at how everyone in that store could have had their life change in less than a second. Those things happen.

I wasn't able to get much sleep after my 2am wake up. I tried to distract myself with a book but I'm currently reading a sci-fi novel about a man who died and unbeknownst to his wife, had arranged to have his head cryogenically frozen so he can live forever in the future. The poor widow is fighting to get back her husband's head. Needless to say, that didn't take my mind off the tragic thoughts it was holding onto! It's a good book though!

As I made my To Do List this morning and drank my spinach smoothie, the thoughts that made up this post came to me. I felt compelled to write them down before they slipped away, and share them with the world. Why? Because I can. I have this day and I don't want to waste it. See? A cliche again, but so true.