Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We Made It!

As I sit here in my pajamas drinking coffee on the last morning of 2013, I am overwhelmed with a sense of relief because this year is over. Seriously, I'm giddy about it! I opened my eyes this morning and let out a huge exhale of "Whew, I made it".  Not that I ever had any legitimate doubts that I would physically survive to see 2014, it just felt that way sometimes. While I spent a few months this summer under a heavy blanket of sadness, I knew in a far off part of my brain that things would improve. I knew it as a fact, but my heart and soul were too burdened to believe it for a while.

When looking at the past year in review, it's easy to think of the negative things, the sad things, the hurdles. But for each of those things there's at least two positive things, happy things, times when I was lifted up. I find myself thinking of 2013 as a "bad" year because I lost my sweet canine companion but that event was a catalyst for so many amazing changes in my life.  Over the past few days I've been working on a short list of things I've learned this year to post as a FaceBook status today. Here's what I came up with:
           1. If you hate your job you should quit it.
           2. Dogs are truly amazing.
           3. I am no longer a "city person".
           4. I am loved.
           5. Everything is going to be okay.
Looking at that list makes me feel happy and full. There are a couple things on there that I thought I knew before but hadn't actually experienced in my heart. I'm glad I took time to make the list because it's a great reminder of how much I've grown and loved throughout this year.

Another thing I've done over the past few days is read the book The Four Agreements. It's been on my "To Read List" for close to two years. I even own a copy I picked up at a yard sale but for some reason I'd always skipped over it. Right after Thanksgiving my life coach sent me a link to an article she had come across after our most recent session, saying the topic reminded her of me and our discussions. The article referenced The Four Agreements so I said "Okay Universe, I get it. It's time to read this book." Reading it right before the new year was perfect timing. The four agreements are: be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions and always do your best. These are concepts I work on constantly in my life. It's a tough cycle to break: You make an assumption about another person then you take that personally and that affects your actions and that personal makes assumptions about you and one and on. It's toxic behavior but it's what we do naturally. This book spoke clearly to me. There were a couple times when I'd be reading along and then my jaw would drop open because I was shocked by a line that seemed to be written specifically for me. I know this book will be an important tool in the work I have yet to do when it comes to accepting and loving myself. I highly recommend it.

Along those same lines is one more awesome thing that's crossed my path in the last few days. One of my derby sisters shared a link on FaceBook for The Year of Enough. The title sparked my interest so I followed the link and was practically in tears by the time the video was over. One of my personal mantras that I've developed with the help of my life coach is "I am enough." I scanned the contents of the webpage, thinking over and over "This is for me! This is for me!". It's a network of people who have come together to share positive messages that each person is enough, just as they are. I immediately signed up to participate. If you have a second, follow the link and check it out. Sign up for you feel so inspired and please let me know if you do. It's such an amazing concept, isn't it? That we are enough just as we are. I have my moments of feeling confident but I don't know if I even go a whole day at a time feeling totally sure that I'm enough. I'm not good enough at roller derby, at writing, at cleaning the house, at keeping in touch with my friends. The list can go one and on. I'm too short, I've gotten too heavy, I'm too anxious, too lazy. I can beat myself up over anything. But just like the tiny part of my brain that knew I was going to be okay when I was depressed this summer, there's a tiny part that tries to call out "Look at you go! You're such a bad ass! You're beautiful and tough and funny and kind." I know it's there, I just have to tune in better. So here's to 2014! This will be the year I realize that I am enough, that everyone I love is enough, that my life is enough. It's a great life. A full, fun, life that I've worked hard for. It's time for me to enjoy it!

I'm so grateful that all these things came together to create a perfect storm of inspiration for me. I have a wonderful support system of people (and pets) who have helped me get this far in life. I'm excited to ring in the new year with some of them tonight and start off from a place of love and celebration. Happy New Year to you!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's Better To Give And Receive

I know the saying goes "It's better to give than to receive" but after the Christmas holiday I experienced this week, I'm not entirely convinced it's true. Now I'm not coming from a selfish place here, I'm just saying I can't see how one can be better than the other because they're so tightly entwined, especially at Christmas time.

I enjoy giving presents. I truly do. I love it when I come across something, maybe at a yard sale or thrift store, that I know would be appreciated by someone I know. To give an unexpected gift, no matter how small, is always fun. Birthdays are my favorite holiday because it's a chance for each person to be acknowledged for how awesome they are separate from anything else. As the Christmas season approached this year, my biggest stressor was the fact that our household income was not near what it was the past few years so we simply couldn't afford the type of Christmas we've had previously. I had myself convinced that Christmas was going to be horrible because I couldn't afford fancy gifts and I might not be able to reciprocate to everyone who gave me something.

I'm not exactly sure when things changed for me, but gradually my mindset shifted. I'm sure it has a lot to do with having an incredibly patient and supportive partner who reminds me on a regular basis that everything is going to be okay! In our families, tradition is you make a list of what you want and people buy your gifts from it. You might get something small that wasn't on the list and you probably won't get everything that was on it but for the most part, you get what you ask for. When it came time to make a list this year, I found that the things I wanted were much different than previous years. Last year I had an iPad on my list and the year before that a Kindle. This year I asked for the specific mechanical pencils and notebooks I write with, for lavender lotion and bath salts, for a thesaurus, a book light, a travel mug. When I was working full time, these are things that I would go out and buy whenever I needed them but they aren't necessities. When I unwrapped these items I was thrilled, even though I suspected I'd be getting them. I'd been using the same brand of lavender lotion on my face every night at bedtime for over two years but I ran out a few months ago and didn't buy more because it's over $10 a bottle and I don't really need it. When I received not one but two bottles of it, it was even better than I had imagined! "Yahoo! This is going to last forever!", I exclaimed. My boyfriend's brother, who has his own soap making business, gave me homemade lavender and peppermint soaps in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. After I'd piled it all into a box, I looked at it and happily thought "I'm not going to have to buy soap for years". To take away a burden of having to buy something or to know I'm not going to run out of items I like to have, those things are truly gifts. I know that a year ago I would have appreciated receiving these items, but not in the same way that I have now.

The same thing went for giving. I like to think I'm a thoughtful gift giver no matter what, but I had to put extra thought into purchasing this year. Would this person rather have one pricey gift or two smaller ones? Instead of going online and ordering everything at once, I'd buy one or two things then wait til I got another temp job and buy a couple more. For two of my family members, I enlarged and framed a special photo. The cost was minimal but the recipients were surprised and touched by the gesture. I spent an entire day baking with a friend and gave out plates and bags of homemade treats to friends I'd normally want to treat with a bottle of wine or a gift card to a favorite shop. Several of the friends had seen my FaceBook photos from the baking day and were thrilled that they were getting some of the goodies.

Some of the people I gave stuff to reciprocated but not all of them. Likewise a couple friends gave me a gift and I didn't have something in return. Although there was an initial pang of "Oh crap, I don't have anything for her!", I was able to silence it quickly. A gal in my online book club sent me a gift certificate to Amazon. She expressed her gratitude for being included in the club and having people to share and discuss books with. I sat back and received that thanks. I used it to buy a book on my Kindle that we've chosen as our January selection. I probably wouldn't have wanted to spend the money on it otherwise because I have so many books in my house that I still need to read! One of my closest friends took one of my photos from FaceBook and made a beautiful ornament that honors my dog who passed away this year. I have another friend who works for one of my favorite home town sports teams. He sent me some high quality warm weather gear emblazoned with the team logo because he knew I was in need of a new jacket. I know it took a lot of effort on his part to prepare and send a package right before Christmas. A couple of my family members even bought presents for my dogs. Honestly, my mind was blown by the thoughtfulness of my loved ones on more than one occasion this season. Looking back though I shouldn't have been surprised. I have worked hard to surround myself with kind, loving humans. They all know I've had a rough year and that I'm short on funds and they don't care.

So what was better, giving gifts to these amazing people or receiving gifts from them? I honestly can't say. I know it sounds cheesy, but just knowing these people, being around them and being loved by them, is a huge gift in itself. I care about plenty of people who I didn't exchange gifts with or even mail a greeting card to. That doesn't mean they're less significant to me. People complain about the commercialization of our holidays and I agree to a certain extent. I think there is definitely a general assumed link between the size or cost of the gift you give and the feelings you have for the recipient. I don't buy into that philosophy. My boyfriend didn't buy me expensive jewelry for Christmas. He bought me a thesaurus because he knows how important my writing is to me and a new skate tool because he knows how much I love roller derby and want to take care of my gear. Anybody can buy an expensive gift without putting much thought into it. It's a true friend who will buy an adult themed coloring book because she knows you'll think it's hilarious and color all the pages!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tis The Season...

When the holiday season rolled around this year, I remember thinking "Nope. No way. Not interested. No Christmas for me this year please." If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that 2013 has not been a stellar year in our household. There have been a few drastic changes since last winter. In fact, this is my first holiday season without my beloved dog Ritz. To say I wasn't looking forward to it is an understatement. I haven't worked full time since May so I wouldn't have nearly the same amount of funds to spend on presents as I have previously. My brain could come up with all sorts of reasons that Christmas would be awful. However despite my best efforts at ignoring it December arrived anyway, in all it's bright cheerful glory.

Typically at this time of year I'm gritting my teeth to get through my To Do list one item at a time, until it's January and things go back to normal. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a "Christmas person". I'm an only child from a small family and while I certainly recall that Christmas was fun as a kid, it's never been a huge fancy deal for me. I said that to someone recently and she replied "Are you a Christmas hater?!" Woah, I definitely wouldn't go that far! I like the idea of Christmas time, just not the actuality of it. I like all the special food, exchanging gifts and hanging colored lights on the house. What I don't like is the frantic feeling that comes with all the obligatory shopping, gift giving and socializing. There's always a lot to do in a short amount of time!

Each year my boyfriend and I trek into the mountains on our snow shoes and cut down a tree to bring home and decorate. While I have never loved the idea of a live tree in my living room, it's one of the traditions we are making as our own. I was fully prepared to make the trip again this year as a part of my own process of moving forward without Ritz. We couldn't go last weekend due to dangerous sub zero temperatures and this week my other half is battling the illness I had a couple weeks ago. I could feel how heavy his heart was when he admitted to me that we probably wouldn't be able to go get a tree this year. While I was secretly dancing a jig inside, I never like to see someone I love be sad so I thought of a compromise and went searching for the small fake tree I knew was tucked away someplace in our house. It was high on a shelf in a closet where it's sat in its dusty box since before Reggie & I were even dating. I put it up this weekend and hung our smallest ornaments on it's flexible plastic branches. It's definitely not the same as a big live tree but it still feels Christmasy.

Last year's tree
This year's tree

Unexpectedly, putting up that little tree started a chain reaction of holiday spirit in me. Once I got it decorated I was even inspired to hang some lights around the living room window and put a wreath on the front door. On Sunday I spent the entire day with a friend, baking and cooking like maniacs until we had her kitchen  covered with cooling racks and colored frosting! After I put together plates of goodies for some friends, I decided to dig out greeting cards to attach to the plates. As I was filling out the cards I started thinking of other people in my life who deserve a card and a note of thanks. Handing out those cards and treats this week has been pretty powerful for such a small gesture. Everyone appreciates knowing they are thought of and most people I know like cookies too! For me, finding a way to show my gratitude that was within my means was incredibly important and left me feeling more comfortable and hopeful about my current circumstances.

Going through tough times this year made me acutely aware of the people and circumstances in my life that are positive. While part of my heart is still sad and grieving for Ritz, the rest of it is full of joy and love for the sweet puppy I have for his first Christmas with us. My loved ones rallied around me when I was low and celebrated with me when I reached new milestones. My mom also lost a wonderful dog this summer and has a new puppy. I'm looking forward to visiting her more than I have in as long as I can remember. Introducing our pups will be fun!

My two dogs with Santa this year
So, during the times I catch myself thinking "I can't wait until this year is over", I stop and take a deep breath. Even though my life is different than it was a year ago, it's simpler. The people who are in my life now are there because I have actively chosen to maintain those relationships. I might not be working full time but when I do go to work at a temp job, I'm happy to be there. I don't have any co-workers to bicker with or a staff party to arrange that no one actually wants to attend. I'm not going to visit my family because I feel obligated to but because I want to spend time with them and give the few special gifts I've bought. Instead of feeling like Christmas is about obligation, today I feel like it's more about opportunity. Because my life has changed so much this year, I'm quite aware that by this time next year it could all be altered again. It makes me hug my friends and listen patiently to my mom repeat a story. I still wouldn't call myself a "Christmas person" but who knows if that might change by next year!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cabin Fever

After several weeks battling various degrees of sickness, I finally started to feel like myself again over the weekend. I was a bit antsy by Monday, after about ten days of barely leaving the house, so I treated myself to a trip to the grocery store. I wasn't even going for cough drops or Kleenex this time! It was a dreary day, with a mix of snow and rain falling throughout the morning. Luckily I returned home just before the temperature started dropping and the precipitation turned to snow for good. Then the temperatures dropped some more. On Tuesday, I stayed home, peering out the windows feeling as if I were stuck in a snow globe. Then the temperatures dropped even more. Here's a screen shot of my phone from 7:30 this morning:

With the windchill it was -30! Temperatures this low certainly aren't uncommon in this part of Montana. We almost always see a few days each year than dip below zero but this is a bit earlier in the winter than usual and it's sticking around longer too. I read in the paper that we could be getting the lowest temperatures over a ten day period in over 40 years. Even though we might experience these temperatures every year or so, it still feels absolutely brutal. You can't be outside for long with exposed skin, it can take half an hour to get your car cleaned off and warmed up, and everything is much slower like gas pumps and commutes. I know what you're thinking: Yes, it's Montana and yes people choose to live here. For the most part life goes on regularly no matter how cold it is or how much snow we get. We have plenty of inventions that make life safer and easier under these conditions like down coats, balaclavas and block heaters for our car engines. But no matter how warm I'm dressed or how prepared I try to be for winter, it always makes me throw up my hands and say "Okay Mother Nature, I get it. You're in charge." 

So even though I'm feeling better and ready to return to the world and run errands, I've stayed inside with my dogs all week as I wait out the cold snap. I've been writing, getting housework done and  watching 30Rock on NetFlix, but I'll admit I'm starting to get bored. Now that my bronchitis is gone and I can finally exercise it's too cold to run, even on the treadmill in the garage. I'm getting my cardio from playing dancing games with the XBox Kinect, which is fine but it doesn't give my dogs much chance for exercise (they just aren't very good dance partners). Instead of letting the pooches into the back yard and taking advantage of a petless kitchen to sweep the floor, I stay at the door  so I can let them in as soon as they're finished. My poor Boston Terrier puppy can barely stay out there long enough to pee on a snowy corner of the patio before darting back in. Needless to say, our housebreaking has taken a couple steps backward recently. Even my Saint Bernard mix, who likes to leisurely inspect his territory and is typically stoic when it comes to weather conditions, does his business close to the house and trots directly back to the door. 

Having five pets who enjoy the outdoors be stuck inside for days on end certainly creates some entertainment. I actually think it has forced some major steps when it comes to everyone getting along. 

Thankfully the puppy has only gotten into trouble in ways that are cute, funny and not harmful to himself. I'm constantly amazed at how quickly he can go from a dead sleep to wreaking havoc. He's keeping me on my toes, that's for sure!

Today was the first day of sunshine all week, so this afternoon when it "warmed up" to zero degrees, I started my car for the first time since Monday. It didn't start on the first try but it started. My driver's side door was frozen shut and I almost landed on my butt when it finally opened, but I was just thankful the handle didn't break off in my hand. As I drove to check the mail (the bank of mail boxes is a half mile from my house), I thought of a George Carlin quote a friend of mine in Florida often says to me when I talk about Montana winters. I'm paraphrasing here but it goes something like "I'll never live in a place where I might die of exposure going to the mailbox." That usually makes me roll my eyes but today it would be a valid concern! One of the reasons people choose to live in Montana is for all the outdoor recreation opportunities. I love to ski and snowshoe but not when it's below zero! What makes it worthwhile for me is that even though I couldn't stay outside for very long today, this is the view from my driveway:

I might have a case of cabin fever but at least I know I won't die from it!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Gratitude In Review

Yesterday was the final day of my Gratitude Project. I'm proud to report that I succeeded in posting a FaceBook status every day in November to list three things I was feeling thankful for. As a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, I jumped into the challenge looking to strengthen my own gratitude practice and hopefully inspire others to do the same. Initially I found the project easy and fun.  I posted my list each evening as I reflected on my day. I challenged myself to ignore negative things that had happened and find the silver lining when I encountered an undesirable situation. And then I got sick...

I am not one of those stoic people who can continue on when they're sick without disruption of daily life. I am not a pleasant sick person. I try to be, but I can never pull it off. Instead, I'm a weepy pouty sick person who shuffles around wearing a bathrobe all hours of the day, leaving a trail of damp snotty tissues. It's been more than two weeks since I first felt the inklings of what I thought was a head cold but turned out to be a sinus infection, which turned into bronchitis. For more than half the month, when I was supposed to be focusing on feeling good and thankful, I felt like crap and I was grumpy! At first I tried to power through. I truly tried. I had to leave a roller derby practice when I got nauseous after skating a few laps despite feeling dizzy. I went to a football watching party and a game night (in the same day) even though my ears crackled and felt like they might burst. I took NyQuil and DayQuil and rested for a few days, but I kept getting worse. After witnessing a violent coughing spell that forced up my breakfast, my usually mellow boyfriend approached me with a stern look on his face and convinced me it was time to go to the doctor. So I went. That was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, the same day his parents and two siblings arrived at our house for the holiday.

Each day I managed to find three things I was grateful for but I'll admit there were a few days there that were rough. There were a few nights when I spent a long time staring at my bright white FaceBook page, logged on much later than usual, racking my brain to come up with positive things to list. I struggled to get through a couple days with company in my house, trying to not be a miserable bitch. On Thanksgiving Day I found my puppy chewing on a prescription medicine capsule belonging to one of our guests. I lost my cool and dropped a couple of f-bombs on my in-law family. I'm not proud of it and I tearfully apologized, but that's when I realized I was maxed out. After everyone left the next day, I put on yoga pants with a sweatshirt and parked myself on the couch, getting up only to eat turkey and cranberry sandwiches and pie. Yet I still made that post each and every day. I knew that even though it felt like everything had gone to crap, I really did have a lot to be thankful for, like having leftovers so I didn't have to cook and having people who love me even when I'm not at my best!

As I've mentioned before, there's been some negative feedback to the gratitude movement on FaceBook this month. Fortunately, the responses I've gotten personally have been nothing but positive. Just yesterday I received a message from an acquaintance that re-newed my faith in myself, that I had lost while feeling low. She agreed that I could share her note here:

"Hi, I know we never got to know each other much but I wanted to thank you for sharing your work and positive affirmation with your coach. I have struggled my whole life with negative thoughts and need to concentrate on happiness. If you have any advice I would appreciate your input on how to do it. I need to retrain my brain... Lol. Thank YOU for putting yourself out there."

Isn't that beautiful? I responded and let her know I thought it was. I took on this Gratitude Project hoping to inspire others and look, I did it! It made me stop and think about the past couple weeks in a different way. One of the things I work with most with my life coach is not being so hard on myself, especially when it comes to making mistakes. She taught me one of my favorite mantras "Nothing is good or bad, it just is." I've been beating myself up for pushing myself when I felt so sick, for not being able to keep my cool. There's nothing I can do about it now but forgive myself and learn from my experience. Looking at those words written down, it seems so much simpler than it is in my head!

I'm finally starting to feel like myself again, even though my bronchitis symptoms still linger. The house is back to normal after having guests, the dining room table takes up less space without the leaf and dogs have taken back their spots on the couch. The holiday didn't go perfectly but then again nothing ever really does. We just expect it to and then feel disappointed when it doesn't. I've learned a lot this month, about some of my FaceBook friends and about myself. Today marks the start of the final month of the year. It's a time I typically spend reflecting on the year that's past and planning for the one to come. But this year my goal is to stay in the present, to continue to look for things in each day to be grateful for.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Puppy Love

We're marking a small milestone in our house this week. As of yesterday, this little guy is four months old!

The time has passed in a flurry of housebreaking and puppy proofing. It sure didn't take me long to realize that I'd never raised a healthy puppy before. Holy smokes, a tiny thing sure can have a TON of energy!! A couple of my friends have said "Boy, I don't envy you one bit in that puppy stage", and while I'll admit it is a lot of work, it's also been full of joy, which is something my house had been lacking prior to the puppy's arrival. 

This is the first time I'd acquired a dog that I had chosen to get ahead of time. There are many great things about rescuing a pet and I've done that several times in the past. At this point in my life, still grieving the loss of Ritz, I knew what I wanted and needed from my new canine companion and I knew which breeds would be the best fit for me. I went on a search for a Boston Terrier and found the best one I could ask for! This puppy has been everything I needed and more, in ways that even I wasn't aware of. 

He is like Ritz in ways that make me laugh: he'll steal the cat food in less than a second, he'll perch on the back of the couch, and he humps my older dog, Charlie, with great enthusiasm. Then he's different from Ritz in ways that make me sigh with relief: he loves to be held, to snuggle close, and he greets visitors to the house eagerly with a wagging tail. This was the first Halloween in three years that we greeted trick or treaters without Ritz locked in our bedroom upstairs, loudly voicing his unhappiness with all these strange kids coming to his house! It was a sad occasion because it made his absence painfully obvious but it was also a relief to be free of that worry. It reiterates to me that I am in a new stage of my life, where I no longer need the security of a dog who will protect me. 

People often ask how I came up with Tinsley as the new puppy's name. I'll admit it's not very original to name a pet after a celebrity, but I knew he had to have a name that was unique and held some meaning for me. I've written before about my love for Dave Matthews Band (see here and here) so I won't go into a lot of detail. I'll just say their music has been a huge part of my life and they mean a lot to me. I knew that I would name the puppy Beauford (after DMB drummer Carter Beauford) or Tinsley (after DMB violist Boyd Tinsley). I was actually leaning toward Beauford when I traveled to Denver in August to see the band two nights in a row. There are a lot of things that made this trip special: it involved ten hours driving each way, it was the first time I had seen a dear friend in six years and it occurred on the weekend of my 35th birthday. It was also the self declared end to my Summer of Sadness

After the first night's concert, I managed to attend a gathering that Boyd held as a meet and greet for his fans. It was smallish, about 70 people, milling around chatting and waiting to talk with him. I rehearsed what I wanted to say to him over and over in my head as I waited for my turn. I had met Boyd in 1998 when I was a young college kid. To meet him again 15 years later, after his music was the soundtrack to so many important parts of my life, felt unreal. How often do we have the opportunity to truly thank our personal heros for the inspiration they provide us? It's amazing! Boyd turned to me and embraced me in the way a close friend would. My voice quavered as my rehearsed words spilled out at him. I said "I turn 35 tomorrow and that means I've been listening to you guys for more than half my life. I can't thank you enough for what your music has been to me". My eyes welled with tears and I got another hug as he wished me a happy birthday and thanked me for my words. "I love you guys", I uttered as my boyfriend took some photos. "And I love you", he replied. The incredible thing about this is I know it's true. I could feel the compassion and gratitude flowing from him. He didn't have to be there. He spent time with each and every person in that group (even my boyfriend got a hug he wasn't looking for!) because he truly wanted to and he appreciated the fact that we love his music. I have wanted to write about this ever since it happened, but each time I try I simply can't find the words to express what this experience meant to me. 

I picked my puppy up less than a week after that trip to Denver. The breeder lives in another state, a six hour car drive away so she had agreed to meet me half way. The roly poly baby dog tumbled out of the lady's car stretching and yawning, his eyes half closed. When I squatted on the ground, he came right to me, tail wagging, and put his front feet on my knee. I picked him up, he licked my face and I immediately knew that he was mine and that his name was Tinsley. There was never any second guessing or considering other names.  

When I explain his name to new people, I don't go into this much detail. Of course those who know me well have heard all of this and have seen the photos. When I first shared the pictures on FaceBook during my trip, I could feel the genuine excitement that my friends felt for me. They recognize how significant this experience was. Not a single friend batted an eye or acted surprised when they learned the puppy's name. It's totally "me"  and  it makes sense. 

I like that there's a story here that not everyone gets to hear. For me, there are so many different things wound together in the puppy's name. It's a way that I am constantly reminded of the importance of gratitude and joy. So when I look at this sweet puppy face, although I am sometimes hit with a rush of missing Ritz, I'm also reminded of all the beautiful things I've been able to experience and appreciate since his passing. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You're Welcome

I was out for a run this afternoon when I felt compelled to stop and take this picture


I'm sure you can guess that part of the reason I like this route is for the view. Running toward those mountains always makes me feel strong, like I'm officially a Montanan. Especially on days like this when it's barely over 30 degrees and my nose is running so much it's dripping onto my chest. I snapped the picture, put my glove back on and continued on my way.  I was headed toward home, thinking about the post I wanted to write today. I tend to get great ideas when I run so I do a lot of writing/editing in my head.  As I approached a crosswalk, I slowed my pace with my eyes on a black car, trying to figure out if it was turning my way when-BAM- it was crashed into by a white pick up truck. I'm not sure if I said "Holy shit" out loud (I think I did), but I was also thinking "Woah, I'm a witness". The black car had spun around and was stopped in the middle of intersection, the white truck still up against it so I jogged over to make sure everyone was okay. Everything happened fast but at that moment I remember seeing several vehicles going around the accident, and I was surprised that no one else was stopping. Everyone involved was okay but no one had a phone and someone asked me to call 911. Once police were on the way I made sure (again) that everyone was okay, pushed my ear buds back into place and ran home. 

What a rush! Talk about being in the right place at the right time! If I hadn't stopped to snap that photo and admire the view, I would have been just a little further along the path and might not have seen the accident. As my Nikes crunched on the snow in my driveway, I let out a big exhale and thought "I am so glad I was there to help". And this leads me back to my original idea for today's post that was going through my head as I ran...

This is the fifth day of the Gratitude Project I wrote about in my last post. Each day I've been posting a FaceBook status that lists three positive things about the day. Maybe you're doing something similar or have friends who are. Just a few days into November, I'm noticing something I wasn't expecting. (Although I suppose I should have been, it is FaceBook after all.) People are complaining about other people's daily posts of gratitude! When I saw the first comment a few days ago, I cocked my head and read it again. I couldn't tell if it was a joke or not. The next day I saw another person's comment which was clearly not a joke. Today I say a meme that said "November- When people who complain on FaceBook for 11 months are suddenly thankful every day". I wanted to shout into my computer and across the internet "YES! YES! THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT!" Everybody complains, it's human nature. I like to think I don't do it much, especially on FaceBook but I know I'm guilty at times. Everybody needs to vent. The friends I've seen posting daily words of thanks are people from all over the country, from every walk of life. Some of them haven't surprised me by participating but a few of them have. To me, that's the beauty of this. That's the whole point! You can be grumpy for 11 months and then think "Oh crap, it's the month of Thanksgiving, I should really think about what I'm grateful for", or you can post what you're thankful for every single day of the year, I don't care. I like to think that maybe someone who's been down in the dumps might see my posts of gratitude and think twice before they gripe about whatever is under their skin. I know that's some serious wishful thinking but hey, I'm an optimist.

Not everybody is full of gratitude every day. That's fine. Bad stuff happens, I get it. We lose loved ones, lose jobs, cars break down, people and pets get sick. It sucks. It makes us feel hopeless. Trust me, I've been there. But I know that when I've been down that low I would never have recovered had I not been able to find other positive things around me. It doesn't happen right away and it's certainly easier said than done, but it's the truth.

I've been doing a lot of self reflection in recent months. I've been reading about meditation, karma,  a path to awakening. Everything I read tells me the same thing, which I've now come to see as true with my entire being: Our joy and suffering is not caused by what happens to us but by how we respond to it. The reason I write for this blog is the same reason I post my FaceBook statuses; I want to share my experiences with others and connect with people who can relate to them and view the world as I do. Everybody likes different things. If someone doesn't like what I write, I can't let that stop me.  I have faith that The Universe guides me to be where I need to be and my run today was a perfect example.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Gratitude Project

For the past two years, I have posted FaceBook statuses throughout November to mention at least one thing I was thankful for that day. I'd seen other people do it and thought it was a lovely idea. Last year in particular, I received a lot of feedback from friends who enjoyed seeing my posts and some who were inspired to do the same. This year one of my friends, who is also a writer/blogger, took it one step further by inviting her friends and readers to join her in what she is calling a Gratitude Project. I love that name, by the way. She has challenged us all to post three positive things each day. She is posting to both her blog and her personal FaceBook page. It brought me joy to see her suggestion, to have a friend who obviously values a gratitude practice as much as I do so I've committed to join her by posting to my personal page as well.

Among my 400+ FaceBook friends, there is a mix of optimists and pessimists, along with a few fairly apathetic souls. Everyone seems to have a different view of what FaceBook is for and how it serves them. Sadly, I think I'm in the minority when I say that I find FaceBook to be useful and beneficial, although I will admit it can also be a huge time suck. I have quite a few friends on there who are a real part of my personal support system, even if they live far away and/or I haven't seen them in fifteen years. The older I get, the more I appreciate the people I know who grew up in the same area I did. We may be scattered all over the world and be different types of people, but we all started in the same place and I think that's a special thing to share. What I'm trying to say is I have lots of types of people as FaceBook friends so I'm curious to see who joins the Gratitude Project.

Since I won't be blogging every day this month, I thought I'd share a list of some of the things I am feeling most grateful for in my life right now:

         Having a supportive partner who "gets me"

         My dogs

         My life coach


         My above mentioned friends/support system.

         All the time I get to spend writing

         Good food


         That everyone I love is healthy

         The fact that I've recently been learning about my family history and tracing my ancestry

         Playing roller derby and having amazing women as teammates.

Of course there are many more things that make me happy but these are the ones that come to mind that have been making my life awesome lately.

To everyone reading this, I challenge you to take time this month (and every month!) to think about what you're truly grateful for and make a list. Even if you don't want to share it with anyone, write it down and look at it every once in a while. I've found this to be helpful on a crappy day when it feels like everything is going wrong. I can just flip through my notebook and see how much good stuff can be packed into a "bad" day: a nice bottle of wine, seeing a rainbow, catching every traffic light green. If you want to share your list, I encourage you to do so here or on my friend's blog or on your own FaceBook page. I promise you that people will notice your positive way of looking at things and they will appreciate it!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I'm Not Worried But My Brain Is

Over the weekend I was in Barnes & Noble with my other half, sipping a chai latte and browsing at a table of paperbacks. Out of no where, he casually asked "You might know this since you're a medical person: Is herpes simplex the same as herpes herpes?" My eyes snapped up and scanned his face as I attempted to respond slowly and calmly "Why in the heck are you asking me that?" It turns out he's reading a book about memory (Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer) and had read the story of a man who suffered severe memory loss due to brain lesions which were a result of herpes simplex. We stood there in the aisle having a discussion about human herpes, cat herpes and viruses in general. At least you can't say we're not an interesting couple, right? "I just don't want to get a cold sore that eats all of my memories", he explained. I vowed to look it up when we got home.

After I had gone off on my own to search for the works of Rumi, I was struck by how much emotion I'd felt reflexively in a split second. Obviously I don't have herpes, nor have I ever had a partner who revealed that he did. I honestly didn't truly believe my boyfriend was about to confess to being unfaithful and contracting an STD. What's fascinating to me is that my mind went crazy in those few seconds between the question and the explanation. It wasn't even enough time to have a complete thought but I had a quick flash of a genuine feeling: was my whole life about to change right there in the non-fiction section? I know there's a lot more at work here than I will ever fully understand but I find it interesting that I can have such a response to something before I even have time to think about it.

I've certainly received my fair share of surprises when it comes to romantic relationships: In high school I was dumped via a note slipped into my locker on Valentine's Day. I've been on at least two dates using match.com to which I arrived and discovered the guy's profile photo was five years old. I've come home from work to discover the guy I was dating had used my computer to send dirty messages to another girl online. And of course, I  married someone who later admitted "I shouldn't have married you." Is it all of these memories (plus more, unfortunately) that combine inside my brain and create what I imagine to be a cartoon robot with flailing arms calling out "DANGER! DANGER!" at the mention of the word herpes?

One of my personal goals over the last couple years has been to become a less reactive person. I know I've made a great deal of progress but I've still got a ways to go. I guess it's just human nature for that internal alarm to go off, to signal it's time to protect oneself. I don't know if there's a way to get around it, at least for me. Maybe a good rule to follow would be: if you're going to ask your partner a random question about an STD, consider giving your explanation first!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Save The Date

Today marks eleven years since I got married. I realize this may be a strange thing to acknowledge, considering I've been divorced for over eight years. This date also marks eight years exactly since I brought home my incredible dog Ritz, who passed away in May. My ex-husband and I had been separated for six months when Ritz came into my life. It was the first wedding anniversary since our split and I was not at a good place in my life. I've always known the timing was not a coincidence. That puppy was in desperate need for being rescued and so was I. And so, this date has always been bitter sweet for me. Not a year has gone by that I haven't thought of both events on this date, and the ways they have shaped me as a person. This is my first October without Ritz. Today I feel no bitterness, some sweetness and a great deal of sadness.

Last week I traveled to North Carolina for the first time since leaving there in 2007 (with Ritz in the passenger seat as my loyal co-pilot). The trip seemed like a great idea when we booked it in August. One of my boyfriend's relatives was getting married in a town a few hours away from the one I had last lived in, so it seemed foolish to travel all that way and not visit my friends who were nearby. What I hadn't anticipated was the amount of dread I felt in the week before the trip, when it occurred to me that I had left North Carolina at my personal rock bottom. The thought of returning and dealing with the memories, made me queasy. I'm a different person than I was when I left. "But aren't you proud of that?" my boyfriend asked when I shared my anxiety with him. "Don't you want to show off how much you've changed?" Sure I'm proud, (although I didn't feel a need to show off) but that didn't make the thought of facing my past any easier.

When I saw my closest friends last week, I gave each woman a lengthy embrace. I could practically visualize the time melting away, along with all my distress. It felt so good to be in the company of each of them. I'll admit I wasn't on the best of terms with them all when I moved away, something I feel a lot of sorrow about, but we had reconnected through FaceBook and I was genuinely glad to spend time with them.

As we traveled around North Carolina and visited with my friends, I was reminded of my past life there in a way I hadn't been in years. I thought of my ex-husband, of our failed marriage, of the beautiful house we had owned, of Ritz and the comfort he had brought me as I moved and left those things behind. I was hoping to return home with a sense that I had come full circle, that I had gone back to face my demons. But instead of feeling separate from the woman I was, I feel more connected to her. I see that even though I'm different in many ways, I'm still the same at my core. I still feel a strong connection to the people I knew there and the different places I lived. It's all a part of me. Looking at those words typed out, it sounds a bit cliche but I can't think of a better way to say it. I feel Ritz's absence a bit stronger today than I have in a while. I'm glad our anniversary came so close to my trip to where we moved from. It reminds me of how far I've come in the past eight years and how far I will probably go in the next eight.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Good Morning!

I've written in a journal almost every day since I was 18. I'll admit I go through phases where I write very little or not at all, but that hardly lasts more than a couple weeks. I've got boxes tucked away in a closet that hold all the notebooks I've filled over the years. Generally, I don't like to read my old entries but every once in a great while I'll flip through one looking for something specific. It's comforting to have them all together. I like the fact that I've recorded so much of my life on paper. My habit has almost always been to write in the evenings, reflecting on the day's events. Sometimes I have little scraps of paper I've tucked into my purse or pocket during the day, where I've jotted down a great thought or funny incident. I'll tape them onto my journal pages or transcribe them in with my other writings.

Although I'm a creature of habit, last month I made a switch. On the advice of my life coach, I've been writing in the mornings. She suggested I strengthen my gratitude practice by making time each morning to write before I start my day. Now that I've started working again, I set my alarm extra early (previously unheard of!) so that I have time for myself, without feeling rushed, before the rest of my morning routine. Initially, I thought I'd be too groggy to be productive right after rolling out of bed. Now, I will admit that I don't sit down without a cup of coffee but I've been surprised at how easily the words start flowing. I also have a great tool that I highly recommend. It's a book called Good Morning: 365 Positive Ways To Start Your Day by Brook Noel. I've had this book for a few years and I've read it intermittently but obviously I wasn't making time for it and I hadn't looked at it in a long time. So I dusted it off and have made it a part of my daily reflection. For each day of the year there is a topic for which there is an entry by the author that's related to the quote she has chosen for the day. Next, there's "Your Turn", which guides you on how to apply today's message to your life and a daily affirmation. Each day is filled with positive messages and reminders to help the reader slow down, identify and focus on the important things in life. I write down each day's affirmation as part of my journal entry. Then when I'm all finished writing, I slide off the recliner onto the floor and meditate for a few moments, usually on that affirmation along with my specific personal intentions for the day. I'm not sure why this hadn't occurred to me before, since I'm a planner! I paired this new habit with my return to the work force last month and I honestly can't believe how good I feel leaving my house each morning. I used to dread getting up for work. I'd set the alarm as late as possible, rush around trying to get everything together,  stumble out the door, then spend my commute figuring out what I forgot at home. I'm sure the fact that I wasn't happy at that job was a big factor in all of this, but of all the things I've learned in the last few months, it all comes back to making time for myself and showing myself kindness.

I know I've suggested this before (and I'll probably suggest it in future posts!), but if you don't already keep a journal, give it a try. It doesn't have to be a "diary", just jot down your thoughts or goals, make a list of things you are thankful for, or if you're feeling inspired, get a copy of this book and make it a part of your day. I guarantee you will notice a difference in your days! If you already have a practice similar to mine, please tell me about it! I love to hear what techniques people use to show gratitude!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Big Picture

As I mentioned in my last post, I entered a new chapter of my life in August when I started working for a temp agency. So far I've completed my first assignment and start my second one tomorrow. About half way through my first day of work, I noticed something happening that I'd experienced before. When I enter into a new chapter of my life, I'll sometimes meet a person who reminds me of someone from a previous chapter. For example if I'd once had a negative experience with a person named X, I'll find myself  having a positive experience with someone of the same name. Other times I'll meet someone who reminds me of a person I cared about in a previous chapter (or just someone who I'm a great physical distance from now) and it makes me happy to be around them. It's as if The Universe is balancing things out for me, bringing me full circle through an experience. It's a reminder that all of my experiences are connected, that everything happens for a reason.

A few days into my first temp assignment, my supervisor and I were chatting about our pets. I mentioned I was looking for a Boston Terrier puppy but they were proving difficult to find. She perked up in her seat and said "I have a friend who just had a litter of puppies!" The full story was a bit more involved and the puppies turned out to be four hours away, but the owner was willing to meet me half way and so I brought my new buddy home last Friday.

This is a wonderful example of how our lives are full of tiny connections that create the big picture that is our journey. If I didn't play roller derby I would probably never have met my good friend A, whose in-laws own the temp agency which gave me the job with the supervisor who connected me to my new puppy. Whew!

When it first occurred to me to get a new puppy I dismissed the idea. A puppy is a big expense, a huge time commitment and a lifestyle change. Did I even really want a new puppy or was I just wanting back my dog who had passed away? Was it even fair to get a puppy if he'd constantly be compared to Ritz? "I think you're over thinking this" said my life coach. "Of course you want Ritz back but you can't have that and you also want a new puppy." That made sense. I tossed the idea around for a bit, meditated on it and discussed it with my other half. Then I decided I wanted a boy Boston Terrier puppy and I put it out to The Universe. Within a few weeks, the connections were made and now I have an adorable little dog who I already love with my whole heart. On his first morning home, I took him outside and sprinkled some of Ritz's ashes along the fence in our back yard, where he loved to patrol and woof at any passerby. All the guilt I was carrying for wanting another dog seemed to lift away. I felt a sense of closure around Ritz's death that I hadn't in the three months since. I'm not trying to replace him. No dog could ever fill his role because I'll never be in exactly the same place I was emotionally when he came into my life eight years ago. However I did need to feel the void I've felt since his passing. Already the new puppy is doing exactly that. He's a bold, noisy, wiggly, cuddly creature and he's brought a lot of joy into our household. I needed him even more than I'd realized.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Workin' It

I've taken a big step this week. (Drum roll please) I've re-entered the work force. In recent weeks I'd been feeling a slight tug in the back of my brain, like it was time to join the world again, to meet some new people, to establish a routine again. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, just that I wanted to be doing something. What I did know for sure is that I'm not ready to commit to a permanent job and I certainly don't want to go back to the field of veterinary medicine. I wanted to be part of the economy again, make a little income, try something new. I have a good friend whose in-laws own a staf
fing agency so she encouraged me to give them a call about doing temporary jobs. I went in for an interview last week and was given some job options on the spot. This week I've spent three days cleaning high end homes in an exclusive resort community. I'll do another day this week, three next week and two the week after that. I've never done this type of work before but it's straightforward and it's a nice change of pace. It's not something I'd want to do forever but who wants to do anything forever, really?

On day two, a co-worker was asking some general getting to know you questions. When I told her about my most recent job and my reasons for temping she said "Well you seem really happy doing this" in a high pitched voice that suggested she found that strange. On day three, the owner of the company told me my supervisor was raving about how well I'd been doing. I told her I was glad to hear it, that I was happy to be there and have been enjoying myself. She replied with "You are a just a joy!" I can guarantee you that no one at my last job would say say that I'm a joy. The thing is, I am happy doing this. It feels like a positive step forward out of my cloud of sadness under which I've spent the last two and a half months. Every day there is a scenic 45 minute drive each way, which I spend in the passenger seat. We drive through a canyon, alongside a river. I sip coffee in the morning, Diet Coke on the way home, while I chat with my co-workers and watch for wildlife out my window. It's not a bad gig at all.

I'm curious to see what happens after the next few weeks. I imagine it will be weird for me to leave a job after that short of a time span and go to a new one. But I also think that knowing it's a short term job is part of what makes it enjoyable. I don't feel that sense of dread about work because I know I don't have to do it if I don't want to. I can call the agency and try something new next week. It's quite liberating.

I'm thankful for this opportunity to work yet not take on a long term commitment. Over these months that I've been home, I have changed. I'm not the same person I was when I was working at my last job. Things that were stressful and important four months ago just aren't anymore. I read a great line this morning, in my book of daily positive affirmations "Stress seems to be fairly subjective, controlled largely by perception".  Sure, there are other important things going on but I've learned that everything is going to be okay.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pet People

I woke up early this morning when I felt my other half stir on his side of the bed. I had barely lifted my head when he said "Don't roll over. It appears one of the cats has thrown up on me." He said it calmly too. He was obviously not surprised or upset. So we got up, squinting in the early sunlight, cleaned up the cat puke, changed the sheets and went back to bed.

I've written before  about my life as a pet person. That is, a life with perpetually hairy furniture and dirty floors. I've always been an "animal person". This is my lot in life. I take care of these creatures, give them a great life, in some cases when no one else would. In return I get unconditional love and companionship along with an occasional dead bird and/or vomit in a weird place. I don't think it's a bad deal.

I once returned a pair of shorts to Wal-Mart that I had bought without trying on. As I handed them to the clerk,  she politely asked "Do you have a dog or a cat?". Oops! I have three cats: one orange, one calico, one gray and white, and one dog who is black and white. They've literally got me covered when it comes to hair on my clothes. It doesn't matter what color I'm wearing, one of them will shed all over me before I leave the house. I used to get embarrassed about it but I don't anymore. I have a few lint rollers I use on important outfits and that's about it. I don't stress about the cleanliness of my house as much as I used to either.

My pets have taught me about life. They remind me to be patient, to relax and enjoy each day. They also help me remember that I am not in control. I lost one of my beloved pets this summer as have my parents and my in-laws. I worked in veterinary medicine for over a dozen years, and I witnessed an incredible amount of joy and sadness come into people's lives through their furry family members. What's always amazing to me is no matter how huge that loss, how crippling that grief is, we're almost always willing to do it again. A "pet person" can always find more love in their heart for the next creature that needs it. 

I've just started thinking about getting a puppy. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm ready or I dwell on all that comes with a new puppy: chewing, house breaking, crate training plus the huge financial component. Then I think of the last time I got a puppy, eight years ago and what an incredible bond we had. I'm not looking for a dog to take his place, but rather fill the empty space and take on some of the love I have left.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I like August. A lot of people moan about it being the end of summer, but I think of it as a different phase of summer. As a kid, I always looked forward to August because it's my birthday month. School didn't start until after my birthday, which is late in the month, so when August rolled around I knew I still had time for fun before the dreaded school shopping started!

Even though we're still seeing temperatures in the high 80's, the heat just isn't as intense as it was a few weeks ago. Already there's a different slant to the sunlight. It's not too hot to go for a run at 9am. After the sun goes down, it's cool enough to wear jeans. It's still summer but it's a bit more enjoyable than the sticky days and hot nights of July.

Here in Montana, this is fire season. Thank goodness it's not nearly as bad as last year, but there's still a smokey haze that prevents the mountains from being seen clearly and burns my lungs if I run outside.

August is also the birthday month of my sweet dog Ritz, who I lost at the end of May. He would have been eight this year. I've been thinking of having a memorial service on his birthday. His death was so unexpected that it didn't occur to me to have one at the time. His absence around the house is still so large.

Earlier this week I posted a FaceBook status that said "I have decided that this summer shall be known as The Summer of Sadness and when it's over we will never speak of it again." This summer has been tough for a number of reasons. You know how it is, once one thing goes wrong it seems like everything goes wrong. I was touched by the responses from my friends.  Some days it feels like I'm the only one in the world who has ever been this sad. My favorite comment was "Every one must have a summer of sadness as a barometer for better days. I am sorry this is your summer." My friends understand and that's a great comfort to me.

Deep down inside, I know that I will recover and things will pan out for me.  Sometimes it's easier to see that than others. I have a big trip planned for later this month. To celebrate my 35th birthday, my other half and I are going to Colorado to see my favorite band in the world (Dave Matthews Band) for two nights in a row. It's at the end of the month, the end of the summer, the end of my roller derby season. To say I'm looking forward to it is an understatement. Even though I normally don't celebrate the end of summer, I think this year I'll welcome it as another step forward.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Crossing The Finish Line

I'm almost done! This is the last day of this Ultimate Blogging Challenge and I'm not going to lie, I'm relieved. Don't get me wrong, I've thoroughly enjoyed participating but I'm ready for a break. The hardest part for me was feeling pressure to produce something on days when I just wasn't in the mood. As much as I love writing, I can't turn it on and off at will. Some days I felt powerfully drawn to write and others it was just going through the motions to get something finished. I enjoy journaling every day but that's a whole different level. I rarely post anything that comes from my journal writings, or if I do it's after some heavy editing!

Despite the fact that I've produced 30 relatively positive blog posts this month, I've been struggling with some not so positive feelings. I'm still recovering from the loss of my sweet dog, from leaving my job in a field I worked in for almost 15 years, and I'm trying to figure out how to go about looking for work again. Honestly, I don't feel like it. I'm fortunate to have a partner who supports me taking as much time as I need to recover and figure out what I want to do but I worry I might not ever feel like it. Do I force myself to go through the motions of finding a job I don't really want? No, and I don't think I even could force myself. I struggle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy being the partner not working. In theory, I think I should be compensating by at least keeping the house super clean but I haven't  felt like doing that either. In fact, I hate housework. All the guilt in the world probably couldn't inspire me to do a perfect job! Some days I have half of my To Do List checked off by noon, other days I'm not even out of my pajamas at that time. I'm honestly not sure what I'm expecting. Everybody's advice is different and I truly appreciate it. I think I'm still trying to figure out who I am now, after all these changes and I guess I can't really put a timeline on that.

This blogging challenge came at a perfect time for me. It has given me something to do each day, given me a reason to interact with people and a chance to share my stories, all of which have helped my healing process. And while I'll miss the routine of posting for the challenge each day, I'm looking forward to days without a deadline! I'm glad to have my brain in writing mode again and while I don't plan on posting daily, I have plenty of ideas to work with to post regularly. I'd like to again thank everyone who hosted the challenge for making it happen and for everyone who participated, either writing posts or simply being my audience!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Life Tastes Good

My boyfriend and I are both self proclaimed "food snobs".  My friends call me a "foodie", that sounds a bit nicer! Before I started dating Reggie, I appreciated good food but not to the degree I do now. The main difference between him and I is that he enjoys creating beautiful food before eating it, where as I'm just looking to indulge. Sure, I can cook and I enjoy cooking sometimes but only to a certain degree. I don't choose recipes with more than say six main ingredients, and I have trouble with timing all dishes in a meal to be done at once. If it's a recipe a little beyond my comfort zone, Reggie will serve as my sous chef.  I've read articles in magazines that give step by step instructions on how to cook a meal with your spouse without fighting. That's not an issue for us. We have never fought over cooking and honestly have only had a few actual arguments in all the time we've been together. He has done the majority of cooking our meals but since I've been out of work this summer, I've pitched in more than usual. But it goes like this: I'll make a few meals, stuff like baked fish with veggies or chicken enchiladas and then he'll make one meal that is fancier than all of mine combined: a whole chicken on the grill with green beans in yogurt sauce and sliced tomatoes with herbed mayo!

My female friends are typically surprised to see how much he loves to cook and even more so when I tell them we often cook together. They say "You're so lucky to be with a man who likes to cook" and I say "Oh yes, I know". We've both been married before, him to someone who was  picky about food, and me to someone whose motto was "If it hasn't been processed more than twice, I'm not eating it". Now, we both truly appreciate having a partner who shares our love of good, fresh food and adventurous eating. One of my favorite food stories is on our first Valentine's Day together, Reggie cooked us and amazing meal of steaks, baked potatoes and asparagus with lobster risotto.

What girl wouldn't love that, right? Well I was a vegetarian for seven years and although I'd been eating meat for two years at that point, I'd never had lobster before. I took one bite and said "Eww, what's that fishy taste?!" Apparently that's lobster and I don't like it!

We plan out our meals for the week, usually trying at least two new recipes per week. We grow a large garden and preserve some of our harvest, we make as many things from scratch as possible. For Reggie, cooking is a way to decompress after his day at work. He makes fresh bread, pasta, pies, salsa, you name it. Meal time is more than just eating for us. We were both raised in traditional households where Mom cooks the meals and the whole family eats together. We rarely eat anywhere but the dining table, which is always set nicely, even though it's just the two of us. We talk about our day and current events. We also make amazing meals with our family and friends. Just last weekend we had a sushi night with another couple. Well, I drank wine and took photos while everyone else rolled sushi! It's always a fun, bonding experience to make food with other people that you eat together.

Any time we eat at a restaurant, we're always inspecting our meal and saying "Oh we could make this at home"!  We're constantly amazed by the amount of prepared, processed foods in the grocery store. But even though we're "snobs", we know we're fortunate. I can't imagine what it would cost to feed a family of four (or more!) the kinds of foods we eat. I'm constantly frustrated by the fact that you can buy ground beef and Hamburger Helper to create a meal for only a few dollars when buying whole foods and fresh ingredients is often 3-4 times as much. I don't understand the politics of it but I wish there was a better solution. I'd much rather know we were the norm than a rarity.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Power of a Good Book

As I've mentioned before, I'm an avid reader and I tend to devour good books quickly.  I spent the majority of my day today glued to Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult. I started it less than a week ago but have barely been able to put it down over the past few days.  Today, I simply couldn't handle the thought of closing the book and having to wait until tonight to find out what happened next. I folded laundry and loaded the dishwasher with the book open beside me. When I walked the dog, my brain was going crazy, thinking about what might happen to the characters. Finally I gave in and laid on my bed for over and hour and plowed through. I feel a great relief and sense of closure but also a little loopy from spending so much of my day staring at printed words. Now I have to rush through the rest of my To Do List before leaving for practice this evening. Totally worth it.

Reading is one of the hobbies I've been able to fully indulge in this summer. Reading and writing go hand in hand for me. The more I do of one (especially when it's good), the more I want to do of the other. Good writing has a lot of power.

Ironically, I also received a book in the mail today. I won it in a give away on Goodreads.com a few weeks ago. It practically makes me giddy, getting a book for free!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thank You

As part of this blogging challenge, I've been reading 2-10 other blogs per day. That's a lot of posts over the past 28 days! One thing that I've been continually impressed by is how many of these blogs focus on positivity and gratitude. I just don't think there's enough of either of those things in our world today. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the minority, being a person who believes we all have something to be thankful for each day. This challenge has been a blessing for me in many ways but this is probably one of the biggest: It has restored my faith in humanity a bit, you might say. I feel a sense of relief, seeing how many other souls out there are similar to my own. We're plugging away each day, sharing our thoughts and experiences with positivity and humor. We give each other feedback and inspiration, sometimes intentionally but mostly just by being present and true to ourselves. I have been moved to tears more than once so far by a friend's or fellow blogger's comment on my posts. Knowing that there are people out there who enjoy reading what I write is a feeling I haven't experienced to this degree before. It has motivated me to write more and more and to push myself further than I have before. I have more ideas than I know what to do with right now which is an incredible feeling!

While I've been doing this challenge all month I've also been participating in a 30 day photo challenge on FaceBook. Each day has an assigned subject so I go through my day looking for an opportunity to take the photo. Combine that with also thinking about writing a blog each day and I've been a regular idea factory this month! I have more ideas than I know what to do with right now which is an incredible feeling! I've been taking tons of photos and carrying a notebook with me at all times so I can jot down thoughts and descriptions. I'm documenting my life in a way I never have before.  It's the first time in a long time that I've really felt this sense of worthiness about what I create.

I believe everything happens for a reason. There were some sad and unfortunate events that led to me being home by myself this summer but if they hadn't happened, I wouldn't have had the time to write for this challenge each day. I definitely wouldn't have produced the material that I have. I have questioned a few of the posts I've written this month. More than once I've cringed when clicking the "Publish" button thinking people would give negative feedback or think less of me for writing it. But I clicked it anyway and I am glad I did. I'm sure everyone hasn't loved every single thing I've written (I sure don't) but I haven't gotten any feedback that was less than positive. I'm already looking forward to the next challenge!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Where Is It?

My creative genius appears to be absent today. I've shown up and attempted several posts but nothing is coming out right. I have some ideas but they're stalling out. So I've decided to go with this:

I took this picture one afternoon earlier this week when my creative genius was present. I was soaking up the sun by my koi pond, listening to good music and writing, writing, writing. The drink in my hand is ice water with lemon. I was on a roll and feeling great! In the past, on the days when I'm "not feeling it" with my writing I would tend to get frustrated with myself. Recently though, I've learned that it comes and goes and that's normal. I'm grateful for this blogging challenge because I've been able to connect with other writers and I have seen more than a few posts this month that show others deal with the same thing. Why is it so hard for us to accept that? Some days we produce greatness, others not so much.

So here's to today! I spent time with my family, I went to a movie and I didn't write much.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Be Here Now

As much as I strive to be present in the moment, I''ll admit I sometimes struggle. As long as I can remember, my brain has always been on, always going a hundred miles and hour. Even when I'm doing something I enjoy, there's usually a list running in the back of my head "Okay, when I'm done here I have to stop at the grocery store for milk, then I'll go home and start the laundry, put meat out to thaw for dinner, walk the dog, check the mail, work on my essay..." and that list is never ending. As I prepare for an up coming event, even if I'm looking forward to it, it's always been an item to check off the list "This weekend we've got the bar-b-que at So & So's on Saturday then we're taking that hike on Sunday, I've got practice on Monday, the concert on Thursday, the next weekend is the camping trip, the weekend after that we're going to Denver..." I'm a planner. That's just how I'm wired. I want to know what's happening next so I can be prepared, get finished and on to the next thing. It's allowed me to do a lot of things but it's also caused me a lot of grief and quite honestly it's exhausting.

This is one of the reasons I started seeing my life coach. I felt like I was missing out on life because I was worrying so much about the next thing on the list. I knew I needed to make some changes but I honestly didn't know how to go about it. A lot of the work we've done has been focused on slowing down, being present in each thing I do, experiencing it completely and then moving on to the next thing. It's been hard work. During this time I've been unemployed, I've been taking things one day at a time. When I first left my job, friends wanted to know "What's your plan? What are you going to do next?" and for the first time in my life I could answer "I don't know and I'm okay with that" and truly mean it. It's been scary and liberating at the same time. I know that eventually I want to be a taxidermist but there's a lot of unknowns between here and there. I'm currently not generating any income and while at times that can be a little unnerving, I've decided to accept this time as a gift. I'm probably not going to have a phase like this again. I'm trying to enjoy it instead of letting it stress me out.

One of my mantras during my work with my coach has become "Be here now". I've jotted into the margins of my notebooks, I've repeated it to myself during both enjoyable experiences and unpleasant ones. I considered getting these words tattooed inside my left wrist but that didn't feel quite right. I started looking for a piece of jewelry with this phrase on it and still couldn't find exactly what I had in mind. That's when I called on one of my roller derby teammates who is a metalsmith. I tossed the idea out to her and she was more than enthusiastic to make me something that will help serve me on my journey. I could see it in my head so I gave her some ideas, she drew up some sketches, got my feedback and then got to work.

I wear the bracelet every day, for just about everything I do. I look down at it when I start to feel restless or simply need a reminder that this very moment is worth experiencing to it's fullest. When I'm waiting in a line and I'm bored or when I'm on the phone with my mom and she won't stop talking, these are times I need to say "Okay brain, slow down. What's going on here that's worth noticing?" It's definitely easier said than done. There are still times when I get impatient or rushed. Even so, I think it's cool that I can look down at this little thing that was made just for me.