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 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.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Step Outside

While I've been doing this blogging challenge, I often scroll through my photos, looking for inspiration for posts. This is a sketch my life coach drew for me while encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone and try something new. This happened back in February when I was contemplating doing something "scary". It was a way of looking at things that I hadn't considered before and it has inspired me many times since then to "put myself out there". About two months ago, I was texting with a friend who was about to embark on a new journey. She talked about how she was excited yet nervous because she didn't like to step out of her comfort zone. I immediately thought of this sketch and scrambled to dig through my notebooks and find it. I took this picture and texted it to her. She loved it and she appreciated knowing that I deal with similar feelings. I came across the picture today and decided to share it because I'm sure there are people out there who could use the inspiration! I think we often get caught up in our own lives and the battles we fight, and we forget that there are other people close to us who are dealing with something similar. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ah ha!

There are few things in life I treasure as much as a great "Ah ha!" moment. The older I get, the more of them I seem to have. When I've been struggling with something for a long time and then suddenly the answer is in front of my face as plain as day, I used to beat myself up asking "Why didn't I think of that sooner?!" but I've learned to be grateful for that moment. I know that things align themselves when I'm ready, whether I realize it or not.

At the beginning of my most recent session with my life coach, she asked me how I've been feeling lately, meaning since the recent death of my dog. I said that at first I had good days and bad days, then a good week or two followed by a bad one. Last week was really good, this week not so much. I gave her more details and it wasn't until later in the conversation when I repeated that I was having a bad day that she stopped me. "What you're doing is labeling your whole day", she explained. "None of it's bad. None of it's good. It just is." I was quiet for a moment, then I said "Huh. That makes a lot of sense" and I scribbled it into my little notebook. I went through my day repeating that line in my head and feeling pretty mellow. Later that night while reflecting on the events of that session, I realized what an impact that sentence had on me. That was my ah ha moment. With all the progress I've made in my life, I still spend a lot energy worrying about following the rules, being on time, doing what I "should". I try to balance that out with taking care of myself and doing what I feel like doing. Maybe if I stop labeling everything as good or bad, it will ease some of that pressure I feel. I don't need to do chores in the afternoon to even out the fun I had while out of the house in the morning. They're all just things that I get to do, all part of my full days that I am very fortunate to have.

I've been waiting for myself to feel "better" since my loss. I now see that's an unrealistic expectation to put on myself. I just feel what I feel. There's a sense of relief that comes with this ah ha moment, with this potential for a new mind set. It's exciting, like I have the power to make a change that could  be a major one for me. I know I can't make a change like this overnight but I can sense that it's already begun and I look forward to what it brings.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who Is Your Guru?

I recently read a book called The Dude and the Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman. It's basically a transcript of conversations between the two men, who have been friends for over a decade.  They discuss life and the importance of doing good as they explore the idea of The Dude is considered by many Buddhists to be a Zen master. It's a pretty fun book, easy to read and quite inspiring. If you're a fan of Jeff Bridges, you should definitely read it.

My favorite line in the book is when Jeff says "Everyone you meet is your guru, teaching you something." This is a personal philosophy I have had for a long time, although not exactly in those words. I've written a lot lately about judging others and how it prevents us from seeing things through a wider lens. I believe that everyone we come in contact with has something to teach us. If you write someone off because of a snap judgement, be it how they're dressed or what kind of car they drive, you're missing out on a potentially great learning opportunity. I like that line so much because of the word guru. Sure you could say everyone you meet is a teacher, but guru implies that they're a "master", that they're really worth listening to. Everyone is a master of their own ways. With that thought in mind, it also goes to say that the people I come in contact with have something to learn from me as well. I like the thought of myself as a guru. I truly do believe that just by being me and sharing my experiences with others, I teach what I have learned. I have seen that happen. Even if the other person doesn't realize they're learning from me or don't want to, I know that just by sticking with what I know and believe, I can inspire someone. That's a pretty big deal.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Showing My Colors

At some point during all the blog hopping I've been doing for this challenge, I happened across a post that discussed coloring as stress relief for adults. I always enjoyed coloring as a kid but I can't remember the last time I used crayons, probably 20 years ago or more. The post made sense to me and I briefly thought "Hmm...I should give that a try" but after after leaving the post I didn't think about it again. A couple days later, I was shopping with my other half when he called to me from an aisle away "Hey honey, these crayons are only $1.68! We don't have any at home, do we?" I knew it was a sign from The Universe! I trotted over and said "Let's get them! I just read an article about coloring as stress relief for adults" and into the cart went a box of 64 crayons. Next I needed a coloring book but discovered they were $5 for only a few flimsy pages. Reg suggested I draw my own pictures but I'm more of a "stay inside the lines" kind of person so he said he thought I could find some online to print out.

My initial search for "pages to color" turned up lots of sites that provide coloring books to pages to download for a fee. I added "free" in there and found  Crayola's website. They have a lot of options for all sorts of crafty stuff. Of course it's geared towards kids, so this is what I ended up with:
Don't laugh! I did a couple of those and while they're cute and fun, it wasn't quite what I had in mind. Over the weekend I had some time to look again and got the same sort of results so I decided to change it up and Googled "free coloring pages". Autocomplete kicked in and gave me some suggestions: the first was "for children" and the second was "for adults". I'm not sure what it says about me that I hesitated for a moment, thinking "coloring pages for adults" would mean X-rated. I honestly didn't even want to come across those, but I took the chance and thank goodness no one is as perverted as I was suspecting. Well, I'll take that back and say I bet someone is but thankfully it wasn't easy to stumble upon.

With a bit of searching, I have been able to find several sites that offer free designs I can print out. This makes me feel better because at least now I know I'm not the only grown up looking for coloring books! I tried to find the blog post that originally gave me the idea but I've had no luck. However I did find several other articles on the subject.

As to whether or not coloring actually reduces my stress levels, I can't say for sure yet. I certainly found it to be a soothing activity. The smell of the crayons takes me right back to childhood. My mom colored with me a lot. I remember I had a Planet of the Apes coloring book that I loved (How in the heck did I get that?!). It definitely is a nice alternative to staring at FaceBook. One thing I noticed right away is that coloring encourages me to slow down and sit still quietly, which isn't something I do very often. It's not something I can do "real fast" and it's the only thing I can think of that I've done lately with no agenda. I'm coloring the pages and then putting them in a pile on my desk. That's it. I'm not finishing them to meet a deadline or gain knowledge or to give them away.

Even though I'm staying within the lines, I'm still using the creative part of my brain. It's something different and it feel nice. I encourage you to give it a try. Sit at your kitchen table in the evening, when the house is quiet, and color a picture.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Let The Sun Shine (but be careful)

Since I've been out of work for the past couple months, I've gotten something this summer that I haven't had in years: a good tan. Now don't worry, I am fully aware of the dangers of sun exposure. I know, I know, I know. I probably shouldn't be in the sun as much as I am. I just can't help it. It feels good.

I grew up in the 80's, before we knew we should be avoiding sun exposure. I clearly remember my mother lying on one of those plastic tri-fold lawn chairs using coconut scented "suntan lotion". She even had one of those reflectors that looked like it was made from tin foil. She always had a dark tan. And yes, my mother has had skin cancer. So has my grandmother on my father's side and she's always avoided the sun. I recently asked my mother if she would have avoided the sun, had she known in the 70's and 80's that she was increasing her risks. She paused for a moment to consider and tilted her head to one side. "Probably not" she replied. She also smoked cigarettes for twenty years, quitting when I was about twelve and she developed asthma. I don't smoke. Although I gave it a try briefly when I was a teenager, it's never appealed to me. Why would I pick up on one risky behavior but not the other?

Maybe I'm over thinking it. I know we need sunlight to survive and that it improves our mood, among other things. I even have one of those "Happy Lights" to get me through the long dark winters. But for me, it's more than that. It's almost as if it warms my bones and keeps me moving. I like to be warm. I'd much rather be hot than cold. My other half is the opposite. In fact, when we first started dating I feared we wouldn't be able to stay together when I learned he likes to sleep with a fan blowing on his face! We've managed to make it work, although it seems like he's always struggling to cool off and I'm always trying to get warm. The funny thing is, my mom and step-dad are similar. When I visit in the summer, the central air is blasting and he's wearing shorts with no shirt while she's pulling on socks and a sweatshirt.

I'm quite curious about the discussion of nature versus nurture. In what ways am I who I am because I learned it from my mom? And what are the things she passed to me that I can't avoid? My love of the sun is one trait that makes me wonder, my anxiety issues are another. I've spent a lot of time blaming my mom for stuff like that. I've learned that it's unproductive and unnecessary. When my folks visited me last month, we were all sitting out by our pond watching the koi and chatting. At almost the same time, my step-dad and my boyfriend both declared "It's too hot, I'm going inside!" My mom and I stayed on the bench and sat together quietly for a little while by ourselves, something we haven't done in years. That was a moment I'll remember for a long time and I'm glad it was created for us by our love of the sun.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nice Work!

Montana is the only place I've ever lived where people say congratulations when I tell them I'm harvesting from my garden. As I've mentioned before, gardening here is an ambitious effort. With an average growing season of 74 days, we often see our last frost in early June and our first one at the beginning of September. We live at a high altitude, deal with frequent high winds, hail, and poor soil conditions. At this time of year, we're often dealing with drought conditions combined with water restrictions, which can make caring for the plants extra tricky.

I will admit that my other half and I are a bit above average when it comes to our gardening efforts. This is our fourth summer gardening together and I like to think that we're starting to get the hang of it. We've learned what plants do well (peas, lettuce, squash) and what isn't worth the effort (corn, cabbage,  melons). We've brought in soil, which was deposited in our driveway in a hill and we moved it to the back yard with shovels, wheelbarrows and the help of family members. We start planning our garden in January and order seeds which we plant indoors beginning in March. This year we had a common problem in that our tomatoes were six inches tall and ready to go in the soil but it was still too cold to put them out.

The first few weeks that things are in the ground are always nerve wracking. Sometimes we have to cover plants overnight with tarps to avoid frost. But once June is in full swing and the days are long and sunny, things start to take root and flourish.

This summer is unique because I'm not working. I've been able to send much more time in the garden than previous summers. It has been therapeutic for me as well, as I've cried over and recovered from my loss, and thought about my future with my toes in the dirt. I'm usually pretty emotionally invested in the garden but this year I am even more so. I haven't decided if that's good or bad! I've lost a couple plants for various reasons and it really bums me out. My carrots are doing better than they ever have and I attribute that to all the time I've spent thinning, weeding and tilling around them. Earlier this week I harvested my first sugar snap peas. I bit into one right there in the garden. It was warm from the sun, sweet and crispy. I felt full inside, with pride and a sense of accomplishment different from previous harvests.

I do believe everything happens for a reason. There's never a good time for bad things to happen but the timing of everything that happened to me this spring couldn't have been better. If it was winter and I was cooped up in the house, I know my rough few weeks would have stretched on and on. Instead, even though I was sad or worried, I'd make myself go outside at least once a day to water the plants and check on them. I look forward to eating from the garden as the summer goes on, but especially this winter, when we'll eat salsas, jams and frozen veggies we've preserved. Even though it might remind me of a sad time, it will be proof of what I was able to do during that time. Sometimes it's amazing to me that I've accomplished anything at all over the past two months. If I can do this now, I know that when I'm healed and motivated, I will be able to conquer anything I put my mind to!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Get Motivated

I wore glasses as a child (and was teased for it, as is the custom), but didn't need them in my teens and early twenties. About six years ago I had to start wearing them again, but only for distance. I wore glasses to drive, watch a movie, or look at the stars. I would intentionally not wear them if I was out, say in a crowded bar, and I didn't want to run the risk of recognize anyone! I went for an eye exam this past December because I was having some vision related issues. This was a new doctor. He said my prescription was too strong for me to go back and forth so much during the day (why didn't the doctor who prescribed them tell me that?!). He suggested I try wearing my glasses all the time to see if some of my symptoms resolved. It was an almost instant fix.

I have always been resistant to wearing contacts. "I don't want to touch my eyeball!" constant refrain. Plus, the idea of having something in my eye all the time was weird and sounded uncomfortable. After several months of wearing my glasses all day, I knew that I needed them all the time. The only problem was I can't wear them when I play roller derby. For a while I tried to make do but I would get dizzy and I just plain couldn't see well. In derby, the game takes place behind you and there is one girl (the other team's jammer) who you are trying to stop. When everything is blurry, she's either hit me or blown past me by the time I realized she was there. It just wasn't good. So I knew I had to bite the bullet and get contacts.

My eye doctor is great. He's kind and soft spoken and takes a lot of time explaining things. He knew I was nervous about getting contacts and made sure I was comfortable with them before I left the office. While he was preparing to fit me with the first pair, I asked him if most people have trouble getting the lenses in and out when they first start wearing them. He said "Well, it really depends on how motivated you are" and I said "Oh, I'm pretty motivated"!

I've actually been amazed at how easily I adjusted to wearing my contacts. I can't believe I was against them for so long. It has gotten me thinking about what my doctor said and it goes for more than just contact lenses. When it comes to change, your results are dependent on how motivated you are. It certainly proved true for me in this situation and for roller derby in general. When I first started skating, I was a mess. I fell and hurt myself and my first practice. It took me months to be able to complete the skills test. There were definitely a couple times I thought about quitting BUT I knew I could do it and I wanted it so badly.  I guess motivation can be synonymous with stubborn sometimes!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Just One Cup

                                                    My morning routine

I've always liked coffee but it wasn't until I moved in with my other half that I became an "every morning I can't function til I have it" coffee drinker. I don't know how much of it really is a caffeine addiction versus habit and routine. Regardless, it's a part of my day that I enjoy.

Reg had a regular old Mr. Coffee pot when I moved in, but I brought my Keurig so we started using it. Then it broke. Keurig sent me a new one and then it broke. I'll just say I'm no longer a fan of Keurig. At this point, it was obvious to us that we needed to use a different machine but we were spoiled by being able to make one cup at a time. This was back when I was getting up three hours earlier than he did so if we set the Mr. Coffee to start brewing for me, it was cold by the time he got up.We did some research and decided we wanted an automatic espresso machine but they are pretty expensive so we went back to using the Mr. Coffee and pouting about it.

One day about two years ago, we were in Macy's "just looking" at coffee/espresso machines and lo and behold we hit the jackpot. Long story short, we ended up with this glorious DeLonghi machine. It is amazing. It grinds the beans as it makes your cup of coffee, has a hot water spout and even a milk steaming pitcher. I'll say it again, it's glorious. When friends come to visit, they actually get excited to have coffee. It's that good. Occasionally we make lattes and iced coffees but mostly drink regular coffee. Besides being able to make a cup at a time, you can customize how much comes out. We have a small setting of 4oz, a regular of 6oz and a long of 8oz.

I love to linger over a mug of creamy sweet coffee (preferably while in my pajamas) so I usually make myself a double long, in a giant mug. Most days I'll have two of these. So yes, I'm drinking 32oz of coffee each morning but it's a half-caf so it's not as bad as it sounds. It doesn't look significant until you put it next to Reggie's cup. The joke around our house is when I say "But honey, I've only had two cups of coffee today". I only have three mugs that will hold this much at once, plus the cream and this green one is my favorite. It fits perfectly in my hands and reminds me of a mellow coffeehouse vibe.

 I know there are different schools of thought on whether caffeine, and coffee specifically, is good or bad for us. I'm a believer in doing what works for you as an individual. I truly enjoy coffee and it is part of my routine. I do most of my web surfing/FaceBooking/news reading during this time and even some of my writing. It gets my day off to a yummy, positive start plus it gets my brain working. I don't worry about housework or running or the rest of my day until I've finished at least one cup. That makes me think maybe I need to find a bigger mug!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Just Show Up

Back on day ten of this challenge, I was feeling stuck and having trouble writing a post. I wanted to write and had ideas but nothing was flowing. Yet somehow, I managed to write about being unable to write! When I shared my post on FaceBook, one of my friends responded by saying "At least you showed up", and she shared a link to a TED Talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert about creative genius. If you write, or do anything else creative, take the time to watch her talk, it's not long and it will make you feel much better about the days you struggle to create.

During this challenge, I have been reading a lot of other blogs and there seems to be a common debate on whether bloggers are writers. I wasn't aware that was an issue. It seems like a no brainer to me. We're writing our blog posts, aren't we? It reminds me of when I first started running and doing races (5Ks and 10Ks). People would say "Oh you're a runner?" and I would answer "Well, I run but I'm not a runner". In my head there was a big difference between me and "actual runners". I don't know why. I've done the same sort of thing with roller derby too. I was putting myself on a different level than everyone else just because I'm less experienced. I've been working on that a lot lately and I've noticed what a huge difference there is in my performance when I change my self talk.

Oddly, my opinion of myself is much different when it comes to writing. I am a writer. Maybe not a professional one (yet!) but I've always loved it and been good at it. I've taken many writing classes and been involved in writing programs. I've even written a few articles that have been published. If I don't write regularly I become a mess inside my head, all these thoughts and feelings rolling around. I've got to get them out! I've kept a journal since I was 16. I've written every day for years and now I post it, people read it and they like it!

Last week I was talking with a friend who has been reading my posts for this challenge. We were discussing the subject of that particular day's post and it was a great feeling. As I told her then, we probably wouldn't have been having that conversation if I didn't blog. A lot of the things I write about wouldn't come up in a normal conversation. I put my thoughts out there and people can take them or leave them. When someone approaches me and wants to talk about what I've written, that bonds us a little bit, I think. The fact that people read my blog is extremely flattering.  I know how hectic everyone's lives are and they're taking precious minutes from their day to read what I have to say. That's amazing. I've started carrying a notebook with me everywhere I go because I love all the odd little things that happen during the course of a regular day that most people don't notice. I like to write about those things with wit and a positive attitude. It helps remind me that we're all human and deal with the same issues. Knowing that other people relate to my feelings and experiences motivates me to keep going. I don't write just for myself. That's why I show up every day. Sometimes I create something I'm proud of and sometimes I'm stuck but I'm always there with my notebook giving it a shot.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Another Lesson Learned (or the same one again)

Last week I wrote about how easy it is to judge others, even when we don't mean to. I got a lot of feedback on that post and I was glad to see that the struggles I face are familiar to others. I definitely think this is a subject worth revisiting.  Zen Buddhism teaches me to be detached, not judge anyone, not take anything personally. I can certainly see myself progressing but it's much easier said than done, even when I'm aware. One thing I do know is that The Universe will continue presenting me with the same situation until I learn the lesson at hand. I'm getting much closer.

Earlier this week I put an ad on Craigslist to sell my old iPhone. I got a response within 30 minutes. We exchanged a few emails, the person (with a gender neutral name) asking if it was still available and then if I would go down on the price. I replied that I would be willing to take less if no one else was interested in the phone at my asking price. The response I got was this "Ohh. Cause I'm a poor high schooler with no job and it's tough getting 100$". My first thought was "Are you freaking kidding me?"  It's so easy for me to immediately project my values and experiences onto this teenager and his/her parents: When I was in high school I worked, it's summer so why isn't/he/she working, I never had anything as nice as an iPhone, etc. I didn't respond to the email right away because it wasn't necessary. Today I was able to write and explain that I'd sold the phone for my asking price. I believe that all people/things/situations come in to our lives for a reason, for either me or the other person to learn from. This wasn't a big deal but it was a nice little reminder and I wagged my finger at myself "There you go again..." I don't know anything about this kid or his/her family or their situation. The world surely is different than when I was in high school, almost twenty years ago.  I bet it's even tougher than it was back then, now that there's social media and cyber bullying. I've often said I can't imagine what school would have been like for me if FaceBook had existed. All the teasing and cliques are probably magnified many times over. The only thing I envy is that nowadays kids can do research online instead of lugging around those old encyclopedias!

One thing I've really enjoyed about this blogging challenge is that it has changed the ways I look at my day to day life. When something happens I think "How could I write about that?" I've taken to carrying a notebook with me at all times. I even tuck a tiny one in the waistband of my shorts when I walk the dog because I never know when inspiration will strike! I like that I can take a minor event, like the email exchange yesterday and share it with people to start a discussion. What would you think if you got that message? What do you assume about people?

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Accidental Garden

I picked my first bouquet of flowers from my garden today. It's not much but it's pretty and I'm proud of it. Gardening in Montana is especially difficult but these flowers manage to thrive without much of the backbreaking work that the vegetable garden requires so I'm particularly fond of them.

The sunflower was the first to bloom of the many growing in random spots throughout the garden. They're a result of me throwing the heads from last year into the garden with a shrug of "We'll till 'em in and see what happens". It's not terribly convenient to have them where they are, but they look cool!

Marigolds are one of my favorite flowers. They make me happy because they remind me of my childhood. Just the smell alone triggers memories. My mother always had marigolds growing in her flower beds. In fact, these particular ones came from a pack of seeds she sent me a couple years ago. I planted them and let them go to seed, not expecting much to happen in the spring due to our harsh Montana winters. They came back. Then last year I left them alone again and they came back in full force this year. I'll admit now that I made a mistake. There are literally thousands of marigolds growing in my side garden, around the lettuce, chard and peas that I planted in the same spot, not expecting the marigolds to go so crazy. I'm not exaggerating when I say the area has gotten out of control. Last weekend I finally decided I needed to address the situation because it had gotten so dense, between the veggies, flowers and weeds, that it was almost impossible to see what was what. I decided I would transplant a bunch to my front yard and give some away to friends. Once I have removed about thirty plants and a bunch of weeds, I stepped back and took a look, expecting to see a huge difference but I was disappointed. When my boyfriend came over to look, he could barely tell I had removed any plants at all. In a nice way, he called the marigolds invasive weeds and gave me the cold hard truth: I'm going to have to thin them out and throw them away. I looked at the crowded garden and nodded slowly "There's too many. I understand."I knelt down in the dirt and spent about a half hour pulling more weeds and some flowers. I know they're plants but they're so crowded and overgrown, it made me feel sad and guilty for allowing the situation to get to where it is.

It's been almost a week and I still haven't removed any more plants. I know I need to. I'll do it, I promise. I was just so pleased to see the flowers blooming when I went outside today that I picked them, brought them in and didn't go back out. I just hate the thought of having to discard so many plants that grow here easily when everything else fights so hard to survive. Hopefully the marigolds I transplanted will thrive in their new location and I won't have to face this awful task again!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Choose Wisely

Last night I skated in my first roller derby bout at our home venue. For most of my friends and family, this was their first chance to see me play. I had a busy week leading up to the event and a stressful day running around getting everything done so I could be in the locker room on time. The game was awesome. I had a ton of fun playing and enjoying the after party. I crashed into bed last night with a beer buzz, feeling exhausted and thrilled with the experience.

As I drank my coffee this morning (and stretched my sore muscles), I scrolled through photos from last night. Most of the ones on my camera were taken by my boyfriend's sister and there were a bunch on FaceBook already, posted by friends and teammates. As I took in all the images, I was struck by great feelings of love and gratitude for all these amazing people who are in my life. My teammates have supported me and cheered me on when I was feeling low and ready to quit. My boyfriend and his sister dressed up for the Kentucky Derby theme so they could sit in the front row. A friend I went to high school with is pregnant, yet she drove two hours each way to volunteer because we were short handed. Friends who I didn't expect to show were in line at the end, giving my whole team high fives. Even my life coach was there! To say that roller derby has changed my life is an understatement, so to see all these people come together to support me and celebrate was incredible. There was so much happening at once last night, that it wasn't until I was alone with my thoughts this morning that I realized how amazing it was.

One of the most important things I've learned as an adult is that I can choose who I allow into my life and who I don't. It took me until I was thirty to figure it out but once I did, my quality of life improved immensely. When I first moved to Montana I didn't know many people and I made one close friend. Long story short, in less than two years I figured out she wasn't a good person and I didn't really want her as a friend any more. I'll admit I probably didn't handle the situation in the best possible way, but I did what I thought was right at the time to make a clean break. I was lonely as hell for a while. Then, I reached out to some acquaintances I had always admired. Going forward, I made the choice to associate with people who I felt were well intentioned and would support me in my journey.

Sometimes a person turns out to be different than what I originally thought. Or a situation arises that stresses someone and they show their true self and it isn't pleasant. This has happened to me a few times over the years and I find myself at a crossroads: do I continue a relationship with someone or choose a life without them? It isn't ever easy but the older I get, the better I know myself and what I want from the people I share my life with. Now that I find myself with an extraordinary partner and friends who are funny, positive and supportive. Sometimes, like last night, I am amazed to see all of these people together having fun. It makes me feel good to know that I created this support system and contribute to it. In turn we are all providing for and supporting each other, enriching each others lives.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Do What Feels Good and You'll Feel Even Better

Last weekend I posted an entry about going barefoot in the summer. I received several comments (on this site and other places I'd posted my link) that referred to the benefits of "earthing". I'd never heard the term before so I went to Google to check it out. It turns out earthing means going barefoot. More specifically, there's a school of thought that believes there are ways that our bodies benefit from being in direct contact with the earth and its negative charge. That's about as much of it as I understand. I'm not writing this to argue one way or the other and give my opinion on earthing. I wanted to write this post not to discuss earthing as a"treatment" but to ask: Shouldn't we be doing things we enjoy simply because they make us feel good?

What I was struck by while reading articles on the subject was how often I saw something along the lines of "Haven't you ever wondered why you feel so good after walking barefoot on a beach?" For me that was a no brainer. Well, it feels good because you're at the beach! There are so many factors involved that it's impossible to say why you feel good. I'm sure there are people who don't enjoy going to the beach or walking on sand. It seems to me that our culture has created a need for something to be beneficial in some tangible way to justify doing something you enjoy. I think it's because society puts so much emphasis on productivity and responsibility that we often feel guilty for "wasting" time or money doing something simply for our own enjoyment. I know I struggle with that from time to time as well.

When I go barefoot, it's simply because I enjoy it. I had never thought about it any further than that. It makes me feel good. Maybe there's something scientific about why, but if so that's just a bonus. Labeling something and declaring "You must do this to be healthy" takes the fun out of it a little bit. Similarly I eat fruit because it tastes good. Sure, I know I get vitamins from it but I don't pause every time I'm about to eat some strawberries and think about their health benefits. I just think "Yay for strawberries!" Similarly, I won't eat something that's supposedly good for me if I don't like it. Everyone is different and that's awesome. Doing things that you enjoy is essential to living a full life. Who cares what those are or why you're doing them?

Friday, July 12, 2013

I Rescue The Unwanted

Last week I went to my local Salvation Army store on 50% off day. I came home feeling proud of the bargains I'd found and was eager to show off this lovely stack of books which I had purchased for a total of $4.13. My boyfriend and I both adore books so he darted over to look at the titles as soon as I took them out of the bag.   He pointed to the one on the bottom (Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert) and said "Oh you found a copy? Good. But I thought you already had it." I avoided his eyes as I sheepishly admitted that I did in fact buy a copy of the same book two months ago at Goodwill. "But" I explained "That was a paperback copy and this is a hardback. Plus this one was only 75 cents, and this way I can lend out a copy and I'll still have one." I'm not sure it made sense but he'd never ask me to justify buying a book that called out to me.

Committed is one of those books that felt as if it was written just for me at this time in my life. It's part memoir in regard to the author's marriages and part history of marriage and common customs. I borrowed an audio copy from the library last fall and listened to it while I drove. There were times I wanted to talk to Elizabeth Gilbert as she read. It felt like there was a friend in the car with me, telling me her story. She wrote about experiences and feelings she's had that are similar to my own. I'm glad I experienced the book in her own voice but there were many times I wished I could highlight a specific section and absorb the words from the page. I searched for a used copy for months until I finally found one.

This isn't the first book I've felt so strongly about. In fact, there's a David Sedaris paperback in the above pile that I already own on audio but it was 37 cents! I snatched it up immediately! I like being able to give or lend someone a copy of a book I think they would enjoy. After I read Lucky by Alice Sebold, I bought every used copy I came across and gave it to a woman in my life. If someone makes the effort to recommend a book to me, I usually put it on my list and read it as soon as I can get a copy. Even if I don't like it I appreciate the gesture, that someone thought of me.

When I go to yard sales I'll get on my knees next to a box of books to dig through. A person's book collection can say a lot about them. Last summer I came across a couple who, among the usual yard sale wares, were getting rid of a box full of books about shapeshifting and witchcraft. I've seen people selling their books on infertility, troubled marriages, death in the family or any number of illnesses and I think that's such a personal thing to sit out in your yard for a stranger to root through. But for the person who comes across those books and needs them, what a great find!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What Do You Do?

I'm currently unemployed and not looking for work, both by my own choice. This is the first time in my adult life that I've ever been in this position.  Lots of people say "That must be nice" and it is, but to be honest, it feels kinda weird. I'm trying to relax and enjoy it but that isn't really in my nature.

I got my first paying job when I was 15, at a dog kennel. I held that job through high school and into college, where I also held a work study job on campus. I worked around my classes and on weekends.  When I was 20,  I moved to North Carolina. I began looking for work immediately and had a job within two weeks. When I moved to Montana eight years later, I transferred with the company I was working for. In 2010, I lost that job and was unemployed for three months. It was an incredibly stressful time and I searched for work daily. I was offered a good job and although it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do, I took it. I was at that job for over three years even though I knew after the first two weeks that it wasn't for me. There are lots of things that added up to me leaving my job when and how I did but when I finally did, there was a huge sense of relief that I wasn't expecting. It was incredibly difficult for me to come to the realization that I didn't like my job and wanted to leave the field of veterinary medicine.

My "plan" was to take some time to decompress and go from there. I've been out of work for six weeks now (but who's counting?) and I'm still in that first stage, which is frustrating at times. I keep thinking I should get a job but the truth is I don't really want to. Not yet at least. I do have an eventual goal, which is to pursue taxidermy. The thought of a new career is exciting to me but at this point, there's so much work to do between here and there that it's overwhelming and I just don't have the energy for it. I have faith that I will eventually, or that I will at least know when I'm ready to start the process. I've been thinking about working on my resume this week so that's a step in the right direction!

As I've gone about life in the last few weeks, I've met some new people and been asked "What to do you?" At first, I said I was unemployed and felt embarrassed. Sure, the implied question is what is your job, but just because I don't have a job doesn't mean I don't do anything. Our society ties who you are to what job you do and taking a break from it has been eye opening.  I've been working for over 20 years but I'm just not working right now. What  do I do? I play roller derby, I write, read, garden, run, care for my pets, do chores around the house. I do a lot of things, I just don't get paid for them. I'm not any less productive or less of a gift to my loved ones. It's funny that the person most in need of convincing of this has been me!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It's One Of Those Days

On day ten of the Ultimate Blogging Challenge, I feel as if I've hit a wall. I'm not feeling well, it's scorching hot outside, and I'm anxious about the fact that I have to post today for the challenge even though I don't feel like it. I have a friend who is a musician and while suffering from writer's block, he managed to write a song about having writer's block. (It's catchy too!) I don't exactly have writer's block because I've started several posts today. It's more like motivation block. I have ideas and I'm attempting to write, I just can't seem to push through and finish or I don't like what I come up with.

Everything I've read and heard about the craft of writing basically comes down to the importance of writing every day and understanding that some of the stuff you write won't be good. When I saw my favorite writer, David Sedaris, give a reading he talked about how one of the stories was in it's 19th draft. I write most days in some form, sometimes it's essays or blogging and sometimes it's personal journaling. I have days when I don't write but they're few and far between. I definitely have days where I wouldn't want to make my writing public and today just happens to be one of those days. I had hoped I could post something I've previously written or salvage one of the ones I've been working on but it's just not happening today. I don't like it, but considering that it's after 7pm already, I don't think yelling in my head "WRITE SOMETHING WRITE SOMETHING WRITE SOMETHING!!" is working. Nothing makes my creativity stall out like trying to force myself to do it. I should know that by now!

And so, somehow I've managed to write a post about not being able to write a post. That actually makes me feel better!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Say What?

Not too long ago, out of a combination of desperation and laziness, I went to a business near my neighborhood that I don't normally frequent. It was a cute, clean shop. The woman who helped me was friendly and outgoing. While making small talk, the conversation turned to the up coming July 4th holiday. We were exchanging complaints about fireworks being set off in the evenings already when she added "And it's always the gross people too. You know, the ones who can't even afford to pay their rent. How are they spending hundreds of dollars on fireworks?" I sat silently, feeling a bit shocked and thinking "Holy crap, that was not nice". I just couldn't think of an appropriate response. After only a few seconds pause she started chatting again about something totally different, never seeming to notice my lack of response.

I left that business feeling a bit put off, to say the least. I've given the comment a lot of thought and clearly it's still bugging me since I'm writing about it. Maybe I'm overreacting by finding the comment incredibly rude, but this was a woman who had never met me before and didn't know a thing about me. What exactly qualifies someone as a "gross person"? Maybe I'm gross. Why would you ever assume someone is buying fireworks with their rent money? Then all of a sudden, while ruminating on all of this, I had a realization: I'm judging her for judging other people. I'm doing the same dang thing!

I'm a fan of the old saying "Never judge someone til you've walked a mile in their shoes". I've gone through periods in my life where I've made choices that I thought were best at the time, but lost friends who didn't agree with me. I would like to say I don't ever judge people but we all do it. It's almost impossible not to, isn't it? The guy who cut me off in traffic is a selfish jerk. The person who doesn't pick up their dog's poo is lazy. I catch myself doing it all the time and I give myself a mental slap on the wrist. I consider myself to be a kind, accepting person. I understand that not everyone is the same. Even so, it's difficult to not put my expectations onto others: don't talk loudly on your cell phone in public, pick up after your dog, obey traffic laws, say please and thank you. For me, those are simple things we should all do to be respectful of each other and that's the way I act in public. However we all make mistakes and I'm sure there are things I do that other people don't like, even when I think I'm being polite.

I don't think I'll go into that business again. It's my own little way of saying I'd rather not hear people talk about others that way. I believe The Universe is always teaching us and since this experience I've been more mindful of how I look at others and what I think about them. I am thankful for all the people who have forgiven my poor choices and love me any way so I hope I can be in that role for someone else.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hurry Up And Relax

This is probably my favorite time of year. Hot hazy mornings bring afternoon thunderstorms. Although today's storm has also brought hail, which makes me cringe asI imagine all my green leafy plants getting pummeled in my garden. I can't stand to look til it's over.

Summer in Montana is different than any other place I've lived. I'd even go so far to say it's a bit magical. I think it's because it's so brief that it's truly appreciated. The days are long and even the night time temperatures are warm. There are three glorious months where I don't have to worry about bad weather, unsafe road conditions or starting my car before I plan to leave the house. I can go anywhere I want at any time I want! This isn't something I ever appreciated before I moved here.

Of course summer does have some down sides (see above mentioned hail storm). One of the jokes among locals is that there are two seasons in Montana: winter and road construction. But even if I'm stuck idling in a dusty construction zone, my windows are down and I have an incredible view.

Along with the summers is a strange sense of pressure. Many summer activities have limitations: some hiking spots have snow most months of the year, the river levels get low, wild fires may start, etc. Just last night, I was having a conversation about how it's almost mid July and we haven't camped/gone back packing/gone fishing/gone rafting. We haven't even floated the river yet, we'd better hurry up! And all this has to be balanced with yard/garden care. We left for a weekend and the weeds were taking over by the time we got back!

So how do you find that balance? Not just with summer but with life in general. It's something I struggle with regularly. How can I manage to do the things I want to do (and enjoy them) without worrying about the things I must do? And what must I do? That's always subjective. I've been making huge efforts to change my ways of thinking and my lifestyle over the past year. That's why I'm no longer working at a job where I couldn't be myself. But it's hard to do things just for me. Like taking a hot summer Sunday to lay around the house when I should be outside doing an activity I won't be able to do two months from now. I guess I need to have a little more faith in myself and know that whatever I feel like doing is the right thing for me at the time. Now I just have to wait to feel inspired to do a 20 mile backpacking trip!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

There's A First Time For Everything (And Sometimes They Suck)

This past week has brought a lot of firsts for me: my first trip to the in-laws without Ritz, my first holiday without him and yesterday, my first hike without him trotting along the trail. Just when I think I'm healing and starting to feel better, it hits me out of nowhere and I feel so sad. No matter how hard I try or how much I write, I still can't find the right words to explain exactly how much I miss him.

As I've said, Charlie is doing a great job of being an only dog. This weekend marked his first solo hike with us and he did great. I actually feel a bit bad that I obviously wasn't giving Chuck enough credit previously because every time he does well at something I'm so surprised and pleased. Since he previously belonged to a transient guy, I'm always a little nervous about letting him off leash. I half expect him to bolt after a squirrel and never return. We hiked about eight miles on Saturday, which was the longest hike we've taken him on.

This was my first big hike of the summer and it felt good. Getting into the woods always reminds me why I live here. It's so easy to get caught up in every day life; grocery shopping, gardening, all that regular stuff. Don't get me wrong, I'm usually glad to do those things but sometimes it's exhausting. Sometimes it's just like "I have got to get away from this house and out of this town" and two hours later I'm standing in a field of wild flowers on the side of a mountain. It's amazing.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Read It Again

Last year I started a book club on FaceBook. I had noticed that I had many friends who posted asking for book recommendations or raving about one they had read. These were people who all knew me but didn't necessarily know each other so I thought it'd be neat to invite them all to one group to share our love for books. Everybody was receptive, which I expected, and I have enjoyed seeing them interact with each other. We have a constantly growing list of Suggested Books, which are ones we want to read for our club and then another of Recommended Books, which are ones that some of us have read and think the others would enjoy. About half way through the month, I'll start a post asking what everyone is wanting to read for the following month. Sometimes there are six suggestions and sometimes only one or two. Then majority rules and we pick our book for the next month. Whoever finishes first starts a post (marking it with a spoiler alert!) and we share our thoughts.

The cool thing about our group is not everybody has to participate all the time. There are a few of us who obviously devour books, reading a few each month but there are others who read when they have the time and only post occasionally. This gives us all a place to go for suggestions and discussion at our own pace. I've found it to be awful when I finish a book I and am dying to talk about it but don't know anyone else who has read it!

This month, our selected book is one that I've read before. A couple girls in the group were interested in reading it but I was going to pass and read something else instead. Then the last time I was at the library, I thought I'd just see if they had a copy available. They did so I decided to read it again. It's been at least ten years since I read it. When I was living in North Carolina, a friend here in Montana had mailed me a copy. He had loved it and thought I would too. I only remember a little bit, but I knew I'd liked it, so I figured I'd read it again and be part of our group's discussion.

I cracked it open one evening earlier this week. I was settling down into bed at night, looking forward to reading. You can imagine my surprise when I got about thirty pages in and thought "Yuck. I do not care for this". I actually considered not finishing it. I rarely do that so I decided to power through since it's a fairly short book and easy to read. I'm about two thirds of the way through now and it's a little bit better but I still don't like it much. Typically I don't give it much thought if I don't like a book. It happens. This time however,  it's caused me to stop and reflect on my dislike. A decade ago I did like it so why don't I like it now?  My relationship with the person who sent me the book is different now than it was all those years ago but I still love to read.  It's made me to think about my journey,  about the kind of person I was then and what I liked versus who I am now and what I enjoy these days.  I don't know exactly what can account for this difference but I appreciate it. It does make me wonder about other books (and all sorts of other things) that I've given my stamp of approval over the years. I know they say our taste buds change over the years, maybe that's not just for food?

Friday, July 5, 2013

These Little Piggies

I'm not one of those women who goes crazy over shoes. Sure, I can appreciate a pair of cute shoes. I know they can tie an outfit together, but that's not something I've ever had a sense for. I have a few pairs for each season and a couple for special occasions. I don't add to the collection too often. I won't wear uncomfortable shoes, no matter how amazing they look. Several years ago I broke a bone in my right foot and I have custom orthotics I wear in my shoes (most of the time) so that often limits what kind of shoes I buy.

 I wouldn't wear shoes if I could get away with it. Going barefoot is my favorite thing about summer. I have memories of being a kid in the bath tub, holding my feet out of the water so my mom could scrub my blackened soles. I especially love to be barefoot in my garden. There's something about squishing my toes into the warm dirt that makes me feel like I'm truly joining with the earth in the process of growing my veggies.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Okay, Now I Get It

I couldn't think of a more fitting topic for today's post than my recent trip to Philadelphia.

I grew up outside of Philly, in rural Pennsylvania Dutch country. My school classes took field trips to local dairy farms and apple orchards. But with so much history close to home, there were many times we'd load onto buses for the approximately 50 mile trip to Philadelphia. I have fond memories of those field trips. It was a thrill to go to the city. I know I'd been to Independence Hall and Betsy Ross' house and I'd seen the Liberty Bell but what I remember most about those trips is buying freeze dried ice cream and over sized pencils in the museum gift shops.  Having grown up in that area, I have a lot of love for the city. I know I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to go. Plus as I got older, I learned about all the other fantastic things Philly had to offer such as concert venues, sports teams and cheese steaks.

When I began planning our trip to Pennsylvania early this year, I wanted to be sure we spent a couple days in Philadelphia. It meant a lot to me to be able to show my other half where I grew up. He had never been there and he's a bit of a history buff. His father is a retired history teacher so it's in his genes! One of my closest friends lives there and I hadn't spent quality time with him in years so it was sure to be a fun couple of days.

I haven't lived in Pennsylvania in almost 20 years and I haven't lived in a big city in almost 7 (and that was in the south so it's not quite the same). I don't think we were in Philly for much more than 12 hours by the time I realized I didn't like it anymore. It hit me after being brought close to tears from the rudeness of a Dunkin Donuts employee and hearing myself walking around whining "What stinks? What is that noise? Why isn't anyone following traffic laws?"  I guess I'm just not a city person anymore and I'm okay with that...

But despite my complaints, as soon as we entered the historic district I felt uplifted. I looked around and remembered why we'd gone there. It was a beautiful May day, sunny but not hot. People wandered around but it wasn't crowded. There were tour guides in historic costumes leading groups of school children and shouting out facts about the landmarks. It was easy to see why I'd been so excited to come back and see these sights again as an adult. While looking at the Liberty Bell or inside Independence Hall, I felt a little overwhelmed by the knowledge that our country started here. I don't think I ever realized that as a kid. And to watch someone else who really cares about history take it all in was pretty cool.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Man Made Bliss

At the center of my fairly large subdivision, there is a man made pond. At one end is the community center, a gym, a restaurant and some shops, one of which serves hand dipped ice cream. The pond area serves a central location for activity in the neighborhood. There's a walking path around it, some picnic tables and benches. Looking across the water to the west you can see the breathtaking Bridger Mountain range. I never get tired of that view.

The pond is surrounded by grassy banks with the exception of two  beaches. I use the word beaches loosely because it's actually just very fine gravel, which is what passes for sand in Montana (Apparently actual sand blows away in the wind).

Right now, in the hottest days of summer the pond shines for what is truly is: the only place to cool off for many hot, dry miles. The beach areas are dotted with colorful umbrellas and teeming with children til sundown. Their blissful shouts and splashes can be heard from blocks away. Dogs launch themselves into the water after tennis balls. Anything that's inflatable and can be perched upon can be seen bobbing  gently in the water, its occupants hanging off the sides paddling. The last time I was out on the pond in our raft, I saw an inflatable mattress and couch drift by carrying folks who were enjoying beers from a cooler that also floated and was connected to their vessel by a thick rope.

The pond is full of gigantic orange fish who school together near the surface at twilight. Their dorsal fins ripple the water's surface, occasionally one will jump up, presumably gobbling up a bug. Rumor has it the pond wasn't ever stocked with these fish but they are koi and goldfish who were dumped in by unwilling owners and just happened to thrive.

What I like about the pond is that it brings people together. I hate to admit that I don't know my neighbors well. We wave to each other and exchange occasional small talk but that's it. All I have to do to get a conversation started with someone around the pond is pass them with my dog or on my roller skates. I think the active, fun atmosphere of the pond (and the fact that beer is available nearby) encourages people to loosen up. I don't ever get the feeling that anyone is in a big hurry when they're hanging out by the water. It makes me think about what life must have been like generations ago when the local swimming hole probably was what brought a community together.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Second Best Isn't So Bad

Charlie came into my life almost one year ago. I'll just say he was abandoned by his owner and I rescued him. I will admit I was reluctant at first. As I've said before, I'm definitely a cat person and not a dog person. In my 20 plus years of working with animals, I've brought home many, many kitties but only one dog and he was extraordinary. But Charlie chose me as his person and there's nothing I can do about that. I tried to ignore it at first. He went to live with my in-laws but that lasted for about a week and he came back. I considered taking him to the no kill shelter or trying to find him another home but I  knew he'd keep coming back to me. I didn't really want to keep him but I didn't want to not have him either. I have faith in The Universe and figured there was a reason he had showed up. In the back of my mind, I realized that Charlie was much younger than Ritz and therefore would be a comfort to me when my old friend eventually passed away. It took a lot of adjusting on everyone's part: Charlie didn't know how to eat out of a bowl or play with a squeaky toy. He knew his name and that was about it. Ritz was less than pleased when he realized this new guy was staying but he took charge and made it clear he was the boss. The cats hated him but that's not surprising and they stayed out of his way. We existed this way for several months.

Every once in a while, I'd wonder if I should try to re-home Charlie but it never seemed like the right thing to do. After Ritz passed away in late May, I knew Charlie's purpose for coming to me was clear. I'm sure I'm not exaggerating when I guess  Ritz was bullying him into a submissive role in our home. However, I also think Ritz was training him on how to be the companion that I need. It just so happened that the week after Ritz passed I became unemployed. Charlie stepped up in a way I never expected and has kept me company literally every second of the day. If I needed to spend the day in bed being sad, he was at my feet. If I wanted to walk four miles, he trotted the whole way. He lays on my yoga mat, rides in the passenger seat and eats the tops from my strawberries.

I'm thankful to have Charlie yet he's a constant reminder that he isn't Ritz. He barely lifts his head when the doorbell rings, greets the pizza delivery guy with a wagging tail and doesn't mind strangers strolling by on the path next to our fence. I hate to admit it's a relief to have a dog who isn't chronically ill. I traveled with Charlie last weekend and didn't have to take any medications or medical supplies. I put him in the back yard with our niece and nephew and never worried that he might bite them.

 I lovingly refer to Charlie as my "Hobo Dog". He definitely is special in his own way. I'm glad he had some time with Ritz to learn the way to be a dog in our house. Otherwise I would have gone out immediately to get a new dog and that wouldn't have felt right. But for all the times I look at him wanting him to be someone else, there are just as many times I look at him and feel sure that he is the dog I need by my side right now.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I Love A Challenge

Welcome to my first entry of The Ultimate Blog Challenge. I learned of this challenge earlier today, when a blogger friend of mine posted a link on my FaceBook wall. I opened the link, saw it was a daily blogging challenge and immediately clicked to sign up. It was only after I registered for the challenge that I thought "Oh shoot, it's July 1st. I need to start this right away. Uh oh, what have I done?"!

I'm currently unemployed by choice, for the first time in my adult life. I have an incredibly supportive partner who has encouraged me to take this time to decompress and figure some things out. Part of my very loose plan for this time has been to make time for my writing. I've been writing on a daily basis but I often find it difficult to sit and write when there are other things to be done. This challenge will be great for me because it will give me a reason to post every day. I have notebooks full of partially written essays and even more in my mind. I'm glad to have a reason to dig through them all and see what I can come up with!