Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Ready For Gratitude

Tomorrow is the last day of October. That means a few things: Halloween, candy, Daylight Savings Time ends, and then it's November. 

Your Facebook news feed will first be flooded with photos of your friends and their children (and dogs) in Halloween costumes, and then with a month's worth of status updates about what people are thankful for. 

I enjoy participating each November, posting each day about what I'm grateful for. I've written about this before. More than once. 

Over the summer, I was in a class with a woman who announced that gratitude is over rated. It took every ounce of energy I had to stay seated and not climb up on my soap box to tell that woman about everything she's missing out on!

Fortunately for me, this blog is my personal soap box! Instituting a gratitude practice changed my life. I can't emphasize that enough. Life is difficult. Some days have me in tears. If at the end of these days, I'm not grateful for a glass of wine, my hot tub and a spouse who is present, then what are these things for?

I've heard complaints about people who post negative updates all year long but are suddenly thankful every day in November. So what? Good for them! The beauty of Facebook is that it's optional. You don't have to log-on or read someone's status updates or engage with anyone. The "Unfollow" option is the greatest feature ever added, use it! And while we're on the subject, I'd like to remind you: these people are supposedly your friends. If you're not glad to see what your friend is grateful for, then maybe that person isn't truly your friend. (I'm a big advocate of frequent re-evaluation of one's friend list.)

Even if those people annoy you, even if you think it's hokey, even if you think gratitude is over rated, I challenge you to do it anyway. You don't have to post to Facebook. Just sit down once each day in November and write down three things you are thankful for that day. If you can't find three, start with one. 

If you need some more convincing, try this book: The Joy of Appreciative Living, it's one of my favorites. The facts are impossible to ignore: people who list things they are thankful for each day are genuinely happier. 

Make this November about you and your gratitude! Then please tell me about it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Calling All Weirdos

Last winter when I was doing some traveling, I spent some time with a guy I was getting to know. At one point he said "You're so tough. You play roller derby, you have all these tattoos, you're on this adventure and you do scary things. You're so strong. But you cry when you're hungry or tired or cold. I don't get it. What's that about?" I can still recall the sensation of my heart sinking, slow and heavy, like a smooth polished stone, as I realized that this person simply did not get me. 

In this guy's defense, I'll say not everybody gets me. In fact, there are just a few sacred souls who I believe truly do. And while I don't know that anyone gets every thing about me (hell, even I don't) the people who love me sure do try. 

I have a powerful emotional world and I'm not afraid to hide anything. People aren't used to that and sometimes they don't know how to respond. With me, what you see is what you get: tattoos, tears and all. 

Years ago, I had a boss who told me "You're a sensitive one...You're an emotional one...I'm going to teach you to be like me..." For three long soul crushing years, I tried. Eventually, I realized I didn't want to be like my boss. I wanted to by myself. When I finally got up the guts it say so, it didn't go over well. I was told I made other employees uncomfortable, they didn't feel they could talk to me, I was unapproachable. At the time, I was upset. I didn't understand. Years later, I can see quite clearly that I probably was awkward as hell because I was trying to hide my true self inside those office walls. 

When an ex-boyfriend once called me a weirdo, I was taken aback. "Gonzo is a weirdo," he eagerly explained, appealing to my deep rooted adoration of all things Muppet. Yes, he was correct and yes he has an appreciation for the work of Jim Henson, points for him. The boyfriend meant "weirdo" in an endearing way, and I get that. I've filled that role for a guy more than once. What I mean is he loved the idea of me more than he loved the reality of me. I get it. I've been guilty of that as well (the tortured artist, the hardworking cowboy, the sexy fireman. Need I go on?) The truth is the reality of any relationship is different than our idea of what it "should" look like. 
So how do we find a middle ground? The goal is to find someone who appreciates us as a whole. Someone who deals with our quirks and maybe even appreciates them. And someone for whom we feel the same. That can be a lot to ask.

I'd forgotten the Gonzo comment until I was watching the new Muppet show last week. Gonzo appeared on screen in a loud patterned shirt and I was struck with a vivid memory of that conversation with my ex. I got to think about it and you know what? Gonzo is pretty f-ing brave. He's always doing crazy stunts and chasing after that chicken he's in love with. He works hard, he's loyal to his friends. He likes cracking a joke. Sure, the others laugh at him and sometimes he's awkward, but that's what happens when you put yourself out there! I'm not ashamed to be in the same category as Gonzo!
Photo from Wikipedia

Someone else's idea of me isn't real. My idea of me isn't real. The truth lies in my actions, in the energy I put into The Universe. I get grumpy when I'm hungry and cry when I'm over tired. Someone who loves me knows when to say "You need to eat something," and it all works out.

That's what we all desire and deserve, to be received and understood. To be wanted, not simply tolerated. That doesn't mean everyone always likes us or agrees with us. It means they know our truth. It means they understand our intentions. I'm not only talking about romantic endeavors, but any relationship.

We can't expect a romantic partner to be our everything. It's important to find our own tribe, that collection of like minded souls who make us feel less alone in the world. The more you embrace your true self and eliminate people who don't support that, the more room you create for people who do. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Put It On The List

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

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

My husband running in the Grand Teton Relay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reasons To Read Everyday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite reading buddy

Monday, August 24, 2015

Life After Derby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching my niece to roller skate this summer.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I Really Don't Know What Time It Is

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

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

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

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

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

Then I moved to Montana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don't Be Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

Remember One Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some Thoughts On Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Power of a Good Book (and Google)

So far this year I've read 30 books. This may seem like a lot, but in the good natured competition I have going with my husband and my dear friend Lea, I'm in last place.

I've always adored books. As a child, before I was literate, I would carry my books around "reading" out loud to myself, making up stories to go with the illustrations.

For a couple of my elementary school years, we lived in an old apartment building next to a massive stone library in Phoenixville, PA. This is where my passion for books was truly nurtured. On hot sticky days of summer vacation, I would escape to the library's children's section which took up the entirety of its cool, damp basement. Some days I would check out the maximum, which was ten books, take them home and start reading immediately. I'd return them all the next day in exchange for a new stack.

I rarely ventured into the upstairs of the library, the boring adult part. It smelled different up there, dry and musty, and the aged wooden floor boards creaked, no matter how hard you tried to be quiet. When I did accompany my mom (who also loves to read and has always encouraged my passion for books, ) I would stare up in awe at the incredibly tall shelves. There were so many books in there. And someday, I would be a grown up and I could read all of them! I'll never accomplish that, but I'd think that young me would at least be proud of the effort I've put forth!

One of my many cluttered bookshelves
So obviously I read a lot of books. I usually have two or three going at a time, typically a fiction, a non-fiction and an audio book. I like to read from all genres and subjects.

Some books affect me more than others. What I treasure most is a novel whose story and characters pull me in so that I hate to put the book down and am still thinking and feeling about it days or weeks after finishing it. A few books that have done this for me: The Lovely Bones, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

If a book doesn't keep my interest, if it puts me to sleep or I just plain struggle with it, I quit. This is a new habit for me in the past few years. I used to push myself to finish any book I started, but I've realized that my time is too valuable to waste on any task I don't enjoy. Plus, there are countless amazing books out there waiting to be read! Not every book is for every person. Sometimes, the phase of life I'm in has an effect on how I interpret what I read.

Recently I've experienced something in my reading life that I hadn't noticed before. I've read a couple of novels that have made me feel just plain yucky. The one I'm reading right now is doing exactly that. Every time I pick it up, I shudder because I dread the detailed horribleness that awaits me. While reading in bed the other night, I turned to my husband and announced firmly "I do not like this book," and proceeded to explain why. He replied "Actually, it sounds like that's a very well written book," and I've realized he's right. The subject matter is dark, the story is sad and depressing, I find the narrator pathetic and unlikable. The fact that the author can invoke all of these emotions in me is impressive! ( I'm intentionally not naming the book or author here because I don't want to give you any pre-conceived opinions about it in the event that you stumble across it!)

I have a friend who is a writer, her first memoir was published a couple years ago. She's told me about reading her Amazon reviews early on and one particular woman who hated the book so much that she wrote a long scathing review about how terrible it was. My friend said at first it pissed her off but then she realized she would rather have someone have such a visceral reaction to her book than to just read it and say "Meh." My friend is right. Often as a writer, I've been afraid that what I'm writing might offend someone. Sometimes before I publish a blog post I torture myself with "What ifs." I've realized that if the words I write trigger any emotion in a reader, that's a good thing.

Earlier this month I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Her books always make me feel uncomfortable. The stories are super compelling but contain terrifying subjects. I always feel torn between wanting to stop reading yet needing to know what happens next! After I posted my review of that books on GoodReads, a couple of my friends commented they feel the same way about her writing. It's such an interesting concept to me, that here we are reading these books that disturb us yet we can't resist! That's such great writing!

I don't think I'll spoil anything here when I tell you that the story line in Sharp Objects is about some young girls who go missing from their neighborhood. ( I won't give you any more details!) While I was reading this book, following the stories of these fictional girls, I was transported back to the summer of 1998. I was living in the small town where I'd graduated high school and was on break from the community college I attended there. Suddenly one day, the town was covered with flyers for a missing 8 year old girl who had disappeared one evening.

All I had to do was Google the town name + the year + "missing girl" and there in front of me was her smiling red headed self from the missing posters. That image has been burnt into my brain for years, even though I couldn't remember her name. Good samaritans volunteered to help the police and search and rescue, combing the land for signs of her. It was all anyone talked about. Surely she would turn up somewhere, we all repeated, hoping that saying it enough would make it true. Two weeks later, the girl's body was found in the local landfill and the entire town grieved. I'll just say she had been killed by a neighbor and leave it at that. But we all knew the gory details that were in the town's weekly newspaper.

I was nineteen at the time and I had not witnessed anything such as this before. I attended the funeral, even though I never knew the little girl or her family. I felt compelled to be there, as did most of the town it seemed. It was the first of many instances in which I become fixated on stories of crisis, especially if it hits close to home. This is the reason I've stopped watching television news. I empathize so much with families affected by crisis that it drains me and I have a hard time focusing on anything else. The Newton shootings, the recent riots in Baltimore, these events get my attention and I have to shut it out. Otherwise I grieve for the victims and all the families involved. I grieve for how after each tragedy our world will never be the same as it was before.

And so while I was reading Sharp Objects, the summer of 1998 came flooding back to me, even though I hadn't thought of it in years. And then I felt guilty that I hadn't thought of that poor girl for so long. I'm sure her family thinks of her every day. And even though I knew the girls in the book were fictional, they felt so real to me. When I finished the book, I closed the cover, set it on my desk and then went to the bathroom because I thought I might throw up.


That's a good book, isn't it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

So What Have We Learned? A to Z Reflections

My reflection in The Bean in Chicago Jan. 2015

This is the third year I've participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge and my easiest to complete by far. The challenge came at a good time for me this year. I think I'm in a groove with my writing that I haven't quite found before. I like doing this challenge because it shows me that I can write every day. Like most writers I know, I struggle to carve out time in my daily life for writing. Posting daily, and seeing the list of thousands of other participants who are doing it as well, inspires me and motivates me to write more. I think a daily post is not something I could maintain long term but I still write every day and hope to post at least twice a week.

I spent the month of April blogging about what I believe to be the most valuable lessons I've learned in my life so far. Let's take a look at the full list:

Anything can happen.
Breakfast is important.
Crisis is sometimes needed to facilitate change.
I need to have dogs in my life.
Expectations are bullshit.
I wouldn't be who I am without my friends.
Practicing gratitude improves quality of life
Finding humor in difficult situations makes them bearable.
Ice cream makes everything better.
One woman's junk is another's treasure.
Kindness is a cycle, dole it out and you will receive it.
Things always look better in the light of day.
Marriage is different for everyone.
It's okay to say no.
Sometimes, I just need to go outside.
It's important to re-evaluate your priorities from time to time.
If you hate your job, you should quit it.
Returning is not the same as never having left.
It's totally okay to be a woman who likes sex.
Try new things.
Trust The Universe.
Eat vegetables.
Write things down.
Find your own xanadu.
Don't yell at people.
Have a zest for life.

Looking at that list makes me proud of myself! Not only did I write every day but I was able to look at some of the most crucial events of my life, find meaning in them and put it into words to share with others. That's pretty impressive, if I do say so myself!

One of the things I love most about doing this challenge is that it connects me with likeminded folks who connect with my posts and respond to me. This month I've gotten blog comments, personal emails, and text messages from people who relate to my experiences and enjoy my writing. That fills my heart with joy because after all, this is why I write. I'd like to say a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who read my posts in April. Your support and feedback makes me a better writer and human being.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zest

Today is the final day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. It also happens to be the letter that has stumped me the most when it comes to a topic! Even as I sat down to write today's post, I hadn't fully decided which word I was going to go with.

I have a list of 22 Z words that I came up with during my brain storming process. I sat with it for several minutes, my eyes stopping on each word and the one the jumped out at my the most was zest.

I went to my trusted Roget's Thesaurus for synonyms for zest and found this spectacular list: relish, gusto, enjoyment, pleasure, delight, good appetite, enthusiasm, cheer, delectation, satisfaction, happiness. I read all those words and thought Yep, that's all me! and so my word for today was chosen!

I think I can safely say that I have a zest for life. It has taken me into my thirties to get a point where I am comfortable with the fact that I like to live my life for myself and have fun. Even if that means I "don't act my age" and do things like wait in line with a bunch of children to have my photo taken with a mascot, wear clothes meant for younger folks and dress my dogs in funny hats!

So today's life lesson is: Have fun! Live your life with zest! Whatever that looks like to you is okay!

P.S. Bonus points if by now you are singing the jingle "You're not fully clean unless you're zest-fully clean!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Yelling

I grew up in a yelling household. I mean, how do you expect people to understand you're angry if you aren't screaming at them?! I've realized that my default mode became to raise my voice when I got upset.

As I got older, I had a couple teachers and then bosses/co-workers who would yell. After a brief phase of being intimidated by the individual, I wouldn't take him/her seriously anymore. It's kinda like the boy who cried wolf, if someone yells at me every time

I will admit I have been guilty of the behaviors mentioned above. I went through a phase of being the "bad guy" in a work place and I know it wasn't fun for anyone involved, including me.

Over the past few years, I've really chilled out. I attribute this to my time playing roller derby and having a great life coach! I've learned techniques for dealing with situations that used to make me upset. More importantly, I've learned how to avoid many of those situations in the first place!

Even though I don't resort to yelling when I'm dealing with conflict, it still is my automatic response when I stub my toe or my dogs aren't listening! (It doesn't help either of those situations, by the way!) Where it does help, I've noticed is when I'm frustrated or anxious and need to let of some steam. A loud shriek of an exhale can do wonders for releasing some pent up energy!

So my life lesson here is: don't yell at other people. (Unless you really have to, like the building is on fire or something!) It won't make you feel any better in the long run, it certainly won't make the other person feel good, and it's not going to solve your problem. If you get to your yelly place, stop and take a deep breath and think about what you're about to say. I bet you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xanadu

Here we are at the third to last day of the A to Z Challenge and it's the first time I've gotten stuck coming up with a subject for a letter! These last three have had me a bit stumped so I turned to my shelf of writing books for inspiration.

Rogert's Thesaurus of Words for Intellectuals defines xanadu as "A place of perfect, idyllic beauty."

(I know it's also a reference from Citizen Kane and a movie from the 80's but I can't tie those into a life lesson!)

When I left home on my adventure, I was not only re-evaluating my relationship with my partner but also my relationship with myself and with the place I live. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Montana has changed me. It's an incredible place. "Perfect, idyllic beauty" couldn't sum it up any better. I'm continuously amazed by how much open space and untouched land exists here. But for all the ways that Montana is lovely and majestic, it is also harsh. Winters are long and sub-zero temperatures can make daily life challenging. Your car won't start, the gas pumps don't want to work and staying outside too long can be a health risk. Spring finally creeps in with summer right behind it. Then suddenly there are forest fires and the air is tinged with smoke for weeks at a time. By fall, everyone is praying for snow again to quench the earth. It's an endless cycle.

Any Montanan can tell you, it's not easy to live here. There are reasons we do it and those are a little different for everyone. For me, it's the raw beauty of the place. People travel from all over the world to see what I get to view on a daily basis.

I've lived in many different cities in four different states and I've done a lot of traveling in the U.S. I've learned that no place is going to be a perfect place to live all the time. There are going to be moments of pure joy that make the rest of the time worth it. It's important to find the place that gives you the most number of those moments. For me, right now, that's Montana.

So my life lesson here is: find your own xanadu, the place you long for when you're away. You don't necessarily have to live there, but spend as much time there as you can. It will feed your soul!

Where is your personal xanadu?

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Writing

Glennon Doyle Melton is one of my favorite bloggers ( and general all around motivational humans. On the subject of writing, she says "When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone."

That line stuck with me like crazy glue from the second I read it. It struck me as so utterly true because it sums up the feelings I've had for years about why I write and also why I read avidly. The potential for connection with others when I share my writing is endless. I get comments and messages regularly from people who relate to what I write about or simply enjoy reading what I write. Either way, it's incredible! 

Last summer, I was being treated for food poisoning at our nearest urgent care facility (Avoid meat on a stick at outdoor festivals, folks.) My other half was in the waiting area and heard an elderly lady start telling her husband positive things about a magazine article she'd read that day about an animal rescue group in a neighboring state. I wrote that article! I wish I hadn't been suffering miserably in the next room, but I still think it's super cool that was overheard!

I've kept a journal almost daily since I was eighteen. Writing is a part of who I am. I shelf recently filled journals on my desk but I have a big box of old ones that have stored in a closet. Every time I move, I lug them along. For the most part, they just stay in the closet but I've consulted them occasionally for a piece I was working on and once for a legal matter! Sometimes it's nice to be able to verify dates and events as I recorded them.

Kermit sits above my filled journals

It was only in the past couple of years that I began to say "I am a writer" with confidence,  instead of "I want to be a writer." I've been one all my life, always able to BS my way through a book report or essay question! I frequently encounter people who say "I've always wanted to be a writer," or "People tell me I should write a book." I've even taken writing classes with folks who want to write regularly but for whatever reason aren't able to make it a regular practice in their lives. To all of those people, I say: Just write!

What I've learned in my life is that it's so important to just write it down, whatever it is. Regardless of what you feel you need to get down on paper, whether it's your life story or your To Do List! 
Writing by hand is a completely different process than typing. I write everything by hand before I transfer it to my blog or a Word document. I like a specific brand of pencil and notebook to write and  I need to be sitting upright at a flat surface. This is how I work best!

The experience of writing is different for everyone and I recommend to anyone. Treat yourself to a brand new notebook and start by keeping a journal or even just a gratitude list. Allow yourself to write whatever you feel the urge to put onto the paper. I promise you will surprise yourself!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Vegetables

I know you're probably wondering how in the heck I'm going to come up with a life lesson about vegetables! Well, as I've mentioned before, food is an extremely important part of my life and vegetables are food! In my opinion, they're the most critical, yet underrated part of the food pyramid. (Wait, I don't know if that's even a thing anymore, but you catch my drift...)

I was a vegetarian for seven years, through most of my twenties. I started eating meat again shortly after I moved to Montana, when I began having health issues. It just so happens that my return to being an omnivore coincided with dating an honest to goodness cowboy who would grill me steak kabobs that also held giant chunks of shiny red peppers, purple onions and fat white mushrooms. 

I dabbled in vegetarianism through my later childhood/early teen years but was never catered to by my parents and eventually gave in to eating what was served at meal time. I officially became a vegetarian in college and still own my very first cookbook I bought myself when I began living on my own!

I didn't stop eating meat because I dislike it. I love it, to be honest. Especially any and all things pork related! My passion for animals and my desire to make a living caring for them drove my decision to stop eating meat. Even now, I find veganism a lovely concept but it's not one that I could embrace full heartedly. 

My other half and I have been gardening for the past five years. It turns out that growing your own food in Montana is painfully challenging but it can be done! Eating vegetables we've grown ourselves is grounding for me. There's something to be said for connecting to the warm earth with my bare hands and feet. To come inside after a few slow, hot hours in the garden with a basket of veggies for dinner is rewarding and provides a positive energy boost!

Harvesting turnips

Every once in a while I encounter a person who says he/she doesn't like vegetables and I can't help but be fascinated! How can one so broadly eliminate so many amazing foods? If you are one of these folks, I wonder if maybe you just think you don't like vegetables because you haven't discovered the right ones yet or the best way to cook them! If you've only ever had canned green beans and frozen broccoli, you haven't given them a fair shot. What about a spicy okra creole or mashed roots with butter and garlic? Don't they sound delicious?!

So, my life lesson when it comes to vegetables is simple: eat them. Roast them, grill them, boil them, fry them, blend them in a smoothie, anything to get them into your body! And try growing some. Even if it's just one tomato plant in a pot on your patio, I promise there's great value there!

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Universe

I'm a spiritual being, although I don't follow any particular religious doctorine. I suppose my personal beliefs are closest to that of Buddhism but I'm not educated enough to consider myself a Buddhist. 

What I do believe whole heartedly is that there is a power at work who is much greater than myself. I call this power The Universe. 

The Universe is wise and powerful. It is kind and forgiving. The Universe is not a cruel teacher who "tests" us or sets us up for failure. 

The Universe hears us. Even when we aren't clear on the message we're sending out, it is received. Then, we are provided with options. The choice is ours to make. 

Sometimes there is a lesson we must learn. If we don't get it the first time around, The Universe will present that situation again and again until we achieve what we need to. 

All living beings in this world are connected; people, animals, plants. It's all energy. Whether you pay attention to those connections and honor them is up to you, but they're always there.

Each day, I thank The Universe for all it has given me and I ask for continued guidance as I navigate  my path in this life. 

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned is: Trust The Universe. Have faith. Remember that everything happens for a reason. Everything will work out exactly as it is supposed to, because The Universe knows the truth. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Try

Chocolate bacon sundae

If there's one phrase I utter more often than any other, it's probably "Try it!" This is often followed by "You'll like it!"

 It's easy to fall into patterns and hold onto comfortable things in life. Going out to eat and ordering the same thing every time is safe, right? You know you're going to like it. I get that. Sometimes I want familiarity too. But when we cling too it too tightly, we miss out on new experiences.

I can't tell you how many women I've encountered who say some version of "I've thought about playing roller derby but I'd never be able to do it because  ________________." Fill in the blank with any excuse you can imagine. My response always is "You never know. You should try it." There's always a rebuttal. The truth is, you really don't know what it'll be like and if roller derby is something you think you'd like, you should try it.

Suiting up in my derby gear for the first time
I'm a pretty adventurous eater but there are a few things I was sure I didn't like: avocados, eggplant and onions come to mind. Last year, a friend suggested I try avocados in a smoothie. I was skeptical but I gave it a try and lo and behold, that has become one of my favorite quick breakfasts! 

I do not like white water rafting. I've only gone once and I was terrified the entire time. I'm generally not a fan of being on water in any way, shape or form. My other half, however, loves white water rafting and asked me to go with him at least once. I did and I doubt I'll ever go again but he appreciated that I was willing to face my fear and get in that raft! Now I do something on my own while he goes rafting with his siblings but at least I know what I'm missing!

Suited up for white water rafting

My life lesson here is simple: Try it. Whatever it is, give it a go. Take one bite of something, try on an outfit that isn't your usual style, take a class or lessons for a new hobby.

I believe that we, as human beings, are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. This goes back to my first post of the month, that you can do anything!

So, what is it you'd like to try that you never have?

That's me in green!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for Sex

I vacillated between whether or not I should go with this topic for my S post. I don't want to offend any A to Z participants, or break any of the rules. I had other ideas for S subjects: self care, social media, stress, solitude. I certainly could write about those things, but when I looked at my list of S words, I kept coming back to sex. (If you know me well, I'm sure that line mad you chuckle!) When I think about all those other words, I don't see one that holds as many life lessons for me as the subject of sex.

If I have to sum it all up into one, my life lesson when it comes to sex is this: It is totally okay to be a woman who likes sex. It's nothing to be ashamed of and there are healthy, positive ways to go about it!

My mother discovered I had lost my virginity by doing some snooping. I was a senior in high school at the time, less than a month away from graduation. She got mad at me,  I was grounded. There was never an explanation other than I was young and shouldn't have done it. Maybe this is why I developed a sense of shame around sex that lasted through my marriage. It wasn't until I was divorced and approaching thirty that my attitude changed.

I've taken a lot of slack for being a gal who admits she's looking to get laid on occasion. I've been called names and judged by others. I'll admit I've made some poor choices in this arena, but not only do all my experiences make me who I am, I also know that my sexual confidence contributes to me being an honest, loving partner in my current relationship.

I am not advocating promiscuity here. Not at all. I just think there is a double standard in our society when it comes to attitudes about sex and gender. A guy who has a lot of sexual partners is a stud but a girl who does is a slut. It isn't fair! I believe there are ways to talk and teach about sex that advocate healthy relationships and sexual behaviors without shaming.

I also think it's extremely important for women to talk to each other about sex. Keeping all your secrets to yourself perpetuates that air of shame. If I didn't have friends who I could vent to and ask personal questions, I wouldn't be writing this post!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for Return

When I left my home in January, I didn't expect I would ever return. But then, we all know what I've learned about expectations this year!

My decision to return home was one made from a place of love and learning but it wasn't exactly easy. When I left, I was confident I wouldn't return and I couldn't help but think of how I would appear to others for coming back. And of course, I struggled with the question of why the heck did I leave in the first place?

I had been home for about a week when I received this beautiful image via text from a friend. My eyes filled with tears as I read the words. It was exactly what I needed at that moment.

I left because I had to. That's clear to me now. Things would not be exactly as they are now if I hadn't gone. Returning was exactly what I needed to do as well. Mr. Pratchett's words couldn't be more fitting for my situation. Sure I could have stayed but I would have spent the rest of my life wondering What if? 

So the lesson here is borrowed from that wise quote: Returning to where you started isn't the same as never having left.

Do you agree?