Category Archives: Life Lessons

1 Part King Missile / 3 Parts Jewel

King Missile, “Sensitive Artist“ lyrics: “I don’t go to recitals anymore, Because my hearing is too sensitive, And I don’t go to art galleries anymore, Because there are people there, And I can’t deal with people, Because they don’t understand me. I am sensitive…I am a sensitive artist…“

Today, as I was sitting out on the balcony eating my breakfast burrito (which tasted amazing by the way) I started to think about the novel that I have recently begun writing. I so desperately want to share the basic plot line with people to get their reaction but I know that will only serve to give me a temporary high and then will ultimately result in curtailing my progress. To many this may seem counterintuitive—positive feedback should mean an increase in productivity and a resurgence of creative energy. Not so with me. At least, not at this stage of the creative process.

If I share my ideas and concepts and I get a great reaction, then I’m elated. “They think I’m talented! I don’t suck. I knew this was a great idea!” And then 30 minutes to an hour later, a great sense of malaise sets in. Somehow I’m no longer excited about the project because my thirst for validation has been quenched. I also realize that sharing the completed novel with my previously exuberant friends, will no longer elicit the same over-the-top reaction, since I’ve removed the element of surprise. And then I will be left thinking, “I was right, I suck. This was a terrible idea! Maybe I can become a Starbucks barista. I hear they have good healthcare insurance.”

Much to my displeasure, I thrive on positive feedback and instant gratification, and wince at long, grueling tasks done in a vacuum with no cheering section. Worse yet, I positively shrivel up and cannot proceed creatively if surrounded by negative, critical judges and cynics. This doesn’t mean I can’t take constructive criticism or that I can’t work long hours alone. It just means I am a sensitive artist, and if you want to get the best work out of me you better play nicely.

Now, as with most human characteristics, our biggest flaws can also be our biggest attributes. Since I am so sensitive and often insecure about my own talent, I make it a point to build up the confidence and dole out praise (where deserved) for other people. Wherever I am— Starbucks, the grocery, the vet clinic—I am actively searching out opportunities to commend others on a job well done. If I have a particularly talented wait staff at a restaurant, then I compliment them and ask to speak to their manager so that I can tell their boss what a great job they are doing. If I see a child pick up some trash off the ground and deposit it in the garbage can without being asked, I thank him or her for their thoughtfulness. It never seems to amaze me how much a little recognition can brighten up a person’s spirit. This is especially true of adults who so often seem desperate for someone to simply acknowledge them in a positive light. They aren’t looking for a trophy or a blue 1st place ribbon, just a simple “thank you”, “good job” and, “I really appreciate all you do.“

In Jewel’s song, “I’m Sensitive”, she says:

“ So please be careful with me, I’m sensitive
And I’d like to stay that way.

I have this theory that if we’re told we’re bad
Then that’s the only idea we’ll ever have
But maybe if we are surrounded in beauty
Someday we will become what we see
‘Cause anyone can start a conflict
It’s harder yet to disregard it
I’d rather see the world from another angle
We are everyday angels
Be careful with me ’cause I’d like to stay that way“

So as it stands right now, I figure I am 1 part King Missile’s, “Sensitive Artist” and 3 parts Jewel’s, “I’m Sensitive.“

I’m working on developing a thicker skin and a more open heart. I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.

Lessons Relearned

Today my dog Hooper decided to wake me up at 8:30am. For most of the working world this would be considered “sleeping in”, but since I’m not currently working I just call it obnoxious. I like to sleep. I love to sleep. It’s a time when my brain shuts off and stops worrying about the “didn‘t dos”, “should have dones”, or “what ifs“. So at 8:30am when Hooper started barking like a banshee, I defiantly pulled the covers over my head and willed him to go back to sleep for a couple more hours. Unfortunately, my telepathic doggie snooze button didn’t work.

I grumpily stepped into my already laced tennis shoes and with Phyllis Diller-styled bed head accentuating my braless pajama attire, I headed out to the living room to let Hooper out of his crate. Normally he wouldn’t even be in a crate but since he is still recovering from ACL surgery, we have to keep him in there at nights and on a leash at all other times. This means I get to personally escort him via his leash to Pooh Corner in the backyard so he can fertilize our dying grass. “What a way to start the day!”

Now you probably just read that last line as being sarcastic, and while I was still inside my house, stumbling around with sleepy eyes, looking for Hooper’s leash, it was quite the cranky sarcastic internal thought. But once I got outside, and saw the fresh dew on the grass, the way the sun was shining through the trees and the neighbor’s magnolia tree in full bloom, I genuinely meant it in the most positive of ways, “What a way to start the day!”

I had forgotten how pretty mornings are when the world is just starting to wake up to a day full of new possibilities and promise. As I heard the birds chirping and felt the breeze go by I found myself taking in a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh air and mentally thanking God for a day well made. “Good job, God. You made a good day this morning. The weather is beautiful. Thank you.“

I figure we all want to be acknowledged for our efforts, and told that we’ve done a good job. Why would God be any different?

As I left the house to run my errands for the day, I thought about how so often I forget things that I already knew—like how beautiful mornings are and how peaceful it is to just take a few moments to appreciate the natural beauty around us. Or how it’s important to mix up the daily routine to keep life interesting—taking the scenic route, getting lost on purpose, trying a different coffee shop, etc.

Sometimes I think that I am just sleeping through life even when I’m fully awake. Just running on autopilot, and not living fully in the present moment. Maybe that’s the reason I like zombie movies so much—they’re not too far off from most people’s daily reality. World War Z may be real (metaphorically speaking of course) and we have to consciously fight it every day.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

It’s now 11:08am and I am sitting alone at a table in the upstairs outside eating area of my neighborhood grocery store sipping coffee and enjoying the cool weather. I’ve been visited by two birds hoping for a bite to eat and a tiny albino spider who upon further inspection appears to be a master web designer.

Maybe one of the points of me doing this blog is so that I don’t forget lessons when I learn them the first time. And if I do, I can always reread my posts to remember.

“What a way to start the day.“

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View from outside my local Marketstreet grocery.

 

 

A Tale of Three Mats

Photo Credit: someecards.com

Photo Credit: someecards.com

When our dog, Hooper, had knee surgery, we were told to keep him off of slick surfaces like hardwood floors to avoid him slipping and re-injuring his knee. Since our entire downstairs flooring is hardwood, sans two small rugs, this presented a significant problem. I started searching within our home for an inexpensive solution. SCORE! I found not 1, not 2 but 3 yoga mats in the process. We created a slip-free walkway leading from the back door to Hooper’s crate and to his “recovery” bed that we set up on the living room area rug. It was a perfect and economical solution albeit not a very attractive one.

My happiness at solving this dilemma was short-lived when I realized that having 3 yoga mats meant that I had the very good intention of developing a yoga practice at least 3 different times and never saw it through. Why?

I remember 10 years ago buying a yoga mat because my office was going to offer yoga classes during lunch once a week. I gladly signed up because I was interested in the practice and I desperately wanted to get in better shape for my wedding which was a year away. My instructor was amazing! She was patient, kind and taught yoga from both a physical and spiritual perspective. I enthusiastically looked forward to her classes each week. And then, unexpectedly, she moved away and my office never hired a replacement.

Several years later I saw an ad for yoga classes being held at my local recreation center. The price was inexpensive so I decided to give it a try. (I’m sure that’s when I bought the second mat, having long since forgotten where my first one was stored.) I wasn’t impressed with the instructors. It was a husband and wife team that would take turns teaching the classes. It was supposed to be a class for beginners but they moved so quickly from one position to the next that I got quickly frustrated. Their class was also missing the spiritual aspect that I desired. My beloved previous instructor would always begin class with a poignant story and end class with a beautiful meditation. This class just seemed cold and a little pretentious. Not what I was looking for.

I truly believe that “outer reflects inner”, and this situation was no exception. Even my clothes seemed to be repelled by this class. My shirt and glasses kept falling down while I was in the “Downward Dog” pose, my pants didn’t seem to fit right, and my hair kept slipping out of its pony tail. I was uncomfortable physically and emotionally—just all-around not a happy camper, so I quit after only a few classes. And I stayed away from yoga for years.

In the past year or two I have been thinking about yoga again. My intuitive mother-in-law gave me a yoga mat for Christmas to encourage me to take up the practice. In her mid 60s she is in much better physical shape than I am! I have seen her spring into a “Sun Salutation”, rapidly transitioning from one pose to another before comfortably resting with her legs in a pretzel and her back perfectly straight. She’s pretty amazing.

Two weeks ago I was ready to start trying my hand at yoga again. The mats spread across my living room floor are a daily reminder of this unfulfilled promise to myself. Unfortunately, I had an attack of vertigo that prevented me from starting. It’s a symptom of my Meniere’s Disease—an inner ear disorder that manifests itself with unannounced episodes of extreme vertigo, dizziness, nausea and exhaustion. The attack can lasts minutes or hours but the after effects lasts for days or weeks. There would definitely be no “Sun Salutations” for several days.

Photo Credit: The Big C

Photo Credit: The Big C

Last night I was watching an episode of “The Big C: Hereafter”. The main character, Cathy (Laura Linney) has been battling cancer for several seasons. Now, she is off chemotherapy and has moved into a hospice. He husband, Paul (Oliver Platt) has slipped into a deep depression causing him to stay in bed for days at a time eating nothing but Funyuns. When he finally makes it out of bed to visit his wife in hospice, she chastises him saying, “I can’t get out of bed, but you can, so you have to!” That one sentence struck a chord with me.

Now that I am feeling better and I can get out of bed, I have an obligation to do so. I may not be ready just yet to contort myself into crazy yoga positions but I can certainly stretch, walk and meditate. As they say, “it’s the journey not the destination”, and this journey starts with a single step and maybe a “Downward Dog” for Hooper’s amusement.

It’s Getting Hot in Here

Sometimes doing the right thing can be a bit of a challenge.

I have a peanut allergy, so I have to carry around an Epi-Pen in my purse at all times in case someone tries to knock me off by slipping me a peanut. I’ve told my friends and family all about my peanut allergy and how the slightest bit ingested could land me in the hospital or worse. Even with this knowledge, you would be surprised at how many times my loving friends and family (even my mom!) have forgotten and offered me mixed nuts or a chocolate-peanut butter-fudge dessert. That’s why I carry the Epi-Pen with me at all times. It’s a syringe containing epinephrine that is big enough to administer through jeans and into my thigh to help treat anaphylaxis. Thankfully, I have never had to use it.

My Epi-Pen expired last week, so when I went to the pharmacy to pick up a new one I asked them if they could please dispose of the old one for me. They said no, and that I would have to go to the Police Department for proper disposal. So, being a good steward of the community I drove over to the Police Department. It was after five, but the Police Department never closes, right? Wrong.

The doors were locked, but there was a sign next to a phone telling me to pick up the receiver and dispatch would be at the other end. Sure enough, they were and they told me they would send someone down to meet me. Ten minutes later as I was pulling out of the parking lot a police officer appeared. I turned back around and explained that I was trying to properly dispose of my medicine. He told me that I would have to come back during business hours and fill out paperwork in order to turn my medicine in. He couldn’t take it from me. Really? At this point my desire to be a good citizen was seriously waning.

Today I drove over to the Police Department determined once again to safely dispose of my Epi-Pen. The little old lady speaking to me, through the second glass window that I was directed to, informs me that they can accept medicine but not syringes. She asked me if I could separate the two and I explained that I couldn’t—the medicine is loaded into the syringe. She told me that only the Fire Department can accept syringes and asked me if I needed directions.

After a two-minute rant by me on how the city makes it incredibly difficult to dispose of old medicine properly, and having the old woman belly laugh at my tirade, I slumped back into my car. An inner Good vs. Evil battle over whether or not I was going to drive the few blocks to the Fire Department ensued.

When I got to the Fire Department, I found another old lady behind a glass window eating her lunch. I explained the situation and she promptly came out from her glass enclosure and took my medicine. No forms. No fuss. Plus, as an added bonus, a super cute fireman worthy of a calendar spread was standing by the door smiling at me and ready to assist if needed. Eye candy in exchange for my old meds. An even trade indeed. Plus, I got the satisfaction of knowing I did the right thing. A small victory, but I’ll take it.

This experience got me to thinking. This isn’t the first time the universe has made it challenging for me to do the right thing. It seems that every time I try to make some lifestyle improvements the universe decides to throw a barrage of obstacles in my way. Whether it’s fulfilling the dream of writing and publishing children’s books, eating a “clean and low salt” diet, or developing a daily exercise practice, something always seems to discourage me from succeeding.

My husband says that it’s the universe testing our convictions. The theory is that if we want something badly enough, nothing will stop us. Once the universe sees that you are serious, it will help you achieve your dreams by sending helpful people and resources your way.

And sometimes you even get a really hot fireman as a bonus. That’s encouragement enough for me to keep trying.

Photo Credit: alanjohnson.deviantart.com

Photo Credit: Hunky Fireman by alanjohnson.deviantart.com

Grace Under Pressure

Hooper 3 days post TPLO surgery

Hooper 3 days post TPLO surgery

The last couple of weeks have been particularly challenging.

It began with my dog having TPLO surgery (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) for a torn ACL. I’m not sure which was more troubling, the $4,000 hospital bill or the news that our overly active dog needed to avoid all exercise for 14 weeks. Strong sedatives were prescribed for the dog but they refused to prescribe some for me. I guess they thought I was joking when I requested them. I wasn’t.

After a week-and-a-half of playing nursemaid to Hooper 24/7, I got an unexpected early morning phone call from my mom. She was calling to let me know that my 87 year-old dad had fallen and broken his hip. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning. The typical “mad scramble“ ensued, with arrangements being made to kennel the cat and the recuperating dog. While my husband was negotiating taking off of work so we could make the 10 hour trip to be with my family, I was busy washing underwear, socks and jeans which I determined were the most important clothing items to have clean and packed. I also decided that the next most important to-do item was to get waxed in case things took a turn for the worse. I didn’t want to potentially look like a gorilla if I had to attend my dad’s funeral. Apparently, fear and anxiety do NOT trump vanity.

During the long drive to New Orleans, we received a call from my husband’s dad informing us that my mother-in-law had also been hospitalized and required surgery. She was in a different hospital than my dad on the opposite side of the river. Looks like we would be hospital-hopping over the weekend. We used to go bar-hopping in college, but hospital-hopping would prove to not be nearly as fun. The only similarity between bar-hopping and hospital-hopping is that you feel equally tired and sick after both. Particularly on this trip, since I managed to acquire a nasty stomach malady of an unknown origin.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about me. It’s about family.

Today, a friend posted the following quote on Facebook by Andy Griffith:

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I started to look for the gifts of grace, strength and peace of mind that had been bestowed upon my family members during this difficult time. I didn’t have to look very hard, as it was easy to spot.

Strength: My mom had been praying for months for God to keep daddy healthy until she was able to better care for him. She had been recovering from a series of major health issues of her own including multiple eye surgeries and a hip replacement. She just recently got the “all-clear“ from her doctors to begin driving again, which has allowed her to resume visiting my father in the nursing home and now to care from him in the hospital. Had my dad fallen a few weeks earlier, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Peace of Mind: My husband and I recently made the difficult decision to close my struggling business. As a result, we got a nice tax refund this year which allowed us to pay for our dog’s surgery, some needed car repairs and funded the emergency trip back home to be with our family during this difficult time. It also gave me the confirmation I needed that closing the business was the right decision. I am now free to leave at a moment’s notice to be with my family when they need me.

Grace: My father, besides having a broken hip, also has advanced Parkinson’s Disease, Congestive Heart Failure and Dementia. On his “good days” which are occurring less frequently, he believes that his dreams and memories from the past are happening in the present.

Some people say that before you die your life flashes before your eyes. I believe, that for my dad, he is experiencing the highlights of his life in sequential order every time he sleeps or day dreams.

Two years ago he was speaking as if he was still living in his childhood home with his parents and siblings. Last year he was talking as if he was a young bachelor just starting his engineering career and enjoying being a Navy man. Two days ago he was speaking as if he was a middle-aged husband and father. He’s getting closer to the end. While it makes me very sad at times, I think it’s been an odd comfort to my dad and me. He gets to experience all of the best parts of his life again—filled with excitement, laughter and joy. He is reconciling his life in preparation of saying goodbye.

Strength, Grace, and Peace of Mind: My mother-in-law was very fortunate that her emergency surgery occurred when her sister was in town visiting. Aunt Sandra has been the most gentle and attentive caregiver ever. She has slept at the hospital for days, and is always at the ready to jump up and attend to her sister’s needs or simply offer soothing words and a loving hand squeeze. Knowing that she is at my mother-in-law’s side has been an enormous comfort to all of us. I believe in my heart, that although traumatic, this experience has brought an odd sense of peace to my mother-in-law. She now knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she will never have to go through difficult times alone. Her sister, children, ex-husband, best friends and daughter-in-law will be there for her. Always.

Thank you God for my wonderful family and for all your blessings.

Where’s My Freakin’ Bonbons?

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The toilet has been running for months. I’m sure our water bill would be 50% less if it was fixed. Not to mention the scare it gives me when it starts to “run“ while I am sitting on it! I’m sure I levitate at least three inches off the seat each time. My urgency to get this fixed has just not seemed to register with my husband, and I know why—neither one of us is very “handy” when it comes to home repairs.

Last night I hit the breaking point. I was sick and tired of the new “toilet flush assembly” (a.k.a. the damn toilet do-dad) sitting on my kitchen counter and mocking me. I mean seriously, it hadn’t even made it to the bathroom and we bought it weeks ago! Rather than wait any longer for my husband to fix it, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I put on an old tee-shirt and grabbed all of the tools required to do the job and headed to the bathroom. After all, the Home Depot man said this was an “easy” plumbing job. I can do this! (Maybe.)

Step 1: Turn off water and flush toilet. Check.

Step 2: Sponge out any remaining water from the back of the tank. Check.

Step 3: Remove old toilet flush assembly parts. (Hmmm…everything? Okay, yank, yank, yank!) Check.

Step 4: Get husband—now! (Where is this water coming from? Oh, crap!)

I admit that my timing wasn’t the best. My husband was watching the last few minutes of the NCAA Tournament, when I trotted into the living room and announced that he had better come help me if he didn’t want the house to flood. He didn’t move. He just looked at me in wide-eyed disbelief. Then he went back to hooting and hollering at the TV and texting his buddies.

I tried again, using more colorful language. “Ummm, I have 4 large bath towels sopping up the water on the bathroom floor. I don’t know where the water is coming from and I can’t get it to stop. Maybe you should hit pause and come help me before the house floods!“

All I got in response was an angry look and a furrowed brow.

And then I said the absolute worst thing I could have possibly said and it hung in the air for what seemed to be an eternity, “This is more important than any stupid basketball game!”

Well, that got a reaction! And I think I may have actually seen a blood vessel burst in his forehead. The good news is that after a lot of expletives being thrown about the bathroom, the toilet finally got fixed. Turns out I just hadn’t turned the water off completely—nothing major. My husband is still speaking to me even though the repairs took several hours to complete and I giggled and smirked during “One Shining Moment”. (That’s just a really cheesy song. I couldn’t help myself.)

The whole incident also brought up some questions about gender roles in modern society. In my parent’s day, the husband was in charge of earning the sole income to provide for the family, doing home and car repairs, cutting the grass, and managing financial investments. The wife was in charge of decorating and running the household, taking care of the kids during the day, cooking the meals (except grilling on the BBQ pit) and planning the social calendar.

Today we have a lot of lifestyle options, which is fantastic, but can also be a bit confusing. The roles and responsibilities within a marriage/partnership aren’t as clearly defined as they were 50 years ago.  In my home, planning social engagements, vacations and doctor visits is my job because it’s easy for me to keep track of such things. I also do all of the grocery shopping and cooking because I don’t mind it and I have the time to do it. My husband is currently the only one working a full-time job, so that’s his big contribution. He also gets to lug heavy items into the attic for storage because he’s stronger, and I’m afraid of ladders.

We are fortunate enough to be able to hire people to cut the grass, fix the car and advise us on our financial investments.

But fixing toilets, clogged drains, and broken garbage disposals—well, that’s definitely a team effort. And nobody is getting to sit on the sofa and eat bonbons until it’s done!