Friday, January 31, 2014

Whole Wheat Strawberry Muffins

During the winter, my freezer is usually stocked with frozen berries.  On this snowy morning, I decided to make some muffins to utilize my frozen strawberries.  The results were pretty tasty.  By the way, when a recipe states that berries should be frozen, it's a good idea to use them frozen. Just sayin'.  The berries become a little mushy if they're thawed, in case you're curious.



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray.

Whisk the following dry ingredients in a large bowl:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup old-fashioned cooking oats

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix together the wet ingredients in a medium-sized bowl:

3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup honey or stevia (I usually use half and half)

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 c. strawberries, blended (these should be thawed)

1/2 cup almond milk

1 cup roughly chopped frozen strawberries (do not thaw) Add this once wet and dry ingredients have been combined.

Combine wet and dry ingredients, and then add the 1 c. roughly chopped FROZEN strawberries. (Note all caps.) Just stir until berries are incorporated; don't over-stir the batter.

1 tablespoon raw sugar, mixed with a few shakes of cinnamon  (I didn't measure, obviously.)  Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture on top of the unbaked muffins.  My recipe made 12 muffins and one small loaf pan of strawberry bread.

Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from muffin tin, and cool on rack.

I would like to acknowledge the blog In My Tiny Kitchen for the original idea. I always have to adapt recipes to suit me. I love adding more fiber, and utilizing stevia for part of the sweetener.  Click link to see her Strawberry Oat Muffin recipe. 

My 500 Words

Finish this if you know it:  "The best part of waking up..." Do you remember those warm, family-friendly commercials from Folger's in the eighties?  The coffee advertisements featured college kids surprising their families early in the morning, smiling children, and people with heads still on pillows, stretching and smiling, ready to start their morning.  "The best part of waking up is Folger's in your cup."

For me, the best part of waking up is my not having to be in bed any more.  I love the early morning. I've always been a light sleeper.  Rather than see myself as an insomniac, I consider myself to be a morning person. Any time after midnight is considered morning, technically.  My mornings just start earlier than some people's.  When I go to bed at night, I console myself with the fact that in just a few hours, I can wake up, and start a new day.

I love the quiet, and having the house all to myself is such a gift. When my eyes first flutter open, I know about what time it is.  The first time, it is around 1:00.  I can usually convince myself to fall back to sleep if I don't engage my brain at that hour.  The next time I wake, it is close to 3:00.  I know if I bound out of bed this early, I will regret it shortly after lunch.  If I'm able to fall asleep then, I realize the NEXT time I wake up, I can stay up.

Seriously, every morning is like Christmas when I was a kid. I fall asleep anticipating being able to start my morning routine. Any time after 3:30 is free game for me.  Sometimes I lie there, and think, but not usually.  I love to bound out of bed, and start my day.  I no longer fret about how many hours of sleep I have had.

When I was teaching fifth grade, I played the "If I Fall Asleep Now, I Will Have Slept ___ Hours" game ALL. NIGHT. LONG.  Now that I'm retired, I just don't care how many hours I sleep.  I can wake up whenever I want, and know that no student will suffer from my lack of sleep.  I thought perhaps retirement would find my sleeping at least until sunrise, but that just hasn't happened.

I blame my writing.  I love to write so much, that now my thoughts are occupied with topics, memories, scenarios, settings, and descriptions rather than students, lesson plans, and the latest Pinterest pin I want to try with my kiddos.  I no longer have running lists of things to prep for school, but I have filled those slots with things I want to remember to write.

I have been retired for 250 days.  I have 259 drafts/published pieces on my blog.  I haven’t missed many days of writing in January, and there have been days I started drafts for later.

When I came back from Daddy's funeral, I spotted an invitation to a writing group (not personal, by the way...just a "you might be interested in our group...”) called My 500 Words.  Intrigued, I clicked on the link, and realized this was right up my alley.  I'm easily writing 500 words each day, but what I didn't have was a writing community, people like me who are driven to tell their stories.  The goal was to write at least 500 words every day for the month of January.  I joined the group on the third of January.

Writing every day is not a challenge for me.  Attempting the prompts has been, though.  We are not required to utilize the suggested topics, and yet, I wanted to try.  There were a few that I just couldn't do.

Writing my own eulogy eluded me for days.  It had been less than a month since I listened to Daddy's, so eloquently delivered by one of his dearest friends.  As I read the others posted on our Facebook wall, I felt less and less adequate.  My own mood was a little darker, and I could not muster up the enthusiasm to just have fun with it, and be lighthearted and silly.  The worst thing in the world to me would be to make everyone at my funeral even more depressed with a depressing memorial service.  So I decided I would set that topic aside for sunnier days for a better result.

There were a couple of days I didn't write; days where I was so busy living, there wasn't time to focus on telling a story.  I didn't fret about it at all.  I knew I was tucking away stories to tell at a future time by taking the time to get out into the world, and have some experiences.  "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

This is true, too:  "All writing and nothing new to write about makes Denise's writing lifeless." There were some days that were sad.  I know when I have the time to write about them, I will be able to bring those feelings to life on the page so that others can feel what I felt because even when I'm not writing, I'm considering how I would describe what I'm feeling.  There were moments of hilarity that will help me when I write about joyful moments that create deep belly laughs.  There were days when boredom threatened to settle over a day, and I had to find something to do to keep just ahead of that dreaded condition.

My 500 Words didn't change what I did; the group changed how I felt about what I did.  Nearly immediately, I bonded with new friends over our passion for words and stories.  We gave positive feedback, and offered suggestions to one another.  One new friend even challenged my way of thinking, and made me consider how I presented my story so that I was able to think more critically. I appreciated the challenge; how else will I grow if I am not mindful of the message my words convey?

Today concludes our January writing challenge.  Many have worried about tomorrow.  What will happen?  What will we do?  We are writers.  We will do what writers do:  WRITE.  The camaraderie and community will continue, and for that, I am grateful.  Even if the group disbanded, I know we would all write anyway; it's just nice to know that we will still be together.  The group has become an online family.

The best part of waking up is knowing I have something to do that I love.  That anyone else would be interested in what I have to say makes my mornings that much sweeter.  Thanks for checking in on Randomocity today.  I love sharing my morning with you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pushing Past the Fear to Move Forward

The heavy, white cloud that was hanging over the mountain yesterday settled into the canyon overnight.  The winds that buffeted the house all night long have calmed somewhat, and are now just softly gusting snowflakes outside my window.  A white veil obscures my view of the mountains in the distance.  Finally, the snow is here.

As I pull my ski socks up to my knees, it occurs to me that this pair of socks only went skiing once last year, the day I took a tumble, and tore a ligament in my knee. What a way to start the new year in 2013.  It’s easy to remember the date of MY SKIING ACCIDENT, anyway.  I was hoping by now to have made another attempt at the slopes.  I've gained a new respect for gravity, and hospital bills. For now, the socks help keep my calves warm as I trudge up the canyon during my daily hikes on these chilly winter days. 

Yesterday was my challenge day.  It was a personal challenge to myself, to double my hiking time, and to see how far I could go.  The time seemed to fly as I passed by my usual landmarks…one mile, one and a half, two miles.  “Goodbye, Fire Hydrant number two!  I’m off to new horizons today!”  I was able to climb 1,051 feet, and cover a distance of seven miles in two hours.  
My friend, Fire Hydrant #2

My Runkeeper app helped me keep track of distance, time and elevation.  My iPod kept me from hearing my heavy breathing.  There were times I would crest a hill, only to see a deep drop that led to another small peak.  I kept pushing through.  There were large patches of ice where the snow had melted, frozen, re-melted, and refrozen.  I avoided the ice by hiking along the edges of the dirt road in the snowpack.  For once, I wished for snowshoes.  My weight would drive my hiking shoes deep into the snow.  My no-show ankle socks that I wore yesterday were no protection as the snow slid past my calves.  I tried running “lightly” to see if that helped.  It didn’t, but it was kind of fun, so I did it any time I was in the relative safety of the crunch snow that flanked the sheets of ice. 

At the one-hour mark, I found myself three and a half miles from home, surrounded by pine trees, receding snow, and water running down the canyon in the creek.  It was quiet, and peaceful.  I felt like such a conqueror; not better than anyone else, but better than the person I was just a month ago, content to sit on the couch most of every day.  It felt so good to be outdoors. I know this. Why do I forget this?  Breathing in the crispest, freshest air filled my lungs with healthy oxygen, and my soul with hope. 

So today, as a soft snow falls outside, I will pull my ski pants over my ski socks, and get ready to brave the elements.  I have no desire to go another seven miles today, but I want to be outside, to feel the chill, and watch the snow.  I intend to set weekly challenges for myself in the future, to test my limits, and reach new destinations.  My ski gear has me thinking it is time to give skiing another chance, too.  There's a challenge that has been waiting to be set all winter.  I will seek to find a little more courage to make that a reality.

This weekend my favorite resort Eagle Point is offering discounted lift tickets.  I may have to surprise my son, and take him skiing.  By writing this, I'm setting a challenge for myself.  Now to dig deep, and find my brave again to make this written wish a reality.  My knee has healed, but my spirit still carries a battle scar that is not as easily mended.  I’m finding that once fear has served its purpose, it is time to be courageous, and move past the fear.  Facing the slopes will be the best way to do that.  Here’s to bravery, and not allowing fear to control me any more.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


The Grouchy Ladybug is a story I read many times to my own children, and to my elementary students. Eric Carle's story is about an irascible ladybug who picks a fight with a polite ladybug, but after determining that the other ladybug is not big enough to fight her, she flies off to find someone who is. Every character she meets is bigger than the one before, and every single time, the cantankerous little insect declares, "Oh, you're not big enough!" and flies away.  

What is it about "ENOUGH" that hits a nerve with me? Depending on how the word's used, I feel calm and satisfied, or I feel threatened and anxious. Words are so powerful. I love the phrase in Sara Bareilles' song, "Brave," that says "words can be a weapon or a drug." It depends on how we say them. It depends on how we hear them.  

Consider the following: "May you always have enough. Enough time; enough food; enough love." *SIGH* Doesn't that feel reassuring? 

But whenever I hear that someone doesn't feel like they ARE enough, I feel incredibly sad. "I'm not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough, smart enough." Those comments do not have a calming effect, and have no place in our self-talk.  They make me prickle. Having enough is circumstantial, and may vary moment to moment. Being enough is existential, and should be a constant in our lives. And yet...

Several years ago, I went to counseling. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis; maybe I felt a little crazy, but I definitely needed someone to listen to me, and help me sort my thoughts. 

Each time I walked up the creaking steps of the old bank building on the corner, I would wait my turn in the little makeshift waiting area, sitting near a small book shelf with a radio softly playing the local country station, so I couldn't overhear someone else's session, I suppose. 

When it was my turn, I would enter the therapist's office, and sit on one end of the couch, making note of where the tissues were, and checking the time. I figured if I talked faster, I'd get more accomplished. I just wanted to fix myself soon, so I could feel better, and get rid of the dark cloud hanging over my head.

We would discuss my marriage, my children, my teaching; blah blah blah. Every week, for months, nothing seemed to change. I didn't feel like myself. I was dissatisfied; I was irritable; I had lost my joie de vivre. And every single week, I would be asked the same question. 

"Denise, why don't you think you're a good mother?"  

WHAT? How could she possibly think I thought that? I love my kids. They are my life. How could she think that I thought I wasn't a good mom? I have good kids, so of course, I was a good mother. How dare she? If I were so offended by her question, why did I keep going back? I suppose I thought I deserved to feel ridiculed, I deserved to feel bad. Like a whipped puppy, each week, I would return, seeking reassurance, wondering if I would ever find the answers to the unasked questions in my heart.

Toward the end of each session of her listening to me answer her questions, I could count on her to ask me the same dreaded question: "So, Denise, why don't you think you're a good mother?"  
And at the end of each session, I would defend myself, saying, "I AM a good mother." I would go home, angry, wondering why she kept harping on that. I perhaps wasn't the BEST mother, but I was no Joan Crawford/Mommie Dearest. What working mother doesn't doubt her abilities to juggle work and family? Of course, I had my concerns, but I believed I was a good mother.

One afternoon, after endless weeks of being asked this one question, I finally snapped. I'd had it. I sat up a little taller, and I leaned toward my counselor, and with a voice louder than perhaps that little radio in the waiting area could conceal, I spoke my mind.  
"I am so sick of your asking that same question every single week. Why do you keep doing that? Every time I come here, I can count on you to ask me that question. It's driving me crazy. I go home so mad every time that you ask that, which has been every single time. You must think I'm a terrible mother to keep asking me that. WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING IT?"

Slowly, she readjusted herself in her chair, and with an earnest look in her eyes, she leaned forward, and said softly, "Denise, I believe you are a wonderful mother. You truly are a good mother. I just don't think you BELIEVE that. Do you? Do YOU believe that you are a good mother?"  

I couldn't believe it. Did she seriously just ask me that again? In my frustration, I started to cry. "I AM a good mother. I have wonderful children. I KNOW I am a good mother."  A switch flipped just then. My tears were falling, unchecked. "I'm just not good ENOUGH."

Her eyes crinkled as her mouth formed a small smile. She handed me some tissues, and she patted my arm. "Now we're getting somewhere." 

It took a few minutes for me to stop sobbing. It was as if a heavy weight were lifted off of my shoulders. 

When I could speak, I told her, "If I were good enough, my children would always be happy. If I were good enough, life wouldn't be so hard for my kids. If I were good enough, my children wouldn't give in to temptations, and they would never get in trouble. If I were good enough, my children would never doubt themselves, or how much I love them. I can never be good enough." I had finally confessed my sins, and released the pain I had been carrying with me all of that dark, dark time.

As we talked, I came to understand although I allowed my children to make their own decisions, I wasn't really letting them own those choices, and the consequences that naturally followed. I was taking on too much. I needed to let them decide for themselves, and be there for them when they made mistakes. I didn't expect them to be perfect; why was I holding myself to such a high standard? It really was never about me. I had so much to learn about control, and how little I actually have.  

It has been years since than painful day. I am still learning. I understand better that I have no control over others, but I can control how I react to situations. I have come to realize that not only am I a good mother and a good person, I am good enough. My breathing slows whenever I say that. It is so comforting to tell myself that, and to finally believe it.  

Maybe you don't believe you are enough. You are; I promise. Say it with me. "I am good enough." Say it again. "I am good enough." 

We are good enough, just as we are, without changing a thing. That isn't to say we don't have goals and dreams and hopes for better things ahead. 

For now, dwell in this moment, and know that everything is going to be all right. There is goodness in this moment for you to find. You are safe. You are okay. You are good enough. Sometimes, just knowing that you are enough is enough.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Keeping My Eyes on the Lookout while Hiking in Bear Country

Wouldn't you love to see a bear in its natural habitat?  I would.  I'd also like to see an elk and a moose, up close this time, please.  I think I would prefer to see these from the relative comfort and safety of my vehicle though, now that I think of it.

A long time ago, when I was a young bride still trying to find some common ground with the man I married, I agreed to go on a bear hunt.  We had to wait until we were both off of work, and then we drove through the dark to the Henry Mountains of Utah where we planned to camp and hunt. It was pitch black dark when we arrived, and my husband stepped out of my Nissan Sentra, and walked around for a moment.  I saw him kneel down and look at something on the ground.  He told me this place was perfect, and we proceeded to put our sleeping pads and sleeping bags on the ground. "What makes this place so perfect?" I asked.

"We are sleeping on bear tracks.  This is the path they're using, so I there's a good chance I'll see a bear in the morning."  This was not good news to me.  This was terrifying news to me. He woke up around 3:00 the next morning, and left me there to fend for myself.  I grabbed my sleeping bag, climbed into the car, and locked the doors.  That was my first "experience" with bears.  I didn't see one, thankfully, that time.  If I had, I'm not sure I would have survived the shock.

Nowadays, I live in a sleepy little town at the mouth of Bullion Canyon.  Bullion Canyon is considered to be bear country.  There's a sign back down the road about a half a mile from our house by the church that warns folks about the danger.  I try not to think about it when I'm hiking up the hill, but sometimes it makes me a little nervous.  If I think about it too much, every little twig snap, and rustling of brush sets my nerves on edge, and my imagination is on fire, thinking every magpie and mule deer is a carnivorous threat.

Marysvale is home to some of the most down-to-earth humans you could ever hope to meet, and plenty of wild animals.  Our yard has frequent visitors: a great number of turkeys roost in our tall pine tree, an owl lives just beyond the big garage, herds of deer forage on our property, and just last month, I spotted my first coyote in our side yard.  Each time I see these animals, I feel like I've been blessed with a gift from nature.  

I, personally, have never seen a bear on our lot, and hope I never do.  It would scare me to death. My friend Pam has neighbors who had a bear visit on their back porch, and leave his, um, calling card behind.  That's just a little too close to nature for me. I have a healthy respect for wild animals, and realize keeping a safe distance from them is never a bad idea.

Just recently, I have begun working out in earnest, walking up our canyon in the early morning. During the winter months, I dress for the weather.  Ralphie's little brother Randy in The Christmas Story has nothing on me.  When it's about 15 degrees out there (the Weather Channel tells me it feels like minus two) I dress in layers.  I wear my knee-high ski socks, two pairs of yoga pants (they double as TV viewing pants, too, but rarely see a yoga session), three layers of long-sleeved shirts, topped off with my hiking windbreaker.  My jacket has lots of pockets.  I like to be sure to tuck in chap stick, my cell phone, in case of emergency, and tissues, in case of that OTHER emergency.  

There are landmarks that serve as mile markers along the way.  It's a gentle climb into the canyon, rising in elevation about 375 feet, if I remember correctly, so it's a breeze coming back down. The first landmark is the one mile point at the shack, the next one is a mile and a half from home where the blacktop ends, and my goal spot, where I turn around, is where the second fire hydrant is after the beginning of the dirt road.

As soon as my son leaves for school, I like to head out the door.  I want to watch the changing of the guard, so to speak, as the night sky gives way to the sun. This is my favorite time of day, when the moon is still out and some stars are visible, and there is a slight glow along the eastern mountains as the sun begins her climb out of the darkness.

By the time I reach the bend where the road levels out for a bit, the sun is usually making its presence known.  Daylight is my friend.  By the time I come back this way, the sun will be hanging above the mountains, and the temps will climb a few degrees, which feels so great.  I try to keep flexing my fingers to keep the blood moving.

A couple of years back, a girls' youth group from a church the next county over came up our canyon to the Firemen's Park for their summer camp experience (The picnic area is actually labeled"FIREMAN'S PARK."  I'm not sure which ONE of the firemen the Fireman's Park is honoring. As a retired teacher, that sign always makes me wonder). of my friends was a youth leader for this group of girls. She had stayed behind to tend camp while all of the other leaders took the girls on various hikes. While she was there all alone, she heard a disturbance beyond where she was sitting.  As she peered across the campsites, she saw a bear rummaging through the trash cans.  My friend jumped in a nearby vehicle, and was quite relieved when the bear finally left the camp.

It is somehow comforting to me to know I don't hike as far as the Firemen's Park, though. I always turn around a couple of blocks' distance before the entrance.  Yeah, that isn't much assurance, but hey! It's winter.  Bears hibernate in winter, right?  I should have nothing to fear for another several weeks, according to my calculations.

I love watching the magpies land in the bare-limbed trees in the distance.  They seem to congregate in small groups.  I often wonder if they plan these gatherings, or if they just meet by chance.  The little chickadees flit from sagebrush to sagebrush, always just ahead of where I am walking.  When the sun comes up, I'm usually blessed with watching the eagles soar overhead.  They look like they're just having fun, floating on the drafts above me, but I'm sure they are in search of breakfast. My favorite bird, which I don't see much in the winter is the Rocky Mountain Bluebird, the bluest blue bird you'll ever see.  If I were pressed to choose a favorite shade of blue, the feathers of that bird would be the color I'd pick.

When I pass the shack, I know I've completed my first mile.  I love that little one room cabin that someone has started to renovate.  You can tell they've re-chinked it, and the windows are new. It's for sale.  I wonder how much they want for it.  I suppose there is something appealing to me about living a simple life, with a minimalist approach.  It seems romantic, somehow.

After that first mile, I usually can't feel my legs; the skin on my thighs becomes numb.  If my fingers get too cold, I shove my hands under my armpits to keep the air from cooling them off any more than they are.

Last week after I'd hiked a little more than a mile, a dark image caught my eye.  What WAS it? Just a little farther up the road near my friend Gayle's house, it  looked like a dark form was just coming out onto the road...was it a bear?  I kept telling myself it probably wasn't a bear.  I slowed down a bit, and after awhile, I realized the "bear" hadn't moved in the moments my eyes were glued to the spot where I saw it. I assume a bear would SMELL me before I ever saw him. I felt pretty silly.  It was just an old juniper tree in the SHAPE of a bear.  My imagination is pretty active when my heart starts racing, and my breathing becomes shallow.  Those things can sure fool me when it's hard to focus before the sun fully rises.  

Continuing my hike, I passed where the pavement ends.  Each time I hit this point, I always think of the Brooks and Dunn song, "The Red Dirt Road":  "I was raised off of Rural Route three, out past where the blacktop ends, we'd walk to church on Sunday morning..."  Maybe you're not a country music fan, and that reference was lost on you.  I spent half of my life listening to it, not that it was my first choice, but the people in my life, my stepdad and my first husband, were big fans.  I guess along the way, I picked up a few favorites.  I listen to country on certain sad days now. ANYWAY...

That same day of the bear scare, I noticed another BEAR COUNTRY sign tacked to a tree, farther up the road.  Just a friendly reminder to be aware.  Those signs are a little disconcerting when hiking alone.  I look over my shoulder, and notice where the nearest house is.  (Like I could outrun a bear in pursuit.)  It gives my imagination something on which to focus. 

My knee still hurts from that same day; it was quite a memorable walk.  No, I wasn't mauled by a bear, but there are very real things of which I need to be aware that have potential for serious injury. My latest mishap occurred while crossing a patch of dusty ice. You've heard of black ice, of course. Well, after our last snowfall, nearly all of the white stuff had evaporated or melted off of the paved road, but on the dirt road beyond, especially in the shady sections, there was still snow.  As tires had stirred up the dirt, the dust had softly coated the ice and snowpack underneath so it had the appearance of being part of the road.  Dusty ice is to walkers what black ice is to drivers.
I had just hit the halfway point of my walk, and was heading downhill, feeling pretty perky, and slightly victorious, so I picked up my pace.  My iPod was blasting Owl City's song "Good Time" when I slid across the ice in a very un-Dorothy Hamill-like move, lurching forward and landing on my left knee with all of my weight.  OUCH.  My poor knees are missing most of their cartilage, and each tumble I've taken seems to take its toll on them.  I brushed the dirt off of my black pants, and limped on down the hill.  Ice would have been a good idea to help with swelling, and I consoled myself with the fact that on this particular day, the 15 degree air would suffice as ice until I could get back home.  

While there are plenty of signs to warn me of bears, there are none reminding me not to be a klutz. So far, my biggest concern in the wild is my ability to stay upright. Instead of looking for bears, perhaps I should just keep my eyes on the road.

I just learned, for $200,000, you can own this little piece of heaven.  A tiny cabin with a brand-new bathroom.  Indoor plumbing?  Say no more...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Well, That's Disappointing

My 500 Words Prompt for January 26, 2014
Day 26: Write about Disappointment

When was there a time when you had an expectation that didn't get met? Maybe you set a goal for yourself and totally blew it.

 Maybe you promised something to a friend and had to let them down. Maybe life just didn't turn out the way you expected. Write about that.

Tell the story, confess the failure, and help us learn with you. How can we, even in the midst of disappointment and despair, still find hope? How can we continue when all seems loss?

 Don't just talk about heartache; give us hope for change.
Frank Sinatra's song, "My Way," came to mind when I considered our topic for today.  Allow me a little poetic license as I substitute another word for regret:
"[Disappointments], I've had a few.  But then again, too few to mention."
This is not to say I've lived a charmed life; I simply refuse to let the temporary sadnesses that come along in a lifetime define my life.  There are disappointments, and there are DISAPPOINTMENTS.

The uncapitalized disappointments include the incidents involving spilled milk, hangnails, ice cream that toppled off of unbalanced cones, skinned knees, and learning about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.  As I was growing up, my heart was troubled by unrequited love, not earning the coveted letter for my lackluster efforts on the volleyball team, and being caught Cheating on a 7th grade science test.  As a young teacher/wife/mother, my disappointments included runs in my nylons, bounced checks, negative pregnancy tests, and eventually weight gain, after three positive pregnancy tests that resulted in three delightful children.  Now that I am in the thick of middle age (no pun intended), things I once saw as disappointments are now viewed as minor setbacks.  My sadness comes from bigger issues.

Since entering middle age, I have dealt with the capitalized DISAPPOINTMENTS:  divorce, online dating, arthritis, shopping for Poise pads (okay, that may be a lower case disappointment for some of you, but for me, it was a very, very low day), the reality of retirement "benefits," loneliness, and the death of my dad.

No one gets through life unscathed. We will all have setbacks.  It is how we REACT to those obstacles that is more important than the events themselves.  

When my first two children were very young, they were fun to observe.  My oldest was very dramatic. It did not matter what happened to him, he was going to offer us the most theatrical response possible.  I used to tease that whether he had a sliver in his finger or had just been decapitated, we could be sure that wailing would be involved. I'm not sure he thought I was very funny.  Then there was his little sister.  

One day, Sierra came tearing through the kitchen, as little ones are wont to do, and she ran right into the edge of the countertop with her forehead.  The impact swept her off her feet, and knocked her on her butt, and I steeled myself for the tears.  She rubbed her head with her little toddler hands, pushed herself up, and simply said, "Ouch. That hurt," and off she went in pursuit of her original goal.

I'm happy to say that all three of my children have learned to deal with the misfortunes and downers that have come into their lives.  Dylan is no longer so dramatic, unless we're talking about impersonations and joke-telling; Sierra has triumphed time and time again over setbacks and challenges, and their younger brother Bridger has been able to see the silver linings in the clouds that occasionally hang over his head.  

It's all in how we perceive the trials that come our way.  They can define us, or they can teach us lessons.  What are we willing to learn about ourselves as we face the challenges that are sure to come?  We can try to numb ourselves with sleep, or food, or whatever our preferred drug of choice may be, but our problems will still be there when we decide to return to reality, or we can "LEAN INTO THE DISCOMFORT" (thank you, BrenĂ© Brown), and learn and grow.

These last several weeks I have been served up some trials that have doubled me over with grief, and have caused uncontrollable sobbing during my darkest hours.  Rather than stuff down these disappointments, I have decided to pay them their respects.  I've examined each situation, and determined there are life lessons to be learned, and unless I want to learn them time and time again, I had best figure out what needs to be taken from these experiences so that I can grow from them.

Life may not always be easy for you, but I'd like to wager that your joys will always outweigh your disappointments.  You never need to see yourself as a failure, if you are willing to learn from your experiences, and be willing to allow yourself to become a better person for rising above your challenges.  As long as you're learning, you are not failing.  Disappointments may come, but don't let them take up residence in your heart.  You can always get to the other side of sadness, but not without some work.  Learn what you can from your setbacks, and then release the sadness, knowing that there are better things in store for you, and happier days ahead. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

*The End.

"And they lived happily ever after.  THE END."

Oh, good grief.  How many teachers cringe when students turn in a hastily scrawled "story" with a weak beginning, a missing middle, and this lovely ending?  This was one of the hardest things for me to teach in first grade, and then later, in fifth grade.

Boys and girls, when one tires of writing, one does not simply write "THE END" to bring closure to the story, the essay, or the report.  We set it aside, we revisit it, and we write until the story as been told, the essay is complete, or the report has all of the important facts. 

Currently, I am participating in My 500 Words with Jeff Goins, a group of writers on Facebook who have taken on the challenge to write 500 words, every single day.  Originally, our goal was to write for 31 days in January, but most of us plan to continue to "fight the good fight," and carry on, for who knows how long.  Here is our assignment for Day 23 (Yes, it's the 24th; I'm a day late. Get over it.  I have.)  
Day 23: Write the End

Whether you're writing a novel, planning out your autobiography, or working on a short piece of nonfiction, forget about all the details and begin with the most important part: the end. 

 Think ahead of how you want this thing to wrap up. What do you want the reader to walk away with? What's the big idea or one-liner you want people to remember forever? 

 Start with that, and when you've got 500 words, you can go back and fill in the rest. 

Well, unlike many in the group, I have no project, and I am not writing a novel. I blog. I blog about whatever I want, whenever I want, as often as I want. There is no big picture; no end game. The title, Randomocity, lets me off the hook of needing any of THAT stuff. I post recipes, memories, rants, my favorite photographs,  poetry; whatever strikes my fancy. I don't feel compelled to write about the prompts in My 500 Words, but I try to utilize most of them, and it has been so rewarding to step out of my comfort zone, and rise to the challenge.  Hmmm..."Write the End."

And then it hit me. I could write MY end. My obituary. How do I want this thing, my life, to wrap up? What is the one thing about me I want people to remember forever? What will MY end game look like?

Now don't think me morbid; I feel that this is a wonderful exercise. It brought to mind the poem called "The Dash" by Linda Ellis.  She writes of a man speaking at the funeral of his friend. Here is a snippet of the poem, in case you haven't read it.
​I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
She reminds us that what matters most about the dates on the tombstone is not the day we were born or the day that we die, it's the "dash." My dash will hopefully look something like this:  1960-2041. What can I say? I like even numbers, and 2041 will have me seeing my eightieth birthday.  The loved ones who passed away in their seventies seem to have gone too soon, so I hope to make it to 80. Yeah, I think 80 years of living should give me enough time to do all the things I hope to do with my dash.

What will MY obituary look like?  What will people remember about me? I have given this some thought. Allow me to share something with you that most of you don't know about me.

I have a "happy box." At first, I had a smallish metal tin, a Mary Engelbreit tin, given to me by a very dear friend. It was perfect, at first, because it was the happiest looking box I'd ever seen, decorated so cheerfully by my favorite modern day artist, and it was just large enough to hold the mementos of my life that had brought me such joy. After awhile, my little tin box could not hold all of my little treasures, so I purchased a larger, leather box to contain the overflow.

My boxes keep safe the handwritten notes from my children, thank-you notes from students at school, silly cartoons, a ski lift ticket from Eagle Point, mementos from The Phantom of the Opera, Mother's Day cards, photographs of my babies, wedding invitations. Well, you get the picture. And there is an obituary; an obituary of a complete stranger. I have kept this yellowed newspaper clipping for almost 20 years.

Yes, I am curious about obituaries. Each week, as I would scan the local paper, I would first look to see if there were anyone I knew. My heart would ache for parents who lost a child. (My greatest fear is outliving any of my children.) I would feel sad for the widows and widowers. And I was always curious about what was mentioned.

The businessmen and businesswomen always had lists of their affiliations with various organizations in the community. Positions of leadership were posted. Church membership was often mentioned.

And then I saw her. A lady not much older than I am right now, smiling at me in her black and white photograph, carefully selected by loved ones. Her obituary was so different from any I'd read.

There were twelve short paragraphs, summing up a life cut short by cancer. She was "61 years young," the article stated. The picture showed a woman with a full head of wavy, grey hair in a sensible short style. Her eyes twinkled, and her smile was warm and friendly.  I wanted to know more about her.

There was no mention of business, church, or local organizations, but what I learned of her was that she was honest, and that her family loved her, and they would miss her.

She "was an expert horsewoman, an accomplished artist and pianist, a lover of music and all things beautiful. She loved all creatures great and small (except spiders), and always cared for any animal in need. [She] lived life with gusto, even to the end. She has taught us so much, and will be forever in our hearts and our dreams."

Every time I read this little clipping, I ponder my own life. How have I treated others? What legacy am I leaving for my loved ones? What will be said of me when I am gone? Will my former students say I loved them, and taught them more than the curriculum? Will my children know they are the biggest part of my heart? Will my loved ones and friends feel a sense of loss when I am not there to show them how much I love them?

And so, my friends, I decided to write my own obituary. (I hope my surviving parents are okay with my assuming that they may have passed on by this time in the future, as I don't think any of them has any notion to live past 100.)

Monroe, Utah

Denise Ann Beidler Bennorth died of natural causes, March 15, 2041 at her humble home in Joseph, Utah, surrounded by loved ones.  She lived her life with courage until the very end.  She was 80 years young.

She was born November 18, 1960, in Chicago, Illinois to Neil Roger and Joan Engelhard Beidler. Her parents moved to Virginia, where she grew up in the counties of Amherst and Nelson, until she went to Utah to earn her bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University in elementary education.She later earned her master’s degree in gifted and talented education at Utah State University. After living in San Diego for awhile, she returned to Sevier County in Utah, saying that was where her heart was.

Denise lived every day to the fullest, and never let an opportunity for compassionate service pass her by. Her days were spent in the company of family and friends, and she enjoyed photography, hiking, skiing, biking, baking, and, most of all, being with her family and friends. When she retired from teaching fifth grade, she always spoke with fondness about her career, but never regretted retiring after thirty years. She always said that she gave those kids everything she had while she was teaching, and she loved every minute of it, but she was ready to try something new.  

She was a published author, making the New York Times Bestsellers’ List with her memoir entitled, Randomocity. She wrote a blog by the same name, which she began the year she retired. She enjoyed fostering dogs for the local animal shelter, and was actively involved as a volunteer at the local preschool and the assisted living center. Bennorth Photography began as a non-profit, offering photography to groups and individuals who may not otherwise afford it.

Of all of her accomplishments, being a mother was the one constant that brought her happiness all of her adult life. She always felt that she was blessed by her children, and later in life, her sweet Chuck. She and Chuck were husband and wife, best friends, and business partners. 

She is survived by her husband, their children and their companions, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents and stepparents.

A celebration of her life will be held at her home.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you make a donation to the charity of your choice.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Alone vs. Lonely; It's All about Attitude

Wrapped in my fuzzy fleece blanket, I ventured out into the chill of the passing night, listening for the soft call of my owl. In the distance, I could hear the faintest sound of the creek bubbling through the disappearing ice as it heads down the hill, but other than that, the darkness was silent. The moonlight danced across the crystals of frost on the railing of the deck, as I surveyed the black sky filled with stars. In the quiet, I was reminded of my blessings. I had peace in my soul, love in my heart, and so many loved ones lifting me up. It only took a moment, but being outside made me feel better. I need to remember that more often.

The past weekend was full of laughter and light-hearted moments.  My house contained all of my children under one roof, a rarity and a delight.  Sierra had flown in from Denver, and Dylan and his wife Jamie had driven up from Saint George to join Bridger and me.  The weather cooperated with sunshine, and temperatures well above freezing, which was nice, considering we were in the thick of January.

Friday afternoon, Bridger and Sierra attempted to make candles out of Cutie tangerines.  They emitted a soft, citrus scent, and a lovely glow. Earlier, the kids had taken off on the four-wheelers up the canyon while I stayed behind to make rolls for dinner.

Before Bridger left for the basketball game to join his friends in the pep band that night, we played a raucous card game that had us yelling, blushing, and laughing.  The good-natured teasing that followed each hand of cards made it an enjoyable evening for everyone.  

For dinner, I served Tilapia Vera Cruz with salad, and homemade whole wheat rolls.  The sun had set by the time we were ready serve the food, and Dylan and Sierra gathered all of the candles in the house.  There were Christmas-scented candles, and autumn-scented ones.  We had quite a variety. They placed them on the dining room table for a candlelit dinner; all of them.

After dinner, we sat around the table, and then in the family room, just visiting, and reminiscing.  When Jamie came back into the room from outdoors, she said, "Okay, those candles are starting to get a little strong now."  I hadn't noticed until she said something, and then I realized the combined fragrances were overpowering.  We snuffed all of the candles, and turned on the lights.

Ever since Christmas Eve, I have been surrounded by family, which was perfect for me. The loss of my father on the 22nd was quite a shock, and I needed the companionship and support of loved ones around me.  I had gone from my brother's house to a family friend's home to my house with Bridger, and back to my brother's to retrieve Sierra from the airport. Having all of the kids home was the "really big finish" of visits with family and friends.

After dropping Sierra off at the Salt Lake City airport, I began to dread returning home.  I knew Bridger would be heading back to school the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I would have to face my demons, and deal with my first moments of being alone for more than a couple of hours.  I was really feeling anxious about it.

During my browsing of the internet, I came across this quote by Paul Tillich:

Perhaps all I needed to do was realign my thinking. I wasn't going to be lonely; I was going to enjoy some solitude.  

While chocolate chip pancakes turned a golden brown, I watched as silhouettes of turkeys flew from the tall pine tree in the woods behind the house, and fluttered down to the ground. Bridger and I outlined our days, and then, I cleaned up the kitchen after he headed to school.  

A friend's invitation to join her on My Fitness Pal, an app to track eating and exercise, had been teasing me all morning. What would it hurt?  If anything, it could be just the thing I needed as I was in pursuit of tending to myself with better "self-care" practices.  

I threw on my parka and hat, and headed out the door. Only slightly distracted, I downloaded the app as I started out of my long, gravel driveway. By the time I had traveled about a third of a mile, the app was downloaded, and I was on my way. The whole day stretched before me, and as the sun came up over my left shoulder, I decided I would walk at least an hour, which would be close to four miles with my typical pace.  

It was my extreme pleasure to observe wildlife throughout my morning. Chickadees flitted from sage brush to sage brush; a small herd of deer trotted down the ridge near the road, and then crossed toward the creek. A flock of turkeys hurried from the hills to the north down through a yard to the south, above the creek. A large group of magpies flew to the bare limbs of a large, old tree to congregate as I headed back down the canyon. There was so much movement this morning, and I was finally out long enough to witness it. What a delight. 

At home, I kept busy, organizing things, washing bed linens, and putting things away. I carried my "ghetto iPod speaker" from room to room with me.  (I simply put the MP3 player in a coffee mug that worked as a makeshift speaker for my music.) 

Finally, I've taken the time to write, now that there is chicken noodle soup simmering on the stove. One of my friends needs help running an errand tonight, and before she leaves, she'll join us for a hot meal.  

Today has been such a pleasant surprise. Simply by switching out the negative connotation of the word "loneliness" for the positive connotation of the word "solitude," to describe my time alone, I had a very different day than I had anticipated. Loneliness is not what I felt today. My solitude was like being with an old friend. One advantage to getting older is I don't mind my own company these days. As I approach the days of the "empty nest," I need to remember that it is a simple attitude adjustment that will determine how I spend my days in a couple more years.