Thursday, July 31, 2014

Measuring Time in Sleeps

Does anyone else measure time in "sleeps," or is it just our family? I think this particular tradition started with my brother Eric's kids, Rowan and Tatiana; I don't remember which one.

Today, we have one more sleep until Bridger and I will be with Sierra. Since she moved away from home, we cherish these visits. It's been a couple of months since we've been together; it seems so much longer than that.
My Colorado Kids

Tomorrow morning, early, Bridger and I will trudge out to the Sonata, and head east to Colorado. This has become an annual road trip for the Shrink/Boo duo. I look forward to these vacations, knowing I have my boy all to myself during the eight hour trip there and back, and then we will spend the weekend with the Colorado kids. 

My mother's heart is amazed that the baby boy of our family is old enough to share in the driving. Bridger is a great kid; he's smart, he's conscientious, and he's so funny. Road trips with my kids are some of my favorite memories. We're going to soak up what's left of this summer this next little we're tubing down the river, tomorrow we're driving to Denver, and then hopefully we'll enjoy the Rocky Mountains, hiking, eating out, and spending time together.

One more sleep until I see my Baby Girl. And then in just more sleeps, it will be over before I'm ready to leave her. One day at a time. One sleep at a time. I need to enjoy each and every moment as it comes. 

One more sleep, Sierra. If I can even sleep tonight! See you soon, Sweetie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Teaching Conflict: The Plot Thickens

Teaching writing to fifth graders is like pushing a rope some days. They're not much different than the first graders I taught for seven years, but at least they have enough stamina to get past the first three sentences. Their small-motor development, and their experience with basic penmanship move them further along, to a point. It's the questions and comments that follow the assignments that would wear me down.

"How long does this have to be?"

"How many sentences is enough?"

"I'm done." 

(Wait. We just started. You probably don't even have your name on your paper. Oy vey.)

It was exasperating, at best, to encourage them to write a story with characters, setting, conflict, plot, AND resolution; this wasn't a multiple choice situation where they could pick one. 

Most kids grasp that a good story has to have all of the basic elements. Once they understand that scrawling THE END at the bottom of the paper when they tire of writing does not a good resolution make, they just need to appreciate the necessity of conflict. Without conflict, there is no story.

So many kids want to tell a "good story" without any conflict, and one that has a tidy ending. I blame the fairy tales with the "happily ever after" endings. Thankfully, even the tales with the gift-wrapped endings have plenty of conflict: a curse, a witch, an evil queen, a lack of suitors, quarreling dwarves. It's easy to have a quick lesson with a variety of fairy tales to determine where the conflict occurs in each story, and to discover without the conflict, there's not much of a story.

It occurred to me that my students needed to make a connection between good books and good writing. Every time we finished a read-aloud, we would talk about the conflicts the characters faced, and how their struggles made the story better.

"Wait. So you're saying the bad stuff makes it good?"

Oh, I do love it when the lights go on in their little heads.

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech is my all-time favorite read-aloud book for fifth graders. It is FULL of conflict. Man vs. man. Man vs. nature. Man vs. self. It has it all.

The main characters are fraternal twins, Dallas and Florida, who were abandoned by their mother when they were infants. They live at the Boxton Creek Home for Orphans which is run by a crotchety couple with no love for the "trouble twins." 

The flashbacks of their early childhood reveal one dreadful experience after another with potential adoptive families, and their day-to-day existence is one eternal conflict with the Trepids. 

Their luck seems to change when they meet Tiller and Sairy, an older couple whose own children have grown, who invite the children to come with them on an adventure. Conflicts renew aplenty once the children arrive in Ruby Holler, but a flicker of hope for a better life is kept alive as the old couple open their hearts and home to the twins.

If your intermediate students are struggling with the concept of conflict in their writing, I suggest you try Sharon Creech's Ruby Holler. It has all of the elements of great literature, and will not disappoint in the conflict department!


Hey, Teachers! Here are other ideas you may find interesting...

The Morning Meeting, or...The Secret of the Best School Year EVER. How we not only survived 34 children in the inclusive class with three special needs students, but thrived.

Looking for a fun and inexpensive incentive for your class? Try the BLACKOUT READATHON. Details in the link.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Be Open to the Abundance of the Universe

Do you believe you are deserving of the blessings you seek? I'm not so sure I always thought that way, but after a lot of study and reflection, I think that if we exercised a little more faith, we would discover more blessings than we ever dreamed possible.

I've read several books about abundance. (The Secret and The Law of Attraction are a couple.) There are scriptural references in the New Testament that remind us that there are blessings available to us, if we desire them.

"Ask, and ye shall receive. 

Seek, and ye shall find."

One day in May, as I was on an early morning walk, I was contemplating my financial situation. I knew that I needed to find a way to secure medical benefits for my son and me. I knew better than to limit my request by attaching any expectations to my request. Sometimes when we try to figure everything out on our own, we eliminate some possible solutions that may serve us better.

During my walking meditation, I simply recognized the abundance available to us all, knowing the universe has enough and to spare. I did not ask for a knight in shining armor to rescue us. I did not ask for a specific insurance plan to be made affordable to me. I just released my expectations, and told God I knew that there was a way for me to provide for us, and I hoped that I would discover the best way to do that. Yes, for once, I had faith that everything would work out. 

And do you know what happened? Before I even had a chance to investigate further, within the next two days, I had three leads for jobs, two of them with full benefits. I didn't have to ask if I should interview for the jobs, or if I should wait for something better. Synchronicity was my greatest blessing that week. I asked; I received. I sought; I found. 

Not for one minute did I wonder what I should do. When we ask, and we are given that kind of feedback, there is only one thing to do. I expressed my gratitude for the opportunities, and after a few phone calls, and a job interview, I had myself a job with health insurance coverage. 

I wasn't asking to win the lottery, or for anything extraordinary. I was just looking for a way to provide a more stable life for the two of us. My answer didn't come as a fanciful solution; my blessing showed up disguised as work, but I'm so grateful that I asked, and that I received. There is abundance available to us all; we just have to look for it, and be willing to receive it. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kisses on My Skin

The sun wasn't up just yet as I was tying my shoes, when I heard it. The unmistakable, soothing sound of rain gently pelting my metal roof. Ahhh... 

Living in the desert has given me such a different perspective on rainy days than when I grew up in Virginia. There was just so much of it there. Here, it is most welcome; precious, even.

I grabbed my lightweight, orange hiking jacket, and headed out the door. Now granted, it wasn't exactly a downpour, and eventually I had to decide if I wanted to be wet with sweat from wearing that extra outer layer, or damp with rain without it. I'd rather be wet than hot, given a choice, so I peeled off the jacket, and tied it around my waist.

All of the rainy day songs drifted through my thoughts.

The Carpenters' "Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down." Nothing down about today, though, so that didn't fit. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." True enough, but the drops were so small, they were barely big enough to call them drops. 

"Singing in the Rain." "Laughter in the Rain." I was just missing the laughter, and the one I love, so I could walk hand-in-hand. My personal favorite, Kenny Chesney's "There's Something Sexy about the Rain" has to be my favorite song about the rain.
"There's something sexy about the rain
She said as it came pouring down
It feels like kisses on my skin
She spread her arms and spun around."
As I walked down the bike path, I noticed the smell of damp earth and wet grass. I felt the soft rain as it touched my shoulders, cheeks, and arms. Did it feel like kisses on my skin? With a little imagination, and when I closed my eyes, yes, the rain felt like the gentlest of kisses. 

Today's walk happened without my cell phone. I didn't use my Runkeeper app or talk to a friend. I just wanted to be in that moment, and I'm glad I did. It was just the rain and I this morning, sharing kisses under the wide, grey sky. 

When I returned home, my hair was flat and my clothes were damp, but my heart was full, and my thoughts were light. Kenny's right, there's just something sexy about the rain.

There's Something Sexy about the Rain

 There's something sexy about the rain
She said as it came pouring down
It feels like kisses on my skin
She spread her arms and spun around
In a summer island storm
In a field of sugarcane
She taught me how and showed me why

There's something sexy about the rain
And sometimes it rained all night
And everything she did was perfect
And every way we were was right
We loved like there was no tomorrow
Then suddenly tomorrow came
And it was raining at the airport
And kept on raining on the plane

She only loved me for a season
But my heart won't ever be the same
Even now her love's the reason

There's something sexy about the rain
And sometimes when it's pouring down
I feel her kisses on my skin
I spread my arms and spin around
And let that summer island storm
Hit me like a hurricane
It's like she's right here whispering
There's something sexy about the rain

She followed me back to the city
In a picture in my mind
She's still young and she's still pretty
And even after all this time

There's something sexy about the rain
She said as it came pouring down
It feels like kisses on my skin
She spread her arms and spun around
In a summer island storm
In a field, in a field of sugarcane
She taught me how and showed me why
There's something sexy about the rain

She taught me how and she's still why
There's something sexy about the rain
Something sexy about the rain
Feels like kisses on my skin
In a summer island storm
Something sexy


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mac and Cheese, Please!

Thirty years ago, I wasn't much for cooking. During my single days, I lived on frozen Lean Cuisine entrées and salads. A pound of hamburger would last me for a month. My husband's staples when he was single included meat, of course, being a butcher, and his go-to side dishes were Stove Top Stuffing, ramen noodles, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. 

One winter's day when I was a new bride, I decided to impress my husband with a bubbling pan of homemade macaroni and cheese. He was going to be trapping out on the desert all day long, and I just knew my efforts would be rewarded with lavish praise and appreciation. My mom's macaroni and cheese was so much better than anything that came out of a box. I was going to knock his socks off by going the extra mile, and making one of his favorite dishes, homemade.

When we first got married, we lived in a renovated section of my husband's MEAT PACKING PLANT, and the only electrical outlet in the tiny kitchen area was down on the floor in the baseboard heater. I set up my blender on the floor to blend the milk, flour, and melted butter. I grated all of the cheese by hand because as newlyweds, we still had not acquired much in the way of appliances. I boiled the elbow macaroni. I assembled all of the ingredients in a large casserole dish, and then I made the buttery crumb topping. This was going to be so good; I couldn't wait to see his reaction.

True to form, he got home quite late, but I had kept dinner warm for him. The table was set, and after he washed up, we sat down at the table so he could have this wonderful dinner I had prepared. My eyes lit up as he sampled the macaroni and cheese, knowing he would love the tender macaroni and melted cheese mingled with the rich butter, and the crunchy, butter-coated topping.

He told me about his adventures on the desert, and I listened, growing somewhat irritated by the minute that he wasn't fawning over my latest masterpiece in the kitchen. I'd gone all out. I grated the cheese by HAND. That dish had been made with LOVE, gosh darn it.

Finally, I asked. " do you like that macaroni and cheese? It's pretty good, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's not bad, I guess, but you know what I LOVE? You know the kind that comes in the blue box?"

"KRAFT MACARONI AND CHEESE?" I asked incredulously, thinking, "You mean that processed junk that takes 8 minutes to boil, and then you add that disgusting orange powder to some milk and butter, and it's done? THAT crap?"

"Yeah, that! I LOVE that stuff. It just doesn't get any better than mac and cheese out of a box."

Talk about casting pearls before swine...

We had Kraft macaroni and cheese from then on, and actually, I just bought the generic brand. Obviously, I wasn't feeding someone who appreciated "gourmet" food, and I was right. The off-brand suited him just fine. 

It would be decades before I took the effort required to have homemade macaroni and cheese. Whenever Mom asks what I want her to make when we're coming over for dinner, I request her mac and cheese. She loves to cook for a crowd, and my kids and I love it! If someone is going to make that kind of effort, it better not go unappreciated!

Mac and cheese from a blue box? Oh, brother...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Watermelon Salad

In honor of my friend Julie's birthday, which just happens to fall on Pioneer Day, I'm going to share a recipe for watermelon salad I got from her last summer when we met for the first time. 

I'm one of those odd ducks who does not like watermelon, but I will eat it this way. Every single summer, for nearly 50 years, the fragrance of a freshly cut watermelon lures me in, and I make myself try it, just to see if my tastes have changed. And every year, until last year, I would swallow my bite of melon, and realize, "Nope, it's just not for me." 

With Julie's Watermelon Salad, I actually consumed a whole portion, and even asked how to make it. The savory flavors of basil and feta mingle with the sweetness of the fruit, and create a wonderful summer dish.

Yesterday I went to the Abraham's fruit stand on Main Street in Richfield, and asked Lane to pick out a small, sweet watermelon for me. He offered a half of a melon he had just cut, guaranteeing I'd like it. While I was there, it was hard not to want to buy everything they sell, but when shopping for one, it's not a good idea to buy too much fresh produce at one time, so I settled on two vine-ripened tomatoes to add to my purchase. I'm already looking forward to my first tomato sandwich...

Watermelon Salad

Cube watermelon into bite-sized pieces. Chop some fresh basil, and sprinkle on top of the melon. Drizzle the melon with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Top the salad with a little bit of crumbled feta cheese. 

See how simple that is? I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Men Are the Dessert"

When I got to Mom's house, the guys were sprawled out on all of the living room furniture and the floor, watching TV. Eventually the girls gathered in Mom's bedroom, lounging on the floor and the bed to chat without the noise of a TV. Male bonding vs. female bonding, at its best. 

My sister Joelle's family was visiting from Idaho, and the girl talk covered everything from rodeo queen contests to shopping to working to dating to men to marriage.

When Erika received a text as she was lying across the chest at the end of the bed, she covered her face with her hands, and groaned. "My friend is having guy trouble," she revealed. "I told her she should just let them all go, and start over. Why does she even need a guy right now?"

I thought about that. I've BEEN thinking about that for several weeks. 

There sat my mom, married five times; divorced once, widowed three times, currently married. I think the longest she has ever been single is six months, if that. Then there's me; married twice, divorced twice. And my sister. Married once, and keeping it that way. Erika dates. She isn't saddled with a boyfriend. And little Kiana, eight years old, was just soaking in the experience of being included with the big girls' talk.

When I was 25, I jumped into my first marriage with a near-stranger five weeks after meeting him, thinking this was my only chance at being a wife. He was the first guy I dated more than twice; it must have been a sign, right? (Yes, I know how bad that sounds.) The marriage lasted 22 years, but I knew after one week that we were not a good match. We were two good people who had three great kids, but the marriage wasn't exactly made in heaven.

After the divorce, I was on a mission to find a man with whom I could share my life. My strategy was to find someone who was an opposite of husband number one. Within a week of the finalization of the divorce, I did just that. We were an item within a few weeks, and married 18 months later. That lasted four years.

You may wonder why I felt like I was incomplete without a man in my life. I came hard-wired for connection, right out of the chute. My therapist implied that my abandonment issues stemmed from my parents' divorce when I was ten. I grew up seeking male attention like it was water. 

Can I just tell you how pleased I am that I have been single for five whole months now? I took some time to just be by myself before I put myself out in the dating world again. I haven't jumped into a new relationship, half-cocked, ready to settle down with the first man who showed interest. (Believe me; I'm as shocked as you are by that revelation.) I now know that I don't have to have a man in my life to be whole. Why couldn't I have learned that when I was Erika's age? The important thing is I'm learning it.

What I have learned is that when we give up who we are to fit in to the life of another, we lose ourselves. We don't need to fit in anywhere. When we know our value, when our self-esteem is healthy, we know we belong, just as we are. There is no need to change who we are to have others accept us. 

That night when I went home, I wondered if our conversation would have an impact on my beautiful nieces. I wish I'd heard the things that we had discussed when I was a little girl. 

I wish someone had told me that I am enough, that I don't need anyone else to complete me. I wish I had understood that a healthy relationship takes place between two individuals who have their own lives, their own opinions and interests, and maintain their identities even after becoming a couple. 

Erika and Kiana heard my telling about a friend who keeps trying to remind me that men are not the main course in life; they are the dessert. It falls to me to live a full life and make myself happy. When the right man comes along, I will know it because he won't need me, either, but he will want me, just as I won't NEED him to feel complete. I'll already be whole on my own. "Men are the dessert in life, Denise." I'm trying to let that sink in. I may want to share my life with a man, but I don't NEED one to be happy.

After Erika returned to Idaho, she sent me a graphic she had found on Pinterest. "The smartest thing a woman can ever learn is to never need a man." I don't think I'm going to have to worry about that girl. She's smart, and she knows she is just fine, just as she is, whether there is a man in her life or not. I'm a pretty proud aunt right here, and I'm taking notes.

Little Kiana, were you listening? You are perfect, just the way you are. You can be happy whether a boy is interested in you, or not. You are beautiful, smart, strong, and whole, whether you are single or part of a couple. Take care of you. Be happy, be active, and live with your whole heart. Listen to your big sister; she has a good head on her shoulders. One day, you may want to share your life with a good man. Just remember, in the banquet of life, men are the dessert, not the main course. Choose well, Sweetie.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Feeling Beautiful

is more important 
than being beautiful. 

It's not how you see me, 
it's how I feel. 
It's not about good hair days 
and flawless makeup. 
It's not about the perfect weight 
and skinny jeans. 
Feeling beautiful 
goes deeper than that. 

It's believing in myself. 
It's facing my fears, 
and being brave. 
It's working up a sweat, 
and feeling stronger every day. 
It's living my life wholeheartedly. 
It's being loved, and giving love.

I may not always LOOK beautiful, 
but at this time in my life, 
I finally feel beautiful. 
Even better.

This is the song my last class of fifth graders
sang to me on the phone, and whenever
I visited them at the middle school.
Thank you for making me feel beautiful.

P.S. This started out as a silly Facebook challenge. If someone challenges you to find five pictures that make you feel beautiful, even if you don't do the challenge, I hope you'll think about what it is that makes you feel that way. 

When I finally took on this little project (it took longer than I thought it would), I was surprised at the pictures I chose. They weren't the ones with perfect hair and makeup, or when I was at my goal weight. They were the ones when I was relaxed, working out, at the beach, with my kids, using my camera. The times I feel the most beautiful are when I am happy. So if it makes you feel more comfortable to find pictures of yourself when you feel HAPPY, instead of BEAUTIFUL, use those. My guess is your happy pictures are your most beautiful ones. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

She Made Us Laugh...until We Cried

My mom is one of the most vibrant women I know. She's a go-er. A do-er. Even after she retired, she has never slowed down. Mom loves to travel, and visit her kids. She just started volunteering more, and spending more time with her grandkids when she ended her career. She still works out regularly, is very active in her church, and has to-do lists all over the place. Mom is a genealogy nut, too. (Remember that little tidbit.) Yep, she's very much alive.

So it was a little disturbing a couple of years ago to learn she already has her headstone in the ground at the Amherst Cemetery. I told you she has a passion for genealogy. Complete records are important to her. She relies on well-kept records, and cemetery information for her hobby. 

What I haven't told you is that my mom has been married five times. Her life has not been easy. When she married my dad Roger Beidler, she was married 13 years before they were divorced. Then she married our family dentist Earl Iseman, and sadly, he passed away after their thirteenth year together. Calvin Campbell, her third husband breathed a big sigh of relief when they celebrated their fourteenth anniversary. 

Calvin was such a character. I can remember his joking about that milestone. We were all shocked when he had a massive heart attack, and left this world all too soon. Mom's fourth marriage lasted just over five years, and she found herself a widow again, losing Sam Watson to a rare blood cancer. And now, now she is married to one of my neighbors in Utah, Richard Bagley, and lives two miles up the road from me.

So, here is Mom's headstone. You can see that she is making the job of future genealogists easier, but she presented a challenge for the engraver of the marble. I'm not sure why she left out her given middle name, but if that had been included, it would have read, Joan Carol Engelhard Beidler Iseman Campbell Watson Bagley. Whew. Maybe there just wasn't room for the Carol.
Photo credit: Tatiana Beidler
Yesterday, while Mom and I were spending the day with my little sister Joelle and her family, we started laughing. Mom loves to laugh, and she usually has tears streaming down her face once she starts. Her laughter is infectious, and before long, she has everyone laughing with her.

I had said, "That's Mom. That's what we'll all remember about her. 'She made us laugh until we cried.'" Then I added, "Hey, we'll put that on your tombstone, Ma."

"There's no room," she laughed. It's true. There's only room to add the year at the end of her dash. 

The laughter continued in the car as we drove into town, and we spent some time poking around the thrift store, and getting shaved ice with the kids, but I had a sobering moment in the back of the car, lost in my own thoughts.

"She made us laugh...until we cried." Oh, I really, really don't want to add that final date to the piece of marble that marks her final resting place. I hope she will be with us for a long, long time. The real tears, the sad ones, will begin when she is gone. I'm looking forward to many more years of laughter that leads to tears. 

Don't go anywhere, Mom. You are the glue that keeps your big family together. We're so lucky you are still here with us. I would like to think we'll get to keep laughing with you forever.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lacing Up One Last Time

Have you ever had a pair of shoes that seemed like an old friend? You know, the kind of shoe that makes your feet happy, puts some pep in your step, and fits perfectly? These crazy neon hikers are that shoe for me. I've used them up and worn them out. 

Like so many other material possessions who have served their purpose, it's time to let them go. When something no longer meets our needs, when the beauty dulls to a worn patina, and eventually gives way to a state of disrepair, it is time to release our hold on the belongings that once caught our eye.

At the end of last summer, I needed a new pair of hiking shoes. My older son convinced me to try the latest minimalist style of shoe. Enter the New Balance Minimus MT00 Trail Running Shoe. I was in love in every way. I was drawn to the technical features of the shoe, almost as much as the funky color. 

Dylan has accused me, more than once, of selecting a pair of shoes based solely on their wildness. It's true. The uglier, the better. Lately, I am drawn to vibrant colors, crazy patterns, and unusual designs.

The Minimus is the lightest weight shoe I've ever owned. The Vibram sole has "grippy pods," making them perfect for crossing expanses of rock, and rough, uneven terrain. The lightweight upper is designed to be worn without socks, but I generally chose to wear the thinnest socks I had. I was drawn to the neon yellow color, descriptively called "tendershoots."

I have worn these shoes everywhere...hiking to Calf Creek Falls and Willis Slot Creek Canyon, poking around farmers' markets in Ogden and Denver, wandering along the headlands in Mendocino, California, biking the Marysvale Canyon, and walking in Joseph. In the last year, they have been my go-to casual shoe for outdoor activities.

They remind me of my favorite jeans in the seventies that I kept a little too long because they fit my body like a glove. The holes give them character. They've seen me through some dark days, hiking high into the canyon as I tried to outrun the grief and despair of the last winter. We've taken long walks with Marley, gone on phenomenal hikes with my kids, and explored slot canyons with friends. 

It may seem silly to be sentimental about a pair of shoes, but now that I have worn down the soles, and the holes in the uppers are letting sand and small gravel in, I am realizing their time has come. The symbolism of letting go tugs at my heart. I've had to release so much this year. Goodbyes are hard for me, even with a silly pair of shoes. 

Looking on the bright side, I get to go shopping for new hikers. The thrill of the hunt will lure me into finding the perfect pair of shoes that speaks to my inner GRANOLA GIRL. It's time to let these go to make room for the new. I'm lacing them up one more time, for old time's sake. The sun has just crested the Joe Town Hill. We'd best be heading out for our walk before the day gets too hot. I'm going to miss these shoes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Virtual Friends Meet

The engine of my Sonata died as I turned off the key. We were finally at our destination in Northern California after nearly 16 hours of travel across Nevada's desert, and the winding roads of wine country. I peeled myself from the leather seat, and stretched, taking in the scenery around antique fire truck and a sprawling cabin nestled in the redwoods beside a meadow filled with dried grasses. 

"You're tall for a blogger," Tonia said, right after she welcomed me into her home with a big hug. That's Tonia; saying the first thing that pops into her head, breaking the ice with a shy smile.

How funny. It's hard to judge height from a Facebook profile picture, but that's all we'd had to go on for the last six months we had been getting to know each other in the My 500 Words writing group on Facebook. To be honest, I had expected Tonia to be taller. Roslynn, too. I had assumed these women with whom I had so much in common would be similar to me physically, too. We were like stair steps. 
Roslynn, Tonia, and I
I used to consider myself somewhat of an Amazon woman, being one of the tallest among my circle of friends in high school and college, but lately, I've been slightly offended that my medical charts show my height is slipping with age. I went from 5'7" to 5'6" almost overnight, it seems. That Tonia thought I was tall made me stand a little taller. Cool. 

Jeff Goins and Christine Niles manage the "My 500 Words" writing group that I joined at the beginning of this year. It's a large group of authors who banded together on Facebook, and within that group, I became virtual friends with three women who shared a love of dry humor, witty banter, and the creative process.

One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, my son and I had been invited to join Tonia and Roslynn in Mendocino for a summer vacation. Debbie, in Missouri, was with us in spirit. Thus, the Randomocity Road Trip was born.
Debbie joined us at the beach this day. I know it looks like I'm wielding a weapon. I'm not. Really.
What do women writers do on vacation? Well, we write of course. And talk. And eat. And laugh. A lot. The dining room table was strewn with lap tops. At times, the three of us were laughing ourselves silly on Facebook, simultaneously commenting on threads together, enjoying the company of Debbie and our other online friends, while the three of us were physically together. It was much more fun to use the internet together, HEARING the LOLs that Roslynn types in her comments. Yes, she laughs out loud, often, and it is a delightful laugh to hear.

When it was time to write, we each did our own thing. Tonia would excuse herself in the afternoon, seeking out the quiet and solitude of her room upstairs. Ros worked at the kitchen table off and on throughout the day, engrossed in her own world with occasional outbursts of laughter, and sharing whatever it was that tickled her. The early morning was my time. After climbing down the ladder from the loft in the guest cabin, I would make a pot of coffee, and head to the "big house" with my thermos and laptop, seeking out the internet connection.

Walking down the dirt lane, I counted myself lucky to be at this writers' retreat, surrounded by the fog-shrouded redwoods, and spending each day with friends who share a love of words and stories. 

There were opportunities to "fill the well" of our writer selves. Trips into Mendocino, sharing delicious meals, making memories, and time to ourselves for reflection and writing were part of our daily routine. Talking around the breakfast table in the morning, and the fire pit at night allowed us to get to know each other better.

In this day and age, many of us have virtual friends. Personal messages, video chats, and online banter are all wonderful, but nothing compares to talking face-to-face. If you ever get the chance to meet your long-distance friends, I hope you do. It takes the relationship to the next level, where bonds deepen, and friendships blossom. Meeting my virtual friends was one of the highlights of this memorable summer.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Just Hit the Bat with the Ball

"Give her another strike, guys." 

"Yeah. Pitch her another."

"Let her have another swing." 

The voices from the outfield were sympathetic.

I gripped the bat tightly, and stared at my brother, feeling the sweat run down my neck and over my ribs. 

"Keep your eye on the ball," they would say. What did they think I was doing? Idiots. Where else would I be looking? I knew the routine. Three pitches. Three strikes. I'm out. Why were they changing the rules tonight? 

Strike four. Strike five. Finally, after strike six, it was determined that I had, indeed, struck out. My glistening face, already pink from the early evening sun, reddened a little more as I lay down the bat to grab my glove before trudging to take my place between first and second base. Now that my moment of humiliation was over, I could begin the ordeal of SWATTING GNATS in the outfield. Oh, how I hated this game.

Having to play softball was one of the hazards of having four brothers. I didn't mind shooting hoops or playing touch football, but softball? There are those times in the game when all eyes were fixed on me, waiting to see if I would actually connect the bat with the ball, and it always ended the same. 

I hadn't fallen prey to that stupid "throw like a girl" or "hit like a girl" crap either. I would've given anything to whack that ball like my big sister Kathy. All the guys would ooh and ah, watching her ball sail way out into the pasture, as she rounded the bases heading for home. That girl could hit. THIS girl could not. I just resigned myself to that fact.

Fast forward about three decades. Most of my years in fifth grade, I was the only female on our team of teachers; the other three were male. Coaches. All of them. The big tradition at our school was that the students played against the faculty in a softball game on the last day of school. 

The kids would start talking smack from the first day of school, and the teasing would ensue throughout the year. 

"We're gonna beat you guys this year!"

"This year, the 5th grade is gonna cream the teachers."

Never mind that in the whole history of Monroe Elementary School the teachers always won. We never slaughtered them; we weren't cruel, but the kids never won, ever.

I would smile weakly, realizing that my kids' final memory of their fifth grade teacher would be of her striking out. I dreaded it every single year. UNTIL...

Somewhere after the first few years of watching me strike out on the last day, one of the male teachers in third grade, the high school girls' softball coach pulled me aside, and told me he wanted to help me. He asked me if I could hold the bat still; just hold it out over home plate. That seemed a little condescending, but I assured him I could do that much. "Just hold the bat out there; trust me. I can hit the bat with the ball." I smiled. Would that work?

Word had gotten around; most of the kids knew I was an automatic out. The faculty winced for me every time it was my turn at bat. The crowd of kids would chant my name, encouraging me to try to hit the ball. 

And guess what? Holding the bat still worked. All I had to do was hold the bat out over home plate, and Mr. Johnson would hit the bat with the ball. I never got a home run off of one of those hits, but I almost always got to first base. 

Even though Mr. Johnson had retired years earlier, the teachers who pitched during the later years knew the drill: When I am up at bat, just plan on hitting the bat with the ball, and everything will be just fine. 
Love my fifth grade team.
The year I retired, my team gave me a tiara to wear on the last day of school. I may not have broken any records at our softball game, but I was Queen for a Day in fifth grade. Yep, I played softball with a crown on my head. 

The best part of that last day? I knew I would never have to play softball again. Seriously. It was the only thing I didn't like about being a teacher at Monroe Elementary School. 

Well, you know what they say. Never say never. I am about to become an UN-retired teacher, in second grade this time. One of my first thoughts caused me to groan. I will have to play softball next May. As long as the pitcher does his job, I can do mine. Thank goodness for accurate, compassionate pitchers. Just hit the bat with the ball, please!
They called me Your Royal Highness all day.
They were my loyal subjects. How I love these kids.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends

Apparently, I'm not alone in facing my demons. Yesterday, I shared my recent experience of avoiding my own avoidance techniques, and facing the demons that drive me to them. ("Dwelling in Discomfort Sucks") I asked for your input about how you deal with discomfort, rather than running away from it, or turning to numbing behaviors of avoidance. So many of you shared with me your thoughts on how we can get more comfortable with the uncomfortable feelings we may prefer to avoid. Thank you for your insights. I'll be sharing some of your comments here today.

If one of our higher purposes in life is learning, it only seems logical that seeking truth, and understanding ourselves will take us farther on our journey's path. One thing that spoke to me as a teacher in Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly was what she tells her university students at the beginning of their time together:

"If you're comfortable, I'm not teaching and you're not learning. It's going to get uncomfortable in here and that's okay. It's normal and it's part of the process."
Now I imagine God telling me that very thing; that being uncomfortable is a normal part of the process of learning in this life. Embrace it. Lean into it. Discover the truth. 

Brené goes on to say the process of "letting people know that discomfort is normal, it's going to happen, why it happens, and why it's important, reduces anxiety, fear, and shame." For me, being able to discuss what was happening with a trusted friend, and giving voice to my fears took away the power of the shame and the anxiety. I no longer felt paralyzed by my limiting thoughts.

In order for us to learn, we must stretch our thinking, and challenge ourselves. It's not easy, and it's not a comfortable feeling. We will be tested. That rarely feels good. We can take comfort in knowing that when we are most uncomfortable, we are being given an opportunity for growth and knowledge.

Many of your suggestions focused on prayer. I appreciate the words of comfort and encouragement expressed, and the time you took to share your thoughts. 

What follows are the responses I received to my question: 


"What has worked for me and still does is writing out things that are true. Then eventually when I tell myself lies, the other part of me argues with the truth." (Anne P.)

"The reality is that some men do leave. (Trust me. I know this.) The danger comes in thinking that has anything to do with you or your worth or your future. Even if all of them leave - dad, boyfriend, first husband, second husband (yikes!) - it's still about them." (Kendra B.)

"I practice breathing intentionally when it feels overwhelming [and it does] and deeply rooting into True Love. I remind myself very gently that I do what I do until I don't and that the negative coping mechanisms are [were] there for a good reason ... I no longer mindlessly lose myself in sex, [one of my biggies] and I don't have to fight it ... food and busy-ness the same story. Illness, overwhelm ... same story ... " (Deborah)

"Realize what you are dealing with and make the time to deal with it. If you can't do it alone, invite a trusted friend who let you express yourself. While speaking aloud the issue, you are able to state how you feel. You mentioned you felt scared. Releasing the words, helps to release the feeling. While you verbally express yourself, many times you can come up with a solution or resolution. When I don't have a trusted friend to talk to, I find great solace in verbally pouring my soul out in prayer. I feel comforted and eventually calmed. Life ebbs and flows. Familiar situations return and we can choose if we want to deal with them the same old way or in a new healthy way. If we choose the latter, there comes a time when we hardly notice that the pesky or burdensome issue has returned because we have mastered a new way of handling it and it does not create the feelings within us that it once did." (Julie B.)

"I, like Julie, have spent time on my knees in prayer or even just wherever I am driving, sitting on the couch, in my office, even in the shower, I've poured my concerns out to the Lord, placing them in His hands. Then I get to work doing something I've been putting off that needs to be done, like ironing or cleaning or vacuuming, something that doesn't require a lot of thought, and I work out possible solutions in my mind for the problems I'm facing at the moment. Ideas for how I could handle them. Not only does it help me work it through, but I also get something done I've been putting off." (Loney L.)

"I've probably done it all, shopped, ate, drank. But in the end, prayer always get me through and God never lets me down." (Lisa M.)

"I journal my emotions almost everyday, and try to list 3 things in my journal that I am grateful for. When I need extra support I lean on my family and friends. I am slowly learning that pretending to be "fine" when I really am not is just lying to is not helpful." (Laura B.)

There are many helpful suggestions here: writing, breathing, being mindful, talking with a friend, journaling, and prayer. All of these ideas will allow us to explore the feelings, not numb them. They give us something to do while our hearts and minds focus on the feelings. Enduring the discomfort long enough to learn from it is the challenge. With the help of my friends, I feel better equipped to handle the next wave of emotional discomfort that is sure to come. Thanks to each of you who took the time to share your heartfelt thoughts.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dwelling in the Discomfort Sucks

Be careful what you wish for. Boy, oh, boy. Yesterday I made the mistake of asking for "emotional sobriety" to live with uncertainty and a future of unknowns. I may not have received exactly what I asked for, but opportunities presented themselves throughout the day to allow for growth and emotional development. Before I knew it, this girl was in over her head.

Every morning I read The Daily Love, a blog by Mastin Kipp. The timing of his words has been perfect for me. This was the gem from my morning's reading:

"Ask for the emotional sobriety and peace of mind to be okay living the maybes. Get comfortable in the in-between. Know that delays are not denials and have fun in the moment, in the mean time, as it evolves into an ever better version of reality."

Jeff Goins is another writer I follow, and I have learned so much from him about living fully in the "In-between" times of life. (For those of you who identify with the term "in-between," you might gain some important insights from what Jeff has to say about navigating through the uncertainties.)

We have to trust that everything will work out just the way it should, but while the universe is at work, bringing wonderful things to pass, we need to fully enjoy the life we've been given, right here, right now...even during the uncertainties of the in-between time.

"He that can have patience can have what he will."

- Benjamin Franklin

Mastin Kipp reminds us that a delay does not mean a denial. I read a quote yesterday about patience, which has never been my strong suit. Patience is not simply waiting. It's maintaining a good attitude while waiting. (Thank you, Joyce Meyers.) The best way for me to do that is to stay busy while I'm waiting, and be grateful for the blessings that are already mine.

Yada-yada-yada. I couldn’t have known that after posting all of these thoughts on my Facebook wall yesterday that I would have to face my demons, and ride a big, old nasty wave of emotion within hours of my posting.

During my morning reading, my mind felt elevated and inspired by the words I read. It was easy to want to be present in the comforting reassurance of Mastin. I was drawn to his words, and felt such confidence. And then, without warning, I had to put this information to the test, and all hell broke loose.

Yesterday was day three for me of a little experiment I was trying. Instead of numbing myself in mindless habits that have been my go-to stress relievers for the last thirty-odd years, I decided to challenge myself by avoiding my own avoidance techniques. 

I planned to dwell fully in the moment, and live with an intention of mindfulness, even when life gets hard. In doing that, I was not going to allow myself to fall back on old patterns of behavior that gave me something to do, but did nothing to fill the hole in my soul that presents itself from time to time. A friend had warned me that when we avoid our avoidance techniques, it brings out the demons. I was going to be fine. I'd managed two whole days of living with intention. My plan was to live in the present, and face life head-on.

THAT is easier said than done, my friends. Everything was going along smoothly yesterday morning. I went for my daily four-mile walk after I finished my writing, first thing, before the day became too hot. When I returned, I spent some time with a friend via Skype. Then I headed to the gym for a Zumba class. (Yes, I know, I tend to use exercise as a numbing agent, too, but I had set a goal of “two-a-day” workouts. There’s a difference. I was in a good place mentally, and was being intentional about that.)

My day was clicking along…listening to Bridger play guitar, checking in with friends on Facebook, and then, out of nowhere, my old friends the demons came by for a visit. All it took was a familiar trigger, and it was like I’d opened my brain to a host of fears and troubling thoughts.

We all have our demons, our own personal challenges. Do you know what thoughts plague me? Abandonment. Rejection. Loneliness. Being alone is my greatest fear. It is what has driven me to make bad decisions in the past. Goodness knows I’ve had to confront my solitude time and time again, especially since Christmas. After a long and lonely winter, I was starting to feel like I had a handle on things. I was wrong. Giving those fears a place to rest yesterday afternoon was my first mistake, but I was recognizing the experience for what it was.

“Ask for the emotional sobriety and peace of mind to be okay living in the maybes.” Emotional sobriety was nowhere to be found. I resorted to old thought patterns, and let my fears convince me that what I was feeling in that moment is how I was always going to feel. It wasn’t going to get better. I would always be alone. I would be required to live out the rest of my life facing my biggest fear on a daily basis.

That these thoughts are irrational was not a consideration. I was in a bad place, and I needed to figure out what to do with these thoughts and feelings.

Dwelling in the discomfort sucks. Just sayin'. It hurt. It was uncomfortable. I recognized it for what it was, and tried to reason with myself. That’s a hard thing to do.

“Just because you think it doesn’t make it true.” What if you can't stop thinking it, though? What then? Huh?

"This feeling won't last forever." Uh-huh. Not buying it.

“Experience these feelings; get to know them.” No, let’s just not. I have known them most of my life. Making friends with them seemed like a very, very bad idea. I'm not good at doing the counter-intuitive.

The old me would have retreated to the kitchen, seeking out the soothing solace of filling my mouth with food in an attempt to fill the emptiness inside of me. Not today. Today I refused to allow myself my numbing habits.

So I sat in my living room, wondering what we were all going to do together. Fear, Loneliness, Anxiety, and I, all just hanging out on the couch, looking at each other nervously, driving each other crazy. I couldn’t offer them something to eat, even though if they’d been normal visitors, a good hostess might. I couldn’t ignore them by leaving them to themselves; I had promised myself I wouldn’t. No, I needed to sit with them, talk to them, and figure out what they were trying to teach me.

Some people turn to compulsive behaviors as a coping mechanism when things get tough. I know what mine are. You probably know what yours are. Cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sex, cutting, excessive exercise, eating disorders…familiar patterns of behavior feel like old friends when our self-talk becomes full of doubt, self-loathing, and fear. 

What was I supposed to do to get through this day of discomfort? I began to panic. A dull ache was taking up residence in my head. I tried a nap. The thoughts racing through my brain would not allow sleeping to take place. I selected one of my new books to try. Before long, I realized that even that was a technique of avoidance. I knew I needed to eat, but because I’d used eating mindlessly as a coping technique in the past, I would have to be careful.

I made a simple dinner of vegetables and eggs, and sat down at the table with my son to eat it. After he left to spend the evening with friends, I was left alone. My visitors loomed larger than life, and seemed to fill my house.

Sitting in the living room, staring at my unwelcome guests wasn’t getting me anywhere. What was I supposed to do to get through this? I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. I decided to take us all out for a walk. I know, maybe that seems like another avoidance technique, but it was better than my other options. I didn't know what else to do.

During my walk, I felt a sense of dread. Panic wasn’t far behind. I decided to reach out. I texted a friend, “Tonight my demons have come to do battle.” I pressed on, walking farther into the early evening hour, wishing with all of my heart I could make sense of all of this.

Within moments, my phone rang. I hadn’t cried all day, even though there were times I thought I might do just that. The moment I heard concern on the other end of the phone, I was like an injured child who holds it together until mom is in sight. The tears stung my eyes, and fell down my cheeks unchecked. I couldn’t do this alone today. And that was okay.

We talked about knowing we’re supposed to dwell in the discomfort, but not really knowing what we’re supposed to do while we’re in the thick of the dwelling. In talking, I was able to verbalize my fears, and I started simply by saying, “I got scared.”

Today, I’m going to find out what else we can do when tough times come. They’re going to come, you know. If I’ve learned one thing from this last winter, it is that nothing lasts forever. Good times…bad times. We’ll always be fading from one into the other. I’m thinking we better know what to do when the next wave hits. 

So, today, I'm going to be a super sleuth. I'll investigate, and I’ll let you know what I find out. And if you have any tips for weathering these storms, I would be most grateful to hear your thoughts.

What do you do when life gets uncomfortable? I'm not asking for your dark confessions; just any tips that have worked for you when life gets uncomfortable, and you have lessons to learn. Is it just a matter of waiting it out? I have so much to learn; I hope you will share with me, and I will continue to seek out answers for myself. Stay tuned...

And just so you know, this morning when I woke up, I discovered that my unwelcome guests were nowhere to be found. Now that I know them, and have spent some time getting to know them, I think their visits will take up less and less of my time. Here's hoping!