Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Picture taken just after cleaning up where the dog threw up a chicken bone....

This is my dining room of course.

I post a lot of pictures on facebook.  I think of it as my replacement for the picture albums of yesteryear.  I could print them some day, I can look back at them at any time from anywhere.   But I take 100 photos, and I sort out all the frowns, shut eyes, blurred focus (lots of those in my haste), too dark, too bright, too shadowy.  And these days I have to usually make sure one of my offspring won't be upset if I post a pic. A highly complicated process, to make it through that filter for reasons you could never tell looking at the photos.  But they'll all laugh 'I can't believe you think that one is good??!' shaking their heads in despair at my gaucheness.  The few that make the cut, I fix the colors and crop them on my phone in about 17 seconds (I remember the old days, when it took me half an hour to do that.)

Facebook or similar photographs, which I enjoy, are not my real life. Not mine.  Not yours. Not that friend who was a cheerleader in high school who still looks good in yoga pants.  I've heard "I can't stand to be on facebook and see how great everyone else's life is compared to mine."  I don't suffer from this very common and understandable malady, because I know how the slices of life I (me. Toni) post on facebook are the grain of sand moments grasped among mostly long, boring, tough, argumentative, tiring, humdrum, routine, vanilla regular old sandbox-of-life.  I know that when others post pics, they aren't showing me (usually) the overflowing toilet, the lost cell phone, the toothepaste cap that rolls out of reach, the front door that won't stay shut when it drops below 40, the letter from the mammography center.  They aren't showing me the 47 unmatched socks in their laundry basket, or how they felt after a bad phone conversation with the bank, or a depressing visit to their parent's nursing home.  Do not judge me, or anyone else we meet on facebook or instagram or twitter by the short witty sayings and sunset-background couples shots that we all love to share.

Facebook photograph sharing is not real life.  That is why today, I shared the picture above.  It really was taken just after we cleaned up from the dog, Molly.  Molly got into the garbage when our back was turned (OK, my husband's back was turned, I wasn't home.) and rooted out some old fried chicken, bone and all. After she threw it up the first time, while we were running to grab something to clean it up with, she managed to eat that same deliciously-regurgitated chicken bone again.  The next time it came up we found it on the dining room rug.  Happened to be just before I took a bunch of shots of my crazy Thanksgiving dining room and kitchen.  Shots that were only for me, until now.

This is a dining room you ask?  Isn't everyone's dining room covered in miscellaneous flip house leftovers and the entire contents of their kitchen pantry?

Doesn't everyone's kitchen ceiling open up to the plumbing runs above it for repairs?

No?  No plastic sheets hanging everywhere to keep the drywall dust down?  

Am I getting new counter tops for Christmas?   No, but I did get a patched ceiling, for which I'm very grateful.  It was opened to fix the pipes that froze once upon a time and have kept our second bathroom out of commission for many long months, because, really, when is it a good time to cook under cover of 120 year old falling insulation?

But I digress.  My point is, that you (and I, definitely I) may not post pictures like this, and I am A-ok with that.  I like pictures of snow falling and babies crawling and sons playing amazing bass guitar.  The photos we all share online represent the brief breath of life we want to hold onto, remember, keep.  Sometimes we want to brag or make one of our children or our aunt or our dog groomer feel special.  Sometimes we just want to reach out and say 'hey, I'm here' or laugh along with Jimmy.  Nitty-gritty life is not frozen in time, but messy, grassy, muddy, windy, old, new, broken, stained, taupe, scotch-taped and hot-glued.  Don't compare your well-worn Target version of Keds to someone else's satin-pink-ribboned toe shoes.  They really aren't comparable.

Monday, December 07, 2015

If I could get everything done on my day off that I want to get done on my day off

If I could get everything done on my day off that I want to get done on my day off I would clean my house and decorate from the random bins and then tidy the bins away and set up my wrapping station and sort the Amazon and Eddie Bauer boxes that have been delivered in recent weeks and use tissue paper to cozy each item into a box and organize the hats and scarves and glove bins and finish moving my half empty under construction pantry contents into my pantry and do all the dishes and find Christmas cards and write them with hot cider by my side.  I would unpack from my recent trip and find sparkly sweaters wherever they are hidden and I would finally get that de-shedding brush for dear Molly and fix her up and clip her toenails and put a new collar on her and take her for a walk.  I would pay the bills (ok, no I WOULD NOT PAY BILLS), I'd haltingly plunk out Christmas hymns on my silent piano, once unburdened from its piles of mail, while the house was empty.  I would decorate the dining room table using the gingerbread house the girls made that has been languishing behind the sheets of plastic hanging everywhere while my kitchen ceiling has been open and under repair this last month or so.  My real tree is already a bit dryish with 18 days until Christmas, so I would google out how to rejuvenate it.  I would play a Christmas movie (probably Little Women with Wynona Ryder) while wrapping gifts slowly, (with no back pain) and a candle already purchased in advance for this purpose burning, visible from the corner of my eye and smelling of cinnamon and sugar.  I would empty the back coat closet and re-organize it so we can actually find our cold-weather items we already own and probably get a bag for Goodwill of coats that no one has worn for six years.  I would read a really bad Christmas novel with my slippers on and my favorite chocolate brown and baby blue afghan on my lap.  I would write for a few hours looking out the window at the fog and enjoying my old/new writing desk.  I would read my bible and an advent devotional and spend some time in prayer and then mediation.  I would take a walk (I already did<3 Thanks Sue!) and feel awake even before my third cup of coffee.  I would wash my sheets and try to find some flannel ones to put on and add extra blankets to the bed which I never seem to find time to do until about February.  I would listen to Bing crooning White Christmas while I put out the chipped nativity I gave my parents when I was in junior high.  I would bake some cut-out cookies, cool them and decorate them with Julia when she came in from the school bus at 3:10.  (I would like this part much more than she would). I would meet a friend for lunch and talk about how hard it is to find gifts for men in general and how much easier it would be if all our shopping was for 50-something-aged women.  I would write a thank you note to my hostess from this past weekend and it would come out sounding as perfect as it does in my head, but never does once keyed onto the paper.  I would drive slowly through the neighborhoods oohing and ahhing at Christmas lights with my husband and daughter without them rolling their eyes.  I would hang our seven stockings (yes the dog has always had one, I'm that mom), the only decoration I personally need up besides the tree, imagining my stocking from my childhood that was always hung at the corners of our pinch-pleated draperies due to a lack of fireplace mantles, and how it looked lumpy and jammed with delights.  I would imagine the most beautiful hair barrettes from that stocking one year, that were too pretty to wear, but then later broke when put in an actual head of hair.  I would imagine the Chrissy doll, as it looked on Christmas morning, so perfect, and as it looked a few months later when my baby sister had taken the scissors to its head of hair.  Would I even remember that doll if it hadn't been close-shaven? And then I would imagine the stack of Christmas albums in our what seemed to me, enormous dark maple television and stereo console, dropping down one at a time to the turntable, and the mystery of wondering which song, which song would be next?    When Perry's “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” came on I would recall caroling with my girl scout troop, and the fun of riding bundled into the back of a pick-up truck before it was illegal, going from one house in town to another singing my lungs out on a starry night and feeling, that there is surely nothing better in this world, than Christmas-time.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Partnering with the Creator

I tried a new yoga class last weekend.  It was not yoga for exercise, which I did for several years in the past,  but instead about two hours of relaxation, breathing, stretching, breathing, with 'ohms' and the full ceremony.  I enjoyed it very much.  The last five minutes or so was just focusing on stillness and consciously listening. 

I left this very nurturing atmosphere with this message "I want to live life intentionally, and stop letting life happen to me."

I was impressed with this message.  I bonded with it and felt it was exactly what I needed.  I thanked God for giving me this thought.  And then, of course, I tried to put it into practice.  Since last Saturday:
  1. We all got sick
  2. The dog turned out to have a terrible case of fleas (even though on Sentinel all year round)
  3. Our rug shampooer broke three times while my living room was half wet and half dry.
  4. I cracked a major molar within 24 hours of getting a clean bill of health at the dentist.
  5. I was stuck with an emergency crown procedure. $$
  6. I got sicker
  7. I was too sick to go to the concert I had been looking forward to for weeks.
  8. I was too sick to go on the shopping/bus trip I had been looking forward to for weeks.
Talk about not letting life 'happen' to you.  Geez.  How is this helpful?  Is God trying to tell me that I don't get to make decisions like this?  That He is in control?   

I'm trying to decide--was my goal the wrong goal?  Were the obstacles placed in my path to see how tough I am? Here is my conclusion:  I had a great goal and then I got sick and broke a tooth.  I am not going to question my intention. I am not going to question God.  I'm going to say, whether I'm living intentionally or not, life continues to happen.  It doesn't stop, just because I want to call the shots.  I'm going to have to be in both.  I will try every day to do some things that mean something to me, whether it is organize the bills, sweep the front walk, or write a short story.  It doesn't matter, how big or insignificant to others, as long as it is something with meaning to me.

However my message needs a slight change in wording.  I realize, like it or not, it has to be "I need to live intentionally while life happens to me."

And so, surprise, surprise, I learn once again that I am not in control of everything, and never will be.  I need to make peace with that, and be in control five minutes a day.  Or five times a day.  Or even just right here, when I decide which word to place next in this sentence.  Here I am, creating my reality. 


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Silver Linings Moment #1

#SilverLiningsMoment #PleaseShare

Sanity escapes me

Today I love the title of my blog. 

A lot has happened in the last 9 days since I last posted.

I sort of realized I wasn't so much depressed as just that life kind of sucks right now.  Good to know. 

I reached a level of stress that went beyond my reserves, beyond, those backup storage reserves, and entered damaging to my health territory.  None of my usual techniques has fixed it.

I fell and cracked my head hard on the cement walk in front of my house.  I could have died.  Like my neighbor Ray did.  Like other people do.  Walking to the car. Dead.  So that happened.  So far? Still alive.

We sold our flip house, which until the burden leaves you, you don't realize how it has been there waiting, while you soldier on, refusing to give in to worry and stress.  It is a huge relief, but now all the worry I had bottled up is released.

A low level anxiety exists for a writing day I'm going to in December, with my idol author, and it is just giving me mild yet continuous waves of insecurity and ever stronger feelings that my stupid idea of being a fiction writer is so so ridunkulous.  Labeling what I'm  not good at is so easy.

I don't want to waste time here on my work stress.  Let's just sum it up this way: my team went from 14 to 8 in the last  2 months time.  We are still attempting to carry on work as usual down 40% of our FTEs. One of those losses was to unexpected, young death.  Two left for career reasons, and three were 'downsized' out of the blue. 

It is surely more than the sum of these few items that has my typical solid and ready attitude to battle any crisis in the toilet.  Instead I feel like I'm made of tissue paper.

But wait, there is good news.

So last night I curled up in bed with my ear buds and my super-sized box of Nutty bars and watched the most depressing movie, and it left me feeling so much better.  It is 'Cake' and was (unlike its title) about a woman with chronic, severe pain. Twenty-four-seven.  I don't know how I ended up with it, as I was looking for a 'feel good, stress-relieving' kind of movie.  After this I watched a really bad tv Christmas romance. 

But it made me realize for the 147th time that people have it worse than me.  That most of those things I listed above are actually GOOD, like really good things, I'm just in a fragile state.

I also used technology to my advantage, found a cool meditation app (more another day), read my bible, called in to work today which in and of itself is a luxury that I'm sure 98% of the world's population can't afford to do.  But while in the shower just now, a light shown from above and hit my palms. (I was trying to be in the moment)  Through the soft-focus of the water hitting my palms I had a major realization:  "The palms of my hands don't look any older than they did in high school."

Wow.  Life-changing that?  Yes.  I don't even worry about aging much, wrinkles, spots, sags.  But something in me said, 'There is a silver lining moment.  You should share.'  So I'm sharing.  And I'm taking it a step further.  I'm going to try to find as many silver-lining moments as I can every day between now and Thanksgiving which happens to be a month from today.  I promise it won't be every day, I'm too ditzy to remember. 

Learn by teaching?  Feel better by making others feel better?  Laugh at yourself?  I'm sure those are all on posters somewhere.

p.s. friends who got this far, feel free to share one of your silver lining moments as all writing is basically stealing being inspired by others.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

One Way. Or Another...

I tend to re-read my own blogs in the day or two after I write them, as people send me comments, and I have to admit, last week's I kept wincing at the last couple sentences.  Because I sound flippant, like ALL you need to CURE depression is a pill and a plan.  I should have spent a little more time on the ending before I clicked 'submit'.

Yes. Sometimes, when I have a difficult week, and the Prozac isn't enough, having something to look forward to is what makes the difference between living life and giving in to symptoms.  But I do realize there are dozens of levels of depression.  I know many people try five or six meds without any of them making a dent.  I know some people kill themselves, and some people think crying at sad commercials is depression. My goal was to share about my own experience, so that I can contribute to it being less of a taboo subject in general.  The more people talk and share their own experiences, the less square-peg-in-a-round-hole I feel, and hopefully you feel.  Admitting my imperfections, failings, human-ness is not so much scary, or bad at all, but stabilizing.  

I don't know the cause or cure for depression, just coping mechanisms I've learned.  But I do know a huge contributing factor in my case, is my brain not shutting up for one second.  You must all be like this right? Where one minute you are writing a swim team event on the calendar and then suddenly ten minutes has passed and you realize your blood pressure is high because your brain went from swim meet to coach to lack of communication, to that time last fall when you volunteered and no one showed up, to those other parents....  You get the idea.  My brain left to its own resources heads down a darker, more prickly corridor than it needs to.  I imagine some people just write 'Swim Meet 5:00 pm home' and then they move on to the next thing they need to do.  Do they?  Well I'd like to try going 24 hours without letting my brain take the reins.  Every single time I look at the pile of mail, I don't start thinking of insurance bills, and then taxes and then my checking account balance and then...  When I see a pile of dirty dishes I don't think 'Should have, could have, why didn't I?'  but just 'Dirty dishes, let me wash them.'  I can't imagine being successful at this for even an hour.  Also part of me thinks, well this is my creative mind at work.  If I stop being creative will I still be a writer?  If I stop being creative will I turn into a boring robot? 

Things at work are at a stress level of 9 out of 10 right now, and yet someone told me this week 'Yes, but you are always happy.' and it caught me off-guard.  That is how I appear?  I was surprised.  It reminded me of more than once taking one of those surveys that says 'If you have five or more of these symptoms of depression, seek medical help.'  And I would have 17 of 20.  Yet my co-workers think I'm happy. All the time.

Which leads me to the conclusion that happiness and depression are not mutually exclusive in the same person, or for me, even in the same day.  Or another conclusion might be that I'm good at acting happy even when I don't feel it.  Certainly you hear many comedians are depressed in real life, and I do spend an unusual amount of time trying to make people (and myself) laugh. 

But then, my supersonic brain can be a pleasure. Sometimes I look back at my 20s and think 'Oh I wish I could live that over again.' but mostly I appreciate the perspective another 30 years gives a person.  It is clich├ęd but true to say my life is much richer now.  I try to look at things and really see them.  In my 20s I was distracted by having enough quarters to do the 7 loads of laundry I had, how to get the cat to the vet, or being late to catch the train.  I rushed from one thing to another, never fast enough, always wanting more, more of everything.  Now I can sit and marvel at the sunlight hitting our leaded glass window, making rainbows on the old carpet.  I can sit at the high school and instead of wishing she would hurry up and get out here so I can _____, I'm thinking 'take your time, the radio is on, the window is down so I'm breathing fresh air, I can sit and think for a while.'  When I look at a child, I see her pigtails, and her mis-matched socks, and the marker on her hand.  I don't just look at them, I see them, and I think about what she was doing earlier, and wonder if she likes getting her hair put into pigtails, or if she cries. 

These two ideas, are at cross purposes.  On the one hand my loose-cannon thinking contributes towards my depression, but on the other hand my color-palette thinking makes life so much more flavorful, interesting, more of an adventure in the every day.  Over-thinking is like a thorn in your shoe, it never feels good, but not thinking at all?  That is like never going outside, so you don't need shoes.  I'm not willing to sacrifice that much.  I guess my experiment should not be to spend 24 hours not thinking, but to spend 24 hours asking myself every five minutes 'dark path or light path' and trying to go back and take the other fork in my road of thoughts.  Maybe there's a Fitbit for that?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Something to look, forward, to...

The title is meant to be sung to the tune of 'Someone to Watch over Me' from that famous Gershwin melody .  Why?  Because I love Mr. Holland's Opus, and because having something to look forward to is a theme that deserves something special like a musical hug. 

I'm a little down today, and in a certain mood, and random music lyrics are flying through my head. "When you're down, and troubled.." James Taylor. From my year obsessed with Les Mis soundtrack: Do You Hear The People Sing and I believe this entire movie and beloved (by me) soundtrack, with titles like 'Javert's Suicide' is one long depressing but enthralling score.  It is my heart's desire our marching band would do a Les Mis theme, but alas, I'm not in charge.   "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks because I listened to it on my little 45 record player, in the fifth grade, and contemplated life's shortness for the first time.  I was ridiculed by some older girls who said it was the worst song ever written.  Obviously I've forgotten their cruel derisive laughter from the edge of the skating rink, WHILE I was trying to perform my solo for the instructor. 

I do as they say 'suffer from depression'.  I've been on and off anti-depressants over the years.  Mostly on, like now.  But I still have days here and there, like everyone does, that remind me of life without medication.  Enough stress can do it.  Bingeing on sugar products and/or alcohol.  Sometimes I feel my body is programmed to have days like this every 79th day or something, like clockwork.  And having song lyrics fight for attention in my head, drowning out intelligent thought, is one way I know it is here. 

I say thank God, praise be to God, for Prozac.  It has been my life-saver.  I've never tried to hide the fact that it gets me on an even keel so that I can be a productive human who can look outside her inner windows to the real world.  I first was prescribed it in 1991. I recommend it.  I refuse to read all the stories about America's over-medicated moods because for me, it is freedom.  I remember after 911 I went off of it for a few years.  Somehow, I thought, with things like that going on in the world, you can overcome a little depression without pills.  Look at those people jumping from the skyscraper and grow up and get over it. 

But, the flaw in that logic is, it isn't a problem that only affects me.  It affects my spouse and my children, especially.  They suffer when I'm losing my temper three times a day.  When I'm refusing to leave the house or yelling at them just for slamming a door.  And so at some point ten years ago or so I finally went back on my anti-depressant and stayed on it and am very happy that I have.

So back to the title, something to look forward to.  Because a pill doesn't fix it all.  Having something to look forward to is the #1 thing that helps me when I feel depression creeping in.  I put something enjoyable on the calendar.  I talk about it.  I daydream about it.  Right now I'm looking forward to my husband and I closing on our flip house in a couple weeks, a shopping trip with my sister in November, and attending an amazing writing workshop with my favorite author, Elizabeth Berg, who you've patiently read about in earlier posts.  I wanted to share a link, just in case any of you want to give yourself this same Christmas gift that Chuck and I are giving me ;)  Here is the description of the day she has planned: One-Day Writing Workshop for Women with Elizabeth Berg

But as deliciously anticipatory as I feel about this upcoming event, you don't have to go that extravagant to have something to look forward to.  It can be, on a Thursday morning, I remind myself that Project Runway is on that night.  It might be buying a new planner but not opening it yet, so that you know, when you need it you can go open that box and start writing and scheduling perfectly, just like Carol Brady.  For me anticipating any kind of travel is guaranteed good vibe material, so I'm already weighing options for next June.

I love my Sunday School class.  They are a group of encouragers who want nothing more than to improve your day, with as little drama as possible.  Love that hour of the week.  I love my book club, because, duh, its about BOOKS which are the best thing ever, and a group of ladies who continue to show up to talk with me, even though they know me well.  After ? years I still keep waiting for them to pat me on the head and tell me they are tired of humoring me and they have better things to do with their time than pick apart the relationships in The Help for instance. These two appointments are examples of what I've built into my schedule so I can grab that balloon before it flies away and tie it to me.  I can look up and say, aha, something to look forward to this week.  

Sometimes I have to dredge down to the smallest things.  Some days it is a dentist appointment that gets me out of work in time to see the sunshine.  Yeah, I know. Or just knowing when I get paid that Friday, I get to buy mums, or pumpkins or (this week) some new black socks. 

I know I may have lost many of you by now, but if you are someone who has dealt with depression, I think you are still with me.  Because part of the treatment, is just knowing others have the same issue, they survived, and you will too. Everybody's story is different, but this is what works for me. A pill plus a plan.

And my best advice--don't make any major life decisions while in a low plateau.  Stick to the socks choices.  You're welcome.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Stress at work? Perspective.

I always declare in planning, in job interviews, when discussing with others, that I like/love change.  I hate stagnancy.  I hate boredom.  I don't use the 'H' word lightly. I want to help manage change, think of great changes, implement change, and never do the same thing twice.  But I have reached a level of change to the hundredth power at work that is (no longer) bordering on chaos, and is no longer feeding my desire for variety or challenge.  It feels more like I'm in a blender with dull blades, and somebody is pushing down the 'chop' button every morning. And then again every five minutes.

For 20 years in IT, I've marveled at the accuracy of the Dilbert cartoon.  I mean we have good days and we have bad days, but a lot lot lot of days resemble this now classic cartoon.  You are telling someone why they need to care about something.  Because if not, the company might fail or a person could suffer, and you are wondering for the ten thousandth time, why you are always the one trying to get everyone to act responsible.  Why are you expending twice the effort trying once again not to do their job for them? But I only feel this way when I am self-centered, which is only 'most' of the time, thanks be to God.

I know I sound jaded, and in actuality, I am 100% positive and 100% cynical and 100% creative and 100% bored, it just all depends on the day at work.  Most days I see no reason to be negative.  Who wins there?  Who benefits?  Even I don't win, so why do it?  Counteracting that is my sarcasm level,  set somewhere around sophomore year of high school to a 96 out of 100.  I don't know where it came from, but when that personality takes over, you are going to laugh.  There are so many jokes out there about how lucky I am that I amuse myself, and I do feel lucky.  So many times, in an elevator or walking to my car I will just start laughing out loud, because of a thought in my head.  I amuse myself.  I try not to share things that tear a person down, but I don't always win that battle.  But I ask for forgiveness and move on to the second hour of my day :)

So, if 39-year-old women are dying of cancer this week, and houses are burning, and college kids are getting shot, and other people are laid off work, why am I complaining about stress at my job?  I mean, I'm lucky to be alive, have a house, have healthy kids and have a job. 

Telling myself this helps, it does.  For a while. For some problems.  But it doesn't fix anything broken.  It just helps you get through it.  No matter how positive and strong and capable you feel going in in the morning, if you spend the day in a blender,  you are going to come out rumpled, disoriented, and feeling pissed off at yourself for letting any of it get to you.  We work to live, we don't live to work, right?  Yet work causes such impact on sanity and spirit.

The only answer I have is quantity. We spend so much of our lives at work.  Anyone working full-time is spending say 50 hours a week if you count lunch and breaks and overtime.  Plus at least an hour per day gearing up for work (i.e. putting on mascara) and gearing down from work, so that's 55 hrs.  I happen to be on-call and travel at times and work from home here and there.  With 32 waking hours on the weekends plus 25 waking hours through the week, that equals 57 hours of non-work vs 55 hours of work.  So a minimum of 50% of my waking hours are spent at work. 

Now you might have a friendship, a marriage, a church-life, a child, all things that fit into that 57 hours.  You might read the bible, or watch TED talks, or do yoga at sunrise, but it ALL fits into that 57 hours.  Each thing is a piece of the puzzle.  WORK is work.  It is one big chunk compared to the littles.  It is like the wedding cake next to the cupcakes.  There is no hiding that wedding cake behind a cupcake--it is not just easy to see, it is impossible to miss.   Imagine, if you spent 55 hours per week...hmmm...I don't know....sitting in your car.  Your car is your life 55 hours per week.  You clean it, you polish it, you buff it, you organize it, you find the best radio station and then you do it all over again the next week, and the next, until years pass.  Imagine telling yourself not to allow that car-time to affect the rest of your life.  To put it aside the minute you get home and not dwell on it,  not think about it, not dread it or look forward to it, but to compartmentalize and leave it behind. 

OK, let's say that is a dumb example, how about 55 hours per week shopping?  You are a professional shopper and you are told to visit every retail establishment in a 20 mile radius, and shop.  You might take on the challenge, you might enjoy it, you might have strategies and like me, look for beauty in the parking lot or the historical quotes on the wall or the view from below.  You might be given adorable shopping bags for your birthday and end up with every credit card ever seen, but eventually, no matter how professionally you take this role, no matter how much you like shopping, 55 hours a week is going to get old.  And after five weeks or five months, you are going to hate it at the worst, and lose your perspective at the very least.  What can you do not to hate doing the same thing every day?  Working the same place?

Well, for one you can not work the same place forever.  Most IT people move about ever 24 months to a new company to learn something new or try a different role. 

Or, you can stop working, go on welfare, and never have any money to spend. 

Or you can make friends at work, goof off, and party all the time the boss isn't around (even 55 hours per week of fun gets old I'm sure).

Which leaves, figure out someway to stay sane amid sameness, steady stress, personality conflicts, bickering over mouse pads or locked doors or wet floors.  Stay sane, make a difference, not lose your sense-of-humor.  Try to contribute towards something in case you die long before retirement.  Try to make a difference.  It doesn't work for me, to say 'its just a job it will be over in 8 hours' because I can not swallow spending 8 hours per day not making a difference.  If I'm not making a difference, I want to be creative, if I'm not being creative, I want to be learning or problem-solving or laughing.  These four itsy-bitsy things are all I need from my career:  purpose, creativity, learning and laughing.  Is that too much to ask?  I know, you want money too.  On a good week, I make sure those four things happen.  I mean, I laugh every day, period.  The other three are goals.  But even so, I am stressed at work.

Here are my coping mechanisms for stress, not recommended by any sane therapist or wise person, in no particular order:
1. chocolate--fast and cheap and it works every time for a few minutes.
2. books--far, far away within minutes of picking one up.
3. nature--easier to forget about IP addresses and Medicare rulings when looking at leaves, rocks, and water.
4. pinterest--this really is my current therapist. I know, you're embarrassed for me.  I search for funny quotes.  Or I search for cottages by water.  Or I search for my next hair color.  It is escapism like a women's magazine custom-designed for me, by me.  Free, can last 90 seconds or 90 minutes.
5. fellowship-- this is not my first thought, I'm an introvert, but whenever I do step out and force myself to 'people', I always come home glad I went.  I hear a story or a bit of gossip, or a sliver of news that enriches my life and makes me gain perspective.
6. volunteering -- any time you can forget about your own perfectly imperfect life and concentrate on another-- run, don't walk.  It works every single time.

All of these basically are ways to escape.  Once I escape, I gain perspective.  Perspective allows me to remember all the truth. It allows me to forget my ego which is obsessed with the work day, and then I can actually participate in something else.  Whether it be read the bible, scrub the kitchen sink, or be a car-pooling mom again, it is perspective that allows me to see clearly.

p.s. here is a picture from an interesting perspective I took last weekend.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Not saying it all

     I have trouble not saying it all, all at the same time.  I want to share every opinion and every feeling and every thought.  So I've been frustrated that I've been too busy to share the rest of my testimony about my days of solitude in Otterbein.  About what else I learned and did and felt.  But instead life has intervened with back to school, business trips, and minutiae. My memory is fading.  However, that is ok.  I have lots of notes.  Maybe part of it will end up in a short story, or a letter or a chapter of a novel.  It doesn't have to all go here, and I'm not sure any writer ever feels they have truly expressed what they are trying to express.  But, I want to share a few more of the 100+ photos I took, partly to share with you, and partly so I can look back at them this winter when I'm feeling the need for some light on a dark day.
Hard at Work


Color of Brush

View from Hammock

God is in the details

Every spot has history



Saturday, August 01, 2015

Waiting to be noticed

The first morning.
“I just sat for half an hour listening to the birds speak to one another, staring at trees and a meadow.”
“How long has it been since you did that?”
“Uh, never. “
Oh I’ve known calm observations of nature.  I have a few memories of them.  But they usually last sixty seconds.  I will say I had a hard time not opening my laptop or my book as the minutes ticked by -- at first.  I resisted just merging with the sounds and view. But it is early enough in the morning that the sun is still glinting off the dew, the temperature is that perfect feeling of the lightest sheet against your skin.  This porch has many options for me to sit and ponder my life from: a swing, a rocker, a picnic table, lawn chairs.  Right now I’m writing from the picnic table…
The dew is one of my favorite things about nature.  An example of perfection.  All those tiny droplets, glinting on each blade of grass like diamonds.  I love the dew.  I wonder on a cloudy day if the dew is still there and no one notices it.  I wonder how many days I walk right past it, not noticing.  But today it is outdoing itself putting on a show for me.  Taking a picture of the dew is never a satisfying exercise for me (reminder, writing blog not photography blog).  It is like photographing the moon.  No photos I take resemble reality.  But I’m going to stop here and try a few shots.
"I don't see it"
"Wait, I think I see it"
I have a whole post about sun on snow.  Sun on dew deserves to be a strong first cousin.  Crystals.  Harder to see, you have to look really close to see diamonds and not just crab grass and mown down dandelions.  But it is there, waiting.  Unseen 99 time s out of a hundred, or 999 times out of a thousand, but still there, waiting to be noticed.  Nature is beauty waiting to be noticed. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This year things will be different: Plan B

Last year I left  this wonderful writer’s conference (Midwest Writer's Workshop in Muncie, IN)  with my weakling spirit crushed by doubts.  Suddenly nothing I wrote seemed authentic, original, creative, compelling, you name it.  I blogged about it here.  And except for blogging and a few flash fiction contests, I took a breather from writing the last twelve months.  Another way to say that might be I lost my nerve, which has happened half a dozen times now over 20 years plus.
Well last week I attended the conference again. Even though my embattled ego said don’t do it, something inside me said try again.  I came up with plan B.  Instead of signing up to pitch the to oh-so-exciting NYC literary agents, or have an expert review my query letter, or even have a perfectly nice person/author critique my first 500 words, I changed my tactics. I attended Thursday only, which is a full day with one author, on craft. Writing.  It was what I needed, motivational, and I enjoyed learning from Martha Brockenbrough very much. (Future post on FORTITUDE)

Then I departed Muncie and Plan B  evolved as I spent the next 72 hours in Middle-Of-Nowhere Indiana, with only coffee, wine, and a thousand and one fireflies to talk to:

Just me, alone in a cabin in the boondocks, writing, revising, tearing apart and stitching back together.  There is only so much writing you can do in 72 hours, but it was….so enriching. 

Silence.   An old Beatles LP on the turntable. Porch swing over looking this:

Books to savor, interspersed with writing, accented by chocolate, naps, wine and walking in nature. Alone.  A-happyme-lone.   To think without anyone interrupting any single thought.  No cell service, no internet.  No television.  No jet ski or shopping mall or even gas station within 20 minutes. (that I know of)  I took over 100 photos and plan to show more here in coming weeks.  But here is my
"Still Life for Girl Weekend" :

As you can see I brought only survival foods, as I did not leave the property for a full 48 hours, and so I came prepared. 

I had some highly productive work sessions, where I took my first draft of current work in process, and started playing with the scenes and revising:

But nature was the star of my weekend. The sun.  The bees.  The air.  I breathe.  The queen Anne's lace, the endless wildflower meadows.  Much serenity.  Space, room.  No hurrying, clocks, no schedules, appointments, no meetings, no target dates.  Just me and my sharpy and  a stack of index cards.  It was damn near heavenly. 


Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015

All you need is a pencil stub and one old envelope

 Today's post is to participate in the writing exercise:  How writing has positively influenced my life. Hosted by Positive Writer.

So many roles we all shoulder in this life.  Daughter, sister, student, friend, girlfriend, wife, co-worker, mother.  But when are you ‘me’?  For me it is when I’m writing.
I’m the me who counted the cracks in the sidewalk from my house to the corner convenience store because it seemed like something to do.  I’m the me that carefully closed my bedroom door so I could stay up long past my bedtime to finish reading the latest Judy Blume.  I’m the me who hid 'supplies' in a hollowed out log near some railroad tracks in the woods that only one other person knew about.  The me that rode her bicycle across town to the McDonald’s with 35 cents in her pocket to get a hamburger and a cup of ice water all by herself.  The one who sat on the quad in college soaking up the sun while people walked by, a redbird flew overhead, and I had no where I had to be in the for-seeable future (which was about 4 hours at that time, the future).

When I’m writing I feel the other precious roles in life, those I’m lucky to call my own, float away.  Dropping to the ground.  Waiting outside the doorway of my writing room. I look around in my own brain and say ‘What are you thinking about writing today?  Yes, you.  The one who lives in this body?”

I can feel the sidewalk under my roller skates.  I can smell the lilacs on the bush on my walk home from second  grade.  I hear my breath coming in and out of the lungs of the same girl who would run down the street for Mr. Softy with her dime.  Almost all of my true ‘me’ feelings are in childhood.  As soon as the older years come into play, I was trying to be someone.  Trying to be the student my father longed for.  Trying to have a career that seemed important.  Trying to take care of my laundry and decorate my first apartment like the Good Housekeeping magazine covers.  Even at 22 I was already trying to form my life the way a good solid life should be.  But the key word there is ‘trying’.  When I’m me, I’m not trying.  I just am.  Writing allows me to stop trying and just feel, breath, be, myself.  All those people studying and searching the world to find themselves?  I find myself every time I sit down to write. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mother’s day is not my favorite holiday…

I believe Hallmark and such make too big a deal out of Mother’s Day (and several other holidays).  I daydream of my own mother often (she died 16 years ago now), and don’t need a holiday to remember her.  I think of my own children daily if not hourly, and I always celebrate their birth (literally) and reminisce about my part in it on their birthdays. Now that I think of it I’m not very big on most holidays other than Christmas. Confession: I’m often glad when they are over.  But I love birthdays. I love vacations.  I love celebrating for no reason and I love celebrating my children’s important moments. I love the day after Thanksgiving when we are all in our pj’s playing Scrabble and watching reruns of Parks and Rec together. 

Mother’s Day is a holiday of exclusion for any woman who doesn’t happen to be a mom.   I know women who lead happy and full lives without children. I know people who have yearned for children and it has never happened for them.  I know people who have lost children, or lost parents certainly, and this holiday only brings them pain.  Why do we need to go there?
Being an introvert, I also dislike any occasion that makes me the center of attention.  Too much pressure.  Gosh a whole day I have to be happy!  My kids and husband usually do a fine job of marking the occasion too, you would be jealous.  I’m ungrateful, that is the root of it.

Now, you’re thinking, Toni isn’t usually so negative.  She is being a drag, it’s just a little holiday.  And you are right.  I’m being  nudged with thoughts of Dicken's Scrooge here so I’m trying to remember what he learns from all those ghosts.  Oh yeah, life is good, enjoy it.  Relationships are important so build into them while you can.  So I will.  I will enjoy myself and sincerely appreciate whatever pleasantries come my way.  I hope all of you will too, but I still secretly wish holidays were about an hour long and wanted to speak up for any others of you out there who do too.  Someone work on that.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

I Like Now

When it is bedtime I don't want to get in bed. I want to stay awake and make the free time of evening last longer. When I wake up the next morning in my cocoon of a bed, I don't want to get out and start my new day. 
 When I'm drinking my morning coffee, I put off getting in the shower because it feels like life ends there and work begins.  When I am in the shower, I want to stay there for an hour at least.
 When I am home in the mornings, I don't want to leave for work and will dawdle terribly.  When my work day is at end, and I’m in the middle of some tantalizing investigation, I don't want to leave for home and will dawdle terribly. 
I live in the NOW.  Isn't that what all the experts tell you to do?  Wherever I am, I like being.  I am Procrastinator Girl. I am a study in paradox. Indecision is my middle name.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Joy in the Possibility

Since becoming a mother some years ago: First I stayed home for six months, then I worked part-time, then I stayed home and worked part-time in different sequences, eventually having my second and then third child. Then I worked full-time for three years, had yet another baby, worked part-time for seven years and since then have worked full-time for the last nine years.  I've done it all with one to four to one kids in the house depending on which year on that timeline you select.

In the early 90's it wasn't cool to be a 'Stay at Home Mom' (SAHM).  My intelligent salutatorian self told me it was the exact right place to be (or at least I imagine that now) but as they say, society didn't value the idea.  I found a magazine called Welcome Home that I clung to, and then found a national group called Hearts at Home which I considered my professional annual conference for a good ten years, getting involved to support their cause.. 

Now I am old(er) and I miss those days.  I'm not career-oriented like I 'should' be.  I try to wear both hats, but I like sipping my coffee while the laundry spins and I have a new book next to me to read. 

Where did March go?

I made a New Year's resolution to post here at least once a month.  I also made one to take a hike at least once a month.  Now that it is April 13, I have realized I completely missed March.  March were did you go?  That is all.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Oh How I Love Winter

I don't think of myself as an outdoorsy person.  I'm not against it, it just isn't part of my profile. But I realize that many times when I'm moved enough to write it has something to do with the natural world.  Nature speaks to me.  So let me confess here:  I'm a winter lover.   It is my second favorite season after fall, then spring, then summer comes in dead last for me.  But truly I appreciate all four seasons and wouldn't want to live without any of them.

So it is cold.  But it isn't hot!  And it is dark.   But that gives me more time to read my beloved books, write, and stay home with my family instead of gallivanting until the 9pm sunset.  And it can be snowy, which I know has its downside with car accidents and

Sunday, January 04, 2015

New Year -- New me or Old me?

Years ago, my husband and I would spend hours on New Years day drafting detailed resolutions.  I had lists with five goals in each category: Financial, spiritual, home improvement, each child listed separately, and much more.  It was a very interesting exercise, and I do not think a waste of time.  But very rarely (never) did we end up feeling successful at meeting those goals.  No, the promises of a monthly Daddy date or yoga three times a week or saving for college years were forgotten with the very next garbage day/two with ear infections/overdue phone bill combo day.  So now I limit myself to two or three very do-able goals.  The phrase "Older but wiser." does have some truth to it.

"New Year, Old Me" made me laugh as I typed it as tomorrow is my birthday, and I'm supposed to feel older.  With a Jan 5 birthday it is literally an older me come each new year's week.  But I don't feel particularly older on my day of birth.  I also don't feel newer just because the calendar flipped to 2015.  Honestly, I feel about the same.  The new year brings a feeling of promise.  An old me is also reassuring.  

When I look back at 2014 I see a lot of struggle, some pain, losses that will stay with me for many years.  The joke my husband likes to tell (he doesn't know it is a joke) is 'Well last month was really unusual because of X, Y, and Z' but when I point out the last 300+ months have been similarly unusual, making them usual, he just disagrees.  This month things will be calm, normal, uneventful.  It never happens.  Oh some months are more hectic with more major events.  Graduations, operations, vacations. But even a regular old weekend with a dead battery, broken cake plate, lost wallet, frozen pipe, rude neighbor, dog doing her business in the wrong place, and a sore throat is trying. Time rushes on.  Time rushes on.  But in these same brief timespans are good things. Moments of peace.  Finding a new meditation site, savoring a delicious caramel, looking at the sparkle in my dog's eye as he offers me the tennis ball, laughing at an old episode of Seinfeld.  Every normal weekend has times of stress, arguing, fatigue, anxiety.  But interspersed are moments of pleasure, rest, laughter, and conversation.  This is life.   

~Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.~

In my twenties, this was a mantra that my bff Sherry and I lived by when we were feeling wise and trying to figure out life.  As new moms surrounded by Good Housekeeping's pages of perfection as well as diaper pails and check books that didn't match up, we discovered this phrase together and took it seriously. We agreed, if we could keep this on our fridge with a magnet and look at it every day, and somehow live it, we would be happy.

Well 27 years later I can say that I feel I am currently living it.  Oh sure, if I won the lottery I'd have the amazing laundry room and reading nook that I've pinned to my Pinterest boards.  I'd also help families adopt orphans, travel to Ireland, and pay off all my kids' student loans.  (Actually I could write several blog posts on what I would do if I won the lottery, but I digress.)  As I muse over 2014, here at the beginning of 2015, I say this -- I do want what I have.  And that when stress returns (probably within the next 18 minutes) it will do its damage, but that even the smallest crumbs of good outweigh the pounds of bad.  Good wins.


2015 Resolutions:
1. Hike once a month
2. Second draft of novel by July 31st.