Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving - Rebooted

The day I've been mulling over for months has finally arrived: my first Thanksgiving without Cadence. In just a couple of hours I will hug her, tell her how grateful I am for her, thank her for our really awesome day together yesterday, and send her on her way to spend the day with her daddy and his family. This is one of the real-life consequences of choosing a healthy single life over a miserable coupled one. I made the decision consciously for her to spend every Thanksgiving with her dad. I know it's best for her. He has family here. I wanted her to have memories of turkey and dressing, aunts doting over her, board games and football in the background. I couldn't promise her any of those things on my own. We have amazing days together just the two of us, but I didn't want her Thanksgiving memories to seem lonely.

She and her daddy will continue the family tradition we started by going to the Thanksgiving Day Parade downtown. They will have an awesome time. I know this.

The holidays haven't been so merry and bright for me for a lot of years. This year, knowing that my girl is happily settled into a day of fun, food, family, and friends, I can begin to rewrite my holiday narrative. I have been invited to the home of one of my dearest friends—family of choice as I call her. Her children call me Aunt Julie. We will love on each other. I will be able to be me. To not worry about smiling when what I'm really feeling is sadness, disappointment, and loss—like in days of old.
I will bake my pumpkin dessert in her kitchen. We will watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (a tradition I gave up when I moved to St. Louis). I will feel their love and extend mine right back.

But let's be clear: I am making the choice to be joyous, to be thankful. It would be really easy to be sad and ache over my daughter's absence. But that choice wouldn't serve me, my kiddo, or anybody else. 
Today, I am praying for the other mamas who find themselves packing up their children to spend the day with other family members. It's hard, and not how it's “supposed” to be. I am praying that we can all breathe in what is and make it good and whole and healthy. And breathe out the “supposed tos.” To let go of what we'd dreamed for our families that didn't work out as planned.

I am praying that in the midst of missing our kids, we can have some space to heal and grow stronger. To rest from the expectations of a holiday that carries with it the weight of tradition and high expectation and be restored and revived for when we see our children next. 
Our kids are watching us today. Are we sad? Are we joyful? They are taking their cues from us. I want my daughter to feel good about today. I want her to see me happy and full of gratitude. After all, I'll see her again tomorrow. And for that I am grateful.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Morning Baking

This morning is this month's meeting of MO' Haven, the writing group that was created after the three of us each attended the Haven Writing Retreat created by Laura Munson in Montana. Maria is hosting lunch so we can build in extra time to hear about her Haven II experience, where all the attendees are focused on writing a book. I have only known these women since summer, but already they are cherished friends and unbelievable creative supports.

I volunteered to bring pumpkin dessert for today's lunch and also tomorrow's harvest dinner at church. So after lounging in bed listening to the wind blow and the rain fall, I got up and made my way to the kitchen.

This recipe stirs nostaglia in me every time I bake it. My preschool friend's mom, Lynn, gave the recipe to my mom, and it was a staple of our autumn menus. Lynn died when I was in college. Her home was welcoming and fun to visit. I miss her, and so each time I make this dessert, I feel like I am honoring her and the friendship she extended to me and my family so long ago.

Making this recipe several times a season was one of the entres into shedding my negative feelings in the kitchen. I became proficient at making it, and I received compliments when I brought it to work potlucks or other occasions. Those compliments boosted my confidence, and I began sharing the recipe, which made me feel like a bona fide competent in the kitchen.

I smiled this morning as I made two at once. I've come a long way in this kitchen journey of mine. Preparing two recipes would have overloaded my inexperienced circuits just a few years ago, and now? I marvel at the joy, peace, and satisfaction I get as I whip up this dessert. 

If you're looking for something new to try this Thanksgiving, I'm offering the recipe here in time to add the ingredients to your shopping list.

Lynn's Pumpkin Dessert

1 pkg yellow cake mix (reserve 1 C. for topping) (generic brands without pudding are best, but very hard to find)
1 egg
Mix cake mix and egg and pat into 9 x 13 pan.

2 eggs
2/3 C. PET evaporated milk
1 16 oz. Can of pumpkin
¾ C. sugar
1 tsp vanilla and cinnamon
½ tsp salt and ginger
Beat eggs slightly, add evaporated milk and remaining ingredients.
Mix until smooth. Pour over crust.

1 C. Reserved cake mix
¼ C. Butter
½ C. Sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup pecans (I just lay halved pecans in rows of three)
Cut together and sprinkle over filling. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. Do the toothpick test to make sure the center is baked.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Unplanned Morning Bonding

She was STARVING! She NEEDED a SNACK! I am SO UPSET right now!

My spirited daughter was testing my parenting at bedtime last night. I knew she was tired and engaged her as little as possible knowing that that only adds fuel to her tired flames.

I turned out the light. The darkness drained her of her fierceness, and within minutes she was asleep. I was relieved that I'd kept my cool and kept the drama to a minimum, but those flare ups wear me out. I finished what I was writing and put myself to bed soon after.

This morning my alarm sounded. I hit the snooze for more than an hour. I'm learning the rhythms of our new schedule and morning writing is harder to achieve on the days that she is with me. I decided to leave the writing for the evening and finally dragged myself out of bed. I took a shower, and while I was putting my hair in a towel, Cadence called out to me. I wanted to repair the testy moments we'd exchanged right before she fell asleep. She was waiting for me in my bed, so I snuggled next to her. I showered her with hugs and kisses and mama coos.

The minutes passed as we hugged and giggled and just enjoyed each other's presence. We picked up a conversation we'd had in the car the night before about choosing a word for the year for 2016. I asked her to guess which word I'd chosen. Love, peace, helpful, hope.

Those are great words and good guesses. Keep those in mind, but nope not my word of the year. Two more guesses.”

I told her my word was trust. “Would you be interested in choosing a word for the year?” I asked not sure what she'd think of the idea or of what word she might choose.


What word do you think might be a good choice to help guide you and encourage you?”

Without missing a beat, she declared her answer: “Faith.”

Not only did  she “get” the assignment, she picked a really great word. She is currently taking preparatory classes for baptism. Her word choice highlighted for me just how important her classes and her decision to officially join our faith community are to her.

This morning we began to plan the painting project we're embarking on: to paint our words on the wall leading up the staircase to our bedrooms. I've had a word-a-year for the past two years. In addition to painting Faith and Trust, I'll add “Let go of Outcome” and this year's Gentle.

This morning Cadence added, “I want to paint last year's word. Brave.”

Honey, you didn't have a word last year.”

Yes I did. It was brave. I've been working on being more brave.”

Who am I to argue? Why not add Brave to our wall? It's a great word. I've definitely been working on being braver too.

These hugs and conversation this morning are really filling my bucket today. Is it filling your bucket, Cadence?”

She giggled a little and said, “Oh I forgot about filling our buckets. Yeah, this is filling mine too.”

Never underestimate what a few minutes that “should” be spent picking out clothes and brushing teeth and blow drying hair but instead are spent loving your people can do to reduce stress and prepare you for a really great day.

Full Disclosure: We didn't take these this morning, but it shows the fun we have together.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dan is not my husband and other thoughts on where I am right now

My friend Dan has provided an inexhaustible amount of encouragement, coaching, and sometimes annoying, pesky moments of truth I didn't want to hear as I have built a writing habit. His suggestion that writing a page-a-day was a reasonable addition to my busy schedule was the thing I needed to tip the scale from all my “thinking about writing” to finally just writing.

Dan factored prominently in my 31 Reflections of a First-Time Novelist series. Writing those posts without including him would have left big gaps in the overall story. A curious thing came to light as Dan made appearances in my posts. Some readers referred to Dan as my husband. It caught me off guard. It seemed clear to me that he was my friend. It was instructive. It taught me the importance of writing for the reader's clarity and understanding as well as my own. 

It is not lost on me that Dan expressed more interest and encouragement in my writing pursuits than the one who once had the title of my husband. And maybe that's where the shock came for me when I read the comments about “my husband.”

To equate texts I sent to my writing friend with him being my husband felt like a leap. 

“Well, you DO write about him with reverence,” Christa said when we discussed it. 

“That would be because I DO feel reverent toward him and my people. I adore them and am so grateful they are my friends. It's natural that would come out in my writing.”

“I'm just saying that if people are new to your blog and only read your series, it wouldn't be so clear that he's not your husband.”

“Almost every reference is in the context of a text we sent. I hardly think I'd be texting my husband all these things. Wouldn't we be in the same room having these conversations?”

“Julie, married people text each other in the same room these days. That wouldn't seem out of the norm, either.”

“Well, that's just ridiculous,” I said.

But I digress.

These comments calling Dan my husband are innocent. They did no harm and caused no offense, but they did get me thinking and digging deeper about how I am feeling about where I am now. Truth be told, I'm a little touchy about the whole husband thing right now. Marriage, for me, didn't work out the way I dreamed or planned. I worked hard to put the train back on the tracks when it derailed, but my best efforts weren't enough. And while I'm happy and relieved to be on my own, the relief to be out of the confines of a mismatched union does not diminish the sadness for the things I lost or never had. 

I want a relationship and I don't want one all at the same time. I want to prove to myself that I can be a part of a healthy, thriving couple. I want a hand to hold and arms to embrace me at the end of a long day. I also don't want to screw up again, and think that staying single might spare me more heartache. 

But wait. 

I can't outrun heartache. It's part of the human experience. Really good things have come with heartache. Would I want to have missed out on those good things to spare myself the pain?

I am confused and the confusion weighs me down.

And then I remind myself to breathe. 

Deeply. That's right. How about a few more?

Elizabeth Gilbert posted this quote on her Facebook page once: “Be OK with not knowing for sure what might come next but know that whatever it is...YOU will be OK.” 

The unexpected comments from my write31days series are proving to be good for me. It's good to dig deep. To examine. To pause. To be grateful for what I have. To wait for what might come next. 

And to remember: I am OK.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Off the Book Pile: Return To Me

I am reeling from the fact that another book that was sitting in my big pile of to-be-reads for over a year contained whispers and reassurances from God so soon after the last book I took from the pile.  God is on a roll!

This time the insights came in the form of a young adult novel written by writing mentor and friend, Justina Chen. From the book jacket for Return to Me: “Justina Chen, the acclaimed author of North of Beautiful, has created a moving and powerful novel about the struggles that arise from betrayal, the uncertainty of life after high school, and the joy that ultimately comes from discovering what's truly in your heart.”

The last part of that sentence is the theme that resonated with me throughout her story. As I continue to process my fortieth year and what it means to be on my own in a way I've never been before, I was comforted to read the words of a writer who has been on a similar journey, who has asked herself the hard questions, and has written her way through adjustments and transitions.

I generally don't believe in dog-earing book corners, but I am also interested in ridding my life of arbitrary rules. I dog-eared pages one after the other as I gasped at the kernels of truth that stood out on the pages. I'm giving nothing away by sharing these passages. They resonated deeply as I read this master storyteller's words and truth.

“...opportunities would spring up almost magically when I was on the right track, that there would be an alignment of what I needed and what I was offered. That sounded too New Age-y for a reformed skeptic like me. Until now.”

This passage encapsulates the experience I have encountered repeatedly as I have owned my place in the world as a writer. I set a goal to meet with writers once a month. The stream of new writer-friends and writing opportunities has not stopped since I set this intention.

“Maybe that was all we had to do: listen to our inner voice, the one that warns us when we're on the verge of a bad decision, the one that encourages us to jump even when we're shaking, the one that says open your lips and let the truth soar where it will.”

My life has deepened and become richer because I've begun to consistently listen to my inner voice. I like the decisions I've made and the direction my life is headed since deciding that my inner voice is my own compass and has my best interests at heart.

“Where before I might have drowned in these conflicting emotions, now I k new them for what they were: the mile markers to healing and forgiveness.”

Mile markers to healing...I gasped at that phrase. What a visual it provided. I appreciate the mile markers that have appeared in my journey to show the progress I am making.

“This is what women do when they defend their dream.
They pick their way through their own sharp-edged doubts and swim through the sea of skepticism. They remember that nothing and no one can turn them into powerless victims—not reneged vows, not betrayals that have ricocheted them from one end of the country to the other.
This is what women do.
They speak.”

Letting go of the powerless victim narrative in my life has been one of the mile markers toward living a fuller, empowered life. My friend, Dan, told me that the more I wrote the truth, the more people would read my work. He continues to be right. I speak my truths each time I write on this blog and I feel fearless after a year's worth of truth telling practice. I love this passage.

“Our home didn't just look different; it had never felt more like us: wild and creative and lush with life.”

This passage resonates with me as I reclaim the spaces in my own home and reenvision how it will look in the coming months and years. It feels like me now.

“Figuring out our calling was something only each of us could do, which might explain why oracles spoke in riddles. It forces those who question their lives to think and imagine and answer for themselves. So instead of telling Jackson what to do, I asked, “What do you want to do? You, not your parents? You, if you could do anything you wanted?
That, really, was the only series of questions that mattered. And the only answer that counted was knowing our power and following our passion, no matter how crazy and quixotic and impractical it might seem to others, even parents.”

This past year I have done seemingly crazy, impractical things that have fed my soul and moved me closer toward my true self. If I'd worried about what other people thought, as I have in my earlier years, I wouldn't have done these things and totally missed out.

I have come to love Epilogues. And the epilogue in Return to Me was just right. I wanted to know what happened when the story ended and the epilogue gave just enough follow-up to assure me that all would be well with these characters.

“Healing is a long, circuitous process. But if my experience over these last seven years means anything at all, what I know is this: Reaching joy is worth slogging through the volcanic terrain of hate, and the badlands of blame, and the deserted island of self-inspection.”

The slog through the rough emotional terrain IS worth the joy that comes as a result. Every. Time.

I highly recommend all of Justina Chen's books for the teenagers in your life. I know at least one Nana who's added this book to her Christmas shopping for the avid reader in her life. But don't let the Young Adult genre fool you. Justina's stories will keep adult readers enthralled too.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Heidelberg Project

I read about Heidelberg Project in The Chronicle of Philanthropy a few years ago.

It was surreal to now see the place in person.

“It looks so much different from the last time I was here,” Tammy, our host, lamented. “More arson has changed it.

I didn't say much as I took in the colorful sights: polka dot painted houses, faces painted on the squares of sidewalk, clocks painted on plywood and nailed to trees and poles.

It was haunting to see piles of shoes, dolls, even a prosthetic leg all cast aside and transformed into art exhibits. This trash-transformed-to-art reminded me of the way society throws away people when they don't look or act the way they are expected to. Unlike these pieces, so many people, potential bubbling under the surface, are left without an opportunity to transform. It's a painful, convicting thought.

The cool wind in the crisp, sunny morning added to the haunting effect of the neighborhood.

About two weeks after our visit, Cadence's school hosted Book Character Day to raise money for veterans to participate in the Honor Flight Program. We were deciding at the last minute what character she would be.

“I could be Heidelberg Project,” Cadence declared.

“Tell me what you have in mind,” I said.

“Well, I could wear my tie dyed shirt cause artists wear tie dye.”

She listed the rest of her costume. I was impressed. She's quick on her toes. And we had everything she needed to be an artist.

Cadence gave me my story.

Tammy's husband brought his camera and explored on his own. Tammy and I were left to translate everything we saw to my eight-year-old.

“Did the bad people who started the fires go to jail?”

“No, they didn't. They were never caught,” Tammy explained.

We discussed how communities break down and distrust builds between the people in the neighborhoods and the police officers, who are helpers.

It was an uncomfortable topic to share with my child, but I don't shy away from difficult topics.

“I know I want to blog about this experience, but I don't know what to say yet. I'm going to have to let the experience settle in for awhile,” I told Tammy.

I actually did know what I could write about, but I wasn't sure I was ready to put it into words. What I was feeling that day, as we walked around the few blocks of Heidelberg Project, was out of my comfort zone. I didn't know if my feelings of not feeling safe were real or imagined. I had to confront why it was that my safety should be anymore important than someone else's. I also felt uncomfortable feeling like a tourist witnessing other people's real life--one so vastly different from my own. All of this rattled around in my head. I couldn't articulate it to Tammy and wasn't sure if I wanted to.

Cadence had more questions. We answered as thoughtfully as we could and kept walking.

We made our way to a playground. Cadence climbed on a jungle gym. I relaxed from the anxiety of my thoughts and contemplations. I saw a bar and decided to take a crack at repeating my trapeze performance. Cadence captured my efforts with my camera.

The cold air was making my ears ache. We watched the clock and began to make our way back to the car. We visited the gift shop before we returned to the car. Inside the unheated building, there were photograph prints, books, and other art pieces available for purchase. Cadence found the children's book that told the story of Heidelberg Project, Magic Trash by J.H. Shapiro. We bought it and two pins for our travel pin collections.

This place and the story that was distilled for young readers made an impression on her. I asked her if I could interview her for my blog. Our conversation is below:

Tell me what you saw at Heidelberg Project.

I saw a lot of leftover stuff from when people lived at the houses.

How were these things displayed?

There was like um, okay um, I saw like sections of signs and cool stuff.

Help our readers understand what you mean by leftover stuff:

Well, there was bad people destroyed and rioted their neighborhood and destroyed the houses and this artist whose name is Tyree Guyton was a person who collected all the junk that people have left and turned it into art. His Grandpa lived on the block and when Tyree was a little boy his grandpa loved to paint. In fact, Tyree got to help and learn how to paint with his grandpa. Tyree and his grandpa painted the house with polka dots.

And that began to transform the neighborhood from a sad, rundown memory to an art exhibit, right?


What inspired you to choose this book as your book character costume?

Well, if you would actually want to know. It first started out when I went there and I went to my room and I realized it was bring your favorite book character costume day and I couldn't realize what I was going to wear and then I was thinking that I could maybe be Tyree. So then I looked through all my clothes and picked out a shirt and pants that didn't match. But it was already arty, so then I went to my mom and said, “Do you think this looks good?” and she said it looked awesome, so I picked out that one and then my mom was like do you want to wear a bandana and as soon as I heard that I was like Kabam! Of course I want to.

Then your outfit was complete! I was impressed when you added a paintbrush which inspired me to make a card board palette to add to your costume.

What feelings did you have at Heidelberg Project?

I just thought it was cool because I got to see how much junk people left and get it turned into a masterpiece.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about our visit?

Yes, yes I do. Well, it was located in Detroit and I was staying with my (Honorary) Aunt Tammy and her family. And also I would like to tell you guys if you guys are reading this thanks to all of you who support my mommy's writing and her blog posts. Thanks for everything you do for my mom. 

(This was completely unsolicited.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

20. Rent a MINI Cooper - Revised - CHECK

When I was around thirty, I declared that the next car we bought would be a MINI Cooper when I was forty. Well here I am ten years later with a daughter, different financial obligations, and a vehicle that is paid off. This isn't the right time to add a car payment to the mix, and plus, I really like my pathfinder.  I have dreams of buying a kayak and hauling it on top.  I'm sure a MINI Cooper wouldn't want that kind of responsibility.

I put the MINI Cooper on the 4040 list as a nod to that dream that seemed impossible to achieve. The rental scenario fell through, so my friend Dan offered to test drive one with me. So in the spirit of knocking a few things off the list in pairs, I added the test drive to my train trip weekend. When this year is over and people ask me the highlights of the list, the MINI Cooper test drive will be one of the first things I name.

For one thing, I'd gotten it in my head (without doing any homework) that MINIs were way too expensive or at least more than I would dream of paying. A quick look around the dealership quickly expunged that notion. Since I am content with a used MINI, I definitely could afford one.

We picked out a 2012 black two-door MINI with heated seats and a moon roof. Those are really the only “extra features” I care about. Tom, the sales guy that approached us, was lovely. While we waited for the car, I perused the postcard stand of MINI brochures and picked out some as souvenirs. 

This one is a little plain, but I could add some stripes.

Inside the car: You're becoming a classic. Happy Birthday.
Tom told us the price, which was three thousand less than the listed price. What?!? Now I really could afford the car! 

The car was a manual, which I can drive, but it had been awhile. I pulled out of the dealership without killing the engine, thank goodness. The dealership is located just up the road from the first apartment complex I lived in when I graduated from college and moved to Kansas City.

“You know where we're going first?” I asked Dan.

“Your old apartment?”


As we headed south on the frontage road, I commented on what a smooth drive it was. 

“Your pathfinder is a truck, Julie. Of course, this is going to feel smoother.”

We pulled into the old complex, took a picture of my apartment and drove through the complex. At one point, I had to reverse, and for the life of me I couldn't remember how, and certainly not in the MINI. Dan shifted it in reverse for me and we made our way out of the complex and continued driving. 

Georgetown Apartments - my first "grown up" home

At a stoplight with my friend, Dan.
“I can't believe how much I am enjoying this. I don't feel cramped or too tall for the car. I want one. Dan, I'm going to get one someday.” 

“It's your porsche.”

“It really is. I've never cared about cars, but this is so cool.”

“The only problem is you haul a lot of stuff in your pathfinder. I don't know if you could go to something so small,” Dan reminded me.

I turned left onto a residential street and sped up. “You're enjoying this car,” Dan said. He reached up and covered the speedometer with his hands. “Guess how fast you're going.” I kept driving and then he told me to slow down when he saw the “Radar Enforced” speed limit sign. Dan's an attorney. He didn't want to have to help me out of a speeding ticket.

I turned back toward the dealership and was stopped at a red light. The intersection had a slight incline. When the light turned green, I killed the engine. I wanted to die of embarrassment. I really had hoped to not do that—especially with a “car guy” in my passenger seat. I got going again, and Dan assured me he would have done the same thing on that hill.

We returned the car and talked to Tom for awhile. I had some concerns about the size of the backseat and how comfortable it would be for Cadence. We checked out the size of the hatchback, and I was delighted that I wouldn't lose all hauling capabilities.

Before we'd started this adventure, Dan had advised me to follow his lead knowing that generally speaking dealerships are not female-friendly. It was entertaining to stand back and listen to Dan and Tom talk cars. Several times, I heard words like turbo and cylinders and thought, “They might as well be speaking German. I have no idea what they are talking about.”

Dan told Tom, “She's in the really early stages of considering the MINI, but could we have your card?” We thanked Tom for his time and the opportunity to test drive the car and walked back to Dan's car.

“Well, times have certainly changed. That low pressure approach is a welcome change to how it used to be,” Dan observed.

“If that's how they all are, I could buy a car by myself,” I said.

“The most important thing you have to know going into a dealership is your number. Know your number and don't budge on it. If they won't meet you there, then you leave.”

“Can I quote you on that in my blog post?” I asked.


Number 20 DONE.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

31. Take a Train Trip

Why do I love train travel so much? Because it appeals to my sense of adventure and romance.  For a writer, trains offer all sorts of characters and rich opportunities for people watching.  On a train, time passes differently.  There are fewer hassles.  No arriving two hours early, waiting in security lines, and the people dropping you off can wait with you and take you right to the train door.  On a train, you can make your way from car to car, take a bio break, buy a snack, and still make progress toward the destination. 

I took reading material for every mood.  A novel, two writing books, back issues of a magazine.  I carried my laptop and my yoga mat.  I did Friday's page-a-day early in my trip.  I dozed. I stared out the window.  I breathed easier. I thought about a lot of things: my cross country trips to Los Angeles and Seattle, my trip to Michigan with my daughter a few years ago.  I thought about the people waiting for me in Lee's Summit.  How much I love them and how happy I was to see them after all these years. I thought about my book and my next steps.

I took photos along the way. They are my postcards from this trip. 

Waiting for the train in Kirkwood

Waiting to board

The view from my seat as the train pulled away from the station

One of my favorite photos - Jefferson City

Off the train in Lee's Summit

Train moves on to Independence and Kansas City

There are more stories that fill in the space between when I got off the train in Lee's Summit and got back on two days later.  I'll share them in separate posts.

I had a great weekend. I felt refreshed. My bucket had been filled with good conversation, uproarious laughter, and even some tears.  I was happy and melancholy as I boarded the train to head home. I didn't want the weekend to end. I turned on my music and watched the sun set.  Train travel lets you ease back into the real world slowly. When it was dark and there wasn't anything else to watch out the window, I settled into finishing the novel I was reading.  I wrote my page-a-day. I day dreamed. I cat-napped.  I reflected on what a fantastic weekend I had.  The four-and-a-half hours zoomed by.  It felt like time travel.

The 4040 list keeps reminding me that I don't have to wait for special occasions to slip these trips and activities into my regular life. I won't let years pass before I take another train trip.

I didn't want the weekend to end, but I had another trip to look forward to

Arrived in Kirkwood - ahead of schedule

Thursday, November 5, 2015

32. Donate a Heifer to Heifer International - CHECK

On a piece of Aboriginal art stationery, I made a list of “life goals.” I didn't date it, but Motherhood was the first item on the list, so I'm guessing it's at least ten years old. Number three on the list is: Donate a cow to Heifer International as frequently as possible. In these ten plus years, I have not donated a single cow or even a portion of a cow, so placing this goal on the 4040 list ensured that I would finally do it. 

As the months passed and my life and finances changed dramatically I wondered how I was going to swing a $500 donation. I had the money in savings, but I questioned whether that was the right move at this time. And then a little miracle in the form of assisting my friend Christa at a wedding came along—twice. This was unexpected income and right away I knew what I would do with it. My trips to Indianapolis and Lake of the Ozarks to carry lenses and wrangle self-absorbed Mothers-of-the-Bride were transformed into my donation to Heifer International.

Heifer International takes the “teach a man to fish” approach to helping those in need. It is this philsophy that I was drawn to when I was an active member of our campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity twenty years ago. 

A few months ago, I read a back issue of Heifer's World Ark magazine. Every issue is a great read with beautiful photography, which captures the people Heifer serves in vivid color and detail.  The profiles and stories it shares from the field always stick with me.

This is when I met Dalia, a woman from Rwanda who has experienced unimaginable horror. Her photograph struck me as I realized she and I are the same age. Look at that face. She is radiant. And thriving because the gift of a goat came into her family's life. That gift first improved the family's nutrition. The gift of a goat also transformed her into a businesswoman. 

I haven't stopped thinking about Dalia and how different our lives and experiences are. On days when my life seems daunting in some way, I think about Dalia and gain perspective. If she can make her way through her circumstances, so can I. I also remember that I am in a position to help, and so I want to do what I can, when I can--joyfully.

I am grateful I put donating a heifer on my 4040 list. I wouldn't have thought that donating money and running a race or hanging upside down on the trapeze would share commonalities, but they did for me. They were goals that stretched me and required me to think creatively and to trust myself. I have proved to myself once again—soon it will be forty times over—just what I am made of: determination, grit, optimism, creativity, and more. Knowing this about myself seems like a good return on investment. I look forward to fulfilling the “as frequently as possible” part of the life goal.

PS: Curious about what other items were on that ten-year old life list?

Organizing business as sustainable income
Take a Heifer study tour
Maintain healthy fingernails
Have a home open to anyone in need
Be a tourist in my own town
Take cello lessons
Accumulate less/more love
Live simply

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You can call me Julie Yamaguchi - Lessons 1 & 2 of 8

Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russian skaters. Hard work.  I don't want to fall.

These were the thoughts that skated through my mind as I stepped onto the ice for my first two lessons. There were two other women on the ice ready for our lesson. I was relieved. Moments before, I'd laced up my skates and appeared to be the only adult taking lessons. I felt the familiar unease of a new experience and kept breathing.

A woman approached me, and asked if I was enrolled in a class. She introduced herself as the teacher, and invited me to follow her onto the ice. The first lesson was a skills assessment. I know how to skate, but I don't know the technical names for anything. The teacher spent time with each person meeting them where their skills were on the ice. I was pleased that each time she came by she confirmed that I had the hang of what I'd been practicing and I was ready for the next thing.

That first night I marveled at what the other women were working on. They were figure skating. Free style. They were doing fancy things. I got excited and terrified at once. “Don't watch them. It will freak you out. Just stay right where you are and trust that when it's time to be introduced to those moves, you'll be ready for them.” Can you hear how reasonable my self-talk has become? How “in the moment” is becoming my default? 

Just like the trapeze artists, they make skating look so easy. Cutting Edge.  These were my thoughts as lesson two started.

Lesson two reinforced the role of muscle memory and the importance of repetition. My moves felt awkward, and I couldn't seem to muster the power I needed to propel myself forward and the next moment I was doing it. I learned how to half swizzle on both feet. First in a straight line and then I graduated to half swizzling in a circle.

I'm a right-handed skater, which does not necessarily corresponded with being right-handed off the ice. With this determined, my teacher taught me my first “fancy move.” The pivot turn. I dug my left toe into the ice and using the half swizzle I practice all class, I pushed my right foot out, twirled, and drew my right foot back with my left and then shifted my weight to my right foot and glided on one foot—arms outstretched.

It's impressive the way I'm being taught how to figure skate. Just as I suspected last week when I had my little “stay where you are” chat with myself, each move I am taught is a building block to the next move and by the time I get there, I feel confident that I can master it.

More than anything what my time on the ice is reinforcing is how good it is to be active in my body. I marvel at all of the physical challenges I put on my 4040 list and how I am meeting each challenge and exceeding my expectations. I'm also reflecting on the FUN I've had. I spent entirely too much of my first forty years not having fun.

Adulthood is HARD. Physical activity—in all the forms I've tested this year—has helped counterbalance the hard parts of life. I can't get over how different I feel being present in my body versus being stuck in my bookworm's head and heart.  I move differently.  I feel confident.  I feel happy. As I skated back and forth in my half swizzle repetitions I told myself, “I've got to keep taking lessons. This is fun.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

21. Participate in Writing Challenge - CHECK

When I put this item on the 4040 list, I did not have a daily writing practice. It felt like a stretch goal for sure, but one I was certain I was up for. I didn't have a topic, but I figured I had a year to figure that out. 

Fast forward a year, and I DID have a writing practice and a topic, “31 Reflections of a First-Time Novelist. I also had a bit of arrogance. “I write every day. This should be easy.”

Except it wasn't. Yes, I write every day. But I don't write audience-ready material every day. This is where the surprise challenge and fatigue came in for me. But I persevered.  I reminded myself of the big picture and kept at it. 

The challenge held other surprises for me. I was a newbie to this 31 dayer community and its Facebook participation. I figured I'd take a backseat and watch more seasoned people do their thing while I learned the ropes. I did not anticipate taking the role of cheerleader and encourager. 

It was uncomfortable hearing so much negative self-talk. A lot of bloggers had put unbelievable pressure on themselves and they expressed feelings of failure almost before the challenge began. I wasn't witnessing much joy in the process, which made me sad because my writing practice is drenched in joy.

I know why these sentiments made me so uncomfortable. I recognized my earlier self in them. These feelings of perfectionism and shame and guilt and aggravation had long been a part of my self talk and I didn't even realize it. I see now why I always felt a sense of inertia. I couldn't muster the energy to propel myself forward in my pursuits, whether it was writing or in simply washing the dishes some days. Of course, I couldn't manage forward motion. My negativity had me mired in the muck. I have worked hard—with the help of friends—at recognizing this BS and turning that noise down. My life is so enriched because of that one move. I was sad to see that this negative self talk was an obstacle for others.

I thought about Laura Munson and the impact of her positivity and mentorship. I decided early in the challenge that Laura's was going to be my approach in this community. I wasn't going to stand by as other women got mired in their negativity. I knew they were the only ones who could change it, but I wasn't going to sit by idly listening to it. I challenged them, as others have done for me, by encouraging them to take a walk (a strategy straight from Dan, my writer-coach-friend), take a deep breath, and forge ahead. 

I felt like a broken record when women started lamenting how far behind they were in the challenge. 

I typed these words over and over when I heard their worry over missing a day or seven:

“In a month or a year you will have created a collection of 31 posts. At that time, it will not matter how long it took to create the collection. Take a break, take a breath, and then get back to it. You can do this!”

Before this challenge, I would not have envisioned myself assuming this role, but after 270+ days of writing daily, I felt I'd earned the credibility to speak up. I could see in new ways just how valuable Dan's encouragement and challenges to my beliefs about my abilities has been. 

I will admit to feeling some impatience too. While I don't know this for certain, I have a sense that a lot of participants have more flexibility in their days, meaning they don't get up and go to a job outside their home.  While they are busy, they have more control over their daily schedules.  I have a day job and a 90-minute round trip commute, and I managed to get my posts published most days by 7 a.m. I had to stop paying attention to Facebook complaints about how difficult it was to get the day's post completed.

I came to appreciate how a specific topic can make the writing challenge easier to navigate. I suspect for many women, they had picked a broad topic which made it harder to decide how to approach each day's writing for 31 consecutive days. The blogs I chose to follow were also very specific and I didn't get the same sense from these bloggers that they were struggling with what to write each day. Having drafted an editorial calendar for my posts was definitely a key to my success. I didn't follow it to the letter, but it served as a guide and helped me with setting a pace for my overall story and made sure that I was covering everything I wanted to say about writing my novel.

This challenge taught me that I have a lot to learn about the tech side of blogging. There are a lot of improvements I need to make. But I didn't try to add that to my list of to-dos during the month of October. I kept my focus on the writing and will whittle away at the blog improvements in the coming year. It was a situation of learning what I didn't know I didn't know. But now I do, and I can make incremental progress toward a more sophisticated blog. 

If I decide to participate again, it will only be if I can find a specific enough topic that I can write about with fresh, separate posts for 31 days. Right now, I have no idea what that will be, which is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. 

I have made new connections over the past month, and I am excited to continue building relationships and readership through this community. I am really proud of my final product—my collection of 31 posts about writing a novel for the first time. It will be fun to re-read the posts as my writing life expands and includes experiences I cannot even imagine today. I am so glad I found this challenge, put it on the list, and can mark it off.