Lessons in Summer…

And officially, August is behind us.

Back in the day there used to be a seasonal “What I Learned” blog link up, and even though those days are long gone, as I attempt to regain some sense of routine and productivity, I decided keeping track of “what I learned” this summer would be a healthy practice.

With the June-August block of time fittingly in our rear view mirror, I thought I would sit down and take some time to share those things with you.

to slow…

This Covid year had already given us a crash course in slowing, but as the world began to (sort of) reopen, and many people attempted to return to the way they remembered life, before the Pandemic, my summer took me deeper. This slowing, in the warm and muggy summer months felt more of my own doing.

Hammocks and afternoons reading on the porch became luxuries that I could embrace rather than just WISHING I could, because I was so busy all of the time.

Tall glasses of sun tea, and late dinners of grilled fish and vegetables became a standard that we could enjoy because we were present in those moments.

Slow=Present. Connected.

to substitute…

This summer we experienced the major malfunction of our fridge/freezer, costing us a lot of groceries. We can’t really afford to replace it, so we’ve had to be creative about how we place items in it. It’s been fun.

Simultaneously, our most used appliance died. THAT loss hurt. Thankfully we love the company and they replaced it, even out of warranty, though it did take 4 weeks to happen.

In the midst of that four week span of time, our actual oven died.

I say all of this to show that, in a time when we were not wanting to “run to the supermarket” continuously, and our means of meal making was challenging the very way we did things, we learned to substitute.

One silly example: I learned that though I love guacamole on so many things, the walmart brand of single serving guac is actually delicious, affordable and keeps longer than the larger ones I would usually by or make.

That is just one little example of the many ways we learned to adapt amidst the challenges. What we found, now that we are on the other side of that, is that sometimes it’s ok to take the “shortcut” and substitute. We don’t HAVE to make things harder to meet other people’s expectations.

to ask…

June kicked of as emotions were newly high over the murder of George Floyd. All over the internet there was activism, support, and black out challenges to support not only the Black Lives Matter movement, but to continue waking up the world re: the realities of systemic racism and injustice.

Inspired by the Share The Mic Now campaign (of which Glennon Doyle was a founder), I wanted to be involved in something that made a difference. After digging around, and watching others take to social media with similar campaigns focussed within their passion/career field, I was encouraged to launch a Share The Mic Now campaign for writers, and so I did.

At first it was TERRIFYING.

Growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s, I was taught that colorblind is the response of a non-racist. To accept all skin colors, you have to be blind to them. I was taught you do not ask someone questions about their ethnicity. So even though amazingly courageous conversations were happening (finally) re: how absolutely WRONG that mentality is, it was still a part of my core. I felt SICK approaching other women and asking them to participate in something BECAUSE they are Black.

But I asked… And almost everyone did.

And then, four weeks later, we did it again.

And the experience CHANGED MY LIFE. The biggest way it did this is that it stripped away a wall and created very organic connection between women. Through those adventures I got to know some of the most beautiful and amazing fellow writers. I am so proud to call them peers, and grateful to consider many of them friends.

We have had some hard talks. I have learned (and am continuing to) so much. Connecting with other female authors is empowering and life breathing…

to continue…

Through that experience I learned something else too…

Early on, in June, when I was witnessing the online community ON FIRE over the injustice, while the real world burned too, I heard several prominent Black speakers say that the “support of white people is nice and needed” but that they couldn’t trust it, because they’d seen it before and it always faded when something else shiny and new came around.

I was shocked.

I had said I would read and listen and learn, and I was.

I had committed to placing myself in uncomfortable situations for change, and I was following through.

I didn’t ever remember seeing anything like this happen before so I truly believed this was the pivotal point when eyes (and hearts) would be opened. I wasn’t able to see things as so many Black Americans could, because I am white. This isn’t meant to be shaming, and yet, I began to see how so many react as though it is…

The more I learned, the more my vision fine tuned. I was (and still am) changing. There is no going back. It took a little while for me to realize the majority was not changing with me.

People went back to their normal lives, and the spotlight dimmed. It was subtle, but I woke up to this reality like a slap to the face, when a fellow believer verbally attacked me over a social media post. She told me I “was what was wrong with this country” because I believed this was a cause worth fighting for. That i needed to “shut up” and let people go on to their normal lives. The post in question had been someone else’s. I had shared it in a “story” suggesting it was, if nothing else, thought provoking.

Within a week I had women from the Collective Community pouring out very similar stories. We were all sick over A) the disgusting responses of people we had once considered “ours”, and B) so heartbroken because what we had seen was merely a fragment’s fragment of what generations of Black men, women and children have felt constantly. Sobering.

It’s so easy to be swept up in something meaningful, when the whole world is floating that current. When the bend comes, and we have to go it mostly alone, against the water’s strong push- it’s a whole other thing.

Continue. The best news, despite hurt and sadness, is that we find new people we can call “ours”, and those people are way more ours than the ones who came before.

to adapt…

With all of our slow, extra time, we were able to do some things we hadn’t had time to do before. One was finally putting in an outdoor movie space. We’d wanted to do this since we moved here in September of 2018. We had slowly acquired the items needed and even attempted it last summer. We couldn’t figure out how to do it well, plus we were so busy…

But this summer we did it, and it’s amazing! Neighbors love it. We’ve had friends over and they love it. Hands down, the highlight of our summer!

When our local theater opened, last week, we lucked into some passes. Pre-Covid, we were AVID movie goers. We love movies, loved the experience. It was just “our thing”. In fact, we were at the theater two days before they went on lockdown, because I was doing some presswork for a small release. Coronavirus was already a major topic, and we left that screening terrified we were about to die. In the small, packed theater we had fellow patrons coughing here and there, and the energy among us all was stiff and rigid. As the credits rolled, I remember thinking “I feel like this was emotional and I should be crying, but honestly I just want to get the hell out of here!”

With our free passes, we braved going back last friday afternoon. It was weird. We were actually the only two people there, and had no anxiety about anything. We just didn’t love it. It felt long and uncomfortable. We realized that, although going to the movies had been such a big part of our lives, we hadn’t really missed it. We each admitted that our home theater is so much more fun.

We were both surprised…

What about you? What did this summer teach you?

never too old…

I have, for a long time now, been inspired by the people who challenge us to reflect back on our growths and progress. The very act leads me to more intentional choices. For a long time I’ve followed along as Emily P. Freeman has blogged these things, and once or twice I may have even half heartedly played along.

The truth is, that at the start of every month (and every season) I determine that I am going to create a place for inspired reflection, within this space. And every single month there is something that happens, which makes me release myself from that plan.

Every single month.

So, throughout January I was adamant with personal notes (in my planner) that I would NOT let this fall to the wayside again. And then, as January wrapped up, what happened? I was hit with a blinding aura followed by a cluster migraine that dominated my brain for the better part of five days… As I reentered life and began to take note of the work I needed to make up, the glaring realization of yet another month failed, smacked me right in my side.

Maybe it is February fourth.

Maybe it feels too late, like what’s the point now?

If that’s true, ok. I’m here anyway…

In January I learned-

  • I cannot hold any element of my reality to an unrealistic ‘one size fits all’ standard.
  • How absolutely valuable and motivating it is to have a trusted group of women who I know will offer me honest feedback, speak truth to/over me and inspire me.
  • Oddly, a lot about sugar.
  • How my illness has affected so many parts of my life, most unexpectedly being my tastebuds. Every single day, dietarily, is like a trip to the Craps table in Vegas…
  • That bouncing/dancing/exercising on a rebounder is maybe the most fun way to burn calories EVER. (then you add in all of the amazing benefits it offers the body, immune system, etc.) win/win!

In her email Emily asked three thought provoking questions, for reflection…

What was my most life-giving YES this month? I would have to say it belongs to an opportunity that I can’t publicly share just yet, but it will be amazing and I can’t wait until I can!

What was my most life-giving NO this month? Ohh… I had been leading a small group for a few local women whom I have grown to cherish. While I really value them, and loved our time together, I came to a point work wise where SOMETHING had to go. It was a good thing, but hard too.

What is one thing I want to leave behind, moving into February? Looking for reasons to bundle up with Netflix. I know, it was cold and grey out. I had flare attacks. I get it. But also, a lot of those times I could have actually slept/rested, or picked up a book. Netflix has become too easy. I don’t want to leave down times like that, behind me. Just the ALWAYS resorting to that choice…

On that Note- What I watched and enjoyed:

Anne with an E season 3

Younger

Jojo Rabbit

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

What I read:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January (beautifully written but, in the end, not my style of book.)

The F*cK It Diet (still reading this… but it is BRILLIANT and necessary!)

Real Life Changing Discoveries:

My Rebounder (this isn’t my first rebounder experience. This thing is THE BEST rebounder we’ve ever seen though. At least for under $100)

Dog Hair Roller (If you have pets… this may be your best purchase. CHANGED OUR LIVES!)

Things I did and LOVED:

  • sent handwritten letters every week.
  • kept my Christmas cards hung up all month. My husband was annoyed, but they brought me so much joy! (they came down 2/1 because I love my marriage)
  • continued listening to the Catlick podcast. (HOOKED!)
  • Coffee dates with my husband. We’ve had some RICH time together in our local coffee spots.
  • Time out, quiet Sundays.

Did you salvage any January growth/amazement/accomplishments/discoveries? If so, I’d love to know!

the little things…

Back in the Fall, my husband and I had planned a mini-weekend trip. We have season passes to a fairly popular amusement park, in Ohio, and decided to spend a Saturday there, and then hit up Costco on Sunday morning, while coming home.We LOVE Costco. Before we moved to Pennyslvania, Costco was our weekly source of organic produce and misc. foods. We miss it, a lot.

Amusement parks are pretty amazing, aren’t they? If you love rides, they are made for you. If you love ridiculously overpriced (and mega unhealthy) fair-style food- ALSO for you. If you love live performances, sometimes random in nature, this is your scene. As an empath and an observer, I love the energy of amusement parks. There is so much adrenaline and thrill induced JOY. Sometimes, simply walking through the park, I am in awe of the priceless memories and moments being made. Countless people, all coming from vastly different places in life, together for something GOOD. I love it!

We were so excited to go! We’d made sure our dog, Elenor was cared for. We made sure we would return from our trip exhausted, but welcomed by a clean home. We had done all of the things that one is supposed to do… As we crawled into bed, the night before, I quietly said something so off-the-wall strange-

“I don’t know if I’m more excited about the amusement park, or Costco!” I had said it to be funny, but it was also true. What I didn’t expect was for my husband’s face to contort into a surprised understanding as he exclaimed “I know! I keep thinking the same thing!”

The first time those words had made their way into my brain, I felt pretty stupid. Warehouse stores are known for being anti-minimalism and promoting a consumer culture of MORE. Neither my husband nor I ascribe to that culture of accumulating simply because. Even so, my brain chided me for being materialistic. My husband is my life partner. We have shared everything over the past twenty-six years, including some pretty hellish experiences, and yet- yet, I found myself hesitant to admit that silly truth, to him.

The next day, we sat in the car for far longer than either of us wanted. Beyond the trip there, the park was shut down due to being over capacity, and this was AFTER we’d sat in bumper to bumper traffic for HOURS, just waiting to get in. We were both working overtime to maintain a sense of patience and adventure, but our will was fading. Oddly enough, the one thing that our forced conversation and banter returned to again and again was our optimism for Costco, the next day. We had connected over something SO silly, and that connection got us through a frustrating time.

Life is hard, and marriage is no exception. We live in a society OBSESSED with wedding culture, but the general attitude of marriage tends to be akin to death. It’s sad really, because, despite how hard it can be, marriage can be rewarding in the way that no other relationship is. There is not another person on the planet I would rather have travelled through the pits of hell with, just like there isn’t anyone else who I would willingly have gone through the stages of hangry with, when it seemed our fun adventure was a bust…

We eventually left the line, and went back to our room. We were disappointed, while each trying to act like it was OK, because it was an adventure. Eventually we made our way to a great little waterfront place for dinner, and as we decided to walk along the twilight pier, after our meal, I noticed headlights on the road leading to the park.

Dare we? I asked… I knew he was frustrated and I was certain he’d say no. Instead he shrugged and said, why not?

We did, and it was really fun! We had five fun filled, night time hours. We met truly fascinating people, each of us having our own stories to share about the day the park shut down. It was an awesome adventure, and we can’t wait to do it again! None of it had gone as planned, but because we opened up to each other (even about the trivial and embarrassing stuff) it went better than we could have imagined. Marriage is like that too… It requires honesty, vulnerability and sticking out the inevitable frustrations. It isn’t easy, but it is SO worth it.

In the end, it is the little things that bring about human connection. The shared interests and experiences. That is the very foundation of our relationships. The big moments matter, but it is the little things that make the life.

If you’re curios, Costco was AMAZING! Equally as fun, (no, I’m not exaggerating) I give it a 10 out of 10.

Magic wrapped joy…

Anyone who truly knows me can attest to the fact that i LOVE gifts. Long before anyone was publishing books about Love Languages, I was enamored by the mystery of a wrapped present. I loved the magic of giving them, even when I clearly knew what was inside. Emotionally, I engaged in the unveiling of the secrets, with the recipient. I am even an absolute fan girl of the empty wrapped gifts meant only to adorn hotel lobbies in December. I don’t know why.

I was just sharing a story, with a friend, about one Christmas when I was a little girl. My grandmother would put her wrapped gifts out weeks before Christmas and I loved looking at each one. While I obviously had a vested interest in the packages with my name on them, I held a pretty committed intrigue to each gift, regardless of who it belonged to. On this particular Christmas, my grandmother had a wrapped gift for me, in the shape of an octagon. It was roughly ten inches long, and octagonal around. I was enchanted. Every empty moment spent at her home, that season, became filled with me sitting cross-legged beneath her tree, that gift in my hands. What WAS it? What could it possibly be? I would rack my brain imagining everything I knew, shaped even remotely similar. I concluded it had to be a candle. A really large, octagon shaped pillar candle. The disappointment of receiving a candle for Christmas was real, but also much smaller than the satisfaction I would obviously feel, come Christmas Eve, when I unwrapped it and had been right.

If gift guessing had been an Olympic sport, I would have gone out for it EVERY SINGLE YEAR… (I also would have been disqualified in ’85 for tearing 2″ pieces off of the back of every present beneath my mom’s tree- the equivalent to “doping”, in this event)

Christmas Eve finally came. Our tamales were eaten, merriment was high and, as the youngest, my time came to begin the unwrapping festivities. I’m sure you will be surprised to learn that the amazing mystery gift was not a candle. In fact, it was two Barbie boxes taped together. (because Barbie boxes used to not be square) It was absolutely GENIUS and while I give my grandmother full credit for being the family Einstein of gift wrapping, she inspired my creative gift wrapping beast to emerge… (Yes, I DID learn it from watching her! Thanks, ’80’s, for the commercial sentiment that is applicable to so many things!)

So yeah, now that it’s a legit “love language”, it is safe to say that gifts are mine. As I’ve matured, my gift giving has too. i LOVE it. It is my absolute favorite thing, of all times. (EVER!!!) If I had the money and corporate sponsorships of Oprah, everyone would be getting presents, all of the time. I keep running gift lists for everyone in my life, from friends to family. I have a ridiculous number of loved ones reach out to me for guidance and direction year round. (I wouldn’t say I’m a gift expert, but I will say I am pretty ok at it.)

I’m not Oprah though. I’m not Ellen. I don’t have awesome companies giving me things to give to people I like. I have me. I have my starving artist budget. The plus side to this shiny (and yet equally dull) coin is that this means I am far more intentional about the gifts I do give. The less than fun flip side is that I don’t get to give a fraction of what I would like. (If you were hoping that this silly post might end with presents galore, it won’t. I’m sorry- but I do promise imaginary puppies for everyone!!!)

Take my husband, for instance. Gifts are NOT his love language. They are not something he cares too much about. He could never again give a gift to anyone and be absolutely capable of both sleeping at night, and seeing his reflection in the mirror… (I know, it sounds like I’m describing a MONSTER, but I’m not. Chw is a really great guy, he’s just a little flawed when it comes to presents. I have learned to accept him…) He also, hasn’t been the best gift receiver. Personally I feel that it may be my purpose, on this earth, to one day create a course helping weak receivers not shatter the hearts of the generous givers they love- because this is REAL. If you’ve never known such hell, count your lucky stars… Because when you pour all of your love (and thought and time, and therefore self) into the perfect gift, for it to end up shoved in a drawer or never worn/used- it kills… You just can’t please some people… (by no fault of their own, of course. They just don’t care. And are damaged. They may crush souls for breakfast, but I’m not here to judge. Whatever.) Even with this reality, I love him, so I continue to torture myself and therefore, for him, I have three gift lists…

There’s the:

  • ridiculously boring stuff he actually wants that, in my opinion, make for really crappy gifts. (a tire gauge? really? Nothing says Merry Christmas, you are the love of my life like a tire gauge- am I right?)
  • awesome gift ideas that he should love, yet fit within my crazy small budget.
  • the ten million dollar list of things that i KNOW would make him blissfully happy, (Apocalypse Tesla? YES! Your own Japanese Steakhouse, on call, in your own kitchen? DONE!) but that I also know I will never get to give him, and that’s ok… It’s still fun to dream, and the dreams that really make me happiest are the ones when I imagine I get to give really wonderful gifts to the people I love…

Take my podcast, for instance. Every single guest I talk to, I think of the perfect gift for them. I can’t buy it for them, but I deeply wish that I could in an overwhelmingly powerful way, send them a creatively packaged present, after we chat, so that they could hold how much I value, respect and appreciate them, within the palm of their hands.

Perhaps loving via gifts, is less of a gift itself… I don’t know. I am a tortured, writer soul, i am no expert. What I do know is that Christmas is around the corner and so many of us go above and beyond (heart wise, time wise, stress wise, and financially) and it isn’t healthy. This season that we are approaching is the most depression filled, suicidal season within the average calendar year. While there are many factors at play here- finances and the expectations around our capabilities concerning our money/spending/gifts/travel are huge. It doesn’t have to be that way. I have something coming, that can help… If you aren’t on my email list- sign up to stay in the loop because next Friday a few great things are happening. Relevant and timely things… (Just keep in mind, I’m not Oprah!)

Back to that Octagon Christmas… While I remember the amazement I felt, discovering what the package was- I couldn’t begin to recall which Barbie’s they were. I can’t tell you anything else I unwrapped, that year. I have literally zero recollection of what Santa brought Christmas morning. I am forty-three years old, and do you know what I DO remember? The beauty and the magic of that gift. The mystery, and the weeks of wondering, which led me to absolute joy.

The moral of this story: The JOY is in the giving. (the second, somewhat deeper moral: If there’s no joy in the process- it’s not right and you need to stop.)

the simple pleasure…

The world loves for us to apologize, doesn’t it? I don’t mean being remorseful over making a solid mistake, I am talking about the practice of feeling so incredibly pathetic and inadequate that we apologize simultaneously within a strain of honesty. In fact, we are so skilled at this subtle art of sorry that we don’t even have to utter the word… We deliver the message within tones indicative of the inevitable disappointment that we are surely bestowing upon those around us. A coworker may ask where we want to grab lunch and we know full well that we can not afford to go to lunch, and also that we brought leftovers from last night. So, instead we might scramble for excuses, as if having tight finances somehow makes us less than. We turn down the slice of cake with apologies about our diet, shame about our intolerances, etc. We do this with the small things, and the larger things. I’m sorry I dated people before I met you, I’m sorry that I can’t have a baby, I’m sorry that I have issues tied to past trauma… While we should become well practiced at being remorseful for hurts we’ve caused, there is never a reason to apologize about ourselves.

Take note- you probably subtly apologize forty times, in a given day. Ashamed you drank that coke, embarrassed you chose that movie, a mix of both shame and embarrassment that you love that band… Will people ridicule you for it? Maybe… But so what? We can’t all love the same things.

A few weeks ago my bff K was here visiting, and she was teasing me (lovingly, of course) for being obsessed with the Masked Singer. She couldn’t believe it when we encountered another friend who also loved the show. She thought we were both crazy because that show “looks absolutely ridiculous.” Sure, I could have not watched it that Wednesday, since she was here. That isn’t the choice I made. I giddily sat down to watch, and she sat there too, and it turned out it wasn’t quite what she thought. She found it interesting, and though that’s awesome, I wouldn’t have been hurt if she’d hated it. Are you a 47 year old woman who still listens to Brittany on your morning commute? That’s cool. Are you a grown adult who keeps Otter Pops in your freezer? Is your favorite food Kraft Mac & Cheese, but you embarrassingly pretend it is Rack of Lamb instead? Are you obsessed with Dr. Pimple Popper and a closet watcher of those things that ooze? Also cool… Whatever it is, (within legal and ethical boundaries obviously, I’m not a maniac) it’s fine. Bottom line: Give yourself the freedom to be you as authentically as possible, every single chance you can.

My very favorite movie is a little known French film entitled Amelie’. (In case you actually haven’t heard of it- that was a joke. It’s a world wide, award winning movie.) In it, the narrator takes a moment to talk about the unusual things that each character loves and derives great pleasure from. I think about it often- what my things are.

Let me ask you now, what are those simple, every day pleasures that bring you the sort of happiness that money can’t buy? (these things, they aren’t embarrassing, they are not things to be ashamed of. Love yourself and embrace yourself, quirks and all…) So, seriously, right now- grab a pad of paper and make a list. Listen to that precious, inner you and what they whisper to you. It matters. If you feel so bold, reply to this email or leave a comment and share a few…

My simple pleasures that bring me a happiness money can’t buy:

  • lowercase letters where capital letters “belong”. It’s wrong. People judge. I don’t care. (Someone once told me it was a sign of a writer’s insecurity. Nah- it is just an odd thing that I take a thrill in.)
  • using the ellipsis…
  • the smell of fresh cut pears.
  • salt on watermelon.
  • K-pop & K-drama.
  • dogs. ALL. of the dogs.
  • shapes of clouds.
  • the smell just above my husband’s lip, but just below his nose. (it is my favorite thing in the whole world- and it is free!)
  • wildflowers.
  • walking barefoot in the grass/barefoot on the beach.
  • the sound of a baseball bat cracking as it hits a ball.
  • equally- the sound a paddle makes, as it dips into the water. (when I was a little girl I would “row” my hands in the bathtub over and over and over again. It both thrills and soothes me.)
  • that moment when you learn you have something unique in common with someone. (I wish I’d began a journal decades ago, collecting those moments.)
  • Entertainment awards shows.
  • researching who people are, behind their celebrity.
  • watching bunnies/birds/squirrels in the yard.
  • the smell of clean laundry.
  • a heavy quilt, at the end of a long day.
  • eating a soft serve ice cream cone with a spoon.
  • Monopoly. (Sorry- not sorry!)
  • And as previously mentioned- the Masked Singer.

Your turn…