Friday, October 12, 2018

Confirm Your Humanity

cat getting chin scratched
I type my email address into the box and click. Another screen pops up: “Confirm your humanity.” I check a box and it is done. Humanity confirmed. But I wonder what am I doing in my life today to confirm my humanity?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Home is Safe. Maybe Too Safe.



My home is my haven. My safe space. A warm place. The place where I can always return no matter what is going on around me.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this home when we first met. But we’ve been through a lot together now, and we have become comfortable with each other.

Something is still missing, though. I think I figured out what it is. It is missing the next evolution of me. It has the function that I love, and the decor does what it needs to -- no more, no less. And yet, this space is generic enough that it could belong to almost anyone.

But it doesn’t belong to anyone. It belongs to me. So, one of my goals for this year will be to make it more me.



When I first moved in, the room colors left by the previous tenants were not right for me. I had the walls covered over in a perfectly blank-canvas shade of off-white. My life was starting over, and I decided this house should start over with me.

We survived the restarting, this house and I. We’re off and running. We’ve built good form. Our foundations are solid. Time to add some style.

My home is safe (and safe is good). But now it’s time to show some personality.



This post is part of a series for the month called Gentle January guided by prompts from the inspiring Susannah Conway. #gentlejanuary2018

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

What It’s Really Like to Have Anxiety


“People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.” -Glennon Doyle

I can’t say with any certainty that I am viewed as having it all together. I have, however, been complimented for my ability to remain calm or to calm others. In my days as a project manager, it was a strength often highlighted in my performance reviews. One supervisor actually used to mistake my calm attitude for a lack of understanding the urgency of the issue, until he learned I very much understand the urgency, but can’t address it if I get frantic.

During my application process to become a Hospice volunteer, the coordinator told me after speaking to my three references that she had never seen a single word used so consistently to describe someone. What word is that, I asked. “Calm. Every single person commented on how calm you are.”

Calm. That is a marvelous state.

Imagine how it must feel to be known for being calm and to hold a diagnosis of anxiety. It sometimes feels that my entire self has been taken from me.

How does anxiety present in me? My body feels tight. My breathing becomes really short. My heart thuds faster. I awake at 2 a.m. and remain awake until 5 a.m. That is assuming I even got to sleep in the first place. Every possible decision — from what action to take to what shirt to wear — becomes steeped with dread of making the “wrong” choice.

Then, when I lie in bed in the wee hours of the morning worrying about how I can’t sleep and noticing how short and fast my breaths are, I remember that my mother’s heart attack was preceded by shortness of breath (side note: women’s symptoms are often different than men’s; know your tells!). So I tell myself that it’s likely “only” anxiety. Calm yourself. I put on soothing music with nature sounds, I focus on my breath — which is oh my goodness, really short and rapid. What if it really is a heart attack? which, of course, only antagonizes the anxiety, which speeds up the heart, which shortens the breath, which… you see where this is going.

I have had two EKGs in the past 14 months. It’s not a heart attack (though I will still be mindful of signs). When I received the diagnosis of “general anxiety” last year, the doctor asked if there had been any changes in my life recently. I laughed a nervous, short-breathed laugh. In the previous year? Marriage ended. Single motherhood. New home — that I had to take care of all by myself. New town — where I knew no one when I arrived. New job. Ex-husband’s new girlfriend. New school for my son — who was starting kindergarten. New puppy. Nothing major there!

I thought I had been handling things rather well, all things considered. Sure, I had moments where I broke down and cried. That was to be expected. Most of those occurred behind closed doors, mostly so my son wouldn’t worry. People kept telling me how well I looked, how they would have been a wreck, how calm I was.

So calm.

And mostly I was. Except when I wasn’t.

I got through all of that. I came out the other side. I used every tool in my arsenal to battle anxiety: medication, therapy, the gym, healthier food choices, yoga, early bedtimes, time with friends, time alone to unwind, prayer, meditation, gratitude. I beat it.

The thing about anxiety is that the other side is a bit of a myth. You don’t beat anxiety. You handle it. You manage it. You have really great days. You look calm. Because you are calm. Until one day you aren’t.

Anxiety doesn’t care that “calm” is your thing. It wants to know why you’re not frantic about any of the millions of things that could be going wrong right now. You could be having a heart attack! How can you just lie there? You can’t wear a t-shirt. What if it gets cold? During an anxiety attack, these worries carry equal weight.

It’s not easy, and it’s even less easy to talk about it, because what if people think you’re crazy? What if you are crazy? And some people will wonder what you have to be so anxious about. And some people will tell you to shake it off, which will make you want to shake them. But you won’t, because you’ll be too worried that maybe they are right and maybe this should be much easier to shake off.

This is what it’s like to have anxiety.

Someone you know and love may have this, and you may not even know. Because sometimes the people who need help look a whole lot like people who have it all together.

And honestly, that’s where I’ve been recently. So, I’m back to embracing the many tools in my arsenal. Anxiety isn’t a one-time battle. It’s a war, and I intend to win. Preferably, as calmly as possible.

Hummingbird Moth

A few years ago, I was photographing a flower in my backyard, when a strange creature flew in front of me. It was much larger than a bee, too small to be a bird, and looked a bit like an imagined creature from a movie.

It didn’t attack me, nor did it seem interested in eating me (both of which I tend to assess quickly in wildlife), so I turned my lens toward it and captured as many frames as I could before it zoomed away.

Viewing those photos on my computer screen moments later, I was just as confused about what I was seeing. It had a fuzzy green body with brown and clear wings that had been flapping rapidly the whole time. Protruding from the front of its face was a long, curled — tongue/snout/antennae — something.

I forget what magic words I typed into Google that produced similar images of something called a hummingbird moth. A member of the moth family, this creature flutters its wings quickly and demonstrates flight characteristics similar to those of a hummingbird. Pretty accurate name.

I haven’t seen anything like it since. Until two weeks ago. I was, once again, photographing flowers in my yard (different yard, different town), and saw what I thought was a butterfly sitting atop a coneflower. I moved in close, zoomed in closer and took a few photos, at which point I realized, this was no butterfly. Its body was too large for that. And was that fuzz?

Examining the photos on the screen, I recognized the same characteristics: fuzzy greenish body, brown wings, long something-or-other protruding from its face. Sure enough, it was a hummingbird moth.

Just the other day, I was visited by two more at my picnic table during a lunch break at work. Perhaps they are my spirit animal of the moment.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

When You Can’t Unsee

Some things once seen, can’t be unseen.
Some things once known, can’t be unknown.
It is wise, then, to be cautious
of what one comes to see and know.
Once the eyes are open,
and the heart is broken,
all that remains is to act.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Icicles

It was a chilly week here. Mother Nature delivered a bit of snow and a lot of ice. So what did I do? Snapped the Olloclip on my iPhone and took some macro shots.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Don't Wait



We spend our lives
waiting.
Waiting in line,
at traffic lights,
for the bus or train to come,
for our big break.

We wait to be loved,
to be accepted,
to be allowed.
We wait for help,
for guidance,
for the right time.

We wait for our turn.
When will it be my turn?

Don’t.
Don’t wait for the right time.
The right time is now.
Right now.
Don’t wait for guidance.
Seek guidance,
and when you find it,
share it with others.
Don’t wait for help.
Offer help.
Don’t wait to be allowed.
Allow yourself
to be where you are
and to do what you need to do.
Don’t wait to be accepted.
Accept yourself.
Accept others.
Accept God and His goodness,
or the universe and its magic,
or whatever it is you believe that brings you to your knees.
Don’t wait to be loved.
Show love.


Right now, show love.

 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Discovering the Enduring You in the Wake of Separation and Divorce

Something strange happens when you uncouple. You worry about providing for yourself and your child. You wonder if it’s something you can handle on your own. You figure out how to co-parent separately, how to be the only parent with your child on nights when he is with you, and how to be alone on nights when he is with his other parent.

None of that is the strange part, though. That is the stuff you anticipate. No, the strange part is that you realize that you must now be complete on your own. That you are now free to be only you—fully, mindfully you. That it is an opportunity but also a requirement.

My first few months of uncoupling were spent setting up my new life—finding a new home, making it ours (my son’s and mine), finding a steady job (so I didn't have to stress out over freelancing), and otherwise settling into this new phase. In the midst of this wake, I had to stop myself from considering what he—my other half—would think. Because I am no longer half of a partnership. I am now a solo-ship with a co-parent.

My home, my daily life, and my nurturing are up to me. What, then, is me? What is part of me in this moment? What is part of the enduring me?

These are the questions that consumed me with everything I touched, with every decision I made. Is this something that I am keeping because it represents me? Or am I keeping it because it is already there?

Who am I now that my focus is myself and my son? What do our days look like? What are our routines?

We have set up bedtime rituals that work for us, rituals that are new since the uncoupling. After the usual bath, brushing teeth, getting in pajamas, and so on, we pray and do yoga. Sometimes he requests Reiki, so we add that in, too. These are our nighttime rituals—his and mine.

His nighttime routine at his dad’s house is undoubtedly different, and that’s okay. Because as I explore what is part of the enduring me, his dad is likely doing the same.

And as we each figure out what our lives look like now, we see things about each other that maybe we didn’t see before. There are moments I am tempted to say (and he probably is, too), “You never did that before.” No, he didn’t, and no, I didn’t. But this is new territory. My bedtime routine with my son is much different now than it has ever been before. Because now is now, and now is different.

Discovering who you are in the wake of uncoupling, you realize that, not only are you not entirely the same person you were during coupling, you also are no longer the same person you were prior to coupling. This is a new way of being, with new experiences written in your heart. Things will never be the same as they once were. But, you know what? That's okay. You get to define the new you. I have spent a year-and-a-half defining the new me, and I think I'm turning out just fine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Funny Thing About Power

I am more than you think I am.
I surprise people with my age, my experience, my strength, my ability.
First impressions can be mistaken.
My power is in your underestimation.

I am more broken than you think I am.
Do not mistake my perseverance for wholeness.
I smile because I am content, or because I am sad and know it will get easier, or because sharing a smile is much nicer than the alternative, or because I know something you don't think I know.
My power is in your inability to decipher one smile from another.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What I Read in December

December was a busy month, but that didn’t stop me from feeding my book addiction. Here is what I have been reading this month and what I added to my bookshelf.

What I read


Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp (borrowed from the library): A journalistic memoir in which Knapp describes her relationship with her dog Lucille and explores other people’s relationships with their dogs. This was written in the 1990s and Knapp has since died, which made me sad that there aren’t current works to read. I loved her storytelling. By the end, stories about other people and their dogs came with such frequency that I longed for the earlier part of the book where she told her own story so beautifully.

Zen Pencils-Volume Two: Dream the Impossible Dream by Gavin Aung Than (borrowed through Comics Plus Library Edition): A fun graphic work that sets famous written works and speeches to cartoon images. It’s fun to see how this artist adds story the words of others.

Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain by Dana Suskind, MD (gifted to me via Audible): An interesting exploration of brain development in young children that gave me a few ideas and made me nervous about my inability to go back raise my son from age 0 to 3 years again.

Adulthood is a Myth: A Sarah's Scribbles Collection by Sarah Andersen (gifted to me via Kindle): Silly cartoons about the truths of being an adult. This one is just pure fun. Read it for an afternoon of giggles.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine de Landro (purchased at Book Riot Live in November): A graphic novel in which non-conforming women are sent to another planet to serve time. I wanted to like this much more than I did. Lots of people had great things to say about this, but for me, I preferred listening to their hype more than actually reading it.

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline (borrowed from the library): This was the December selection in my book club. It started off slow, but got rolling about 100 pages in (more than I would have given it had it not been a book club pick). However, I was stunned at the number of writing and editing issues in this book. It definitely needed more work before publishing.

Currently reading


The Dinner by Herman Koch (borrowed audiobook from the library): This is my book club’s January selection. I am listening to it because only the audiobook was available at the library, and I am so happy it worked out this way. The narrator is dynamite. He has a pleasant tone, uses all the right emphases and inflections, paces his reading powerfully, and changes his voice subtly and perfectly when characters speak in the story. I don’t listen to audiobooks often, but this one is making me rethink that decision.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (received for free from BookBrowse in exchange for review): This historical fiction tells the story of the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World. I was already swooning at the language in the prologue and, so far, the story is delivering exactly what I expected.

What I acquired


Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson: I borrowed and read this book last month in the Comics Plus Library Edition app. I am super excited to have my very own copy to re-read again and again thanks to a Christmas present from my fellow unicorn-loving, book-loving, copy editor friend. (Coincidentally, I gave her the same thing.)

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly: This is the February selection in my book club, and it was already on my wishlist, so I am excited about this pick. It wasn’t available through my library, so I went ahead and ordered the hardcover for myself.

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng: This one hasn’t arrived as of the time of writing this, but it is on its way. I heard about it on a podcast and added it to my wishlist. I found a used hardcover copy on Alibris for $1.99 (plus $3.99 shipping), so I ordered it. I suspect it might pair nicely with Hidden Figures.

Your turn


What books have you loved (or not loved) lately? What do you have your eye on?

Disclaimer: I have used Amazon affiliate links throughout this post. Should you choose to buy something through those links, they will send me a small fee, which I will likely add to my book fund. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How My Word of the Year Helped Me Ignite My Life

Every year I choose a word to set an intention for that year. I don’t often set resolutions, but when I first heard about the idea of a word for the year, I grasped the idea and ran with it. Some of my previous words include shine, focus, joy, and badass.

This year my word was IGNITE. I chose this word because I wanted to get this new chapter of my life (as a newly single mom) started. I wanted to spark my fire, and I believe I succeeded.

During the course of this year, I have set out to meet new people, find new hobbies, and rekindle my enthusiasm for old hobbies. I wanted to find the elements that were fully me with no external input -- the activities, ideas, and habits that were true for me.

Meetup was a huge help in finding activities and people to do them with. Through Meetup, I joined a monthly book club, which is something that I really missed from my previous locale. I love this group of people and, regardless of whether I liked the book, I always look forward to great conversation with these new friends.

When I decided I wanted to hike and felt safer going with other people than alone, I searched Meetup and found the Women’s Hike and Write. This group really couldn’t have been more perfect for me. We go on moderate hikes, then pause to journal, then continue back. I never would have imagined someone else would like to bring a journal with them while hiking, let alone the number of women who have actually participated. Plus, the organizer of this group and I have become close friends.

I met with another temporary book club throughout the summer as we read Think and Grow Rich together and discussed a few chapters each week. We reunited this fall over dinner, and it was so fun to see what everyone was continuing to think about the book. There is talk about perhaps reading another book together in 2017.

I continue to check Meetup for new groups and events to join. I tried a meditation group (and would have returned if my schedule allowed), and I am now keeping my eye on photography groups, writing groups, and a social group for introverts.

Outside of Meetup groups, I have made a point to strike up conversations with parents of other children, with neighbors I see outside when I walk my neighborhood, and with the people I encounter as I run errands. Sometimes the conversations go somewhere, sometimes they dead-end. I don’t consider myself to be great at talking to people I don’t know well, but I am proud that I am trying more often. Some of the local shop owners and employees recognize me when I walk in. It feels so good to be welcomed by them.

I took advantage of programs at my local library, like a one-night watercolor class.

I hosted my first party at my home. And people came. Lots of them. As I looked around at all of their friendly faces introducing themselves to each other, it occurred to me that every person there is someone I met in the past year since moving to this home and town. I thought I was just hosting a party; I didn’t realize that it would become a milestone marking how far I have come in one year.

I went kayaking.

I went to a Yanni concert.

I attended children’s birthday parties where I was the only separated/divorced mom.

I joined in meditations, Reiki circles, and discussion groups hosted by my dear friend and Reiki master.

I drove almost two hours to see Glennon Doyle Melton speak.

I read more than 80 books in one year. I didn’t even know that was possible. It helped that I began receiving books for free to review -- another new venture.

I became a regular visitor of Longwood Gardens with my camera and journal (and sometimes a book) in tow.

I completed my Hospice volunteer training at the beginning of the year and have spent the rest of the year visiting patients and assembling packets the nurses need for patient care.

I learned how to set my hair in victory curls. I don’t think I learned all the right words for that, so perhaps that statement doesn’t make any sense at all. Being that a fancy hair day for me means that I blow-dried it rather than letting it air dry, this was quite a feat. And, dangit, I walked into that 1940s-themed party looking the part.

This year marked the first time I flew with my son by ourselves. We survived (obviously). He now looks forward to air travel and is quite good at it.

This year also marked my first solo vacation -- a quick weekend to New York City for Book Riot Live.

I submitted articles to two publications. Neither have been accepted, but I wrote them and submitted them, and I’m proud of that.

I heard one of my poems read in front of an audience for the first time. The audience responded with “that’s right” and “yes” and “mm-hmm.” The second time, they cheered.

I started a new full-time job after 6 years of freelancing.

I got a dog.

I hired my amazing friend, Amy Pinard, to photograph this new version of our family.

With my son’s help, I chased rainbows. They appear in my home on sunny mornings, and we have made a ritual of seeking them each morning and sometimes making our own if there aren’t any. (See them by following me on Instagram @livewonderstruck.)

I joined a gym, and I continue to go three times per week. I swam laps for the first time since I was about 10 years old. I bumped the treadmill up to a running pace for two minutes. (As I have never been a runner, this is a huge step for me.)

I survived divorce. Again. (That’s twice.) I am slowly learning to accept that number. It carries a stigma, and it makes me feel like a miserable failure, like I have made poor choices. Then I think, Oh no. I’m Ross. (Ross from Friends, that is. He was worried about life after three divorces.)

I learned how to peacefully coparent with my ex-husband. I even (sort of) befriended his new girlfriend.

I cried. A lot. But I smiled more than I cried. This has been a hard year, yet overall a good one.

This new chapter has been full. I could have squeaked by. I could have hidden under the covers. Instead, I chose to step out of all of my comfort zones and see what might happen.

My life as I write this looks very different than it did one year ago. Keeping the word “ignite,” and more specifically, the phrase “ignite my life” top of mind throughout the year, I experienced many things I otherwise may not have. I showed up, whether or not I felt ready. I tried. That has made all the difference.

As I sat on the train in November for my first solo vacation and pulled out the book I brought to read, I had to laugh. The book was called Burning Woman. I do believe I am on fire now.

Looking ahead to 2017, I have my new word ready. I have been trying it on for size, and it feels right. That word is SACRED.

As I continue to live a life that is fully me, fully mine, I want to make intentional, delicious choices that will serve my highest and greatest good. Choices that will serve my family, that will nourish my body, that will allow me to send goodness and happiness out into the world. Choices that will enrich our (my and my son’s) experiences. Sacred choices.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Secret Language of Dogs: a book review

The Secret Language of Dogs: Unlocking the Canine Mind for a Happier Pet
by Victoria Stillwell
Published by Ten Speed Press on October 11, 2016

The Secret Language of Dogs is a non-fiction look at the behavior of dogs. Stillwell presents the psychology of dogs’ body language and actions in a way that is easy to understand. She answers whether dogs feel love, guilt, and a slew of other human emotions. She advocates for positive training rather than punitive training.

Although you will find the occasional training tip, this book is not a step-by-step guide for how to train your dog. It is purely about canine behavior and qualities. It will help dog owners understand what is going on in their dogs’ minds based on their posture and actions, which, in turn, may help the owner determine the best course of action, if needed.

The chapters are broken down into small subchapters, making the content very easy to digest. This also means you can pick it up and read a section in a spare moment without having to commit to a long reading session. (However, if a long reading session is what you want, you will breeze right through this book.)

The book itself is very high quality. It is a sturdy paperback measuring 7 x 9 inches with full-color photographs throughout. The photography is crisp, professional, and will elicit plenty of “awwws.” It makes me want to pull out my camera for a photo session with my pup.

2016-08-06-11-32-52

Both educational and delightful, I recommend The Secret Language of Dogs to anyone who has a dog or plans to get one.

I received an advance-read copy of this book from the publisher, Ten Speed Press, via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, and I have used affiliate links in this post. Please see my book review and affiliate disclaimer.