Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More Change - New Blog

I'd like to say I hate change, but I'd be lying. I love it. Change always brings something new into play and I love playing with new toys.

I'd like to say that I can do it all, but I can't. Sometimes it's just too easy to spread ourselves so thin we can't do anything.

I'd like to invite you to join me at for continued conversations ... probably even moreso than have been happening here at this location.

I might post something here every once in a while, but more than likely I won't.

Find my new blog at Join in the conversations and play along. There will always be words to read.

Monday, September 09, 2013

My Wonderful Friends

The title of this post is a little sappy ... the content might be even worse. Here ... read it and see.

Last week I spent a lot of time thinking about Diana Nyad's amazing swim from Cuba to Key West. The woman blows me away. I love her passion for and dedication to a dream. If we all spent more time focusing on things like that and less time worrying about minutiae we'd be happier.

Anyway ... the mantra she used over and over throughout the swim was "Find a Way." That process of focusing her mind on moving around and through obstacles kept her swimming for 53+ hours. She wouldn't give up.

For the last several weeks I've been thinking about the people I have known throughout my life. One of the greatest joys of Facebook has been the opportunity to reconnect with so many of them and discover that they have been living lives that are interesting and wonderful. They have successes and setbacks, they love and they play. They find joy in so many different things. They have fears and make stupid mistakes. They do great big things and they do small things that might impact just one person. They've raised children and are intimately involved with their grandkids. They are normal ... just like me.

There are people who I knew only as acquaintances when I was younger and I find that I missed so much of who they were because I was so self-involved. I have met friends online through other friends and discover amazing connections and relationships, even though I may never meet these people in person. They are creative ... they are gorgeous ... they are funny ... they are tender ... they are talented ... they are amazing.

(Obligatory friendship picture - TB as a kitten & Leica. Too cute!)

They love animals and explore places in the world I will never see in person. Some of their beliefs are different than mine and some of them make me wonder if they've lost their minds. They obsess over the craziest things and are as vulnerable to hoaxes and lies as the next person.  They are normal ... just like me.

But the thing I've discovered is how much I love these people. I laugh with them when they share their crazy antics, I get emotional when they share their successes and I cry with them when they feel loss and pain. I am terrified that because I have opened myself up to so many more people, I am going to have to experience that many more deaths and painful outcomes. However, my love for my friends tells me I can't do anything else. I don't want to ever lose these connections again. In many cases, it took me over 25 years to find my friends and I won't give that up without a fight. Even if I have to be here, watching as they go through pain.

One of the things I've discovered as I watch this is that Diana Nyad's mantra - "Find A Way" - is more than just a mantra. It's a way of life for most of us. We might whine and complain when confronted with a struggle, but we find a way through it. I have seen extraordinary love and joy, support and encouragement come to people in their darkest days. These connections help us find a way.

Most of all, though, I find that I am so stinking proud of the people I know who have found their way through a life that is filled with twists and turns, pain and struggle. My heart thrills with them as their kids graduate or succeed ... as they find new outlets for their creativity ... or move mountains that seemed immovable. They start new businesses, try new avocations, complete big projects, move on to new careers. They find ways to make their dreams come true, they meet new people, reach beyond themselves to new heights, they encourage others to do the same.

I am in love with the people who surround me, whether in person or online. I am constantly made aware of how wonderful they are ... how wonderful we all are.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Really Random - Trust Me!

It was a good weekend ... and I should be back to work right now because I have a book to finish.  But, all of these images are floating around in my head and then I put them in my camera and now they're on my desktop, so next I think they should be in a blogpost.

Friday night, Max and I went out to dinner with best friends ... at my favorite restaurant ... well, one of them. I watched Fran wrestle a heavy gift bag from the back seat of her Jeep and wondered what in the world she was doing. She looked at me as if I was nuts. My birthday? Oh, holy moley ... I hadn't even thought about that. Granted, it's next week, but she knows I'll be head-down in writing mode at the cabin and this was their chance to help me celebrate.  Whoops. This getting old thing does wonders for remembering things like birth dates. When my family and friends surprised me at my 50th birthday, I thought it might be a great time to just start ignoring that date on the calendar. They think I'm facetious in my protests. I'm not. All those numbers do is annoy me. They try to remind me that age is more important than life. I have to tell you that every single year after that 50th birthday has been a great year. Between getting my Master's Degree and starting to write (and publish ... whee!) books, I haven't had this much fun at any other time in my life ... and I had a lot of fun in those previous 50 years.

Anyway ... Fran and Leonard gave me this:

I love Lodge cast iron. Given any opportunity, I will prefer to use cast iron.  Now, I'm probably not going to put this dutch oven into a pile of coals and cook a peach cobbler, but I can think of a million things to make on my stove top.  Mom went through a cast iron phase and there is one skillet left over from that.  I remember her having a corn cake pan, but have no idea where it ended up.

And then she gave me these:

Amigurumi Crochet - STAR WARS!!!  I'm going to have some fun with that!  I was telling Fran that my mother thought she could teach me how to knit. Oh, it was a complete failure. But, at some point I decided I had to learn and found a wonderful woman who owned a little yarn shop. I took class after class from her until I finally figured it all out. Her best advice: it isn't that difficult, you can do this.  She was right.

Saturday morning Max and I got up and headed out to run errands. We began at the laundromat. When he changed the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, he came out with a Bic lighter and handed it to me - question in his eyes.  I didn't recognize it. He asked if I was doing anything fun ... like weed. And if I was - I should be sharing. I continued to protest that it wasn't mine, but I'm not sure if he believed me.

However, when we got back home and I was folding the laundry, I pulled THIS out of the pile.  Yeah. It's not mine either, but it was good for a really hearty laugh.  I tossed it in the trash, and then when I was driving back up here to the cabin yesterday afternoon, I called him and asked if he wouldn't pull it out and take a picture for me for this blogpost. I told him he didn't need to make the shot too 'arty,' and he thought dressing the poor teddy bear up would be a good idea. Ummm, no. No, it wouldn't.  He decided that the lighter and the thong had probably belonged to the same person.  This has happened to him before. I remember folding a bunch of laundry several years ago and pulled out another thong.  That time, though, I asked if he knew who the owner was. The poor guy's 'deer in the headlights' response made me laugh. I'm a mean wife.

A week or so ago, Max got a new smart phone. I was rather excited, since that meant that I could take his Android. I've been using a Blackberry and was looking forward to something a little more up to date. Yep. A 2-year-old Android phone is what I was looking for. I spent most of the weekend getting it adjusted to my personal usage habits. Someday I'll get it all figured out.  I love gadgets and toys and don't have nearly enough money to spend on all the things I believe would make my life more fun.  That's a good thing because I really don't have a place to put all those things.

I love my new phone, but as I cleared the photos off my old phone, I realized that I was looking at the earliest pictures of TB in my life. Oh good heavens he was so small and adorable.

Now, the tiny little kitty cat that came inside pleading for his life, begs me to let him back outside as often as possible and stays out as long as I will let him stay there!

The culmination of this great weekend occurred today - Diana Nyad finished her fifth and final attempt to swim the 103 miles between Cuba and Key West. She did it. Our family paid attention to her incredible feats in the 1970s and I have been following her through her last three attempts. I was so shocked in 2011 to discover that a 62 year old woman was ready to attempt something no one else on earth had accomplished ... and now, two years later she has gone all the way.

I woke up at 1:15 this morning to check her progress and realized that she had at least another eight hours. There was no sign or threat that she was in trouble, so my confidence level raised and I went back to sleep. At 6:15, though, I was up to watch the end of the swim. There has never been an event this exciting or a person this inspiring for me. She has reminded me that grit and determination continue to be important. A dream can be realized.

Now ... I have a novel to finish!  That's my dream.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Your World View - Optimist / Pessimist?

I have a friend with an extremely negative worldview. If there are five different interpretations of a someone's actions or words, he will choose the most negative of them and then react according to his interpretation, rather than the actual behavior. There is also no learning curve with this person. No matter how many times someone proves they can be trusted or that they will follow through or that they will always behave in a way that is supportive, the negative interpretation happens first and there is no acknowledgment that he might have been wrong. The cycle repeats ad nauseum and it becomes difficult to believe anything he says about anyone. No one in this person's life is trustworthy. He is always skeptical.

On the other hand, there is my sister. It has taken years and years of beatings and slapdowns for her to finally accept the fact that there are mean people in the world. She gets hijacked by friends and family alike because her first instinct is to trust their motives and actions. I used to go out of my mind when we owned a business together because salesmen could walk in and she would get sucked into their spiel. The next thing I knew we were listening to long drawn out sales pitches until I'd finally had enough and made them go away.  She is the best of us in the world and even though I know it is dangerous, I'd like to be more like her in this regard.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive / optimistic person and all of a sudden this morning it occurred to me that this dichotomy is why there are such interesting comments about my books.

I get crushed by the negative reviews that show up. They suck the life out of me and no matter what anyone says to me, I internalize them until they actually stop me from writing. It's as if there are people who believe I should never write another word because what I've put out there is so awful. Consequently, I'm under strict orders to go nowhere near my reviews. As long as I'm obedient, the joy returns to my writing.

It was hard to realize that when I began writing the Bellingwood series I had the most fun I'd ever had in my life ... doing anything!  I'd finally found it ... you know ... that thing that completes you.  Then, the reviews came in and all of that was replaced with a feeling that I had no business intruding on these people's lives with my words. What was I thinking?

I can talk a little bit about this now, because I'm way on the other side of it. As long as I don't pay attention to the 'haters' (who are gonna hate), I am back to having more fun than anyone deserves to have.  (Please don't let this part of the blogpost become your focus.)

There is something about optimists and pessimists though, and the difference in their worldviews that is triggered by my books. Originally I set out to write something fun and show the world how much I loved the folks in rural Iowa. All of a sudden, people were saying terrible things about my characters and the story itself (comments about my writing ... well, damn ... those hurt, but okay).

The women who befriend the main character, Polly, were looked at with suspicion and derision.  I wrote them as women who extended themselves to others and easily made friends, building relationships and friendships. The sweet stories that are told in the books drew extremely negative reactions - people said they couldn't believe that this was even possible.

Then it occurred to me that I could probably identify those who believed there were horrors behind every tree and those who believed the best about people based on how they reacted to my stories.  If someone lives with a pessimistic world view and believes the worst about people, they will hate what I write and call every action into question. They don't see hope easily and for them, joy comes with a price. Their first reaction is to criticize and to assert themselves as an authority so they don't get stuck in situations they can't handle.

On the other hand (and thankfully these people are more numerous than you can believe), there are those who have weathered pain and struggles and still believe in the goodness of others. They know what it is like to encounter genuinely friendly people because they are that type of person. It is easy to be around my readers because they like folks and will trust them first and allow others to be real and make mistakes.  Judgment doesn't occur because they recognize that they've been there before themselves.

These things make me consider my own behavior. I want people to recognize me as one of those wonderful women in Bellingwood who are open and ready to bring new friends into their lives.  And I want to be Polly Giller (the protagonist of the Bellingwood series), who sees the best in others, no matter what their background.

I want to trust first and learn whether or not I've made the right decision - rather than mistrust at the outset and discover that I was right all along.

See, that's the thing with negative reactions to the world. If we begin by being mistrustful, it only takes one time to justify our behavior - even if one thousand other interactions disprove us.  But, if we believe that it happens only once in a thousand times, we see the world through eyes of joy and happiness and others will be more ready to respond to us with the same behavior.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Could you change your brand of toilet paper?

Last year I got tired of buying toilet paper all the time and hauling it around, so I checked out Amazon's 'Subscribe and Save' and discovered that not only could I have the UPS guy deliver it right to my front door, but I would also end up saving some money. They didn't have the type of toilet paper I was used to, but I went ahead and placed an order. When it showed up, I did NOT like it. At all.

The only problem was that I had forty-eight rolls of toilet paper. I was committed to this new stuff, whether I liked it or not.  Five months passed and the second shipment showed up. I didn't think a thing about it.

Five more months ... almost ... passed and I realized I wasn't going to make it until the next shipment arrived, so I purchased a four-pack from the grocery store. It was the stuff I'd always used up until my big decision to shop from Amazon. I couldn't believe it. Now I didn't like the old stuff.  The toilet paper I had been using for years and years was no longer my favorite. I couldn't wait to finish the package and get back to what I was now used to using.

As I thought about this, I giggled because first of all, I knew it would probably end up as a blog post. But secondly, it occurred to me that change isn't always about leaping into something new, it's about leaving behind something that we are comfortable with - that we are familiar with.

The 'old' may not be better than the new, but we hate the idea that change is involved.

It really bothers me to discover areas of my life where I am so averse to change. That's not the way I was raised.  Because my father was an itinerant United Methodist pastor, we moved pretty regularly. We packed up everything we owned, moved into a new community and a new house. We made new friends, got used to new shops, discovered new ways to get from our house to the schools and fell into new routines. It didn't occur to us to complain or whine about it because both Mom and Dad made sure that they expressed excitement over what was inevitable. They talked about how much fun we would have meeting new people. They always took a couple of road trips so we could see the new town and get excited about our new school and the new parsonage and the new church. They would pick out one thing or another that would be fun for us to know about our new home. Even packing up the house for a move became opportunities for them to encourage us to look forward to the new home. Mom would muse about how her furniture would look in the new place and get us involved in thinking about what we might do with our new room.

For us, moving and change meant that something exciting was in store for us.

I've changed colleges, jobs and homes several times throughout my life and have always approached them with a sense of joyous anticipation. When we closed our business, I looked forward to the next adventure. When I transferred from Asbury to Grand Canyon University, I could hardly wait to dive into a new program.

There is nothing I love more than changing my living space around. I don't do it as much any more because it seems that I have way too much stuff in my life, but one of these days I'll grow uncomfortable with my writing area and everything will be unplugged and pulled away from where it currently resides and shuffled to make a better work space. It happens every six months or so whether it needs to or not.  I really look forward to changing things.

Most things ... because when it comes to changing my brand of toilet paper, I guess I prefer the comfortable and familiar.

The funny thing is - it doesn't really take long for something new to be comfortable and familiar.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Inflammatory Conversations

I'm beginning to see rapid re-posts of this horrid letter delivered to a woman who was babysitting her autistic grandson. It is shocking and disgusting.  Many comments I see in response to this letter are just as shocking and disgusting, though. People call for terrible things to happen to the woman and it makes me realize that so often we do not understand how to perpetuate love and kindness - we are more likely to bring more vile behavior to the table because we are so offended.

Yesterday, I was waiting for my laundry to finish when a woman walked in to begin hers. She was chatting on the phone and since there was no one other than myself there, I listened to what she was saying to her friend - she was speaking loudly and clearly within three feet of me.

However, I wanted to hug her and tell her that she was exactly right.  Apparently, the friend wanted to verbally destroy someone who had hurt her, but this gal went on and on about how that would only add fuel to a fire that needed to be put out. When the friend said something about how her feelings were hurt, the woman told her that feelings were temporary, but the lessons she taught her children would be life-long and she must want to teach them to be kind and loving, not mean and hurtful.

The woman talked of her ex-husband and how it would have been easy for her to say terrible things about him because of what he'd done, but she wanted her own kids to grow up understanding forgiveness, love, and kindness. She made a choice to treat him with respect and encourage her kids to do so as well even though he must have done awful things to her when they were together.

The conversation went on and on as she listened to her friend and attempted to calm her down, reiterating a call to be sensible, if nothing else, for the sake of teaching children the right way to interact with others.

Even in our response to awful behavior, we must remember to not lower ourselves to another's level.  We can't justify their actions by behaving as badly as they do.

My father told of a man who came in to his office once a month, like clockwork. As soon as he got into the office he began to curse and swear, verbally destroying everything that was happening around him.  Rather than getting upset with him and making things worse, Dad calmly listened, expressed his disagreement and thanked the man for taking the time to come in.  After a while, those visits began to become more random until he no longer had anything awful to swear and curse about.

I have a tendency to react quickly with my mouth and so I often walk away from a situation rather than respond to it. My response won't help the situation and I won't win anything by reacting, so a quick retreat is generally more appropriate. I have to ask myself if my words will change anything. If the answer is no, I don't need to encourage any continuation of a bad moment in time.

I have also found that publicly telling someone about their poor choices inflames the situations as well ... unless of course you are in the first grade and don't know any better.

When I did my student teaching in an elementary school in Cedar Rapids, I had a music classroom filled with first graders. The back of the piano faced the class and I was seated so I could look over it, see the children, and still play.  One little boy came up behind the piano, got up close to me and said, "I wet my pants and need to go to the office."  Apparently, they were prepared for this and had fresh clothes for him to wear. So far no one else in the room had seen what he had done and I knew that all he needed to do was leave by the door right behind me and still be saved the embarrassment of wet khaki pants in a class full of peers. I told him that it was fine and he could leave. I didn't want to inflame the situation by making this public.

He chose, instead, to walk back over to the side of the piano and stand in front of everyone. Why? I have no idea. Then he took off running out the door and down to the office.

Sometimes you can't help but make something public, I guess ... and after reading this awful story about a woman who needs more help than the autistic child she is degrading ... I thought you needed a story of an adorable child who still makes me giggle.  It occurs to me that he is at least 30 years old now. He'll never know how much he's made me smile over the years.

Instead of calling for this woman's head, avoid inflaming the discussion. Be that kindness and love to those around you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Am I Good Enough?

This post has been a long time coming. I'm not much of a complainer or whiner, but sometimes it just gets overwhelming.  So ... here's my heart.

The thing about putting yourself out there is that you expose yourself to criticism and ridicule.

I'll be honest with you. That is NOT something I choose to do easily.  I've always been much more comfortable in the support role; encouraging and building up my friends.  I know just what it means to be told that you aren't good enough and it is important that those around me always here me telling them they are doing a great job.

As much as I loved my father, one thing he did poorly was telling his kids how great they were.  Dad wanted perfection from us. When I brought home a report card with straight A's, he asked if there had been an opportunity for A+'s. I despised having him attend any of my performances because the first thing he did when we got in the car after a really exciting evening was say, "That was a very nice performance, but ..." and then he would begin listing all of the mistakes and problems he had seen.  It was as if nothing was good enough for him.  He couldn't focus on the great moments of the performance; only the mistakes.  There were some very long rides in the car from the high school to our home.

When I finally got up the courage to confront him with his behavior after a particularly grueling session of "here's what you did wrong and here's what everyone else did wrong," he was surprised.  It was never his intention to tell me I wasn't good enough; he was very proud of me.  He had simply recognized the mistakes and was talking about them.

Maybe he didn't understand that every single one of the mistakes I'd made had already resonated so deeply within me that I was feeding into his criticism of me and absorbing it, making it more than what he meant it to be. What I needed from him was affirmation that my mistakes didn't define me.

Artists, composers, musicians, authors ... anyone who creates ... warily places their creation out into the world and waits with bated breath to see what the world will do with it.

When it is ignored, we might be a little shocked. So much time had been spent in creation and so much attention had been paid to this that it is surprising to find no one else really cares.  But, we move past that and look for those who might share the same interest.

When it is accepted, we feel a little glee that others understand those moments we have invested, but we are still wary.

When it is celebrated, our hearts fill. It's as if the most precious part of who we are is now a welcome part of the world.

But, when we are criticized, everything good we believed about ourself is set aside and all of the negative comments we've ever heard begin cycling through our minds. We aren't good enough. We shouldn't even try.  We gather our creation back in, hold it close and swear to never let anyone see it again so neither of us can be hurt.

I didn't understand my father's need to criticize our performances and when I told him that it was hurtful, he was surprised and then began to adjust his behavior. He was MUCH better as we grew older, understanding that his job was to support and encourage rather than to criticize and thus shut our creative sides down.

Mediocre and bad reviews suck the life out of me. The first thing I do is question whether or not I should even continue writing, because apparently someone thinks my work isn't worth the time I've invested in it.

It takes everything in me to overcome those words and move forward.  And then I tell myself that I had the courage to put myself out there. I hear my sister and friends reminding me that there are a great many others who love what I've done.  Little by little, bit by bit, I return to normal. It doesn't take long ... sometimes just a couple of hours, but those two hours can be a killer.

The question for you is - are you an encourager, or would you rather point out errors and things you disagree with?

I'm an encourager because I know that the artist always finds their own mistakes and if I disagree with their interpretation that's on me ... not them.

There, I'm better now.