Birds, Weeds and Learning to Let Go

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We bought some property in the country last year. One day we hope to build a house on the land. But this spring, my family planted a garden. Well in all honesty, my daughters and husband did the planting. Having been born with a brown thumb, no one trusted me in the garden. But my husband Steve, his thumb is a little greener. So just about everything he and the girls planted is growing like mad. Including the weeds.

Weeds I can handle, so the two of us, my husband and I, have spent many hours this summer weeding. I’m learning a great deal, and ironically it’s not just about gardening.

Each time we go out, I begin weeding on one end of the garden while Steve starts on the other. The goal is to meet in the middle.  A few weeks back, just as I was knee deep in dirt and weeds, I heard a loud chirping.  I looked up and discovered a small brown and white bird. She was crazy, flitting around and chirping like a maniac.  She only backed away if I got too close, otherwise she continued her dance. Week after week we weeded, and every time we did so, I was given a squawky serenade.

“What’s the deal with this bird?” I finally asked my husband.

He looked up, taking note of where stood. “She’s got a nest,” he said, “by that third tomato plant.”

 

Four Killdeer eggs in gravel by side of road

I moved toward the plant, peered down and saw it. Four little eggs, tucked away beneath the grass and weeds. Buff in color, the eggs had brown markings resembling dirt and sticks. As I studied them, I heard her again: crazy loud chirps. I quickly stepped back, looked up and saw mama bird, floundering on the ground. It appeared she had broken her wing.

“Look,” I said, “She’s hurt.”

“She’s not hurt,” said Steve, “she’s distracting you, she wants you to get away from her nest.”

Call me a city girl (which I am) but wow. I was amazed. This mama bird was putting on a complete show, pretending she’d broken her wing, all in hopes that she could lure me away from her precious babies.

My mama heart felt a tug of compassion. I know what it’s like to want to protect your babies. It’s instinctual I think, that deep-rooted desire to keep your offspring safe. The problem is, trying to do so is so often an exercise in futility.

She continued flailing and I must say, it was convincing.

“Don’t worry little mama,” I said, “I won’t hurt your babies.”

My words did nothing to convince her. She remained in position, screeching and flapping her wings. She didn’t stop until I moved away.

Killdeer bird warding off danger

Later that evening, I did a little research and discovered my feathered friend was a Killdeer. Killdeers often nest in open fields and when threatened by predators (horses, cows, etc.) they chirp loudly and bob their heads up and down to get your attention. If that doesn’t work, they do their broken-wing act.

If she only knew I was on her side.

I have three daughters. One has flown the coop, one is in college and one will soon start high school. For all extensive purposes, I’m done raising two out of my three girls (go me!). And, seeing as the older ones are alive and productive humans, it seems like I should perhaps pat myself on the back for a job well done, yes? No. This isn’t how it works. Because while the job of raising children ends, you never stop being a mother.  You never stop caring about your children’s well being.

My older girls are pretty great people (I’d say the same for the younger one but I don’t want to jinx myself). They are wise and kind and doing well in life. I don’t need to worry about them. And for the most part I don’t. Yet still, I am their mama. So that means…

I worry when they tell me their worries.

I feel sad when they feel sad.

And when life hands them a bad deal, my heart aches for what they have to go through.

Oh how I wish I could pretend to have a broken wing in order to distract life’s predators away from my girls (read: mean people, unfair circumstances, terrible bosses). But life doesn’t work that way. In fact, it never has.  Most of what happens to us (and to my kids) is beyond my control.

Hopefully I’ve given my girls the coping strategies they need to get them through.  They will indeed go through tough times.  And I can’t fix their problems.  Letting them grow up: it’s perhaps the hardest part of parenting.  But here’s what I can do, like the mama Killdeer, I can be there for them.

I can listen.

I can care.

And, I can trust.    

Trust that my adult daughters will find their own way in life.

Trust that my youngest will survive high school and come out okay.

Trust that God is with me through it all.  And more importantly, that he’s also with them.

It’s been a rainy summer here in Indiana. We’ve reaped quite a harvest from the garden. It’s been amazing to watch these tiny seeds grow into something beautiful. Though there will always storms, I believe life is good, rich and full of beauty.

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Last week when we went out to pull weeds, I was startled by the silence. Mama bird was nowhere to be found. And the nest?  It was gone.

Did the eggs hatch?  Did the baby birds find their way to freedom?  I’ll never know.  Yet I’m sure that no matter what, mama bird was right there with them.  It’s where I’ll be too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Mama Self

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Me holding my first child when she was a week old, 1994

I’ve been a mother for 23 years.

That means in the last 23 years I’ve changed hundreds of diapers, picked up thousands of toys, held puking children and weathered potty training, science fair projects, teenage drivers, high school and dropping two kids off at college (one more to go). 

I’ve refereed a multitude of arguments and attended a plethora of parent teacher conferences, musical performances, honor roll breakfasts and sporting events. Whew, I’m tired just writing this.

But back to business here-Whether you’re a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, if you have kids, you’re a mom who works. Hard. All the time.

Back in the days when my girls were little, all I wanted for Mother’s Day was a break. A day off from cooking, cleaning, and convincing little people to bathe and go to bed. And maybe, a little extra sleep.

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They never wanted to get in the tub, but then they never wanted to get out. 

But now that my daughters are older, I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And while there are lots of things I don’t miss about having young children (mystery fevers, school projects, shopping at Claire’s), there is much that I do.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and talk to my younger mama self. And though I don’t know if she’d listen, there is so much I’d like to tell her. Here are just a few of those things.

23 Things I’d Go Back and Tell Younger Mama Self

1-Soak up the giggles, snuggles and butterfly kisses. They are gone in a flash.

2-Hug your own mom, every time you see her. She won’t be here forever, and she definitely won’t be here for as long as you think. Ditto for Grandma.

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My mom, youngest daughter, me and my grandma, 2010.

3-Write things down. The little stuff, the big stuff and everything in between. There will come a day when you can’t remember which girl had the Betta fish named Darla, which one got lost at Meijer and which one wrote the letters to the Tooth Fairy.

4-Quit worrying. About all of it.  These daughters of yours will eventually learn their manners, eat vegetables, survive middle school and bonus-they will pass Calculus without a lick of help from you. They’ll survive mean kids, strict teachers, and puberty. You don’t have to solve their problems, and frankly, you can’t anyway.  Just be there for them while they’re in the thick of it.

5-Don’t compare yourself to other moms. They may look like they have it together but they don’t (not any more than you do anyway). Find the moms who tell it like it is, the ones who admit to almost losing their minds over tantrums and homework and teenage angst. Hang out with them.

6-Go on date nights with your husband. There will be nights when getting out of your yoga pants feels like too much effort. But trust me, marriage is a long term investment.  Go out and have fun together, just the two of you.  You’ll be glad you did.

7-Don’t work so hard on those Halloween costumes.  They are just as happy with the store bought ones.

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Halloween, circa 2004 and 2007.

8-Have someone else take the family pictures. Otherwise, you’ll have twenty billion photos of the kids and hubby and there will be no proof you existed.

9-Quit wasting so much time trying to lose that last ten pounds. Yes you should eat right, yes you should exercise. But beating yourself up because you aren’t a perfect size six (which by the way, will one day change to a size eight and so on) is a waste of energy.  Your weight is just one small part of you and it’s not that important.

10-All this hard work-getting little people clean and fed and to school on time, teaching these girls to pitch in at home when it’s easier to do it yourself, being the mom that doesn’t give in, the one that follows through on consequences-it will pay off. You are teaching little people to be responsible big people, keep your eye on that long term goal.

11- Eventually you’ll get more sleep, but you’ll still have hard days. So when you have one, quit fighting it and instead, just get through. Treat yourself in small ways (chocolate helps). Say a prayer, call a friend or simply breath. Most of it won’t matter in a day, a week or even a year.

12-Listen, really listen. They’ll want to talk at the most inconvenient times, like when you have 10 million things to do or you’re just about to go to bed, but no matter. Tune in, listen and try really hard not to turn the subject to when you were that age.

13-Young teens sometimes behave a bit like toddlers. Be prepared for this.

14-Don’t let the world scare you. You’ll hear so much about everything that is going wrong with and for this generation. People will dis the schools, tell you how unsafe the neighborhood is, complain about how awful this generation of kids are.  Such talk is rooted in fear and you can’t live in fear. There is, and always will be, good in the world.

15-Don’t take it personal, whatever your 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 year old says to you (or doesn’t).   It’s okay to reprimand snarky behavior, but do so with grace.  In other words, you have no idea what is going on in her head, so don’t take it personal.

16-Trust your kids until they give you a reason not to. Give them opportunities to fail.  Sometimes they will and it’s okay.  This is how they will learn.

17-Slow down a little.  The calendar fills up so quickly.  Be sure to pencil in a little time to relax now and again.

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18-Yes, a vacation for five is expensive.  Just save your pennies and go anyway.  The memories are priceless.

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Holden Beach, NC 2004

19-You’ll worry so much about giving them everything they need, but all they really need is love and acceptance.  Give them that and the rest will take care of itself.

20-That one phrase you came up with, ‘I know you’re mad and I don’t blame you, but I’m the mom and I have to do what I think is best’, keep using that.  It will work for all three kids.

21-Cherish the time when all of you are together.  This will get harder and harder to achieve with time.

22-Hang in there. You can’t see it now, but these girls are going to turn into beautiful souls.  A little silly, but beautiful nonetheless.

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My crazies, today.

23-As Kenny Chesney says, don’t blink.  Everyone will tell you how fast it all will go, and that will irritate you. Yet here’s the rub: it’s true.  So do your best to enjoy the ride.

HAPPY, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL THE MOTHERS, STEP-MOTHERS, GOD MOTHERS AND GRANDMOTHERS OUT THERE.  YOU ARE DOING A GREAT AND MIGHT WORK! 

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If Mom Were Still Here

Today is a new day. One that for me, comes with a bit of pain.

Because 3 years ago today my mother died.

Life has never been the same since.

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But here is the good news: Though the day may be hard, though I may shed some tears, today I will not fall apart.

Instead I’ll allow myself a good cry, wipe away my tears and get on with the business of life. I’ll do my morning workout, get some writing done, throw in a load of laundry, call my best friend to chat and figure out what the heck to make for dinner. Thoughts of Mom will come and go in the midst of it all, but I will be okay.

It’s not that I’m stoic.  Nor does it mean I don’t care.  Simply put, I accept, but don’t dwell in the grief I’ve been given.

I once read that grief doesn’t ever go away, we just learn how to dance with it.  I believe this to be true. I didn’t just lose my mother and then forget all about her. Instead I’ve learned to live in this world without her physical presence. I’ve come to accept the tiny hole in my heart and understand that it will be with me forever.

Yet adjacent to my grief and pain are love, joy, compassion and hope. The myriad of my emotions reside together within me, and there is room for all. Though I don’t relish the pain, I know it adds a facet of richness to life (without love there is no loss, no joy without pain, right?).

But here’s the thing: Though I’ve learned to live without my mother, I still miss her.  I miss her grin, and the blazing fire in her eyes that came whenever she got excited. I miss going to her house for dinner (she was an amazing cook and set a beautiful table). I miss her hugs.  But most of all, I miss talking to her. I long to fill her in on everything going on in my life. I miss her listening ear, her love for my family, her words of wisdom.

So many people I know harbor regrets.  They wish they had said or done something differently before their loved one passed.  They wish they could go back in time and fix those things.  Do I have regrets? Maybe, maybe not.  Sure, my mother and I had words that went unsaid. And I have questions that never got answered.

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So what then would I say to my mom if I could have her back for a day?

It’s probably not what you’d think. And I hope you don’t think badly of me for what I’m about to say. 

If I could talk to my mom just one last time,

I wouldn’t bother to tell her I love her.

I wouldn’t ask her if I did enough for her in those awful last days of her life.

I wouldn’t ask her to forgive me for being such a wretched teen.

Sounds harsh, I know.  Yet somehow I feel my mom is not concerned with such things. I think when we’re in heaven, we’re given heavenly understanding and compassion for the pain those on earth still struggle with. I wouldn’t want to waste my precious moments with mom discussing my fears from the past.  

I believe my mom already knows I love her.

I believe she knows I did my best for her when her illness was at its worst.

I believe she understands how horrified I now am by my childish, selfish teenage ways.

So instead, if I had one more day to talk to my mother, I’d spend that precious time talking about the things we always did. I’d catch her up on life.

I’d tell her how well Sarah is doing in graduate school. And we’d laugh together, because we always knew she would.

I would share how Meg loves college, is still running and is working hard in all her nursing classes.  Together we’d relish in the understanding of what a good nurse she will be.

I would tell her she was right, that Abby is very artistic. We’d share our dreams of all the cool things she might do with that talent.

I would tell her all about what Steve and I have planned for our future, how much I love writing and teaching, how her son is a good father and that my Dad, her husband, is hanging in there.  And she’d be so happy for us.

It’s the simple conversations I miss the most. Life is full of milestone moments. Graduations, first jobs, weddings, houses, babies and more. These are wonderful, memorable times. But for me, the best times are the moments in between.

The small, the seemingly insignificant, the ordinary.  May your life be full of such blessings.

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The last photo I have of my mom, taken in December, 2013.

 

 

 

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Seven Signs You Should Take a Chance on Love

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We were sitting at her kitchen table, my friend and I, when her daughter walked in. I immediately got up, gave her a hug and congratulated her on her recent engagement. We all sat for a while, drinking our tea and chatting about love and marriage.

When I told the story of how my husband had proposed, my friend’s daughter asked me, “How did you know he was the one?”

It was a simple question, one I should have had an answer for; but I didn’t.

“Well,” I said, “I just knew.”

I paused, trying to remember, “I was so excited when he asked,” I said, “It just felt like everything was right.”

She nodded like she understood, and we went on to talk about marriage, houses and babies, the cornerstones of the American dream.

Later, on the way home, I kept coming back to this young girl’s question. I felt I hadn’t really answered it. It’s true that when my husband proposed I was excited. It’s also true that once I said yes, there was no turning back for me. I was all in.

But when I think back to the days before those days, I do remember bits and pieces of being a young girl who spent hours and hours trying to figure out love.

I vividly remember the first boy I ever cared about. I recall thinking that I’d die if he ever broke up with me. Months later, it was me, not him, who decided it was time to part ways. Insert new boy and: wash, rinse, repeat. By the ripe age of twenty, I met Steve. Wow, I thought: Now this is a nice guy. Cute, funny and smart; someone I could hang out with. When we first started dating, I noticed something was different. Being together was easy, comfortable, and fun. And maybe the first time, I had no angst over whether or not he cared for me as much as I did for him.  Perhaps I was finally growing up…

Just a couple months later I began to think he might be: The One. And of course, being the analyzer that I am, I then had to wonder if I was crazy for thinking it. Hours and hours I spent, writing my in journals, racking my brain, all in an effort to understand just what love is, and how it worked.

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Funny as it sounds, none of my angst had anything to do with Steve. He and I were fine at the time, dating, having fun and getting along fabulously. Instead, my internal concerns had everything to do with my personal fears.

Fear of the unknown.

Fear of choosing the wrong person.

Fear of getting hurt.

What I didn’t know then, was that my qualms about committing to a serious relationship were pretty normal. Simply a part of the process we (worriers) go through when we fall in love.

We can’t love without risk. And we can’t risk without fear. (Profound, huh?)

So how do we know if love is worth the risk?

Love and Dice on Heart Background.

I am certainly no expert on love, but I have been married for, like,  forever (okay, just over 25 years). Add to that the fact that I still like (and love) my husband, and maybe, just maybe you should keep reading. (Regardless, it’s my blog-of course I’m here to give you my thoughts.) So let’s continue. Below are the seven signs that you should take a gamble on love.

Love is worth your risk when your loved one…

1-Is there for you when the world isn’t. You know what I mean: You’ve got a fever of 102, your breath stinks, and/or you just lost your job (and self-worth). Life happens and when it does, we often lose our footing. When your someone is there to help you plant your feet back on the ground, well then, he’s a keeper.

 2-Brings out the best in you. We are all here, I believe anyway, to lift each other up, and not put each other down. When our partner believes in us, it is somehow so much easier to believe in ourselves. But when the one we love isn’t in our corner, well…It makes for a long and lonely road.

 3-Makes you laugh. Life can be amazing. It can also be so stinking hard. And frustrating (think dealing with the cable company’s customer service). Being with someone who can make you laugh along the way makes it all a bit more bearable.

4-Challenges you. Somehow my husband sees right through me. He knows when I’m procrastinating, when I’m whining (dang it) and when I’m not being fair. Unfortunately for me, he calls me out on it. (See number two.)

 5-Loves you when you’re unlovable. I’ll admit, there may have been a time or two when I’ve yelled at my Steve unfairly. Perhaps once I made the flu out to be as bad as a terminal illness. And occasionally I can be a little passive aggressive. I’m not perfect, but neither is he. When your partner can overlook your faults and love you anyway, well that is a gift.

6-Enjoys your company. There is nothing better than having fun together. If you are lucky enough to enjoy being with your partner, whether it’s a big night out or a cozy night in, you’re pretty darn lucky.  And seeing as marriage is forever, this is pretty darn important.

 7-Contributes to your life together. So many good men lack the romance gene. But does it really matter? People show love in different ways. These same men who forgot the flowers are out there earning a living, helping bath your toddler, picking up your preteen from her school dance and/or mowing the lawn. They are doing what needs to be done. Contributing to your life together.  This, my friends, is love in action.

So on this Valentine’s Day, if you discover your mate made the Tracy cut, be sure and thank him/her for being such a great partner in life. 

And if you’re still out there looking for Miss/Mr. Wonderful, be sure and look beyond physical attributes, romance and your person’s (ugh) potential. Instead, take a good look at who your loved one is right now.  Pay attention to the condition of his/her heart.  Then consider whether such a heart deserves yours. 

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers!

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Do Less, Be More: Why I’m Not Doing Christmas this Year

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I love the holidays, I really do. Anyone who knows me knows my priorities in life are faith and family. But if I’m honest, there is usually a tiny part of me that can’t wait for it all to be over.

Why? Because for a introverted, to-do list clutching, over-thinker, Christmas can be overwhelming.

For me, getting through the month of December feels like running a marathon (caveat here: I’ve never really run one, I’m just guessing). You start out excited only to find yourself getting a little tired about a third of the way through. Yet you keep on trucking, and next thing you know you’re seriously considering the fact that you just might really die from exhaustion.  But alas you don’t, and then all of a sudden, you find you’re crossing the finish line with a sense of elation. Next thing you know, you’ve collapsed on the ground in a colossal heap.

This is what I don’t like about the holiday season.

The tasks of Christmas-the cooking, cleaning, shopping, wrapping, waiting in line, waiting in traffic, and running out of tape at 9pm the night before the night before Christmas-all really get to me. Sometimes I just wish I could run away (this cabin would be perfect!).

winter-cabin-for-blogCan you imagine staying here?  An introvert’s dream! 😉

I surely don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy/Tracy. I don’t welcome the irritation that rises up when the slow lady in front of me clogs up the aisle at Target. And as a Christian, I for sure don’t want to be crabby in this most important season.  But each year it happens, that is until God steps in. It goes something like this:

I hit December with my feet running.  I shop. I bake.  I send cards.  I participate in extra activities, buy clothes and food for the needy, and and take on way too much.  Then, I get tired and whine to God (pretty bold of me, all things considered).  God, I imagine, just rolls his eyes and whispers to himself, ‘Here we go again…’ But never does he let me down.

Instead God throws me a rope, provides a little perspective to get me through the season. This year, he got a handle on me early, through the words in a book by Max Lucado.

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(This is how I picture the sky looking when God speaks to my heart.)

My bible study group is reading Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado. Lucado is a witty Texan pastor with a plethora of books to his name (nearly 100 according to Wikipedia). This particular book shares the story of how Jesus came to Bethlehem (and to us) in an unexpected way and in the midst of chaos. Now to this I can relate.

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Because of Bethlehem is Max Lucado’s newest book.

I’ve read Lucado before and always enjoy his entertaining writing style.  But what struck me in this book was Lucado’s suggestions for how to find peace amidst the chaos. Yes! Peace! Go Max! This is what I’m always seeking in the holiday season.

One action item he recommends is to ditch the to-do list for a to-be list.  “We often get caught up in the busyness of doing,” says Lucado, “Time is short, and our to-do lists are long, especially during the holidays.” Sounds like my life… Lucado then asks the reader the following question, “How might it change your experience of Advent this year if you were to make your priority being-the person you want to become-instead of doing?” He then suggests the reader make a list of all they want to be.

And so I did. Just making the list has quieted my heart and mind. Made me excited about this busy, celebratory season. Given me peace. So I’m happy to tell you that for the first time in years, I am not running the race in December. I will not do Christmas, instead I will just be.

And because I’m either brave or stupid, today I’m sharing my to-be list with you.

 Tracy’s Christmas 2016 To-Be List

*I want to be a person who delights in the holiday season, appreciating the traditions of twinkling Christmas lights, holiday music, and gift-giving.

I want to be a person who makes sure her family and friends know, without question, just how much they are loved.

I want to be kind, patient, content and centered amidst the chaos. (Even when I’m the 8th customer in the one open lane at Walmart and it seems like Christmas will come before I get through the line-no one said this would be easy).

I want to be cognizant of God’s plan for and gift of eternal grace.  What an amazing gift it is.

I want to be still before God, each day, not just on Sunday.

I want to be a friendly and encouraging face to others. We all need this. 

I want to be less self-centered and more other-centered. This is hard, and I will fail time and time again.  But a girl can try, right?

So much of my stress during the holidays is self-imposed.  When I put focus on getting things done instead of being present, I lose sight of myself and get crabby.  I forget the entire purpose of the season. I miss seeing the blessings God pours down over me.  Not this year.

It’s December 7th and I’ve barely touched my to-do list.  But it’s okay, the good news is this: I’m a little easier to be around this season. Definitely more at peace. And somehow, I know that what really needs to get done, will get done.  I may never get around to sending out cards, but somehow I think God doesn’t mind so much. 

Happiest of Holidays to you, lovely readers!

 

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Don’t Think about it, Just Jump

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A year ago this week my husband and I were in Maui, taking a private tour on the road to Hana.

If you’re not familiar, the road to Hana is a miles long stretch of highway along the east coast of Maui. As you drive you’ll find yourself in the middle of a glorious rain forest with a number of waterfalls, beaches, and about 64 million photo opps. The views are incredible.

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We were nearing the end of our day when our guide, Laura, brought us to Wai’anapanapa State Park. Here we walked the black sand beaches and afterwards she asked, “Do you guys want to swim in a cave?”

It took me all of ten seconds to answer, “Yes!”

My husband looked at me. Between the two of us, I’m more the adventurer or at least I used to be. He was thinking it through, considering the downsides of swimming in a cave. Do we want to be wet in the car? Did we have the right shoes? What about our wallets and phones?

All I could think about was that I didn’t want to miss out on this experience. We’d wanted to swim in a waterfall, but the week’s heavy rains made doing so unsafe.

It took a little coaxing, a little me talking about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get my Steve to agree.  But once his concerns were met, he was all in.  After changing into our swimsuits we followed Laura down the short trail to the cave.

“Not everyone knows about this,” she said, “but a lot of locals come here. It’s actually a lava tube (natural tunnel made out of lava) and some even swim out through to the ocean.”

We arrived minutes later to find a father and his four children getting ready for their swim. I watched them, one by one, as they jumped into the narrow opening of the cave. The children were filled with delight, laughing as they jumped, there father right there in the water with them.

Georgia O'Keeffe's Island Fling: Maui, Hawaii

 

After they were all in, Laura followed suit, “Ah, feels good! Who’s next?” she said, “Steve? Tracy?”

Suddenly I was terrified. I hadn’t expected to have to jump into the water, but the rocks were such that one could not step in. They were situated a good six feet above water. When was the last time I’d even jumped off a diving board?

Steve looked at me, “Well? You going?”

I giggled, I do this when I’m nervous. “I don’t know, it looks scary, you go first.”

My husband hesitated, but only for a minute. He jumped, went under and rose to the surface. “Whew!” he said with a laugh.

Oh Lord, it was my turn.

I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wanted to, yet I didn’t. The water was going to be cold (refreshing Laura had called it) and I hate being cold. Not to mention the jumping part  But I knew if I chickened out, I’d regret it. Still, I couldn’t get my feet to remove themselves from the ledge.

The father, who was still in the water, saw the fear in my eyes, “Come on, we’ll count you down,” he said. I looked up at his smiling face, his dark hair slicked back from the wet water. All four of his children were staring at me, excitement in their eyes.

“One, two, three…” shouted the crowd.

Lord have mercy.

“No, no, don’t do that!” I said, giggling again, “That makes it worse!”

Oh, the pressure.

Then Laura gently said the words I needed to hear, “Don’t think about it, just jump.”

Yes, I thought, she’s right. My fear is paralyzing me, holding me hostage. I mean, really, what did I think was going to happen?  I needed to quit thinking and just do it. And with that I closed my eyes, pulled my legs up toward my belly and jumped into the cool dark waters of a cave in Wai’anapanapa State Park in Maui, Hawaii.

It was thrilling.

It was exhilarating.

It was better than I could have ever imagined.

Laura, ever the tour guide, pulled out a waterproof flashlight and told us to follow her into the depths of the cave.  We swam along in the dark, following her tiny light. The water, spring fed, was crystal clear and beautiful.

It was an experience unlike any I’d ever had.

And I’d almost missed it.

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How often, I later wondered, have I allowed my fear to paralyze me?  How often have I missed out on something spectacular because I feared the water might be too cold?  The answer: lately, it had been all too often.

The older I get, the less I like stepping out of my comfort zone. I like being comfortable.  And part of me feels like I’ve already had my share of thrills in this life.

I could be content to sit on the sidelines, watch others ride the roller coaster, cruise the zip line or swim in a cave.

But here’s the thing: there is joy to be had when I step outside of my complacency.

Doing something different, doing something scary is exhilarating. It makes me feel alive, and there is nothing better than feeling alive.

Let me repeat that: There is nothing better that feeling alive.

I’d forgotten about this adventure until recently when we took our daughter to Holiday World.

“Come with us Mom,” she’d said, as she and her friend got in line for a crazy water slide ride.

I hate water slides. I hate being cold and wet and those tunnels on the slides scare me a little.  But I love living. I love the joy of life.

“Okay,” I said, “I’m scared, but I’ll do it.”

In all aspects of my life, I think I need to say that more often.

 

Posted in Faith, Goals, gratitude, inspiration, life lessons, travel, trials, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Standing in the Middle of the Mess

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She came down the stairs, a look of defeat on her face, “It feels like I’m not making any progress,” she said, “You can’t even tell I’ve done anything.”

My oldest daughter is going to grad school and is moving into her own apartment. As my youngest is dying to move into her room, I’ve given the eldest the task of cleaning it out before she leaves. Completely.

She’s been sorting through all her things to determine what she needs to take with her, and is tossing or donating what she no longer needs.  The hardest part is going through all the memorabilia of her childhood.

Boxes and boxes of craft supplies, photographs, papers, notebooks, CDs, stuffed animals, letters from friends, mementos from her high school years. It’s a tough job.

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Cleaning out her room is a big, messy, time consuming endeavor, and not one I can really help with.

“I know,” I say to her, “That’s the way it is when you tackle a big project. It always gets messy before it gets clean.”

We spend the next few minutes talking through her stress. I give her words of encouragement. I suggest she not think about how big the job is, but instead focus on the task at hand. I tell her she will get it done, it just takes time.

It is then that I realize: I need to take my own advice.

I’m working on a book, my second book. And I am smack dab in the middle of the writing. I’ve got pages upon pages of outlines, chapters completed, chapters half-written, a notebook full of words I need to add, change or fact check. I think about it so much my head might actually spin off my body. The thoughts and fears and doubts tumble around my brain over and over again.

Is this a good story?

 Is that part even important?

 Am I getting my point across?

 What am I missing?

 Is this entire project a fail?

Just as my daughter is cleaning out the belongings and memories from her childhood, I am cleaning out the inklings and thoughts in my heart.

As I look at what I’ve written, I realize it doesn’t all quite go together yet. I’ve got some stories on paper and others lingering in my brain.  I’ve got plot twists rolling around in my subconscious attempting to rise to the surface. Part of me is crazed with wanting to sit down immediately and complete this puzzle. But another part of me wants to run away from it all, ditch the entire project.

Like my daughter, I often cannot see any progress. But I won’t give up.  Because I’ve learned that sticking it out makes all the difference.

In 2013, I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop. It was my first time there (I went this year too, it’s a great conference!) and I especially enjoyed a session called Buttonhole the Experts. Attendees can sit down with a faculty member (all of whom are successful in their own right) and ask anything they want. I sat at a table with Hank Phillipi Ryan, a successful journalist and author of multiple, award-winning mystery novels. Ryan spoke of how she became a novelist and how she goes about writing her books.

There were eight of us wannabees at the table, clinging to her every word, anxious to learn her secret sauce. You know what she said? Every time she writes a book, she doubts herself. Every time.

She feels the same way when she’s working on a news story.  About half way through, when things get tough, she feels like giving up. The various parts of the story feel unorganized and pointless, like nothing viewers would ever be interested in. It gets…messy.

But she keeps working and next thing you know the story comes together.  Ryan eventually realized messy is just part of the process.  Her comment really struck me.  It helped me complete my first book and as I remember it now, it will help me finish this one.

I need to get comfortable with the chaos.  A mess lying at my feet can be overwhelming, it feels as if I’ll never get the job done.  Never get the room clean, the event planned, the kid raised or the book written. But that’s okay.

Feeling anxious and overwhelmed is a step within the process.  

If I keep cleaning, writing, event planning or sticky-finger wiping, my efforts eventually pay off.  The disarray and clutter come together. And then, the hard work transforms into something beautiful.

UPDATE:  We moved our Sarah into her apartment last Friday. I’m not sure she could be any more excited for her new journey.

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I’m sure her year will be filled with new experiences, some good, some not so good. She’ll have days where she questions herself, her abilities, the choices she’s made. But she’ll also have days when everything comes together.  And in the end, because I know my girl won’t give up, she’ll end up with a diploma (and hopefully a job).

My youngest girl now gets a new empty room to make her own.

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And me? I’m embracing the messy.

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I’ll keep trudging along and remind myself that with time, all my post it notes, lists of edits, and half-written stories will eventually come together. I can only hope it turns out to be something beautiful.

Posted in attitude, Faith, Family Life, Goals, humor, inspiration, kids, life lessons, parenting, trials, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On Becoming a Cowgirl, or Finding Your Happy Place

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It’s day one of our adventure and we’re getting ready. I look across the room and see my husband sliding his feet into his new cowboy boots. I can’t help it, the sight makes me chuckle.

Steve. In cowboy boots. Never in a million years did I think I’d see it. He looks up at me and grins. “What?” he says.

“Nothing, it’s just…you’ve changed. I never thought I’d see you in boots. This is not the same man I married twenty-five years ago,” I say with a giggle.

He smiles, “I don’t know, I think I’ve just figured it out, the things that make me happy.”

I knew exactly what he meant. My husband comes alive when he is in nature, he loves being in wide open spaces and watching wildlife.  I too, am learning to recognize what I love.  I’m learning the difference between things I like, and things that bring me great joy. They are very different things.

My family has just returned from a week at the Bar W, a dude ranch in Whitefish, MT. For me, it was a dream vacation; a bucket list item I’ve been considering for over 10 years. Was it expensive? Yes.  Did it measure up to my long held expectations? Yes.

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There are so many reasons this was a great trip. For one, it was a wonderful ranch in a beautiful setting and we had great weather. The staff, food and lodging were top notch. Secondly, my family and I had the opportunity to try new things: fly-fishing, skeet shooting and river rafting to name a few. But really, for me anyway, the joy was in the setting.

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 I seem to find myself in nature. It is here than I can stop thinking about everything and focus solely on the trees, the wildflowers, the colorful stones I find upon the path I’m walking. I loved being able to get up, throw on a pair of dirty jeans and head out for a morning ride (so much better than waking up to check email, Facebook and the news). I loved getting to know my horse Cody (sweet but grumpy, with a penchant for wildflowers).  I loved waking up in the middle of the night, peaking out the window  and being rewarded with a multitude of stars. 

 

I think I could have been a cowgirl. I could have been happy growing up in a small town in the west where riding, rodeos and line dancing aren’t a novelty, they are just what you do. I could be okay with crawling out of bed, sliding my feet into my boots and spending the day getting dusty and dirty with the horses.  Maybe.  I mean, I will say I was sore in all kinds of strange places by the end of the week.

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It doesn’t matter if I could or couldn’t.  The chances of me chucking my life and becoming a cowgirl at this point are slim to none.  Instead I’ll make sure I make time for nature in my city girl life.  I’ll take walks in the park, watch the sunset from my patio and take full days to unplug, completely.  It won’t be quite the same, but hey a (cow)girl can try.

Thanks Montana, you’ve helped me find my happy place.  Friends, where is yours?  

 

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6 Lessons Learned From Being Alone

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My bucket list, handwritten in 1998.

Back in 1998, a friend and I decided we would make bucket lists; 100 things we wanted to do in our lifetime. My list was entitled, My Ultimate To-Do List! Oh my, was I young…

Anyway, I keep this list in my nightstand drawer and look at it from time to time. It’s interesting to note I never came up with 100 things I wanted.  In fact, I got stuck at 61. Of those, I’ve now done 29. I don’t consciously work my way through the list. I just come back to it from time to time and happily discover I’ve completed a few more items.

Last week, I was able to scratch off item number 23: Take a trip by myself.

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While most people shy away from being alone, I seem to revel in it. It’s not that I am a loner; in fact I’m quite social. But being alone recharges me. It is in the quiet that I find peace and renewal. So when my husband gave me the go-ahead to go away for a few days to work on my next book, I jumped.  Days before my trip, I began to get cold feet.

What if I’m lonely?

 What if I get bored?

 What if I can’t get myself to work?

 What if an Uber driver abducts me?

 I’m happy to report none of these things happened. In fact, I had an AMAZING trip! I not only got work done, but I also rested, road my bike and took long walks. And most important, I gained insight into myself and the way I work. Here’s a bit about what I learned.

6 THINGS I LEARNED FROM BEING ALONE

1-THERE IS VALUE IN DOING NOTHING. I’ve heard this before but the idea is so counter-intuitive to the US culture. On this trip, I really allowed myself to indulge in doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes every morning. I did not think, pray or plan my day. It was just a cup of tea, the beautiful view and me. This practice not only relaxed my body, but also relaxed my brain. Ultimately I believe I was more productive over the day for having started it in this way.

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2-I TALK TO MYSELF. I’ve always talked to myself, but I never really noticed how much I do it until I was surrounded by silence. Or standing in the produce aisle of the grocery by myself (embarrassing!). But as it turns out talking to yourself isn’t so strange after all. A lot of people do so and in fact experts believe there are benefits to those of us who chatter solo. More on this here: http://www.today.com/health/talk-yourself-out-loud-here-s-why-experts-say-s-t76531

3-THE NOISE OF LIFE ZAPS MY CREATIVITY. By nature, I’m a do-er, a list-maker, a get-things-done kind of girl. I like having a rhythm to my day. I enjoy hearing the hum of the dishwasher and washer in the background as I work in my home office.  I like to  take a break from work to check Facebook or to get a handle on the endless email.  But writing is so mental. It takes getting out of your head to get in the creative zone. Thus my constant, internal struggle… I’ve learned when I step away from the list, the housework, the junk of life, my mind is free to wander.  It allows me to look at my writing in a different way, to think more out of the box.  I hope I can find ways to continue to do more of this now that I’m home (I’m a work in progress people).

4-THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS IN THIS WORLD I COULD LIVE WITHOUT. Let’s just name a few: reality TV, junk food, make up, many forms of social media and about 85% of what is being calling news these days.

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5-THERE ARE SOME THINGS I CAN’T. Chocolate, books, tea and comfy pajamas are high on that list.

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6-I REALLY LOVE MY FAMILY. While I loved being alone, I equally loved coming back home to my family and friends.  I’m so grateful that my hubby and kids understood my need to get away and that they loved me enough to allow me that time.

Have you ever traveled alone or thought about doing so? 

After having this on my Bucket List for 18 years, I can now say I wish I’d done it sooner.  I imagine it’s like that for most things we put off. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson learned. 

 

 

 

Posted in attitude, Faith, Goals, gratitude, inspiration, life lessons, travel, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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My mom, daughter, me and Grandma ‘Cille

 

If she were here, she’d have called me on the phone a month ago, asking me about my plans for Mother’s Day.

I’d have said, “I don’t know Mom, I haven’t gotten there yet.”

If she were here, she’d have called back an hour and a half later. If we did come over, she’d say, would pot roast be okay? Kroger had a sale and she has a nice one in the freezer. She’d also make mashed potatoes, and strawberries for the kids of course. And pound cake for dessert.

I’d be chuckling at her enthusiasm over food, and would have replied with, “Okay, Mom, we’ll see. I need to figure out what we’re doing first.”

It’s what she did when she was here.

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If my mother was anything, she was enthusiastic about life.  Whatever she did, she did full on.  Whatever she loved, she loved with all her heart. And whenever she was faced with pain or sadness, she chose to look to the good.

I miss my mother most every day. I miss her phone calls and our conversations about my kids and the way she got mad at my father for being forgetful. I miss her smile, the light in her eyes and her determination to live a normal life despite being chained to an oxygen tank.

I miss her.

Though my grief has subsided, and my memories are no longer painful, losing my mother fashioned a hole in my heart. It’s the smallest of fissures, but it’s a space too substantial to ever be filled. Oh have I tried: stuffing the heart with food, alcohol or material items. But such tactics fail me.

So what do I do with this hole in my heart?  With time, I have to learned to:

Acknowledge its presence.

Feel my pain.

And most importantly, move on.

So often in life I don’t want to feel. Pain. Anger. Stress. Sadness. Frustration. When these emotions come, I want to drown them.

I eat.

I drink.

I buy shoes.

I pray for God to make it all go away.

As I gain in years, I’m learning; I can’t really escape reality (who knew?).

I might get nice shoes out of the deal, but fabulous feet won’t really curb my pain.

I’ve also learned that heartache and joy are not mutually exclusive.  Instead, the two reside side by side, taking turns with me throughout life.  I can feel sad about my father’s dementia and thankful for my lovely daughters all in the same space and time.  I can be happy over the richness of life and aching for a friend’s challenges all at the same time.

I can feel, I can release and I can move on, thanking God for the many gifts I have in life.

Like mother, like daughter, I guess.  It’s perhaps the most important lesson she ever taught me.  Now, on to plan Sunday’s dinner…

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL THE FABULOUS MOTHERS IN MY LIFE!

 

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Mom at her beloved lake house.

 

 

 

Posted in attitude, Faith, Family Life, God, gratitude, humor, inspiration, life lessons, parenting, trials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments