The Mix Tape of My 50thYear

My 51st birthday has come and gone. Not sure if anyone remembers my goal for my 50th birthday year, but it proved to be quite the task. What I thought would be an easy and exciting journey of live music became a fun but formidable challenge. 50 live shows in honor of my 50th year. It seemed doable right out of the gate, what with Arlo Guthrie, Black Sabbath, Robert Plant and The Who leading the charge. But soon, and very soon, the choices became harder, the time between shows grew lengthier. By September, my purchase of concert tickets stalled and the voices in my head grew louder, “I told you it wasn’t feasible… I told you it was crazy.” The voices were wrong.

No, I didn’t hit my goal of 50 for 50, but it wasn’t crazy. It was amazing. And my goal was feasible, because what I truly wanted to accomplish was to spend my 50th year basking in the marquee lights, the beat of my heart one with the bass and drum, surrounded by sweating bodies in sync with the sounds and the feel of my body releasing itself the burden of every day stress and boredom. Live music. The healer.

It wasn’t until this past year that I realized how much live music was missing from my life. If anything, this goal I set encouraged me to go to shows I might have talked myself out of the previous year. Don’t get me wrong, I did excuse myself from some shows since I’d made a promise to myself not to go to a show simply to be going. There had to be an attraction, a desire, not just a “yeah, sure, I’d like to see that show…maybe…whatever.” No, it had to be a OMG decision complete with too many exclamation points and at the very least, a YES!! proclamation before scheduling in my calendar. I kept to my promise of seeing old school, new school, up and coming, and scratching bands off my music bucket list, as well as big arenas, intimate theaters, and a few outdoor pop-up stages and bar patios. My list also included many local bands from the ICT music scene, a handful we’d seen numerous times and a few first-timers. It was a whirlwind of diversity. So damn fun.

Each show was memorable in a unique way and many were shared with people I love. There was even a forfeited show (Amos Lee at the Stiefel Theater) when I chose to stay home to watch my Cubs win the World Series. I figured I’d get another opportunity to see Amos, but not live another 100 years to see the Cubs capture an MLB championship. But, I’ll never forget those first shows. Honestly, Black Sabbath, Robert Plant, and The Who should’ve been worth triple points, shouldn’t they? I mean, really. Black freaking Sabbath. The King, Robert Plant. Bloody Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey. Now that I think about it, The Who should’ve been worth quadruple points since my brother and his wife joined us for the show in KC. A lifetime of memories in one year, set against the backdrop of stage lights and blue haze.

So, I might be 20 or so short on my goal, but overall, the soundtrack to my 50th year was like a really diverse and incredible mix tape your best friend would make just before a road trip to see one of your all-time favorite bands. Or the mix CD with the title only the two of you could appreciate and the songs that made you smile, laugh, and say, “No way…yes” with each opening chord. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

*Arlo Guthrie*Black Sabbath*Robert Plant*The Who*Aoogah*Dave Matthews Band*Cherokee Maidens*The Mischief Makers*Andy Frasco & the U.N*Wild Adriatic*Moreland and Arbuckle*Fishbone*80-proof Engine*Fun Girls*Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy*Bad Mother Hubbard*Mountain Sprout*Los Lonely Boys*Klondike 5 String Band*Calamity Cubes*Split Lip Rayfield*Lalanea Chastain & Alex Nordine*Haunted Windchimes*The Cult*Tom Page Trio* False Flag*Rosco Del Rio*Elvis Costello*Black Violin*Anthony Gomes*

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Remove the Blinders, Take Your Eyes From the Path

January has come and gone. And with it, a lot of reflection mixed with determination and hope and always with a side of turmoil. The beginning of a new year always instills a sense of hope as we review our past year, even our past life, to understand and plan for our future. We are determined to face change or make change, as well to renew old promises or kick those aside for newer, more attainable ones. But, all of this comes with those nagging fears of change.

I spent the holiday break resolving to rediscover my purpose and to be even more open to possibilities. Now, I’ve always been someone who is open to possibilities, as it is something I encourage in others, especially young people. Remove any blinders as you walk your path. Blinders can be the goals and expectations others created for you, which you may somewhat agree but don’t necessarily see yourself obtaining, yet you continue down the expected path. Or, blinders can be the degree you worked so hard to earn, which you now forcibly follow down a narrow path, unaware of differing roads you could and should take. Blinders can be pre-conceived notions about who you are, the religion in which you were raised, or the stereotypes you’ve grown accustom.

It took me until I was thirty years old to realize I was wearing my own checkered set of blinkers. There is nothing more freeing than removing those blinders and seeing all around and along the path and especially the ability to recognize there are other paths available in which to travel, even if just for a moment. Without those blinders, I discovered it was not too late to earn my degrees. Sans blinders, I discovered a different career path other than the one I thought my degrees would govern. And with my peripheral vision extended, I was able to walk beside or join others on their paths and be open to the mosaic of humanity.

Our lives are short. And to move through this gift we’ve been entrusted while wearing blinders seems wrong, not to mention bleak and somewhat cowardly. Yes, there are many who find comfort in their blinders. The job of blinders is to help focus on the simple path ahead and not to be spooked or distracted by what is passing alongside the path. Blinders maintain control, better able to ignore what is beside us or behind us. Stay the course, no matter what.

Blinders work well for and are essential to the successful outcome of a racehorse. Those leather patches are fitted on troublesome horses for their own safety as well as the safety of their jockey. But, there is no jockey determining our course. We are determining our course. The blinders we find ourselves wearing are those created, patched, and attached to us by society, our families, our environments, and ourselves.

Secretariat, considered the greatest race horse of all time, wore blinkers, but the majority of his life was  contained, either by fences or centered on an oval race track. If we consign ourselves to one path, where is it we are truly going? A quote I keep in my personal “Quotes of Thought” list is by Marcus Buckingham, the man who founded the Strengths Revolution in the workplace, and while the quote is referencing a career or work path, I feel it is relevant to life:

“The best way to find out if you’re on the right path? Stop looking at the path.”

If our focus is only on the path in front of us, we may discover we’ve been on the wrong path all along. While some may argue straying from the path leads to temptation, corruption, or getting lost along the way, I believe if one has faith, that faith will remain steadfast no matter the path. Unless you’ve chosen a path void of kindness, compassion, and love, and if that’s the case, your faith was never guiding you to begin with. Faith will always be tested, but it will never completely abandon you.

So, have faith and remove the blinders. Free yourself from running forward, eyes focused only on the path in front of you. Be brave. Be willing to take paths strewn with rocks and debris, especially the dirt roads, as those can be the most challenging, but the most fun and enlightening. Be curious of other roads, look around, enjoy the different views, and join others on their paths. Life is vast and should never be limited to one, narrow, blinders-on, path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why we love Hallmark Christmas Movies (at least, why I do)

I confess. I love watching the marathon of Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channels (Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries). Yes, the plots are predictable, the sentimentality definitely over the top and one must get used to the idea of seeing the same actors play somewhat same characters in multiple movies but,  I’m a sucker. For a majority of the movies, there isn’t a lot of character development or a need to analyze outcomes, just very recognizable story lines and a whole lot of cliché in the tugging-on-heartstrings-tear-jerking department.

So, why am I addicted? Why do I set the television channels to Cox 2085 and 2086 beginning Thanksgiving weekend and never look back until January 1? For someone who enjoys the complexity of William Faulkner, the richness of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the strong storytelling of Barbara Kingsolver, why is it I find myself completely immersed in The Heart of TV?

We need these Hallmark movies. For many, Christmas is stressful, time-consuming, a financial nightmare, and a little melancholy. While I love Christmas and look forward to the season throughout the year, there are days I find myself caught up in the pressures of the holiday. Did I forget anyone on my list? What do we buy your mother? Will I have time to mail out Christmas cards? Damn, I overspent my Christmas budget, again. Ugh, another weekend of Christmas parties when all I want to do is stay home. I forgot to buy stamps! Look at the lines!!

And, while the Christmas movie classics bring us warm moments of nostalgia and childlike laughter, they can also bestow immeasurable sadness with reminders of a childhood long gone or the absence of a loved one. Sure, Hallmark Christmas movies can be cavity-inducing but they can also be somewhat comforting. For two hours, we are provided perfect Christmas moments filled with forgiveness, generosity, love and most importantly, hope. In a Hallmark Christmas world, love does not go on unrequited; overbearing parents reveal their inner fears; children are reunited with families or united with best friends of the four-legged variety; loves lost always return home; longtime wrongs are always righted; love prevails; and all against the backdrop of hope and snow. Lots of snow.

Sure, they’re cheesy and brimming with Christmas miracles, as well as perfectly decorated small towns and the inevitable St. Nick or angel in disguise, but I find it easy to forgive all of the above. These days, Christmas angels and miracles seem fewer and fewer, and as for St. Nick, well, if we find it hard to believe in one another or ourselves, how can we possibly give St. Nick a break. And while I’ve yet to see a storyline involving a minority or gay couple, I remain hopeful (there’s that word, again) each year and know Hallmark will soon right this wrong, as all love should prevail in Hallmark world.

So, give me Hallmark Christmas movies and plenty of them. When the season is at a close and the final kiss is given under the mistletoe between two former flames or once bitter rivals, I’ll be content to hang my Santa hat on hope, no matter how trite or predictable. Christmas without any sign of hope is simply another holiday. And for me, Christmas will never be just another holiday. Christmas will always be a season of hope and love, wherever you can find it, even if just for a moment in a made-for-television Christmas movie.

 

My List of Grateful

This morning, while drinking coffee and bemoaning the coverage of the Thanksgiving Day parade (more floats, less guests!), I decided to fill one sheet of paper with what and whom I am most grateful. I could have filled more sheets, but since I need to getting prepping on that turkey, I limited myself to one.

My List of Grateful

  • My husband and friend, who loves me, puts up with me, protects me, and will lift me to the winds to fly, if needed- all unconditionally.
  • The greatest parents, ever. Who showed me what it means to love, to be patient, to be kind to others, and the importance of family. Oh, and sports.
  • My sister and brother, truly my best friends. The ones I miss the most, the ones I want to share everything, the ones I text throughout a sporting event and share photos of newly discovered beers. For our shared support, encouragement and belief in one another and for….well, everything
  • My family, especially my cousins. For our shared laughter, our shared memories, our shared adventures and shared love. I can’t imagine my life without all of my crazy cousins.
  • My nieces and nephews, part I (Andi, Holly and Jeff) and part II (Jaxon and Lexi), for allowing me to love you with the heart of a mother, for spoiling you, for watching you grow and become incredible adults (part I) and for allowing me a second chance, to watch you grow and rejoice in the fact I get to do it all over again (part II).
  • My sons- the Olmsted boys. For allowing me to be your second mother and forgiving me when I dropped the mom ball, at times. For filling my heart with love and joy and just when I didn’t think there was any more room, for bringing seven grandchildren within the blessed walls of my heart.
  • My friends- old and new (and future). For your love, loyalty, laughter, tears, hugs, and understanding. I could go on and on.
  • The women in my life, for those here and now and those who graced my life and have gone too soon. You are my reason, you are my hope, and you are my mosaic.
  • My job and the jobs before my ten-year stint with WSU. For providing me opportunities for growth, for learning, and to be able to enjoy this life and provide for others.
  • The love, companionship and memories of an old dog and the love, youthful reminders, and future memories of a new pup.
  • Music. All music.
  • Sports and how it weaves a magical thread of joy (and sometimes misery) throughout the lives of my family and friends.
  • My hometown, Wichita- the beloved ICT. For changing throughout the years, for being open to change, for providing us with community and the brave spirit of local entrepreneurs. The local breweries, the Coaster’s bicycle club, the incredible musicians, the talented artists, the continually changing landscape of this city…thank you.
  • Changing seasons. For the new beginnings of spring, the childlike abandonment of summer, the slowing down and appreciation of fall, and the soul-searching, rejuvenation of winter
  • Life. There are many who will never know this experience and many whose experience was too short. It is difficult, but worth the journey. How fortunate we are to be gifted this thing called life.
  • Thanksgiving Day. The day that inspires us to take the time to be grateful.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a long list of grateful!

A Holiday from Social Media

My favorite time of year is upon us. I rejoice the first day of fall, knowing long, hot days are at an end and the leaves will begin to turn to gold before covering the ground, the first earth blanket before the snows. And, my favorite trilogy of holidays approaches with autumn equinox: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My soul is rejuvenated with the hint of winter in the air, Irish coffees around the fire pit, and the anticipation of putting up the Christmas tree.

Last year, this season was not kind or rejuvenating, but filled with emptiness and sorrow with the loss of Jeff and Angie. It was difficult to embrace my favorite time of year with a heart laden in grief. This year, as I celebrated autumn equinox with a good wine, I contemplated my approach. My very being ached for a return to the normal, but I knew then that with the anxieties of the upcoming election and the charged atmosphere of social media, finding my norm was going to be difficult.

I am heartbroken by the results of the election, and let me reiterate it has naught to do with my candidate losing. It is the realization we as a community have been living blindly in our assumptions that hate in its many forms had been reduced to a tiny monster we could sweep away under a rug of social progress. Despite the fact we’ve been privy to its ugliness more and more through social media comments and posts, as well as the unrest in our communities, the shootings, and the media spewing; while we were celebrating our victories, the monster was feeding upon our trustfulness and waiting to pull the rug out from under us.

Throughout all of this, the one thing that has disturbed me the most is social media. I engaged in social media, specifically Facebook, to stay in touch with my niece and nephew in Illinois. To be able to “see” them on a daily basis, to watch their life path, to let them know I was watching. This form of contact helped ease the guilt and sadness of not being able to visit more often. And as I became engaged, soon I was searching for all of my relatives out-of-state or even across the city, as our daily lives prevented us from those cherished family gatherings of our childhood.

But the place I turn to feel connected has become disconnected. It, too, is feeding the monster. Like a shot of whiskey or a case of beer, the internet has become our modern-day “liquid courage.” There have always been those individuals whose inner demons appear whenever they have too much to drink or sadly, just a little drink. As soon as the alcohol warms their bloodstream, they blurt their feelings, no matter how dark or hurtful, and for some their demons take shape in physical harm. A little booze and these individuals want to fight the world, or at least the world in their immediate proximity, and especially those who do not share in their beliefs or those whom they fear. The computer age has brought about this new form of liquid courage, or “keyboard courage.” Individuals now feel empowered to shout their views at others whose beliefs are not in line with theirs, cyberbully, and engage in hurtfulness against complete strangers all the while hidden behind their new drug of choice, be it laptop, PC, tablet or phone. It’s easy to throw cyber punches and be downright offensive within the confines of your home or office, miles away from the individual(s) whom you are attacking. An alcoholic beverage is no longer needed nor the excuse of not being able to handle your liquor, just sign in and punch away.

I try to be very thoughtful in my postings on social media, yet I know I am not innocent in this online bickering. I’m sure I have stated a view or shared a post which offended or hurt others, as it has become too easy to be drawn into the fight. And to me, there is nothing more embarrassing or distressing than a “comments brawl” where individuals flail wildly in the comments area of their own postings or, even more distressing, by invading the post of another. And with the recent unveiling of our continued social disparities and the inability of many to be respectful of one another, Facebook has become its own little demon, egging on the madness as if determined to convince us that we are all monsters.

So, I’m taking a holiday from the crazy. At the close of Thanksgiving Day, I am taking a reprieve from all social media. I’m going to enjoy the Christmas season “old school.” I’m going to read Dickens, buy gifts, sip wine in the glow of our tree and if there is a party or event, you’ll need to contact me by phone or one of those rare methods from long ago, as in the paper invitation sent by mail. I’m not going to stress myself in multiple directions by promising to attend every Facebook event invitation and I’m not going to damper the Christmas spirit by stumbling upon one of those keyboard courage rants or lose faith in mankind just by reading the headline of a fake news story.

This holiday, I’m going to engage by disengaging. And, if the climate has changed by January 1, or I feel a pull to catch up with the happenings of my family and friends, I may return but with a shortened friend list and possibly on a part time basis. Who knows, I may not ever return and that would be more than okay. I find it of interest to become one of those elusive individuals who are not on Facebook, who don’t tweet and have no idea what a snap chat implies. They are a mysterious people and quite likely, much healthier than the rest of us.

So, the countdown begins. Only four more days until Social Media Holiday begins. For those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I hope you’ll look for me here, afloat the calming waters of Mermaid of the Plains. With less time spent reviewing status updates and announcing check-ins, my goal is to write and share here. And, I encourage you to join me in this holiday break. Let’s truly return to a season of hope, love, and respect for one another. We are all in this together and we are all we got. As a great woman once wrote, “we are more alike my friends, than we are unalike.”

We need to remember this, now more than ever.

The Girl Who Came to Stay: The Story of Eleanor Rigby

Five months. She’s been gone five months. And yet, I look for her each time the garage door rises, expecting to see that big, beautiful head and oversized tail wagging in greeting. There are moments I smell her as I step over the threshold, her earthy, sometimes humidity ridden, doggy smell. Still, sitting beneath our lantern therapy tree in the backyard, her tree, the one we planted when she was just a puppy, I swear I see her out of the corner of my eye. A quick flash of black; although in the last few years, there was nothing quick or flash-like in her movements. Even now, as I finally have the strength to write this, I watch her from across the room, tucked inside a black velvet bag encased in a red, wooden box. Our beloved companion of fifteen years, sits upon a shelf next to a photo of her as a gangly puppy, and a copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Our Eleanor Rigby, the half chocolate lab/half golden retriever who came to stay.

For those who’ve never experienced the true companionship and love of a dog, my heart grieves for you. Theirs is a love like no other. No judgement, no doubt, no lessening, no change. If anything, their love grows bolder, stronger, more forgiving, and more transcendent. I truly believe no human can offer or compare to the love given by a dog. Yes, the love by a dog. They love hard and fast and filled with forgiveness. And, if you are able to recognize, appreciate and reciprocate that love…well, this blog post is for you. And if you’ve not opened your heart to experience this love, this blog post is especially for you.

Eleanor Rigby. Yes, it is obvious she was named for the Beatles song. It was the song playing on the radio the evening we drove her from the farm in Colwich, Kansas to our home in Wichita. We knew, at that moment, her name would be Eleanor Rigby and we would call her Rigby. She cried all the way home, a heartbreaking cry for her siblings and parents and familiar surroundings. It broke our hearts and made us wonder, more than once, if we should turn around and return her to the farm; but, after all, she’d chosen us. Waddle-ran her way over to us and landed at our feet, what would become her familiar grin stealing our hearts and causing us to jelly into oohs and ahhs and baby-talk, her tail frenzy-wagging against us.

In a blink of an eye she grew from an awkward, stubby pup into a long, gangly pup who tormented us with her destruction: first the insulation from walls of the garage, various shoes, the rails of the deck porch, newly planted tulip bulbs which she dug up the next morning and presented to us at the back door; and our favorite story to share, the time she ate the cable box right off the house. Yes, the cable box, which then resulted in two expensive visits by Cox Cable. The first visit was to replace the box and place it higher up on the house and replace the chewed cables. The second visit was to reinforce those cables after she spent the next morning digging them all up and chewing right through them one more time for good measure. And all of this during the final snow and sleet of March.

But, once she retired from her one-puppy destruction crew, Rigby settled into a dog of such laid-backness and love, I often wondered if she carried the soul of an old hippy within. All who met her loved her and she was a neighborhood favorite. A dog of immense vocabulary and smarts, she never left her front yard even when tempted by a neighborhood cat or stranger, as if she knew that the world beyond her yard held nothing as golden as where she ate her meals, laid her head, dug her holes, and contained her people.

We loved her from the moment she entered her home and with a love that continued to blossom and grow as large and full as her tree in the backyard. Our constant companion, she went on camping trips with us, went swimming at Lake Afton, attended the Kansas Humane Society’s Woofstock, even took trips to Kansas City with stops at the Starbucks in Emporia. But, our favorite time was relaxing on the deck or patio with her. She knew as soon as she heard the first strains of music from the outdoor speakers that we would be hanging out. The three of us, rehashing the day or the week, sharing a snack, and unwinding within the cocoon of trusted company. She usually lay close to our feet, watching us, listening or snoozing, getting up to receive those much appreciated scratches behind the ears and long caresses of her head.

She also provided one-on-one therapy. My husband took her for walks in which she knew these bouts of exercise were more for her beloved Brad than for her. She became his confidante when I could not ease his stress or doubt. The time they spent sitting beneath her tree, he laying the worries of his world at her feet and she, head on his knee, listening, nuzzling, and wagging were some of the most genuine moments of love I’ve ever been privy to. And I loved her even more for each one. She provided an easing of the soul to the man we both loved.

And, she did the same for me. She knew, from the moment I walked through the door , if I needed more than her usual exuberant greeting. The gentle nudging of her nose against my leg, the long look as if to say, “What happened, today. You know you can tell me.” So, that by the time Brad arrived home, she’d carried my worries with her out to the yard and buried them right next to her favorite toy (something she did often, as we think she liked the surprise of unearthing the toy a week or so later). No, she never unearthed those worries. She was exceptional at releasing your sadness and frustration either through the seismic movement of her tail or burying as fodder for the earthworms deep into the dark, dampness of the earth.

For fourteen and a half years, she was part of our family, a central character. I know you’ve heard it often, how dogs become family. It’s true. She was one of us. She even had her own blog for a year, 8 Days a Week with Eleanor. Our confidante, our cheerleader, the one who never gave up on us, who never settled, who gave us her undivided attention, and who loved us fully. She was the best of us. I know in my heart, no human will ever match the unconditional love Eleanor Rigby provided our family.

As life grew long and she grew weary, her body beginning to slow and stiffen from arthritis, her inner pup would still emerge, if just for a fleeting moment, until her tired hind legs would remind her they could no longer carry her bounce. She was twelve and a half when she determined she could no longer climb the deck stairs, so we created the space beneath her tree. The lantern therapy tree was for all three of us, a place she could still join us and be with her people. At age thirteen, she determined she could no longer climb the stairs leading to the upper floor of our split level home and lived the rest of her days in the lower level, lounging on her orthopedic pillow between us and the television so she could watch us and we watch her. She had her bad days, when her legs would give out and she would tumble to the floor, not feel the step beneath her and fall the few steps to the lower level, or struggle and heave to move her body from the pillow. And through it all, we steeled ourselves against the inevitable. She would leave us, either on our own, or God help us, we would know to make the decision for her. We tried to talk about it, but hated the conversation, our despair pouring out in the guise of anger at one another for even saying aloud that Rigby was nearing the end of her days. Our days.

The week leading up to her final weekend with us, she surprised us by climbing the stairs to the upper level on Easter morning. I found her in the middle of the kitchen floor, her favorite place to be, the kitchen speed bump ever present especially when we were trying to cook. We were shocked to find her there and she even seemed surprised. Later in the week, she stood at the bottom of those tall, deck stairs and gazed upward, as if remembering those days when she would speed down those steps to chase a squirrel from the yard. For a moment, we thought she might try to climb them, but she slowly backed up, her aged and milky eyes looking up at us as if to say, remember? We spent the following Friday under her tree together, listening to music, talking and she getting her usual scratches behind the ears. Looking back, had we known it was her final Friday with us under her tree, we might have held her head in our hands and caressed those still puppy-soft ears a little longer.

Sunday morning, we knew. She did not want to be in the house, struggling to move herself around the yard, searching for a certain place. She refused to eat, to drink. We prayed for a miracle, shed tears, gave her space and waited. When evening drew nigh, we decided she would not pass from this earth outside, but near us. We created a bed for her and ourselves in the lower level and stayed with her as she labored through the night. At sunrise, I made the phone call to the vet, barely able to speak the words.

Eleanor Rigby took her final breath surrounded by her two favorite people, and the man in the funny pajamas, Dr. Oehmke, who took such good care of her during her short life. And as Dr. Oehmke and the crying vet tech left us alone with her, giving us as much time as we wanted to weep over her now quiet form, I marveled at the peace descended upon Rigby. It was in that moment, the realization of what she’d endured for us for two years hit home and now, she lay fully relaxed, fully at peace, that big head cradled in the lap of my husband whose sobs resounded in the room, along with my own. The hardest choice we made that morning, was leaving her, knowing we would never see her physical form, scratch behind those ears, and the home we would return would be different, changed.

Five months. Even now, as I write this, the tears flow free and long, dampening my sweatshirt. Still, when asked about her, my eyes burn with her memory and spill out in single tears down my cheek. The same with my husband. And we are not embarrassed, nor ashamed. We have known the best of friendship and are blessed to have been loved so completely for almost fifteen years. We were given a gift we will not soon discard or forget. Eleanor Rigby, truly the girl who came to stay.

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Living the Life Virtues

The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you have formed.  Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the resume virtues, but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former…most of us have clearer strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for how to develop profound character.

                                                                 – from The Road to Character by David Brooks

 As I sat listening to the incredible testimony of a life most certainly well-lived, a life spent bringing new life into this world and ensuring lives would continue, I was soul-stirred. Yet, I could not help but feel intense sadness that not only had this life ended too soon, but life’s virtues, those essences of our character that encourage others to speak so eloquently at our funerals, are not recognized as such in our everyday lives. I was surprised to learn there were so many things I did not know about the man whom we were saying goodbye. So humble, so private and reserved, his accomplishments and successes were not Facebook statuses “liked” by hundreds, but kept close to him and minimized by an intense resolve to do right by his talents. I wondered how many others in the room were unaware of the many honorable deeds done in such a short amount of time upon this earth. And I wondered if he truly knew how many lives he’d changed, motivated, and engrained with those same principles he lived by: care for your patients, but learn to balance work and family, as both are a priority; and do what is right. All this led by quiet example.

Do we think of this in our daily lives? Do we resolve to do right by our talents? It’s easy to get caught up in the external visage of what is deemed success. The resume virtues are easily seen, quickly recognized and rewarded with corner offices and elaborate titles or lauded at banquets with plated dinners and gilded plaques. But, eulogy virtues can be harder to see, hidden from eyes used to looking for the familiar skeleton of success and not open to the heart and soul of character.

Yes, there are those around us whose eulogy virtues are boldly apparent, not waiting to be extolled at pulpits and graveside. The funny thing is, these individuals are often embarrassed upon hearing such accolades and accept such testimony with deep humility. Theirs is not a life lived to receive pats upon the back or desktop trophies. They devote themselves to others, to family and friends. As mentors, caregivers, and teachers of life, they are the first offerors of hands and shoulders. Most live a life in the quiet shadow of their virtues; their lives more than a social media status and extending well beyond a minimum number of characters.

I am not disparaging success, as we all want to reach our goals and cross those finish lines, but I’m always more interested in the story behind the success. The hard work, the humble beginnings and equally humble ends, the silent heroes—those are the stories I want to hear, to witness. Those are the stories I hope to emulate. No one will remember nor care what was listed on our resumes, nor will anyone wipe away the dust from those forgotten trophies and read them aloud upon our passing. Will we spend our lives hoarding material successes under the guise of status or will we spend it in quiet resolve, doing right by ones talents in lifting up those around us. I am no Mother Teresa, nor will I ever be, but I hope when my time is done, I will be remembered for my character and how I lived this single life gifted to me.

Knowing and Acting

I’ve come to the realization that being an adult means knowing when something isn’t right for you and acting upon that knowledge by making a decision to change or stop whatever the something might be; even if it means feeling as if you failed, even for a moment, or having to explain multiple times the reason behind your decision. When I was younger, still learning about who I was, where I wanted to be, I often “powered through” situations simply because I was afraid to feel like or appear as a failure. Often, I continued to stumble the path because I thought having to explain my decision might take more effort or be worse than the situation itself. I became good at convincing myself that if I just went with it, things might possibly get better and if it didn’t, well, it surely couldn’t be that bad. Looking back, there were more than a handful of times I wish I’d been strong enough to act because some of the outcomes were bad, a few I carried with me, my own albatross, for many years.

Now, I know it’s okay to realize when something isn’t right and to not power through, especially knowing to continue will not be good for me. When something isn’t working or doubt begins to seep in, there is no way to strong-arm it into being what you hoped or imagined.

I left my writer’s retreat earlier than planned and yet, I’m not disappointed in myself. In just a few days, I learned a lot about who I am as a person and where I am as a writer. I’m thankful to the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow to allow me this experience and what has turned out to be a most valuable lesson. When I know in my heart and head a situation isn’t working, I do have the strength to stop and act without hesitation and feel good about my choice.

When I first prepared for my retreat, I worried if I still had it within me to write. I worried I would not be able to put words on a page, to bring life to the characters running around or still hiding in my head, to again become excited and passionate about a project. In my first 24-48 hours locked away in my suite, I found I can still write and am still excited about the process, I’d just forgotten. Somehow, I’d let life and everyday excuses get in the way, so much so that I tricked myself into believing I no longer carried the passion. It is still here and evident in the 3000 new words I created, plus the rewriting of the synopsis for my novel. Those first few days caused a spark among the embers, and more. As I read what I have written, I see a difference in my writing, a confidence, a maturity. Maybe I’m in a better place to understand what it is that I want to write. And it seems all I needed was a few days alone with my research, laptop, and playlist of Lila Downs to remind me.

Some may see this as a failure, some may say I’ve wasted an opportunity, but I disagree. I needed this venture to remind myself of where I am and what I need to create. Yes, I need time to myself, uninterrupted, and to be better disciplined in the craft, but I also need to open myself up to what it is that makes my heart beat faster and allow myself to weep upon the page. These few days reworking my synopsis, reviewing my research, and adding new fresh pages has done wonders for my writer’s soul. And I know it will not end now that I have returned home, secured a spot at our rarely used dining table and continued to add 1,000-1,500 words a day since I returned. This may have been the shortest writer’s residency in the history of Dairy Hollow, but I’m okay with that. I’m home. And, I’m writing.

 

Day #1: Better Late Than Never

I have arrived. Of course, I was an hour and a half later than I expected, as I missed a turn and drove almost an hour out of my way, but for those who know of my inability to comprehend directions, this should come as no surprise. None.

I barely had time to put away my belongings and arrange my writing desk before I walked over to the main house for the kick-off to Fleur Delicious event. Dairy Hollow hosted a fundraiser complete with French wine, local wine, local cheeses, and French pastries. While enjoyable, I felt a little overwhelmed as everyone knew one another and were engaged in conversations and boisterous laughter. But, everyone was incredibly friendly and I was introduced to guests as one of the “writer’s in residence” which gave me pause. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been introduced as a writer. A very long time.

I left the event early in order to snap photos of the colony and head over to #505, which houses four of the other writer’s suites. Only one other writer was present at dinner, which consisted of a lovely vegetable quiche, fresh salad, and baked potato. A writer of non-fiction, her company was perfect for a quiet dinner. She is also a veteran of the colony so was able to give me a few tips.

Now, I am settled in my suite, which is much more than I expected (photos, tomorrow) and I am waiting for the newness of it all to fade and the reality of undisturbed writing to take hold. I’m nervous about it. What if my characters didn’t make the trip? What if I can’t write. I decided to ease into the evening with this post and to look over one of my older journals. Interestingly, the first thing I read was a post dated April 17, 2009. It was when I took my mother to Kansas City to see Sandra Cisneros, the author of The House on Mango Street. Cisneros is one of my favorite authors and an inspiration. That evening, especially when mom and I met her and had our photo taken with her, was very special.

So special, I’d written in my journal something she’d said at the reading, “We (the Latino community) need to write our stories, tell the stories of our communities. These stories need to be told by the people who love their communities. Because if we don’t, someone from the outside will try, someone from the outside who thinks they’re looking in.”

I believe the muse has arrived, too. Just in time.

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At Long Last, a Writing Adventure Awaits

A few years ago, a colleague suggested I look into a writing residency. While my intentions are good, it is difficult to follow through on writing each day, especially with long work hours, family, and that pesky social calendar. A residency or retreat offers a writer space and lots of time to get lost in their work. A friend actually finished the rough draft of her first novel, which she published a year later.

So, during the winter break I decided to do a little research.  In 2013, my husband and I spent an extended weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We stayed in The Treehouses and fell in love with this open and creative community. While sightseeing, we discovered The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow tucked among the trees. I made a mental note and it was the first one on my list of residencies to research. I applied and on January 25, I received notification I was accepted on a subsidized residency.

Originally awarded for a week in August, I was contacted by the director when a slot opened in July, which works best for my day job schedule. I leave for Eureka Springs on July 5th. One week until my writing adventure begins. I’m acting like a kid counting down to camp, making lists of what I will pack, what I will need to stock the kitchen in my suite, creating a Writing Residency Playlist, making more lists, and counting down “how many sleeps” until I head to Arkansas.

I hope to blog about my residency, as well as my time in Eureka Springs. My goal is to complete a rough draft of my novel. I’ll be armed with a synopsis, the first three chapters and a whole lot of research and journal notes, plus a very special packet given to me by my Aunt Graciela. This packet contains a history of my paternal grandparents, including notes from my grandfather’s diary, the inspiration for my future novel.

Just me, my laptop, that packet of treasure, and  a private suite tucked into the splendid hills of Eureka Springs. I love a journey. Looks like this next one begins at The Writers Colony of Dairy Hollow.