Swing Sets, Fear and Faith

As a child, I used to love to swing as high as I could, my butt rising slightly from the warm, rubbery sling, the view beyond my dirty Keds alternating between speckled sand and blue sky. And then, as if on a dare, I’d let go of the grimy chains and fling my birdlike body into the summer breeze. For a moment, a very quick moment, I could feel myself suspended, hanging in the air like a lone seed from a cottonwood tree seeking a Kansas wind. It was in that millisecond I felt exhilaration and fear. Would I land securely in the divots of the sand or had I misjudged, ankle-breaking myself on the concrete. The fall was even quicker, pushing my tummy upwards toward my rapidly beating heart as I searched the ground and focused on keeping my appendages from windmilling me into certain death or at the very least, a mouthful of playground.

That is what I am feeling at this moment, exhilaration combined with fear. I’m changing my career path. I’ve just been accepted into the Transition to Teaching (T2T) program at Wichita State University, an alternative licensure program which will allow me to be a classroom teacher of record while earning my Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT). I’m leaving a secure position with Wichita State University to pursue a long ago dream to be a teacher and mentor. Some call it brave, while others call it crazy. Either way, I’ve set my feet on this path, a path I’d once stood briefly but was obliged to walk another, and while my inner being soars knowing I’m finally taking this step, I am scared.

I’ve never been one to allow my age to deter me from anything, but I am aware most people are etching out their retirement years, not jumping their career ship at the age of 51. But, I’ve never considered myself “most people,” so that’s not what is frightening about this change. And, I’m a nerd at heart, so the idea of taking classes and having homework makes me giddy, so rule out returning to school as a reason for any fear. Is it the swift drop in salary? A little. I confess we’ve grown accustom to eating out more than once a week or buying those concert tickets on a whim, but we were also much happier and more relaxed before my higher-paying, stress-inducing current job. So, what is causing this fear?

Rustiness. I have this haunting fear of being the Tin Man of teachers. It’s been ten years since I earned my graduate degree in English-creative writing and while I continue to write, it’s obvious some of the basics have gone by the wayside. I find myself over and under-punctuating or having to look up grammar rules I once knew like the proverbial back of my hand. As a blogger, grammar has not been at the forefront of my posts, as I’ve focused on thought and ideas, but not if I used too many complex sentences or overused sentence fragments. I picture myself standing at the head of a classroom, frozen in grammar and language rust. But, I do know one thing, I have heart. Lots of heart.

When I began graduate school in 2006, my goal was to teach. I applied and accepted a graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) with my sights set on completing my thesis (my short story collection) and securing a teaching position in higher education. But, life is far from easy and an obstacle was thrown in my path when my husband lost his job after the “new” manager decided his salary was too high, plus wanted to move his inexperienced son into the business. With a mortgage and two boys at home, we would’ve starved on my $9,000 a year stipend. I was fortunate to be offered a full-time position with the WSU Foundation, an opportunity I am so grateful because it opened the door to a ten-year career with my alma mater. But, I never forgot about teaching and whenever a moment arose to mentor or advise young people, I took that moment. From coordinating dental career day with high school students to faculty/staff advising for the Pre-Dental Student Association at WSU, and especially one-on-one mentoring with my student workers, I relish those times when I can advise, encourage or just listen.

I researched the T2T program more than a year ago, but it was shortly after the new year I decided it was time. We decided it was time. I know my husband has harbored guilt for altering my course those many years ago, although it was no fault of his own, and has been encouraging me to take the jump, to let go the grimy chains and fly. No words can express how it feels to know the person you share your life is willing to jump from the swing with you and from the same heights.

And so, it begins. My new journey down an old, somewhat familiar path, one I thought was overgrown with the native grasses of missed opportunity and littered with should’ves and could’ves is now beckoning. I’ll hold tight my compass of faith, find my focus point, and imagine what landing lies ahead. I can almost feel the sand beneath my feet.

woman jumping from swing

(I’ve been unable to find the owner/photographer of this image to properly give credit)

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

50 for 50: A Year Celebrated in Music

On February 14th, I will celebrate 50 years upon this planet. It is amazing to think I have spent 50 years breathing, walking, eating, experiencing, enjoying, laughing, crying, and loving this life. 50. I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am to begin a new decade. If my 50s are anything close to what my 40s were, it’s going to be one hell of a ride. I am not one to deny my age, as I believe growing older is to gain experience and with experience comes wisdom. My plan is to be brilliant by the time I reach the grave. Each year we celebrate the day of our birth, is one to cherish and embrace. I’ve earned this 50th year. I have fought hard for it, army crawling through my twenties, tiptoeing through my thirties, finally high-stepping through my forties, and hopefully, boot-walking into my fifties.

Everyone has asked how I plan to celebrate the “big 5-0.” A party? No. I put the kibosh on a party more than a year ago. Parties are fun for those invited, but for the honoree parties are work. Honorees spend so much time mingling and ensuring everyone is greeted and thanked that soon the big day is over and all that’s left is a half-sipped lukewarm beer, a dry piece of cake someone wrapped in a napkin ‘to save for you,’ gifts you explicitly asked not to bring, and the realization you hardly danced or sang, never truly celebrated. No thank you.

A trip? Yes…well, maybe. Last year, I began planning a trip for my 50th, but scratched out Paris, Key West, and New Orleans when I realized each of those destinations would be packed with Valentine’s Day lovers and hungover Mardi Gras revelers. Then, I couldn’t decide between a cabin in the mountains or a resort on a beach. When I began to exhibit signs of stress at the mere mention of my 50th birthday plans, I realized a trip and all of its planning was not the route I needed to take. Plus, since it is my 50th year upon this earth and not my 50th day, why not celebrate for an entire year. But, how?

History of Concerts II

This photo is just a sampling of keepsakes I affectionately call my “history of concerts.” I believe my first concert was, now don’t laugh, the Osmond Brothers. But, since no one in my family will own up to taking me, as I was only eight or nine years old, I’ll defer to my first self-purchased concert ticket: Foreigner at Henry Levitt Arena with opening act, Bryan Adams. I was sixteen. From that moment, I was smitten, not with Foreigner or Adams, but with live shows.

I don’t know the exact number of concerts I’ve attended, as I’ve never counted my ticket stubs (yes, I’ve kept them all), but it has to be a couple of hundred or more. Concerts have included: Foreigner, Journey, Rush, Def Leppard (with a two-armed drummer), Van Halen (with DLR and with Sammy), Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Cheap Trick, John Mellencamp when he was John Mellencamp and one year as John Cougar, Metallica (with Cliff Burton), Ozzy (with Jake E. Lee), W.A.S.P (that was a memorable show with Stormtroopers of Death and Slayer at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago), Dio, Duran Duran, U2 in Chicago during their Joshua Tree tour and later, Arrowhead Stadium during their Achtung Baby tour, The Rolling Stones, Alice in Chains (with and without Layne), Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Grateful Dead (including Jerry’s final show), The Wallflowers, The Police, The Cult, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, James Brown, Luciano Pavarotti, The Black Crowes, Counting Crows, Elton John…and on and on.

From this history was born the idea of attending 50 shows during my 50th year, or “50 for 50.” My plan is to see 50 live shows: big name, up and coming, old school, new school, big venues, intimate venues, and local. I’ll have my photo taken in front of every marquee with its allotted number. My hope is to have others join me for some of these shows; after all, some of the best concerts I’ve attended were with the people I love the most.

I have a few tickets already in hand and will be kicking off 50 for 50 tonight with Arlo Guthrie at The Orpheum. My husband gave me an early birthday gift, so we’ll be heading to Kansas City to see Black Sabbath on February 17 and less than a month later, Robert Plant at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In April, The Who and I will celebrate 50 years in KC. That’s four artists off my Concert Bucket List.

Music has always been such a big part of my life: dancing with my parents to Little Joe or Vicente Fernandez; sleeping with my Beatles Help album; listening to Barry White on my sister’s eight track player; picking out 45s at David’s Department Store; sitting for hours listening to a new album while reading the liner notes; creating mix tapes of my favorite bands; and saving my hard earned money to attend concerts.

No jumping out of a plane or base jumping for me. I want to welcome 50 with dancing and singing and the kind of euphoria that can only come from a live show. I hope you’ll join me and if you are unable, please offer up some suggestions. I’m always open to hearing and seeing artists who are new, at least to me. So, here we go…

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Leaving the City of Comfort

At the end of a commencement speech given at Connecticut College in 1980, Alan Alda said, “At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

I like the city of comfort. It’s familiar, somewhat structured, fairly reasonable, and yet, at times, frustrating. Possibly, the frustration lies within the walls of the city, built by the hands of convenience and formed by the expectation of others. Perhaps, we find ourselves one day standing at those walls and looking over into the endless fields of possibilities, the forests of should haves, and the oceans of mysteries. Fear keeps us behind those walls. Self-doubt convinces us to stop peering over those walls. But, what if one day our intuition draws us to the top of the wall, to sit and contemplate, to urge us to dream, to dare us to leave those confines of comfort.

My intuition tells me there is change on my horizon. I don’t know what it is, just that it is coming. It could be great or it could be small, but my inner Natalie is telling me to prepare. While I do not sense danger or tragedy, I am still a little fearful because change is always daunting. And, while I feel change is approaching, I also know I will have to meet change halfway by leaving these walls I so readily constructed. And, while I’ve never been one to refrain from hard work, I confess risk has not been in my vocabulary these past few years. Just when we believe we have our lives all figured out, something whispers in our ear to ready ourselves, to be prepared to scale the walls and run head long into the forests of our dreams.

Like waiting for a Kansas storm to arrive, anticipating either a deluge of long-awaited rain or the violent crack and tremor of a thunderstorm. How appropriate.

 

 

Day ?? of Wild and Exciting Little Things: Housekeeping

There was a time I enjoyed cleaning the house. Running a dust cloth over the dining room table, mantel, and bedside tables was therapeutic. My mind would wander, an outline for a new short story created, day old anger vented with a sponge and Scrubbing Bubbles.  And at the end of a few hours, with everything back in its place, woodwork and glass shining,  no dog hair lingering in the corners of the kitchen  and the carpet fluffed and looking semi-new, I felt accomplished and renewed. I still believe some of the worlds greatest problems could be solved while cleaning the toilet.

These days, I’ve not enough time to wipe the accumulated dust from the ceiling fan or Windex doggie nose prints from the sliding glass door. Looking back, I’m not sure how I ever found the time to clean. Even when I was working and going to school full-time, the house was spotless. For the life of me, I cannot recall how I was able to cram it all in a weeks time.

Or maybe, my priorities have changed. Why dust when there is a bicycle to be ridden through the Delano District. Tickets to a concert? Sure. I’ll vacuum tomorrow…or the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in squalor, I’m just not as stressed over seeing a dust bunny under the couch or cobweb in the high corner of the dining room. As I type, I can see a layer of dust on a shelf in the kitchen and spot a few cat hairs on the kitchen curtains where Day Tripper likes to peek his head through to spy on birds.  And  yet, no urges to run to the closet to grab a dust rag or drag the vacuum up the stairs to suck away those few stray cat hairs. Nothing.

It’s funny, the last few decades my mother has finally refrained from her endless cleaning, too. As a child, I watched my mother constantly clean and when she wasn’t kneeling next to the bathtub or sweeping under the kitchen table, she was ironing full baskets of shirts and pants, a can of starch at the ready. Not any more. While my dad has always helped with the household chores, it seems he has taken on the majority, even before my mother’s accident, last year. And as my mother says, “if he enjoys it, he can have it. I’m not doing it. Who really cares if your house is dusty? You dust it today, the dust just comes back, tomorrow.” As for the ironing, she will still press a few shirts, but she now looks for wrinkle-free clothing when she shops or tosses pants in the dryer for a few spins.

Maybe my mother’s different view on household chores has inspired me to do the same. I know she feels that with time at its most precious, why waste it cleaning the house. The structure of my life has definitely changed, as I find myself doing or not doing things based on what ifs or second chances. Which is why I find myself making small justifications for waiting a few more days to dust, after all it is windy outside and will be for a few days, so why dust when it will just be dusty tomorrow. When the wind dies down, I’ll give the whole house a good swipe of the dust cloth and Swiffer. Did I mention I live in Kansas? Next to a wheat field? Looks like I’ll be dusting sometime in February.

 

Day #36 and 37: This Man

Today, we celebrate our 15th anniversary. It’s been 20 years since we met on a blind date. I was 16 when I announced to my parents I was never getting married or having children. This man changed my mind:

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“Once upon a time there was a very sad and overwhelmed man. A man lost. The people and family in his small village cared for him yet he was very lonely and terrified of what the future held for him. He had a castle to keep. In this castle were three princes but he felt he was not the King. His heart was black, his spirit dulled. Then, from a land not so very far away, a princess arrived. She was not on a shimmering white stallion. She did not bring tangible trinkets and treasures. This princess did not require such things. She brought the gifts of compassion and love. The Kingdom from which she came was much different than his but this did not matter to the princess. She could see a tiny light deep within the dungeon in a far off moldy corner of his soul and proceeded to light her lantern and venture deep into this dark place. She was patient, caring and loving. Eventually, the man began to creep from the darkness to stand in the sunshine once again. His soul soared again, his heart felt as if it may burst with the happiness she had brought to him. He could not have achieved this without the love of the princess. The newly restored King made the princess his Queen and they lived happily ever after.

Happy 15th anniversary my QUEEN Natalie! I love you more than all the riches of all Kingdoms.”

Wouldn’t it change yours? I came home to candles lit all through the house, steaks on the grill, red wine, and jazz on the stereo.  I’m the luckiest Queen on this planet.