Category Archives: Random or philosophical thoughts

Observations from Six Weeks of Quarantine

It has literally been six weeks of quarantine due to COVID-19 – a novel coronavirus spreading mayhem and death across the globe. The first weeks everything happened so fast and we all scrambled to adjust as quickly as possible. So much so that March and much of April was essentially lost in a roller coaster of emotions and reactions. Highs and lows and everything in between.

Image source: CDC

How will history remember this time where the entire world shut down and economies shed all the non-essential and superfluous trappings of society in an attempt to slow the infection rate, so hospitals could treat and save as many lives as possible? It depends – like it always seems to – on where you lie on the political and religious spectrums. And in the US, it also depends on which state you live in, since there has yet to be a coordinated national response.

The US is divided along party lines. One side focused on responding to a pandemic threat to public health – one they saw coming as far back as January and to which Federal government did nothing to respond to until over a month later. The other side focused on responding with cries of civil liberty violations and lamenting the collapse of an economy built on the need for people to spend every last dollar they earn while unemployment numbers skyrocket. It is a vicious circle where no side is completely right or wrong as most moral and ethical dilemmas so often are.

Here in Utah, schools were closed on March 13, 2020 for initially a three to four-week timeframe, later extended to last until May 1st, and finally through the end of the current school year by the Governor – the only thing consistent across the state. The same day, March 13th, my work embarked on a capacity test of how many people we could support working remotely. The next day it was declared that if you could do your work from home you should – until further notice. It has now been six full weeks of 100% remote working. The county I live in has designated essential businesses that are allowed to remain open, everything else ordered to shut down to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of this contagion. Only one other county has similar orders to stay at home. Where so many people live and work in different counties, this feels like chaos or a non-response for many.

  • I work in heathcare. I see and am privy to the emergency and crisis planning happening for the communities we serve, and it inspires me
  • I personally have a kidney disease (of the autoimmune kind) which puts me at extreme risk, with loved ones in all of the highest risk categories for which contracting this disease would also likely be fatal
  • I’m watching friends and neighbors lose loved ones, unable to bury their dead with the type of ritual and gatherings that one would expect. I can say I’ve attending a virtual graveside service via video conference
  • I have two kids adjusting to schools that were cancelled for the remainder of the school year, with zero notice, who three days later started learning online with teachers who are not nearly appreciated for what they do in normal times but who are now not only caring for and focused on my kids and what they are learning but are themselves having to adjust to a new normal

The first month was hard. But now is much harder as the economy crashes around us and the divides that have existed in our society are exposed for the crisis they should always have been. While leaders debate about the right time to ease the quarantine restrictions to stay home, I wonder why we aren’t focused on the larger problem: why our economy is so broken that this many people can’t afford to miss even one paycheck without facing financial ruin. I’ve seen articles written that call this proof that we are living in a failed state. I both hope that isn’t true long-term and fear that it will be.

I find myself in the middle ground on the current stay-home vs. reopen-everything debate. Because, as usual, it is in the gray area (aka the hardest area) where most fall. There are no easy answers right now. There is nothing black and white about choosing life over money because we are all so entwined with the various aspects of the pandemic response. My wish is that people who protest, or gather together in a way that goes against social distancing, had a way to fully own that right by also waiving their privilege to healthcare when they blatantly disregard the recommendations from experts trying their best to give us all the best way to achieve those middle-ground options. How difficult is it to stay home as much as you can and socially distance when you don’t? To do otherwise is literally a slap in the face to those who will suffer as a direct result of large scale gatherings. Don’t believe me? There’s already reporting of spikes in confirmed infection cases in the states where large-scale protesting occurred in the last few weeks. You can’t argue with epidemiology, no matter how hard you try.

I will continue to observe and report. These are historic times, friends. I hope everyone I know is staying safe – and has enough toilet paper to meet first-world standards. (Will this be the joke of 2020 when it is all over? I wonder.) I have personally left my house a total of 5 times in six weeks and foresee that trend continuing for the majority of summer – or until we understand this disease more. I wonder how history will see this in hindsight and hope I’m still around to witness that as well.

Rejection roller coaster: the mother-daughter edition

Being an artist is hard. Banish the self-doubt and self-sabotage inherent in all of us and you still have subjective judgments that rule the arts. This past month felt like someone holding a giant magnifying glass above me, concentrating the rays of sunlight into a laser beam of backyard destruction on a pitiful and insignificant ant, me. Of course there are reasons for this that I could go into and bore you with the details of.

I could. But I won’t.

That kind of dwelling on the details doesn’t allow for the wide-angle lens of life I glimpsed because of them. Which is the point.

The basics are: I went to a writer’s conference that showed me exactly where I am within the professional realm of writing and publishing. It isn’t where I want to be. I learned a lot. I was mostly happy, but also sad at the end of the trip. Objectively, nothing earth-shattering was uncovered while there. I’m in school still, I have to split what free time I have with my writing, and because of that, my writing is progressing at a fucking snail’s pace. Nothing I can do with that but be patient and persevere, knowing all the time I devote to finishing my degree I will get to spend writing when it’s over. Think of the solid habits I’ll have, too!

Big Sister is a beautiful almost-adult now. She auditioned for a dance company that she wanted so badly. Surviving the first cut – further than she’d come last year – bittersweet when she got cut in the second round. Lots of tears and self-doubt at our place and this mom feeling helpless to take the pain and disappointment from her.

Here’s where that wide-angle lens comes in.

I know exactly how she feels. Putting yourself and your work out in the world. Judges (agents, editors, readers in my case) making assessments on what feels like your personal worth based on your artistic expression and execution. Feeling like you’re not good enough in the face of apparent failure. Wanting to quit.

I found myself telling her she should not quit dance unless she felt in her soul that she didn’t want to dance anymore. Because wanting to dance, and the joy it brings her, is the only thing that matters. Not whether or not she got cut from the company. Not that someone else subjectively didn’t think she fit. Her technique was judged and found wanting, but only in someone else’s opinion. She is still a beautiful dancer. Dance makes her happy. It’s all that matters.

As I talked to her, my own words echoed back at me about my writing. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t got anyone to represent me. Nor that I found holes in my plot the size of Texas. That my technique is different than others does not invalidate it. The ridiculous amount of time it’s taking me to finish this latest novel. In the end, those things are all subjective measures. What matters is the joy writing brings to me when I’m doing it.

That is enough.

It is all that matters.

In life, in love, in dance… in writing… the only thing that matters is the joy it brings you. If it doesn’t then, by all means, quit. But if quitting will kill the joy that set you on the path in the first place, ask yourself why you and that nugget of joy that sings to your soul is not enough to sustain you.

Consider that it IS enough. Everything else is subjective and doesn’t have to define you, or your joy. What you and your situation look like through the lens of society is not the truth for you. Persist. Find and then cling to the joy. Let it sustain you through the darkness and the doubt.

It will always be enough.

Messing with my brainwaves… literally

Some may call me melodramatic. I’ve been known to earn the title on occasion, it’s true. But this is not one of those times. I recently lost my way because of a silly app with enough real science behind it to be at least slightly dangerous.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning…

Hubby is the world’s lightest sleeper and has a white noise machine. When he was working night shift, it was an essential part of his sleep routine including piping it in through headphones while he slept in order to drown out the daytime noises. Now that he and I sleep at the same time again, at NIGHT, when the rest of the world is also quiet, he hasn’t been using it.

Months ago a friend gushed about this app she uses to train her brain for all sorts of things, raving about how effective she found it. At the time, I filed it away thinking I don’t need such things since my brain is a healthy one.

A few weeks ago, Hubby was complaining that he wasn’t getting great sleep, constantly waking up at the slightest sound, then having a hard time getting back to sleep. A synapse fired, remembering my friend and her miracle app. I went searching for it in true troubleshooting/problem solver style.

A day later, app successfully identified and downloaded, I shared it with Hubby and we came up with a compromise in white noises we could both sleep with. What I didn’t tell him about was the feature of adding a “brainwave” frequency underlying the white noise. I was kind of skeptical about it but thought what the hell. I picked the deep sleep brainwave thinking it couldn’t hurt and would certainly help Hubby if it worked.


I slept like shit that night. My sleep tracker confirmed it.

Which I thought was weird since I usually sleep like the dead.  It couldn’t be the white noise since that had never bothered me before when Hubby had used it. Which meant it was the brainwave frequency nonsense which was supposed to make me sleep better.

Hubby, of course, reported a much better night sleep-also pointing to the same conclusion that there was something to the brainwaves. So, I picked a different frequency – this one for lucid dreaming – and tried again the next night, hoping that frequency would benefit us both.

I slept better but it wasn’t my intense void of recharging where I lay my head down, close my eyes, go to sleep and never wake up until the alarm goes off. No, that night was full of crazy dreams that left me feeling like I’d run around all night either avoiding people trying to kill me or searching out those avoiding me. More evidence that there was some truth to the frequency effects.

Luckily, Hubby didn’t like that one either.

Then I found the magical frequency labeled stress relief. No crazy dreams, no restless sleep, just a nice night waking refreshed. For both of us. Bonus.

That was about a month ago.

Fast forward to last weekend when I became fully self aware of a disturbing development. I didn’t feel like myself and hadn’t for at least a week, probably longer if I was being truthful. Nights of mindless television – ME, watching television! – instead of writing. No drive for anything beyond the bare minimum every day and none of my signature zeal, joy or living out loud. I could barely muster enough “give a shit” to shower on the weekends. I had stopped looking forward to exciting events.

I was not myself.

I’d been quietly chewing on these developments for about a week, deep down worrying I’d developed some kind of depression. (It would serve me right if I had since I quietly gloat that I’m immune to such things whenever my close friends who suffer with such challenges are going through their rough patches.)

I was shopping with my daughters and randomly stated to my oldest that I hadn’t been feeling like myself. She instantly had a theory on why. (Immediate troubleshooting! I’m so proud.) It was her who zeroed in rather quickly that it could be the brainwave app messing with me. Why did she suspect this and why was she so adamant? Because she’d had similar issues where she didn’t feel the same after listening to the brainwave frequencies-something she did while awake rather than asleep.

The answer I came up with was astounding: I had eliminated all of my stress and there was nothing left to drive me toward achieving anything or pushing myself. We were sitting in a restaurant. I immediately pulled out my app and tried to solve the problem.

What other frequency could I use to get back some of my drive (aka stress of all things!)? I found one labeled Intense Focus and dialed it up. I kid you not, five minutes later I was already feeling better and was not in the funk I’d been wallowing in for weeks.

That night we listened to the Intense Focus wavelength all night.

Miracle of miracles, I woke up the next day and all of the funk and weirdness was gone. I woke right up, no lethargy. I was jumping from one thing to the next, juggling all the things I usually do with my signature gusto. My brain was sharp, no longer under a dark cloud.

Which means that now I’m paranoid of every one of these brainwave frequencies and what it means for us as a society. What if every single person was being altered with a mere frequency pulse of sound? If it could derail me-the overachiever extraordinaire-no one is immune! Okay, melodrama aside, it is a tad worrisome that the science behind this technology is observable and that the effects are not always beneficial.

We’ve stopped using the brainwaves part of the app at night.

I’ll leave the worrying to others and look at this on a positive note. I have discovered the real secret ingredient that makes my life work and I’ll never try to eliminate it again! I love you, my stress, for without you I am nothing!

Why Do I Write?

I am doing a free webinar series that until recently I thought was a light and fluffy thing. Often times I go into experiences with expectations that turn out to be nothing like what I really have in store. This was one of those times. What I thought I was getting was nuts and bolts instruction on how to write a novel. (Because I’ve written two already and somehow I don’t think I know everything yet? Enter the standard self-doubt plagued by all writers!) What I am getting instead is philosophy and emotionally based concepts about all the things that writers do to sabotage themselves without knowing it.

This week we were asked to answer the question: “Why do you write?”

I’ve never asked myself this question and neither has anyone else asked me. When you talk with other writers, we all just know that feeling deep down that we have stories that we must write and the drive that keeps us going is part of what unites us. We don’t need to define the why, certainly we don’t talk about it. But maybe we do…

The answer that bolted from my subconscious to my conscious mind was surprisingly well defined. As if I have always known the why even though I had yet to articulate it in words.

Why do I write? To lend voice to alternative perspectives and expose that there is ALWAYS another side to the story than the side that a person identifies with initially. If I can connect with a reader on a level where they either feel less alone in the world or they discover a different way to look at an issue, I’ve succeeded.

My latest project is a massive one. I’ve got so much doubt about whether I have the skills to really pull it off. If I can, it feels like a story that will be marketable and will appeal to a broad audience. Part of me that wallows in that doubt is desperately clinging to every excuse there is about not being ready and not knowing enough. That part of me is the one seeking answers in this webinar about how to write a novel instead of just writing it already. Time to pull myself up, banish the voices in my head full of doubt and get to it.

Living vs. Surviving

Survival is one of those instinctual things. Most people find a way to do it every day without thinking about it. Some are more resilient than others and some take more effort to grab at the bootstraps before pulling themselves up by them. My most recent epiphany is that there is a difference between living and merely surviving day to day. Sometimes, you don’t realize you’ve slipped into survival mode and assume you’re still in the land of the living.

For safety reasons, I’ve been intentionally quiet in the public domain about how for years Hubby has worked a night shift job. Eight years, in fact. The first four years it was only every other month, which made it seem far less invasive on our everyday living arrangements. Shift work being what it is, we’d get completely fed up with being ships crossing twice a day to hand off parenting responsibilities. Usually right about that time he’d rotate and get a month of reprieve on the day shift. Four years ago, when the economy took a downward plunge for the entire country, his company had layoffs. We felt lucky – even grateful – at the time. Even though he had the least seniority, they chose to keep him on. But part of that meant there wasn’t an extra day shift to switch off the schedule with and he had to be on dedicated night shift. Six PM to six AM, four days a week.

We had a baby, but we had an amazing nanny with a flexible schedule which made it easy to roll with the punches. We had an older kid with a full dance card, pun intended, but we could still manage. I took on the role of single parent during the week and was grateful that Daddy was home all afternoon for quality one-on-one time with the kids after he woke up. We all had to figure out how to be extremely quiet inside the house at all hours of the day because “Daddy is sleeping”. As the years wore on, slowly our nerves started fraying. We didn’t notice, it was just how life was. And one day we knew it would get better. It had to.


We combated the separation of schedules by setting aside one night a week devoted, without fail, to family night. Vacations became about reconnecting with each other rather than just relaxing and seeing new places. Night shift and the accompanied sleep deprivation ate away at all the normalcy of life as we knew it. Did you know there are studies about nurses who work the night shift that prove it takes years off of your life? As you might expect, the stress of attempting to maintain a normal life started to eat away at both of us. One day, I realized this wasn’t a life we were living but one we were merely surviving; and immediately started planning for a way out.

Planning, after all, is what I do.

Those plans have paid off with a switch to day shift and a new job. The results were immediate in the level of happiness and relief that washed over the entire family. Having Daddy home at night, instead of kissing him goodbye just as Mommy got home from work, is so much better for the girls. Getting to sleep at the same time all week long without one of us either having to stay up super late or go to bed super early is a novelty I didn’t realize I’d taken so for granted before. A full night of sleep, at night, when the rest of the world is asleep, and your body is programmed to do it, makes a huge difference for health and happiness that I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it for myself.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of surviving instead of living. Even me, the girl who is so focused on making every day count, found myself there. Another cautionary tale about how important it is to stop once in a while and take stock of your life. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.”

Ebb and Flow of Life

This week has been soul-sucking busy! Ideal storms collided between needing to update content for training I facilitate and responsibilities for developing and implementing a new process at work. The result? Zero writing time. I could lament, but this is the reality of being an adult with responsibilities. I can’t lie though… I did lament, especially when my late-night writing time was spent catching up on the day-job when all I wanted to do was write. The truth is, there are some weeks that life doesn’t lend itself to being a productive writer. Sometimes it’s the day job, sometimes it’s being a mom with active kids, sometimes it’s just that my hair and lash appointments ended up in the same week because I wasn’t thinking big picture when I found an open spot on my calendar a month ago. I won’t always be this busy, a fact I had to remind myself of in order to get through the week.

I wanted to pout and be mad when I couldn’t go to the park yesterday with Hubby and the kids because I was working. Instead, I poured an adult beverage in protest and kept working. My life feels crazier than normal, but I realized I’m doing a lot more that has to be crammed into the same available hours in a week. My fault alone that I can’t relax on the weekends like I used to, refueling and recovering before doing it all again the next week. I could give up my volunteer work with The United Authors Association, but I believe in their vision so deeply that I can’t bring myself to do it. I could quit my day job, but how would we pay the bills? I could stop writing, but how would I stay sane? I’m only happy when I have that creative outlet, and this whole new level of insanity is because I decided I wanted to write professionally instead of just a hobby.

My fitness tracker keeps telling me I haven’t met my sleep goal. As if I didn’t know! I haven’t sat on my couch in over a week and I’m grateful that I require my children to help with housework or it might never get done. But this is the life I’ve created and it makes me happy (when I’m not pouting). The human tendency might be to wallow in the fact that I couldn’t write this week, let another week slip past without it, and easily get out of the daily writing habit. Instead, I stole some editing time between classes when I was guest presenting at Big Sister’s school Friday. Because half an hour of writing this week was better than nothing. Life goes on, ebbing and flowing, regardless of how we react and deal with it. Here’s hoping next week is better!

What are you doing today to live the life you love?

Priorities – the evolution of time management

I realized that, as much as I am online lately, I have been strangely silent on social media the past few months. It wasn’t on purpose and I wondered how it had happened. When and where did my habits shift? I’m an analyst by nature, and by trade, so it made sense to do so. Self reflection and checking in on what I’m doing to make course corrections in my life path are pretty second-nature to me these days.

So what did I find?

I’m busier than ever before – as a mother and a wife, being a writer, at my corporate job, as a volunteer – and have had to further prioritize everything in my life. This is a trend that started years ago and continues to evolve.

The first thing to go was television. It grew from an “ah-ha!” moment when I heard another author answer a question about how he found time to write with a snarky comment about figuring out what was more important: writing or watching television. These days when people ask “did you see…” I always say no. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix and OnDemand programming, I do watch a little television; mostly the shows Hubby has vetted and deemed extraordinary, but it takes me a year to watch a couple of seasons. The time I got back from my life by giving up regular television viewing is staggering.

Last year I had to change my habits during football season. I’m a huge fan – NFL and college. I’m one of those women who is watching the game even if Hubby isn’t home. (Thank you, Dad, brothers and grandpa!) But gone are the fall Saturdays where I lounge on the couch snuggled with hubby watching our favorite college teams, and the Sundays of NFL games. Not to mention Monday Night Football. And yes, sadly, even Thursday Night Football. The games are still on and Hubby still interrupts with “you’ve gotta see this!” while he’s rewinding live television. But, now I’m usually multitasking in front of my word processor and look up only occasionally for a replay. It was my last hold-out of regular television viewing, and justified in my mind because it is a relatively short season each year. The time I got back from giving it up last year was the difference between having time to finish a novel or not. I’m currently revising that novel.

My social media habits have undergone similar evolution, also influenced by writing. First, I’ve had to change my criteria for engaging with ‘friends’ online. Now that I’m out there in the public eye, people I don’t know seek me out. I’ve had to throw out my cardinal rule: if I don’t know you well enough to say hello if we run into each other at the store, we aren’t close enough to be online friends. Knowing that casual acquaintances are seeing my updates unconsciously influences what I choose to share. Next, I’m heavily involved with professional organizations centered around writing and publishing. Using Facebook to interact with these groups has become my main use of the app. I’m online – a lot – but in secret groups where only those who also belong get to see what I’m up to. My brain didn’t translate that the type of activity I’m engaging in was different and failed to allocate an increase of resources to compensate. Frankly, I just don’t have that kind of time anymore. Well, and my corporate job started blocking Gmail and Facebook, eliminating my ability to multitask in small increments of two to three minutes over the course of the day.

Recently I read an article related to how much effort authors should invest in engaging with social media to sell their books. It was well written and had me thinking about all the effort anyone trying to sell a product gives to social media – and how much time it can suck from what is really important. What if we all just used these sites to connect with real people and create meaningful relationships? What if Twitter was really a feed about what’s going on with life and not a constant barrage of people trying to sell me something? It has become so much noise, no one listens anymore. What if all the time we spent online were better suited somewhere else doing things more essential to our happiness? I know I’ve been more productive since my habits have changed even subtly so I’m sticking with the trend.

I wonder what will be next in this incremental evolution in focusing my efforts toward productivity and efficiently in all the areas that I’ve deemed matter most in my life. Or have I reached my full capacity with all the things I’m doing now? Last weekend I was at a family gathering with my siblings and their families. During the reminiscent viewing of a movie we used to watch with our mom – over and over – I found myself reaching for my laptop to work on a certification test I have coming up. Is this just my nature now, to evaluate what the best use of my time is in every moment? Time will only tell. For now, my time management has evolved to a great place where I can commit to saying ‘yes’ to unsolicited invitations to submit stories to publishers. Life is good but only if you make it that way!


Tender Mercies, A Perspective on Grieving

Welcome to my new normal… I lost my mom to liver disease on August 23rd. Ironically, she had never had a drink of alcohol in her life. The week preceding her death was filled with things I thought I would never have to do. Some I’d never even considered possibilities and many I should have prepared for but simply had not.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m lucky. I should have lost my Dad the same week I lost my Mom and very well could have. He totaled his 2014 Harley-Davidson Street Glide on Friday morning and was taken by helicopter to the nearest hospital. He was wearing his helmet, which he did every time he rides thankfully, and sustained only minor injuries. ‘Minor’ considering he flipped his bike end over end twice, landing on his head both times. They kept him overnight for observation which was to be the first in a long chain of events that week, the worst week of my life. I believe things happen for a reason; and that there was a reason for this accident especially.

Mom admitted to me that night that she didn’t think she should spend the night alone – something she did five nights out of every week while my Dad was at work. It was a first and heralded the beginning of the end. My siblings and I rallied together to be with Mom all weekend and get Dad home from the hospital an hour away. That weekend I bought adult diapers, helped Mom shower and transfer on and off the toilet – things this daughter had never prepared myself for. We all stepped up and did what needed to be done while I silently wondered if worrying about Mom was why Dad had wrecked his bike. Especially if this had become his normal.

Mom had been sick for many years – diagnosed for four but symptomatic closer to ten because she was a stubborn nurse who refused to see a doctor regularly. We had watched her decline slowly the last couple of years but she was still living at home. She didn’t drive anymore but Dad would take her religiously for her hair and nail appointments. Most weeks they would go to dinner with us on Friday nights and still saw friends often.We’d even gone camping as a family three weekends before. By Saturday morning we all agreed that with Dad hurt and in a neck brace for the next ten days he was going to need help. Help none of us were equipped to offer. That weekend I helped coordinate with her doctors to get emergency orders for home health care, we all kicked into cleaning and de-cluttering mode to make room for what we anticipated was a need for a hospital bed since she could no longer get in and out of her own by herself seemingly overnight, and we met with a nurse to assess Mom’s current health.

The worst side effect of liver disease is the build up of ammonia in the brain called encephalopathy that presents as memory loss. That weekend there were several times Mom would look at us and it was like there was no one looking back from behind her eyes. It was much worse than we had been experiencing with forgetting how old she was or how long she’d been married or not being very good at lengthy conversations. All of which we’d been dealing with for at least the past year. By Monday morning, she couldn’t walk by herself and there was evidence of internal bleeding. We headed to the emergency department at the hospital. Mom never came home. They stabilized her and did everything they could but her kidneys had also failed and there was nothing anyone could do to fix it.

It was a week of emotional turmoil as my Dad leaned on us to help make the hardest decisions a person can be faced with. Would she want to be intubated? Would she want to be kept alive on a feeding tube? Would she be okay with spending half of every day for the rest of her life hooked up to a dialysis machine to keep her alive? Would she be happy if she had to go to a skilled nursing facility and not be allowed to live at home anymore? She was never conscious enough to rationally help us make these decisions. Heart-wrenching and heart-breaking. In the end Dad knew enough about her wishes to make the hard choices. We withdrew care early Saturday morning. She was gone by the evening.

Someone said to me right after it happened that nothing can prepare you for losing a parent. So true. No matter that we all knew it was a possibility for years, it still hurt like a bitch. In the weeks since her death I’ve come to focus on the tender mercies that came with the heart-ripping sadness and give me comfort.

The first and most obvious mercy was not having to bury both of my parents in the course of a week. If things had turned out differently that Friday morning, a morning that started the way so many others had before with Hubby and Dad heading out for a day trip on the motorcycles, we would have.

Even bigger, the realization that Mom went out exactly as she would have wanted it. She tried in April to make me promise that she’d never have to go to a care facility or a nursing home. A promise I told her flat out I couldn’t make because none of us were equipped to care for her if it came to that. As it happened, Mom lived out her days at home with the love of her life until she couldn’t and then went swiftly from this life to whatever lies beyond. She never had to face her greatest fear in life – living without Dad. And she was surrounded by the thing that made her happiest for an entire week before she passed – her family. I will cherish every day I spent with her in the hospital that week and be forever grateful for a job flexible enough that I was there every day.

So many of the events that week seemed serendipitous. Tuesday night all the grand kids came and spent the evening. It was difficult to watch my own children struggle both with understanding what was happening (Baby Sister) and with knowing exactly what might be happening (Big Sister). There were near-hysterics involved but in the end all of them were able to tell her everything they wanted or needed to say – and heard Grandma tell them she loved them back. Had we waited another day, they wouldn’t have had the chance. She was transferred the next afternoon and children are not allowed in the ICU.

Many people warned me that the funeral and all the things leading up to her burial were going to be so rough. Certainly they were difficult – especially speaking at the funeral – but nothing was as hard as watching her actually pass from this world. I cling to the memory of watching her use her last ounce of breath to tell us she loved us and to kiss Dad over and over until she didn’t have any more strength left. Such a tender mercy, having her still conscious enough for that final goodbye.

I watch people tread lightly around my grief and part of me is surprised there isn’t more of it in evidence. But the reality is, we slowly lost Mom for years and there is comfort in knowing she isn’t suffering anymore. It doesn’t mean I didn’t sob all the way home after stumbling on an old voicemail from her today. Because I did. Hearing her voice and calling me her pet name were things I hadn’t even considered how much I would miss. I thank my brush with death and resulting shift in perspective of not taking people or time with them for granted. It, too, must have happened for a reason. I have very few regrets because I spent as much time as I could with my parents in Mom’s final year. I will miss her everyday but I know she is in a better place – wherever that may be.

I’ve said it before since that fateful day of my pulmonary embolism and I’ll say it again. Squeeze those you love and make every minute count. Tomorrow is not promised. Even if you know the inevitable is inevitable, you can never really be ready. More important, have the difficult discussions with those you love about what you would want if you ever find yourself in a situation requiring life support and unable to make decisions for yourself. It was the single worst thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. Trust me that you don’t want your loved ones not to know at least the general ideas you have on death and dying.

Much gratitude and love to those of you who make up my village – who brought food and gifts, took my kids, sent cards and flowers, hugged me, got me drunk, came to the services, called, sent texts and Facebook messages and in general got me through this as a collective. I couldn’t have done it without all of you.

The Wonder of Diversity in Fiction

Everyone is different, we all know that, right? This week I realized there is far more striking diversity in what people read than I’d ever given thought to. I devoured – and I mean devoured – a book a few weeks back by a fellow author I met at LTUE called Beatrysel. Afterwards I raved about it to everyone I know. And then was shocked – SHOCKED – when one of my besties from my writer’s group picked it up and said she just couldn’t get into it and didn’t really love it. It got me thinking…

I knew that there were different tastes – ten years in a book club has shown that over and over again. In the microcosm of my own book club, there are people who adore the young adult genre even when they are far from the intended demographic the books are written for. There are those who love historical period pieces. And the holocaust. And the classics. And there’s a handful of us who love fantasy. An even smaller handful who love horror. And for all of those who love a particular subset of books, the niches they discard are just as varied.

What makes you love what you read and reject what you don’t like? I’ve thought for years that we all read with our own filters. Those experiences we’ve had in life that taint the glasses we look out from also tend to define how we take things in. Most fiction has one thing in common across all genres – it evokes an emotional response in readers. Based on an individual’s emotional make-up, those responses will be different for different books. What a wonderful world we live in that for as many varied kinds of readers, there are that many varied kinds of writers providing the kinds of books everyone everywhere want to read.

The Perspective and Importance of A Moment

Today I gained the perspective of a forty-two year old. Because I now AM a forty-two year old. It is funny to look back on my late thirties when I started to refuse to acknowledge birthdays and dread that the age number kept getting bigger and what it all meant that I was ‘getting old’. Everything shifted when faced with my own mortality but nothing quite so much as this little thing. When the alternative to getting older is being dead, you start to wonder which is really the worst thing that could happen.

An old friend I haven’t seen in years – but thanks to the wonders of Facebook get to talk to and interact with – said today that my face hadn’t changed since we worked together twenty years ago. It was the nicest thing and proves that aging doesn’t have to be a horrible process. Could it be that happiness and joy are the magical facial cream everyone has been looking for to achieve younger looking skin? Could embracing your life and appreciating everything and everyone in it with open arms and without judgement lead to a younger and glowing countenance? Or was he just flattering me?

I’ve been internalizing a lot these last couple of weeks of yoga training, thinking a lot about being present in every moment and every situation. Things like noticing when Baby Sister gets whiny and I get frustrated and realize I have my focus so fractured between multiple things that I ‘think’ need my attention. The reality is that she is the one thing that needs my attention (usually) the very most in that moment. Thirty seconds of eye contact and direct engaged conversation are usually enough for her to restore harmony in herself and run off to sing and play with her babies leaving me to finish all the other unimportant but pressing things I’ve got going on. What if that’s what everyone needs once in a while? What if life were really that easy? What if it is more about being fully present with someone rather than posing for a selfie over and over until you get it just right?

Have you noticed that there are no longer any bad candid pictures out there? Thanks to the wonders of technology you can immediately see what that “snapshot” is going to look like and decide to accept or re-do until you get it just right. And once you capture it just right, there’s always editing software to remove blemishes and brighten the colors and whatever else you think wasn’t perfect about the authentic moment the lens captured. What kind of a legacy are we leaving for our children when they look back and only get to see what we deemed were the ‘best’ photos of us instead of the ‘real’ photos of us? Are we all taking life way too seriously or taking ourselves out of the real moments to capture the perfect portrayal of the same moment for the benefit of everyone else? What if all that matters is being happy and not all the stuff we surround ourselves with?

These are the things I’m thinking about on the second birthday that I might not have ever had. Ultimately I hope I can be the kind of person that ages gracefully and who people look at and wonder “why is she so happy?” regardless of how many wrinkles are on my face or how high the number next to my age gets. I’ll tell you, forty two never felt so wonderful!

2013 In a Nutshell

I’m reading a book called “The Happiness Advantage” with my work book club. I’m not a huge fan of the self-help genre (and for some reason these are the kinds of books that always get picked by the group) so it is taking me months (and hopefully not countless library fines) to finish this one even though it is a fabulous book. What I’m learning is that success, performance at work, and general happiness are all a product of your positive outlook on life and not the other way around. As I am wont to do with every book I read, I’ve been internalizing all the different points the author makes and realize that somehow intuitively I’ve been applying some of these principles in my life already. Mostly because 2013 was by far the most roller-coaster of a year to date in my life.

Here’s a recap of the year:

  • I’m so glad to be alive since I didn’t die from the pulmonary embolism
  • Happy birthday, I’m done taking Coumadin! Let’s celebrate with leafy green vegetables!
  • I finished my first novel – finally!
  • Just kidding, back on Coumadin
  • Wait, why did I just gain thirty pounds in a couple of weeks? 
  • Good news, mammograms don’t hurt and I have medical proof I have a great rack
  • Wow, biopsy of the kidney really hurts but not as much as finding out I have a chronic kidney disease that I will never get rid of.
  • I’m officially more of a yogi than a runner but that’s okay
  • Treatment of kidney disease commences and I am feeling better
  • Started teaching yoga at work since no one else would get the ball rolling
  • Treatment isn’t working, how ’bout chemotherapy? We settled for vegetarianism and immunosuppression after I argued with my doctor for a plan that didn’t come with cancer side effects later.
  • Immunosuppression sucks ass! Time for a pity party from hell
  • Just kidding, I’m over the pity party and ready to BE healthy instead of wallow
  • When the dose is finally right, immunosuppression is actually great since I feel fabulous now!
  • Focus turns back to fitness and surprise – yoga is keeping me from being any worse off than I was before this whole mess.
  • Everyday yoga practice commences – I’m addicted
  • I finished my second novel – in a month!
  • Christmas in California’s warm weather – although the Californians think it is winter we know they are crazy.

The book is full of examples of positive psychology and proof that you are more productive and successful if you first start with a positive outlook rather than saying that once you get {fill in the blank} I’ll be happy. The one that struck me the hardest was talking about how there is a small subset of people who are more successful and happier because they can more successfully pick themselves up off the mat after failures or setbacks. They are the people who define themselves not by what has happened to them but instead by what they can make out of what has happened.

There is no doubt about it that I am a changed person because of the last year. I have always lived life with a touch of spontaneity but now I’m even more apt to jump first and ask questions later. I also cherish my relationships with people – not just those closest to me but everyone I know – differently and more deeply. I know more than most how tenuous life is and how today just might be your last. If you know me in real life and I tell you that I love you, rest assured that I mean it. But that isn’t where I stopped. Back in October when I was deep in my pity party, I could easily have stayed there dwelling on how bad my life was and how I had been forced to turn vegetarian and how I will never be cured and blah blah blah. But instead, I switched my focus to all the things that could have been worse. I’ve never been hospitalized with all this insanity of health issues, I only had a couple of weeks that I couldn’t do yoga to the fullest, and I am able to do whatever I want now in terms of fitness – although running is again something I have to build up to since it has been so long since I did it. I learned last month that the six months I thought I had of immunosuppression treatment is actually a two year gig but I’m rolling with it. It isn’t chemo after all. Sure, I’ll have to be far more diligent with my facial waxing since one of the side effects apparently is increased hair growth but there are worse things, right?

If I’m recapping 2013 in a nutshell, I’d say it gave me a far greater perspective on how I want to live my life. I am still grieving in many ways about the loss of my perfect vitality but I’m also taking steps to get past that loss. I didn’t lose a husband, and I didn’t get a terminal illness (chronic doesn’t directly translate to terminal after all) but I did suffer a loss in the form of seeing the end of my life as I had previously defined it. Instead of wallowing in the grief, I’m redefining my life and living that new life fully. I’m not one to make resolutions with the New Year but I’m far more prone to reflecting this year. As I look ahead to 2014 and all the craziness I’m certain is in store for me and my little family, above all I am happy and hopeful. May your 2014 be the same whoever you are and wherever your circumstances find you. Thanks for reading!

    The Olympics through new eyes

    The Olympic Games happen every four years.  And every four years, since I was a small child sitting on the couch next to my mom cheering for gymnastics and following the swimming with my dad who was a swimmer in high school, nothing much has changed for me whenever they roll around.  Until this year.

    I still watch – with my own children sitting next to me now – cheering on the women’s gymnastics team and hoping they win gold; cheering and appreciating amazing performances from top gymnasts from all over the world; cheering on our swimming team; watching the diving; watching volleyball in all its forms; and being fascinated with glimpses of other not-so-popular sports when there is prime time coverage.  But this year something has changed.

    This year, I’m also watching track and field events.

    Four years ago, I was not a runner.  Four years ago, I was overweight and unhappy with my life.  Four years ago the only thing I didn’t watch in the summer Games was the track and field.  I even remember being irritated with Hubby who ran track in high school wanting to watch.

    Now, I’m a runner. And I can’t get enough of watching the amazing athletes.  And I’m answering questions and correcting the misconceptions from my daughter about ‘why they are running so slow’ because it’s fifteen hundred meters instead of one hundred.  I’m appreciating the difference between a sprint, a middle distance and a long distance and am inspired and awed by those who do multiple events.

    I guess one could extrapolate from this that it only takes four years to fundamentally change your life.  Thank god I have the Olympics to measure the distance I’ve come from that other girl who ran the corners and walked the straights hoping just to pass the required mile in P.E. class in junior high.  The one who took dance the next year so I wouldn’t have to run.  Who drove aimlessly through parking lots as an adult looking for the closest spot so I wouldn’t have to walk so far.  I like my new life and how I feel and appreciate how much effort it has taken me to get here from there.  I’m strong.  I’m fit.  And that makes me powerful.  And although my body isn’t perfectly chiseled, and there are always setbacks along the way that constantly test my will, I’m still active and I’m still a runner.  That fact alone means I will live longer and feel better than that old girl I used to be.  More Olympics to watch that way, too!

    Serves you right!

    And just like that, we’re back to bitchy…  Last week I had a passive aggressive episode in the gym that got me thinking.  My life is so crazy that it takes having a membership at two different gyms to make my commitment to training actually workable.  Half the week I’m at THE GYM (queue angels singing) and the other I’m at the fitness center at work.  Luckily I have both, but the mix of people at work is… well, somewhat different.  There are a lot of people who only use it for 15 minute increments while on their break and still in their work clothes.  I understand that it IS better than nothing but it is a very different commitment level than those who make time to do a full workout including sweating enough we need to change clothes. I mean, it’s one thing to go for a walk during your break but to have an entire fitness center on the premises and not utilize it fully?  What a waste!

    I admit I get a bit of entertainment watching them come and go on the treadmills and elliptical machines and there’s one… um… girl… in particular who stands out among the rest.  Why?  Because she comes in every day, dressed in her skirts and knee-high boots AND jacket or blazer – crazy enough by itself.  But what’s more crazy is the choice of television while she’s at it.  At a glance I’d say she’s in her twenties – early to middle – and yet she’s watching TV that my nine year old likes.  We’re talking Nickelodeon and ABC Family and even the Disney Channel.  Laughable really and at times I find it hard not to do so out loud. 

    So back to last week’s episode… I’m on the treadmill sweating like a pig, jamming to some Marilyn Manson doing intervals: two minutes of “normal” running followed by a minute of sprinting.  Because I have my iPod and there were only iPod-ers there when we started I turned the television off (yes, people, there’s an off switch on those things!) and dropped the remote into the cup holder on my left.  Half an hour into my workout, teeny bop girl walks in and climbs on the treadmill to my immediate right and starts looking around for the remote for the TV hanging directly above my treadmill.  I’m watching out of the corner of my eye and I know exactly when she finds it.  Even if I hadn’t been watching, I would have known because at that point she started STARING at me.  Like craning your neck and staring at me from just within my peripheral vision is the same as asking for the fucking remote?  Seriously, it was creepy and it went on for the entire time she worked out.  I kept thinking she would ask me and after a while it became apparent that she wasn’t going to and I thought ‘Oh, you think I can’t outlast your childish stare down?  You are wrong chicky!’

    Like clockwork, ten minutes later she turned off her treadmill and headed back to her time-clock punching job (God I’m glad I don’t have to do that!) until the next day.  I’m sure she was totally pissed that she’d missed out on her tween show while she went for her leisurely stroll but here’s the kicker – I would have gladly given her the remote if she’d just opened her mouth and asked me for it.  I even gave her an opening when one of my friends got finished with her cardio and headed for the locker room as I turned and said goodbye – after she’d gotten my attention from my tunes that is.

    The snotty bitch in me gloated that I had outlasted the childish stare down after I got over how creepy it all was.  But then I started thinking about the greater tragedy of the whole thing.  You see, that girl is in her twenties and still doesn’t know how to ask for what she wants.  Not the remote in the gym, probably not with her job, most likely not even with her friends – and God knows how unhappy she probably is in the sack!  Tragic, really but until she learns that life lesson she will continue to be frustrated everywhere she turns.  Unable to voice her own desires, she will continue to be thwarted in all she does – usually by bitches like me who know exactly what we want and aren’t afraid to ask – no, DEMAND – what we want both in action and in words.

    I made sure to rush home and work this life lesson into a conversation with Big Sister so she hears at an early age how important it is to stand up and ask for whatever it is that you want most.  This is something big enough not to be left to that old ‘lead by example’ bullshit.  There’s too much objectivity in that approach to be trusted implicitly in all things.  Although, I have no fear she will see it enforced daily through my actions.  Later she will thank me when she has a life that she wants and everything as she likes it with her husband and her own children.  And if I see the Disney chick attempting the stare down again, I might just tell her “it serves you right for not asking!”