Be Brave. Show Up.

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Sometimes being brave means simply showing up. Whether it’s about putting aside differences or confronting the unknown, being accountable often takes guts. Accepting ownership is not always for the weak of heart but it undoubtedly is the courageous thing to do.

In the few short weeks I have been doing my little experiment, I have discovered there are all types of brave acts. It simply depends on the person. For some, it may mean getting out of bed in the morning, being uncertain, perhaps fearful, of what the day holds. For others, it’s standing up and sharing a story, opinions or thoughts. Maybe an act of bravery is trying something for the first time, putting pen to paper or dancing and singing out loud. It could mean saying “I don’t know,” or “I love you,” or even protecting someone that is being picked on. Perhaps it’s about releasing past mistakes, asking for forgiveness and setting new boundaries. But I will reiterate. I think bravery is about showing up.

Which brings me to rattlesnakes.

I don’t like them.

In our neighborhood, there is a large mountain, okay hill, that has signs along the paths warning of rattlesnakes. Apparently  plenty of horned lizards, whatever the heck they are, make their home here as well. Just the thought of one running over my Nike’s sends me in a panic attack unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Therefore, I never had any desire whatsoever to climb to the summit of this imposing lump of dirt.

But of course, I did. That’s what this year is all about. This past week, I ventured out, pushing aside my fears, but not before googling “what to do if bitten by rattlesnake,” and making sure I knew of my exact location in case a call to 911 was needed.

Off I went, walking straight uphill for over one mile, huffing and puffing,while spotting lots of snake holes, and doing my best to keep focused on the reward: the peak, the views, and relishing in the glory of accomplishing something that intimidated me.

A short 20 minutes later, I made it. My feelings once I reached the top?

Eh.

I so wish I could tell you that I experienced a Rocky moment when Sly Stallone reached the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and high fived the entire world. But I was thinking about food since I was so hungry. I also worried about the walk back to the car, as I knew most injuries occur when climbers scaled down a mountain, not up. And there were still those damn rattlesnakes and horned rimmed lizards to consider. While we took a different route back, and I swore I heard the loud purr of a mountain lion, thankfully, all was well once I reached the end of the trail. But truth be told, I wasn’t completely comfortable throughout the walk, I can’t even say I really enjoyed it. But I did it. Will I climb this peak again? Maybe. But I also have so much yet to do.

Also accomplished this week: serious meditation classes, gentle yoga, and reaching out to a long time friend. Also, confronting a client that needed a serious reprimand. More on that later.

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WOW.

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This brave thing takes a lot of thought, not to mention time.

First.  Let me tell you what I am discovering.

Perfection is ridiculous.

For too long I resisted writing in this blog if every comma wasn’t correct, my grammar wasn’t spot on or my thoughts were a little disjointed. Talk about pressure.  I then realized if I expected this from myself, what did I expect from others?

Wow.

It’s said you will never find your true self worth if you are seeking perfection. In order to keep my commitment this year about challenging myself, stepping out of my comfort zone, etc., I had to learn to stop expecting everything to be, well, perfect.

So here is where my Big Brave World Tour took me the past seven days.

Joined a Writing Club.  Yes.  I’m going to sit across from others, share our stories, take in their comments and basically try not to cry.

Joined a Book Club.  Yes, I’m doing a lot of “joining”, but I will be gathering with a group of women I do not know, at someone’s house I do not know, and hopefully all while enjoying the experience. Personally, I’m a homebody, but I have really missed my old book groups, so let’s give it a try. And I found a group where they enjoy wine, so it’s a win-win.

Walked two new trails: I try and walk as much as I can.  Thank God for California which makes this exercise not only easy, but thoroughly enjoyable.  While out and about, I noticed several trails that seemed interesting, but frankly, I didn’t know much about them, such as the distance, if they were safe, and dear God, if it was rattlesnake mating season.  Anyway, I said the heck with it,  marched along and discovered some amazing sites, some with a clear ocean view.

Yoga/Meditation: In a few short hours I will be sitting with a yoga instructor (who happens to be a personal friend), in her own home studio, learning gentle yoga and meditation.  I’ve always said “no” when asked to do this before, not because I wasn’t interested, but rather I needed my body to heal from my PMR (When Life Throughs You A Curveball).  Well, my body is about as healed as its going to get, so no more excuses.

Coming up this week:  I’m doing something unprofessional, but really, really needed, and I can because I’m my own boss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Brave For A Day!

Instead of writing daily about my new adventures, I will be posting weekly recaps with occasional stories in-between.  I do this so my journey doesn’t come across as obnoxious, but rather focus on my attempts to shake up a life that needed a little shaking up.

In the meantime, every year at this time I reread a wonderful book that never fails to speak to me in a new and thoughtful way: John Kralik’s “365 Thank Yous: The Year A Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.”  Recently divorced, living in a small, broken down apartment, his law firm failing and his relationships with his adult children distant, Kralik decides to write a daily thank you note for the next year to an unsuspecting person, friend, or family member. As the year moves along, his life is dramatically changed in ways he never expected.  I won’t do any spoilers, but this is simply a remarkable read. Now for $2.99 on Kindle, or the hardback at less than $10 at Amazon, this is a wonderful gift to yourself.

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Be Brave For A Day #3 – Here we go!

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Within three minutes of pressing “publish” on yesterday’s blog, I received an anxious text from my middle child.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” she asked.

Not thinking of my post, I replied I was doing some cleaning around the house. I didn’t want to tell her that after having everyone home for the holidays, a dumpster, and heavy duty cleaning equipment was required.

“No! What are you doing tomorrow to be brave? You wrote you were doing something you have wanted to do for years!”

Oh. That.

I quickly texted her back my plans, and she submitted her approval.  A few moments later I received another text.  This one from my father.  It read:

“Your mother forwarded your latest article to me. Outstanding.  Glad you tried, and liked the oyster.  Just be careful with some of your new adventures as you are very important to us. 143.” 

It was then I realized that perhaps I needed to make clear to those that worry about me what this year will NOT entail.  I’m all for stepping out of my comfort zone, since this is what my 2016 is all about. However, I’m not stupid.

I will not be doing the following within the next 365 days:

  • Bungee jumping: I have vertigo that occasionally creeps up on me.  No way is this happening.
  • Eating a live insect: Listen, if I’m in a foreign country and the sought after delicacy is moving and breathing, I will try it.  But I’m not going to my backyard, digging up a worm, dipping it in Sriracha, and gulping it down. That’s not brave.  That’s gross.
  • Scuba diving: The thought of swimming a zillion feet underwater supporting a limited amount of air supply on my back literally freaks me out. No can do. And I’m not all that interested in what’s down there.
  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Reading “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed was enough for me thankyouverymuch.
  • Taking flying lessons: It takes a Xanax or three, not to mention red wine, to get me on a commercial flight.
  • Going in a shark cage:  Read scuba diving above.

So the point is, while I’m trying all new adventures, and some may very well frighten me, maybe make me pause a bit, it’s all in a good way. This statement also serves as a notice to my life insurance company that I am of sound mind.

Which brings me to my big brave moment today.  Again, this is something I have wanted to tackle for a very long time, but instead, I gave every excuse in the book for not following through.

  • “I’m not ready”
  • “I’m too busy”
  • “I’m not good enough”

Today, I signed up for a monthly writing class/group. It starts this month.

It’s time to do this.

 

 

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Be Brave For A Day #2: Let Go Of The Negative

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Let me start by saying that the last thing I want this adventure of mine to be is “preachy preachy.” That’s really not me.  Well, unless you ask my children or husband.  And probably my sister, brother and perhaps parents. Apparently,  I can be that and more. But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have been thinking about 2016 for several months.  I asked myself over and over again:

What changes do I want to make?

What is necessary for me to move forward?  

How can I make it happen? 

Will I look like an idiot?

Behind every question was not an immediate answer, but rather even more difficult questions that were troubling to solve:

What will people think?

What will they say?

What if I fail?

But I can’t say it any better than author Brene Brown who sums it all up perfectly with this response:

“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think? Or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”

So on Day #2 of my “Be Brave for a Day” world tour, I vow to embrace the total fear I have struggled with for the past several weeks when developing my theme for 2016 and putting it out for the world to see. Letting go of what people think is a small price to pay and a more desirable alternative than ignoring where your true passion and creativity takes you. Chances are we are our own worst enemy.  Our doubts, fears, struggles are usually self imposed.  So, I’m done worrying about it.  Not taking a risk for fear of being diminished means we live for others, not our true selves.

So my bad ass, bravery vow for today is: Ignore those critics and move forward. No matter what your passion, just do your best Beyonce strut and hair twirl and move on. Is this a brave thing to do? Say hell to the yes.

Tomorrow….I am doing something I have wanted to do for the last several years, but just didn’t have the courage.

 

 

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Be Brave For A Day……

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Brave.  Not a word you would normally use to describe me, at least within the past couple of years.  Not that I lack adventure, but in my day-to-day world, I live a fairly secluded life.  As a freelance writer, I spend every work day at my computer creating articles, press releases, website materials and a variety of other content for my clients who live all over the United States.  It’s fun, I enjoy it, and every year it gets better. But 2016 is going to be different. For me. Personally.

It’s time to be a Bad Ass. Emphasis on the capital B and capital A.

In a few short months, I’m turning an age where I may, just may, be able to order from the senior menu at most franchise restaurants.  AARP has been hounding my mailbox for far too long, and I now consider browsing for new clothes at Talbots and Chicos.  In otherwords, it’s time to kick it up a notch.

Quite a while ago, I decided that 2016 was going to be a far different year for me.  Not only am I seeking arm and leg defination, and a better anti aging cream, I am determined to step outside of my comfort zone.  And not just every once in a while, but every single day. That’s right, every day I’m challenging myself.  Every. Single. Day.

Which requires the thought:  What makes one brave? For me, the answer can be complex, yet also simple.  Bravery can mean balancing my checking account after my college child has visited over the holidays.  It can also mean tasting a food that I would normally never consider or swimming in the deep ocean waters where I have no idea what’s underneath me. It means stepping outside my comfort zone. Every. Single. Day.

Today, is January 1.  In preparation for this New Year, I cut seven inches off my hair, as spending time in front of the mirror with a blow dryer truly bugs me.  Yesterday, as I sat with my dad at his favorite seafood restaurant, I finally joined him and ate a raw, slimy, slithery  oster smothered in horseradish and cocktail sauce  (It was delicious. Why had I never tried them before?). Today, I hiked with my family, climbed a cliff, while forcing myself not to look down (hey, small steps).  It was exhilarating.

Every day I will be adding something to this blog.  I hope you join me, and see what I am trying to discover. They say that writing and sharing your thoughts is like standing up before a crowd in just your underwear.  Bravery 101.

Welcome to my 2016.  Welcome to my badassery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remember Me? I’m Mom!

This is me.  This time next year.  I guarantee it.

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Well, That Was Fun. When Life Throws You A Curve Ball.

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Life has a real sense of humor. Sometimes it throws you a little curve ball that can be manageable albeit inconvenient, and other times it tosses you a big, fat, unexpected pile of crap without any means to remove the offending garbage that now sits at your feet. You are unable to walk around it, you can’t climb over it, but rather, the only solution is to slowly chip away at that dismal mountain, before you can walk through the pain in order to gain some sense of life again.

I didn’t intend to start my first blog article in over a year referring to “a pile of crap,” but when I tried to summarize the health issue I was suddenly confronted with over three years ago, well, the first thought that came to my mind was, “It’s been a shitty couple of years.”

Now that I have had some time to sit back and dissect exactly what happened, well, it’s hard to put a clear perspective on my illness, even to this day.

Polymyalgia Rhuematica (PMR) attacked my muscles and joints literally one evening while I slept. I went to bed feeling healthy and strong, yet woke up the next morning and struggled to move my legs without crippling pain. You know that feeling you get the morning after running a marathon? Yeah, well neither do I. So I convinced myself I must have exercised too hard the day before. But then I remembered that was impossible as well. Yet my legs felt strangely heavy and refused to cooperate with me when I attempted to get out of bed. None of this made sense. So, I put it in the back of my mind as my symptoms eased throughout the morning.

However, as the days and weeks wore on, the pain steadily spread up to my hips, arms, and finally my neck and shoulders. Walking was difficult, bending over was excruciating and lifting my arms over my head was a movement I could no longer consider. Much like the nervous anticipation you feel just before jumping in a pool of cold water, and the stunned moments immediately after you submerge yourself, was how I felt every time I needed to maneuver my legs to get into a car, to roll over in bed, to stand up from the couch, even putting on my shoes. Every movement became a painful shock to my once healthy and active body.

Because I thought it was a simple virus, because I had so much going on, BECAUSE, BECAUSE, BECAUSE, I put off going to the doctor until I simply couldn’t take it anymore. Stupid. Mistake number one. Why is it that, as mothers, we anxiously take our children to see the pediatrician the second they sneeze, but we disregard our own selves when we feel ill, tired or anything else for the matter? Apparently, I missed the lecture where you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others.

Yet, I was fortunate. Unlike many patients who wait months for a proper diagnosis, my very good doctor detected my problem almost immediately. A leading arthritis specialist, who initially denied I had PMR because I was considered too young, confirmed my illness a few days later. Apparently, PMR is very common in men and women over 70. I was 49. In his 25-year career my new doctor, who would care for me for the next two years, had only seen one other person under 50 with PMR. Lucky me. I have since learned that this condition has many younger patients than I was lead to believe.

So with a prescription for prednisone, along with the comforting words that my condition could last anywhere from “two weeks to ten years,” and that I may experience weight gain, insomnia, hair loss, mood swings, and in rare cases, blindness, I was sent on my merry way to try and figure out my new normal.

No one knows what causes PMR. It’s a viral condition that physicians feel is associated with the immune system, genetic factors and stress. Okay. That last one made sense to me. Stress and I were, and continue to be, good friends. We know everything about each other. It wakes me up at night sometimes to say hi. We often walk hand in hand and call each other just to check in. And on that one August morning in 2011, my friend “Stress” decided I needed a little reminder that it wasn’t too far away.

PMR doesn’t ever really go away, but the steroids helped ease the often unbearable soreness. While the inflammation in my joints lessened, other problems occurred, such as a physical and mental fatigue so severe that having a colicky baby (which I experienced thanks to my first born) seemed like a walk in the park. I spent many days in bed when sleep was impossible the night before. Because it was extremely painful to roll over or pull up an extra blanket, there were too many evenings where I would go to bed and stay in the same position the entire night. Every little movement had to be thought out and sometimes hyperventilated over before I held my breath and finally plunged in.

After several difficult years under my doctor’s supervision, I was finally and gratefully weaned off my medication and months later declared in remission. While I do have flare-ups, and the PMR has not completely left my system, Advil has now replaced my steroid intake. I may still walk funny at times, as it takes me longer to move my legs after sitting, and I still have trouble lifting my arms over my head, but I am hopeful the worst is behind me.

During my illness, I forgot what it was like to live pain free. Even to this day, PMR crosses my mind all too frequently. I still re-think my steps, and look for elevators until I realize this is no longer required. But it wasn’t just the physical setbacks that plagued me. Ask anyone living in chronic pain and they will tell you that it affects your mental health as well. Depression and PMR go hand in hand for the vast majority of sufferers. I was no different. While mine was controllable, there were some days that stretched into several where living with PMR got the best of me – days where you lack any kind of hope that your body will repair itself. You feel old, tired and ugly when all you want to feel is healthy, active and engaged.

But today, I’m optimistic. After hard work, good doctors, a loyal and caring circle of family and friends around me including an online support group and yes, lots of faith and patience, I was able to plow a trail through that pile of crap and reach the other side.

What happens when life suddenly stands still, and you are confronted with something of which you have no control? What does one do when faced with long days sitting on a couch or lying in bed besides watching bad television? Hopefully, you learn something. And I did.

Joy is hard to find when you live with chronic pain, but today, no longer tied to my bed or hobbling around like a woman twice my age, I now take extreme happiness in a lifestyle I once took for granted. What I considered important before my diagnosis is no longer. Material possessions mean very little. My new saying is: “Stuff is stuff and more to dust.” Most of what we gather has absolutely no bearing on who we are. Kind words, good deeds, a warm smile, meaningful conversations and experiences leave a bigger and lasting impression than anything you buy at the mall.

And while this has taken longer to embrace, I am learning to simply let go. Yes, as I mentioned, “Stress” and I are still in touch, but I try to remember that worrying is nothing more than a waste of time and a lack of faith. My life can no longer be focused on the “what if’s” or the anxiety I feel when I am not in control. When my children can’t (or won’t) answer a text within five minutes, I try not to imagine them in a ditch. If clients ask me to revise an article, I’m not going to assume they will write me a bad review. Worry never solves anything, and when encouraged, it spawns a life of its own.  I dwell on the present, because we are not promised anything other than today.

 

 

 

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Thanks and Giving

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Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite holiday.  You won’t catch me desperately wrapping a last minute gift with newspaper and masking tape nor dealing with frantic children who decide to change their Christmas list on December 24th.  Instead, we celebrate gratitude.  And while everyone has a story to tell about their crazy cousin, the overcooked turkey or Grandma’s traditional, yet infamous, fruit cocktail and green Jell-O salad, by and large it’s a day to surround yourself with those that mean the most to you while overindulging in an abundance of food.

But for too many families, Thanksgiving is not a day for celebrating, but rather surviving. Currently there are over 16 million children in America that live in food insecure households, homes that do not have consistent access to food.  In my day our parents would tell us to clean our plates because “There are starving children in China!”  Today, that hungry child could be sitting next to your son or daughter in class.  You want to know what is scary?  A recent survey said that 73 percent of our teachers regularly see students that “are too hungry to learn,” and this is posing a “serious issue” to our classrooms.

A blog I occasionally read, Scary Mommy, has created a way to help those struggling parents provide their children with a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  The details are all available at the site, but through November 15, you can sponsor a family this holiday so one less child goes hungry.  All proceeds, 100 percent, go to a deserving family so they may also have a day where a meal can be enjoyed and savored.

As a parent, I can think of nothing more horrifying than being unable to feed my children. But too many parents, particularly single mothers, struggle with this daily.  With all the excess we have in this country, hunger should never be the growing problem that it is now.

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Choosing Joy

Sometimes life’s most important and significant lessons gently tap you on the shoulder when you least expect it, but need it the most.  I think about this today especially, because ready or not, holidays and resolutions are just around the corner.

Meet Virginia.  Her family recently hired me to write her memoirs.  She is a 92-year-young woman who was born before Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, “talking” pictures were years away from being released, and penicillin had yet to be discovered.  She grew up during the Great Depression, later worked for the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and married her husband one week before he left for World War II.  Other than written correspondence, she didn’t talk to him, or see him, for the next three years.  Her stories are fascinating and her message is clear:  We have it easy.  Oh, and by the way, she wouldn’t trade places with any of us.

“I am so grateful I grew up when I did.” Virginia recalled to me.  “We couldn’t even buy a five-cent ice cream, yet I had everything I needed, just not everything I wanted.”

While putting Virginia’s life on paper, I came across another remarkable, yet totally different story as I was browsing the bookstore recently.  In her extraordinary book, “My Year of Living with Joy,” Susan Spencer Wendel, a wife and mother, learned at the young age of 44 that she had Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.  As we know, this debilitating disease has no cure and most who are diagnosed live less than five years.  Yet her story is anything but depressing.  Rather, she describes how she learned to embrace every moment of what was left of her life.  Wendel arranged special, meaningful trips for herself and husband as well as individual vacations with each of her children. She wrote letters, recorded stories and songs to her children while her voice was still strong and completed the scrapbooks she had long put off all while focusing on life’s still present opportunities.  And to top it all off, she wrote this remarkable book with her one good finger on her iPhone.  All 87,000 words in four short months. What inspired her? She chose to live by the quote of Lao Tzu:

 “Be content with what you have

Rejoice in the way things are.”

The point of this article is that I have encountered two women, with two different stories, but a similar message:  It’s not “things” that create a memorable life.  It’s experiences.  It’s memories.  It’s attitude.

This year, my family and I have made drastic changes in our household. We are getting rid of “stuff.”  We are moving and downsizing and following the leads of Virginia and Susan because it feels right and it’s time. Birthday and holiday gifts are being replaced with adventures and making memories. My birthday this year was celebrated in Seattle and walking through the gorgeous gardens in Ballard, a place up until our weekend away,  I didn’t even know existed. My husband, who has long wanted to hike the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, completed his dream just a few short weeks ago.  We are making it work.

It’s funny what can suddenly prompt one to take action.  Maybe this is what happens as you grow older and children start leaving the nest. While parents dread that day, I’m here to tell you that it also brings about some amazing gifts. You recognize that it’s not what you have in life, it’s what you take away.  It’s not yearning what is missing, but focusing on what will add joy.  And changing a lifestyle and trying new things doesn’t take courage, it really takes desire.  I think the true meaning of happiness is realizing that you can be joyful without the things you thought you needed.  I’d like to thank Virginia and Susan for reminding me of this simple, yet again, much needed reminder.

 

 

 

 

 

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