Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Life Success Manifesto

Sometimes I check in with myself and ask the serious questions again. Like, am I happy? Do I have what I want out of life? Am I living my passions? Soul-searching is important. More important than New Year's Resolutions, I'd say.

I wrote this manifesto, if you will, last year (maybe even 18 months ago), but I re-read it and it all still applies.

I wanted to put this out on the blog for two reasons.

1) I want an easy place to reference it, so I can look back and make sure I'm still on course for the things that matter to me, and to see if my definitions, wants, and necessities change at all, over time. I suspect course correction throughout our lives is one way to reclaim our joy and happiness.

2) I hope that by publishing mine here that you will be inspired to contemplate your own truths--discover and consider what brings you joy and allows you to live life with personal integrity. And I hope that this exercise is useful to you.


My definition of life success is to look at the world with my glass half full--to find magic in the mundane, and beauty and meaning in the pain. And to keep learning and growing every day.

My definition of career success is to have meaningful work that I can take pride in and one where I can feel passion and joy for while working at it.

What I want:

I want to live my life's purpose--whatever that manifests itself as.

I want reasonable access to my children and friends. I want almost daily (if possible) access to my lover and partner and fiancé, Ali.

I want to not be part of the problem. I don't want to contribute to global warming, the destruction of rain forests or bees, or the filling of the landfills.

I want to create good things: books, clothes, food, a cozy and welcoming and safe home, and I want to entertain at home more.

I want Humphrey, my dog, to not be stressed and scared and anxious. I want all three of my dogs to feel loved and safe.

I want Aubrey and Robert, my children, to find relief from their afflictions, and to develop healthy coping mechanisms for them. (Collectively, they invisibly suffer from misophonia, Asperger's Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, depression, and social anxiety.)

I want to sell enough books and earn enough money from public speaking, workshops, and editing to equal a net return of $1000/month. (I can live comfortably on that in Costa Rica.)

I want to travel around the world from the money I earn speaking, or on book sales and retreats, or for the speaking gig organizer to pay my expenses and the flight to get there. And I want family to travel with me.

I want location independence. Freedom to pick up and move whenever I want.

I want to grow and learn until I die. I want wonderment and joy and curiosity and laughter.

I want to walk my talk and to live somewhere where I can afford this.

I want access to free or low cost health care.

I want a certain amount of self-sustanable sufficiency. If I can't have my dream homestead, I want to at least have indoor plants and as many containers for gardening as we can inside, and I can still can and preserve farm food and I can sew some of our clothes, for example.

I want to be active. Hiking, yoga.

I want bodywork on a regular basis.

I am unwilling to live without:

An internet connection--so i can work wherever I am, as a writer, and so I can keep in touch easily with my family and friends.

Nature. Everyday. Somehow. And natural beauty. I need to see green and smell the weird algae oxygen tree water smell. I need to hear birds or the wind or howler monkeys. I need to be able to sit on dirt and feel the fresh air on my face.

I need solitude a section of each day to ground and center and listen within.

I need connection with other humans.

And to learn and try new things frequently.

What are your definitions of success? What are you unwilling to live without?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Truths I Learned at a Retreat

Back in August, I went on a retreat to Idaho. I went with my former mother-in-law, a neat 73-year-old lady who loves to laugh. She continued her walk across the United States, and I worked on my novel Herbal Junction.

There were a few moments of truth that stood out to me while I was there. I thought they might resonate with you, too.

(1) Looking at a body of water is the cure.

(2) Listening to music is more intimate than I remembered.

(3) Acknowledge the beginning and end of a day. 

Witness the turning of the earth by observing the sunrise and sunset, when I can.

(4) Watch and greet the wildlife I see. Even if it's a desiccated carcass of a small animal.

(5) Flesh-eating mosquitoes don't seem to matter anymore when I'm taking pictures of red sunsets.

(6) Journaling OUTSIDE. (That's all I'll say.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fifteen Minutes A Day--Dog Training #1

I accomplished my first at-home dog training session yesterday. Honestly, I hadn't the gumption to do it until yesterday, and even then it was hard to get myself to do it.

After a long hard day of massage clients, grocery shopping, finding room in the freezer and pantry for the ginormous boxes of things from Costco, and making dinner, I just didn't think I had the energy for dog training. But there was Ali, all ready to do his part, so I did.

Ali and Casey Jones from earlier this year.

Ali took one dog outside in the back, and I tried with the other in the living room--but soon ended up in the carport and driveway out front. It was clumsy and weird and not very much fun. At first, Humphrey  was so triggered and excited--thinking he was going on a walk (or car ride)--that I couldn't interest him in any treats. (You're supposed to use a "measured portion of your dog's meal" when training, so they don't get too much food.)

Kibble just wasn't cutting it.

So I switched to cheese.

Now I had my dog's attention.

But it was still awkward.

On the plus side, Humphrey seemed to enjoy himself after he figured out that we weren't actually going anyplace. So, for Humphrey, training is a WIN.

"Time with mom, activity, and cheese?!"

Humphrey at a north-of-Florence beach in August.

I'll try it again tonight. Trying it at different times during the day will be important, I think. I'm sure I'll stumble upon the right rhythm for us.

It's hard to train with other dogs around, what with their excellent hearing and all. Just locking one dog in the bedroom while I go to the living room, or backyard, with the other doesn't work. Barking and freak-outs ensue.

But what else are you going to do?

Ali had the idea to do Casey Jones' training while on his morning walk. But that holds complications, too. The third dog couldn't be along, so that means: not walking him, walking Casey Jones twice, or having me walk Banjo--leaving Humphrey home alone and distraught that he's not going on a walk.

The only reason Humphrey is semi reasonable about not going on walks anymore, is that I distract him with toys in the backyard. Fetch is a great tool for us. He gets super tuckered out and all pant-y after playing.

In addition to the training, we have added supplements, better food, more play time, doggy Xanax, and meals out of food toys to slow down their eating time and adding mental stimulation to their day.

Casey Jones and Humphrey are still separated.

The biggest two challenges this presents is: most notably, our family has less together time now. One of us (teen or adult) is with the dogs in the bedroom, and one is with the third dog in the living room. We have less time together, which majorly bites. Less cuddling, less quality time, less conversation, less chill time, and less...romantic time. Also less chore time. Things are piling up.

The other challenge is: the dogs are acting up from the change. Humphrey is now getting into the garbage. After many failed attempts, we now seem to have the advantage over him. We put the garbage in a bathroom, behind closed doors (which he opens), in the shower stall, behind closed doors (which he currently can not open.)

And Casey Jones (and sometimes even Banjo) has started barking from the bedroom.

Ali and Banjo at a recent camping trip. 

None of the dogs want to be in there.

And, unfortunately, the lot falls to Casey Jones and Banjo, because Humphrey gets so stressed in there that he starts digging grooves in the wall by the door knob. He used to just let himself out until we changed out the door handle to a door knob.

So far he can't open that.

I, quite honestly, am sad and stressed at this current set up. I don't know how to improve the situation, unless it is by working on it fifteen minutes a day.

Fifteen Minutes A Day, whose acronym reminds me of "F-ing MAD," is my new mantra.

I can handle anything for fifteen minutes.

Especially if it's only once a day.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Moment by the Lake

I have forgotten my camera at the tent, and I don't want to disturb the dogs by retrieving it.

I am sitting in dappled morning sun, over-looking Lake Charlton. There are no ripples on its mirrored surface, only steam rising from it. The sun peeks through pine needles on an adjacent tree, and I can almost look at it with my sunglasses.

The silence presses against my eardrums, and then I hear past the silence. Birds, insects buzzing, a camper's slow rumble of a snore, a camp-mate's propane burner for making that first cup of camp coffee.

Soon kindling is being chopped and I wonder again about retrieving my camera.

I've only come out for one night of camping--and it seems both ridiculous to do so, and absolutely necessary.

A micro-adventure into nature to hear The Piper playing his songs. I hear them in the birdsong across the lake, in the breeze that flutters past my ears and dances in the spider webs.

The kindling catches and the campfire smoke floats out to the lake.

My coffee has grown lukewarm and so a trek to the car to get another bottle of propane is next. I will eat instant oatmeal without guilt and make a cup of chai.

There is a half-hearted talk between the only other two campers awake yet of taking the canoe out, but I don't want to move from my spot. I'm enjoying the quiet like I haven't since I arrived yesterday afternoon. Soon enough the quiet will end.

I was hoping for silent epiphany last night, but I was kept engaged with my friends--enjoying the night--and without sleep late until the wee dark hours of the morning.

But maybe this morning's silence by campfire and following the sun rise higher in the tree's needles is enough.

The Piper card from the Faerie Oracle deck said for me to come camping, so I did.

I'm confident that I have received, or will receive, whatever infusion I needed to clear my head and center into me again.

The more I think about it, the more I believe my healing and personal growth were aided by this view this morning. This still lake, this crackling fire, this quiet morning with the scent of infusing each breath.

This moment is why I came out to Mother Gaia--why I'm here today.

Monday, September 21, 2015

When Organizing Isn't Enough

Whenever I get overwhelmed with things to do and systems to maintain and plans not working out and forgetting things and losing things and just not feeling like I'm enough, I turn to books.

Of course I do.

And this time I'm re-reading Julie Morgenstern's When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED your stuff, change your life.

I'm reading it slow, and in sections, this time--actually doing the steps as I go. As opposed to reading through it in one go and saying, "I've read it; it doesn't work." Of course it doesn't work if you don't follow up with the actions required to change behaviors. Duh. But sometimes in my quest for Fixing It, I speed  skim through the hard part. The working part.

The book has prompted me to think of a current theme for my life, and to think of when or where my clutter entered my life. These together will help me get to the why of the clutter, and help me to only keep the things in my life that fall under (or contribute to) my current theme.


I think that for the past three years, my life's theme has been building up my romantic relationship with my loverloverman--solidifying it, growing it, loving it. I also have been continuing to mother my teenagers--encouraging them and advocating for their needs.

But just recently--in the last six to eight months--I've shifted my focus to my author business. I'm charged and ready to grow it and I've got game plans and mentors at the ready. 

One of my historical problems--"And I say one, because there are many"(Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice)--is in not utilizing my time and environment judiciously. So that, looking back, I say, "Damn! Why didn't I do xxx then? I had the time and opportunity then. Now it's way more difficult."

I haven't missed the chance to do xxx, but I've missed the easy chance to do it. I make things harder for myself than they need to be. Chronically.

I'd like to transition into a place in my life where I am joyously using my time on the things that matter to me--so that I don't feel like I've wasted my time, or worse, frittered away my time on unimportant things.

Instead of bemoaning that I wished I had all the time to work on my author business, I want to rejoice knowing that I am living my dream life right now. My schedule allows me family time, partner time, personal time, business time, hobby time, and a couple of days a week for secular work. My "day" job is only two days a week.

Therefore, it feels appropriate that my theme(s) are thus:

Career theme--Building my author business with joy, serenity, and balance.

Personal theme--Rediscovering joy in my authentic self.

Coincidentally--and serendipitous too!--my career and personal themes dovetail so neatly together that they feel the same to me. Finding joy in my work and personal life leads to serenity and balance in my work and personal life.


I think my paper messiness (which is by far the bulk of my untidiness) was a combination of (1) not having time to deal with the accumulating stuff, (2) the quest to be the practical do-it-yourselfer ("That could be useful someday"/hoarding hand-me-downs and not-quite-right stuff because it was better than being without), and (3) and seeing myself as a busy, important-type person.

Busy, messy desks also signified creativity to me somehow.

How could I be creative and clean?


After dissecting my life and trying to find out when the clutter started, as per Julie Morgenstern's instructions, I think I've pinpointed it to 2002, when I moved in with my now ex-husband. And the clutter has continued to this day.

My mother may disagree, but I don't remember being super messy as a kid. My room certainly looked cleaner than some of my friends'. And in my first marriage, despite moving multiple times, my office wasn't ever out of hand that I remember.

In particular, I remember one rental house in Kalispell, Montana with a sloped floor and cottonwood trees in the back. My great-grandmother's vanity table sat in the dining room/kitchen and we used it for a desk. The phone sat on top and the drawers held the phone book, pens/pencils, various supplies, and paper for taking phone messages or writing letters. It was rarely messy and I loved it. I was proud of the family heirloom entrusted to my care.

Army life after that was always pristine. It had to be.

The messiness of my second marriage wasn't paper, just "baby" and dirty dishes.

The house I lived in as a young widow was a little chaotic sometimes, with little ones and being suddenly single--but whole chunks of the house were clean and serene. That was my theme then--finding serenity and inner peace.

It was only after I moved in with my now-ex, and my first child started kindergarten, that the kitchen bar and table started filling up with papers--bills, receipts, documents, kids' artwork and schoolwork, et cetera.

After the WHEN, it was time for the WHY

I thought, at first, that in my quest to be a nurturing mom, I wanted to keep everything. That could certainly cause clutter, but it didn't really ring true. Then I thought maybe I was just pre-occupied and never could get to the organizing of it. But I'd hired organizers to come in and make everything great, to have it fall apart again within three weeks. So that wasn't it.

Did I not have the skill-set for organizing? No, because it was organized before 2002.

Maybe I just had too much stuff and it spilled out everywhere. Maybe a sense of lack prevented me from getting rid of the papers. But that didn't seem right either. I don't think I'd miss much of it if I got rid of the whole kit and caboodle.

What was my attachment to my clutter?

Before the mess was calmness, a little bit of loneliness, and a desire for a large family.

And then it started coming together a little.

Maybe the reason I had clutter piling up around the office and dining room was because I'd simply prioritized something else all those years.

My theme for thirteen years had been nurturing my family and growing romantic relationships. I just didn't have time or energy to keep my paper clutter at bay; I was focused on something else.

But now that my kids are semi-autonomous, and I'm in a refreshingly awesome romantic relationship, I can shift my theme back to reclaiming joy and serenity in my personal life and to growing my author business in joy, balance, and serenity.

What's your theme right now? 
When and why did your clutter start?

Next step from Julie's book is to seek out my treasures, and keep those. I'm looking forward to approaching my office with a sense of joy--finding those items that create that joy in me, and also those things that contribute to my current theme. Then, I heave the trash.

Do you see? It's the other way around in every other organizing book I've read--and there have been many. Usually one goes through and makes piles for thrift stores, recycling, and trash; then puts away what's left. But I think that going through and looking for those things that light you up is far more enticing than Organizing The Office.

Who wants to make time for that?

So seek your treasures then! 
Leave a comment about what you find. We'll do this together.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Am I a Fiction Snob?

Because I've been reading non-fiction almost exclusively lately, I have challenged myself to pick up fiction. I never really thought of myself as a fiction snob, but I frequently am disappointed about the novels I pick up.

And I don't know why.

I'm interested in discovering this answer, both as a reader and a writer.

As a reader, I obviously want to be swept away to another time or place, fall in love with the characters, and/or be otherwise entertained. I usually stick to literary or mainstream fiction because I prefer a strong character arc to my books. I don't care so much about the plot, and I lovelovelove beautiful language.

I assumed that genre novels (romance, scifi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, horror) didn't focus on character development and were more akin to Hollywood blockbusters for the ADHD crowd.

But that's ungenerous.

So I've specifically challenged myself to read more genre fiction. I purchased seven genre e-books--mostly romance, but two darker ones. I thought maybe the romances would surprise me. I do, after all, enjoy romantic comedies. Though, I have to admit that my favorite rom-coms are independent ones, and not the Hollywood blockbuster ones. (Strike one for genre.) And my only experience with romance novels were a couple of unfortunate Danielle Steels and Victoria Holt's gothic romance in my high school years, Harlequins in middle school, and some Nora Roberts when I was desperate for a book to read in my early thirties.

But that's ungenerous. Again.

So maybe I am a fiction snob.

But that doesn't add up either, because there are plenty of "classics" and award-winning novels that I couldn't wrap my head around (or even understand sometimes) and even stopped reading before the end--unheard of in my earlier days of reading.

I think what I really am attracted to is voice. The author's voice.

So, as a writer, I'm interested in what makes me turn the pages as a reader. What is it about an author's voice that I like?

That's harder to identify. And--it seems--is completely subjective. Which makes it hard to duplicate as a writer.

Right now, I am reading Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jaber. More mainstream fiction. I know, I know.

But what's a girl to do with a To Be Read pile like this?

I'll read one of the new genre e-books next. Promise.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Doggy Dilemmas

Time for another seven minute blog post!

Since last I wrote, life took an unfortunate turn.

Two of my dogs fought again.

It was super traumatic. For me and the dogs. I only now feel partially recovered. I mildly injured my hand in trying to break up the fight--just stiff and a little swelling/over quickly, but I'm talking about the emotional trauma. I honestly thought they were killing each other. I knew with certainty that one of them would end up dead. I tried everything to get them apart. I even called 911, who patched me to the Police Department, who said that the Animal Control people had left for the day already. By the time they had called back to check in on me, I had miraculously managed to get them apart.

I'm not re-living the event in my mind nearly as often as before, and slowly feeling a little better every day.

They've been separated for over a week and this makes our home life more stressful. No more snuggling on the bed together. No more lounging in the living room with my loverloverman and all three dogs. Now we take turns sitting with them in different parts of the house, making it so that even the humans get separated from each other for stretches of time. (insert sad face)

At least the rigor of medications is over. Two different pain meds and two different antibiotics, two and three times a day, for two different dogs was crazy insane to go through. I've been to several vet appointments, with still one more to go. Humphrey needs to go in next week to get his stitches removed.

Also next week we start a new kind of dog training. I have high hopes for this time around. We've done others in the past with limited success. Loverloverman is right in pointing out that some of that "limited success" was our fault for not personally training them everyday (in addition to the two training sessions the professionals would come and do each week.) And this training will focus on changing dog emotions--specifically the problem ones: fear, anxiety, aggression.

We will be putting both dogs through training (a first), and both dogs will get personally trained by us every day (also a first). We will be changing around some of the things at home that cause extra stress for the dogs, hoping that will create a way for them to deal with their dislike of each other in less "rough and tumble" ways.

For instance, we will be installing a mailbox at the street. Two of our dogs go completely dire-wolf on the mailman through the window when he or she approaches the house mail slot. Why get the doggy adrenaline going and just cause them to be all fired up around each other? That's a recipe for disaster, right? With a mailbox at the street, no mailman at the house, no doggy freak-out, no running into each other, no fighting. Win/Win.

I'll blog about our training successes (or failures) in the upcoming weeks.

Look here for tips and tricks that might help you in your doggy dilemmas. Let's learn together.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An Exercise in Slaying the Perfectionist

I'm suffering from perfectionism right now.

I haven't blogged for many many months and it's because -- I think -- I've made a mountain out of a mole hill. Blogging is just journal writing, with a little more focus. But somehow I've built it up to being this big scary platform-building professional thing. And it's not. It really isn't. It's just a diary.

Sort of.

So, I made a deal with a member of my Mastermind Group that I'd blog for seven minutes today and post it. And then text him that I did. Accountability, yo.

Newsy Updates:

My garden is out of control. The front yard has gone all ghetto (which means it needs to be mowed and weeded and the carport needs to be organized, dusted and swept.) It's embarrassing to walk up or drive up to my house. The others around me are charming.

I might be insane enough to can some dill pickles this Saturday. I'll let you know if I do. And I'm going to start up the kombucha and jun again. Hooray!

I went on my first ever writer's retreat, which was divine. I had days and days of reading, napping, and revising my manuscript of Herbal Junction. And I got to re-connect with a lovely lady that means a lot to me.

My teens are starting up high school again next week, and I'm so glad to get back to my more regular routine. I love FALL!

What are your newsy updates?

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Day in the Life of a Writer

This post is not because I think my life is so super interesting, but rather because lately I've been wondering what other writers' days look like. And in my wonderings, I started looking at my own days.

My hope is that this post will spark others who blog to capture what An Ordinary Life of a _______ looks like. [Insert: plumber, ballerina, lawyer, landscape artist, et cetera.] There are always people who are interested in your lifestyle choices and how it works for you on a daily basis.

For instance, when I home-schooled my children, I poured over home-schooling/creativity blogs to gather ideas of what to do with my own kids at home.

Maybe it's because we are all voyeuristic and nosy, but the fly-on-the-wall-cam is one most people I know would sneak peeks at from time to time.

So, without further adieu, here's what last Friday looked like for me:

  • alarm rang at 6:10 a.m.; hit snooze twice
  • let dogs out; woke son for school
  • showered and dressed
  • fed dogs
  • made lunches for three people
  • checked the garden to see if it needed water
  • made myself tea and toast; checked emails
Okay, that was the boring part. Here's where it gets more writer-ly:
  • drove my son to school, then went to a coffee shop to meet a friend for chatting
  • read a couple blog posts and articles; re-posted them on my author social media sites
  • opened up Scrivener files and wrote on novel manuscript while I waited for my friend--1000 new words!
  • visited with my friend for an hour
  • went home and snacked; read a magazine article and Facebooked a teeny bit (Honest!)
  • worked on a manuscript review for a client for two hours
I tried working in the office, but the dogs stood and stared at me until I joined them on the couch.

That was my "work" part of the day. Here's the crazy mom part: (Please note that my work day is considerably shorter than the crazy mom part, which begs the question, "If the majority of my day is spent doing one thing, how can I call myself another thing? I don't think my business cards would be as accepted if they said Valerie Willman, crazy mom.)
  • picked up my son and his friend from school
my son, the plague doctor

  • stopped at the farmer's market on the way home and picked up my raw juice order
  • when home, called the vet because one of the dogs ate my vitamins and supplements that I'd set out to take that morning, and forgot
  • vacuumed all the floors in the house--except my children's. You just don't go in there.
  • took a ten minute break with wine
  • greeted oldest child fresh home from school and watched them perform a dance routine they are learning at school
  • lead son and his friend in a snack-finding mission
  • unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and wiped down the counters
  • fed the dogs
  • started dinner
  • texted with a friend trying to get a group of us to go to the movies that night
  • watched oldest child again (different dance routine section)
  • aided oldest child in snack mission
  • checked on dinner
  • started baking bread in the bread machine
  • contemplated mopping the muddy dog prints off the solid surface floors but yearned for the hot tub long enough that the urge to clean was mostly passed
  • swept the carport instead, and took out all the trashes
  • wondered if I should clean off the dining room table, but--it being 6:00 p.m.--decided I was too tired for anything boring like that and yearned for Netflix and Hulu alternatives.
  • Remembered the hot tub...and then that I was taking my oldest to a play a student friend was performing in, and that I still intended to henna my hair that night. Nix on the hot tub.
  • Drank more wine in hopes of an evening plan forming.
  • Acknowledged the swiss chard still needed to be prepped for dinner and silently whined to myself. I took another sip of whine--I mean wine.
Here's where I deteriorate into madness--but in a jolly sort of way:
  • Craved chocolate; had a small can of peaches instead.
  • Craved chocolate and ate two handfuls of chocolate sprinkles out of the baking cupboard.
  • Noted that this was all because I wanted to get in the hot tub, but couldn't yet--hot tubbing requiring nudity, and nudity and driving my kid to the Wildish Theater didn't mix.
  • Checked the chicken and rice again.
  • Tried to find a game for the younger teens to play. They ignored me and listened to weird military cadences on their smart phones. They decided to give the Wii a try.
  • I pulled the chocolate sprinkles out of the cupboard, because I hadn't actually eaten them yet, just written about it because it seemed like something I'd so. Recognized that since I hadn't actually eaten them, I could still make the healthy choice to NOT eat them, but told myself that since I'd already written I had, I needed to be true to the original sentiment of the daily entry, and ate them. (That's impeccability of word for you. Isn't that one of the Four Agreements?)
  • One dog looked at me as if asking to go outside; I remembered about the chard again. I didn't want to make it. None of the kids would eat it, I was sure. Did I want to make it just for me?
  • I let the dogs out.
  • I went on a hunt for batteries so the boys could both play with the Wii.
This is what peace and quiet for crazy moms looks like.

  • Closed the back door. Remembered my propensity for locking dogs outside and checked the house to make sure all three were inside.
  • I marveled at the teens all talking and hanging out together without freaking out and smiled at my 14-year-old's deep voice, then worried that he said "bitch" to his video games too much.
  • Checked the dinner again. It was done.
  • Decided it was too late to make the chard. Felt lowly and guilty for not eating my healthy greens and hoped that my healthier partner wouldn't find out I ditched my veggies out of laziness again.
  • Informed the kids that dinner was ready and convinced myself that my parenting duties were fulfilled for the day and I could be done. WooHoo!
  • Closed the back door, because somehow it was open again.
  • Checked the house for all three dogs again. One was missing. I let him in. He was looking in the window of the living room for me. <3
  • Ate dinner while watching the last half of a West Wing episode I'd already started.
  • Dropped off my oldest at the play.
  • Knew that this would be a perfect time to henna my hair, but wanted to watch another episode first.
  • Craved chocolate again, so I shifted from wine to hot chocolate with marshmallows. 
  • Watched two episodes of West Wing waiting for my kid to text me they were done with the play.
  • Washed dinner dishes and wiped counters again.
  • Changed t.p. roll in the bathroom and took recycling out.
  • Henna'ed hair.
  • Picked up oldest from the theater.
  • Sat in hot tub.
  • Showered to wash the henna out.
  • Went to pick up partner at airport at midnight.
  • We visited a little, then brushed our teeth and went to sleep.
Imagine this, only at 1 a.m.

I was pleased with the day. It really was one of my favorites. I think this was because it was so well balanced. It was long, and I didn't sit down much--except for the West Wing part--but most of the aspects of my life were lovingly attended to. 

I was creative and worked on my book. I socialized. I worked on client work. I hung out with my awesome kids. I cleaned and cooked, looked after my dogs and garden, and still had time for personal grooming and relaxing. It was great! Here's hoping to re-creating that type of balance in future days. [sound of wine glass clinking with a hot chocolate mug]

What do your days look like?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Grief Story #7: Kath Ellen

Losing My Mother's Love
by Kath Ellen

My mother loved me, and I loved her. What we had was special. I didnʼt want to lose my mother. I didnʼt want to lose my motherʼs love. I depended on her love.

Of course, she had an angry side, too. The one that yelled and reached for the
yardstick and spanked me, the oldest, the girl who must be punished for any
ruckus. Mom did nice things for me, took care of me in so many ways: she
cooked and baked, washed, ironed, helped me with my homework, and gave
me practice tests so Iʼd be a success in school. 

She monitored and judged my communications.

“Donʼt give any information.”
“Don’t say anything.”
“Don’t talk about what happens at home. It’s private.”
“People always value a good listener, so be a good listener.”

I believed that she was giving me training in good manners so people would like me. Every day of my life I heard her say a dozen times, in warning, “What will people think?” What others think of me and of us held great importance. There
was no one to play with. My sisters were too much younger. Mom found the
neighbor kids unsuitable for me. I could sometimes play at a classmate’s house,
but then Mom stopped the connection before she would have to reciprocate as
hostess. She didnʼt want any kids coming over. She didnʼt want noise or mess.

It was a lonely childhood for me, but at least Mom loved me. At the end of each day, Mom sat on the edge of my bed,
asked me to tell about my day, and had me say my prayers. “I love you, Honey,” she said, before she turned out the light.

Church had a high priority with Mom. We went every Sunday and every Wednesday. We read the Bible every day, knew all the stories, memorized verses. The church told us what was right and what was wrong. Mom added to the list. Mom considered herself perfect, and continually reprimanded and corrected me, so I could become perfect, like her. I was her project, and she was determined to turn me out as an excellent student and a lovely little lady.

I cooperated.

I studied hard, nervous before every test, nervous about facing the repercussions at home if I didn’t uphold the family honor by getting all As. I did get all As. I brought honor to my family. Her religious beliefs did not allow Mom to feel proud of me, so she thanked God that I got all As, thanked God that I was bringing honor to His name.

It didn’t pay to disagree with Mom or argue with her. She held all the power. Her word was law. What would she do to me if I disobeyed? Well, she spanked me, of course. That stopped when I was ten and the stick broke during a spanking. 

Later something worse happened. It was two years later, when I was in eighth grade. In those days I usually walked home from school with Carolyn. At home after supper Mom and I would be washing and drying the dishes together and talking, and occasionally Iʼd say, “But Mom, Carolyn…”

One evening Mom exploded: “Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn. I want you to stop talking with Carolyn. You are not to talk
with her any more. Do you hear me? I forbid it.”

Did I mention I was a lonely kid?

Carolyn was the best part of my life. There was no way I was going to stop walking home with her. Mom ostracized me. She wouldnʼt talk to me, look at me, or interact with me in any way. Ow. That hurt so much. Remember, I wasnʼt allowed to talk to others out in the world, so I was pretty much invisible to most people. And now at home I was invisible to the person I loved most. And she was not loving me.

I was starving without her love. For two weeks the silent treatment lasted. And who gave in at last? You can
bet it wasnʼt Mom. I was so heartbroken and tortured that my beloved Mom wouldn’t speak to me. Of course I gave

During all my years of being a teacher, I organized lessons, taught with joy and creativity, and educated and nurtured my
young students, plus shared professional knowledge and skills by giving training workshops for other teachers. And I still
went home for family Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners, family birthday parties and celebrations. I still
loved my Mom.

She still corrected me: “Honey, why don’t you just xxx xxx xx?” So I tried to be perfect, like her. She was my role model. And she told me, “I love you.”

My first years teaching, I shared an apartment with Anne and Fay. We had so much fun! I loved our life together as
independent young teachers. But after the second summer vacation, Anne didnʼt come back from her trip home to
see her mother. Anne wrote me a letter saying sheʼd gotten married. I was stunned, and then grief-stricken. Fay
had a boyfriend and moved out, too. I was left alone. Lonely all over again.

So I went home to Mom. I lived at Momʼs again, under her roof, under her rules. When my younger sister E became
a teacher, the two of us got an apartment together. Again, I was so happy we were on our own. Of course we called Mom to ask for recipes and advice. We went to our family church on Sundays and then to Momʼs for Sunday lunch. I couldnʼt
have imagined my life without my sister E or my Mom.

Then my sister E married and moved away. A huge loss for me. A huge grief that no one wanted to hear about or
acknowledge. “You should be happy for your sister!” I couldnʼt get past my own devastating loss and aloneness. Bereft.
And shouldering my sorrow all alone.

I was lonely my whole life. I was lonely in girlhood, lonely as a teen, lonely as a young professional, lonely as an older
professional. But at least Mom loved me. At least I could always go home for holidays. I followed the family rules and the church rules, and I was accepted by my family and my church.

Cloistered in a narrow belief system with strict policies and self-contained social events, it took me decades to find out
that there are lesbians in the world and always have been. After I first read about lesbians in a news article, I began
to read everything I could find about them, about us, for I found all the descriptions described me. 

I love women. The people I feel closest to and want to spend time with are women. The people I fall in love with are women.

It was time for me to stop agreeing to pretend to be someone Iʼm not, to stop being so polite, to stop trying to please the church and my mom. It was time for me to find out more about “my people,” lesbians, by reading, and then by meeting some. I found they are intelligent, fun, witty, brave, independent, loving people, and they accepted me without any requirements, no rules and regulations, in fact, imperfections.

How would my mom take it, hearing my news? She sat with a frozen stone face when I told her Iʼm lesbian and asked,
“Are you sure?” She was polite for some years. All the family members were polite. She pretended it wasnʼt true. They all
pretended it wasnʼt true. I went home for holidays. We cooked together and cleaned up together. We talked about the
food, not about our lives. But of course, we had never talked about our lives. It wasnʼt allowed. Polite listening but no
honest sharing was the policy.

Do I miss them? Itʼs the biggest grief of my life. Five years now. No communication. I always knew, instinctively, in my gut, it would be like this, even as a little girl. If you donʼt follow the rules, you canʼt be in the family. Donʼt upset Mom. Donʼt cross her. The silent treatment I had endured in eighth grade let me know that there are consequences for disobedience and for non-conformity.

I feel sorry for people when they tell me their moms are dying or have died. I do. That is a very big loss and leaves a
gaping hole. An important source of love is gone. My mom is still alive. My sisters, too. And they canʼt love me as I am. They donʼt like lesbians just as a general principle. Not that they even associate with any. They havenʼt ever
actually talked to a lesbian. Because they wouldn’t. They couldn’t. They vehemently don’t want anyone to be
lesbian. Itʼs just wrong to be lesbian.

See? Sigh.

So they donʼt love me. It hurts me that I have lost their love. When I think about them, aching for a love that is dead and
gone, my insides sob and wail. Itʼs a huge loss of love. Thatʼs my past. And I am not there. Every day I have to
remember to choose to live in the present.

Actually, I have a great present. I am having the life of my dreams. Iʼm retired. I live in a gorgeous place. I have
a circle of friends. I read, study, travel, garden, sing, make art, make noise, make messes, and then clean them up. I
make myself happy doing what I love and being with those whom I love.

There are many people who used to be in my life and arenʼt any more, and I miss them. But the hardest loss of all was
when my mom stopped loving me. Sheʼs still alive at 95, holding fiercely to her beliefs and her perfection. I wish I could say, “Donʼt worry about me. Iʼll find another special love.” But sometimes I wonder. I falter. Then I take a deep breath and try again. I give friendly greetings to people I see. I see how nature shows me that beauty is all around. 

What makes me happy every day is that at last I am free to be myself, just as I am, maybe not perfect, but authentic and very, very brave.

Kath Ellen is enjoying an active retirement in Eugene, Oregon

Monday, May 4, 2015

Grief Story #6: Trish Butcher

My Grief Story
By Trish Butcher

There once was a girl,
Born to a mermaid and a hero,
She was well loved by all and the sun
shone on her birth.
Another child was born in time,
And love rained down from the girl to
her sister.

The mermaid and the hero were from
different worlds,
And strife began to tear them apart,
One day the hero flew away, leaving the
child broken hearted.
Of this the mermaid said nothing.

The child felt a deep emptiness without
her hero,
And the mermaid was often away
Providing food and shelter for the
And the child was often lonely.

As the young girl grew into a young
Caring for her sister while the mermaid
was away,
She began to hide her loneliness
In the company of those who dreamed
only of themselves.

The young girl and the mermaid began
to quarrel
For the girl believed the mermaid to be
the fault of her sadness.

Finally the young girl found the hero
And begged him to care for her once
The mermaid was hurt
But sent the children away with the hero.
He knew nothing of girls and caring for
And the young girl saw that he was not a
hero after all.

In early maidenhood, the young girl met
a boy.
He invited her to a festive gathering,
But the boy disappeared and she was left
Surrounded by young men, careless and

They tricked the girl into a deep sleep
And in the night took her innocence.
The fallen hero shunned her
And so the girl never spoke of the trick
that was played.

Pushing her pain down, the young girl
returned home to the mermaid,
But the mermaid had left their home
with no word.

So the girl roamed the village on her
Seeking safety but finding only hardship
and despair.

Finally the girl went to a temple for help
For she was too sick to go on.
The priest helped to find the mermaid,
And they were reunited.

The mermaid had found a new love
And the girl lived with them for a while.
But the trick had left a deep aching in
And she sought to soothe through

One night someone gave her a deadly
And she fell into a deep sleep.
She journeyed through the white tunnel
to heaven
And the physicians pronounced her

During the sleep, the girl saw great
And was given the answer to all
questions in life.
She awakened as they prepared her dead
And spoke of God to those attending her.

But no one believed her words
And instead they thought her insane.
The mermaid was ashamed
And turned her back on the young girl.

The girl was saddened and confused
And desperately wished for the
mermaid’s love,
And so she joined the most perilous of
all armies
To prove her worth and redeem her soul.

In this army she did not fight wars with
other tribes
But instead fought a war with herself,
For the soldiers were like the boys at the
And much harm was done.

Time went by, and the woman sought
She would do anything for it,
Even for those unworthy.
And the young woman was lonely.

Then a plague came upon the land and
took the woman’s sister.
In her grief the woman blamed the hero,
And in so doing the hero flew away once

To mask her grief, the woman worked
very hard
Believing coin and success would save
But the gods would have none of it
And after a time, the woman fell into a
deep and sudden sickness.

The sickness took the woman’s work,
The sickness took the woman’s home,
The sickness took the woman’s lover,
And the woman entered the land of

Seeking solace and a new life,
The woman traveled to land in the north,
The land was dark and cold
And the woman was sick and lonely.

After a time, the woman wandered into a
Full of people she recognized
But not in the usual way.
She found solace and comfort there.

One day on her way to the temple
The woman was drawn to a great love.
There was a great spark between them,
And they laughed and frolicked together.

For a time, there was perfection
And the woman enjoyed a great, great
Even though the tricks played still
plagued her
The woman was sometimes now not so

After a time, the darkness again
And a deadly sickness entered her
lover’s body.
She prayed for her lover’s healing
But her prayers were answered with
deadly silence.

Her lover was taken by the sickness
And darkness entered the woman’s
No one understood her pain
And the woman was lonely once more.

The cold and darkness enveloped her
And her sadness knew no bounds.
She turned to wine and solitude
And in nothing was there comfort.

The years went by and the woman
And hoped for love again.
But none could reach her as her sweet
lover had,
And the woman was still so lonely.

The hero, hearing of her sickness and
Returned and offered his heart.
Their joy of reuniting was great
And they marveled at their oneness,
Which had grown even in their

The woman felt a sense of completion
And was grateful for the hero’s return
But the time was short lived, for the hero
had grown old.
And his time on earth was done.

Sadness enveloped her once again.
She grieved for the lost years between
And grieved for the years they shared.
Her heart knew no comfort.

Even the people of the temple could
offer no comfort,
And for a time the woman turned away.
In darkness and solitude she longed for
But it did not come.

The woman wondered at the sadness of
her life.
Why she had come to this land
Far, far away from her beloved mermaid.
Time stretched and pulled and lingered,
And the woman lived her days,
One upon another
Drifting into sameness.

After a time around the sun
The woman returned to the temple.
At first she could not bear the glances of
For she felt shame in her grief.
And the woman felt lonely even in the
crowd of the temple.

The woman prayed as she often did
And this time, support rained down upon
She began to be gentle with herself
And allowed the help to come.
Her pains had taught her to know herself
And sometimes she was not so lonely.

Time went on, and the woman grew
She began to believe in the goodness of
Nourishing her faith in a garden of trust,
And even the tricks played on her began
to lose their power.

The woman now knew herself well,
In joyful times and in sorrow.
She began to do for others,
Cultivated the earth of her soul,
And was true to herself in spite of her
She now knows that all feel lonely at
And sometimes now, the loneliness is gone.