About Moxie Girl Musings

Moxie Girl Musings is about starting over from square one after tragedy impacted my young family. It's filled with stories of triumph, struggle, snafus, hopes, and dreams. Sometimes there will be features from other writers that I like and every so often I'll include an original short story, but normally I simply write what's on my mind at the time. Welcome to my unfiltered true-life story as I figure out this thing called life. http://www.amberleaeaston.com

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Just Passing Through

Deja vu strikes whenever I return to my hometown in South Dakota. My parents still live in the same home where I grew up.  When I am back there, I sleep in the same bedroom where I once scribbled in diaries about my dreams and my mini-dramas.  I look out the same window that I once crawled out of to hang out on the roof and stare toward the horizon, my imagination jumping with ideas of how my life would be one day.

And it all rattles me mercilessly.  It's as if ghosts from girlhood dreams reside in that room and taunt me with my childhood idealism.

Even though so much is the same, I am a different person.  Despite all of my dreaming as a kid, I never imagined this reality.  I couldn't.  My mind was filled with stories from Teen Magazine, romance novels, movies and teenage fantasy.  When I see my friends from high school who have built their adult lives in our hometown, I have an overwhelming urge to be 10 again, to recapture those pure friendships and never let go.

But I have no choice but to let go.  My visit is only that:  a visit.  I laugh with old friends, toss back a few drinks, catch up on lost time, and enjoy the bond of friendship that spans decades.  But the knowledge that I am now just a visitor never leaves me completely, which makes me sad.  And they know it, too.  I am just passing through.

The strangeness of walking through the past that is actually present never gets easier.  I no longer fit in that house or that town or with those girlhood fantasies.  Life experience has molded us all, adapted us to our environments and circumstances.  I guess that's what growing up means.  When I was a kid, I thought growing up meant I could drive a car, stay up as late as I wanted, and never ask permission.  I suppose that's true, too.

As I curl up in my childhood bedroom with memories whispering all around me and my kids sleeping on the floor, I know we're all okay as is.  This room, this town, this house served their purpose to shape me into the woman I am today.  This place where I scribbled in notebooks about the life I wanted served as my launching pad.  Good, bad, mediocre, insane...all of my experiences began in this room where I had the luxury of dreaming and scribbling and sitting on the roof staring a the horizon.

So I let the ghosts of those lost dreams get a kick out of badgering me because I know I am just a visitor in this place.  And I wonder...maybe I knew even then that I was only visiting, stopping by for a few years on my way to another place beyond the horizon.  Maybe some of us are born to always be passing through from one place to another, to spend our lives searching for that elusive sense of belonging.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Under a Starry Sky

Sitting outside staring up at an umbrella of stars quiets my mind like nothing else can.  If I'm lucky, I'll catch a view of a shooting star slicing through the mix.  

Meteor showers are frequent and spectacular up here in the mountains.  I can stand at the end of my driveway and have a 360 degree view of the sky above mountain tops with only the sound of the wind moving pine needles to accompany me.  I am sure it's the same out at sea.  Often I wonder what that would be like to be on a sailboat in the midst of the ocean at night under a sea of shooting stars hearing only the sound of the water against the hull.  It must be amazing.  

I remember being 21, a little bit drunk, philosophizing with a guy from Puerto Rico and a girl from Long Island as we laid on our backs in an Austrian field and studied the stars above us.  Even then I viewed the sky as the great unifier of all humanity.  One moon shines the way for all of us who wander in the night no matter where we are in the world.  

During my most troubled times...when I felt lost and alone and hopeless...I would look up toward the sky and surrender.  No, nothing paranormal ever happened.  Just peace.  Just a knowing that my problems were small matters in comparison to the universe.  

And during my happiest times, my moments of bliss, I looked toward the sky with gratitude and a knowing that all was as it should be.  The earth turned.  The moon shined.  Meteors dashed across the stars.  Constant.  

Where ever you are tonight, I hope you can see the stars.  And if you can't, if the city lights or clouds block them from view, know that they are always there shining and blinking.  Constant companions and witnesses to our triumphs, our tragedies and our tedious concerns.  

No matter where we are in this world, there are stars above us, moonlight to illuminate our path and--hopefully--good beer and new friendships to make our journey bearable.  

Peace to you.  

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In My Own Time

Ah...New Year's Eve is almost here, which means resolution time.  When I look back on my own resolutions from a year ago, I am satisfied about what I accomplished and what I did not.  I am aware of where I tried and where I slacked.  I accept full responsibility.

Why then do I feel such pressure to have done more?  I am walking this path alone, only I know what goes on in my day-to-day existence; yet I allow people close to me to influence how I judge my progress.  I hear it in the subtle comments about publishing, in the not so subtle comments about relocating, and in the blatant judgment about the time line for grieving.  I say..."shh...be still...it's all as it needs to be in this moment."

We all move to our own rhythm.  My beat slowed down for the past few years, became more melancholy in melody as I moved through the stages of grief.  I hear my song changing, hear the rhythm gaining tempo. Our individual soundtracks to life create the songs of the world.  If we were all playing the same tune at the same pace, we would no longer appreciate the music itself.

Just as it is not my place to criticize anyone for missing the mark, neither is it my place to judge myself for hitting a wrong note here and there or moving at a slower beat than my peers.  It is that last part that I truly need to work on...silencing my inner critic. "Shh...be still...it's all as it needs to be in this moment."

As for 2010, I don't know if I'll make a resolution or not.  Maybe this time I'll improvise.  I am creating a symphony at my own pace that is uniquely mine.   That takes time.  That means a rewrite here and there. Resolutions may cramp my creativity.

Maybe we all need to play whatever tune comes to mind at any given moment, jam to the rhythm of impulse and joy.  And if we sing off key in the process or get off beat...what the hell...at least we're playing.

Play on, everyone!  Let the rhythm move you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's All Just Semantics!

My grandmother always said it was poor manners to discuss money, politics or religion.  Well, I'm going to ignore grandma's advice...just this once.  I am sure she would let this one slide.

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about President Obama declaring "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" on his family's card.  I think that in a world with so many problems such as Afghanistan, our economy, Darfur, terrorism, and Iraq (just to name a few) that we should have more important problems to discuss.  But no...there is a segment of the population that insists on harboring a grudge over the word holiday.

First of all, Christianity is not the only faith in the United States.  According the 2002 US Census, the majority of Americans do classify themselves as Christian, but there is also a large percentage that identify themselves as Jewish, Agnostic, Buddahist, and other.

People of all faiths populate this nation.  Why then should our president cater to only the top two most popular faiths?  President Obama is the leader of all Americans.  His declaration of "Happy Holidays" is not a slap at Christianity.

Some people thrive on conflict and seeing conspiracy behind every word.  Such is their right as an American.  Go ahead.  Get your panties in a bunch, but leave me alone.  I choose tolerance and peace over constant battling over semantics.

As a Christian, it is not my place to discriminate against people of other faiths.  I honor my Jewish friends as they celebrate Hanukkah.  I respect people for who they are, not what holiday they are recognizing this December.

This is a season of peace and joy.  This is a season to pray for an end to the war and for the safety of our soldiers.  This is a season to remember those who do not have the freedoms that we do in the United States and hope for their future.  This is a season to remember all the people who have lost their homes and jobs over the past several years and to pray that their lives are blessed with a turn in fortune. This is a season for compassion and acceptance.

Words are powerful, this is true.  So let us use our words for a higher purpose than to argue over what is better, Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas.  It is all just semantics.  Embrace the sentiment.  As we Christians prepare to celebrate birth of Christ, let's remember that Jesus loved all people, that he preached of peace and acceptance, and try to emulate those qualities ourselves.

Peace and love to all of you.  I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Here we go!

Well, I did it.  I pushed the first domino on my path to a major life change and the rest are tumbling along as dominos are designed to do.


Self-doubt loves to whisper in my ear when the night is quiet.  It is a hard voice to shut-out.  I think one of the most challenging aspects of single parenthood is being my own counsel, being the sole decision maker when there are massive decisions to make.  My intuition serves as my sounding board.  That's it.  All me.  Wing'n it.

The kids and I were talking about this big change ahead of us.  They both have their concerns but look at me with absolute trust.  It is not just my life being changed here.  They are trusting that I am making the right decisions.  And I need to trust that, too.

Starting life over at 41 is not something I imagined doing 20 years ago; but it is what it is.  And what it is is scary as hell.  I admit that I am terrified, but I need to press ahead with my plans.  There is an inner knowing at work here that is pushing me onward and I need to trust it.  I need to trust myself.

Trusting myself used to be easy.  Along the way, I started questioning my instinct and intelligence.  That has begun to turn around over the past 4 years, but then comes the whisper of doubt that is never truly silent.

And when I start to doubt myself or feel the self-sabotage coming on I reach for Dr. Wayne Dyer...and Dr. Seuss.  Yep, the words from Horton Hears A Who and Oh, The Thinks You Can Think have comforted me more times that I can say.  Dr. Seuss' words have gotten me through some wild times in my life and have motivated me when all I wanted to do was retreat.  But retreat is not an option here.  I know that.  So instead of Dr. Dyer's brilliant words, now I turn to Dr. Suess for my inspiration to stay true to my path.

To quote Dr. Suess' book Oh The Places You'll Go:  You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.  You're on your own, and you know what you know.  And you will be the guy who'll decide where you'll go.  Oh, the places you'll go.

The time for action is now.  I must focus like I haven't focused in years.  No time for distractions or detours.  I can no longer remain in the waiting place.  So despite the constant whispers of self-doubt, I take a deep breath, exhale, cross my fingers and take another step forward.  

As I said, the dominos have begun to fall and I am the one who flicked the first one over.  My choice.  Right or wrong...my choice.  Oh, the places we'll go!  

Thursday, December 3, 2009

See Through Me

Last month I participated in National Novel Writing Month.  My reasons for participating have nothing to do with completing a novel-length manuscript--I have done that several times already.  My main reason for tackling the challenge centered around forcing myself to write a story that paralleled my life more closely than anything previous.

It is a freeing thing to write from the center of your soul without regard to the rejection or criticism that might follow.  Transparency is the catch-phrase circulating the writing world today.  Be transparent.  Bare your soul.

While writing my latest manuscript during National Novel Writing Month entitled "Little Earthquakes", I needed to be more emotionally transparent than ever before because of the personal subject matter and demanding writing schedule.  I didn't have time to second-guess my words or plot line.  This pressure cracked open a channel inside myself I had been afraid to acknowledge.  I thought if I tapped into it,  I would be washed away in a wave of darkness and never return to the light.

The opposite happened.  Not only did the story flow from me as if the words had been dying to be free, light infused my every waking moment.  Creative energy pumped through me in every task I tackled.  I remodeled the kitchen and bathroom.  I completed revisions, finished the final chapters of a lingering story I hadn't wanted to end, and finished "Little Earthquakes" from beginning to end in only 30 days.  By opening that dark place---or the place I had labeled dark---I freed myself.

Writing has always been my saving grace.  Ever since I was a child, I turned to writing as a way of understanding the world around me.  Journals are a haven for my darkest thoughts.  Fiction connects me with a plane of energy that simply makes me happy.  Writing that exposes my true nature is a rush greater than anything I have ever known.  Yes, it's even better than sex....I would compare it to an orgasm that lasts for hours at a time, an extended period of heightened sensation and euphoria.  (and people wonder why I never label writing as work.)

Carrying the idea of being transparent into the "real" world is more challenging than keeping it here in the world of writing where I feel safe.  There are people who have known me for years and have an idea of how I should be and don't want that to change.  Seeing me raw and uncensored is as disturbing for them as it is freeing for me.  But transparency is now more than a catch-phrase in the writing world; it has become my way of being.  I enjoy seeing through myself, seeing through the layers of bullshit, seeing through the walls I have built and connecting with that inner spirit that runs wild and hot at my center.

Theodor Geisel said,  "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." Our true self matters most.  We must be authentic by expressing our true natures, even if that means tapping into the place we are most afraid to go and seeing the truth of who we are.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Year of Gratitude

As Thanksgiving Day rolls around, I am reflecting upon my"year of gratitude" and hope that my musings lead you to think of your own.  Imagine us sitting around a large table loaded down with turkey, stuffing, casseroles and pie. And let's not forget the wine before we go around the table for our "what we are thankful for" declaration...I'll go first.

I began my year with a freak household accident that gave me my third concussion.  I couldn't walk straight, slurred my speech, had vision issues and experienced blinding headaches.  Good friends once again showed up to drive my kids to their practices, to tease me about my "dizziness" and to make sure I knew I wasn't alone.  The gratitude for people who "show up" without being asked is immense.

In February,  I reconnected with an old boyfriend from 24 years ago--yeah, I'm getting old, I know.  Facebook reunited us, even though I almost ignored him (and sometimes think I should have).  But after all is said and done, I am grateful that I allowed him back into my life.  Knowing him again--even briefly--unlocked my heart.

March meant passport renewal...another ending, another closing of a chapter.  The stamps in my old passport represented more than places visited; it represented a life lived with my deceased husband.  Getting that new passport in the mail, though, renewed my sense of possibilities. I was grateful for the clean slate.  As the Dr. Seuss book says, "Oh, the places you'll go"!

April, my birthday month, brought to the forefront of my mind how lucky I am to be healthy.  I know too many people my age who are dealing with heart problems, cancer or other grave illnesses.  I am grateful to be healthy...a little banged up and still trying to shed a few pounds...but overall I am healthy.

When I think of May, I remember an insanely busy schedule.  Lacrosse, swim team, work, friends, and staining my deck.  Thank God I have a deck to stain, healthy kids who can run and swim, creativity that won't let a concussion stop it, and places to be.

I spent two weeks in June in my home state of South Dakota.  I found myself cramming too many people and events into my schedule.  The result was...well, not so good...but I am grateful that I have a problem of too many people in my life that I love and enjoy.

The kids and I traveled to San Jose, California in July.  I love traveling with my children, especially when we're visiting wonderful friends and experiencing new things.  It is incredibly gratifying to watch my children discover a new place.  It's like I am seeing it all again through fresh eyes.

By the time August rolled around I was simply thankful that the kids were returning to school!

Quite honestly, I got down on myself, my writing and my life in general in September.  Thanks to Kasey, a good friend and salon owner, I shook the cobwebs from my brain and took her advice.  I started this blog, ventured into the world of social media marketing, and injected some much needed mojo back into my life.  Shout out to Kasey!

Wow, did I get sick in October.  Influenza led to pneumonia. Thankfully, my parents drove out to Colorado from South Dakota to help with the kids because I could barely get out of bed.  I am eternally grateful that my parents are healthy enough to travel and are active grandparents.

Here it is in November.  My productivity is in overdrive.  I am writing, resurfacing the cabinets in my house, painting walls, preparing for my brother's visit and getting healthier every day.  I am grateful that I have the energy to get it all done.

Gratitude is a way of life.  I try to think about what I am grateful for every day, but admittedly there are days when that's a challenge.  I know there are a hundred things I could have listed, a hundred people who have touched my life in ways they can't imagine, and a hundred ways I have grown because of each of them.

I lift my glass in a toast.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Talking into Thin Air

For a brief time after college, I worked as a disc jockey at a small radio station in South Dakota.  There was something odd about sitting in a booth talking to people who I couldn't see.  It made me nervous at first.  I stumbled over reading the AP wire.  I jumped when the phone rang with someone asking for a request because it reminded me that people were out there listening.

To get over the jitters, my boss suggested I place a picture on the microphone of people who made me feel loved and supported so that I could pretend to talk to them instead of thin air.  It helped.  I chose a picture of a group of friends huddled together in drunken glee on a dock in Greece.  I carried that picture with me to and from work each shift.  The plan worked.  That was 19 years ago and I still have that picture pinned to my office bulletin board.  The picture has some tape marks, pin holes and creases; but it still makes me smile when I see it.

No longer a disc jockey, I am still someone who feels like I am talking into thin air more often than not.  Email has taken the place of the microphone.  My desk has taken the place of the booth.  Social networking sites have taken the place of an office building.  Writing this blog--even writing fiction--is similar to sitting inside a booth in a darkened studio talking into that microphone and wondering if anyone is listening.

There must be a part of me that enjoys baring my soul to invisible strangers.  There is something therapeutic about talking into thin air...all expectations are removed...all bias is erased...agendas disappear...defenses come down...leaving only authentic thoughts and emotion.  Raw.  Uncensored.

I have and always have had a burning need to connect with other people. It is this need that keeps me moving forward and hoping for a happy ending.  It is also this need that leads me to confide more than I should, usually at inappropriate times and with less than trustworthy people.

But this need also drives me to be a trustworthy confidante.  I treasure the responsibility of shouldering someone else's burden and being the one they reach for when they need to connect. That's what we are all here on earth for, isn't it?  To connect despite distance, time, social status and what not?

I believe we all have that innate hunger to connect with another human being; hence the success of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  As with anything, technology has both pros and cons.  When it comes to staying connected, I say do whatever works for you, do whatever nurtures the human spirit and brings you happiness.

Despite life experiences, maturity and education, I haven't changed much in 19 years.   Here I am in my darkened office with only the glow of my computer screen to keep me company.  I'm listening to my own playlist on iTunes and sharing my random thoughts with invisible strangers who may or may not give a damn.  Pictures of moments of pure happiness still dot my desktop and walls, but they are there because they bring back a memory of joy instead of as an antidote for stage fright.

I am feeding my need to connect and the hunger is insatiable.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bending and Expanding

Pilates.  I looked through the window of the studio and shuddered with apprehension.  Those machines looked terrifying with their straps, springs, and handles. I entertained visions of myself upside down tangled in various devices with my shirt over my head and firemen rushing through the front door to save me.  Despite this fear and my wild imagination, I walked through the front door. 

At first Pilates seemed like just another exercise routine, but it has revealed the bubble of limited thinking that has shrouded me.  When I look at the instructor contorted in a pose that I am then supposed to duplicate, my first reaction is, "yeah, right, there is no way I can do that without snapping my bones."  But thanks to peer pressure of not wanting to look like a complete idiot, I give it a try and always surprise myself by twisting my limbs correctly.  It is as if my body is rebelling against my mind's verbal abuse and I hear myself laughing in disbelief.  

Pushing beyond my comfort zone used to be the norm for me.  I am not sure when it changed, but somewhere along the way I started thinking in terms of limits.  It doesn't really matter when it changed; all that concerns me now is breaking free of that pattern, breaking free of the fear that held me back from fully expressing myself.  

And that's what I am getting at:  the initial fear that creeps up right before I do something I really, really want to do.  Once I push past that fear, the world greets me with open arms.  And I am doing it!  That's good news.  Every day I become more like my true self again instead of the "also known as" version of Amber that has taken over for a few years.  

Most people don't know that I could not write creatively after my husband died.  It was as if all of the energy I used to create had rerouted itself into daily survival mode.  Talk about an identity crisis!  I thought, "great, my creativity died with Sean and being a writer is all that I know."  It took over 2 years before it started coming back and an injury earlier this year created another hurdle on the road back to normal.  Now I am interacting with fellow writers again, am back to freelancing, have written more manuscripts and am participating in National Novel Writing Month.  I was terrified of getting back in the game because I was afraid I had lost "it", but am so damn grateful to be in the flow again.  

After Sean's death, I allowed fear to whisper in my ear about all of the things I wouldn't be able to do anymore.  Traveling with my kids out of the country was one of fear's constant echos in my head.  But I rejected that voice.  I travel out of the country alone with my kids and don't think twice about it anymore.  Adventure did not die with my husband. Our first trip as a threesome rather than a foursome was to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that first Thanksgiving after Sean's death.  I admit I had some trepidation when the plane landed and the reality of being a single mom traveling in Mexico with a 7 and 9 year old set in; but that fear quickly passed as we walked into the tropical air. It ended up being one of the best vacations we have ever had and there have been plenty since that one.  Thank God I didn't let fear limit me.   

Limits creep up on a person and create an invisible shield against possibility.  Each day I poke through a layer of limited thinking I hadn't known existed.  Each day I bend a little further and my mind expands to allow a new perspective.  Each day I surprise myself by conquering a new challenge.  I don't know how long it will take to erase the limits or if that is even possible, but simply trying is freeing me in ways I never imagined.  

Back to Pilates.  Three months later, I am still walking through that studio door four times a week.  I love it.  Each class gets more challenging and I still have moments of thinking, "I don't think my body bends that way".  Guess what?  My body does bend that way...and my mind expands each time with the thought, "wow, I learned something new about myself.  Again."  

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Soaking Up Some Sense

I have a stubborn streak that I smash up against from time-to-time.  There is no sense in denying it.  Anyone who knows me well, knows how stubborn I can be so let's just call it as it is. My stubbornness fools me into thinking I can handle anything thrown my way...be it remodeling the kitchen, fixing the deck, staining the house or chasing off a bear.  I suppose this could also be classified as delusional, but I'll stick with calling it stubborn.  

Whatever role pops up in the moment, I do my best to improvise my way through it.  But as I stared at water pouring from my laundry room early this morning and soaking the hallway carpet, I realized that there are some roles I am not meant to play.  Plumber is simply beyond my improvisational skill set.

We all play a variety of roles in our lives: mother, daughter, sister, friend, counselor, carpenter, artist, caretaker...just to name a few.  The list of roles is endless, but knowing when to stop adding to the list is the trick.

My friend Zoey is brilliant at delegating the roles of her life. She knows when she needs help and asks for it.  She manages her life on every level by delegating what she knows is either beyond her ability or is a task she simply doesn't want to tackle.  Because of this skill, she is a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.  

Intellectually, I know there is nothing wrong with asking for help.  So what's my problem?  What am I trying to prove by overextending myself on every level?  Am I trying to prove that I am ridiculous or just plain crazy?  No!  Stop the madness!

As I knelt in inch deep water using all of the dry towels in the house, I had an epiphany.  Digging through the drain trying to solve this problem was the last thing I wanted to do.  Images of God-Only-Knows-What plugging the drainage system popped into my mind as I hauled armfuls of towels from the laundry room.  

I scratched the role of plumber from my list and improvised by picking up the phone.  Finally.  Common sense prevails over stubbornness...at least for now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bella Mia

This past July the kids and I needed to put down our beloved yellow lab, Taz.  Arthritis had wrapped itself around his spine.  The time had come to say good-bye. 

Taz had been a real character.  He could climb any fence, open any gate or door, and made it clear that staying confined had been his choice not his obligation.  Even though he definitely added flavor to our lives, I swore that he would be our last lab.  No more labs, no way, no how...never. Well, a month later, we adopted a 2-year old black lab named Bella.  So much for my firm resolve and self-discipline.

Bella had been brought to Colorado from New Mexico where her history is sketchy.  She had a litter of 8 puppies shortly after being brought here in early summer.  Following that, she went from foster home to foster home while waiting to be adopted.  The people at the humane society said that they needed to teach her how to get into a car, said she had been afraid of the tiled floor because she had been kept in dirt, and said she didn't know how to play with toys.  When we brought her home, the stairs freaked her out; but her eyes seemed to say, "don't give up on me, show me, take a chance on me, I can do this."

My other dog, Dusty, and my son Ben demonstrated how to use the toys and how to play.  It didn't take long before the two dogs were tossing the ball against the ground themselves and racing for it like two kids loose on the playground.  She didn't quite know what to make of the dog bed we bought her.  She tapped it with her paw a few times and then backed away.  Again Dusty came to the rescue.  He jumped onto the new dog bed, circled around a few times and settled in.  Bella's eyes seemed to say, "this is for me?"

She came with some serious baggage, there is no question about that.  I wish she could talk and tell me her story.  Or maybe I don't, maybe it is too heartbreaking.  Even when her tail wags, sadness lingers in her eyes that seem to say, "I don't trust that this is going to last."

Although the shelter warned me that she hated being alone, I underestimated what that meant.  When we leave the house, she destroys anything within reach.  The other day she tore off part of the screen door. And there are other kinks, too.  When we had a few feet of snow last week, she learned she could get out of our fence.  Even though the snow is now gone, she leaps over the fence like a deer and laps the neighborhood.

None of these things are good, but they are fixable.  She just needs us to show her right from wrong, to be patient, to always look for her when she wanders off and to give her a break.

We all deserve second chances to get it right.  When I look into Bella's eyes, I see hope.  I see a survivor.  I see beauty.  I see love.  Maybe I even see a bit of myself.  I see a reason to keep trying to get it right.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Against the Storm

The Dalai Lama said, "Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion." 

This is a simple concept, yet rare to find on an every day basis.  I hear too many stories lately of insensitivity in our day-to-day lives.  I am not sure what is causing this lack of compassion.  Perhaps it is the stress of a struggling economy or the dehumanization in our technological world.  Or maybe we have become a society of "I" instead of "we".  

I have experienced great loss in my life, as have many people.  During this time of grieving, I have learned that the concepts of kindness and compassion need some tweaking.  

For example, my son was only 7 when my husband committed suicide, yet was told soon after that his daddy had gone to live in hell.  I, who had found my husband hanging in a closet with kids screaming "daddy, daddy" over my shoulder, was told to "wake up one morning and say today is the day I am over this."  One of my closest friends told me only months after the suicide that she simply didn't have the "energy to deal with it all" and completely stepped out of my life.  My daughter suffered severe anxiety attacks after witnessing this tragedy, yet people to this day fail to see her dad's suicide as the trigger for her ongoing insecurity and nervous habits.  You may be shocked to read these examples, but they are true and all said by someone who called us a friend.  We wounded souls needed compassion, but instead received judgment.

My experiences have caused me to change my view of the world and to redefine my definition of friend.  To me, a friend is someone who gives the benefit of the doubt at all times until proven differently.  A friend is someone who encourages and inspires rather than doubts and mocks.  A friend is someone who loves unconditionally rather than bails at the first hint of trouble.  A friend does say "I'm sorry" when necessary.  A friend has boundless energy when needed to help another in crisis.  A friend sees the best in me and loves me even at my worst.  

Friendships are like palm trees that bend and sway against a hurricane, but only those with deep roots stand tall at the end of the storm.  Be the kind of friend who grows deep roots.  More than that, be the person who is kind without keeping a running tally and who shows compassion for a neighbor or stranger expecting nothing in return.  

Kindness and compassion are habits we cannot afford to lose in today's busy and tech savvy world.  Today I ask you to not only show these traits to others, but to feel them down deep in your heart.  When you see a stranger, smile rather than avoid eye contact.  See what happens!  I bet you'll get a smile in return.  When you feel irritation churn in your gut, replace it with compassion and look at the situation from someone else's point of view.  You may be surprised at what you see.  And if there is someone you know who is struggling, have the energy to express kindness rather than judgment.  

As the saying goes, everyone we meet is fighting some kind of battle...the man who cuts you off in traffic...the cashier at the supermarket who mutters beneath her breath...the teller at the bank who won't make eye contact...the neighbor who never waves back.  Looking through eyes filled with kindness changes our perception of the entire world.  

What can you do today to show kindness and compassion while expecting nothing in return?  Trust me...when you expect nothing, you receive more than you ever imagined in the long run.  

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's a Dog's Life

"Greet everyone with same enthusiasm you would use when greeting your dog", declared words emblazoned across a t-shirt I saw recently. These words spun around my mind for awhile. I started thinking about how I greet my dogs when I see them and how they greet me. Pure joy mixed with enough love to light up the sky.

This prompted a social experiment. I decided to put this into practice one stranger at a time. No, I didn't knock anyone down and start licking them or speak to them in a silly voice. I thought that might get me arrested rather than appreciated.

My first stop was the grocery store. I walked in looking for targets for my cheerfulness. The first was an elderly woman who struggled with her cart in the breakfast aisle. Caught up in my intention to reconnect with my former cheerleader persona, I asked what she wanted to do and how I could help. She eyed me a little strangely while trying to fight with this cart that seemed to want to only go sideways and said, "I'd like it if the cart would go forward." Ah...of course. Forward. I grabbed the front of the cart, glanced at the wheels, kicked the front right one and wa-la...forward momentum.

My next specimen was a man looking at the Asian food. He dropped a can of Chinese noodles, which I promptly picked up for him. I looked him in the eye, handed him the noodles and made some inane comment. What I said wasn't important, my demeanor was. The oddest thing happened...he laughed and looked me in the eye, too. Strangers out for errands connecting on a superficially cheerful plane of existence. What a nice change of pace.

"Greet everyone with the same enthusiasm as you would use to greet your dog". I silently repeated that phrase as I moved on to the gas station and the recreation center.  My experiment was full-speed-ahead and the results were making me smile as broad as humanly possible.

Experiment in mind, I entered the pool area where I normally read or work while I wait for my daughter. Ignoring the pile of work in my messenger bag, I waved at the other parents and nodded at the coach without letting the smile slip. People I have known superficially for a few years opened up to me for the first time on the bleachers near the swimming pool. Pulling my head from my to-do list and interacting with the world around me paid off with happiness.

I experienced the energy shift everywhere I went. I greeted everyone I met with that same enthusiasm that comes so naturally when I see my two dogs racing up to meet me when I get home. Simply by shifting from unconscious to conscious I dramatically changed my day.

This is not new information, I know. I am not breaking new ground here in any way. But putting the information into practice became a gratifying experience where I only attracted the joy I extended.

I mentioned this concept in my Facebook status last week and have to say I was surprised at how many people mocked this simple idea. Yes, it is a simple idea. Perhaps too simple for some to take seriously, but it is true. Perhaps if I had used the golden rule, "treat others as you would like to be treated" people would have responded differently to my happy declaration on Facebook, but I doubt it.

From my perspective, we have become too cynical of a world, too immersed in fear and competition to embrace the simplest idea of all: loving each other.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Leaping from the Edge

I am standing on the edge of my life about to take a leap of faith. The wind of possibility is whispering in my ear saying "go...go now...your dream is yours for the taking."

There have been many new beginnings in my life, but few have felt so damn good as this one. I am superstitious so won't go into too much detail for fear of the dreaded jinx. Don't laugh. Jinxes exist!

In the past few years I have gone on a spiritual journey, some of which has touched on the idea of manifesting my intentions and goals. Whenever I read about manifesting, the consensus is the same. Keep the energy focused on the outcome and do not breathe a word of it to anyone else. I completely buy into this concept of keeping this good energy focused on my goal. I know too many energy suckers who live for the moment of seeing my face flip-flop from glee to glum.

I am sure everyone has at least one person in their lives who feels the need to be a "voice of reason" or the "responsible one". This nay-sayer stamps the jinx on dreams and opportunities. The jinx-giver relishes in holding a dreamer back from the edge, relishes in mocking someone who dares reach further than he/she has ever dared, relishes in maintaining the status-quo and relishes in sucking that good energy from an opportunity. Jinxes exist...but they are human beings not phantom curses.

Well, to them I say..."so long, energy suckers!" I am sprinting toward the edge, leaping over it, and laughing at the sky just for the hell of it. Exhilarating.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Out of the Shadow

A year ago my fingers would shake whenever I typed on an on-line social site. I would think, "oh no, someone is going to steal my identity" even though I never had so much as my last name on a post. I would shyly chew my lip when it came to filling out the on-line profile because I couldn't imagine why anyone would find me remotely interesting. I thought I had nothing meaningful to contribute. I thought if people knew me--knew the real take-me-as-I-am-bare-bones Amber--I would be rejected. Hiding had been working well for me and I saw no reason to stop.

This hiding carried over to face-to-face encounters as well. I wanted to meet new people, wanted to be the social self I had once been; but felt like I had scars covering my face and body since my husband's suicide. I felt I had the words "suicide survivor" tattooed on my forehead. It's strange what suicide does to the people left behind. For me, it left invisible scars both inside and out. These scars manifested as me shutting people out, gaining weight, sabotaging career opportunities and hiding behind closed doors.

Tonight I realized how much evolution I have experienced in the past twelve months. With those shaky fingers of a year ago, I managed to poke into the virtual world inch by inch. I am just as amazed when I connect with a former college friend as when I connect with a stranger from the other side of the world. What fascinates me has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with being accepted as I am in the here and now with my baggage in tow.

You may look at me and not see these scars...but I know they exist beneath the surface. The difference is I no longer hide them. Through this virtual world I have learned to show my scars and to appreciate them as signs of survival rather than weakness. Experimenting out here in the anonymous world of the internet has ironically given me confidence to drop the anonymity.

I know a lot of people who are also in hiding for their own reasons. Perhaps they have been betrayed and are scared to trust. Perhaps their heart has been broken and they are too afraid to open it up again. Whatever the reason, I am not the only one out there who has been hiding a part of themselves.

Hiding is a waste of time that none of us can truly afford. Safety in the shadows is overrated. Trust me...it's much better out here in the light, even if the light illuminates our most heinous scars.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Another Reason to Stop Eating Out

For months now, I have told myself to cut back on eating out. Not only is it costly, but it only feeds my already lazy tendencies. Despite this, I took my daughter out for a nice dinner last Saturday, just the two of us. Or at least that was the plan.

As Briahna and I settled into our booth for two intent on enjoying our mother-daughter time, I noticed the two couples next to us who were enjoying a bottle of wine. They looked like your average suburbanites, late 30s to early 40s, a little chubby all around and dressed casually but nice for 4PM at the Olive Garden.

Before the salad arrived, I heard my neighbors to the right start speaking loudly about the joys of spouse swapping and how they all felt it had saved their marriage. Sure enough Briahna, who is 13, looked at me and asked, "what is spouse swapping?"

My life as a parent of two adolescents is difficult enough without having to explain the swingers lifestyle. C'mon, people! Don't we know how to act in public anymore? So, being the savvy mom I am, I chewed my breadstick before saying, "no, I think they said house swapping". Briahna doesn't look like she bought my explanation but shrugged as 13 year olds often do and grabbed a breadstick.

The talk to the right only grew louder and more expressive. They loudly told the waiter about their exploits with sex, alcohol, spouse swapping and how "picky" they were in choosing what couples to invite into their circle. By this time, Briahna knew they were definitely not talking about house swapping. When they moved on to talking about outlawing butt biting because someone named Steve got carried away last weekend, I threw in the towel. This mother-daughter dinner had gotten way off track from my original intention.

I don't have a problem with what anyone does in their bedroom, just keep it at home. I do not consider myself a prude in any way and am proud to call myself a liberal. But there comes a point of knowing when a conversation should loudly take place in a quiet public dining room and when it would be best to have it in your own living room over a potluck. Heck, they could have swapped later and I could have enjoyed a nice Italian dinner with my daughter! Win-win all around.

Oh...and you can only imagine the questions Briahna had about why anyone would be biting anyone else's butt. It was a long ride home.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Wedding Ring

Well, my wedding ring has been a source of roller coaster emotion since my husband's death. After the first year, I took it off because I felt I "should". Then I would put it on again here and there when I felt I needed it. I then thought this was a crutch of some kind so I gave my wedding ring set to my daughter, who is only 13. She lost part of the set! Wow, did that send me over the edge. But that loss made me think, "why am I so torn up by this ring? Why am I attaching sorrow to something so beautiful?"

This isn't just any hunk of gold, no wedding ring given in love is ever "just a ring". For so long, I viewed it as a symbol of broken promises and shattered plans. Trust me. Grief coupled with trauma is like being tossed around in a hurricane of confusion and sorrow. Attaching emotion to the ring enabled me to lash out on something physical. After all, my husband had died and I didn't have the luxury of one more final argument. The ring became my target.

Now I am wearing my wedding ring set and anniversary band on my right hand ring finger. I love seeing it there and it doesn't make me sad at all. Instead it reminds me of the love I shared with a handsome man who thought I was the be all and end all. It is not a crutch either. I am still moving on with my life. I am able to flirt with the best of them. I laugh more often than cry. And I can look down at my right hand and know that I am no longer hiding my past.

Just like the word widow no longer bothers me, neither does showing the world that yes, I loved and lost but still honor the journey. It took me four years to be able to wear this ring on my right hand--maybe that's a long time for some, or perhaps it isn't a big deal to anyone else at all---but for me this was the appropriate time. After all, it's the most beautiful piece of jewelry I own so why keep it hidden? And right hand diamond rings are in vogue, right?

Sorrow clouded my appreciation of the love I enjoyed for years. Merely thinking of the man would cause waves of loneliness to crush me. It feels good to be able to say "I really loved my husband and am so happy for the time we shared" without crying, without feeling morbid or viewing it as a sign of moving backward. I believe it is quite the opposite.

Within hours of Sean's death, my pastor told me that grief is like being on a boat in a stormy sea. She said we need to stay the course and ride out the waves knowing that a calm harbor waited in the distance. It may have taken me four years, but I am steering my boat into that calm harbor. The sails may be torn, but this boat still floats. And my right hand ring perfectly catches the sunlight.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

History Speaks

History keeps whispering through my mind like a familiar song I just can't shake. The journals I discovered in my attic a few weeks ago won't let me go. Combined, they span over 24 years of my life. I think the reason I cannot put them behind me is that I realized something shocking after reading them. At 41, I am still trying to figure out exactly what I was trying to figure out at 17. Who am I and what the hell am I doing?

When I read my words from my senior year in high school, I see how scared I was of the big unknown of adulthood. I struggled with self-esteem issues, questioned if I could handle college, wondered if I would ever be happy, hoped I would fall in love with a good man...just to name a few of the biggies listed in those pages. Well, I have some of those same issues now. I see the wrinkles hinting around my lips, cringe at the stretch marks lining my hips, wonder how I can possibly start over at this age, doubt my ability to raise two children alone, wonder yet again if I will be happy down the road and question my sanity on a daily basis.

A lot of life has happened since I was that 17 year old curled up in her bedroom writing about teenage drama. In these past 24 years, I have graduated from college, traveled the world, broken my fair share of hearts, married a handsome man, tried a few careers, given birth to two children, laughed with a lot of friends, danced at some wicked rock concerts, written a half-dozen manuscripts, buried that handsome husband, held those two children together through the grief and have picked myself up from sobbing on the floor more times than I can count.

It is as if life delivered me back to the starting line for a do-over, whether or not I want one. The big hand of the Universe has rolled the dice. I need to accept that this is my second chance around the board. I need to come up with a new strategy.

Despite all of the confusion starting over brings, I know one thing for certain. Two decades from now, I do not want to read my journals from this point forward and realize how redundant I have been.

I do not believe in coincidences. I stumbled upon that box of journals for a reason. I must learn from the girl I once was about the woman I am yet to become.

So here I am back at square one, the dice have been thrown...ready, set...stop, stumble, I-am-so-not-ready-for-this...go.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Woman Versus Chainsaw

I love mani-pedis as much as the next woman, trust me. Throw in a facial and a massage and I am in heaven. So as I finish brushing sawdust from my hair and pulling a twig from down my shirt, I have to wonder how wielding a chainsaw and cutting up log after log became routine for me.

When my husband passed away, I assumed a lot of his roles out of what I believed to be necessity at the time. Perhaps I thought I was showing the kids how nothing at all had changed, despite the fact that absolutely everything in our lives had changed. Perhaps I was trying to prove to myself that I could handle everything in my life being tossed into upheaval. Perhaps I am simply too stubborn to ask for help. Perhaps I am too cheap to hire one of the local handyman services. Whatever the reason was, the moment of my I-Am-Superwoman-I-Can-Do-It-All-Alone phase is over.

I hate cutting wood. I do not like vibrating down to my bones as I push a chainsaw into a log. My teeth feel like they are going to shake loose from my skull. Enough already! I surrender! I have done my four years of penance.

Winter is upon us here in the Rocky Mountain foothills, my wood pile is nil, my woodstove needs fuel and you know what? I am going to call one of those men listed in the local paper to deliver the wood to my door. And then I'm going to get a manicure.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Avoidance Leads to Discovery

Avoidance is a good friend of mine. I like to avoid projects I know will require energy I am not sure I want to expend. I am even better at avoiding negative people. But this weekend I shoved avoidance aside to tackle the boxes in my attic.

I pulled on the light and looked at the cumulative baggage of 12 years in this house. Boxes were buried under bags of baby clothes. Stuffed animals, winter coats, cribs...I could open a store with what I have piled in my attic. So I sat down in the midst of the mess and started sorting as best as I could.

A box filled with journals stopped my frantic progress. There in my attic with piles of baby clothes to my right and old skis to my left, I allowed myself to read words I had written over 20 years ago. My high school journals were the most entertaining. I wrote of first loves, first heart break, girlfriend drama, college dreams, small town boredom and self-esteem struggles. Basic high school stuff. Or at least they used to be the basic stuff of high school.

As I read my words written from a simpler time over 20 years ago, I started thinking of my daughter who is now in 8th grade. She is facing more challenges than I ever had. I hear on the news and, even today on Dr. Phil, about oral sex parties, intercourse at school dances and sexting nude pictures. "Making out" seems to have taken on a whole different meaning.

I won't lie. I had sex in high school, but only with a serious boyfriend. Promiscuity was not the way to popularity. Our parties consisted of alcohol, not crack. Making out meant going to first or second base, not having oral sex with a line of boys. Despite that, even I have regrets looking back. Regrets about not standing up for myself with boys because I didn't have the tools in my mental tool box to know what to say or the right things to do. No one ever told me.

As I sat there with my history literally surrounding me in my attic, I realized that I cannot avoid the hard talk with my daughter. We have had the sex talk and the drug talk, but not the oral sex talk. She is 13. She is beautiful. As her mother, I need to give her the tools to live her life on her terms instead of being swept up in the fray.

There are certain things that cannot be avoided like tackling the attic after 12 years and being honest with my daughter about all aspects of sex. Even an avoidance queen like myself knows when and where to surrender.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'd Rather Tango

In my mind, I am an athlete. I have the mindset of an athlete and the body of a couch potato. I don't know how this happened. I used to run miles every day, go to kick-boxing classes, and relax with yoga after carrying toddlers around as if they weighed nothing.

Then I lost that precious gift of motivation. What used to come naturally is now forced, often dreaded. And I can't afford to let go of that inner athlete. I need to tap into that mojo and make use of it...but how?

A friend of mine who just turned 40 had a heart attack this week. She is more athletic than I am, meaning she actually follows through with her exercise goals. This doesn't bode well for me. I need to get off my butt, stop making excuses and start acting like the athlete I know I am.

Although I have been doing Pilates twice a week and walking on the treadmill every day, I know this is not enough. So many excuses come to mind to block me from doing what I used to do as easily as breathing; but I want to live to watch my children grow into adulthood, to see my grandchildren and to travel to all of those remote places on the earth I have scribbled on my life to-do list.

How do I bring that athletic version of myself back out into the world? She's been buried a long time. I know she's still there, sculpted, energetic and healthy as hell. Tapping into that inner me is probably not as difficult as I am making it out to be. It's a a matter of desire overcoming procrastination. What do I want more? Do I want to die young because I watched that television show on the DVR? Or do I want to hike up Machu Pichu in Peru and then swing over to Argentina to dance the tango?

Hmm...I choose the tango. Time to say hello to that inner athlete of my youth. I have a feeling she'll say, "it's about damn time".

Monday, September 28, 2009

Risking Reconnect

When I married my husband in 1996, I thought my adventures in dating were over. I didn't anticipate being widowed, but no one ever anticipates that kind of tragedy. Yet here I sit, once again broken hearted.

Four years ago I became a widow at age 37. Overwhelmed with the idea of raising two children by myself, I didn't even consider the possibility that I would want to date again. Then last October a friend convinced me to venture into the world of internet social networks. Get out there...reconnect with the world...be brave...so I did. I reconnected with the world.

By reconnecting, I met up with an old boyfriend from high school. Yes, it sounds cliche. Old loves reconnect after a 24 year break...he's a widower...I'm a widow...sparks still fly. Cliche, cliche, cliche yet it became my reality. He talked a big game despite his grief being more recent than mine and I ate it up despite knowing it was all too soon for him.

I didn't want to reopen my heart to anyone even though it has been years since my husband died. I didn't want to experience that kind of pain again. Ever. But the internet made it easy to break down walls, to share each other's baggage, to flirt without boundaries and to entertain the idea that I might not have to remain single after all. Despite my reluctance, I fell hard for the man. Damn, it felt good, too. I admit it. Seeing his name in my inbox sent tingles all over. Seeing him in person felt surreal but wonderful. Something deep inside me stirred as if awakened from a deep sleep.

Then it ended abruptly. He stopped answering my emails, avoided seeing me when I visited our mutual home town where he now lives again, and has shut me out. I have taken the hint. I get it.

Risking reconnecting to the big world outside my home paid off in many ways. I have learned that I can still feel attracted to someone despite my loss. For a long time I didn't think there was room in my heart for anything or anyone that didn't revolve around my children, my former husband, my grief or my close friends/family. Now I know differently. Thanks to an old flame, I know I am still capable of burning hot.

Rebel Without an Age Limit

This weekend I volunteered as a safety monitor at my daughter's swim meet. Boring, right? Well, that's what I thought as I slipped on the orange vest at 7:30 AM to begin my patrol of the pool area. My duties were simple: keep people from setting up chairs in front of the emergency exits, patrol the locker room to keep an eye out for unruly children, help visiting team parents find places to set-up, answer questions, and basically just make sure everyone on the pool deck stayed out of harm's way. Simple. No problem.

The problems quickly revealed themselves as I needed to ask one man not to block the emergency exit with his chair and cooler. Much to my surprise, he looked at me and said, "that orange vest makes you feel pretty important, doesn't it?" What? Oh yeah...the orange vest is my attire of choice when I want to feel especially important.

I blew off my first encounter as I walked over to two other men who leaned against another emergency exit and pushed against the door. Once again, I asked them to set up their stuff in that area and asked them to not open the emergency exit door. They looked at me...pushed the chairs away from the door but stayed where they were. Fine. I turned my back on them to answer a question from an elderly woman visiting our pool for the first time with her 3 grandchildren in tow. Behind me the two men started mocking me, my vest, my general purpose for being at the meet...I was more upset about the mocking of the vest. I mean...c'mon! Who doesn't want to wear an orange vest at a swim meet?

Lesson learned: children are better behaved than most adults. How sad is that? Not once during my 6 hour stint as safety monitor (a parent volunteer, by the way!) did one child mouth off to me or try to disobey the rules. Not once.

I am not exactly a poster child for conformity, there's no question about that. But this experience made me wonder why adults feel the need to lash out at a relatively non-important volunteer swim meet safety monitor who only wanted to keep emergency exits free. Is it an underlying anger about our positions in life, for the stress of making ends meet in today's economy or just a general lack of respect? I don't have the answers. I will say I was relieved to take off that orange vest at the end of the day, though!