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Thursday, August 30, 2012

FLUID LOVE

Sometimes, we don't recognize the moments when we're in them;
Scattered droplets in the sky.
We step away and we see them,
Step back to get them.
But like a flash of the firefly,
I'm finally there but they're gone.
It's too late because we're different - them or me;
But the calm center is there where we were
And where we are

With LOVE all around
And THAT love is captured forever
Recorded in that moment
Even the ones we don't recognize we're in.
It is where we are all the time.

What Will Make You Face the Life You're Living?


Eight years ago, I moved from Cleveland to the Twin Cities. My husband, at that time, stayed behind for three months to close up his private psychology practice and sell our house. I brought our kids and dog to live in temporary housing while I looked for a house. Everything was new to me here. Within a month, I found myself in abdominal surgery to remove what they thought was a huge ovarian cyst only to wake up and be told it was a 7 lb malignant tumor. Ovarian cancer. The surgeon wasn’t equipped or qualified to proceed, so she just removed the tumor/ovary and sewed me back up. It would be three months until I could know how far it had spread and take any next steps. I had to wait for the adhesions to heal.

I remember the first week after the first surgery….not having any idea of what my life would be now. I had been told that most ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until a person is in Stage 3 (meaning it had moved outside of the ovaries, beyond the pelvis, into the abdomen). A Stage 3 diagnosis has a prognosis of a 15-20% five year survival rate. So, all the odds said that I probably had an 80% chance of dying within the next five years. I sat there with that “sentence” hanging over my head and was trying to figure out how to weave it into my brain. What should it mean? I just started a brand new job. Should I keep looking for a house? Should I move back to Ohio and try to get my old job back? Were my kids going to be motherless within 5 years?
life isn't happening TO you
There were three gynecological oncologists in the Twin Cities area and I immediately called them. I wanted information and action ASAP. To my horror, their first appointments were at least three months out. I couldn’t wait that long. I needed to know what to do with my life and I needed information to help me figure out a plan. I pressed, told my story and asked if there was ANY possibility of getting in sooner, in the next week. I ended up persuading them to fit me in. And in the next week, I listened to them give me the same advice. Wait 3 months. Get a complete hysterectomy. Do the cancer staging to see how far it has spread and create a plan based on that. 

My husband returned to Ohio. I returned to work and lived the only way I could. Until the data says otherwise, I lived life with what I knew. I would not allow my reality to change yet. I based the plan on the latest information and right then, I could only assume I no longer had cancer. I don’t remember a lot about those 3 months. Being a single parent in a new city with a new job provided me with plenty of things to keep the dark thoughts at a distance. I think I turned my brain off as much as possible. I remember walks with my kids. I remember baths in my condo reading a wonderful book called “The Anatomy of Hope”. I remember standing on the deck with the realtor and talking about what a great yard the house that we were going to buy had. Great for kids, parties. (But would I be there for them?) I remember going to the house closing and wondering whether I should be buying a house. But it was the only thing to do. Life could not stop based on maybes. I kept it at a distance, at bay. I refused to deal with it until there was something certain to deal with. But there were moments that eased their way in, usually with the help of a song, that would wake me to possible realities and the profound sadness associated with them – motherless children being the most difficult one. Lifehouse’s song “Hanging By a Moment” was my song that summer. It was a plea, a promise, an anthem all at the same time. It was my negotiation with life, with the Universe, with cancer, with myself. I just needed this one thing – to not die. Just give me this one thing and I’d make it worth it. I wouldn’t waste it.

So, three months later, as I pulled up to Abbot Northwestern, listening to Cities97, “Hanging By A Moment” began to play – the Universe with its grin – and I walked in not knowing that when I walked out, I would be one of the lucky ones. Stage 1A. The cancer was only inside one ovary – and even though it was 7 lbs, it remained completely encapsulated. No chemo, no radiation. Nothing further to do except watch. 95% survival rate.

wake up

I returned for my follow up appointments and as I glimpsed each time into the eyes of what could have been, I was reminded of my secret negotiations with the Universe. A poke in the side to recognize time was passing and it could be taken away at any time. The Universe wasn’t blinking and it wasn’t going to allow me to hide. So, I had no other choice but to allow cancer to become one of my gifts and slowly face the life I was living.

Or better yet, the life I wasn't living.

Friday, August 24, 2012

5 Short Steps to Achieve FOCUS

Are your days passing and you find that you are busy but you aren't busy doing the right things?
  1. Brainstorm for 5 minutes - "What am I trying to accomplish in my life?" WRITE the answers!
  2. Circle the 3 most important things.
  3. Review the list at the beginning of each day. 
  4. Review the list at the end of your day. Did your activities drive the 3 things?
  5. Adjust. Repeat.
                                                   

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    Rhubarb, Pogo Sticks and Pompoms

    I REMEMBER:
    • The smell of lilacs from the bushes in the backyard
    • The simplicity of dirt, water and what they could be
    • The afternoons spent with my Barbies on the front porch
    • The determination of making the swing go even higher
    • The belief that THIS year the rhubarb that I pulled from the ground would be sweet, not bitter
    • The stain of green on my hands and the smell of green in the air as I tended to the garden
    • The silence of the earth while lying back in a fresh blanket of snow
    • The sense of adventure, taking off for the day on my bike - new places to find my independence
    • The excitement of slumber parties - the danger of the Ouija board and the endless giggles
    • The competition of who could stay under water the longest
    • The disappointment of just how boring a pogo stick was
    • The nights of potential at the roller rink, pompoms on my skates, comb in my back pocket
    • The first and last days of school
    What do you remember?

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    Hi. My name is Evil.

    Does evil really exist in the world?
    I need to remind myself that evil isn't going to show up with horns and a pointed tail and when I feel like something is wrong, the odds are, it's wrong. Evil is created by people. People are responsible for evil.

    Evil isn't going to announce itself. It's going to sneak up on you and plant seeds of doubt. It's going to make you ask yourself if you are crazy. It's going to going to look different to different people. It might even walk up to you and shake your hand. Don't be fooled by the smile, the impression made on others or the parts that are good. Those are just there to confuse you. When you're gut says evil is afoot, evil is afoot.

    Are there any Evils in your life that you've been trying to convince yourself aren't? You can stop now.

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    An Angel Scrubbing My Floor???

    Do you ever feel like you're in the presence of an angel? I used to really NOT like the whole idea of angels. Then, over the last few years, I've had encounters with people that have left me after feeling like I was just in the presence of an angel. Yesterday, I had one of them.

    It was one of those times where you feel like so many things aligned that you couldn't possible believe that it was a coincidence: 
    • I brought a Groupon over a year ago for housecleaning. I was going to use it to get my townhouse cleaned when I moved out.
    • I didn't use it.
    • It expired.
    • I call the company and asked if they would extend it for me.
    • They graciously said, "Yes."
    • I had to book my appointment 3 months in advance and I promptly forgot about it.
    • I got a call yesterday morning to remind me that they were going to clean my house that afternoon.
    • I rushed home. A woman arrived.
    • I started to talk to her.
    Well, we talked for the ENTIRE time she was here. 
    • We talked about our daughters and how they frustrate us in the same ways.
    • We said the same, atypical words at the same time.
    • We shared the same fundamental life perspectives. It was haunting. It brought tears to my eyes.
    • She was tattooed with stars and she said one of them stood for existence because she always like that word.
    • And so much more.
    By the time she left, I only felt that I couldn't let her just walk out of my life. We weren't done. I told her that she couldn't just leave. We were meant to stay in contact. We exchanged information. We hugged.

    I smiled when I walked back into the house. An angel was just here.

    Don't let the angels walk out of your life.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Don't Be Dumb

    I finally got around to straightening my garage yesterday. It had been getting increasingly messy since I moved in 9 months ago. I was tripping over shoes trying to get to my car.

    The cleaning took much longer that I had anticipated. Well, I also had a visit from my neighbor's two year old. He had wandered over and hesitantly sat at the end of my driveway watching me clean. I finally enticed him to come closer by pulling out some bubbles, the kind with the big wands. Once I showed him what to do, he was determined to cover me with bubbles and eventually just started dipping the wand into the soap and then tapping it on my head. It was at that point that I suggested that we switch to chalks. I have a big ole box of sidewalk chalk that's actually mine because I love to chalk but he didn't seem too interested in those. I finally pulled out the liquid roll on chalks - it's just like paint. You used a roller brush to paint the surface with chalk. Eventually, it just turned into fingerpainting. We sat there and chalked until he had to go in for a nap and I returned to cleaning my garage.

    As I went back to my cleaning, I started thinking, "I don't feel grown up. I wonder if most people feel grown up."


    I really enjoy Gretchen Rubin's (author of The Happiness Project) fb page where she asks Happiness Question of her readers and she always gets enthusiastic responses. I started thinking that I would love to hear her reader responses to the question of whether they will ever be grown up.

    Then I thought, "Well, I think that I'm just going send an email to Gretchen and propose the question for her readers. It couldn't hurt to ask and would be fun if she responded. I COULD do it........I wonder if most people would give themselves permission to ask her. I wonder if they think that she wouldn't respond to an ordinary person, so they'd abandoned the idea before they even got started.................Ya know, everyone should remember to ask. Just ask for what they want. I'm going to ask her."

    I walked inside, found Gretchen's email address on one of the sites and sent her my suggestion.
    Forty minutes later, my question was posted on her fb and readers were busily responding and I was happy I asked. And once again, I was reminded that you should always ask for what you want. 

    Do you know what you want?
    Are you going to ask for it?

    Gretchen's info
    Here's Gretchen's fb page: http://www.facebook.com/GretchenRubin?ref=ts
    She also has a website for her book: http://happiness-project.com/

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

    How To Stumble Upon Yourself


    I went bike riding yesterday for the first time in about six years. Besides the fact that my butt is sore, which isn't a surprise, I'm still thinking about a moment that happened. I stumbled upon myself. I was riding and I looked up and there, in my memory was the picture of me sitting alongside the football field. The memory came to me instantly and just as instantly brought tears to my eyes.

    I was sitting and waiting for my daughter to finish cheerleading clinic put on by the high school. I was reading "Happy for No Reason" by Marci Shimoff. I had gotten to page 39 of the book where Marci challenges you to do an exercise:

    The Exercise
    Get out a piece a paper. Create two columns with the headings Expansion and Contraction. Under each column, list things that expand you or contract you. Things expand you if they make you feel more lightness, openness, happier. Things contract you if the make you feel fear, pessimism, low energy.

    At that moment, I realized that my marriage would go in the Contraction column.....that choosing to stay in my marriage was choosing something that contracted me. It was choosing unhappiness. Somehow, that exercise simplified what I had complicated. It delivered "new" information to me. So, now I had to decide if it was okay for me to live an unhappy life.

    I closed the book at that point. I couldn't go on. I had to give that new, simple fact time to sink into my brain. I certainly didn't know what I was going to make of it once the processing stopped. I didn't open the book again until years later; not until a year after I had moved out and moved on. I was finally ready to process some more.

    So, when I stumbled upon me, the tears were to grieve for the person that lived in unhappiness at one time and were to celebrate and acknowledge the person that I have been since.

    What CONTRACTS/EXPANDS you? What are you going to do about it?

    M

    Friday, August 10, 2012

    The Top 5 Ways to Piss Me Off

    I often think life would be a lot easier if we could give everyone that we interact with a handbook on us. One of my life's goals is to actually be able to know myself well enough that I could write such a handbook. 

    Last night, as I repeated, "Go to bed." for the umpteenth time to my kids, I thought, "Wow. Repeating myself sure makes me mad." Then, instead of making my kids go to bed, I asked them to join me in coming up with this list. It will be useful when I get around to writing that handbook.
    1. Make me repeat myself.
    2. Scold me or stomp on my energy.
    3. Be disrepectful (this especially applies to my children).
    4. I know this is a dumb one, but drive slow when I'm in a hurry. I'm not a huge speeder but I think it's kind of a rule that you should drive 5 miles over the speed limit.
    5. Generally be a downer: whine, complain, blame, be bored.
    What would be in your chapter?

    Tuesday, August 7, 2012

    The 10 Ways a Hill of Sand and Life Are the Same

    First, let me say that when my 14yo son, Ben, told me to stop the car because he HAD to get out and climb the sand hill, I had a proud parent moment.  We had just taken a turn off the main highway hoping to find a road closer to the Mississippi River. I was trying to turn a short, simple trip into a longer, something worth remembering trip. There, out in the middle of nowhere, was a huge hill of sand. Well, when you see that kind of thing, you just have to stop.

    I had just picked Ben up from his first week-long camp. He was full of stories and the promise that it was the best time he's ever had, beating every vacation we've taken. (I'm not sure how I feel about that. I guess it's good.) It was a beautiful day. Sky was bright blue and evening was approaching, so the sun was shifting lower, extending the shadows.

    We got out of the car and left the music blaring. We took the camera with us. Ben immediately set about climbing to the top of the huge hill. He had to stop a couple of times, amazed at how much harder the sand made the trip. Eventually, he made it and yelled from the top, "Mom, you should see it up here. There's a whole field."

    I was still at the bottom. I hadn't made it past the warm sand on my feet and the unexpected discovery of gorgeous shimmering shells polka dotting the hill. I had also discovered that Ben's motion was creating small avalanches. I sat watching sheets of sand release themselves and streams of sand create crevices and sand waterfalls off the ledges.

    So, how is life like a sand hill?
    1. When something surprises you, you should be willing to shift gears and tune into it. Ben saw the hill and demanded to stop. He wasn't willing to pass it by.
    2. The trip up is hard work, but the trip down is fun as hell. Learning life's lessons can be hard but the wisdom is sublime.
    3. Sometimes it takes a messy butt to get down the hill. Ben slid down the hill on his butt and his shorts ended up looking like he had an accident. In life, I think you have to be willing to loosen up sometimes, let things not be easily explainable, let it be messy.
    4. Go with the wind. Pick up momentum. Go with the flow. Don't fight what the universe is telling you. The wind's force was a creative force in the face of the hill.
    5. There were crevices in the hill and life has crevices. We become entrenched in our thoughts and habits. We have to notice when we're in them and work to get out of them. They're hard to get out of. 
    6. Unexpected beauty is everywhere. Look for it! We found a sand hill in the middle of nowhere because we went looking for it.
    7. Things aren't always what they seem. It was a hill of sand but it was also a moment, a metaphor, an enabler of a broader view.
    8. You can get buried quickly if you stand still. Sometimes you just have to move, do something. The sand buries things quickly.
    9. Truth depends on your point of view, your perspective. The experience at the top of the hill was very different from the one at the bottom of the hill.
    10. Life is constantly changing even when it seems the same. From far enough away, that hill just seemed like a hill sitting there, but when you looked close enough, it was constantly changing. Structures that look permanent are fragile. A single distance vibration can result in a cataclysmic change.
    Go out and find your sand hill now.

    Sunday, August 5, 2012

    How clean is your refrigerator? or brain?

    Yesterday, I opened my refrigerator and I was shocked at how dirty it was. I was shocked because I expected it to be clean. If you would have asked me whether my refrigerator was clean, I would have said yes.

    Then I opened the door to my garage and it was a disaster. Ditto my car.

    I started to wonder how often we truly see things as they are. I'm a believer in creating your own reality, but is there a point where it goes too far....where our refrigerators are clean and in "reality", they are a mess. AND if my refrigerator is a mess, what else is a mess that I'm not seeing? I'm not talking about my garage or my car. I'm talking about more important things like relationships or visions of the future or perspectives. And for those other things, I don't even have a physical representation of those things to check my reality and the "real" reality against, so I'm probably at an even greater risk of them not being the same.

    I know that the ONLY way we see life is through the filter of our own brains, so I might need to put "brain cleaning" on my list of things to do. Now, I need to figure out how to do it. Is it just as simple as reminding myself to look at things a different way? If I look a different way, I might see them differently.

    ..............and I really need to know if my refrigerator is dirty.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

    How are you? BUSY?

    A couple of years ago, I crossed two responses off of my list for possible answers to the question: How are you?

    Fine.
    Busy.

    By now, I hope you've seen Mel Robbins' video on the word "fine". She pretty much said all there is to say about that. If you haven't watched it, it's 21 minutes well spent. Go here.

    That leaves the word "busy". I really have a contentious relationship with this word. It really is an excuse. I know because I used it all the time. Next time you find yourself telling someone that you haven't been in touch for a while, instead, tell them this: YOU weren't my PRIORITY. X has been more important.

    Hey, I'm not saying that there aren't legitimate reasons to have other priorities. And if that's true, it shouldn't be hard to explain why you've been preoccupied.

    Try this for a while. Every time you're about to say you've been busy. Say, "YOU weren't my PRIORITY. X has been more important." You might surprise yourself. If it starts to feel icky, your priorities need to change.
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