And this concludes our episode of “The Doldrums”

Yeah, I’ve been in a funk. I don’t like it there. No fun whatsoever. I get down in the dumps about the state of the proverbial this, that, and the other…and yes, I have a lot of life to sort through. I have friends who think I live a charmed life, and while I don’t want to necessarily pop that balloon…cuz balloons are happy and who doesn’t like happy?… it’s not the whole truth.

I also don’t often admit when I’m down in the dumps. I mean, my husband knows. The kids know. Oh boy, does the immediate family know! They deserve hazard pay for those days… But I don’t like to talk about it with people because 1) the last thing I need to be is a complainer, 2) I’m embarrassed by that sort of attention, and 3) most people don’t know me well enough to help, anyway. They try to get me to count my blessings, as if I don’t do that every day. I do. Believe me, I know I’m fortunate and blessed beyond what most people could ever hope for.

So I don’t share much with people face to face. Online, however? I’m a little more of an open book. Funny, isn’t it?

But these last few weeks, it’s been a little harder to hide. I mean, I’m talking grief pouring out of me. CRYING. SOBBING. Showing up at work with puffy eyes and a red nose, and no, I’m not Rudolph! I don’t know when was the last time I’ve cried. It’s been YEARS. I’ve gotten so numb about certain life events I can’t even cry about them anymore, but this last month or so of introspection revealed new insights that left some pretty raw, gaping wounds I didn’t even know I had.

I have been thinking about the trajectory of my life, what I hoped for when I was younger, significant heartbreak I’ve had along the way, relationships that died for no apparent reason I could find and others that did because of neglect on my part. The hard work and sacrifice for a career that doesn’t seem to yield the fruit I was trying to grow, and the aspects of my life that were put on hold either because of my career, or maybe it was more like the career was a very helpful distraction from all of the heartbreak. I had my act together at one time…as close as one could, I suppose. And then more life happens and throws your plans all to hell, and along with it goes your confidence.

The reckoning sucks. It does. I don’t know how to sugarcoat that. Not anymore! 20-30-40 years go by and you can see the arc of events, the forks in the road you didn’t know were there at the time you encountered them, the friends, the foes, the frenemies…. I really dislike those kind of people. But let’s not talk about them because today concludes this episode of The Doldrums.

I can tell I may have turned a corner. Last night before falling asleep, I told myself that if my eyes popped open at an early hour, I would get my lazy butt up outta bed and walk outside. The weather has been pleasant. I’ve had a nasty cough that has started to get better, so no more pawning it off on illness. Besides, my inner voice has been telling me to get up and walk in the early morning since, oh, I don’t know…2002? So I made a bet with my tomorrow self and dozed off into la-la-land.

Wouldn’t you know: my eyes voluntarily popped open at 5am. I immediately wanted to bargain with Tuesday night’s Denise that I really didn’t mean it, haha.
By 5:50, I had sneakers on and off I went throughout the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I served as the neighborhood rooster with loud coughing fits every .3 miles or so but I got 2.7 miles in today. It felt so good. Why is it so hard to put sneakers on at 5 am when it otherwise feels so good when you do at 6 am?

I deliberately left the earbuds behind, too. No music today…I just wanted to hear the sounds of the neighborhood and mindfully take in the spring sights. I noticed the nicely manicured lawns, pops of light purple flowers carpeting the ground everywhere, the crabtree-109507-unsplashbirds tweeting (oh, how I love it, no lie), and the houses with overgrown dandelions up to my kneecaps, ready to take flight.

So much thinking, planning, conviction. I ace that stuff.

See, back in 2001 I hatched this idea that I wanted to be a life coach. I liked being a consultant, and I was for PricewaterhouseCoopers. But it drove me a little crazy that I was often part of the public accounting audit team and responsible for providing all manner of information technology evaluations for our audit clients who were not required to correct any of the legitimate errors I pointed out. The lead financial auditors argued that as long as the financial numbers were adjusted to be correct, the systems and processes that produced those numbers could be incredibly crappy and faulty. Their job was to confirm the numbers were a fair representation of the business, period. The auditors would swoop in, find the errors, require that the client plug a number to fix it, and all would be happy. Until Enron happened and the whole 2002 Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) law basically made it clear that not only did the financial numbers need to be right, the systems and processes that were used to create those numbers needed to right as well. SOX was the law that gave my old PwC job total and complete legitimacy it did not have when I worked it.

So at PwC, I got paid very, very well to identify these errors no one ever had to fix. That was bizarre for a number of reasons but the most important one was it wasn’t fulfilling to me. That was me, collecting a big fat paycheck doing GREAT work, but not making a positive difference in anyone’s life, in all honesty. I’m probably judging myself a little harshly there. I was a very good people manager and coach. I knew and still know information technology risk, governance, and control very well. But back in 2001, I was burnt out. Done with that.

Instead of working with some of the largest public companies who could not have cared less about my advice at the time, I wanted to work with individuals and small businesses on plans that directly impacted their lives in a positive way. Business plans, job searches, life plans…whatever it took.

I took the plunge to start that new line of work, giving up a six figure income to risk it. I helped a former co-worker land a job with Oprah Winfrey, guided another acquaintance as she transitioned her brick and mortar business to online (or maybe it was vice versa…I am writing this late at night and can’t remember of the top of my head), and coached a former PwC client of mine to navigate the path to finishing his PhD. It was meaningful. I long to do meaningful work. But from the age of 19 I was pretty much financially responsible for my life so a earning a great income was not optional. Plus I had the smarts for it, so why waste that sort of talent?

Now as a side note, I hung my shingle in July 2001. My personal business plan did not consider that terrorists would turn our world completely upside down two months later, and the very people I hoped to hire me would struggle to keep afloat themselves. Still, I kept at the coaching until shortly after our first child was born, roughly 2.5 years later. I struggled with making so very little money relatively speaking yet making a difference in my work, having a new mouth to feed, and knowing that I had the skills and once had a job that paid several times what my coaching business was currently bringing in. Who knew when the economy, and post 9/11 life, would be normal again, if it ever would?

Still, I was pretty gun-ho about life coaching and life planning for that matter, and to improve my skills I attended LifeLaunch in September 2001 (two weeks after 9/11), the first class among several offered by The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara to become a certified Life Coach.

It was there I was introduced to The Cycle of Renewal. I will write about this more formally another time, but to keep a long story short, there are four phases and you can move cyclically through them or slosh between a couple for a while: Going For It, The Doldrums, Cocooning, and Getting Ready. You can only imagine the state of mind of the 20-30 of us attending that class that month. It was a hugely enriching experience.

So I’m not kidding when I refer to The Doldrums. I have known it well. A lot of my career at PwC was spent in The Doldrums. It’s an outstanding firm, don’t get me wrong, and working there was absolutely incredible in terms of the scope and quality of learning. I mean, they even tapped me for a 16-week technology training course, full salary and all expenses paid, in Tampa, Florida. Our motto during that 1991 class was, “It sucks to be us” because we KNEW how fortunate we were to acquire the working-world equivalent of a masters in technology.

But I digress. I’m officially all over the place with this post. The point is, The Doldrums are a heck of a place to get stuck. At the Hudson Institute, I learned the characteristics of each phase in the Cycle of Renewal, and what activities help a person through a transition to the next phase of the cycle.

So ta-da! Yesterday, I essentially assessed my current situation and outlined a plan once again for what I could focus on, what I could do that was positive, and by golly, I had already started taking steps in the right direction. I wanted to take credit for the tiny baby steps I had started without even realizing it.

Nope, I’m not gonna outline all of them here in this post, but let’s just say I’m reaching out to people who are incredibly important to me, even if it is briefly to say thank you for the joy, the love, and/or the insight they offered at one point in time. I realize I have knocked off a big home project off my list of to-dos, freeing up some mental capacity to focus on my health. I’ve taken steps to expand my social outreach, which is a big step for this introvert. I’ve decided I’m going to dust off one of my gifts and start singing again…somehow, someway. (Incidentally tonight I heard an 8th grader sing jazz accompanied by an incredible high school big band ensemble and it lit a fire under me not to be outshined by a 13-year-old!) And I’m going to do some serious professional career planning.

Because gosh darn it, I do a great job of visioning and outlining the steps to make it happen. I have a hard time executing, but the planning? That energizes me. Finding obstacles and knowing how to remove them? Yep, I can do that too. DOING IT is of course, much harder. But you know what? I’ve done hard things. I’ve done them very well. 50 years of hard things. And I know reward. Reward rocks. Anything else is just sissy talk. Time to buck up and do it.

Go all Nike. Just do it.

The best thing about this is I recognize The Doldrums enough to know when I’m there, and while it may be inevitable to visit that place now and then, it isn’t ok to take up permanent residence there.

Nice to be back among the living…

Beachcombing…

Oh, you guys….I am struggling to hit “publish”. Have been for weeks. We are back from our Cuba trip. I started writing about it…and I just can’t seem to find the right rhythm to publish it. I have other posts in the works too, just ideas really at this point. I am struggling to share, and I’m not sure why.

I’m blocked, figuratively speaking of course.

Maybe I’m grieving.

It isn’t like I don’t have plenty to say…  Oh no! I have plenty to say. The thing is if I were to write, like I’m daring to do now, I’d be in danger of sharing the rantings of a lunatic woman SQUARELY in the middle – or maybe it’s really the start – of a mid-life crisis.

This is so not cool. So-not-living-up-to-the-blog-name at the moment!  Sigh…

Mid-life crisis? Really? Me?

I don’t wanna have a mid-life crisis! I want to be who I dreamed I would be when I was younger: confident, successful, articulate, graceful, beautiful, and loved.

Incidentally I just now realized how I never really imagined myself as a giver when I had those teenage visions. Being a kind and giving person is the goal I should have been striving for. If it was, maybe I wouldn’t be having the crisis I am right now. But back then I was relatively kind..maybe I didn’t feel the need to envision something I had to start with. I wish I had….so I could remain a kind person. I’ve let that slip, big time. I mean, I realize just how ridiculous this entire post is. Be kind, be giving….that should be the end of the story. But those other things? I had serious work to do to cultivate those traits as I started with nothing. That’s what I was shooting for.

It’s embarrassing to admit all of this but that’s where my head is today.

My brain is so wildly all over the place as of late. Part of me shies away from posting because of what you all will think. I have a tendency to tell real-life stories involving real life people. I don’t make up names to protect the innocent; I just avoid using names. I should seriously consider creating some aliases for the people in my stories.

You see, I have a strong need to write a memoir. There is virtually no one who appears in all scenes of my life…my siblings are at least a decade older than me and we’re wildly different. We love one another but we’re not close…they don’t know what makes me tick, what has brought me joy and sorrow. And neither have they shared that with me over the years. And I have asked….but they are far more private than I am. It’s kinda like being an only child except you’re not, which is almost worse. People know you have siblings and assume you’re close.

Back to the memoir: regarding the cast of characters in my life, I’ve had several dramatic exits over the years, if you will. More than a few deaths, one devastating car accident, and a few marriages (not mine) and moves that closed off some relationships for good. If I don’t write these stories down, no one will ever know. I’d like to think maybe my kids will be curious about my life one day – curious to understand what made me tick and guide them they way I have – but I suspect that day will come when I am no longer here to ask. And when they have those questions, they won’t have the complete picture on account of those dramatic exits. They won’t know what has shaped me and how, because it just isn’t the sort of stuff of every day conversation. They won’t know the toughest lessons I have ever had to learn.

How many deaths? Well, we had a memorial service for my family at church this past Sunday. Granted, a few names were part of my husband’s family but I gave the priest a list of 45 names. 45 people who have passed! I knew well over half of them. All were family, all are gone, and I knew well over half of them.

Well, “knew” is a relative term. None of them really knew me, and I guess it’s fair to say the reverse it true too. After all, I was kid or young adult when those I knew passed, and they weren’t about to open up to me, their youngest niece. Let’s put it this way….we rode the train of life together for a little while but the conversation was more like every day pleasantries. Small talk.

Needless to say, there’s a place for small talk but that’s not my thing. I need to talk about life…make sense of things. I need wisdom. I feel like I’ve got nothing…just what’s in my head and I don’t trust it lately.

I just broke down Sunday, sobbing over the enormity of the loss. Some days all I feel is the loss and it makes me cry.  Why does it feel like none of the latter relationships in my life have nearly the same significance as these ones in the beginning? Is this normal? But then I realize that crying makes me my mother, and I work hard to snap out of it.

And lately, regarding my brain? The regrets…oh, the regrets are strong today. Time is ticking by, baby. Part of me wants to make amends, make peace with people who are still living that I may not have treated so fairly or appreciated nearly enough when they were an active part of my life. If only they knew what good humans they were and what a difference they made to little old me. I wasn’t a proper witness to their significance, importance, goodness, decency….once upon a time. It’s only when 30-40-some-odd years go by that I can see these things so very clearly.

Why do I feel like I’m dying that I need to make amends right this very instant? Is that normal? Why is this feeling overtaking me? It too reminds me of my mom….her last phone call, unbeknownst to her at the time, was to make amends to a high school advisor of mine. Is that why I’m freaking out? Am I doing the same thing here?

I don’t know why I wasn’t a proper witness to these good people. Teen me was self-centered and shallow-minded. In some cases I for sure felt inadequate, awkward. And in other cases, I assumed that most people were as good and decent and kind as the ones I left behind in pursuit of new experiences.

I was wrong on oh-so-many counts.

I have spent most of my life, SO MUCH TIME, looking for a spark, and even waiting for lightning to strike twice. The truth is, all I’ve ever been is a seeker. I keep looking for something better, wanting something more. I can’t separate how much of that is a healthy pursuit of excellence, personal growth, and self-actualization versus blind, gross, insatiable need. The truth is, I don’t know how to sit still and just be. It feels like I’m withering away, rusting, when I do that.

resa-cahya-369025-unsplashDon’t get me wrong…I am grateful for what I have. But why am I not satisfied with that? Why do I keep looking? Why don’t I spend my time polishing what’s before me? And by looking backward at past relationships, why am I like the retiree walking on the beach with a metal detector looking for something precious that has been buried? What good could possibly come from THAT?

When I’m feeling good, I’m forward looking, not beachcombing. I don’t want to be in this space… But the beach…the waves are my tears, washing precious objects ashore. And while the ocean is vast and the objects are small, they bring some joy when I find them…even if they’ve been lost in the waters for so very long and not something that I can incorporate actively into my life today. Maybe my beachcombing is to find shiny little happy things and reminisce for a short while.

Let me explain: about a week or two ago, I made a list of about 20 or so people who had the greatest positive impact on my life. I put them in a couple of different categories, ranging from no contact whatsoever in years to constant contact. Only my husband is in the latter category…very telling. I thought long and hard about how hard it has been for me to make friends ever since I moved back to Ohio even though that was 14 years ago, and how maybe my best bet at this point was to rekindle the relationships that were the most meaningful over the course of my life. Very few of the 20 have entered my life in the last 20 years. Very few.

I know don’t know what I expect to get out of this effort. I know darn well that some of these relationships can never be rekindled. My outreach would be viewed as odd, eccentric, unwelcome. Lightning, I’ve learned, does not strike twice. Whatever stupid action I may have taken to cause the relationship to fizzle is a done deal. “Things happen for a reason,” they say. I say they happen because sometimes I’ve been stupid and careless….

I suspect the only thing I can hope for is to share a word of kindness about how much these people meant to me, tell them that I will always wish them well (as I have every time I think of them), and that I regret that I ever lost touch in the first place.

Yet this whole exercise feels like a stupid, vulnerable thing to do. I will probably chicken out before I get through the list. I don’t have courage when it comes right down to it.

And I know life gets in the way and friendships exist sometimes only for a season due to no fault of anyone, but lately I am living with regrets about that.

I’m walking on the beach with my metal detector. It’s silly, I know, but for now but it gives me something to do.

 

Photo credit: Resa Cayha on Unsplash.com

Bittersweet Spring

April 19, 1988, at Ohio State was one of those stunningly sunny days, one of the first truly warm days of the year. Everyone was feeling buoyant and you could see it in the ways the students swaggered through campus. I distinctly remember sitting in some business class before lunch on the first floor of Hagerty Hall. The windows were flung open, brilliant sunshine pouring in accompanied by a warm breeze wafting throughout the room.

Hagerty was among the least glamorous buildings on campus and it had no air conditioning just to punctuate that fact. I wore a lightweight sweater and brand new floral jeans that morning…so by 11am it was way too warm for the surprise heat but I was nevertheless sporting some pretty funky clothes for me, an accounting major.

Yes, it was the kind of day that heralded an early summer in Columbus. Undergrads whipped out the shorts for the first time in months, laid out on the Oval, threw frisbees, and tolerated the fake, crazy preacher-dude who frequently admonished the masses who gathered around to listen. Just a typical spring day on campus, really. I was a junior and mid-terms were upon us.

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The rest of the day was a blur but by evening, I was sitting in a random room somewhere else on campus tutoring students in Accounting 101. Ohio State’s campus was huge, and we weren’t anywhere near the business school for this tutoring class. I don’t think I had even been in that building before. I didn’t tutor very often; a group of us honors accounting students took turns, and so I reported for duty in the evening of the 19th, and was helping someone work through the debits and credits of a fixed asset sale.

I heard a familiar, stern, but out-of-place voice call out from the hall:  “Denise,” he said in his clipped way. “We’ve got to go. Now.”

I looked up to find my brother in the doorway. My face fell.

My brother and I don’t exactly get along. We were barely on speaking terms back then, and not much has changed all these years later, sad to say. So for me to see him in the doorway of a random room on OSU’s campus at 7pm that evening was a life-changing event.

My brother is six years older than me. He lived in Columbus at the time, but he barely knew where I lived on campus or that much about me for that matter. There I was, doing the instant mental math of calculating what it must have taken for him to track me down on that huge campus before cell phones, email, and personal computers. The answer was staggering. I mean, even my roommate Lora didn’t know where I was tutoring; she only knew that I was tutoring. Well, brotherly duty and all, he managed somehow to track me down to the room. I knew it had to be something serious.

My heart raced as I joined him in the hallway for some privacy. He explained, “They think mom had a heart attack. She’s in the hospital and it doesn’t look good. Kathy said to pack good clothes for the trip home.”

Kathy is our sister. Home is a two-hour car ride east to the border of Ohio with West Virginia, where my mom was in the hospital.

I don’t remember much after that. We stopped at my campus apartment, I packed for what sounded like a pending funeral, and he and I drove the two hours home in near total silence. I’m sure we went straight to Wheeling Hospital on arrival in the Ohio Valley, home. It had to be 10pm by then.

Our two sisters and their husbands were already there. Kathy looked at me, and cried, “What are we going to do without our Mom?” She ushered me to join Dad and our other sister as we walked into my mother’s hospital room. I saw someone in the bed but turned, thinking we entered a stranger’s room by mistake.

Kathy stopped me. “No, Denise. This is Mom.”

Utter shock consumed me and I stopped breathing to take in the scene, something my 20 year old eyes had never encountered before. I didn’t recognize that woman in the bed, tubes inserted and a loud machine helping her lungs breathe, IVs dripping, the beep of the EKG monitor…  That woman’s face was covered with a mask. She was completely unconscious and very swollen, her skin color was strange, her hair wild with significant gray roots overtaking her light brown hair, not exactly well groomed. That’s…..Mom???

A curtain of unfamiliarity had fallen to separate us.

None of us slept that evening….we all just laid in bed barely breathing, staring at our old bedroom ceilings in our parents’ house, silently trying to piece together the day’s events….trying to make sense of what on earth happened…trying to prepare for what was about to happen…and how life was suddenly, drastically different.


At same time I sat in a warm sunny classroom reflecting on the gorgeous day, back in my hometown Dad told Mom he was headed to buy groceries and that he’d be gone maybe 20 minutes, in and out.

After Dad left, Mom picked up the phone to call a former high school teacher of mine. She saw the teacher’s picture in the paper that earlier that week, and remembered her as the advisor for one of my senior activities. Mom was concerned that she had come across as meddlesome to the teacher and her advisory work three years earlier, when the teacher was pregnant with her first child. Mom regretted the idea that she may have dampened this woman’s efforts… and knew how heightened a woman’s sensitivity is when pregnant. Now that she had some time to reflect on it and was reminded of the teacher from the paper, she thought she would call to apologize for being troublesome, bring closure to the whole episode, and thank the teacher for her work. The advisory activities were volunteer work on the part of the teacher, after all.

So there was Mom, on the kitchen phone with my former advisor gabbing and laughing like she did hundreds and hundreds of days before, when she suddenly exclaimed how she had “such a bad headache”.  She immediately dropped to the ground and down the phone came with her.

My advisor had no idea what just happened. These were the days before 911. All she could think to do was hang up and then reach for the phone book. She had no idea which entry in the phone book was ours or IF she’d find an entry for my family. Luckily there were only three entries for my family name in the phone book. Gotta love a small town! She dialed my Uncle George’s house first and Aunt Josie answered. My aunt immediately called the local volunteer paramedics who were two minutes away by car.

Dad walked in the door of our house to find Mom on the kitchen floor and the paramedics arrived two minutes after him. Aunt Josie arrived immediately after that.

They revived Mom on the spot, apparently…but for all intents and purposes…she was gone. Massive stroke, cerebral hemmorhage…we don’t really know what it was officially but based on what we know about our family, I’m going with an aneurysm. The maternal grandmother I never met had one as did a cousin, so chances are excellent that’s what it was. Mom didn’t want “investigative” work in the form of an autopsy, so we’ll never really know.


After our sleepless night our immediate family trekked back to Wheeling Hospital to sit with Mom all day, then watch as they carted her off for EEG testing and return. Whoever the hell her doctor was had not one ounce of compassion. When the tests were done, he  blew through the doorway and coldly announced to all of us, “Mr. Silon, the results of the EEG show that Katherine has no brain activity. Would you like to shut off the life support machine?”

Just like that. Just.like.freaking.that.

Something about the doctor’s tone implied we didn’t have – correction – Dad didn’t have time to decide. The doc wanted an answer. Now. Dad could barely choke out his answer, but he did.

“Y…es…”

And just like that…click…they shut off her breathing device and it wheezed to a stop.

I distinctly remember thinking how the doctor’s report was not a surprise but it still hurt like hell to hear him say it. And how it was not my position as the youngest daughter to intervene in the events taking place before my eyes, but I couldn’t believe how this was spiraling downward before me so rapidly. There I was, absolutely mute. Inside, I was screaming. I do that a lot, scream internally while desperately trying and failing to find composed words to say so I don’t sound like a madwoman.

Doesn’t the man get a moment to think about it privately? Doesn’t the man get a moment to say goodbye to his spouse of four decades, alone, or with us kids if he so chooses? Are you demanding an answer right this very second? OMG, that’s exactly what you want. It’s like you need to turn the hospital room for someone else…like you’re the maitre ‘d turning tables at a popular restaurant. What the hell is wrong with you?

But in that same split second, you realize you’re wasting your energy and witnessing one of the most sacred events you’ll ever experience.

My Dad’s bottom lip trembled, and tears streamed down his face as he leaned over to kiss Mom on the forehead as she took her last forced breath: “Thank you, for 41 wonderful years.” Of course my Dad knew exactly how many years they had been married…he was a very good and faithful husband that way. He really was a tender-heart for as much as people assumed he was Mr. Tough.

My sisters, brother, Dad and I were gathered around her bed, at least that’s all I can remember in my mind. I may or may not have held her right hand. I really can’t remember other than picturing my Dad and those damn machines, and knowing we were all there as witnesses.

It was, however, some time before Mom’s heart stopped beating on its own, or so it seemed….We sat in silence as it happened. And when it was all over, Kathy whimpered, “See?  She had a strong heart…”

 

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It’s all I can do to remember the last hug between my Mom and me – in the middle of our living room two Sundays before she died, on Easter, or Pascha as we Orthodox call it, 1988. It was the biggest bear hug. I felt a little more grown up that Spring. The adolescent-menopausal bickering that had consumed our relationship for the prior, oh, seven years was finally starting to melt. It felt hopeful, that hug. Maybe my relationship with my mother was finally on the mend. It was not a good one, and it hadn’t been for years.

She called me the following Sunday after Easter when I was trying to study for my mid-terms. By the time she rang around 7pm in the evening, I had already spent the entire day trying to study but allowed myself to be interrupted by a half dozen friends wanting to talk. By the time she called, I was getting a little panicked about my lack of studying so I was short, impatient, with her.

She sounded really down on the phone. Sad and lonely. She just wanted to talk, and I knew it. But I explained that I really, really had to study at the point and hung up the phone. I distinctly remember hanging over the edge of the bed with the phone dropped to the ground before me. It was the kind of hardwired phone that didn’t need a cradle. As long as you laid it on a flat surface, it was dormant. I stared down at that phone on the floor.

“Ah….Denise…she just wanted to talk…you could have taken a few minutes to talk like you did for EVERYONE else today…and you didn’t even tell her you loved her!

Eh….next time!”

And I rolled over, and threw open my book finally to study.

It was the last time I ever spoke with my mom.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Most of the rest of those days after she passed are a blur.  All these years later, I reflect on April 19 and 20 as the days my mother died. Sure, the obituary says April 20. But when I walked into that hospital room that evening…that wasn’t my Mom. I firmly believe she was gone from this world.

All these years later, I still don’t know “where” she was while she laid on that hospital bed. Was she in the room? Was she in her body? Was her spirit free to roam where she wanted? Was she already in heaven? Was she trapped? It’s agonizing to have no answers. 20-year-old me wanted answers. 50-year-old me hasn’t moved beyond wanting those answers. It’s like I’m still stuck there, with my 20-year-old mind and its questions.

It makes me truly wonder what happens to us upon our passing…since hers was prolonged and yet not. I am still really confused by this. Is it painful for the soul to be in that state of limbo? I wish I knew…or maybe I don’t. I just hope she wasn’t scared… wherever she was….if the soul has feelings at that point or is disoriented away from its body. It is really, really confusing for me.

In my heart, I know that I’ll see her again. With the freakishly fast passage of time, I realize it really won’t be that much longer before I do.


Mom’s adored kid brother Louis was born on the first day of spring, which for most people is a happy, promising day. But for her? She cried every year because she missed him so much. He died as a handsome 28-year-old several years before I was born.

Spring was always bittersweet for her, just as it is for me now. Just when the sun starts shining, the flowers are blooming, and the breeze feels warmer, I blink my eyes and find myself sitting in that first floor room at Hagerty Hall. I relive this crazy way I lost my Mom – where it happened in a flash yet took another 24 hours. How it ended with a click, a kiss, and the slowing pace of an EKG machine down to its final beep.

Spring is always bittersweet.

 

Good Gracious, Get Writing!

Hey all! Sorry for the slightly extended blog absence. Ah…life snuck up on me with various kid events, Easter (aka Pascha to all you Orthodox Christians out there), some surprises at work that changed the tempo and priority of my projects, a moderate-to-severe case of the mid-life funk, and ta-da! The big Cuba trip has come and gone. The timing was perfect given my case of the funk.

Maybe I need to start referring to it as The Funk. Whadya think?

michal-parzuchowski-224092-unsplashYa know, sometimes it feels like life is a giant game of Jenga, and I’m trying so hard to stay in the game…

I will be writing about the other events and Cuba here soon, with some pictures from the trip although not the best ones as I forgot the good camera. I hardly ever think to pull it out these days since most of my photos are snapped on the iPhone.

I’ve also been chipping away at a couple of pieces that are longer than my usual entries and trying to figure out if I should split them out into a series of posts or just a couple of long ones. Tell me what you think about the length of my typical posts. Do you get lost or disinterested in the longer ones? I am eager to hear your feedback so I know what resonates with all of you.

Just wanted to say hey, I missed writing, I miss you all, and stay tuned for some substantive posts before long.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast Party

Since starting this blog last September, I have thrown around a few hints about how I listen to podcasts, and I then I joked:

Where have you been all my life?

Let me back up a bit. For the last several years I have had a 30-minute, one-way commute to work Monday-Friday on a country road past a handful of quintessential Ohio farms. Horses, llamas, cattle, and corn. I’m not much of a country girl but you know what? The visual is pretty soothing, which beats staring at tail lights and pumping my brakes non-stop while I inhale automobile exhaust headed in the other direction toward Cleveland.

It’s a bit hard for me to do nothing on the drive. It’s an hour of my day, after all. I’ve tried all sorts of things to occupy my time. I have tried listening to certain local radio shows, certain national radio shows, Sirius XM, streaming music from my iPhone, books on audio, silence (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t ever really silence because the voices in my head would talk the entire time about the situation I was leaving at home in the morning or at work in the evening), and prayer (because, well, the voices….duh).

A couple of years ago I was forced to find inspiration in every nook and cranny I could find it. Maybe one day I’ll get the courage to write about that story because it was one hell of a tough life lesson to live through, but I did. Believe me, it will take courage to tell that story. Courage is a muscle I need to build.

Without digressing too deep down the path of the above paragraph, let me share that one of the places I looked for inspiration was this uncharted territory for me: podcasts, an app on my iPhone I never bothered to use. This is pretty odd for me because I have always been one to gravitate toward and early-adopt technology.

I asked friends for some ideas on how to get started, and recommendations on any podcasts they listen to. Some early shows I listened to were The Ziglar Show, where I heard Mark Timm speak and got the idea for our own family’s Louie Scoop meetings, and Joel Osteen, because I figured if I’m gonna listen to inspirational speakers, why not have a Biblical basis for it?

I don’t listen to either of those shows anymore.

Don’t get me wrong: Ziglar is a very good show but the format started to wear on me. Now, you don’t have to be a salesperson to appreciate Ziglar. It really is great to hear these inspirational snippets from Zig’s talks but after two years of solid listening, I think my bucket is full on that one. It also seems the talks are frequently geared toward people creating a side hustle or being entrepreneurs so it doesn’t always hit the mark for me. That’s not the best characterization of the show as I definitely think it has merit, and it’s highly rated, to boot; it’s just not best fit for me going forward. However, I can imagine picking it back up again one day.

Osteen on the other hand? I had to stop listening to him after the Houston hurricane debacle when he wouldn’t open his facility to people in need. That just seemed so selfish of him, especially after you hear a pitch for buying his latest book or whatever at the end of each episode. Honestly I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. He just comes across as inauthentic, and at this point I’ve bucketed him with many of the other crazy, rich Christian evangelicals. If you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk that walk as well. You know what I mean?


But that’s not my focus today. Let me tell you about the podcasts I love and why! Some of these shows are 20-30 minutes in length, while some are one hour long or sometimes even 90 minutes. Occasionally a show will feature a short, 2-5 minutes in length, to convey a singular, inspirational idea. I favor the 30 minute shows because I can listen to an entire episode during one trip in the car, but the longer ones aren’t all that bad. I just end up dedicating my outbound and return commute to listening to the whole thing.

IMG_6870I will highlight two podcasts that have held my attention ever since I started listening, plus three more I have adopted in the last six months or so.

  1. Happier by Gretchen Rubin (Gretchen Rubin)
  2. The Good Life Project (Jonathan Fields)
  3. Stay Tuned with Preet (Preet Bharara)
  4. The Keto for Women Show (Shawn Mynar)
  5. Oprah’s Super Soul (Oprah Winfrey)

Happier

Host Gretchen Rubin and her co-host sister Elizabeth Craft share tips and tricks to make life happier. They often feature ideas captured in author Gretchen’s books. I am intrigued by her concept of the Four Tendencies, and I love the Try This At Home ideas they suggest. Overall this is a light-hearted podcast, and it’s fun to listen to the two sisters banter back and forth. I feel like I’ve gotten to know their personalities and idiosyncrasies, and I laugh at their stories. Gretchen is a true literary fan so she’s always offering quotes from classic stories I haven’t actually taken the time to read. Overall I find their advice to be practical and immediately applicable.

The Good Life Project

Jonathan Fields holds hour-long, deep conversations with a wide variety of fascinating people who you may not be familiar with, people who are champions of the human spirit. I love deep, philosophical, thought-provoking conversations yet I hardly ever get to have them so this podcast is the next best thing.

Jonathan has mastered the art of conversation. It isn’t so much an interview as it is a really intimate talk between two people. His voice is so soothing, too. It’s like listening to a friend. He talks like I do in real life.

Jonathan released a book this past year called How to Live a Good Life, which is the question he asks of his guests at the end of each episode. In the book, he champions the idea that we have three buckets that we should continuously replenish: the vitality, connection, and contribution buckets. I could read this book again and again as it is loaded with powerful ideas to fuel your body, mind, and spirit. Given that I wanted and needed a boost in all three, this book resonated strongly with me.

Occasionally you hear side stories about how Jonathan was a gymnast once upon a time, but started his professional career as a hard-charging attorney for a law firm, working for a few years until he opened a yoga studio. Now he channels his energy into studying how to live a good life, runs a summer camp for adults who want to explore this topic, and hosts this podcast. I view him as a really hip, cool contemporary. This is a dude I will follow for years to come.

Stay Tuned with Preet

I suppose if the esteemed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York had to be unceremoniously fired by Trump, then I’m glad it happened because now we get to hear Preet Bharara deliver a weekly podcast that demystifies our justice system and all the chaos in Washington this administration.

Maybe Preet just physically reminds me of my dad when I was a kid, which is weird, but I really like the guy. He speaks in this calm, even-toned, moderately-paced voice that makes it incredibly easy to digest the gravity and complexity of the topics he discusses. I just find it so hard to comprehend stuff thrown at me rapid-fire by some of those news fanatics, like I’m wolfing down crappy fast food that leaves you with indigestion. Preet delivers his message in a nevertheless riveting way where you have time to absorb and think about what he’s saying. His delivery sounds unlike anyone else and I’m learning more about how our government works (or doesn’t) than I have since I studied civics in 8th grade.

The Keto for Women Show

Nutritionist Shawn Mynar hosts this weekly podcast covering the topic of a ketogenic diet for women, one that is high-fat and low-carb and promotes brain health as well as hormonal and digestive healing for the body, primarily for women.

I am not too bright when it comes to nutrition. I probably know the basics like everyone else, but it seems like the last 30 years have been filled with gobs of misinformation leading to today’s American obesity epidemic. It feels like we could use all the help we can get when it comes to nutrition, so I find so this podcast to be hugely educational about a way of eating that mirrors what I likely ought to adopt for my own health. Shawn is a nutritionist who is upbeat, informative, and focused like a laser-beam on women’s health not necessarily weight loss. Eating for health will lead in that direction, but she’s not about dropping pounds rapidly at any cost, when so many other fitness pundits are.

Shawn is just consistently upbeat in her delivery and I have learned so much from her. Love the guests she has had on her show as well.


I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple of good podcasts that have come and gone over the last few months. Maybe I’ll update this post with additions should I think of any.


And now a word about podcast apps themselves. I’ve been listening by using the Apple podcast app all this time. It is the purple app in third row down on the far right in the image above.

I’m not a fan. It seems like just when I get used to the layout of the app and how it works, they change it on me, like they seem to do with iTunes which used to be intuitive once upon a long time ago. This app is not intuitive. I’m not a technology ding-a-ling but it is not easy to skip over or delete episodes I don’t want to hear without accidentally unsubscribing to the show altogether. I just don’t understand why they have to mess around with the layout.

Little did I realize there are other apps out there you can use to listen to podcasts: Overcast, Downcast, and Stitcher to name a few. Apparently even Spotify will work but not for all shows. I haven’t had a chance to check any of these out just yet so “stay tuned with Silonda” (Get it? I took a page from Preet’s playbook) to see what I think of these tools. It may take me a while to try them out and pick one I like. I just thought it was intriguing to hear there were other, quite possibly better, apps out there for our listening enjoyment.

I’d love to hear from you regarding which Apple podcast apps are your favorite (my platform of choice) but I’m eager to hear from Android fans as well. Looks like I have a global readership going on so let’s hear from you guys and thanks in advance!

Log Cabin Livin’

We’re back after a couple of spring break days away in heavenly Hocking Hills. Oh man, what a perfect getaway! Not enough time….just not enough time to enjoy it all!

We took the scenic route – three hours – from northeast Ohio to southeast Ohio, which I don’t recommend if you have kids in the backseat prone to car-sickness. Too many rolling hills and turns for that sort of thing! Our navigation roulette took us through the towns of Granville and Lancaster, Ohio, both of which looked charming enough to deserve more than a drive through.

Our little family rented a cabin for our stay. It was tucked away on a gravel road, up on a hillside, completely nestled among the trees. From the outside it didn’t look all that grand, but from the inside it was beautiful. An immediate sense of calm overwhelmed me from the moment we stepped inside.

The kids were blown away by the setting. Three bedrooms, three levels with the upstairs as a skylit loft, 3.5 baths, a nice kitchen, a couple of TVs, indoor and outdoor fireplace, jacuzzi, wrap-around porch, and hammock. Every one had a nook or cranny they could hang out. We used the jacuzzi each night, watching the moon rise and the stars twinkle in the evening sky.

My oldest was struck by the total quiet. I even forget how he put it but it was something like, “Why is it so quiet?” Well, uh….you’re on a hillside surrounded by nothing but trees. There is no street traffic, no neighbors, no TVs blaring, nothing but birds. It’s not like we live in a city, either. We live in a perfectly suburban neighborhood but even our teen realized that we had escaped mainstream living.

The name of the cabin was Gökotta, apparently a relatively untranslatable Swedish word for “arising in the early morning to hear the birds sing.” I loved it. The cabin was punctuated with bird decor, little touches that made you smile instead of feeling overwhelmed.

The cabin was so sun-shiney! And of course, it had this warm glow from the timbers and wood everywhere. The loft was one of my favorite places to chill, bright and cheery from a couple of skylights and altogether inviting with a giant bean bag by a triangle window, perfect for reading and snoozing. At one point, all three kids came to snuggle with me there.

My cabin pictures aren’t the best – I didn’t get an exterior shot – but you get the idea…

 

On our second day, we all donned our boots and drove out to Ash Cave to hike. It’s a very easy walk to the cave from the parking lot. The kids were amazed at the size of the cave itself. We climbed some wooden steps to the upper rim and took pictures which don’t give you a sense of the size at all. Maybe you can see the tiny people in the photo below.

IMG_6960

From the top, the kids announced they were game to hike the 2+ miles to Cedar Falls so off we went. The trail was muddy for most of the trek but we didn’t care since we had our boots on. Frankly, we all had more fun because of it! Every now and then we washed our boots off in the meandering nearby stream and then punched through the mud some more. We never did make it to Cedar Falls but found our way to the 80′ Ash Cave Lookout Tower which the kids climbed for the view.

 

The hike was both exhilarating and a case of family-induced attention deficit disorder. I’m sure other moms can appreciate how every 30 seconds one of the kids was asking me a question about something on the hike or altogether random. They would take turns running off into the distance, holding my hand, falling behind, splashing through the mud puddles, or pairing up with each other.

At some point four of us tried playing Red Rover to see if the fifth could run through our clasped hands.

“Hey, no shoulder butting allowed! Since when is it ok to shoulder butt in Red Rover? Huh? Huh?”

IMG_6973One of the kids found this painted rock, and on the flip side there is a tag that said to post your finding to the Dayton Rocks Facebook page. We took it home with us and promise to release it on our next hike. The kids and I just might paint a few rocks of our own this spring and release them to the wild! Or maybe we’ll try our hand at geocaching.

And oh yes, there will be a next hike. We only attempted Ash Cave on this trip but there are so many others to explore in Hocking Hills. We returned to the car after maybe 2.5 hours of hiking and all of us felt pretty good. I felt completely exhilarated. Maybe it was the fresh, cool, tree-scented air, maybe it was the pure exercise. It felt like every cell in my body had been pumped full of oxygen – I was literally tingling with energy. My muscles felt used, not overworked. I could have kept going for another couple of hours, I suspect. I honestly didn’t want it to end, but the last thing we needed was for anyone to poop out half way through the trek.

All told, we were only in Hocking Hills for 48 hours but I must go back. I mean, I was online the night we returned home, trying to figure out how to finance the building of a log cabin for retirement. Crazy, I know. But it is unmistakable the feeling of peace and calm that washes over me in the woods. This is only my third trip overall and second staying in a log cabin, but this decidedly indoor kind of woman feels quite at home there.

In the meantime, I’m going to make a lot more effort to get the five of us out hiking far more often this year. Besides, taking them to Yosemite one of these days is on my bucket list and I want them to appreciate the beauty of what they will see there.

The thing that gets me the most is how much the kids loved this trip. Maybe it was the cabin. Maybe it was the hiking. I can’t tell. What I do know is how we’ve taken our kids everywhere. By everywhere, I mean our oldest, 14-years-old, has been to 38 states already, and our youngest, almost 8, has been to 22. But all three loved this trip the most. I think we’re onto something here.

Lovin’ that log cabin life….

The Bible ABCs

Have you seen this little boy reciting a Bible verse for each letter of the alphabet?  Apparently several folks are convinced it is Prince George but no, it’s a little boy named Tanner from Texas. British accent…Texan accent….same difference!

I was completely mesmerized and delighted watching him. I want to squeeze him, he’s so darn cute!

He’s 4. What gets me, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, is how I can’t quote 26 lines of scripture and I’m, um, older than 4. Now, it’s true that I recognize nearly every single line of scripture that Tanner says, but I couldn’t quote them verbatim.

I’ve been shown up by a four-year-old. Good for him. Even better for his parents! Man, you gotta love good parenting.

Let me back up a sec: I’ve been Christian all my life. I grew up Orthodox, which is pretty much code for “complex Christianity”. Orthodoxy is not Worship 101. It is off-the-deep-end stuff, unchanged since the very early days of the church a couple of millennia ago.

Let me emphasize: Orthodoxy is relatively unchanged from the early days of the church regardless of the world’s issues du jour. There’s a lot of emphasis on fasting, repentance, sin, suffering, symbolism, repetition, mysticism, ritual… My parents guided me what to do in church growing up but didn’t really explain why. They didn’t know why themselves, and so it went for generations before them.

Now my parent were steadfast and pious in their devotion to be sure, but well, I’m an inquiring mind. I always have been. I just knew I wasn’t going to get any answers from them. And reading scripture on your own wasn’t part of the ritual so it hasn’t been as top of mind as it should be for me.

It’s been a slow journey for me ever since. Many “cradle Orthodox”, as we’re called, don’t bother. Several of them just leave the church than explore their faith any deeper.

Despite not quite understanding about Orthodoxy, despite endless questions on my part and despite a few aspects that strike me the wrong way, I am still drawn to it.

During each Divine Liturgy we read an epistle and a selection from one of the Gospels, but they often use one of the older translations so the language shared aloud with the masses is archaic, clunky….and often times we have a guest reader for the epistle which is read at a volume and speed or cadence that doesn’t do much to facilitate understanding. I hear many comments from people about how they tune out during that part of the service.

They tune out! And we hear the same scripture verses annually so you’d think after a couple of decades, the message would sink in. And some of the messages do but they don’t speak to me personally and what I am struggling with. That’s something I need to remedy on my own.

So yes, yes, I should read the Bible frequently and deeply. I admire the people who can recite and take comfort in scripture for the various trials of life. I want to be that person. But I’m still a baby Christian. I should study the Bible, underline the parts that resonate with me, and commit some to memory. I haven’t done it. Only last year did I commit to reading more period, let alone more from the Bible. I even have an app on my phone so I can study it at a moment’s notice but it didn’t do much to immerse me more frequently in the verses.


Earlier in the week I also saw the image below online, and it too stopped me in my tracks. How many times have I allowed those very same outer messages to penetrate me? I found myself somewhat in awe of the spiritual armor this woman has. I get that she may not be real.

Still.

There have been times I felt those things deep inside of me, but I didn’t have the actual quotes ready to go in my head when I’m feeling down. The quotes are fantastic. Balm for the soul.

29216501_10214167534134875_4737592666882048000_nThis malady doesn’t affect just me. My young daughter and I had a little kerfuffle this week. She was feeling overlooked and unloved, and she lashed out in a minor way in both her behavior and words. It made me wonder have I been neglecting her? Am I giving her the love she truly needs? It struck me that I should be helping her build this same incredible spiritual armor and I’m failing.

We spent some time hugging and cuddling and I shared my hopes and dreams for her. I reassured her that she was wanted and loved and this love I have for her is an eternal thing. I worked hard to refill her love bucket. That’s what we call those words of affirmation, and this is a technique I picked up from reading How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton.

Yet I told her how my Mom’s been gone for 30 years now, and while I don’t remember uplifting, encouraging words from her, the fact is I won’t always be around to build up my daughter’s spirits. I truly believe it’s a parent’s job to do that for their children, and I will absolutely step up the effort, but I told her she needed to remember my words and let them echo forever in case I’m not always there to give her this love.

But let’s be real: my words aren’t as good, as strong, as the ones in this image. Those words have been fortified by God. Those are the words I should be sharing with her so that when I am long gone from this earthly place, she can open up a Bible and receive comfort in hearing, remembering, what I’ve told her first hand.

How did it take me this long to figure that out? Thank God I figured it out.


Along comes Tanner. Whoa! Now, I know a 4-year-old doesn’t necessarily grasp an understanding of every line he’s learned but for heavens’ sake, he has learned the scripture. He can call upon these verses whenever he needs to in the future. You know how some people wait until they feel something before they do it yet it’s really the other way around. Sometimes you need to think it before you can feel it. Tanner has a jump start, ladies and gentlemen. He’s got the words today and the Spirit will whisper the meaning in ways big and small over the years.

Tanner is wearing a suit of armor.

At our house we have weekly family meetings otherwise known as The Louie Scoop. I have been wondering how best to teach our kids more about what it means to be Christian and how best to incorporate the messages of love as noted in the Bible.

I know what we’ll be doing for the next 26 weeks.

What do you think? What is your favorite Bible verse and why? I’d really like to know. We have several more weeks in the year beyond those first 26. God bless and peace out.✌🏻