Roads May Be Winding, but They Always Bring Us Home

Throughout my life, I’ve learned that home is not a place – it’s a state of mind.

While sitting on a stool at my kitchen counter, my eyes were drawn to the pond just past my sliding glass door and postage stamp sized patio. Every time I look at it, I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to look once summer finally arrives.

In its current state, with a beaten down black heavy duty plastic protective ring around it, it’s hard to imagine it looking beautiful. But somehow I think it will end up being quite lovely. It’s funny how most of the time, even though we can’t imagine how our things in our life will turn out, they turn out to be better than expected. Sometimes it just takes a while to get there, and the roads we have to travel are often bumpy and full of detours.

My mind began to wander through the events that brought me to from the Midwest to Upstate New York. It’s been a heck of a decade, plus one year.

From Omaha to Philadelphia

In 2008 I was working for a company in Omaha, NE; the company was going through a lot of change and as often-times happens when companies are acquired and leadership changes, activities such as “right-sizing” and “right-salarying” didn’t take long to occur.

As someone who had been with the company for quite a few years and had been hired into management while the original owner was in place, I saw the writing on the wall and knew it was time to take action.

In June we had a family meeting, and I explained that since the acquisition had taken place, many of my colleagues had taken salary cuts and some had also had their positions “eliminated.” It didn’t take long for them to understand the gravity of the situation, my job was in jeopardy.

We talked it over, and everyone agreed that it was time to consider a move to somewhere outside of Omaha. It was a scary proposition for them, as Omaha was the only place they had ever lived. But they understood, as the primary and often-times sole income earner, it was critical that I was employed.

The next evening, I had the most incredible news to share; in one day, I had been contacted by three recruiters about three different positions. It was mind boggling, I hadn’t even updated my resume or my LinkedIn profile. The best part was that they were all positions in the field of E-commerce Customer Experience, which is where my professional passion lies. I pretty much took this as a sign. 🙂

After several months of interviewing (it’s amazing how long the process takes), I was offered a job in the Greater Philadelphia area. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, I boarded a plane at Epley Airfield and watched the Super Bowl at a T.G.I.Friday’s in Bensalem, PA. while my family hosted a party back in Omaha. It was surreal, to say the least.

At the beginning of September, my seven months of commuting between Pennsylvania and Nebraska came to an end. I met the family in Chicago to see my daughter off to college before we drove back to Omaha to finish packing up the house.

It was hard to say goodbye to my beautiful red brick, three-story colonial home – even more so because I barely got the chance to enjoy the fabulous kitchen we had remodeled. But, it was where life was taking us, and I had to have faith.

We cleared out the few things that were remaining in the house while the movers loaded up the truck, with hugs, tears and farewell waves our three-day trek with a 12, almost 13-year old boy and two mini-dachshunds began.

Apartment Life in Yardley

Although our beautiful home had been on the market for a few months, we were unable to sell it before we moved in the fall of 2008 (yeah, 2008 – not a good year for selling houses) so we found ourselves in a three-bedroom apartment in Yardley, PA.

It honestly didn’t bother me, because at the time I was confident that we would ultimately sell our house in Omaha. It was in one of the most popular areas of town, and it seemed unthinkable that no one would buy it. How wrong I was.

It was our first move in 10 years, give or take a few months, since we moved into the house we had just left behind. The number of boxes was daunting, and it was clear that additional trips to the storage unit were going to be necessary.

Beth surronded by boxes in the Kathy Stree Apartment

Whenever I move, the first order of business is to get the kitchen put together. There’s something about preparing and eating a home-made meal that helps me feel more settled in a new space.

The kitchen in the Kathy Street Apartment

The first meal I prepared in our new abode, was Quiche and it tasted heavenly. The two years we spent in this three bedroom apartment were tough. It’s a long story all on its own and, while it had its bright spots, overall it was a very challenging time. Let’s fast forward to my next big move which was to a rental house two miles up the road from the apartment complex.

Life on Pine Grove Road

After a tumultuous search for a house to rent, I finally found one. It took months, and I couldn’t get over how difficult it was. All I could think of was how important it was for me to find a new place for my youngest son and me to live. We were both desperate to get out of the apartment, and at the age of 15, he really wanted to live in a house with a yard, and I wanted to provide it for him.

My new landlord is an artist, and little did I know that meeting her and renting her house would change my life in so many ways. It was, and I’m sure still is, a very, very fine house – I hope the people who are living there today are as happy as I was.

We had a yard, three bedrooms, a living room, den, and a basement – but my favorite space from April until October was my three season porch, which took a while for me to get organized.

First, I had to arrange to move everything from the apartment on Kathy Drive to the new house on Pine Grove Road. Fortunately, my new landlord let me start moving my things into the house a good month before my lease began, in fact, she even suggested it. In her clipped Brittish accent, she said, “The previous tenant has already moved out, so the house is empty. I see no reason why you shouldn’t start moving things in before you actually take possession.” She handed me the keys.

Every night for the month before Christian and I officially moved from the apartment to our new house, I packed as many things as I could into a laundry basket and six boxes and loaded them into my car. The following morning, on my way to work, I stopped at the house to unload the boxes. I unpacked and organized after work, and before I re-loaded the laundry basket and moving boxes. Of course, I started with the kitchen.

Getting the kitchen ready in the Pine Grove Road house

I was able to transport a good share of our belongings and left only the heavy lifting to the movers. I have never been so relieved to say goodbye to a place, and say hello to a fresh start.

We celebrated the first night in our new home by watching “Iron Man” on the big screen t.v. in the basement, sponsored by the cricket who chirped so loudly we could hardly hear the dialog. It makes me smile to think back on that night.

A few weeks after moving in, I arranged for the moving company to deliver the boxes that had been in storage for two years. I was a basket case, it was the opposite of hoarders. To the dismay of my parents and my son, the most frequent phrase out of my mouth that day was, “I haven’t used that in two years so I must not need it.” I don’t know if my son will ever forgive me for giving one of the movers our lawn mower. Thankfully, he stopped me before I tossed out the good china.

For the second time in two years, I found myself surrounded by boxes.

Beth surrounded by boxes on Pine Grove Road

It took from October until the following June to clear the three season porch that would become my favorite place to hang out and create. The boxes were labeled less than accurately, plus they’d been in storage for two years, so as you can imagine, Christian and I tired quickly of guessing “what might be in this box?” He was out as soon as he found the paintball equipment.

The first year we lived there, I focused on sprucing up the front yard and flower beds.

I didn’t do much in the way of fixing up the porch other than cleaning it out and buying a bit of furniture. Money was a constraint. The second summer was a different story. A woman named Maria, who I met through a running group, saved the day and made the porch updates affordable.

Oddly enough, I bumped into her at the grocery store, and as we were catching up, I told her about my porch dilemma. The harsh winter months had not been kind to the blinds, and I wanted to find an affordable solution.

“Maria, I’m almost there.  I just need to find someone who can sew and knows where to buy inexpensive material to make window coverings for my porch.”  I said.

“Beth…I sew…”

I don’t think I gave her an option when I replied, “Oh Maria!  Will you make me some window coverings?  I’ll pay you, just let me know how much.”

She introduced me to Jomar, a store in Philadelphia, that can only be described as Home Goods, and TJ Maxx meets Jo-Ann Fabrics and a flea market.  I left the store with twenty-two yards of quality fabric for $22.00.  She had a vision, and I had trust. The outcome was amazing.

The six years that I lived in the house on Pine Grove Road were interesting, to say the least, and included more than a few significant life changes. They were also full of positive changes, and it was while living there that I discovered I’m a writer and an artist. It’s also the time in my life in which I truly learned to have faith and appreciate serendipity.

From my first drawing lessons in the Art Studio at Patterson Farm to the challenging lessons at Princeton Art Council to my online writing classes through E2toGo, I grew and changed. I rediscovered my joyful spirit and sense of curiosity. I had no idea just how much my life would be enriched by my move to Pennsylvania.

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It was not without its bumps, hurdles and challenges – but, I not only worked my way through all of them. I became stronger because of these experiences.

Back to Omaha?!

The road back to Omaha was long and one that frankly, I resisted. When I left Nebraska in the fall of 2008, I was sure I would never move back. It’s not that Omaha is a lousy place to live, in fact, it’s a city with a lot to offer – in my opinion, it really is a hidden gem. But, I had no family there, I had done a poor job of keeping in touch with the few friends I had made, and to be honest, I didn’t believe I had what it would take to face memories of the past.

Unfortunately, the job I left Omaha for didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I left the company after four years and entered the world of self-employment. 2015 marked my third year of freelancing as a website consultant and content writer, and due to a variety of reasons, I decided to find a way to re-enter the world of corporate America.

For me, it turned out that being self-employed was far more appealing in theory than in reality. Sure you can work from anywhere and theoretically you can make your own hours, but in my experience, there is no such thing as taking a break. There’s also the expense of health insurance or the risk of going without, the constant challenge of drumming up new business while keeping existing clients happy, and then, there’s the solitude.

In the end, it was the constant state of being alone that made me choose to update my resume and my LinkedIn profile. After years of writing about E-commerce technology and best practices, I wanted to be back in a role where I was making things happen rather than one of providing sound advice and wondering if it would be executed. I also wanted to return to a leadership role and be part of a team.

After almost a year of searching, and of countless interviews, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position at a company in Omaha. Although I swore I would never return to Omaha, the opportunity to get back in the E-commerce game, plus the prospect of working with some of my favorite peeps from my previous Omaha gig made it a no brainer.

In all honesty, I had no idea how heavily the cards were stacked against me. Re-entering the corporate world into a role that is very technology dependent after being out of the industry for four years is practically unheard of. Thank goodness for tenacity, good relationships, a good career track record and a bit of ignorance!

It was hard to leave my friends and the life I had made in Pennslyvania, and even more difficult to leave my youngest son and move half-way across the country, but it was exactly what I needed to do.

Friends graciously hosted a farewell gathering at Snipes Family Farm, a night full of love and laughter, and one I will always treasure.

Going away party with my friends in Yardley (2)

This lovely circle of people helped me grow and expanded my world in more ways than I can describe.

I left Omaha by car as a married woman with children at home and two dogs, I returned by plane as a single woman with grown children and a cat.

Life in Omaha

I can best describe my return to Omaha as a soft landing. Although I made the move by myself, there were friends at the other end to welcome me and make the transition as smooth as possible. In spite of my lack of communication during the years I lived in Pennslyvania, people were at the ready and volunteered to pick me up from the airport, help me move into my new apartment and treat me to many welcome back lunches and dinners.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I made the decision to rent my apartment sight unseen and move in the day after arriving in the city. I wasn’t in the least bit prepared to live in an empty space for the week or so that it would take for the moving company to arrive with my belongings. All I had brought with me was one suitcase with clothes and toiletries for me and another with things needed for Miss Mia, my cat.

Suitcase packed for a cross country plane trip wiht a cat

My dear friend Gina thought of everything and had a care package prepared for me. It contained an air mattress, hangers, toilet paper, a shower curtain, bedding, towels and a few essential kitchen supplies. It was brilliant, even the cat thought so.

Mia sleeping on the air mattress in omaha

My friend Stacey met me on the day I moved in and brought me a welcome basket, a feast of fruit and a bottle of wine.

A week or so later, I once again found myself surrounded by boxes and the task of unpacking and organizing a new home. Of course, I started with the kitchen and worked my way through the boxes and into the creation of a beautiful space to live.

I settled into life in Omaha with relative ease and enjoyed the chance to reconnect with friends and to make new ones. It may sound odd, but I believe my return to Omaha was a necessary step in my personal and professional journey.

From a creative perspective, it took me almost the entire two years that I lived there to find an opportunity to participate in an art class that was taught by a professional artist. However, I had great fun attending more than a few “paint and sip” classes and exploring “how to do acrylic pouring” videos on YouTube. My dining room table was covered in a yellow plastic artist’s tablecloth and a project in progress more often than it was set up to host guests.

The strange thing was that while I was exploring visual art with fervor, I struggled to write even once a month, let alone once a week or every day. I guess it just goes to show that there is a season for everything.

I didn’t move to Omaha with the expectation of staying there for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t expect that my return to the city would only be for a couple of years. But in June of 2018, for the second time in my life, I received three calls from three recruiters within one business day. It was impossible not to take it as a sign that it was worth at least having the conversation and that it was time to make an inventory of the reasons to stay or move on.

While my job was secure, leadership changes in the company had caused a significant shift in my responsibilities, and my role was no longer focused on the website customer experience.

I decided it was time to move on, but only for the right opportunity.

It was a whirlwind summer and fall full of interviews. It culminated in back to back in person interviews in mid-October, one in Pittsburgh, PA and one in Syracuse, NY. I never dreamt I’d be in a position to have to choose between two opportunities, but there I was. The decision wasn’t easy, but in the end, I decided to accept the opportunity with a company headquartered in Syracuse, or more accurately, Liverpool, NY.

As my welcome to Omaha began, with lunches and dinners, so did my departure back to the Eastern part of the country end. I hosted a farewell brunch with my eclectic group of Omaha transplants, a wonderful tradition that was started and carried out most often by the most gracious M.J.

I couldn’t resist the urge to model my new black winter coat with its fur-lined hood during brunch.

My co-workers sent me off with a gathering as well. I was overwhelmed and delighted by the turnout.

My third going away gathering was the most special of all in some regards, it was with my circle of friends who are regulars at Fernando’s. Fernandos is a Mexican restaurant in Omaha, there are two locations, but the one on 75th and Pacific is by far the best. The margaritas there are second to none.

While I was living in Omaha, I fell into a rather bad habit of stopping at Fernando’s for dinner multiple times a week. Who can blame me, it was literally on my way home from work, and as I mentioned, they have the best margaritas in the country.

The plus side of this bad habit is that I met some wonderful people, and made some genuine friendships. On my last night in Omaha, they all gathered at the restaurant to see me off. It was a night of hugs and laughter. The following morning I began the three-day cross country drive from Omaha to Syracuse.

On the Road Again

On Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 the movers arrived at my apartment and packed up my belongings. On December 5th, they loaded them onto the truck, and I settled into a pet-friendly hotel with Mia, which conveniently, was close to Fernando’s.

Thursday morning I double checked the contents of my trunk and headed east. This time, thanks to Gina’s wisdom, I was prepared to move into my new townhouse with no furniture. My trunk contained boxes with essential supplies such as dish soap, toilet paper, hangers, towels and bedding; boxes which were intended to (and did) double as nightstands. Of course, it also was packed with the basic things needed when one is traveling with a cat.

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

After a night in Indiana, where I was mistakenly identified as a trucker (it’s a long story), followed by a night in Erie, PA, I arrived safely in Liverpool, NY on the third day of driving.

It was a Saturday, not usually a work day for the folks who manage the property, but they were gracious enough to meet me and turn over the keys and garage door opener so I could move into my new townhouse (once again rented sight unseen, but a perfect place to land).

Daylight Drive in Liverpool

I unloaded my car, made a trip to Walmart and another to Target and set up my bedroom- complete with a new Smart T.V., a luxury air mattress, two divine cardboard box nightstands and a couple of inexpensive lamps.

Air Mattress and cardboard box night stands

As of today, I’ve managed to unpack all of the boxes, and I would say that my new home is mostly in order. I have two remaining corners of chaos to deal with, a painting to try and repair, there’s still art and pictures to be hung, and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new furniture. But all-in-all, I think I’ve managed to make a somewhat cookie-cutter layout feel like a home.

For me, cooking a home-made meal is the first thing that makes a place feel like home, and surprisingly I’ve done a lot of that since moving here. The second thing is having friends and family visit, which is something I’m looking forward to, May is going to be a marvelous month!

So here I am, in Liverpool, NY, starting a new chapter and establishing a new home. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a great experience, it’s certainly off to a beautiful beginning.

Tuning into Life in Liverpool

It’s a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve moved four times in the past 11 years.

First from a five-bedroom house in Omaha, NE to a three bedroom apartment in Yardley, a township in Pennsylvania, located just north of Philadelphia. There was barely enough room for our basic belongings so I had to move my piano to my mother-in-law’s basement with the hope that someday I would find a way to get it back.

Next, my youngest son and I moved out of the three bedroom apartment into a three bedroom house. A house that had more space than we had furniture and the perfect wall for my piano, which, unfortunately, was still in Omaha.

Three years to the day that we arrived in Pennsylvania, I received a phone call.  The message was brief.

“Your piano is here; can you meet us today to accept delivery?”

Thanks to the generosity of my dear friends Dick and Gina, my piano and I were once again reunited.

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Although it was a bit out of tune after three years of neglect, it still sounded amazing to my ears. I practically wore the keyboard out playing Annie’s Song by John Denver over and over again. For some reason, it’s the only song that I can just sit down and play after being away from the keyboard for years. Not perfectly for sure, but at least it’s somewhat recognizable.

Fast forward to September of 2016 when life’s circumstances catapulted me back to Omaha, and into second floor two bedroom apartment. This time the piano came with me and there was a beautiful spot for it, but knowing how sound carries through hardwood floors, it went unplayed for the two years I lived there.

It sadly became a beautiful, out of tune and sentimental piece of accent furniture; all the same, I was happy it had remained part of my physical space.

fullsizerender

I fully imagined myself staying at my job in Omaha for a number of years, not forever, but certainly for longer than two years. The Universe or maybe Fate had other plans in mind for the final month of 2018.

On Tuesday, December 4th, the movers arrived at my apartment and packed up my belongings, the next day they loaded up the truck and I relocated to a pet-friendly hotel with Mia. Thursday morning, I loaded up the car – cat and all, and began the drive from Eastern Nebraska to Upstate New York.

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

Three days later I set up camp in my new townhouse with an air mattress, cardboard box night stands, a couple of inexpensive lamps from Walmart and Miss Mia – my still mysterious cat.

Air mattress and cardboard box night stands

Over the course of a week, my furniture was delivered. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, and if it hadn’t been for the piano bench precariously perched on top of a stack of boxes, I would have doubted that my piano had been delivered.

boxes piled high

After weeks of unpacking that seemed like they would never end, the main floor of my townhouse is mostly in order and not only did I find my piano, I was able to fill this corner of my new abode with character.

Beth's piano and pictures

The largest piece above the piano is a piece of lacework that my dad’s Aunt Gladys created. It’s called Hardanger and is a form of embroidery, origins unknown, but for some reason flourished in Norway.

The dried flower pieces that surround it were created by my maternal grandmother.

Thankfully one of my coworkers volunteered to help me out. Hanging this arrangement is not a one short person job. 😄

It hadn’t occurred to me before today that this arrangement of art is a wonderful representation of both sides of my family.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the reason I have a piano in the first place is directly related to Grandma Marion, my dad’s mom. I do believe my love of music, especially the piano, is rooted in large part with my memories of her. My piano is part of her legacy.

I’m so happy it’s all in place!

Finally to the real reason for this update.

After eleven years of disruption, my piano is now as perfectly tuned as possible.

I found A. Ajemian, a second generation piano tuner, via Google – as we find most products and services these days; the appointment was confirmed through text messages.

Finally, after 11 years and four moves, my piano would be back in tune.

As it turns out that there is at least one other human being on earth with a bad sense of direction, even worse than mine. She called me 45 minutes after she was due to arrive and announced that she was lost. Somehow I was able to sort out where she was and guide her to my driveway.

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve given five other people the very same directions and all of them found my place without trouble. 🙂

Before my move to Pennslyvania, I had the piano tuned on a regular basis. I honestly never took much interest in the process. Once a year, the piano tuner’s wife called to make an appointment, they showed up, he tuned the piano while I went about my business, I wrote a check and they left.

This time, however, I had a much stronger interest in seeing how the process worked, well that, and Anna – the “A” in A. Ajemian, was quite talkative. Plus, I really had no other “business” to attend to.

Anna (I like knowing her first name), carried in her father’s toolbox and in between anecdotes about why she loves pianos manufactured by Yamaha (my piano is a Yamaha), settled into the task at hand.

Anna tuning Beth's Piano Once she settled in, she became quite serious and focused. I’m mystified by the tools and techniques that she used to work her way through correcting one tinny octave after another. But somehow she did.

It was fascinating to watch how her facial expressions changed from pinched to relaxed as she brought the strings behind the keys back into tune. Each time she finished a big section, it was time for tea and a chat.

We shared two cups of tea this morning.

Her dad was a piano tuner. As a young woman, she decided she couldn’t let this art form die with him. Apparently, he wasn’t very keen on having her follow in his footsteps.

“Find a nice office job. Tuning pianos is not a proper job for a woman.”

She ignored his advice, carries his toolbox to this day and now, thanks to this legacy, my piano is once again in tune and it’s brought me one step closer to feeling my home is complete.

In an unexpected final moment, Anna, the piano tuner, snagged me for an impromptu selfie.

I obviously didn’t have time to make sure every hair was in place, but I’m sharing the moment anyway.

Beth and Anna

And yes, I have played Annie’s Song by John Denver numerous times in the past two days.

Home is Where the Heart is

You can only lose what you cling to.
— Buddha

The image of my beautiful three story colonial was blurred in the rear-view mirror, as we pulled out of the driveway while returning the farewell waves and neighborhood wishes of “Good luck in Pennsylvania, we’ll miss you!” with a chorus of “We’ll miss you too, stay in touch!”

colonial-house

Now I’m back in the city I left nine years ago. It’s full of memories and opportunities to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I didn’t expect it, but the most difficult part of the move has been in letting go of my attachment to what, in my mind, has defined both home and personal success. I could write an entire book about the circumstances that led me to Pennsylvania and back to Nebraska, but for now let’s just say that things haven’t exactly turned out the way I imagined they would.

That beautiful colonial home now belongs to someone else, a family who bought it for a song, after my 401K was emptied and my savings account dipped below zero trying to keep from going into foreclosure.

The marriage I hoped would be salvaged by the move fell apart faster than anyone could have imagined, and the job opportunity that drew me there turned into lessons in how to survive when a company files Chapter Eleven. I learned the hard way that being a Freelancer isn’t as easy as the self-help books make it sound.

In an unexpected way, the path back to a career in Ecommerce and back to Omaha was paved, one experience at a time over the past nine years. Wheels set in motion; I began to search for the right next opportunity.

My heart was set on moving into a space that wouldn’t require anyone to sleep on an air mattress and would have plenty of room for an art studio. In other words, I wanted a four bedroom house. Economically it didn’t make sense, but I wanted it.

The aha moment came when I realized it wasn’t so much about the number of rooms, it turned out to be a bit of an identity crisis. I was clinging to the notion of home and success being equivalent to house and more rooms than I need 361 days out of the year.

There was an air mattress involved in the holiday sleeping arrangements and I don’t have space dedicated to an art studio, but the attachments to old definitions of home and success are disappearing.

My youngest son put it into perspective when he said, “Mom, it doesn’t matter where you live or what you have. What matters is that we always feel welcomed and loved.”

After the holidays, the walls of my apartment reverberated with memories of laughter and love.

The silent air is filled with the sounds of playful bickering over the rules of a game, of philosophical conversations that are “to be continued” and of memories that extend way beyond the past two weeks.

Home is where you make it.

home

 

 

I Accept Guidance

Of all of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years, this one has been the most difficult. Not so much from a standpoint of turning to others for guidance, but more about accepting help from others and paying attention to the voice inside of me that knows which direction is right for me.

It can be hard to trust that we’re going in the right direction when things don’t seem like they’re not going “according to plan.” Maybe the problem is that we’re following the wrong voice.

Becoming comfortable with the phrase, “I need help,” has been a challenge for me, being honest it still is. I equated the need to ask for help with an admittance of failure; failure to be able to “rise to the occasion” or that I’d had a lapse in judgment and made a mistake. I readily owned up to and learned from mistakes in my work life, but rarely in my personal life.

As a woman who wanted both a professional career and to be a mom, I fell into a huge superwoman syndrome and spent the better part of my adult life trying to “prove” I could do it all. I thought everyone around me had certain expectations and perceptions about who I was and what they thought success looked like for me. As the primary and often-times sole income earner I felt tremendous pressure to perform. My home life was unhappy, so I used work as an excuse to cover up my sadness.

It was a mixed up time in my life and I now realize that during those years I spent my time believing I was living up to expectations that I thought other people had of me, but really I was hiding from life and ignoring reality. I made a lot of poor choices during that time, some of which still affect my life today.

Back then, the mere thought of confessing even half of what was going on and taking responsibility for the poor choices and decisions I made nearly crippled me with anxiety.  My fears spanned the gambit and included everything from being yelled at and perceived as stupid to being rejected by everyone who knew me.

I was only fooling myself

The reality is – the person I was the most dishonest with was me.  I thought I could and should make things right on my own.  I lied to myself and pretended that there was a way out of the mess I was in and that no one would ever have to know the ugly truth.

Little did I know that my pain and struggling was obvious and everyone around me was praying that I would wake up and ask for help. We’ve all been there, watching someone we love struggle and at a loss for how to let them know that they do not have to bear their burdens alone and that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength and of trust.

What I know now is that three things were missing from my life during that time. One is that I was afraid to ask for help and I was unwilling to be honest about what was going on in my life. Two is that I wasn’t listening to my inner voice. Three is that I spent every day doubting the future and without faith that I was truly supported by the universe and everything I need is always provided.

We are Always Supported

Asking for help does sometimes mean admitting you’ve made a mistake and need some help to right the ship. But it also means you have enough confidence in yourself to ask, accept, be grateful for, and do the same in return.

Listening to the voice inside you, the one who really knows what’s right for you might be even more difficult than learning how to ask for help. It gets crowded out by the voice of societal expectations and our perceptions of what we think others expect from us.

Listening to, and following that voice, sometimes requires that we say no to opportunities that don’t “feel” right, even if it will bring in some extra cash or look good on a resume.

Accepting guidance is something that comes from inside us, believing we are on the right path, rolling with and adapting to change, having faith and asking for help when we need it.

 

Choosing Hope Over Fear and Worry

A few weeks ago my youngest son and I watched the movie “A Bridge of Spies,” a modern day interpretation of actual events that happened during the time of the Cold War; it was a story of espionage, mistrust and eventually a reconciliation of sorts.

It’s the story of Rudolf Abel, a convicted Russian spy and a New York lawyer, James Donovan, who against all odds chooses to do the right thing and represent Rudolf with dignity and integrity. Throughout the story, it became clear that there was little hope for a positive outcome for Rudolf in the U.S. and minimal hope if he returned to his homeland.

He and James Donovan become friends in an odd sort of way.

The reason it came to my mind today is because of recent thoughts that have emerged as a result of reading yesterday’s entry in “Miracles Now.”   The second tool the author introduces as a way to lead a less stressful and more fulfilling life is to – “Clean Up Your Side of the Street.” Or in her words, face and let go of the fears that are holding you back.

I’ve come to believe that worry fuels fears and we need to let go of both.

In the movie, and perhaps in real life, James asked Rudolf one more than one occasion – “Aren’t you worried?”

Rudolf responds, “Would it make a difference?”

Ha! What a brilliant answer.

Clearly worrying has never made a difference in the outcome of any situation. Worrying is our way of trying to control the outcome when we feel overwhelmed and there seems to be no hope. What we don’t realize is that worry only serves to feed our fears because it affirms the worst case scenarios – in the end worrying serves no purpose in our lives.

Back to today, well rather yesterday’s message to “clean up my side of the street.”

Deep breath, I took the challenge of the exercise and wrote down my fears, 10 fears. Of them all, this one is the most looming.

I am afraid of not belonging.

We all want to feel that we are a part of something, that we belong.

My guess is that I’m not alone in my fear. At our core I think we all want to belong, be loved and accepted for who we are. I think it’s part of why we’re here, and I suspect there are more than a few people who feel the same way I do.

Throughout my life I’ve adapted to situations so that I could “fit in.” Over the past few years, I’ve been brave enough to let a few people meet and get to know me rather than  just trying to simply adapt to the situation. The rejection I anticipated  as a result of “letting people in” was unfounded and unrealized. In fact it’s been amazingly rewarding and fun!

All I needed to do was to be myself.

Wow!

So, in the spirit of “cleaning up my side of the street” and facing the things that hold me back, I choose hope over fear and will continue to work toward putting my fears and worries behind me.

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Letting Go of “Why” and “How”

Serendipity is one of my favorite words – it means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. Lately though, I’ve been thinking more and more about the role faith and the power of conscious intention play in the delivery of “serendipitous outcomes.”

Speaking for myself, it’s easy to say we have faith when things are going well, it’s a different story when things aren’t going our way. During times of smooth sailing, we tend to sit back and just enjoy the ride. We don’t question why things are going well and we don’t try and “fix” things.

But, when the waters get rough, all of the sudden our egos step in and trounce all over faith. Some of us begin to worry relentlessly; we ask, “why is this happening to me?” and begin to plot and plan desperately about the “how” we’re going to make it better rather than asking for help. We forget about all of the times in our past that we were certain there was no hope and seemingly out of nowhere came a serendipitous solution.

One of my favorite personal stories related to this topic is how I came to live in my current house and the series of events that have unfolded as a result.

My youngest son and I were living in an apartment and for a variety of reasons it was really important for us to find a new place to live; we both wanted to find a house to rent. Sounds easy, right? As it turned out, the process took several months and was fraught with many disappointments and a lot of tears.

At the time, the bigger question for me was, “why hasn’t my house in Omaha sold?” It had been over a year since we moved to Pennsylvania and the house we owned was still occupied by renters and I was in no position to buy real estate on the East Coast. I also had a whole lot of “how” questions,  the most pressing were:

  • How am I going to furnish a house? (we sold and/or donated most our furniture before we moved)
  • How will I afford a higher rent?
  • How can I avoid moving for the next 3 years until my son graduates from high school?

I’d have to admit that I was both bitter and angry about the situation at the time. Now I’m sincerely grateful for it.

After more than a few false starts, I received an unexpected text message from my realtor that quite literally changed my life; it said “I believe I have found the perfect house, can you meet with the owner tomorrow morning?”

My landlord is an artist (I’ll get to that in a minute), she not only rented me a nearly fully furnished house – there was just the right amount of space left for my own personal pieces of furniture and everything melded together in perfect harmony. The night after we first met, we negotiated a monthly rent I could afford and I signed a 3 year lease.

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The more interesting part of the story is how meeting her and moving into this house has been a catalyst for my artistic endeavors and profound changes in the way I think. By this time, I’d discovered that I have an ability to write but I had yet to tap into the potential of my visual artistry and I was struggling desperately with the notion of self-acceptance.

The summer I turned 50, my landlord, Jeanne Marie, introduced me to the work of Julia Cameron through the book Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity. As a result, I began to understand that it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help – people will still love and accept you.

I began to take chances in new ways like registering for a drawing class and sharing my progress with other people. One drawing class led to another and my style continues to develop and emerge.

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I could go on and on about all of the wonderful experiences I’d have missed if my house in Omaha had sold and I hadn’t moved into the house I’m renting now.

It’s amazing to me that my 3 big “how” questions were answered, and it certainly wasn’t a result of all of my “what iffing” and trying to control the outcome. It also strikes me that somewhere in the deep recesses of my subconscious I must have been hoping and praying for the opportunity to discover my creativity and to find a way to accept and love myself.

Over the past few years, I’ve become much more aware of the peace that comes with letting go of the “why” and the “how.” I’m learning that when we focus on the outcomes we desire rather than the methods by which we think we can achieve them, life is easier and more rewarding.

A few things I’ve come to believe.

  • Asking for help from God, the Universe or from other people is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength and it’s one of the ways that we connect with each other and and it’s one of the only ways that we can hope to receive and/or achieve abundance and fulfill our life’s purpose.
  • We have free will and so do others, perhaps there are times where things in life don’t work out quite the way we think or hope they will and it’s a result of someone else exercising their free will – it happens, we need to accept it and move on. The “why” doesn’t really matter.
  • We think and “pray for” what we “know” is best for us, but we rarely know what we actually need and trying to control the “how” let alone the outcome only serves to limit us.
  • We think a whole lot smaller than we should. Lots of reasons for this, fear of criticism and failure – fear of rejection and ridicule. Truth is our life’s purpose is a lot bigger than we can possibly imagine it to be, if we are open to letting it happen.

The “how” really isn’t up to us and the “why” doesn’t matter.

A Beautiful Lesson in the Art of Giving and Receiving

Today I went for a walk, little did I know that I would be taught a most valuable lesson about giving and receiving, from a 4 year old girl.

About 1/2 way through my walk I crossed paths with two women and 5 little girls who were enjoying the sights along the canal. I couldn’t help but notice the little blonde girl walking toward me and how proudly she held four goose feathers in her hands.

She looked up at me and stretched out her hands, “would you like one of my beautiful feathers?”

“Of course I would, thank you so much for such a wonderful gift.”

Her entire body, not just her face, lit up with the pleasure she felt in giving me this very precious gift.

As I walked away, goose feather in hand, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. It was clear that to her, this was not a dirty goose feather, it was magical and beautiful. Tossing it aside wasn’t an option. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her face if we crossed paths again and I had tossed aside her gift.

The perfect solution came to me and I tucked the feather into my pony tail.

I thought about the nature of giving and receiving. It’s become clear to me that being a good receiver is equally important as being a generous giver. This tiny girl’s face lit up the world with joy when I accepted her gift, I can’t help but think that her light would have dimmed if her gift had been rejected or ignored.

On the final stretch of my walk I encountered the group again. Tiny brown eyes looked up at me asking, “do you still have the feather I gave you?”

I pointed to my pony tail and turned around on the path, “what do you think?”

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said.

“I do too.”

She held out the three remaining feathers, “would you like one more?”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Oh yes, you need two.”

“Shall I put this one in my pony tail also?”

Tiny hands clapped and she said “yes.”

I tucked the second goose feather into my hair and turned so she could see it.

“Oh my, you look like you have two beautiful birds on your head.”

Words can’t describe the warmth that filled my heart or the smile that spread over my face and hers.

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Artist’s note: The feature image represents my interpretation of the day. Out of context I doubt it has much meaning, but I like to think that my little friend would find it beautiful.

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Start with the bigger picture and worry about the details later

Recently I’ve been learning about composition in creating two dimensional art. It’s not just about how the objects relate to each other, it’s also about how the artist relates to the objects.

The first step is to decide which components of a setting are interesting and intriguing enough to be a part of the composition, then you have to think about how much space you have and how to go about making the most of it.

We’re given an entire canvas to fill so there’s no sense in leaving uninteresting blank spaces around the subject matter.

Once we know what we want to include and maybe more importantly why we want to include them it’s time to start putting things into position  – loosely defining the shapes, locations, and relationships between the objects within the composition.

It’s tempting (for me anyway) to concentrate on one part of a drawing in an attempt to perfect it’s shape and dimension without regard to the larger picture and how it relates to it’s neighbors.

The interesting thing about art is that even the spaces and shapes between the objects are a part of the story and give clues to the artist about the relationships between the objects.

One of my biggest obstacles and sticking points when it comes to drawing is overcoming the desire to draw what I think I should see vs what is really in front of me.

Today’s art class started on time and as usual the small group of students surrounded the subject matter with easels, paints, and pencils. My seat was at an angle which presented a challenge for me.

When I look at something that I know is circular in shape from a head-on perspective that’s how I want to draw it. It’s hard for me to draw the perfect circle as a squished hoop even though that’s how it really looks from my vantage point.

But after some guidance I figured out how to do it. And I began to grasp an understanding of why it’s important to start with the larger shapes and relationships and refine them without immediately jumping into the detail.

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Composing art is actually a lot like life. We often-times get bogged down in the details and worry too much about making one particular aspect of our life “perfect” before moving on.

When we take a step back and consider the entire picture and all that life has to offer, it becomes easier to envision the shape we want things to take and how the different aspects of our life fit together.

My drawing isn’t finished, but there’s a sense of direction and a feeling of progress.

The details are the finishing touches not the starting point.

Welcoming the New Year with an Open Heart

I had this really great and “philosophical” post about new years resolutions written and ready to post and I made one wrong move and all 700 words or more are now somewhere in cyberspace never to be read.

Maybe it was a sign that I was being too preachy rather than writing from my heart.

Long story short, I decided to take a different approach to setting resolutions or goals for the new year. Instead of setting goals like “losing weight” or “regaining physical fitness” (both of which I need to do),instead I let my subconscious flow through art.

I created two lists, the first one contains very specific things that I want in a relationship. As I drew, I focused on my desires and let them guide me. It looks like a dream-catcher or a tambourine – maybe I was channeling my inner Stevie Nicks. 🙂

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The second list was bigger – it was my version of a New Year’s resolution.

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In a nutshell, my resolutions boil down to this:

  • Believe in yourself
  • Rejoice in your gifts
  • Explore the unknown
  • Accept compliments
  • Refrain from judging without understanding
  • Love and take care of yourself so that you may serve and give to others

Above all else know that we are all worthy of love and happiness.

new years resolutions_dreamcatcher_i am worthy

Happy 2015!