Believe in Possibilities

Sometimes it can be tough to believe in positive outcomes, especially if you’re going through a stretch of “bad luck.” Like many people, there have been times in my life that have really tested my faith and my ability to be optimistic.

I’ve always considered myself to be a “cup half full” kind of person, however I’ve come to the realization that there is more to having a positive outlook on life giving lip service to the belief that “everything will be alright,” but letting the chatter in your head control your actions.

One of the many blessings in my life are my parents, they have lived through many difficult situations and have always maintained a positive outlook on life. My dad is a big believer in the power of a PMA, aka – positive mental attitude, and he lives it every day of his life. That’s not to say that there aren’t days that his optimism wavers, he’s human after all.

PMA could also stand for, perseverance means achievement; my dad faces every obstacle head on and somehow finds now to make the word No mean Next Opportunity.

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The drawing is from an art journal that I created as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions and to help me remain focused on the positive as I’ve been working my way through a recent set of challenges.

Near the beginning of this most recent “Adventure,” my friend Marilyn, gave me a beautiful postcard with this very meaningful quote from Art Mitchell – “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

The message really reinforces the way my dad approaches life and never gives up.

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Father’s day seems like perfect time to share a personal story of perseverance and growth, with many thanks to my dad for his unwavering support and for being an amazing role model for all of us. I am deeply grateful for all he has done for me and I know he is a big part of the reason that I am the woman I am today.

A look into the past….

On a warm September day in 2008, I watched the movers load our belongings onto the truck with mixed emotions and a few tears on my face. My thoughts ping-ponged back and forth between sadness and joyful hope. It was difficult to be leaving friends, family, a beautiful home and everything that was familiar and safe.But it was exciting to think about the possibilities that our future in Pennsylvania held.

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When I accepted the job in Pennsylvania, it seemed like nothing could go wrong and the future held nothing but rainbows and unicorns. Maybe I wasn’t quite that optimistic (or unrealistic), but I was really confident that it was the best thing that could have happened for my family and myself both personally and professionally.

We put our house on the market and my seven month commute between Omaha, Nebraska and Philadelphia began. It was a rather grueling trek back and forth, but it offered the opportunity for my daughter to finish out her senior year of high school without moving.

My youngest son was 12, and although I knew it would be difficult for him to move and adjust to a new school, new and very different living arrangements – I was confident that he would be able to adapt and in the long run it would help him grow and develop in positive ways.

Our move to Pennsylvania has been full of new beginnings and life changing events, but not at all in the way I would have imagined them to unfold.

I had landed my “dream job” with a financially sound company, or so I thought. The job was great, but the financial health of the company was not; two months after my start date, they declared Chapter 11. I was scared, but because I was the primary income earner, we had no choice but to move and hope for the best.

The real estate market in Omaha was depressed, just like everywhere else in the country. In spite of St Joseph statues and wonderful real estate agents, we were unable to sell before we moved, which meant that our new home was going to be in an apartment.

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It certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it was such a major change for all of us and it was not what I had hoped for. My unrealistic and unhealthy belief at the time was that we moved “because of me” so it was my responsibility to make everything perfect and as familiar as possible rather than asking for help and support.

After moving the challenges and obstacles seemed to gain momentum and magnitude.

In those days the voices in my head were working overtime.

I spent every minute of every day worrying. I hashed and rehashed the decision to move.  I beat myself up about the fact that the house back in Nebraska hadn’t sold and we were losing money every month. I speculated about the viability of the company I worked for and whether or not it would emerge from Chapter 11 and if I would be spared from any future layoffs.

I blamed myself for my husband’s unhappiness and deepening depression. I spent hours agonizing about my youngest son Christian and the fact that the ‘normal’ trials of being in eighth grade were amplified by a new school in a new state, being the only child left at home, and having to make new friends – something that is easier said than done when you’re the new kid from Nebraska and you started school almost three weeks late. I wondered if we’d be able to afford to fly my oldest kids, Jeff and Katie, out for occasional visits and I held myself accountable for it all, most of all, for the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to fix any of it.

There was no escaping the voices and daily I slipped further and further into a self-imposed state of emotional isolation. At work I found myself going through the motions and while I interacted with my direct reports, a handful of co-workers, and of course my boss. For the most part, I kept to myself and limited my contact with people to office hours only. I quit calling or even sending email updates to friends, and I talked to my parents and kids only when I thought I could fake a positive attitude.

I had no choice but to drag myself into work every day and do my best to appear upbeat and confident.  As the primary and now sole income earner I couldn’t afford to lose my job and it was the only escape I had from the dreary apartment and my relentless anxiety.  The voices took a back seat for a while every day while I managed my way through the work day. They were always there but just not as loud. By this point in time I’d had years of practice in compartmentalizing my personal life and my work life.  Lessons learned early in my career taught me to keep people at arm’s length and keep my personal life to myself.

Back then I didn’t realize or understand one of the underlying messages my dad lives,believes and had tried to communicate to me – worry doesn’t change tomorrow, it just takes the joy out of today.

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There were so many things I didn’t understand during that time in my life; concepts and practices that would have helped me maneuver more easily through a divorce, the financial strain and embarrassment that accompanied nearly foreclosing on my house and the challenges and blessings of being a single mom in a city half-way across the country from my family and closest friends.

I’ve not only made it through the majority of the initial challenges that came after my move; life is much richer because of them. It sounds strange to say, but I’m actually grateful for them because I’ve learned:

Self Love is the first step…

Self love is not the same as self indulgence or self acceptance. It means that we treat our bodies and our minds well, enjoy the person we are in the present, forgive and release the people and things from our past that hold us back and embrace our future with confidence.

I could write an entire book about the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years; lessons about being present and not dwelling on the past, tools for facing difficulties with positivity instead of catastrophizing and letting the negative chatter in my head control my actions.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and the most important one is that we only destroy our selves and sabotage our happiness when we hang on to regrets from the past, refuse to forgive ourselves for being human and compare ourselves to others as a way to measure success.

I suspect my dad finds the whole ‘self love’ thing to be a bit ‘woo woo,’ but I think that’s because he has an innate understanding of the importance of it.

Being Present is the next step…

I have never met two people who are as good at making the most of every experience as my parents. We moved a lot while I was growing up, and each time we moved they approached it as though it was the last place they would ever live and quickly made friends and became a part of the community.

My parents don’t “vacation,” they take trips. Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Hawaii with them. The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

Talk about being present in the moment and making the most of things! I know for a fact that there were plenty of things on his mind that were “worry worthy,” but instead of focusing on things outside of his control, he chose to embrace the moment and experience something new.

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He may sometimes get lost in his own thoughts, but he definitely knows how to live life to it’s fullest and doesn’t let challenges or obstacles weigh him down.

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Believe in Possibilities….

Believing in possibilities is so much easier and rewarding than speculating about all of the possible negative outcomes that may (or most likely not) happen as a result of a current situation.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Many, many thanks to my dad for all he has taught me about the power of positive thinking and the importance of believing in possibilities.

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Aloha and Mahalo, My Trip to Hawaii

Aloha,

Several months ago my parents called and asked me if I’d like to accompany them on a trip to Hawaii in February of 2016. As you can imagine, it took me less than a nanosecond to say, “Yes!”

I’m a toes in the sand kind, warm weather, sun and water loving kind of girl, so a trip to Hawaii was like a dream come true – especially during the month of February when there’s not a lot of sunshine and it’s cold in the state of Pennsylvania. As happens when you’re anticipating a big event, from the time we made the reservations through the end of the year it seemed like February would never get here, then all of the sudden I was boarding the first of three flights – final stop the Kona airport.

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After picking up the rental car, the first order of business was to find the local Walmart and stock up on breakfast, lunch and snack food; we didn’t want to hassle with going out for breakfast in the mornings and it also seemed smart to reserve our eating out dollars for dinner. The second order of business was to check into a beautiful two-bedroom condo at the Wyndham Resort in Kona while my dad looked into the possibility of booking an excursion to the peak of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and the highest point in Hawaii.

The expeida.com girl remained cheerful, but carefully calibrated our expectations by explaining that this particular expedition is usually filled within weeks if not months of the available dates. She called to make the inquiry and her smile broadened as she said, “there was a cancellation for three people on Monday?!”

My dad didn’t waste any time, “That’s amazing, let’s book it.”

It was the first of many serendipitous moments throughout the upcoming week.

My parents are not exactly what you would call planners when it comes to traveling; they like to take more of a “figure it out along the way” kind of approach so on Sunday we gathered information about the various excursions and booked a Volcano Tour and a luau in addition to stargazing on Mauna Kea. The remaining days were left open for exploring the island on our own.

In order to keep the roadside views uncluttered and natural, there are very strict signage rules on the island, so it’s not uncommon to receive an answer like this when asking for directions:

“Oh, you want to visit the coffee and nut man? Ok, here’s how you get there – go out of the driveway to the right and at the first stop sign, go right to the top of the hill, Lunapule Rd. Then go to the top of the hill and turn right at the stop sign, that’s Walua Rd. 

At the intersection, go to the yield sign and turn right on Kuakini Hwy; this will merfe into Hwy 11 Southbound. Keep going until you reach the 5th stop light, Halekiki St, and turn right – there’s a gas station on the right side. Now go down the hill to the second fire hydrant on the right.

You’ll see a driveway and a sign that says “Captain Cook Trading Place”, pull into the driveway. The coffee and nut guy is next to the granite and tile warehouse on your left – you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see boxes piled up to the ceiling.”

Thank goodness the directions were also written down!

Between counting stop signs and fire hydrants, trying to find the coffee and nut guy was a lot like being on a scavenger hunt. I have to confess that we ended up using a bit of modern technology to find him, but only after we tried and missed the destination more than once.

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The coffee man was nowhere in site (apparently he works his own and very elusive hours) so we opted to have lunch at the local eatery next door to the Captain Cook Trading Company.

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When the first bite of my crab-cake melted in my mouth, I would have sworn that I was dining at 5 star restaurant rather than sitting on a folding chair and sharing the equivalent of a card table with strangers.

As luck would have it, another serendipitous moment occurred and the coffee man arrived and opened for business just as we finished our lunch.

Surrounded by boxes of coffee beans and macadamia nuts, Emmerich (aka the coffee and nut man), shared his wealth of knowledge about the island and the process of roasting coffee beans to perfection. I didn’t get a chance to sample the coffee, but if it’s half as tasty as the macadamia nuts, it’s wonderful.

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Each one of our excursions deserves it’s own narrative, so for now I’ll just share a few of the highlights.

Monday we headed to Buns in the Sun, a local bakery and the meet up place for the trip to the peak of Mauna Kea. I’, not sure which was more amazing to be “walking in the clouds” at 9,000 feet above sea level or seeing the galaxy just beyond the Milky Way first hand.

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On Tuesday we set off with no particular destination in mind other than to visit a small artist’s community on the northeast coast of the island. Our adventure led us to the edge of the island and one of the most spectacular views of waves from the Pacific Ocean rolling onto a sheltered black sand beach.

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The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

The drive there was almost as exciting as the actual zip-lining experience, but that’s a story for another day. The tour guides were awesome – two young guys who had just the right combination of personalities to be encouraging without being condescending and enthusiastic without being annoying.  I never imagined I’d see a waterfall in Hawaii, let alone while I was zipping across a valley going 50 miles per hour.

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Thursday, where to begin? There’s no way I can capture the day in only a few words. To sum it up, we had a private tour of parts of the island and the National Volcano Park. Yep, as it turned out, the other six people who had made reservations for the same day as us cancelled at the last minute and we ended up with a personalized adventure.

We saw sea turtles sunning on a black sand beach, walked through a lava tube had lunch on coffee plantation and learned about the rich history of Hawaii from our guide and companion for the day, Jim Carey (not the actor in case you’re wondering). Thanks to him, it was an incredible and unforgettable day.IMG_2706

Last, but certainly not least, on Friday we had a free day; I hung out by the pool and my parents spent more time gallivanting around the island, in the evening we attended a Luau – apparently it’s “state law.” 🙂

The dancers were mesmerizing, the food was delicious and the setting was spectacular.

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Some days it still seems like the trip was just a dream, but the pictures prove it wasn’t.  Words cannot begin to describe how absolutely magical this trip was. I will never forget it and will always treasure the memories.

Mahalo (many thanks) to my parents for this amazing experience, I’d have to say that I think I have the coolest parents on the planet!

My House, is a Very Very Fine House

Five years ago is a summer I will never forget and am glad that I can now look back on it with laughter instead of tears. In July of 2010 my life as a single mom and sole provider for my youngest son began. The first and most important priority at that time was to find a house to rent.

Finding a house to rent sounds like it should be pretty easy, but as it turns out it wasn’t.

I signed up to receive email notifications for rental properties that were within my budget, in our school district and accepted pets. Days and days passed with nothing showing up in my inbox. I was beginning to think something was wrong when, ding, ding ding – I had mail!

There was a house that met all of the criteria, so my realtor scrambled to make an appointment the very same day. Christian and I wandered through the house. The carpet was worn, there was a very damp smell to the basement, and the yard was seriously in need of some attention. Sizing things up, we kept repeating to each other, “it’s not great, but it’s better than the apartment.”

We convinced each other that it was going to be great and we could make it work, so I filled out the paperwork, dropped it off, and held my breath. One day passed, another day passed, and on the third day our application was rejected – or rather we learned that the house had been leased to another family.

In between sobs I explained to my parents how horrible it was that we wouldn’t be moving into a house we didn’t love, in a neighborhood that wasn’t great. Wow, now it even sounds ridiculous to me. 🙂

It seemed like forever until I finally received another promising email, so long in fact that I had ordered and received new shower curtains, towels, and comforters for the apartment. I’d also hung new pictures and put flowers in the window of the apartment to try and lift our spirits and soften the memories.

As with the first opportunity, I was on top of the situation. Within hours of receiving the email I’d arranged a visit with the home owner. The references in the lease to specific types of nails and cleaning supplies should have been a clue that it wasn’t going to be a great fit, but it wasn’t….

I sent the homeowner pictures of my kids and of my home in Omaha as a way to convince her that I’d take good care of her property. After the she called and grilled my close friends (character references) about my ability to take care of a home, she extended the offer to rent to the house to me. Not only that, she agreed to let me paint the walls and I agreed to use the cleaning supplies listed in the lease.

Although the agreement was only verbal, I turned in my notice at the apartment complex with a smile.

The morning I was scheduled to meet the painter an email arrived,

Good Morning Beth,
 
Thank you for sharing the photos of your family and your home with me. You have beautiful children and a lovely home.
 
At this point, it is with sadness that I must tell you that I cannot enter into a rental agreement with you. After serious soul searching, tossing and turning through the night, I have decided that it is time for me to move forward in my life.
 
I have held on to that house for many years because I have a hard time letting go of things I love. I am starting a new job in a couple of weeks and it is time for me to lessen the load and stress I have been carrying for too long.
 
My days of being a Landlord are behind me. As I told you, I really want to sell the house. I’m sure you and your son are wonderful people and we would have had a great relationship. Nonetheless, the season in my life has changed.
 
I spoke to my Agent about this. She told me she just listed a beautiful house for rent which is available for immediate occupancy in the same school district which might be perfect for you. She will be happy to show it to you without delay. I believe these unfolding events will work out for the long term best for each of us. I pray your initial disappointment will become joyful just as quickly.
 
Sincerely and with very best wishes,
The woman who said she’d rent  to you

The house she recommended was so far out of my reach it wasn’t even funny. I honestly didn’t think the tears would ever stop after receiving this email. Thank goodness the management at the apartment complex accepted my un-notice and we still had a place to live.

I’d all but given up hope.

Then, serendipity made her presence known in my life.

My realtor texted me and, the next day I found “my house.”

The front walk was uneven and I made a mental note to be careful if I ever decided to wear heels again.  One misstep and I’d be sure to leave the whole shoe behind. My new landlord (lady) greeted with a warm smile and a hug after a single ding announced my arrival; I’d already begun to think of her as a friend.

“Let’s start the tour here in the kitchen, I’ll go over the appliances in here and Tim will be ‘round directly to show you how to use the fireplace and furnace. They can be a bit tricky, but you’ll be fine.  The neighbors are great and we’re only a phone call away,” she said.  

I took notes about everything from how low I could let the oil tank go, to which key went with which door, and how to prevent a moat from forming when it rains too hard.  I squeezed as many questions as possible in between her excited explanations.

The final stop on the tour was my bedroom.  “Now about your room, I’ve already decided this color is all wrong for you, its way too dull. But I want to wait a bit to paint so I can think of just the right color to fill it with sunshine for you.”

My room is now the color of sunshine.

I don’t have two cats in the yard and sometimes life is still hard, but I am grateful every day for my very, very fine house.

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The “Heart” of Journaling

It was a good and productive weekend. I even managed to take some time off Friday night to attend the drum circle and yesterday morning I curled up with a cup of coffee and my neglected journal.

Ever since discovering the teachings of Julia Cameron a few years ago, I’ve been fairly faithful to writing my morning pages. Three pages (or so) of peace and quiet, a safe haven in which one can be as petty or prophetic as they want to be while taking refuge between the covers of the journal.

It’s a place to clear out the bad thoughts and make room for the good ones, a place to express fears, make dreams, and ponder. I’m not a morning person in any way shape or form, so sometimes my morning pages are written after midnight – it still counts as morning, right? I do try and avoid the late night writing because it usually gets my mind going rather than relaxing it, which is why I’ve taken to sometimes drawing instead of expressing my feelings through words.

Yesterday I filled 10 pages of my journal with words. I guess I had more on my mind and in my heart than I realized. So much is changing lately, and in so many good ways. Strange thing is that I tend to reflect on what I’ve come through as a part of being thankful for where I am now; it’s seems to be a part of my process.

For me journaling is different from keeping a diary. I remember keeping a diary as a teenager; confiding to the pages kept private by a slender lock, but never really revealing the truth. A diary is a record of events sprinkled with glimpses into the heart.

A journal is a record of the journey as experienced from the heart. It’s a place to express your thoughts, clear your mind, doubt your doubts, and dream your dreams.

The majority of my journals are spiral bound notebooks; I prefer that they have a pretty and colorful cover. Lately I’ve been writing in a bound journal, something about it feels a bit more permanent which is interesting.

My most recent journal also contains more drawing interspersed throughout the words than any before it. In an odd way I think it’s led me to my current art exploration and the creation of an art only journal – a different way to record feelings rather than dates and times.

Last night I created this card to accompany a Christmas gift of a journal for my niece. It’s fun for me to combine art and words in a meaningful way.

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My hope is that she finds writing to be a way to express herself that she comes to know that A Journal is….a safe pace to bring your dreams to life and to put your fears to sleep.

I know she’s going to love the notebook. I also included some fun pens for her to experiment with.

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The Stockings are Hung

I love decorating my house for the Holidays. There’s something special about the way the decorations bring a lighthearted and hopeful feeling into each room.

This year is going to be a very different one for me. For the first time since my oldest two children were born we will be apart at Christmas. We’ve shared some great memories in this house, including running out of oil (which means no heat) on Christmas morning.

The timing of the holiday combined with vacation eligibility (or lack there of) as well as the high cost of travel forced us to come to the conclusion that this year we would not be able to be together. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience and I guess in some ways it’s probably a sign of times to come.

We’re entering that transitory stage in life where my kids are building their own lives, and so too shall I continue to build mine.

I have to confess that I debated with myself about whether or not to decorate this year given the fact that we won’t all be together. When it came right down to it though, I couldn’t bear the thought of a stockingless mantel at Christmas-time.

My youngest son won’t actually admit it, but I think he would have been secretly disappointed if I had chosen not to decorate.

Regardless of whether or not we’re all under the same roof to celebrate during this time of year, our love for each other runs strong and deep.  It seems to me, that’s what the holidays are really about.

 

NYC in the rainy cold at Christmas