Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sparking Joy and Laughter

By now you have probably heard the phrase "Does it spark joy?" bandied about. If you haven't, well, get on the internet or your nearest smart phone because it is everywhere. I first saw it on a Facebook share, then I caught a segment on TV, but when a client was singing it's praises, I jumped on board and checked out Marie Kondo's amazing book at the library. Actually, I started tidying before I even got the book.

In a nutshell: Kondo is a Japanese organizing guru whose method is simple: Get rid of anything that when you touch it, doesn't SPARK JOY. Okay, if you read the book, there are about a million other rules to her system including the order in which you tidy, the timing, how you fold and replace clothes, sticking to categories, not tidying another's belongings.

It sounds a little goofy, but the amazing thing is, it works. Even if you can't or don't follow all the rules like me (telling your off season clothes you care about them because "this type of communication helps your clothes stay vibrant" really?!!? who does this), I have lightened my load immensely. It was much easier than I thought to empty my closet and drawers, and then carefully replace only the items that sparked joy. This gave me the permission I've been needing to discard most of my wardrobe. I like her ideas for making all the items in your dresser visible by rolling your socks like sushi and standing your shirts and pants up after carefully applying her folding method. I bet you didn't know that you can transmit energy to your clothes through your hands, and thus increase their resilience and sheen!!

Now to the part I dislike about all self-help manuals: Kondo warns us that you must strictly follow her plan. Otherwise, you will 'rebound' back into disorganized chaos, which I guess is akin to relapsing on drugs. I'll let you know how that turns out, as no one could possibly go to the lengths she prescribes, least of all me.

Sparking joy has spawned a weekend of jokes in our family, (when we traveled to Clarksville), and inspired closet cleanings and unsolicited advice for my parents who are moving the middle of next month. It has filled my trash and recycling bins, and given a pre-holiday boost to the local thrift shops.

Betsy mentioned to Chuck that she, too, was going to be getting rid of anything that doesn't spark joy, and he replied, "How long do I have to pack?"

Chris went home and cleaned out a closet, and finding an old Patriots jersey, he put it on (per Kondo's direction), and immediately went into a sneezing fit. Apparently, the dust was pretty thick in his closet. Betsy heard this and told him, "Your closet doesn't spark joy, it sparks allergens."

Tidying Up (mid stream)

Saying good-bye to my original Uggs and "thank you for 7 winters of service"

Monday, November 09, 2015

Why I Cry

I thought maybe writing this little essay would answer a baffling question. Let me bring you back to Wednesday when I was innocently telling my supervisor how much I was looking forward to some events coming up in my personal life. Namely, Eli's senior recital (yesterday) and my nephew's performance as Don Quixote in his high school's Man of La Mancha (next weekend). As I was trying to say this I got completely choked up and had trouble speaking. In true counselor fashion, she gave me a moment and then asked what the tears were about. I haltingly replied that I often cry when I'm happy or proud. She went on to tell me a touching personal story about Man of La Mancha and helped normalize the emotion I feel when talking or even thinking about certain experiences, particularly hearing vocal music.

Fast forward to Friday afternoon when I was in a meeting and someone mentioned living in the 'mystery' of life, and embracing that. He described it as seeing a piece of art that moves him deeply and when trying to explain why, cannot. That resonated with me as I can't put into words why I cry when I even think about a church full of people singing Silent Night, my nephew singing The Impossible Dream, or a choir singing The Pasture. I have cried in band, jazz or orchestra concerts as well, but it's usually vocal music that pierces my heart.

At one point I thought I cried because I internalized the message, "It's not okay to be happy" or it's fraternal twin sister, "It's not okay to be proud." Sometimes I think it's because I am so unmusical. Or perhaps I took the Buddhist noble truth "life is suffering" to heart. Sometimes I use my cry meter to determine authenticity (eg. if I don't cry at emotional content, there's some insincerity going on).

I really appreciated the advice I got about how to "get through" my nephew's performance; I was told, "just cry." Regardless of what I do or how I look, I am going to bask in the beauty others make surrounded by my loving family. I may have to continue to live in the mystery of why, and stock up on Kleenex.

Sunday, September 06, 2015


Fear is something we all have, and we all learn to cope with in varying degrees. Fear can originate in direct experience, vicariously, and espeially through the media. Some of my earliest fears were caused by movies and television. While my mother famously protected me from "The Exorcist," I was able to access other just as terrifying images in the comfort of my own home. What is it that keeps us watching when we know we will have nightmares for weeks or years?

"The Night Stalker" TV movie and series was one of my favorites, but also completely anxiety provoking. Darrin McGavin was a cool detective tracking a vampirish evil monster. Couldn't stop watching...but carried a wooden cross throughout my teens.

One of my biggest fears growing up was that I would (accidentally) get thrown into juvenile prison. "Born Innocent" starring Linda Blair is where a 14 year old gets locked up in prison and some pretty disturbing things happen to her. According to Wikipedia, it contained "graphic content never before seen on American television."  Suffice it to say I was Scared Straight.

"Go Ask Alice" was another classic movie that exposed the underbelly of the drug culture of the early 70's. I was terrified that someone was going to slip LSD into my food or drink, and I would become instantly addicted and all a-shambles like the girl in the movie, sleeping in flop houses, never washing my hair, etc. This fear led me to give up my dream of becoming an Olympic figure skater in 2nd grade because I thought I saw a drug deal being made on the ice across the street from my house.

Then there was "Sybil" (anyone for breaking out into multiple personalities) and "Carrie" (horror at the thought of taking a shower at school). I am happy to report I have somehow put these fears to rest and am living a semi-normal life. Ironically, one of my main tasks as a therapist is helping others conquer their fears and demons. My advice? Adopt this well known slogan:

Fear = False Evidence Appearing Real

And if that fails:

Fuck Everything And Run

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Making :  senseless blog posts
Cooking :  nothing
Drinking :  coffee
Reading:  11/22/63
Wanting:  breakfast
Looking:  haggard
Playing:  DVDs
Deciding:  what to do today
Wishing:  I could see my kids today
Enjoying:  peace and quiet
Waiting:  for the rain to stop
Liking:  my husband
Wondering:  when I will get dressed
Loving:  my life
Pondering:  old age
Considering:  what to do with an extra peanut butter pie
Buying:  nada, I hope
Watching:  Orange is the New Black, season 2
Hoping:  to watch a home video today (I have about 10 left to preview)
Marvelling: @ the parking lot's disarray
Cringing: at the bugs coming out of the corn
Needing:  sustenance
Questioning: religious people
Smelling: cleanliness
Wearing: bathrobe
Following:  Pinterest
Noticing:  clocks
Knowing:  I am blessed
Thinking: too much
Admiring: real writers
Sorting:  pictures, movies
Getting: hungry
Bookmarking: Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
Coveting:  nothing really 
Disliking:  whiners
Opening:  my bank statement multiple times
Giggling: at OITNB
Feeling: content
Snacking: wishing I didn't so much
Helping:  myself
Hearing:  golf in the background

Saturday, July 04, 2015

About Time

Pat had me watch a DVR'd movie called About Time, starring a little known ginger actor named Domhnall Gleeson. He actually played a Weasley in the Harry Potters, the sidekick in Unbroken, and recently, Caleb the main character in Ex Machina. It involves Tim (Domhnall's)'s ability to time travel. Only he doesn't use it in the usual fictional way to alter the course of history. He makes little changes in his own life, and sometimes goes back when he doesn't like the result and undoes the change. The overall message is to take note of the life you are living and make it count, enjoy it, improve it for someone else.

The mood of the movie (the content, the music, the setting {England}, the odd choice of actors) was rather melancholy and reminded me different moments I've had where I wonder at the confluence of events that brought a particular group of people together at the same time and place. It usually happens at less everyday events such as a concert at ISU, an out of town ball game, a play, etc. where we are having a collective experience but are not otherwise connected. It reminded me that this fall will be the last of Eli's college music performances. Other parents will one day populate the CPA for their children's concerts. I won't be in that time and place again.

Tim also uses time travel to relive precious moments, notably at the end of the movie, which made me unbearably sad. Haven't we all had times we wished would never end...I've often thought I would like to go back and spend one hour with my babies again. Or my toddlers, teenagers, young adults.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Reading is many things to me: an escape from boredom or stress, an education on history and the diversity of people, an elaborate fantasy world, a moving picture more vivid than HD. I can live in a book the way Miss Suzy lived in a dollhouse (one of my favorite childhood picture books about a squirrel who snuck into an attic to live). But most of all, reading is how I define myself.  Not only do I snobbishly categorize myself as a "reader," reading has helped me more than anything else learn who I am and who I want to be.

As a child, I was more of an indoor kid, and since our TV was kind of jankie, and my house had an endless supply of books, reading was the habit I formed. Since we didn't have many kids in our neighborhood, I spent a lot of my time reading. I was lucky to have a cousin Amy who not only handed down cool California clothes, she sent us the latest books. I was the first girl in 6th grade to have "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret." That was how I learned about puberty, boys and social interaction.

As an adult, I retreat into the fantasy world of books to escape stress and anxiety. Nothing captivates and distracts me like a 3000 page Ken Follet triology. I felt I could relate more to my grandfather who served in WWI after reading "Fall of Giants." I had little school training (or memory) in history, so I have filled in the gaps through historical fiction, one of my favorite genres. Sometimes I get mixed up on whether I have seen the movie or read a particular book, so vivid are the pictures I draw in my mind.

I am in awe of writers who can take ordinary words and combine them in an extraordinary way. It's fascinating how endless the arrangement of the English language is. I love to write down similes and metaphors from books that I find genius:

"Her voice, like some confused child, made my throat feel as if it were splintered by razors."

"The place was radioactive with memories." 

"He looked over his bifocals and rearranged some throat phlegm." 

Books are my friends when I have moved to new locations where I didn't know anyone and many other lonely moments of my life. I can curl up with a good book on a sunny day as easily as a rainy day. "Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy" had me laughing out loud and "Dark Places" had me internally vomiting but unable to put it down. The funny friend and the scary friend. "The Day I Went Missing" was the how-not-to handbook for my profession.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in "Infidel" helped me justify my belief that abuse and violence against women should not be tolerated in the name of religion or cultural diversity. Augustus Waters in "The Fault in our Stars" taught me I don't have to make a large mark on the world; my small mark is good enough. Marie-Laure in "All the Stars We Cannot See" gave me hope of a resilient, long life in spite of the most profound losses. And these are just a few of the recent lessons learned.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Divining Hour

My favorite time of day is between 3 and 5 o'clock on the weekends. All the busyness of the morning errands and rituals is over, my afternoon nap has just ended, and I am still fuzzy from awakening not quite sure what day or time it is. Relieved or longing for a moment more in that dream world. A diet Pepsi is bringing me slowly back to life, and the evening is not yet encroaching on my conscience, or is it conscious? Dinner plans are percolating in the back of my head, and I might take a stroll outside if the sun is bright and warm, stopping to feel the warm bricks on the buildings of Randolph Street. My cashmere sweater, puffy coat and fleece gloves are a bit much on this particular day. The clocks on the Square are confusingly disparate, leaving me wondering what time it really is, or temperature. I wish someone would come to the door selling Girl Scout cookies.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Head or Heart

From The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe:

I know that I am making this decision from the heart. I know it is the wrong thing to do. 
No, said Mma Potokwane. It is never the wrong thing to do. Never.

This exchange made me think immediately how I always make decisions from my head. I often write out a Pro and Con list when making a big decisions, and I became enamored with the Decisional Balancing Scale that I learned from a therapeutic workshop. My heart tends to be sadly pushed aside as reason and intellect and rationality seem a better basis for action.  

Recently I have been working with Dialectical Behavior Therapy which promotes a Wise Mind approach. Combining the Reasonable Mind and the Emotional Mind will result in a good decision or reaction to situations. This therapy was designed for people whose tendency is towards emotional decisions and reactions. The opposite of me. But when they talk about how your emotions can be a valuable asset to listen to, I have to agree.

I can think of a few times I have consciously let emotion guide decisions. Those that come to mind are when I have decided to break rules or ethical standards because I "feel" it is the right thing to do. For example, I have loaned money knowing I would probably not get it back, or done something that may be perceived as enabling because the person was down, or old or whatever. 

Saturday, March 07, 2015


Just finished reading "Infidel" loaned to me by a friend who has similar taste in books. However, this was a totally different kind of book, biographical and politically astounding. Published in 2007, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born Muslim and was a 'true believer' experiencing many forms of violence I had only vague knowledge of. Her enlightenment began in her teens as she struggled with her faith, eventually immigrating to Holland to escape arranged marriage, lack of respect and inferior education and employment (that would be the mild version). She came to speak out very publicly against the intolerance and violence of the Islamic culture and the Quran itself. She was one of a very few Muslims to speak out against Islam and multiculturalism in the wake of 9-11. She was elected to the Dutch parliament to advocate for abolishing segregated religious schools, ending violence against women and keeping proper statistics on honor killings, female excision, domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. Her life has been threatened continuously since.

I'm wondering what my cyber friend thinks and knows of the book and life of Ayaan and Muslim women in Holland, since Ginnie is now Dutch herself.

If you watch Ayaan's short film, Submission Part I on youtube, there are so many disturbing, ignorant comments. I almost feel writing this barely read blog could endanger me in some way. Ayaan's collaborator, Theo van Gogh was murdered in 2004 by a Muslim after making and releasing this film. This is a very provacative topic, and all she is fighting for is what we, in the United States, take for granted: freedom. And for Islam to move into the 21st century so that all people can prosper.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Epic Hike

One of my proudest moments of 2015, although it's a little early to call a whole year, has to be the Epic Hike that Betsy, Cal, Ethan and I had in the icy canyons of Turkey Run State Park on 1/2/15. We decided on Trail 3, marked "very rugged" but only 1.7 miles, about what we were looking for. The trails at Turkey Run follow and cross ravine stream beds multiple times, a fact that was not lost on me, having fallen literally into a creek the day before while crossing on icy rocks. My entire right side was soaked and I had to go directly back to the Inn letting the others continue their "moderate" warm up hike on our first day of arrival. I did have a very peaceful swim at the Inn's pool so I didn't totally regret it.

Anyway, that Friday was a bit warmer day, as we crossed the suspension bridge which leads to the Rocky Hollow-Falls Canyon Nature Preserve and an abundance of wonderful and scenic trails, not to mention challenging. Betsy kept asking if this was the trail she had fallen on her behind and slid down a couple of years ago when she and I traversed it in a good firm snow pack of February. If it was, we had come through the opposite way, going down the ravine. This day we were headed up the ravine and the water was running but all the rocks and many other surfaces were slick with ice. A couple was ahead of us and turned a steep corner of rocks and disappeared while Ethan took copious pictures of icicles and minutiae he thought would make artistic photographs *we have yet to see any pictures from this professional grade camera he got about a year ago*.

So, we begin struggling up the slippery rocks, all the time I am keenly aware of how cold I will be and how far from the Inn we are this time, if I fall into the creek again. We are already questioning our ability to keep going and the warning in the trail guide that this particular trail can be impassable in inclement weather, when the young, healthy, dressed about like we are, couple comes back down the ravine, saying, "Nope, you can't do it." We're like, "Really?" They're like, "Yep, you can't make it without going through the creek and we don't have boots." So, they pass back down the trail and disappear and I'm like, "I don't want to give up without even looking at what we're up against."  We are now on a very wet, slick, pass but Ethan volunteers to forge ahead around the bend with Cal in pursuit. Betsy and I carefully continue on, hyper-aware of our middle age and health status, and that two whippersnappers just gave up. I have to admit I had the idea that I could will myself through this trail, and relished the challenge. Just the same I was a bit scared. I was last around the corner of lubricious rocks, gingerly and laboriously minding each step until I reached my companions who are eyeing said "impassable" part of the creek bed. Somehow we have to cross several feet of water (too far to jump), which is about a foot deep. We discuss possible strategies and while looking around for an alternative route, Ethan and Cal spy a large branch (ice covered, mind you) and decide we can make it into a bridge. They throw it down and don't have much trouble bouncing across, followed by Betsy hobbling over with a helping hand from her sturdy son. Now, it's my turn; I buck up and start across grabbing Cal's firm grasp about half way across, as most of the ice was on his end, and quite thick I might add.

We are all ecstatic and continue up the ravine. We end up back on the other side of the creek shortly thereafter, and Ethan, Cal and Betsy, scale a rock wall on a ledge above the water, telling me all I have to do is keep my body pressed against the rock so I don't lose my balance and fall backwards into the creek. I put my first foot in the hold and mentally start freaking out. I can't do it. I can't make myself trust these slippery rocks to not send me into the creek on my head causing a major concussion and possible broken bones. Nope, not gonna do it. The team gives me encouragement and a pep talk, but I flat out refuse. Ethan is standing in the middle of the creek above me on a flat rock that is somehow jutting out above the water line, but I can't get there without scaling that wall.

They start looking around again, and Cal has the brilliant idea we can bring the big branch up to this point and I can cross the creek on it, so Cal goes back down to drag the large branch back up. I side step across with an assist from Cal and we continue up the canyon, the next obstacle being to ascend a steep rock wall. Again, the other three make it up first, then Cal reaches down and drags me as I crawl upwards. From that point on, it remained rugged but passable. An older couple is coming the opposite way, and we warn them it's treacherous, but if they use the branch we left behind they should be able to make it through.

Finally, we emerge from the canyon, to wooded areas, however, we are still waiting for the 170 steps that are listed on the map. The hike goes on and on and we step down three ladders into another creek bed, and meet a family who was behind us initially with two toddlers in backpacks (obviously they had turned around and took the trail the opposite direction). I'm thinking, no way these people are going through because it's already been at least an hour and a half. They managed the ladders which I thought was pretty amazing, though somewhere they lost the grandma (grandpa was hanging in there with them). At one point, we pass the young couple and proudly tell them we made it through without falling in. After a full three hours and a pocketful of fruit roll-ups later, we got back to the car. It was like a being on a challenge course, and using teamwork and the resources at hand to accomplish a mutual goal. What a day, what a hike, I am so happy, and I have the bruises to prove it:

Those are pretty much the worst looking legs ever.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bob aka Free Booklet

I wanted to explain something from my last post, that is, why did I call God "Bob" and "Free Booklet?"  It's something my parents, especially my dad has been saying for years. First, Bob was the God of one of the planets in the science fiction novel "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," a book I have never read but my parents revere. As for Free Booklet, there was a commercial at one time stating, "The creator has a name. Few know it: Free Booklet." Ever since that classic quote, Dad has favored calling God, Free Booklet.

As Betsy declared on Christmas Eve, I come from a long line of atheists. Well, not so much atheists as agnostics. Kind of odd, being that my father was raised by a God fearing, Bible toting, fundamentalist father and mother, and I don't mean that derogatorily. From all I know of my grandparents, they were the very best kind of Christian people, that practiced what they preached. They even took me to week long Revival Bible camp in Jamestown, ND. They would probably be horrified to know that 8 year old Susan was sneaking off to meet the caretaker's son, Brian Hettler, with whom I had fallen in love, and later claimed I would one day marry. So much for my religious training.

My mom's family was more traditional Protestant eg. Methodist. My mom's interest in church was more having an outlet to sing in a choir or listen to an inspiring speaker, which was last apparently the case in 1968. My dad can quote the bible with more ease than anyone I have met, yet views it more as piece of literature. One day, he will meet Free Booklet and know all the answers.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Year in Review

My world was rocked at the start of the 2013 school year. Not only did my caseload double, I had hundreds of new personalities to deal with, one of which quickly became intolerable to me. By Christmas I had lost 19 pounds, was working 50 hours a week, and commuting another 10, and I felt like a complete failure at my job.

At the start of 2014, I was just beginning to get my feet underneath me and focus on one day at time without the constant threat of giving notice in the middle of the school year (almost completely unacceptable, however many friends close to the situation said they would not blame me). With the help of yoga, wonderful co-workers, exercise, my family supporting me, and aromatherapy shampoo and conditioner (I know it sounds weird, but it was sometimes the little things that got me through), I kept my head up at work and started looking for another job. I enjoyed Cal's last season of baseball at Spoon River, and counted my blessings while asking for the strength to manage each day in front of me.

In an act of God, or Bob, or Free Booklet, or whatever you want to call a higher power, a job came open at my local hospital for a therapist around March. I quickly applied, if you can call several hours navigating the online application process quick, and had an interview pretty rapidly. Many of my old colleagues had left my old mental health center for this greener pasture. After my tenure evaluation in March in which I received Distinguished marks in every category, which I am not saying to brag, but to say I don't think my director was given the same direction as our union membership was (we were told that good teachers/support personnel should expect proficient ratings and perhaps an occasional distinguished rating under the new Danielson framework) or she just had an inflated view of my performance. After that was over, my director asked for a private meeting to discuss my caseload and rumblings she may have heard about my dissatisfaction. I decided to keep personalities out of it and was assured there would adjustments in my caseload, but I was honest and let her know I was pursuing other opportunities. She made it clear she would like me to stay, and soon two other social workers in the coop gave notice. As she began to interview for those positions, and I began to interview for other positions the tension mounted, and I began to get pressure to make my intentions known. I was being asked directly to say when and if I would be resigning and I finally caved in before I had a job offer in hand. Granted, I thought the hospital interviews went extremely well, but the weeks were going by and I didn't hear anything, and I refrained from asking my inside source what my chances were. I gave my notice and a week later I had the job offer I had been hoping for. Score one for me!

I started the new job the Tuesday after my last day of school. I planned my last days to really leave my affairs and instructions for the new hires clearly ordered. I hope the new girls did find it this way. I was trained in my new job by the gentle man who hired me in 1996 for my first job in mental health. It was reassuring, comforting and delightful to work together again. However, my learning curve was pretty steep. The new software system and procedures were beyond mind boggling to me, and I struggled to feel adequate in my new role as a therapist and keep up with the paperwork (read computer work) end. It took a good 3-4 months of hard work to even begin to get up to speed. The only problem then was a 24 hour work week, while a dream schedule, was not going to keep two college tuition, room and board bills paid for the next 2.5 years.

JoJo and Hannah left in late June for Star Lake Camp in New Jersey to be program specialists at a Salvation Army camp. The 7:00 train every morning now reminds me of that melancholy day they trekked out on their own. I spent most of that day listening to Cold Play and feeling unnerved. They returned in August with amazing and valuable life and work experience.

Cal moved into his first apartment in Normal in mid-August. He was immediately taken with campus life, social, academic, athletic, etc. The work load for classes was a lot more than community college, but he buckled down as always and got 'er done. His roommate Jesse turned out to be a good match and his grades for first term were even better than he expected.

Around August I helped Adam fine tune his resume for a mental health job in the Illinois prisons. He was hired rather quickly, but for unclear reasons, the job has not yet started. He has been into the women's prison he was assigned several times, but has not been given a start date.

I got to visit Betsy in Clarksville three times this year. We rang in the 2014 New Year together, I drove down between jobs for a long weekend, and we had a mini family reunion there over Labor Day before Megan left for college in England. That was about it for my travels.

I cleaned a couple of houses until I was offered an additional day at the hospital, precipitated by my looking into another part time social work position I was told about. I am finding four days just about right, as they are jam packed, full on, intense work days. Dad was hospitalized after Thanksgiving for a severe infection in his toe/blood, and is still being nursed back to health by my mom. I help out when I can and fill in for their cleaning lady when she is injured or sick (which is most of the time lately). When she is well, I have been helping Mom "down size" her belongings.

My relationship with Pat has grown as the house has emptied. The upside to working until 6:00 is that Pat has become a capable cook. I love coming home to dinner on the table. I am able to express myself better, we joke around and find each other's humor enchanting, and have discovered a closeness that comes from knowing someone so long and so well.

As you may be able to tell I wasn't able to focus on much this year besides work. I think, hope and pray I have found my niche, and that 2015 will be the very best year yet.