Blogging Ripples…

I’ve noticed something and I’m wondering if you have, too.  One of the things I enjoy about blogging is the rippling of thoughts and ideas between and amongst bloggers.  I don’t think we have club meetings and there’s no secret handshake…or coded lingo.  Am I right? 😉 Just awesome humans sharing thoughts and observations, often with humor, consistently with insight, often for the greater good.  If there is one, I missed the mission statement, too.  You know, the sort of thing that extols team virtues and highlights goals and intentions.  Still, my blogging observations brought me to this conclusion: Helping one another feel less alone through spirited comments and positivity is a broadly accepted ideal. No framed mission statement required.  

Before you say it, I will — blogging also serves singular purposes.  Yes, I see that.  Getting words…reflective of our thoughts and feelings…into plain sight is pretty darn satisfying.  It’s nice to have readers who chime in with, “Hey, me too” or “Oh – did you know…” as they offer snippets of their own experiences.  Super cool…but blogging-as-journaling and allowing a free flow of expression, regardless of any assumed audience is also pretty darn awesome. 

More than once, I’ve seen sparks and connections between bloggers and their posts.  A fascinating tidbit shared by one, begins a churn of reflective thought for another. Inspiration at work. Interlocking and interwoven threads, like ripples on water.

More than once…with no perceptible, prearranged intention, I’ve seen fellow bloggers share heartfelt posts on strikingly similar topics.  No interval existed – no gap – to read, reflect, write…as a result of a friend’s blog…it seems they were written simultaneously.  Fabulously coincidental, magically parallel…pointing at the same thoughtful target. (Again, if y’all are having secret meetings and I’m missing out, fill me in…I’ll Zoom in, hop on a call…whatever, but I don’t think that’s happening.)

So, what’s going on?  I chuckled…to myself…sitting here at my desk…about notions from sociologists and Carl Jung about ‘collective consciousness’.  The concept’s been hotly contested…for years and there’s some tussling about the origin.  Was it posited first, this theory about “constellations of beliefs and values” by sociologist Emile Durkheim, or was it Jung?  And the dark side of the theory leeches into fearsome territory – cults, for example – where ‘group think’ is desirable, to the detriment of the individual.  I don’t want to link to lengthy articles on the topic, but this resource is helpful as a primer if you want to peek.

But that’s not the point.  What is?  I think bloggers are cool and for the sci-fi fans who love a little retro Star Trek fun, I must confess this:  My musings about ‘collective consciousness’ and blogging this morning reminded me of the “Borg” – those nasty aliens who assembled into a hive by hijacking humans to create….wait for it…a collective consciousness!  I wonder if either Jung or Durkheim were credited with the inspiration?  No matter…it was a Sunday morning smile, worthy, I thought, of sharing with you. 

Here’s to more rippling waves of inspiration.  No implanted microchips required!

Vicki 😊

You’ve Got The…

I suspect I might – on a very, very, good day – be capable of conjuring an anthem-worthy sentence, similar to Alice Walker’s (below).  Other days?  I think, ‘Fool – you can’t convey what she did in sixteen succinct words!’  I’ve got the quote tacked up on my wall along with a piece of writing from my own archives, circa, I dunno, the first millennia? 😉 The combo makes me think…and from time to time, I pause to read and let both Alice’s thought and my own sink in:

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

-Alice Walker

Life can be hard, when we seek softness.  Like can be maze-like when we seek straight, navigable paths.  Life can be joy-filled, yet stingy, especially when we long to linger in the light.  Life can be a snare, enticing us to drop down rather than rise.

-Me

Holiday time is here for some of us…several weeks from here to January that, despite festivities of all sorts, can be laden with emotional potholes.  Staying strong, facing forward while finding ways to be resilient and resourceful?  Tricky business and there’s no ‘one size fits all’. What helps? Remembering to marvel in our talents, our gifts.  Gloat a little…it’s okay.  We’re not going to please everyone around us and hitching our happiness wagons to others is a sure-fire way to slide…and feel less-than.

Alice Walker provided one of many antidote-inducing boosts. We have power, if we claim it, and reveling in our ability to be poised under pressure…while surrounding ourselves with people, practices and ideology that guide us toward strength? Life goals for me, right there.  That’s how we ride out the cloudbursts, the messy, the maddening and the melancholy.

So go ahead…be a force…be fully YOU. Getting there might involve being a little choosy about who and what we allow into our heads and hearts.  Me? The older I get, the more I believe in Alice’s sixteen words and the reminder that not everyone and everything in front of me is worthy of my time and attention.  I’ve got the power…so do you.

Vicki 😊

Mountain Magic

The year was 1998 – just a year after my dad died and something unexpected happened.  My first-ever Rocky Mountain adventure.  Looking back, I’m not sure how I navigated the high hurdles with my mixed-up mom so that I could go. Selective amnesia can be a good thing…some memories belong at the curb, not in the heart.  When the opportunity came to escape…just a little…for a work trip to Denver, I was ecstatic and so were my conference-presenting partners.  On a whim, we’d written a proposal to present at a research-oriented annual convening and truth-be-told, no one was more surprised than moi when we received our acceptance notification. Okay, then…off to Denver we went!

When you’re a mom of a toddler and you’ve got extraneous, dangling family duties of other sorts (crazy mother, disabled sister, and a plate too full of professional aspirations) the notion of flying the coop into a four-day adult experience is both thrilling and fearsome. Added into the milieu was the timing…flying to Denver in November, in a year when Mother Nature chose to bring substantial snow – early snow — to the Rockies.  Dare devils, we were.  Dare devils…of the fluff ball variety. Not a single one amongst us was any sort of risk-taker.

But we went and it was fun, fun, fun.  So much fun that we decided a little escapism was in order.  Only one in our crew had ever been to Estes Park and the allure of the Stanley Hotel was powerful.  Honestly, the appeal of visiting the venue associated with “The Shining” gave us shivers, just thinking about.  Unrelated to the weather. 

The prospect of daring to ditch the conference (only after we’d presented, of course) made us giddy like a bunch of teenagers. We rented a car and made a road trip of it and silly me…I was more excited about stepping foot in The Stanley than the beautiful drive from Denver and the picturesque qualities of Estes Park itself.  You see…that year, I was a mountain novice.  Other than a trip once or twice to the Smokey Mountains…driving thru to get elsewhere, mountain magic eluded me.

Spoiler about “The Stanley”.  Ho hum, ho hum.  Smaller than expected and no weird willy moments.  Nada.  Except for the stellar group pic from the front porch (snipped in above), visiting the supposed inspiration for Stephen King’s super spooktacular “The Shining” was boring.  So, we decided to split up, do some exploring elsewhere in Estes Park.  Trinket stores and fudge shops were everywhere and the opportunity for do-it-yourselfer walking tours sounded great.  Fresh air…and time for a few of us to reboot our introverted souls with a bit of solitude.

Me?  I ambled down some side streets and realized one was a dead end…delivering pedestrians to a park and a hiking gateway.  I’m no hiker, and as you can see from the pic, my version of ‘adventure wear’ was an Icelandic-looking reindeer sweater.  A favorite from Eddie Bauer that I wore to shreds…so comfy…but still, not hiking gear. 

I had time before the meet-up with my friends, so I followed the path, and without another soul in sight, I happened upon a hollowed-out tree, turned into a bench and a resting spot.  The weather up until then had been overcast, but stunning glimpses of the elevations around Estes Park were slightly visible but obscured by clouds.  As I sat on the bench, I enjoyed the solitude and unexpectedly, the clouds shifted, providing me with a stunning peek of a peak.

I’d forgotten about the high altitude in Estes Park, given the cloud cover, and after my short baby-hike, I unknowingly ventured higher than I imagined.  (Thank goodness for gradual grades on a path, right?  So gradual I didn’t know I was ascending.)  As I sat and took in the view, my breath escaped from my body – one big outflow in a way that I cannot describe. Not just a ‘take your breath away’ moment but a full body shiver and shake.  Like I was in the presence of something…requiring my full attention.  The something?  That blessed peak in front of me.

I didn’t know how far away I was from it, in reality, but to my eye, if I extended my arms, my fingertips would’ve touched the snow cap.  So close.  When the sun added a glimmer, enough to make me squint, I realized I was crying.  My dad’s nickname was “Sonny” because his mother always referred to him as her ‘little sunshine’ and in that moment, my papa who’d passed – about 18 months before – was right there with me.  I felt overwhelmed and the only thought in my head was “mountain magic” and then his voice saying, “Remember there’s magic in the mountains”. 

I’m still not sure what to make of that experience but it’s a keeper.  When I rejoined my friends my bestie Linda could tell I was ‘off’.  She and our other pals stocked up on treats for the ride back to Denver – tons of fudge and some mixed nuts – and as we walked back to the car she just asked, “Are you okay?” and then “Where’d you go?  My answer was pretty cloaked because I wasn’t sure what to say.  What I recall thinking…but I don’t know if it came out of my mouth…was this: “I think I found magic in the mountains.”

Thanks so much for reading.  It’s Thanksgiving today in the U.S. and this memory…of my moment in the mountains…was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning.  I figured it was my dad’s way of saying hello.  So, from him…and from me…sending hugs and reminders to look for magic…it might be right in front of you.

Vicki 😊

Blogging Buddies

I’m a returning blogger…back in the saddle for a few months only…with years and years in between and even then, my previous efforts were professional posts, with just a soupcon of Vicki tossed in for fun. 

When I decided to give WordPress a whirl over the summer, I had low expectations.  No – scratch that.  I had no expectations.  I figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I hoped the daily practice of writing – spitting out words, ideally in a cogent manner…ideally helpful…sometimes funny…oh – and endearing…I hoped for endearing…might help tone and tighten my writing skills. 

I also know myself. I’ve adapted to academic writing when I needed to (dissertation and all) and writing textbooks…but letting my essence, good bad (and often) otherwise, free flow from fingers to keyboard is nirvana. Heaven…for me…but I know I may not be everyone’s cup o’ tea. What rolls out may not be of interest to all but still…it’s ME…and any errors, omissions, bad syntax, or grammar? Not intended to harm the hearts, eyes, souls of readers who are better writers. Promise. After a few weeks, I was pleasantly surprised when sweet fellow bloggers received me, encouraged me, inspired me. More than I’d hoped for.

Blogging for enjoyment was the goal. I left my day job behind and launched headlong, about two years ago, into my consulting business, which I Iove…because my clients are terrific and whether I’m working with individuals or groups, it’s a rare experience when I don’t benefit as much or more than those who pay me.  How’s that?  Well…forgiveness for the repetition, but connection in life is everything to me.  Allowing ourselves to be known, “seen” and when combined with opportunities to serve and lift up a fellow human?  Best.Stuff.Ever.  The feedback from clients, specifically about blogging was unexpected and affirming with nudges…Vicki…keep writing…blog more, please.  So, I pivoted to WordPress and here we are.

As I’ve balanced blogging with other projects – helping others and getting a book ready for my publisher – I’ve seen a shift in how I use my time and it’s because of you.  Yep, you – the person on the other side of the screen reading this. I’ve fallen into a comfortable cadence of WordPress writing, mostly in the morning, interspersed with other duties. I enjoy reading and commenting on the posts of fellow bloggers.  Fellow bloggers who are smart, wicked-smart, and funny.  Fellow bloggers who are insightful and knowledgeable on a range of topics…teaching me about music, art, literature, philosophy, and technology while expanding my worldview of cultures and history.  I love the person-first stories, the photography, the poetry, the tips, and tricks. I’m in awe.

While out with a dear friend for breakfast last week, I forgot to turn notifications off on my phone.  She knew I was dabbling with blogging again and asked, as I apologized and silenced the WordPress app, my two email accounts, text messages and IG, “How’s the blogging community?”  She’s seen the lively comments and caring tone in exchanges with fellow bloggers and was curious.

She’s right about the caring tone.  So many lovely acquaintances…dare I call you friends? The blogging relationships are unique in my life but no less endearing, just because they’re virtual.  I laughed at my friend’s question, “How’s the blogging community” and replied, “It’s richer and more rewarding on an interpersonal level than a lot of conventional, you know ‘brick and mortar’ friendships.”

It’s a bad habit to laugh at my own silliness, but the ‘brick and mortar’ phrase tickled me.  “Oh” my friend said, “That’s how it is…I’m brick and mortar, eh… so what do you call the blogging friends?”  I didn’t have a witty answer for her…I dunno, I thought.  They’re magical, insightful, thoughtful…and ‘real’ in the most important sense and the fact that they’re slightly intangible, physically, doesn’t diminish the depth or positive regard.

I shared that explanation with her, while shoving pumpkin pancakes in my mouth and she nodded, following my train of thought, and said, “That’s so cool. It’s that thing you always talk about…meeting people where they are or in this case…wherever they are.”

Yep.  She’s got me…this tried-and-true, ‘brick and mortar’ friend.  Sharing, caring, demonstrating to each other that we matter is the stuff of a life well-lived.  If you’re a new friend reading for the first time…or you’ve popped into my blog here and there, know that I look forward to getting to know you, too. And for those who’ve supported me in the blogging world thus far, I’m grateful for your kindness, your good humor and your big hearts. Blessed to call you ‘friend’.

Vicki ❤

P.S. The puppy pic is not mine…I don’t know who deserves credit… but how cute, right?

New View

holiday tree with white lights

I love a little trompe l’oeil in the morning…or anytime.  When you peek at the pic – at first – does it look like the tree’s inside?  Maybe your peepers are more finely tuned…at 5am..than mine. 

I know we’re not quite at Thanksgiving here in the U.S., but it’s the hubster’s tradition to do exterior lights and holiday decorating before we experience full frozen tundra.  And…given the shenanigans going on inside, with remodeling and all, we decided we’d enjoy the “deck tree” as if it’s inside the house.

Instead of placing this year’s evergreen near the railing and away from the door, hubs (dear man that he is) indulged me a bit when I begged…pleaded…fussed…about MAYBE trying something new…by centering the tree …still on the deck…. but just outside the door.  “Maybe” …I said…” it’ll be like an inside tree and will bring some cheer from the outside in.”

Oh, baby.  That was a tough sell.  I heard him thinking when his face contorted into a full frown, “Okay, we’ll get TWO deck trees then…one where I want it…where a tree ALWAYS goes…and one for you.”  Before he could express his thought, I was shaking my head…no, no, no.  “Let’s just try it my way…and we do NOT need two deck trees!”

He relented and what you see is the outcome.  But wait – there’s more! 😉 I completely forgot that at this time of the year, pupster Sadie I need to wrangle a new place to plop in the morning.  The sunny spot…the place we park for morning coffee in spring and summer…is anything but…. sunny. Right now, it has no redeeming features…sitting there in the morning is akin to peering into a dark hole…no glimmer of sun for hours.

So, Sadie and I moved (gasp!) and ambled into the family room and into a comfy chair across from this image…this year’s tree.  All of which reminded me of how simple it is to change ONE thing…and poof – I gain a bit of perspective.  As Sadie and I sat down this morning, this year’s tree came to life because the hubster knew I’d love it if the timer was set to turn the lights on…not just at dusk but also at dawn…so I could enjoy the lights as I try to get both eyes open.

Here’s to new views…however they come our way…and from me to you…all the best if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or just enjoying the shift in seasons…wherever you are.  Sending hugs…just because…from me, the hubs, Sadie pooch and, of course, the twinkling tree.

Xo,

Vicki ❤😊❤

Let the Sunshine Swivel Your Way

It can be hard to ascertain…how our light and humanity impact others.  Maybe it’s a smile, maybe it’s an unexpected kindness. Simple stuff. Do those little things add up? I think so and I think it’s okay to hope that we’re contributing to a more positive universe when we extend ourselves.  Is it too much to ask – to be ever hopeful that our bits of love and light might turn the tide or balance the challenges in life for someone else?  It’s aspirational, for sure. But we don’t get to follow every trail because doing so would reduce the energy we have to stay in the moment, ready to encourage and support those in front of us…or those we’ve yet to encounter. 

I’m pondering this today because kindnesses which occur in happenstance encounters can be fluid and fast…unlike those we experience in relationships where discernible ripples are more evident, providing opportunities to see the unfolding.  What happens next?  You’re right there, front row and all and it’s a balancing act.  How much do you give without losing yourself in the process?

Someone I care about thought she was being kind-hearted and giving and made a massive sacrifice for someone she loves.  It involved a life-altering cross country move – not just for her partner but for her as well.  Was it a stellar opportunity for the woman she loves?  Yes.  The kind of offer you dare not turn down.  And so, the choices for my friend were few and obvious: Move – go with her partner… OR…stay put and attempt a long-distance relationship…OR…the scariest proposition of all?  End the relationship. She chose to move…but not without substantial heartache and anticipatory stress about sacrificing HER career for her partner’s. 

The move occurred several months ago and despite an ‘eyes wide open’ decision (or so she thought) my dear friend is miserable.  She misses her friends and family and while her partner’s career is soaring, she’s struggling to find work in her field…so much so that she’s picked up some self-soothing habits that are contributing to the demise of their relationship…fueling her passive-aggressive barbs.  She doesn’t want to be angry, but she is, and she knows her target isn’t, truly, her partner.  Nope, she’s the one wearing the bullseye – as a result of her decision to move. 

Maybe this is you…when you’re at your worst (I know it’s a behavior I fall prey to).  Do you keep score? My friend figured her substantial sacrifice earned her a lifetime of grace…you know, those ‘bonus points’ we tally in a relationship as we anoint ourselves with the title ‘consummate giver’.  I’ve earned the right to be a hell-raiser if I want to…except it doesn’t work that way.  She’s not owed anything…she made the choice to move and regrets it now. 

Wanting to be the git-along girl got her into the pickle barrel she’s in and there’s only one way out.  Sooner, not later, she needs to name her frustration and be honest with her partner.  I suspect the smart woman she loves already put the pieces together…people in a pickle can be easy to read…sour, sassy and all.

Me?  I’m the listener, the neutral party trying to help my friend find her way. I think she’s almost there, but the message she needs to receive more than anything is that she’s not a bad person.  Her decision to move came from a caring place and even once all is resolved (one way or another) she can reclaim her sunny side…it’s still there…and it’ll guide her forward.

Course correction is my preferred term for what comes next…as I try to help her move away from her maddening fixation on the word MISTAKE.  It carries a heaviness tinged with failure, like weighted chains.  I have faith in her and believe her hallmark traits of kindness and love will swivel her way – so she’s the intended beneficiary for a change.  No mistakes.  Just a course correction.

Thanks for reading…I’m sending sunshine and smiles your way…soak it up or spread it around. You know best.

Vicki 😊

Ladybugs and Motherhood

There are two women in my world at the moment, one a client, one a friend and both are struggling, and the topic is motherhood.  I’m grateful that my circle of wise women spans a few generations and ages.  Such a gift.  I’ve realized recently that the thread of motherhood – what the identity means for women I love – is rich and varied and often perplexing. Sometimes painful.

Some are in the thick of doing…parenting and balancing all that being a mom entails and others are seeking – wondering if the powerful desire and calling to become a mom will ever occur.  Mixed in? Wonderful women who made peace that motherhood wouldn’t be a facet in the lives – because nature had other plans or due to unpredictable relationships…or…by choice.  I adore a few strong women who always new motherhood wasn’t for them.  I could go down a trail right here, right now about Roe v. Wade, but I won’t.  Just know I believe in choice.  Always.

One woman I care about longs for motherhood and she just experienced a loss, a miscarriage at eleven weeks. And it’s not her first round of grieving…feeling the heaviness of what could have been…this was miscarriage #2 for her.  As she’s navigated the hurdles of infertility like an Olympian, I’ve cheered from the sidelines, wishing I could do more.  She knows my story about pregnancy losses, even though I’ve learned to share selectively…because my story did (and does) have a happy ending.  My path, eventually, resulted in motherhood but mixed in were two losses prior to the DD’s (dear daughter’s) arrival and one after. Just the same, I never suspected I’d be a mom of an ‘only’.  I never imagined that my long-held, expected identity of “mom” might be out of reach.  It nearly was.

I believe the desire to nurture and love, the yearning for motherhood can, and often is, realized in other ways.  Children – whether natural or adopted – are a gift, but the instincts to love other life forms (fur babies especially) or causes – is celebration-worthy, too, as we choose where we focus our heads, hearts – our gifts and attention.  I believe “mothering” morphs in countless caring relationships, – being a wonderful cousin, aunt, uncle, or family member by choice (if not by blood).  What is a family, anyhow?

As an only and coming from a small family, our DD’s circle included dear ones who lovingly accepted the titles of ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ – not because they were card-carrying members of our wacky troupe but because they mattered. No blood oaths and lineage required.  Broadening our circle made ME feel better because I knew, at an early age, that DD longed for siblings.  I can’t offer you that…but let me ensure you’ve got a solid social circle and warmth from our family-by-choice.  Still, she was a smart cookie and wondered when she would become a big sis.

When she was in preschool, even as a four-year old, DD was encouraged to journal.  We loved the Montessori experience for her…our little nugget was writing sentences, albeit simple ones, with loving encouragement from progressive teachers.  Words were her friends – both then and now.

One of her sweet “stories” was about a ladybug (see pic above) and it leveled me.  When I glanced at it for the first time, the heavy rush of emotions drove me to the bathroom at her Montessori school.  I sought privacy and a hiding spot, just in case a full breakdown was in motion.  Thankfully episodes like that didn’t occur often, but when they did, they did, and the ladybug story knocked the wind out of me while simultaneously opening a painful portal. Our wee one was working out her confusion about babies and siblings by writing about a bug.  At four.

I know it might be hard to read the story from the photo, so I’ll add it here – funny spelling and all:

Ones upon a time ther

was a ladybug the ladybug

likes to crawl on

grass and her friends

do to! One day the

Mommy ladybug had a babby the babby was brand new!

And they

love her.

Dear daughter had babies – of all sorts – on the brain. That spring, a few months before she turned five, DD turned up the heat on her investigative super sleuthing – from her car seat perch.  I’d pick her up from Montessori and she’d ask…the whole way home…when her baby brother or sister would arrive.  Like a package. From the UPS man.  She’d watch me closely, eyeing me as I drove, staring at my reflection in the rearview mirror.  “When, mama, when?”, she’d ask. 

I thought it was cute at first and talked to one of her teachers about it, learning that DD loved helping the younger tykes in preschool, forever wandering into the classroom for the smaller kids.  If DD was missing, they knew where to look and if not with the two-year olds, they’d find her sneaking into the ‘baby room’ to giggle and play with the infants.  A little fixated, but harmless.

When the car queries didn’t net the answer DD sought, she began asking at other times.  Especially bedtime, during stories and prayers.  “God bless my baby brother or sister because I know they’re coming soon” she’d whisper, hands folded, eyes closed, except for the side-eye peeking to watch my face.  The hubs and I figured it was a phase and we continued to detour around DD’s one-track baby mind but gosh, the ad libs and improv in her prayers? Precious.

How do you tell a four-year old about miscarriages?  How do you explain there were two losses before she arrived and even after, there was another loss?  The hubster and I knew our third miscarriage put punctuation at the end of our ‘should we try again?’ conversation.  And DD knew, somehow, that asking her papa for info wouldn’t help.  She knew her baby quest was mama territory.

Not long after, I summoned all the mommy courage that I could muster, and decided to cut DD off at the pass, during a car ride home from Montessori.  I liked the idea of DD not seeing me, full-face, for the conversation.  Car convos are so good for that, aren’t they?  Before she could launch into her ritual of… ‘Baby…when?’ I shared I needed to tell her something.  Something very important.  So important that I KNEW she was ready.  She was a big girl and I had “baby” answers for her. 

She was sucking on a ring pop in the back seat.  (I hated those things then…and now.  Like a candy pacifier.  Why? But one of her Montessori friends celebrated his birthday and those were the take-home treats.  Ick.) Putting that wayward thought aside, I said, “Hey, I think you’re ready.  You know, to hear more about baby brothers and sisters.”  We were at a stop light, and I watched as she pulled her ring pop out of her mouth – so quick it almost flew into the front seat.  “Yeah! “DD screamed and then “When, when, when!” 

“Well…” I replied, “You know how Grandpa went to heaven?  It’s like that.  The babies went straight to heaven…and even though we wish they were here with us, God had other plans and it’s okay.”  My hands and lips were trembling, and I wondered if she could see it.  I expected her to ask, “Brothers or sisters?” or respond with anger or frustration or ask if they were sick like grandpa.  Instead, our DD, wise in ways that I can still scarcely fathom, just said this, “Okay.  That’s good that grandpa has company, mama” and she went back to her ring pop.  A minute or so later she asked, “Can we watch Blue’s Clues when we get home?”.  End scene. 

Years later, DD and I have discussed the ‘car talk’ that day.  She remembers parts of it and enjoys the reminiscing about the ladybugs and her baby fixations.  As hard as she pushed to get an answer, once she had one, she moved on.  No more ladybug baby stories, fewer trips into the baby room at Montessori.  How her little girl brain processed what I shared, about babies, heaven – all of that?  I’m not sure but the car ride that day was a mommy moment I’ll never forget.

And for those I care about who are finding their way, moving through losses and questions about identities and what life has in store, I can only share that as much as I’d love to wrap you all up in a loving hug and make your dreams come true, I know I can’t, but I’ll be here in any way I can to provide support and a virtual hug.  Not quite the same, but remarkably satisfying, especially when we know we’re not alone.

Vicki ❤

Frosting with My Morning Coffee…

I’m not an ardent fan of winter…I don’t enjoy snowy sports and I detest driving in the icy conditions that accompany this, my least favorite season.  Still, it sure is pretty, isn’t it?  Especially the first snowfall of the season and the scene I’ve snipped in from our backyard.

For today (and today only – I make no promises about receiving snow with a sunny disposition from this point forward), I’m going to curb my urge to complain and enjoy nature’s frosting.  There IS something magical about the quietness of snow.  It’s as if the world is being hushed, just a tad.  And I love it.

Happy Tuesday…no matter the weather where you are.

Vicki 😊

You Choose…What Matters to You

Einstein

I’m so bummed.  It appears that a quote that I’ve loved for decades is a fraud…at least some think so. 

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

-Albert Einstein

Apparently, Einstein paraphrased or ‘adopted’ language that, at the source, seems attributed, first, to William Bruce Cameron. According to the “Quote Investigator”, Cameron authored a textbook in 1963 with the title “Informal Sociology:  A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking” and within it, sits this passage:

“It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

My noodling got messier.  It seems Cameron himself may have blended two thoughts together, “borrowing” from, potentially, four other thinkers:  Hilliard Jason, Stephen Ross, Lord Platt and George Pickering.

Ruh-roh…that was my first thought.  My second thought?  I knew it!  There was no way Einstein was responsible for one of my all-time favorite quotes.  He was too smart and I’m too…you know, ME…a little dim and definitely not a scientific intellectual.

That quote?  It might’ve been the only pearl attributed to Einstein that I can grasp.  Not because he was lacking in brilliance…no, no…quite the contrary.  The brand of brilliance that I think of when I hear “Einstein” is of the untouchable variety.  Concepts and truths that I’ll admire…from afar, on the other side of a vast intellectual void that separates great minds from my simpler mind. 😉

No, I’m not trolling for a compliment.  I’m just speaking the truth.  I don’t have the bandwidth or capacity to grasp even a smidgen of Albert’s intellect.  Maybe folks who are more science-oriented can connect – approaching status that might be peer-like. In the same gray matter ethos. Not me.  I’ll be the one in the stands with pom pons…expressing gratitude with enthusiasm…borne of admiration, not understanding. 

Why the big dust-up about this quote? The first time I read it, it felt like a heaven-sent message, just for me. And then I thought – Einstein? This meaningful morsel came from Einstein?  I feel a tad vindicated now, because I was skeptical, dubious before – thinking it must’ve been inaccurately attributed to him, simply because it resonated so easily for me, on a soulful level. 

Those fifteen words? Life changing wisdom, if we can let it in.  Years ago, upon discovering the quote, I celebrated — look at me! Inspired by Einstein.  Instead, according to the Quote Investigator, I should direct my admiration toward a hodge-podge of dudes who pilfered a bit, here and there, passing around a couple of cool phrases about “what counts” like a football.  Shame, shame, shame.

Still, I dig the concept – regardless of the hemming and hawing about the origin story. I’m the person who tends to hyper-scan for nastiness…especially behavior that might be a veiled threat, a slight, an emerging insult.  I think it’s related to my past, my childhood and experiencing enough unpleasantness that being on guard and ready to retaliate was a posture I clung to. Longer than I’d like to admit.

Ever evolving, the quote still speaks to me, no matter who the smarty pants author truly is.  Just because I see it, feel it, expect it, dread it, assume it…doesn’t mean I need to attend to IT or even acknowledge IT (whatever the “IT” of the moment is).  Nope.  I can ignore and dismiss, because Einstein (or the other dudes?) was right.  Not everything is worth counting and some of the most important things are entrancing and intangible – so much so that they defy enumeration.  Yep.  I’ll take a tattoo of that, please, to remind me forever.  Like a branding.  Too much? 😉

I’m a gatherer at heart – hungry for all the wisdom I can wrangle (rogue or otherwise) to encourage my selective attention.  I don’t need to acknowledge everything and it’s okay to keep my bumpers on, my buffers up, but my dukes down. Better for all concerned, really.

What “counts” the most?  For me, love, magic wonder.  Sending all of that your way this morning from me…with a little credit to Einstein.

-Vicki ❤

He Wore Pink…

Yep, he wore pink, before it was fashionable…for men of his generation.  My dad grew up at a time when, at least here in the U.S., men tended to wear more muted tones.  Shades of brown, navy, beige and variations, sure, and his closet was a neutral palette.

When life took him to California in the 80’s, he found his vibe…and it was pink.  Rosey tones, corals, blush hues and yep, an occasional floral (gasp!).  Paired with his beloved Birkenstocks, my previously buttoned-up papa (learn more about him – his helping heart AND his fashion sense in this silly post) renewed his soul with color

My mom? She was shocked and referred to him as a ‘show pony’…to which, he’d just smile and say – with a wink: “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.” 😉

That’s my Sunday morning rewind smile – from my Miami Vice wannabe papa, smirking and smiling from behind those shades, just for you.

-Vicki 😊

Forty Years…Plus

Yup.  The hubster and I are officially into our fourth decade…plus a smidge.  Where does the time go?  We met on a snowier-than-normal November evening, as I was stuck in a parking lot with my car battery dying a slow death (due to an interior light being left on for two hours, unbeknownst to me).  Future hubster?  Fresh from a construction job helping his sister build her first home in Alaska, he looked like Paul Bunyan, come to life, saving me and my car that snowy night.  I don’t know if it was the full beard or the plaid flannel and Frankenstein-like hiking boots, but he loomed large – all 6’5” of him, but casting an even more imposing shadow as he stood, backlit with swirling snow and buzzing, blinking overhead parking lot lights. 

The pic of us? It was two years later, celebrating our six-month wedding anniversary. I don’t know if the men in my life will ever understand, but throughout my twenties, thirties…and beyond, every couple of years brought new hair styles. Ladies, are you with me? In the mid-eighties, this particular hairstyle rocked…the punkier and spikier the better. Sometimes my natural color (yep, brown, but I’ve taken to ‘heavy highlights’ for years because being a blondie makes it easier to cover copious grays).  But back then?  I morphed colors every year or so (deep burgundy was a favorite).  Now? Middle age drove me to love a little length and peroxide…and God bless a dear friend who’s done my hair for thirty years…I just let her do her thing.  But enough about Vicki’s hair – that’s not the point. 😉

What IS the point?  Hubs and I have had our ups and downs and challenges.  No doubt…and while plenty of people in our lives have wondered about secrets to relationship longevity, I have no secret sauce. But – I’m forever reminded that little things matter and if left untended, without a bit of nurture, they morph into big thingsStinky things that swell and take over, eclipsing the good stuff. 

Have you heard of the Gottman Institute?  Every now and again their work is highlighted anew, despite the fact that their ‘love lab’ has been featured everywhere – including in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”.  I’m a fan of their quick take podcasts which offer relationship advice and wisdom in nifty, digestible nuggets.  No big commitment – just five minutes or so.  Like a booster shot.

The article I found yesterday pulled a few threads of “Gottman goodness” together into one feature and brought forward one of my favorite practices:  The daily check-in, the lean-in, the connecting – no matter how busy.  Like most things in life that are healthy and wholesome, they’re simple, too. Literally leaning in and being available to your partner – maybe at distinct times during the day and/or remaining open and ready to attend to him/her, as life rolls along? Impactful.  Yes – quick text exchanges “count” and yes, the hollering from another part of the house?  Yeah.  We all do it.  Communication, of a sort, is better than nothing. 

What I love about the article is the research-based reveal that leaning in and having an engaged posture – both physically and emotionally – conveys connection, attachment, LOVE.  Eyes down, multi-tasking and doing the ‘uh-huh’ routine, while our attention drifts ever-elsewhere?  Unavoidable, at times, but the Gottman’s research highlights the importance of fully focusing on our partner, our loved one.  Maybe it’s impossible to do all the time…but doing it, as much as we can?  It matters. 

Long ago the hubs and I established a practice of morning check-ins and hilariously, in our current home we have a wacky little ‘bump out’ off the kitchen. Maybe (and I’m being generous) it’s 7 x 6 foot. Tiny – but ample enough for two of our favorite chairs, positioned so they’re tilted inward, but also face our deck and yard. 

Who loves the space the most?  Given the windows on three sides, our puppy mama Sadie thinks of the space as entirely hers, but she does give way, most mornings, as the hubs and I exchange quick thoughts about the day, what needs to be done, what’s left over from the day before and highlights – what we’re looking forward to and how are we dividing up the never-ending ‘to do’ lists.  Oh – and meal planning.  We love the ’what’s for dinner’ conversation first thing in the morning. 😊

If we miss a day for one reason or another, we’re “off”.  Me? I pick up an edge in my voice, oh-so-easily and become impatient, expecting that the hubs finally – and magically – acquired mind reading skills.  What does he do?  He disengages.  Prone to extreme introversion, he’ll be happy as a clam doing his own thing which is okay for a while…but inevitably, the part of me that’s driven and task-oriented rises, looking for dialogue, which I need more than he does, to navigate the day.

And laughing whenever possible?  Oh, that’s good, too. And…leave it to Lisa, my adorable, savant sister who, despite her disabilities, can be counted on to cut through — to the heart of what matters most.  You see…Lisa loves the little room, too.  She knows the hubs and I adore the nook, but sweet Sadie loves it even more.  When we bought this house Lisa hilariously told her girlfriends that our main reason for buying it was because it had a “tiny sunroom for Sadie and for chit chat”.

Yup.  I guess that says it all.  So, here’s to chit chat and tending to our loved ones, as much as we can, without distraction.  Lean in…just lean in.  If we can wrangle a sunny spot, so much the better.

Vicki 😊

If Houses Could Speak…

I love stories that are ‘unexplainable’.  You?  I’ve never been much for facts, figures, and rational thinking, which explains why any science or math teacher – bless their souls – who encountered me along the way should’ve received combat pay.  It’s not that I don’t accept data and singular answers.  I can, I do.  I just don’t like finite things.  No room for the welcoming cushion of doubt. 

Before your brain wanders, launching a lecture about laws of physics, matter, and the universe itself, let me just ask for your indulgence, for the sake of the story I want to share.  And lest you think of me as a total crackpot, I’ll admit that while I DO appreciate measurement and precision, I prefer to live my life with softer edges, more mystery, less reason. 

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the house that hubster and I bought several years ago.  I’ve shared it’s our ‘fixer upper’ and remodeling is afoot.  Yes, I’ve been a whiner and yes, I’ll survive.  Being privileged enough to own a home and undertake improvements? A blessing and I’m grateful.  Ever grateful. 

Every now and then, a well-meaning friend will ask why we bought a house that, while I touted its ‘great bones’ needed so much work.  Windows?  Yes.  New flooring – everywhere?  Yes.  A new roof?  Yes – and soon (patching only takes you so far).  Yes, there are decorating conundrums, too – things I don’t like that I’d love to focus on first, but functionality always wins in the war between “lovely” and “livable”. 

We didn’t want to buy the house.  We tried to ignore “her” after making her acquaintance on a summer Saturday when an open house sign beckoned.  “Let’s peek”, we said.  So, we did. On a quiet, tree-lined street, we found a brick beauty.  Constructed from something unusual – a type of brick referred to as “reclaimed” or “seconds”, her exterior was nubby with texture, unlike any masonry house I’d ever seen.  Hubster knew the materials.  “These are unusual” he said.  “Can’t find these anymore – look at all the gradations in color, light and dark.” The uneven-ness was captivating.  Some bricks were bumpy and bulging, others smooth and straight.  The overall façade? Georgian-like, I suppose, with the symmetrical window placement.  Windows that cried “Save us…we might look pretty but we don’t open and the house needs to breathe!”

We met the real estate agent, who became a friend.  Oddly, other than one other couple who breezed through, we were the only lookey-loos that day…at the open house that nearly became a sleep over. 

We arrived at 1pm and at 4 o’clock, we were still loitering and wandering – chatting with the realtor, learning about the house, discovering interesting quirks and details…but not everything (as we’d learn much later).  Those three hours felt like, I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes?  We were entranced, yes, but the magnitude of the work loomed large. This stately lady needed deep pockets and our affection alone wouldn’t make her shine. 

Flash-forward just a bit…as a week went by and the agent called, curious if we would put in an offer.  We wanted to, but the push-pull…loving the house, yet forecasting homeowner horror gave us pause. The only prudent path was pitching a low-ball offer…not so low as to offend but informed enough to account for the urgent repairs needed.

Despite our agent’s efforts, the homeowner wouldn’t budge on price.  Okay then – it wasn’t meant to be.  Sad?  Yes.  But the hubs and I felt we made an excellent ‘head over heart’ decision, despite the affection we had for this odd, brick beauty. 

And thenafter six months passed, our realtor friend called again.  “Have you noticed”, she asked “that the price came down – on the house you love?”  Of course, we noticed.  We’d driven by a few times, still processing our decision, noticing the ‘for sale’ sign, still in place.  We noticed the price drops, too.  Not once but twice.  Walking a fine line, our realtor let us know that the owners needed to sell – and soon.  They were carrying two mortgages and regretted not taking our offer from six months prior. 

Now we’re talking, we thoughtThe TLDR version? (Yes, yes, I should’ve offered that option earlier, I get it.) We negotiated our way back to our starting offer, rejected out-of-hand months prior and whittled a few thousand off for good measure.  In the end, a better deal for us.  Not so great for the overextended sellers, but at least they lightened up – one mortgage is plenty. 

Are we happy?  Yes.  We love the house, despite how needy she is.  So, you might be thinking, “Okay then, that’s the story?  You bought your quirky money pit?”  Yes, we did (she said proudly, if not stupidly) but the story – the magical, mystical, “unexplainable”?  Coming up.

We have lovely, charming neighbors.  One couple in particular – let’s call them Art and Caroline – were original owners in the area and knew the family that built our house, about 40 years ago.  Invited to our first neighborhood New Year’s Eve party, we met Art and Caroline (considering that waving from the mailbox doesn’t count as ‘meeting’).  This was actual conversation time, holiday festivities and all. 

The hubster and Art began chatting about how unusual our house is.  Yes, funky brick and all.  “No, no – not just that”, Art said.  “What about all the odd electronics and wiring in the house – especially the basement.  Didn’t you wonder about it, why it was there?”  The hubs was excited now!  His electrical engineering and patent-holder brain kicked into nerdy-nirvana.  “Yes!”  he told Art.  “I worked in engineering – for an electronics company for years and I noticed the wiring in the basement, yes, but it’s throughout the house!  Like I’d done it by myself, for myself, you know, for all of my equipment and the shop in the basement.” 

Art nodded, enjoying hubster’s enthusiasm, and as he leaned forward from his perch on the sofa he added, “Oh, I can see that.  The original owners, Pete and Glenda – they built the house. He was a nutty professor type – maybe like you – and he worked for a big company nearby, also as an engineer.”  Then Art casually mentioned the name of the company.  The same company the hubs worked for as a newbie engineering tech – right out of college. I watched as hubby’s mouth gaped open, finally asking “Wait – the Pete you’re talking about, the first owner, was it Pete Granger? He built our house?”

“Yep” Art said.  “But how did you know Pete?”  As I stood by watching, I added nothing other than my astonished look.  What is happening, I thought?  Just then the hubs grabbed my sleeve and said “Oh my God, oh my God…the first VP of Engineering I ever worked for – it was Pete – Pete Granger.  Vicki – a man I admired so much – he built our house!”

It explained a lot.  All the wacky wiring, for sure, but I’d like to think the house was waiting for new owners who would appreciate, not only her unusual exterior but her purposeful, if not, uncommon wiring.  Hubs and Art continued to chat, swapping stories about Pete.  Hubby knew Pete retired, maybe 25 years earlier.  Art lowered his head a bit and said “Yes, Pete and Glenda moved to Florida, and it nearly killed him to sell the house. We stayed in touch for a few years, but they both died in the early 90’s.  They were great people and I think Pete would love knowing someone who worked for him, back in his hey-day, owns the house now.

We shared the story with our realtor who wasn’t surprised one bit. “Mmm…makes sense”, she said “The house was waiting for you.  Just you.”  Whether true or not, we’re inclined to feel the same and seven years later, we’re still sprucing her up and regret nothing.  Home is home.  And no, Pete and Glenda don’t haunt the house.  Not that we know of anyhow.  Still, their love of the home?  We can feel it, wacky wiring, and all. 

Vicki ❤

Heart Songs

Don’t grieve.  Anything you lose comes round in another form.”

 – Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

You know the old adage, What goes around, comes around”, right?  I love gathering pockets of wisdom which demonstrate just that – karma at work.  I’m a believer but I’m also impatient.  When, exactly, will the reset, the payback, the cosmic correction occur, I wonder? 

As much as I love these notions (they ARE my heart songs) the unpredictability of karmic wonder…my inability to tame and control the flow and natural order, despite my single-mindedness?  Annoying.  I confess it. 

Still, I’m a subscriber.  I’m down to do my part, knowing that my voice and intentionality alone won’t navigate nor drive the bus.  What fills me up while I’m waiting – for goodness to surprise me in fresh forms?  Like-minded caring souls, readers and kind people, just like you.

Here’s to you – and hopeful positivity – always. 

-Vicki 🤍🤍🤍

Good Morning, World!

I love it when sweet messages from my long-departed father nestle into my brain, waiting for me as I rub sleepy eyes first thing in the morning.  That very thing happened a while ago, a powerful remembrance as I stood and stretched, reconnoitering my limbs with my torso before launching into a busy day. 

As I stood and sighed, I looked outside at the brilliant sun, just peeking from behind the trees in our backyard.  I didn’t bother to take a picture – use your imagination. 😉 Reaching for my phone to capture moments?  My reflex… but instead…I just stood at the window, feeling a sense of gratitude…just for morning light.  And that’s when my dad’s voice echoed in my head. 

No matter what was going on in his head/heart/world – and often, life was uber-messy, my papa greeted every morning the same way, no matter the weather or his mood. After his bathroom routine – shave and shower – he’d do a pleased-as-punch commanding loop of the house, declaring “Good Morning, World!”, not caring who was sleeping or waking. 

It was his thing – his ritual – prompting me to pull a pillow over my head as I tried to tune him out. Even so, his ‘seize the day with sunshine’ routine made me smile – every time. Once he’d done his lap, he’d proceed to coffee time and settle in with his newspaper…but never before greeting the day, his way. 

So – from my sweet papa, and I suppose from me, tooGood Morning, World!  Whether your day’s just begun or it’s winding down, thank you for reading and letting me share.

-Vicki 😊

When You Crack Yourself Up: Owie, Owie, Owie Edition

Man with Groucho Marx glasses on

Happy Friday, all!  I can’t help but share one more dear daughter (DD) story as we wrap up the week. Why?  I stumbled upon my ill-fated attempt at a ‘mommy blog’ that I sustained for a couple of years and then, darn it all, I got caught up in who-knows-what and my well-intended effort remained just that.  Good intentions, no persistence.  And yet…as I perused some ancient entries yesterday, there were a few that gave me a giggle, so I thought I’d share one of them.  Here we go…

Even as a tot, our girl was ever perceptive about the unusual behaviors she saw in my mom and sister.  How do you describe to a two-year old that her “Nanny” is an alcoholic with mental health issues and her aunt, my sister Lisa, is different because of her disabilities?  Answer?  You don’t, really, you just move through parenting life, answering questions as they come up.  (The backstory about my sweet sister can be found, in part, here, in my “Loving Lisa” post.)

Me? I was our dear daughter’s dysfunctional family tour guide and while I screwed up plenty (sharing too much, explaining when I didn’t need to) I’m grateful that our now grown girl put it all into perspective, this way:  Families are messy.

The particular messiness that plagued my mom and sister?  Tremendous hypochondria with side orders of other issues. Given the time and distance, I understand, now, how their issues impacted my parenting. How? When DD was small, she had a tendency to take flying leaps out of her crib because she was long-legged and adventurous.  Always trying to normalize, we’d dust her off and move on, not wanting her to fall (wink!) into drama queen territory about bumps and bruises.  “Hey, your dismount wasn’t great, but shake it off.  You’re good – let’s go.”  It sounds like bad parenting when I say it that way, but I wasn’t careless, I just didn’t want her to milk the small stuff.

Why was this on my mind with a two-year old?  It only took one long weekend with my parents – dad, mom, and sister Lisa – for impressionable DD to latch on to bad, bad habits. Funny, now.  Horrifying and embarrassing, then.

Let me set the scene. The hubster and I left DD with my folks and sister for a few hours to do some sightseeing in San Francisco and when we returned, our little one had new favorite catchphrases.  “Shit, shit, shit” and “Owie, owie, owie, you hurt me.” 😕

Seems both mom and Lisa got embroiled in a competition about who hurt the most when they stumbled in the backyard while playing with DD.  Neither one was actually hurt, but because everything ailment-related morphed into a competition for them, our hearty little one found herself confronted with grown-ups wrestling and wailing on the grass because they’d gotten tangled up in a clothesline.  Mom blamed Lisa and Lisa, in turn, blamed mom for their mishap that was truly more hilarious than hurtful.  How do I know?  My dad was nearby and saw mom and Lisa in a brawl, with DD standing by, wide-eyed, taking it all in while sucking on a popsicle. 

Mom screamed, “Shit, shit, shit” to Lisa – mad because her clean laundry got into the fray and was all over the yard. Lisa countered with an infantile wail of, “Owie, owie, owie – you hurt me”.  (Mind you, Lisa was about 37 when this happened, but given her developmental disabilities she was forever an 8-year-old in a grown-up wrapper and reacted accordingly, especially when she was under stress.) 

Dear daughter?  She watched from a comfy perch on a lawn chair, as dad roared in, along with neighbors.  Everyone wanted to see the spectacle, given the high decibel scream fest between mom and Lisa.  Robbery in progress?  Home invasion?  Intruder?  Yes, the police were called, courtesy of ever-anxious and nosy neighbor, Eleanor.  It wasn’t the last time I needed to contextualize a sideshow family drama for our daughter, but I think it was the first biggie. You know, Officer Friendly and all.

For my parenting friends out there…whether you’ve got a toddler now or can remember those days…same for the aunts, uncles and grandparents, tell me this is NOT true:   Once a verbal tyke gets a humdinger of a new phrase locked and loaded, it’s like a permanent implant. 

No, you cannot screamOwie, owie, owie, you hurt me” just for fun…it’s not funny…and same for “shit”. Especially when repeated three times.  Bad words.  NO and No.  DD was smarter than the average bear, then and now, but the more we tried to rid her of the new vocabulary, the more she delighted in screaming each phrase…like a rhythmic chant…for the better part of a four-hour flight home the next day.

At first the ‘shit, shit, shit’ routine was just annoying to the people seated around us but when DD launched into the ‘owie’ song, all eyes were on us…especially the ‘you hurt me’ part.  The more we shushed and walked her up and down the aisle, trying to calm her, the bigger the audience.  Add overtired into the mix and the crying and thrashing that resulted?  I’m sure it DID appear that we were torturing our young-un. 

Still, it’s a fun, ‘crack me up’ memory.  Theatrics and meltdowns and learning to ignore the bystanders.  Keep calm and parent on…and when you can, take the time to look back and chuckle.

Happy Friday!

-Vicki 😉

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Goofy is Good

mom and daughter in pile of leaves

Is “Throw Back Thursday” – TBT – still a thing? I’m not enough of a social media person to know, so forgiveness if this is irksome and outdated…but I couldn’t resist.

The pic is the “DD” dear daughter and myself…taken on this date…gulp…24 years ago.  Sometimes I’m annoyed by the photo reminders that pop up on my phone, but this morning?  Seeing this blast from the past was all treat, no trick.

Our dear daughter needed to wear a hat on this and any other sunny day because she was such a baldy – until her third birthday when tufts of curls arrived. 

On this particular day, I remember my patience was tested – because of the damn hat. We were attempting a last-ditch effort to scoop up the remaining front yard leaves before a big frost and while DD was on board, tiny rake and all, we were delayed by about an hour as we hunted for the particular denim hat you see on her head. 

For reasons that made no sense to anyone but her, it was the ‘leaf hat’ and she needed to wear it for the sum total of ten minutes of yard work.  Less raking, more goofing – but that’s the point, right? A parenting reminder I needed often. Goofing is good. Hmmm…I’m thinking it still applies…advice that goes beyond parenting.

Happy Thursday to you – throw back or otherwise – and join me in finding the lighter side of yourself today, however you can.

-Vicki 😊

Who Needs the Leaves?

sunrise

Nope, not a long post from me on this, the final day of October.

Many of us lament the loss of leaves this time of year. Me, too. And yet…as I mentally prepare for the transition to shorter days, I still welcome the reminders that nature doesn’t quit — offering take-your-breath-away-vignettes, with or without foliage.

That’s how I feel about the sunrise view I’m sharing with you from my backyard. A reminder that tree branches – even without leaves – are stunning, especially with a backdrop of early morning, pink, blue and orange brilliance.

No matter what’s on deck for you today, enjoy it all.

-Vicki ❤

Mom Was in a Mood…

Growing up was choppy, as we moved ten times in twelve years.  I was ever the new girl with the family circus in tow – especially my eccentric, unwell mother intent on masking truth and recreating our family story every time we moved.  Exhausting.  The sparkly highlights, though?  Delightful and insightful comments from sister Lisa – ever ready with spot-on commentary, cutting through the madness.

Me?  I never knew what whoppers Sue/mom would tell as she tried to make fast friends and establish herself in a new town.  Sometimes she’d spin new, fantastic tales in the moment, without warning.  I’d nod and try to play along but it was maddening – this need to do improv with my mom.  Can I see a script in advance, please?

One such whopper came when we house hunted in St. Louis.  Dad was busy at work, but Lisa and I were stuck with Sue and her daily shenanigans as she took the reins house-hunting.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn for a month which seemed luxe, at first.  Then it became hotel hell.

I was 13 and yearned for private time.  As much as I loved Lisa, she was my ever-present shadow and right next to her?  Yep.  Sue.  All day, every day, treating disabled Lisa like a delicate china doll…assuming I might break her. 

The worst accommodations would’ve been if all four of us were piled in one room. Thankfully THAT didn’t happen, but adjoining rooms weren’t as great as they seemed.  Sure, we could close the door in between, but the walls were tissue paper thin, forcing me to unwittingly tune into every phone call Sue made.  Nowhere to hide.

But back to the whopper.  Not the burger – the lie. 😉 In one of her insecurity-driven tirades, Sue harassed the realtor assigned to show us houses. Mercilessly. Dad’s employer suggested a particular agency, but no one realized (except me…I saw this coming…promise I did) that the agent better be a guy.  Or — If the realtor was a woman, she’d better be old and unattractive.  At least more so than Sue. And… heaven help us all, if the designated victim (agent) dared to be a really pretty woman?  Buckle up. Bad moon rising.  Ever insecure, Sue needed to feel a sense of superiority any way she could, lest her paranoia would run amok…resulting in high drama, Sue-style.

Unsurprisingly, Sue sized up the lady agent based on looks alone, even before they met.  The realtor/victim’s name?  Let’s call her Patty.  She left a massive binder at the hotel front desk for Sue to peruse over the weekend and contacted her on Monday to discuss showings. 

Patty should’ve met with Sue face-to-face first, to establish her credibility and catch Sue off guard. But how did she know?  Sue didn’t come with a warning label.  Until first contact, don’t we all assume sanity?  I could see the unfolding…Sue barely flipped through the chubby listing binder because Patty’s 8×10 glossy, glam shot on the cover provoked her, prompting Sue’s insecurities which summoned, ‘You might be prettier, but I’m better in other ways’ nonsense. 

When Sue took on airs, she conjured a strange accent and an awkward, staccato rhythm in her speech.  I heard it from the adjoining room that day, suspecting that fresh-meat-Patty would be in trouble with Sue, one way or another.  How did I know? I saw Patty’s photo, too.  Defenseless Patty was too blonde, too thin, too pretty.  It was just a matter of time.

Despite years of ringside seats for the “Sue show” I always hoped my intuition was wrong.  That day, I listened as Sue spoke in a condescending way to Patty, complaining that ALL of the homes were ‘unsuitable’.  (Maybe she stayed up all night taking a look, but far as I knew, the binder hadn’t been cracked open.  Not even a smidge.) 

Sue continued, complaining that Patty clearly misunderstood the price points, too.  “We’re not looking for shacks…we’re arriving from New Orleans” (but she said it like this:  NEWWW-ORRRR-LEEE-ANNNS adding an extra syllable with her drawn out pronunciation).  Arrogant and loud.  To which, Lisa – ever the savant – just turned the volume up on the TV, saying, “Mom’s in a mood again” as she resumed watching one of her daytime soap operas.  Why couldn’t I be smart like Lisa, I wondered.  Mom’s in a mood.  Move on. 

Anyway…hearing only Sue’s side of the embarrassing conversation, I walked into the adjoining room, doing my best to pantomime my frustration, mouthing “Oh My God” to Sue and throwing the slash the throat signal, hoping she’d knock off the stupid.  It was always a calculated risk, any approach of Sue in a spin-out, but I was mortified and motivated.  Instead of slowing down her rant, I became part of the circus as she brought me into the conversation with Patty, hoping I’d back her up and join the tirade.  Would she never learn? 

Instead, I took the phone from Sue and began an apology to the realtor we’d never meet, this blondie named Patty.  At first, she continued her apology, which is what she tried to express as Sue blustered.  Patty finally stopped and listened as I introduced myself, adding, “No apology necessary.  I’m sorry about my mom.  We’ll get back to you.  It’s been a lot, this whole moving business.”  Patty stammered with relief, “Oh, thank you.  No problem.”

Sue?  I expected a thrashing about taking the phone from her, and/or for apologizing to Patty but instead, she had a phone book in her lap, trying to identify other realtors to work with.  And just like that. End scene.  On to the next…and no, we never met Patty.

When dad was looped in, he said he’d heard about a ‘dust up’ between mom and the realtor.  “Yup, I said.  Too pretty” and he just nodded.  The replacement?  His name was Fred and he must’ve drawn the short straw, but he managed to survive showings with Sue and she gave him glowing reviews.  “Fred the Fantastic” was her nickname for him.  Poor Fred got the job done, and I always wondered if his winks in my direction conveyed more.  I’m betting so.

-Vicki 😉

No Words Needed

black and white photo of many staring

This is a pic of my dad, beyond angry at me for a now-forgotten, teenage transgression. Mom was nearby to catch my look “in reply” and true to form, she was forever camera-ready, eager to capture me at my worst. “I’m saving this…you don’t know how terrible you are.” Sigh. I’d see her mouth move but 90% of the time, I blocked her words. All the better to avoid retaliation…never a good idea with mom. But back to that looook…on dad’s face.

Characteristically when dad’s chin went south, but his gaze remained steady and locked in, I knew I was in big trouble. He wasn’t one to rant and rave (“you-know-who” more than covered that ground). No, he’d simply give that chin down death stare.

Over time, I learned how to silently reply to his piercing, blue-eyed glare. My flippant, I-don’t-give-a-rat’s-patootie look was my best defense, firing back with a chin-up, head tilting retort, as if I had the unlikely assets of tough girl street cred and a posse to prove it:

black and white photo of teen girl staring

Why did I bother? No attempt to challenge his bold, chin-down stoicism diminished the intensity of his ice cold, eyes-only reprimand. He’d hold the look for a moment or two – long enough to ensure “message received” – and then walk away. Done and done.

Oddly, as a very verbal adult, I miss the no-words-required arguments and tussles. Looks alone can convey plenty. Still, once the staring duel was over, I’d add a little huffy breath as he retreated. I wanted to feel victorious, but I knew the truth. Dad was mad, but he moved on, not one to bear grudges.

Why the sharing about staring? Just this – these vintage pics provided an unexpected and potent rewind into family drama, mixed with humor. There is nothing I love more than random AND welcome discoveries…fixing my attention on what matters most.

On a mission, I dove into old bins of family pics this week to fetch snaps for my recent Halloween post and stumbled over these gems. Keepers, especially because these two photos – dad and I engaged in a “you blink first” showdown – fell on the floor FACE UP, as if we were still locked in our standoff. I love that. Found separately, I would’ve skipped right by them, but free-falling out of a box together? They commanded my attention, staring back at me from years past.

So I paused, not caring about the massive mess I created with musty old photos scattered everywhere and I smiled at the pic of my smart papa. Despite my terror teen years, he loved me anyhow, death stare and all. Looking back, I think he knew I couldn’t withstand HIS verbal tirades, in addition to mom’s frequent rants, so he balanced his delivery by going ‘eyes only’. Well, eyes and that chin.

Vicki 😊

Loving her anyway…

She didn’t intend to be a hoarder, it just happened.  Years of abuse and neglect and deeply embedded loneliness?  I can see how ‘things’ became ever-so-much safer than people.  The humans were indifferent, unpredictable, self-serving, and dismissive of a little girl shoved into adulthood too soon. 

The motivation to accumulate and gather in excess?  Possessions, while lousy conversationalists, provided a twisted sense of comfort.  Not quite the loving embrace that a child deserves, but when you hurt, you improvise.  Work with what you have to seek nurture and love.

I have more compassion for mom now – nestled in my heart with a few regrets about not being kinder, not looking past her maddening behaviors to see the source.  If there’s one standout gift that comes with aging, it’s this:  I’m learning to address my own hurt, especially the slights – large and small – in order to look beyond, to better understand.  Time helps.  Maybe I needed seven years of introspection following her death to look back with softer eyes. 

She didn’t intend to be a hoarder, it just happened.  No, she wasn’t as out of control as the sweet, damaged souls on the show “Hoarders”.  On top of all the other secrets and lies that comprised the web of her life, she cloaked her hoarding tendencies, too, as much as possible.  Mom knew she needed to keep ‘appearances up’ to avoid detection…so unless you lived in the house with her or you were a close friend who liked to snoop, her compulsion could go undetected. 

How?  I think it was her pervasive scarcity mindset.  As a child of poverty, she was perpetually hungry.  As a kid, food was scarce and rather than feed herself, she’d squirrel away what she could to share with her siblings.  Secrets and lies about food led to eating disorders later, but her tendency toward hoarding and hiding, generally?  Food came first, as a result of her father’s death and her mom’s inability to cope.

Later, her need to over-purchase home goods – towels, sheets, cooking equipment, gaudy décor – came from a compulsion to create a happy home.  A home containing the things she fundamentally lacked as a kid.  As a result, every closet, pantry, nook, and cranny was overstuffed.  And oddly.  Her shopping addictions pushed her to use unusual hiding places and some were laugh-out-loud funny. 

Example?  I have no clue why, but this morning I recalled one of her wackier ‘episodes’.  The time she got caught shoving a slew of fancy tablecloths and napkins from Neiman Marcus into one of dad’s golf bags.  She didn’t realize it wasn’t his ‘old’ bag…just the one that was empty because he was cleaning his clubs. Ohhh…this is why mom was so maddening.  Her peccadilloes and crazy behavior were very often the stuff of sitcoms. 

Imprints from childhood reverberate into adulthood.  Never truer than with my mom…to know her was to love AND hate her and while I’ve carried those dueling emotions around for decades, this morning I was tickled to have a softer memory of her, recalling her silly side.

Take care…join me in seeing the softer sides when you can.

Vicki ❤

C’mon…We Can Do This…

At this very moment there are two women I care about who’ve been to hell and back over the past few weeks.  So much so that I’m almost ashamed to be female. I’d like to disown my gender, my card-carrying identities of “mom”, “friend”, “partner”, “helper”.  These examples of disheartening, mean spirited behavior, in pursuit of achievement, attention, accolades?  All-time lows and I’ve lived a lot, seen a lot. I don’t get it.

If I have a core value in my blood, it’s something like: Better Together – Always.  Sure, I’m a fan of recognizing unique gifts and contributions.  Absolutely!  What I can’t abide is blatant backstabbing and rumor mongering. 

I know duplicitous behavior isn’t unique to women-on-women rivalry – it’s an unfortunate by product of competitiveness run amok between men and women, too, but what happened to the sisterhood?  I benefited from it thanks to sage and patient mentors and peers who demonstrated inclusiveness – not just individual success.   

At the end of every day, I have a meditative moment or two where I take stock of the day that was. Most days, my rewind reel is loaded with a-ha’s about missed opportunities, things I could’ve done better.  But mixed in, every day, there are meaningful moments where I either received grace and kindness or had an opportunity to offer the same. 

During my reflective time recently, I’ve been heavy-hearted – wishing I could mend the damage that I see women/sisters inflicting on each other.  The pettiness and the recurrent waves of tactical pot-shots, reputation ruining malfeasance?  Far too frequent for this woman who believes in goodness. Did the pandemic fracture workplaces that much?  I feel like it’s masks off and gloves on.  Be prepared to have your ‘dukes’ up and heaven help you if are TOO talented.  I might need to take you down a notch or two, one way or another.

I’m not alone. There’s some comfort in that. Mikaela Kiner, Founder and CEO of Reverb Consulting offers this:

We often talk about the importance of sisterhood, but there’s a dark side of women working together that we don’t talk about nearly enough, and that’s female rivalry. I heard stories of female bosses sabotaging their direct reports, peers gossiping about and excluding their coworkers, and women including those in HR dismissing other women’s complaints of harassment and discrimination.” 

The worst of it, given the stories from the two wounded women I know, is the loss of trust.  Both are caring souls, by nature, but the deluge of gossip, manipulation and double-speak they’ve endured was eye-opening, and damaging for both.  They’re now learning how to build protective barriers, and will likely engage less with co-workers, at least for a while.  Are you friend or foe?  Enemy or ‘frenemy’?  Some might say, ah…such is life.  I don’t disagree, but still.  These are hard lessons to learn.  When boiled down, the message both women now carry is this:   Be more closed than open and ‘side eye’ might save you. 

And yet…just when I need it the most, I often find a morsel of light.  I needed it this time because the cynic in me was rising and I hate that.  Adam Grant – my favorite organizational psychologist came to my rescue.  Grant’s recent TED podcast about rivalry and competition has THE most heart-warming reminder of the ‘better together’ philosophy – this time in the form of a fabulous story about two female marathon runners.  The whole podcast is a delight – food for the soul – but if you only have a few minutes to check out the mood boosting tale of Amy and Shalane at the beginning, I promise it won’t disappoint.

Here’s to doing better…together.

-Vicki ❤

Darkness & Light

black and white photo of sunrise

Of all the thought-provoking quotes from Carl Jung, the one that I connect with on a heart level is this:

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”

You might be thinking, “Hmm…a little somber and sobering, Vicki, not exactly the bright-and-shiny-uplifting quote I was hoping for.”  Stick with me for a minute, okay? 

Jung’s bluntness is liberating.  It’s how I felt, many years ago when I read the quote for the first time. Especially when served up with Nietzsche’s resilience-boosting “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” What a one-two punch – calling in the cavalry to normalize pain – and darkness – as natural and normal parts of the human experience. Mix in the anthem version courtesy of Kelly Clarkson, reminding us to be “Stronger”?  YES!  Who needs a superhero cape? You’ve got this – whatever IT is.

But why are we calling in the cavalry?  Because the incessant ebb and flow –  dark and light, good and bad – roll in, often without heralding or warning.  They just arrive and when they do, other lived experiences ride along, filling in the landscape of our lives.  I call these feelings “the familiars” – the amalgamations of joy mixed with ever-lingering pain points.  What helps? Having a soulful sherpa in your corner, someone who’s navigated the shadow scape of light and dark…which brings me to Jody.

Jody” (not his real name) was a client, years ago who experienced plenty of unwelcome ‘familiars’ in the form of a horrific collapse in parenting.  He was closed off in our sessions, at first.  Unable to disclose much other than his three-word description of his childhood, which he referred to as the “Triple A’s”: Alcohol, Abuse and Addiction. 

Jody’s two pervasive emotions?  Pain and shame and lots of both.  Despite his academic ability, his pronounced low self-esteem and identity issues held him back, making him feel unworthy.  His self-sabotage skills were epic, and he knew it.  Jody was a master manipulator, unsuccessfully trying therapy more than once (twice as a court-ordered stipulation and once to keep himself from being booted out of college).  I enjoyed working with him, but every bit of our dance was a push-pull challenge.  But still, we danced – he showed up and as much as I hate this therapeutic phrase, he ‘did the work’. I was just the sherpa.

And then he moved on…and I didn’t hear from him for a couple of years, until last week when he reached out, asking if I’d be a reference for him and if I’d write a fresh letter of recommendation.  “Yes of course”, I said and then we got to the important business of catching up.

Jody shared that he was offered a position to lead a humanitarian aid team in rescue and recovery efforts in disaster zones, worldwide.  I felt a warm rush of emotion – a mix akin to proud parent and coach – as he described his current role, and the elevated position he’s seeking. 

Jody summarized his recent accomplishments – completing his master’s degree and joyously sharing that he’s in a committed relationship.  “I found someone loving and kind” he said, “For the first time in my life”.  All of this was terrific news and just as I expected the call to wrap up, Jody said this: 

“I never knew your story, Vicki, whatever it was that made you THE ONE who got to me, but I figured it came from some pain of your own.  I decided that’s where deep empathy comes from. People who’ve seen the dark and know how to find the light.”

Jody explained he found his ‘calling’ and knew helping others – especially in the face of natural disasters – was his purpose.  I know those are just words on a screen as you’re reading this – Jody sharing that he found his place and purpose – but believe me, the weight of it as he spoke was substantial, in the best possible way. As soon as the call ended, I was a teary, wet mess, needing a ton of tissues while I searched for the Jung quote, wanting to recall it more clearly. 

Jody was right.  Maybe my own pain helped in the development of empathy, but I remembered my other reaction to Jung’s quote. Maybe he simply meant this – those who’ve experienced darkness have special skills in sniffing out shade from others. 

Ah yes…I connect with that morsel of Jungian wisdom, too, and it explains why the quote stuck with me for years.  It’s pretty accurate, given the plague of half-truths, out-and-out lies, and bold indifference I tolerated as a kid.  I can smell bullshit and baloney a mile away.  But those are “Vicki tales” for another day.   

For now, three cheers for Jody – and to all who seek resilience and light. And if you have three minutes, let Kelly Clarkson do her thing and listen to “Stronger”. It might be ten years old and ‘dated’ at this point, but it’s a keeper. I promise.

-Vicki ❤

Be the One

I had one of those quintessential, odd Vicki experiences yesterday.  It’s been a while since a wave caught me off guard and I’m not sure I want to write about it, but I’ll get the story rolling, take a look back and assess how it might sound to those of you reading and then decide if it’s fit for sharing.  You’ll understand when I explain. 

On one hand I don’t want to freak anyone out or contribute further to growing notions that ‘this Vicki chick is a major oddball’.  But…on the other hand, speaking my truth is one of my core beliefs.  Still, I don’t like laying down the ‘deets’ unless I’m fairly sure I can do so without stressing anyone out.  I’ve learned.  Sometimes it’s better to button up.   So…let’s see what happens as I rewind and share.

We have a tradition for hubby’s birthday – a major pizza feast at his favorite deep dish Italian place.  He and sweet sister Lisa share the same pick and years ago, it became the ‘birthday place’ – their restaurant of choice – and we’re hot dog happy that we can celebrate by EATING IN at long last.  Two years plus of take-out only for birthdays was tough on darling, disabled Lisa.  She understood why, but still.  It’s not the same. (And as an aside, but an important one, love and support to all who work – not just in health care – but in restaurants and service industries, generally, so ravaged by Covid.  Sending love, just because.)

Back to hubster and Lisa…oh my goodness…those two can chow on fried calamari like it’s candy.  Me?  Not a chance.  The aroma alone is a stomach swirler.  Yuck.  But I get it – they love it and dig in happily and heavily, enjoying their greasy, circular swirls of fishy-ness as I slurp my soup.  What’s better than a well-crafted bowl of minestrone, I say.  Especially when the second act, the entrée, is a pizza that requires weight-lifting skills.  Cast iron skillet and all, it’s a heavy hitter and we love it. 

But the food’s not the story.  Anastasia is.  She was our server and I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew her – and she knew me.  When she approached our table, we locked eyes and she stammered as she greeted us and introduced herself.  She gave hubs and Lisa a quick look in her greeting, but her gaze rested on me and I have to admit, I was doing the same. 

That ‘wave’ I mentioned?  It’s an overwhelming feeling I get when I’m picking up SOMETHING I can’t compute.  It’s a rush of input with nowhere to go.  When Anastasia shared her name, I thought, “Of course you’re Anastasia and you go by Stace.  Hello there” and I swear she replied affirmatively, with her smile. Unspokens.  And it freaked both of us out. She started rapid blinking, futzing with her pen and then a nervous grin – a smile so broad, it conveyed familiarity, warmth, and recognition.  But of what? 

I guessed she was an early 30-something.  Maybe she was a former client?  Former student? Daughter of a colleague?  The entire time she stood by, taking our order, I racked my brain to sift through connections. I knew her and I could feel her thinking the same. 

As a result, the whole ordering business was awkward as we sized each other up.  Stace, by drumming her pen on her chin with her head cocked to the side. Thinking. As she listened to hubster’s rundown of our gluttonous order, she made notes but punctuated the process with eyes back and forth to me, and then an apology for being slow to get our drinks.  Why?  I think it was because her brain/head/heart – and mine – were preoccupied – doing the same thing.  I know YOU and it’s a good connection – but what is it? 

It wasn’t fear – or the geez, I want to run and hide from you vibe.  I know that – like the time I was at the mall buying underwear and the 17-year-old ringing up my purchase was a young man I’d counseled.  I knew far too much about him to reduce the embarrassment – for both of us.  Not the person I wanted checking out my choice of skivvies, ya know?  His red cheeks conveyed the same.

No, Stace’s ‘wave’ was something else and we both knew it but the extra quirkiness was this:  Under any other circumstance, I’d just call the question.  “Hey – you look sooo familiar.  I feel like I know you!”.  But not this time.  Something held me back and I could see relief in her face when she returned with the smelly calamari and my soup.  She still smiled, but it was different.  It was relief. 

When the time came to settle up, she apologized again and thanked us for our kindness and patience. Hmmm….it didn’t register as weird or overly familiar to hubs or Lisa but I got the message as she focused on me.  Stace continued and said she’d been away from her job for months due to an illness but was grateful that her first table back…on her first shift back…was full of nice folks. Us.

At this point I’m thinking, good enough.  We’ll let this rest and I smiled back.  With hubs and Lisa nodding, I said “Our pleasure – lunch was terrific – and all the best as you get back into the swing of things at work.”  It seemed like the right thing to do, given what she shared.  No probing.  Let it rest.  And then this:  She had tears in her eyes.  Just like I do – right now as I type this.  “That means a lot”, Stace said, “You have no idea.”

As we packed up our leftovers to go, Lisa needed a pit stop before heading to the car.  I walked her to the ladies’ room, passing Stace on the way.  You know that moment when you feel compelled to offer a hug, but you’re not sure about reciprocation, welcomeness?  There was none of that with Stace.  She leaned forward just as I did and with a quick embrace and a reminder from me to her to take care, the wave was over.  Whatever it was.

In the car, ever-perceptive Lisa said this: “Vicki, isn’t it fun sometimes how you meet people and they’re like friends?”  Yes”, I replied.  “It’s funny and magical and a good reminder of how important it is to take care of one another with kindness.”  The hubster?  Long ago he became accustomed to the randomness of life with Vicki – ‘in the wild’.  “People find you”, he says.  “They just do.” 

From me to you – happy Monday – as I send universal goodness your way.  Maybe you’ll be the one someone needs to find today.  Maybe you’re the one who needs to be found.  Either way, I’m sending love.

Vicki ❤

Photo by Kevin Malik on Pexels.com

One Foot…in Front of the Other

little boy walking

Beginnings, middles and ends….they’re the milestones we navigate every day, in ways both large and small.  Are you like me?  The Muddling Middle is Maddening….even though I know I must traverse the sloppiness to get to the finish line.  I know it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.  Nope. 

The Middle can be oh-so-messy.  The voices that ask, ‘Are you sure?’ Or, as if they see the destination and have reconnaissance I lack, they whisper: ‘It’s not too late to turn back’.  Having the confidence and poise to stay the course, while muddling in the Middle takes resolve. 

And I’m not just mulling over the BIG DECISIONS in life.  The biggies command our attention and one way or another, we decide with intention, or indifference as we choose to slow down, set sail or retreat.    

But alongside the biggies sit the littles – the everyday events, tasks, conundrums, and relationships – that we massage and manage.  Dutifully, we navigate the littles; the individual arcs, the blips and bumps, and hopefully triumphs, too.  Such is life, the mundane and routine riding along with the blasted big stuff.  

In the cycle of “BMEs” – beginnings, middles, and ends – I’m most often mired in the Middle because of my nature – I want to influence the unfolding with eyes planted on the destination.  I know I’m not unique.  The predictable outcomes, the ‘sure things’ give me peace but they’re harder and harder to come by as age and experience season us.  We learn to prepare ourselves for disappointment.

All of this may sound a little sobering, but I’m in a pondering frame of mind for a reason. Someone I care about is laboring in the Middle right now and he’s hurting.  His resources include patience, but it’s waning, along with his confidence.  I’ve offered what guidance I can, as well as my shoulder to lean on, but I wish my shoulder was heftier, more formidable. I wish I could do more. I wish I could be a better champion and tease out a conclusion for him – an ending point – some sort of punctuation.  I want to lighten the hold that his Middle malaise has on him. Provide relief.

The MIDDLE isn’t a villain, really and it doesn’t mean to conjure anxiety.  It just does – as the holder of menacing ‘what ifs’.  Those dreaded doubts. They create shadows masking the glimmers of hopeful light. Like summer fireflies, the glimmers ARE there – but harder to detect.  Or is it the fear of having hope?  If I greet this sweet elusive light, might it run from me and retreat into the shadows?

But move we must, and this is what I tell my friend. Don’t languish in the Middle.  As the finish line and destination appear, remember that invariably, a new path, a fresh beginning is likely there as well.  And he’s in charge.  Want to loop back?  Do it.  Forge a trail that may be both new and unfamiliar? You can. Just remember to pack well, carrying more confidence than doubt and consider heeding the sweet advice from Tom Hiddleston:

“You never know what’s around the corner.  It could be everything.  Or it could be nothing.  You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.”

One foot in front of the other, indeed.

Vicki ❤

Be More than Mona

Mona Lisa
Hello, Mona!

Do you know someone who is ‘read’ by strangers as safe?  Oozing a vibe that says “Yes, I can be your port in a storm”?  I don’t know if it’s cosmic energy or something equally mystical but I’m often that person.  You, too? The one who’s instinctively leaned on? 

Before you say ‘Hey that’s a great quality’ let me share that I often think, at least in my case, it’s misplaced trust.  I can be a nasty gal; grumpy and crabby and although I try not to sneer and cackle at strangers (I save that for friends and family – LOL!) I’ve always wondered why me?

I think I figured it out.  Do you know about the Duchenne smile?  I was clueless until a professor laid it on me in grad school.  Evaluating my technique as a therapist-in-training I received plenty of unwelcome feedback (You ask too many leading questions…You need to become more comfortable with silence).  Those were the most frequent critiques.  But when he offered ‘Hmmmm…Duchenne smile’ as stoic three-word commentary, it was a head-scratcher. Huh? Doo-whooo?

Maybe you’re more informed than I was. I was annoyed that I needed to look up this Doo-sHEN dude to understand the point my professor was trying to make.  Sheesh. It would’ve been easier if he’d just said, ‘You stink’.  But spewing a reference to a type of smile?  Throwing me off track, buddy.  His delivery was that emotionless and monotone. 

And so, I learned about Guillaume Duchenne and immediately regretted my caustic thoughts about my well-intending professor.  Turns out, the whole “Duchenne” thing was a compliment.  Yep – Guillaume Duchenne, scientist from two centuries ago was hell bent on mapping the human body and understanding musculature and movement – especially related to facial expressions.  His work, while ground-breaking, was also the stuff of nightmares (Happy Halloween!) because he experimented mostly on decapitated heads.  Ick. 

Despite his morbid methods, Guillaume was a pioneer, documenting the importance of the eyes in determining what’s most genuine in a smile.  Eyes engaged and crinkled?  Eureka! That’s an authentic, Duchenne smile.  Smiles that are more controlled, show less engagement of the facial muscles? Indicative of less authenticity, more reserved.  Now I understand.  The most famous example of all, is Mona Lisa’s non-Duchennian smile. 

So, to hell with the crows feet and wrinkles, bust out your big grins and smile, people!  Those half-hearted, staged-looking pouts are the stuff of indulgent selfies.  Not real life.

Why is this on my mind? Masks and Covid made connecting so much harder.  All the more reason to lean into the Duchenne smile, I say.  Maybe that’s why random people seek some of us out for assistance. Authenticity for the win! 😊

Me? Left to my own devices and tendencies, I navigate the world with a grin and open body language – just because.  I’m the one who greets people first with a ‘good morning’ or a hello.  Especially during the pandemic when my smiles (Duchenne or not) were hidden.  All the more important to get my crinkle on and “show” I was smiling, with my eyes.  Mask or no mask now, I think I’ll keep Duchenne-ing.

-Vicki 😉

Know Better, Do Better

moccasins
Dear daughter’s moccasins

At first, I celebrated – having solved the decades-long mystery of the ‘missing moccasins’.  Our sweet (and now grown) daughter had a wardrobe of tiny Minnetonka Moccasins from the moment she was born until she was about five years old. 

The pair in the pic surfaced recently during a garage clean out.  Hubby found them in an old milk crate, which left us both scratching our heads and mumbling ‘why’?  The answer came…but it took a bit of additional digging as we also found old rags and an actual SpongeBob sponge.  Ahh…this was dear daughter’s stash.  The things she used when she **helped** her papa wash the car.  Good memories and it explained why the moccasins were in the crate.  Yep – and I remember routinely shrieking from the kitchen window “take your shoes off!”. 😉

My in-laws were long time summer travelers to the Upper Penninsula in Michigan and one of their favorite, annual rituals involved stopping at a roadside Minnetonka store to buy fresh mocs for vacation. 

When dear daughter’s moccasins resurfaced, it was exciting and fun.  Like an archaeological dig in our own space.  (Which is another good blog topic, generally, but beyond what I’m sharing here.) Fun at first and then the wave of recognition came.

I remembered an article from a year or so ago, involving moccasin maker Minnetonka apologizing for their longstanding cultural appropriation-as-business-model.  I searched for it and found it – see here. Sobering but progress often is. 

It’s only been a year since President Biden’s Proclamation on Indigenous People’s Day which stated, in part:

The contributions that Indigenous peoples have made throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our Nation, our culture, and our society.

Recognizing privilege is a good first step and while I’m still grateful that we found our daughter’s last pair of moccasins, they carry wistful feelings of regret, too.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the U.S. is coming up on October 10.  As a girl who grew up celebrating Columbus Day and her Italian roots, I’m reminded of how essential it is to be open, to evolve.    No matter your political points of view, the humanity of designating a day to honor those who were here first matters. 

Know better, do better. 

-Vicki ❤

CSI: Lisa

girl in McDonald's uniform
Lisa: Her first job at McDonald’s

Sweet sister Lisa had terrific news this week!  Intellectually disabled Lisa is a marvel, despite her developmental delays and challenges.  (Read about her here to learn more.)

The pandemic thinned out vocational opportunities for lovelies like Lisa.  Despite the excellent work of her team of job coaches and social workers, it’s not easy to support disabled adults with a variety of intellectual and physical obstacles.

Lisa had a job, prior to the pandemic, doing piece work for a family-owned manufacturing company.  She loved it – they loved her – and although packing boxes of screws, weighing them and sorting them wasn’t an aspiration of hers, the point was productivity and providing Lisa with an opportunity to work in the community. (No job would ever compare with her FIRST job, however, when she worked at McDonald’s as a teenager. 😉 Free fries for the win, right?)

When the screw-sorting job ended, Lisa was bereft.  So sad and yet she understood it wasn’t her fault.  The company needed to trim their workforce and Lisa, along with two of her similarly disabled friends lost their jobs in the process. 

But this week?  Great news!  One of Lisa’s job coaches found a new gig for her – at a recycling company willing to do the good work of hiring Lisa, and her friend Albert.  This makes my heart sing.  Companies can easily dismiss hiring the disabled – view Lisa and Albert as ‘less than’ or unemployable.   

The company’s trusting heart and their willingness to listen to the job coaches who are angels AND champions made all of it come together.  Except for one, slightly funny Lisa-centric thing that everyone missed.  A smile is coming.  I promise.

Lisa LOVES all of the murder shows on TV. You know – CSI and NCIS whatever, whatever.  Law and Order this and that. I’ve never understood the appeal of “entertainment” that begins with dead bodies, and I’ve made my opinion clear.  Hubby, however?  He and Lisa share a bond here.  They DO on occasion, discuss other topics, but their conversations are typically peppered with ‘shop talk’ about the whodunits, etc. etc.  While they chat, I nod off or leave the room. 

What’s a common denominator in these shows – other than the aforementioned, requisite bloody corpse in every opening montage?  Yep.  Fingerprinting the ‘perp’, once captured.  In the old, old days, some of us geezers would throw the phrase, “Book ‘em, Danno” but for the youngsters reading, I’ll just apologize for the outdated reference.  Look it up, though, okay? 😉

As Lisa’s team prepped her for the transition to her new job – orientation, taking a tour, etc. – a passing reference was made to other milestones:  getting an official photo ID/badge and FINGERPRINTING

Alert! Alert! Alert!  Lisa’s savvy enough, sometimes, to catch herself before becoming volcanic.  This is a good thing – progress for Lisa who was plagued for decades by seizures triggered by emotional stress.   Afraid to clarify with her job coach, she said she needed to go to the bathroom – urgently – and called me in a full-on panic.  “I’ve done something wrong. I’m getting FINGERPRINTED.  I thought I had the job.  But maybe I messed up and I’m going to jail?”  Ah – hello, crime shows. 

For the love of Lisa.  Despite the kindness and care from her job coach and team, only someone with years of experience in Lisa-land would know what a passing reference to ‘fingerprinting’ might conjure up for her.  I’m glad I took Lisa’s call when it came.  Once I understood the problem, I simply said, “Oh – no.  This isn’t a CSI-Lisa thing.  It’s just part of hiring you.  You’re not in trouble.  Promise.”  Not missing a beat, Lisa said, “That’s good.  Thanks, Vicki.  I wondered if you’d bail me out.”

See me smiling? 😊 I love Lisa.

-Vicki ❤

Like a Rainbow

love

I had a friend for a year, but I never knew her real name.  She said, after several months of touch-and-go, trepidatious encounters, “You can call me Gwen.”

Good enough, I thought.  I met her on campus.  She had a routine of visiting the piano practice rooms, in a deserted hallway adjacent to the music dept.  The seldom-used side entrance made it easy for her to slide in, unnoticed.

Even so, “Gwen” was well-known as the 60-something “sweater lady”. Out of necessity, her warmest clothes were always worn layer, on top of layer. Handcrafted and stunning, I eventually learned she was a knitter and couldn’t bear to part with her creations.  Needing to keep her small cart free for other possessions, her prized loopy cardigans and pullovers became her uniform.  She was a kaleidoscope; every shade of rich purple, pink, saturated yellows and greens were presented in her magnificent knitwear.  Maybe more of a rainbow, actually.

For several weeks, Gwen didn’t make eye contact.  She wore a wide-brimmed canvas hat that was easily situated to mask her eyes if she wanted to be incognito.  Hard to be stealth, given her colorful attire – hat or no hat – but you get the picture.  She’d wheel in her rickety wire cart, head down, and roll toward a practice room.  Every Mon, Wed and Fri, just after the bus dropped off students by the quad.  Around 11:30 am.

Campus police knew Gwen well, offering her rides to shelters and a few of us in the counseling area were consulted to see if we could ‘reach her’ and help her find temporary housing, or services of any sort.  She’d nod when someone spoke to her directly, but still with her head down, she’d typically respond: “Thank you kindly. I’m just here to play piano.”  Technically, she wasn’t a student, but my kind colleagues in the police department were the best.  They knew when to look the other way – quite literally – but they also knew I was keeping an eye on Gwen.

We worried she would fall, especially when the weather cooled, and snow arrived. (I know, I know – liability issues.  Be risk-averse, Vicki…but still…she just wanted to play piano for an hour in an empty practice room.  No skin off anyone’s nose. Judgment call on my part.)

Why the falling concerns?  Gwen limped and we supposed it was arthritis or maybe bad footwear?  She wore boots year-round, even on 90-degree days, and they were wildly mismatched, contributing to an off-kilter gait.  The boot on her right foot was a suede-looking brown Ugg style but the mod, floral rainboot on her left foot was entirely different.  Black and knee-high, bursting with color.

After a few weeks, Gwen became accustomed to seeing me in the music wing, around the time she’d arrive.  I’d eat my lunch in the hallway on those days and eventually, I convinced her that I had a chronic problem of over-estimating my own appetite in order to offer her a sandwich and an apple, while preserving her dignity.

Every offer of transport to a shelter or inquiries about food pantries was always met with a ‘thank you kindly but no’ but when I realized a sharing of food, a literal breaking bread with me, was met with ‘Sure, it shouldn’t go to waste’ I knew I’d found an opening.

Gwen was homeless – by choice.  The unfolding of her story was slow, but I learned she was a widow and through a horrible, awful, terrible life twist, her husband died unexpectedly and left her with a mountain of gambling debt. Gwen never worked outside the home. As a classically trained pianist, she always imagined a role, one day, as a teacher – not a performer – and the loss of her husband, her house, her possessions (including her beloved piano) were life blows she couldn’t recover from.  At least not in the way most of us think of recovery.

For Gwen, moving from one shelter to another and/or bunking with her grown children (when she could stand them, she said) was okay.  She didn’t want to be attached to things, people, or stuff.  She valued her sweaters, her music, and the rest of it?  Worries that others tried to place upon her.

Gwen had her script.  The one she used when we, the well-intended, tried to intervene:

  “I know you’re all trying to help.  I know I’m different but I’m okay.  I choose this.  My days are full and I’m not sad.”

Still, I felt I made progress with her, building trust slowly.  Gwen finally agreed to meet with my friend Maggie who worked at a local women’s shelter that was well-resourced, both from a housing and social services perspective.  Maggie joined us on the phone multiple times so Gwen could get a ‘read’ of her — confirm she wasn’t someone who would force Gwen into something she didn’t want.  “A look-see” Gwen said.  “That’s all.”  That was the last time I had contact with Gwen, that cold February day three years ago when she begrudgingly agreed to ride-share her way to a meeting with Maggie.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, unfinished business haunts me, in the form of people who’ve crossed my path.  They flood my head and heart. Where are they now?  It’s an occupational hazard for helping folks and I get that.  When I woke yesterday, I was unprepared for the wave of Gwen that greeted me.  Does this happen to you?  People you care about just popping in? Why, I wondered? 

Maybe it’s just this:  Gwen’s story is unfinished and some of you know I hate that.  Ever hopeful that closure will come, one way or another, no matter the issue, challenge, or dilemma. Maybe Gwen was on my mind because we’re headed into winter here in the Midwest? Tough times for those who face housing insecurity.  

As I sat with my cup of tea yesterday, unable to answer my own questions, I allowed myself to remember Gwen.  Remember how charming and talented she was, despite her circumstance and fragility. 

No – she never made it to her appointment with Maggie.   In the years since, anytime I check-in with Maggie, she knows I’m going to ask: “Any sign of Gwen?”.  ‘Not yet’, she says. Wherever Gwen is, I hope she’s wearing her rainbow of sweaters and her fingers are either knitting or they’re on a keyboard.

-Vicki ❤

She Was a Pretty House…

I don’t know if my love of Queen Anne architecture is a nod to nostalgia or something else.  Like many things in my life, design-wise, I don’t question it.  It just IS.

Back a few generations, this stately home was built by my husband’s family, right around the turn of the century…I mean the last century…1900:

queen anne style home

My mother-in-law grew up there and on occasion, she would share sweet stories about secret rooms, hidden stairwells.  Not in a spooky way, more of an old houses have history and reflect their owners/builders way.

She’s still standing, this queenly residence, and is often featured, especially this time of year, in seasonal newspaper and magazine stories about autumn.  She was a pretty house. 

Yet I never knew she was technically a ‘tower’ Queen Anne style.  Interesting.  Learning about that helps to bring the memory of my mom-in-law close.  Little nuggets do that for me. 😊

Now?   She’s been subdivided into apartments.  We’re not sure what that’s like but we’re not altogether angry about it.  The house fell out of family hands in the 60’s so it hasn’t been “ours” for a very long time.  Still, we wonder if the developer kept as much of the interior as possible and wonder, if the secret staircases and tucked-away attic rooms, upon discovery, were kept or swept away.  I imagine the latter, for practicality’s sake.

Could we knock on the door and say, Oh hey there…may we come in…this place was special once, to the family who built it and we’re what’s left’.  Sure.  But we haven’t…and probably won’t.  Hubby and I both agree that monkeying with good memories might be a mistake. 

So, we’ll admire her from afar…once in a great while driving by but not lingering.  The family pics and memorabilia hold the sweet stuff now – including old photos like this one of the family that lived there first – mom-in-law, her siblings and parents, circa 1926:

black and white vintage family photo, 1920's
Mom-in-law Maxine is the littlest one…peeking out from behind her big sis…posing in front of their house.

All of this reminds me of an anonymous quote that I adore:

“Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone.”

Yes, and yes. Generational love for a house…a way of staying connected.

Cheers to you — and thanks for reading.

xo,

Vicki ❤

Stay Safe

red heart on black background
Sending love…

I had something else in mind for a post this morning but I’m not feeling it. 

Friends and family who are staring down Hurricane Ian are on my mind…much like the folks who’ve suffered already as it careened through the Caribbean, leaving devastation behind.  Sending heartfelt wishes for safety.

Vicki ❤

Go Great Granny, Go!

1900 woman in hat
Great Grandma…Get It, Girl

The photo of the distinguished lady is hubby’s great grandma, circa 1900.  She married into a family of haberdashers:

Three things are remarkable to me about this photo, unearthed in the family trunk of long-forgotten stories: 

First – LOOK – just LOOK at the hat.  I’ve discovered, after a bit of vintage sleuthing, that over-the-top ornamentation using fake fruit and flowers was au courant and high fashion at the turn of the last century.  In addition to the hat looking uncomfortable, I’m fairly certain great granny could’ve been airborne, should a strong breeze arrive. You know – Mary Poppins style.

Second – While the tailoring on the jacket and handiwork looks like the refined work of a master, the whole ensemble – jacket, gloves and high-necked blouse scream discomfort.  Great grandma’s visage, though?  She looks proud and proper.  Not a hint of “I can’t wait to get out of this to hop into something comfy” (which in truth, was probably an equally uncomfortable lumpy cotton, full-skirted ‘day dress’.)

Third and last – and most important.  As I rummaged through the trunk, I learned this hat pic was part of an ad campaign for the local newspaper – promoting the small-town millinery and haberdashery store, which her newlywed husband owned.  Excavating the tidbits uncovered more fun and fab family history.  Despite great granny’s time and place, she pushed her new husband to go beyond the traditional ‘furnishings’ for men only and branch out to offer equally well-made goods for women.  And she was the first model and spokesperson. 😊

What’s not to love?  Go, Great Granny, Go!

-Vicki ❤

Puppy Dog Eyes

black and white photo of Chihuahua
Sweet Sadie

Our sweet Sadie took a tumble yesterday and must’ve landed on her already arthritic back legs.  We’re not sure what happened but one way or another, she ended up on the floor, wandering with a wonky leg.  The pic I’m sharing is from yesterday morning – sweet Sadie nestled in my lap – after her unexpected gymnastics. Even though she can’t talk to us, we knew she was hurting.  Pain was in her eyes. 

We took her to the vet to check her out, explaining when we called that although she’s not ‘voicing’ that she’s hurt, we can see it.  Likely the result of an unintended dismount from our bed.  Good news?  Nothing’s broken.  After a full body massage and evaluation, our dear vet said, “Sadie’s a tough cookie” and while she’ll be achy – on account of her age (she’s 13) – no harm done. Whew.

Still, I feel terrible about how it happened. Our senior girl LOVES the ‘big bed’ (yes – we talk to the dog like she’s a small human).  The ‘big bed’ is our king-sized bed and it’s a reward that Sadie relishes after a long day of, what, exactly?  Napping in the sun?  No matter – the point is that she’s thrilled when it’s ‘big bed time’

Prior to Sadie, we knew nothing about small dogs, Chihuahuas, and burrowing behavior.  Golly, IT IS a thing.  Even when it’s hot and humid, this wonder ball of fur still loves her blankets and lots of them.  Our best guess is that her accident occurred as she got tangled in her beloved blankies and fell overboard – yikes – onto our hardwood floor, softened only by a sisal-like rug. 

While perusing news feed this morning and snuggling Sadie, this sweet resource surfaced, and I melted.  I love when well-timed tidbits FIND US, don’t you?  Yes indeed, puppy dog eyes and this: 

“…our human connection to dogs, cats, and other pets is similar to the bond between a mother and a child. This bond, in part, is formed through oxytocin, the hormone associated with love, attachment, and trust.”

Cuddle muffin Sadie says good morning and reminds us of the power of touch, connection – and the importance of well-landed dismounts, with or without your blankie. 

xo,

Vicki ❤

Smallest Act of Caring

people hugging
Turning life around…with kindness

I can’t think of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that I DON’T like.  One, in particular, popped to mind recently when I was (yes, again) at Costco:

“Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn life around.” – MLK Jr.

Let me set the stage.  Costco was jammed and it struck me that it was the first time I’d seen that many people shopping in close proximity – without masks (mostly) in ages. 

Toward the front, near the checkouts, there were loads of fresh plants – perennials and mums on six-foot tall, massive rolling carts.  It looked like a makeshift greenhouse – one that created a Tetris-like maze for shoppers to navigate.  Get the picture?

Despite the tight quarters, folks were navigating pretty well with their laden carts, except for one sweet mom.  She was attempting to push a flatbed with a wonky wheel with one hand, while holding onto a toddler with the other.  On her hip was a round-faced, wide-eyed baby enjoying his pacifier while looking me over.

Mom’s flatbed load was substantial.  Diapers and towels, cases of juice and jugs of milk.  I suspect she settled for the flatbed because carts were scarce – all in use on a busy day.

As she tried to turn a corner,  the front edge of the flatbed made contact with a display of nuts and then ricocheted forward into a cart with plants.  Wowza.  I was behind her and I could slow-mo see what was happening but couldn’t stop it.  Stuff was flying – but no one got hurt. 

Mom held on tight to the baby and the toddler knew to duck behind her – which is where I was.  Good thing my hands were free because her little dude jumped in my arms to avoid the cascade of cashews.

Oddly, I wasn’t surprised.  It was a mutual move – he jumped up and I scooped at the same time, synchronized-like.  After the clatter and confusion, mom turned around and began apologizing to me, to everyone around her and then stopped – realizing a strange woman (me!) was holding her oldest. 

She was colossally embarrassed and stressed.  Creating a scene in a public place does that to some of us.  Been there; done that – but it’s been a while since I was in her shoes.  Wanting to hide but needing to tough it out, because, you know.  You’re the mom

The Costco folks reset the cashew display and removed the plants and dirt that landed on mom’s flatbed, mixed in with the diapers and stuff.  They were so sweet – ushering her to a closed checkout lane to speed things up, get her on her way.  

As I walked behind her, still carrying her big boy, he announced, “You’re a nice lady and you smell good.”  Mom heard this and laughed – apologizing to me one more time.  “No problem”, I said.  “Right place at the right time.  Moms stick together, you know?”  

I doubt I’ll ever see them again, but it was a sweet reminder of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote.  Cheers to simple stuff, like the smallest act of caring when the opportunity arises, at Costco.  Or anywhere. Right up my alley – and yours, too. I just know it.

-Vicki ❤

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Finding My Way to Forgiveness

forgive sign
I’m a work in progress…

I know I’m partly molded from my mom’s madness.  Aging creates inevitabilities and as much as I’d like to deny it, my mom’s penchant for critical, caustic commentary often simmers just beneath the surface, within me. Especially when I’m stressed.

My mom, Sue, could be unrelenting in her expectations of those around her.  Every now and again when I’m zooming around the house doing too much at once, my dad’s voice surfaces – one of his periodic tirades directed at the hurricane that was Sue.  He’d say – ‘Slow down, Sue, just SLOW down’.  

Her frenzied, nearly out-of-body movements prompted him to utter, more quietly and with resignation ‘She needs to stay in her body when her head moves too fast’.  Yup.  Getting ahead of herself.  Driven.  Compelled.

Later in life she’d receive a diagnosis of depression and then the more defining manic depression. Eventually, heavy layers of additional issues (anxiety, alcoholism and more) were catalogued but it was her urgent, tempest in a teapot cleaning binges and spur-the-moment, 911 household projects that stick with me today.  Sometimes, I do the same.  Take on too much at once, putting a premium on “busy” for the sake of busy?  For the sake of task completion?

Sue would wrangle all onlookers into the fray and then make everyone around her feel guilty for taking a break.  Sometimes she was fun loving in her ability to manifest a near party-like atmosphere because of her charisma but invariably, she pushed too hard.  Drama time would arrive.  Predictably with tears and flying crockery (plates, lamps – whatever was within reach). 

As an adult, I recognize that her maladaptive behavior was borne from her demons and insecurities…constantly evaluating and critiquing those around her – benefitting from the short-term lift in her own self-esteem but at what cost?  Long term anguish, most assuredly, along with fractured relationships within the family.  One daughter especially.

There are days when forgetting is liberating.  I can still love and admire aspects of her.  If nothing else, I can marvel at her ability to morph from wildly funny to destructive – in a blink.  She was a sight to behold.  You know, in the I paused to look at the car accident kind of way.  You couldn’t help yourself.

I learned I could step back, remove as much emotion as possible and observe her more objectively, adjusting my regard and expectations for her.  It made it easier to be empathetic and less angry. Occasionally the heat is still there, though, and I work my way through it. 

This week I learned that my near year-long effort of unwinding my mom’s story – painful as it’s been – will come into the light in 2023.  I have a publisher willing to showcase the twisty-tale of my mom’s life and I’m grateful.  Over the next two months I’ll be doing a bit more editing to polish up the near 300 pages and then I think I can finally say goodbye to her – despite the fact that she passed seven years ago.

Every bit of this journey was insurmountable in my eyes…without my best friend Linda encouraging me.  “You can do this.  You should do this”, she would say, as she read one chunk after another, offering the gentlest of nudges, motivation, and love. I wish I could bottle Linda’s patience to sprinkle around. I was a lot to handle 😊 – especially when I retreated into the painful globs of life with mom.

What else?  These two thoughts guided me as I struggled to keep writing:

One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”

-Brene Brown

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”

-Sir Winston Churchill

And my dad…who loved her no matter how hard she made it — and helped me find my way, too. Writing about mom’s madness helped me open a window to see her with forgiveness first.

Xo,

Vicki ❤

Brownie Batter Insights 😊

Carl Jung
Carl Jung

My all-time favorite quote about introspection comes from Carl Jung:

“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living.  Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”

This is how I feel as an extroverted introvert – otherwise known as an ‘ambivert’ the personality type that rides the middle lane.

I think my personality is a by-product of moving ten times in twelve years as I grew up.  Forever the ‘new girl’ I needed to survey the social nuances – quickly – in order to make friends and connect.  That’s a tall order at any point in life, but when you’re an unsure, lanky, awkward young dork?  Tricky – so I built the skill of fast-friend making.  How?  Ask questions and be prepared to pivot, as needed.  Morph, baby.  And listen, listen, listen.

I suspect those skills framed my future career nicely – both in higher education as a professor and Dean and as a counselor/therapist in my own practice.  I could be extraordinarily extraverted, when needed.  No problem.  Got it.  BUT – I learned quickly that a recovery period after a long day of leading, listening, supporting – even when I loved doing it – was essential.

What else did I learn in the process?  Despite rampant and easily-applied labels, understanding personality types is complicated.  Nuanced.  Personality is not binary. We’re fluid, malleable and flexible and can present aspects of our true selves across the continuum of ‘extraversion vs. introversion’.

How did I manage as a card-carrying introvert in a mostly extraverted work world?  Just fine.  My only issue was remembering to tune into the need to refuel.  I often joked (then and now) that I need to ‘reload my words’ when I’m tapped out.  Give me five or ten, family, friends and I’ll be right back with you.  Right now, I’m fresh out of words.

There are a gazillion different tests – some shady, some reliable – if you want to delve into whether you’re more extraverted or introverted.  I think it’s helpful info, but it probably won’t tell you much that you don’t already know.  Is one type better than another?  No, of course not, despite this cheeky article lauding the merits of introversion. 

I still see myself as an ambivert because of my people-pleasing tendencies and high empathy. Consistently, my thought process is this:  What do YOU need me to be?  Let’s go with that.  And that’s how I live my life, unapologetically, but with awareness of the self-imposed fatigue.

Nasty fatigue.  It’s my nemesis more than anything else.  This past weekend provided a pointed reminder.  Sweet sister Lisa tested me during her visit over the weekend (check out this post from a few weeks back for more detail about my lovable, disabled sister).

Lisa lives in a terrific, well-staffed group home with lady friends with similar disabilities.  Whenever possible, we love having Lisa with us over a weekend, especially if family festivities like a barbeque are on deck.  Such was the case over Labor Day.

In addition to packing too much for a short stay (a genetic problem in the family) Lisa delights in bringing juicy tidbits and gossipy fun facts about her housemates, along with whispered shade about staff, programs, services.  She’s disabled but she’s more emotionally intelligent and verbal than most folks of normal IQ.  😉 AND she loves recounting all of it to me. 

See where I’m going?  I love Lisa but after non-stop listening – and not the half-listening that involves just a nod of recognition – she’s looking to chat – I begin to lose steam.  Not wanting to be short tempered with her, I find things for us to do and that works for a while as a distraction. 

This past weekend as I was teetering toward snapping at her, I remembered how funny she can be if lighten up and play along.  She wasn’t the problem, I realized – it was me.  I had too much **other** on my mind and Lisa sensed it, thinking I was upset with her.  My introverted self needed refueling for the heavy (but fun) impending BBQ socialization and that, coupled with my preoccupation with cooking and prepping, ramped up Lisa’s non-stop storytelling. I made her nervous.

Oh golly.  It just took a few minutes of slowing down over a bowl of brownie batter (with two spoons) to prompt silly reminiscing about childhood cooking disasters.  There were plenty, typically swirled together with outrageous things our mom did.  The laugh track that was our childhood. 

As I ruminated about Lisa last night, my summation thought yielded just this:  Extraversion, introversion, ambivert – whatever.  I needed to send out a search party to find my funny and laughter brought the pieces back together.  It usually does. 

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for letting me share.

Xo,

Vicki ❤

Family Traditions: Trees, Please

Family history – three trees!

My husband descends from a pioneering family that settled in the small village near our current home.  Immigrating from the Alsace region of France and Germany in the early 1800’s they were part of a small pack of persevering souls who established the quaint town that’s now more tourist destination than residential.  A haven for those who relish the opportunity to travel back in time, shop, nosh and recall simpler days.

We knew snippets of family history from my mother-in-law, Maxine, but believe the surface-level storytelling and limited sharing was the result of embedded, gender norms  –  favoring the retelling of patriarchal tidbits of family history much more than the matriarchal.  Sigh.  It was his mother’s family – not his father’s – who literally blazed a pioneering trail but her legacy and history were sidelined as less important.  How irksome; but that’s not the point – at least not at the moment.

Maxine’s great grandparents arrived on the plains and brought traditions from their wooded homeland.  Evergreen trees were plentiful in heavily forested Alsace and one of most endearing stories was the tale of the painstaking transport of three small evergreen saplings across the Atlantic. I can imagine some arguments about this – a sentimentality vs. practicality tussle – but how lovely that sentiment won, I say.

We often wondered if all the human travelers in the family made it to America safely, because the ‘tree tale’ was more vibrantly recounted.  Records are spotty, at best, even with the dynamic search engine tools like Ancestry.com.  At least three family members – the husband and wife and one child – arrived safely and a few cousins, it seems. 

Piecing together facts from decaying photo albums and journals, along with the family Bible yielded one fantastic find.  A simple red frame home that still stands in our tiny community was the homestead.  Built by the grandparents, three times over, and identifiable for years as theirs because of the three stalwart and regal trees that stood in their modest front yard. Evergreens.

Maxine, before she passed, acknowledged the ‘little red house’ built by her distant elders but she never mentioned the story behind the trees.  A local historian helped to fill those gaps using records long forgotten about the family.  The sweet crimson structure still stands – now converted into retail space.  Sadly, only two of the three trees remain.  One wonders what happened to the third. 

Discoveries about family history can come in large lumps or in tiny waves.  Learning about the house and the trees was like the latter – ancestral echoes that, once summoned together, created a spectacular story.   If only we’d drilled down more with Maxine to better understand the oral history, to supplement the archival tidbits stitched together. 

Time was not on our side; she passed AND years passed and it wasn’t until we bought a nearby home that the a-ha moments arrived.  Of all the remarkable aspects, one especially stands out and it’s about the three trees.

Across many years of married life, we’ve lived in several homes  – fixing them up and moving on – but with heavy hearts each time.  As much as we knew we’d miss certain features of each home, the greatest lament always involved saying goodbye to beloved trees. 

Without knowing it (at least in any conscious way) every home we’ve ever lived in was improved upon, landscape-wise, with the addition of three or more trees. 

Every home. 

Most received a cluster of three evergreen trees for decorative screening, shade, or wind control.  Often we planted more than three but always three together, somewhere on each lot. 

There’s more.  When our daughter was born, we wanted to instill a love of nature and conservation and decided an annual tradition of planting a ‘birthday tree’ (yes, an evergreen) would do the trick.  And we did.  As she grew, we finagled and fretted every spring…where will the next tree go?  An homage to family, in ways we never suspected. Three trees, please.

-Vicki ❤

Bumps & Blessings in Parenting

frustrated mom face
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Right now, it might be hard to fathom, but I’ll share a truth with you.  The one that kept me (more or less) sane during the roller coaster ride that is parenting:  The highs and lows will suck air from your soul.  This is not a drill.  Despite the resplendent, breathtakingly shiny moments  – those that are gloriously joyful – you can’t linger there because the valley is waiting, too. 

The valley is where you’ll question everything – especially yourself.  In those moments you might fret that you’re incapable, ill-suited, or too impatient for the rigors of parenting.  I don’t care how old your children are – whether newbies in onesies, toddlers, or teens – they will rock you with the unexpected as they morph and grow.  Developmentally pre-destined, this push-pull of parenting.

When your babies return after the miracle miles of maturity, you’ll see them, still, as your squishy newborns, but they’ll be disguised in grown up packaging. Even as full-fledged adults, their needs for attachment are still there – but in new wrappers. 

Parenting is maddeningly unscripted, unpredictable (and, I found, in constant conflict with my plan-ahead personality) but you move through it, relishing the sunny days and smooth roads when they arrive.  They come and you remember:  I am nothing if not resilient.

Take care of yourself, my parenting compadre.  One day you might look up and see a little being who once ate crayons (“Just to try them, mom”) as a near-peer, standing before you.  Still needing you, same as ever, just taller, and less sticky.

Vicki ❤

Dads and Daughters

Dad and daughter on sofa relaxing
This is how you take a break!

I love this pic of my favorite “Dad and daughter”.  There are days when I’m flummoxed by my good fortune.  How did I get so lucky?  I found a partner who’s put up with me for decades while reserving just enough patience to be a doting, loving papa.

What I enjoy most is the connection these two have around tools and knowing how to fix stuff.  Me?  In the face of full-on armageddon, I won’t survive because I have zero skills.  No hands-on capacity whatsoever unless it involves cooking or baking.  When the apocalypse comes, I’ll be whipping up a batch of brownies, just so you know.

Fixing something?  Home repairs?  Understanding anything about mechanicals, engineering?  Nope, nope and nope.  These two, however?  The gene pool richly rewarded our “DD” (dear daughter) with all of the how-to skills the world could offer – in the form of do-it-yourselfer DNA from her papa.

I suppose I contributed to some of her other talents (she’s the best negotiator I know 😉) but this photo speaks to me – especially now.  She’s old enough to demonstrate that she has the blessed combo of people skills and smarts about ‘things’. 

DD” is a strong young woman with a caretaker heart and while I feel a sense of pride in her academic abilities and accomplishments, the fact that she knows her way around a toolbox means just as much.  Maybe more? She’s my independent, step back and let me do it girl – no matter the task. 

After a job well done, she also knows how to kick back and relax.  Her papa showed her how to do that, too. 

-Vicki ❤

Love, Magic, Wonder

Love with heart
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

This morning I peeked at pieces I’ve written recently (and some that are still ‘in the pipeline’) and remarked (yes, talking to myself) that three words seem pervasive:  LOVE, MAGIC, WONDER.

No, I didn’t do an official search and count…I’m not going for precision here.  But still, I spent a meditative moment (followed by some necessary self-talk) ruminating about being repetitive and boring. 

Yep – there’s the self-evaluator in me surfacing.  I hollered back, ‘So what? What’s true, is true!’  And then I remembered this from Persian poet Hafiz:

“The words you speak become the house you live in.”

Taking a little liberty and swapping out ‘speak’ for ‘think’ or ‘write’ offers the guidance I needed.  It’s okay.  Go forward, Vicki, and use “love, magic, wonder” endlessly, boldly, authentically. 

And so…I send those three things to you today.  Love, magic and wonder – in abundance!

-Vicki ❤

White Shirt, Helping Heart

man wearing sunglasses in white shirt

I took this photo of my dad while on a family vacation in Mexico – decades ago.  It became a favorite – for both of us – but possibly not for the reasons you’d imagine.  Yep, it’s a handsome pic of a handsome man but the binding between us had nothing to do with mutual admiration for his face (or his swanky mirrored shades).

It was all about the shirt.  Take a look. What do you see?  Pretty buttoned-up, right?  Indeed.  Even on vacation, my dad was tidy and scrupulous about how he dressed.  Known for packing more outfits than my mom – by a mile – dad loved his white dress shirts for any and all occasions

Did he tote along typical beach duds?  Sort of.  If you’d call a slew of short sleeve 😉 white button downs “casual wear”.  Any tropical board shorts in his suitcase?  No, no, no.  Only plain (and seemingly starched and pressed) navy, knee-length swim trunks.  Two pairs – so one pair was ever-ready, dry and good-to-go. 

He was fastidious to a fault and endured a lot of ridicule (yep, from me) for his ‘board room’ vs. ‘beach’ attire but he was also generous and charming.  As tightly wound as he was about his appearance and apparel, he was equally loose and loving with those he cared about.  I think his white shirt rigidity made it easier for him to be spontaneous in other ways.

My dad knew how to make everyone around him feel like a big-time winner.  How?  He never wanted or needed eyes on him.  I suspect he’d had enough of that along the way. At 6’ 4” tall, he towered over most folks and by size alone, was cast as a caretaker.  The solid one. 

In an unguarded moment once he told me he suspected he was a mighty oak in another life because people so willingly trusted him and admired his strength.  Sometimes, he said, strength he knew he DID NOT possess (or was in short supply).  Still – he rose and served – but when he could manage it, he mostly wanted to be in the background and not center stage.  “All the better to have eyes on who needs help the most”, he’d say.

He’s been gone for many years and yet he’s always nearby.  I figure nuggets of my heart and soul – the cosmic soup that is ME – came from pretty good stock.  His.  And that’s sweet comfort for me, every day.

-Vicki ❤