Things About The Normal Days: a useful list

I googled "how to stay focused and content," looking for a Quick List of Useful Instructions that would keep me from waking up wishing that I was ANYWHERE in the world but here. I didn't find a list. In fact, I didn't find anything useful except for a PowerPoint presentation with some Seth Godin quotes that I liked but didn't really have anything to do with what I was looking for. So I decided to make my own list, because maybe somebody else is out there looking for a Quick and Useful List of Instructions and if somebody is going to make some up, it might as well be me, right?

How To Be Content And Focused On the Normal Days:

Step 1) Drink. No, not that kind. Drink coffee. I have a few friends who claim to have been redeemed from the power of chemical stimulation and are now caffeine free, and some who have never even dabbled in the stuff. These people are usually super peppy and optimistic and clearly have no grasp on reality anyway, so I discount their caffeine naysaying with all of the vigor of a triple shot americano and no breakfast. Coffee is the stuff of life. Or it's at least the stuff of reasons to get out of bed in the morning and not yell bad words at the first biologically active thing that crosses your path. Like the dachshund. Or a spider. Or the mold growing on the inside of the cream carton. Coffee helps. It's the chemical boost to get you to the next step. I strongly recommend coffee first thing in the morning, preferably with someone that you can say bad words to about the things that are wrong with first thing in the morning and they will agree and still love you. That is the best way to have coffee.

you can get this shirt HERE

Step 2) Dress. Put on the right clothes. If, say, you wear the wrong jeans - the ones that cut right in at the fattest place you have (and all real people have one of those places), or maybe your socks don't match your trousers, or you can't find your favorite belt, or you get to work and the shoes you're wearing are just WRONG, the whole day is shot. Make sure that what you are putting on your body brings you joy, like those Japanese de-cluttering methodologies, if it doesn't make you happy, take it off and throw it on the ground and cuss. Then find something that brings you joy. Like sweatpants. Or holey jeans that feel like sweatpants.

Step 3) Talk. Share your frustration. This might sound like I am encouraging negativity or complaining, but it really does help make the day seem ok when you realize that you're not the only one who doesn't always want to be wherever it is that you are and don't want to be. It doesn't have to be an elaborate dumping session. Human beings are empathetic animals, and sometimes a quick exchange of a knowing look with a "coffee is good this morning"  grunt, speaks volumes. And you just know. We're all in this together. All the normal. All the people. All the time. And it's going to be ok. If you want to level-up this step, and combine it with the power of Step 1, deliver coffee to someone else. It's like telling them,"I know, life sucks, but here's coffee," and it makes both of you feel that much better. Trust me, it does, even if it's gross coffee.

Step 4) Listen. I have watched music visibly change the attitude and posture of people. I know for a fact what it does for me. Sometimes it's angry rock music that takes the angst out on a drum set for you. Sometimes it's Alison Krauss lulling you gently back to sanity. Sometimes it's the music of absolute silence. Peace and contentment can be found behind the wall of noise-cancelling headphones plugged into nothing. Or the interior of a car with no sound but your own weird breathing. Find the noise you need to make this day ok.

Step 5) Daydream. Some people call this meditation, not paying attention or slacking off, but for me, unplugging from the four jobs and three conversations I am in the middle of for just a few minutes is the only way to keep myself from freaking the eff out. Sometimes I drift back to that Mexican Hermit Crab on the beach, or sometimes it's the warm squishyness of All The Pillows in bed last night, or Holding His Hand. But if I can let my brain disconnect from Right This Moment, Right This Place for a few minutes, I can come back and plug in with a little more energy.

Keep Calm and Scuttle On
Step 6) Eat. Days when you are really questioning where your life took a bad turn are not the days to be eating salads. Save your salads for those peppy, optimistic days after you quit drinking caffeine and your whole world is wonderful. Eat something that makes you happy. Eat something that makes you feel good. I don't care what it is, but you have to WANT it. Crusty white bread and pasta? Sure. Medium-rare ribeye? OK, if you can afford it. Cheesy bread? Definitely. Life is too short to be miserable on top of being unhappy. Eat something you love.

Step 7) Move. Go above and beyond rolling over on the couch. Get up and move. Shuffle to the kitchen for more coffee. Stand by the window. Every step you take gives you a thousand more possibilities that you will see, touch, smell, hear, feel something that reminds you of why you are here. Something that excites you. Of course, there's also the increased risk that you will see, touch, smell, hear or feel something that repulses you and confirms your suspicion that life sucks, but it's a risk worth taking. If at all possible, get outside. Unless you're one of those people that hates fresh air and all living things and prefer cardboard and drywall and scratchy upholstery to dirt and rocks. In that case, stay inside and move around. It takes all kinds, after all.

Step 8) Sleep. Find a way to get good sleep. Not having good sleep and not eating good food are the Two Primary Reasons for Hating Life. I just made that up but it sounds really good. Everybody's sleep trigger is different. Sometimes some of us need a little help. A glass of wine, a heavy dose of muscle relaxers, a swift kick in the head... Figure yours out and cash in on it. Don't miss sleep. It's not worth it.

Step 9) Give. Try to notice one person during the course of your day that has it worse than you. Maybe it's the hobo on the street corner or the single mom with a broken down car (not me, this time), or maybe it's the One You Love that has to put up with you. Find a way to give them something. A coffee, a hug, a jump start, or maybe a big and sincere thank you. Get outside yourself for a minute.

Step 10) Love. If there isn't a single person that warms the cockles of your heart then you should seek help more professional than mine STAT. But I'm willing to bet everyone reading this has at least one person that you can see when you close your eyes and be overwhelmed with gratitude for the place they hold in your heart. The people who don't have anybody are probably on a different blog about how to build bombs and stuff. Love your people, or person. Hold the hand. Steal the kisses. Feel the love. Go after it actively. You need it. It needs you. It's easy to let the doldrums convince you that you're not worthy - at least for me it is. That's when its the most important to find the love and bask in it.

Reading through my Quick List of Useful Instructions, I should probably rename it something like "A Hedonist's Guide To Everyday Living," because it's all about what feels good. But we're so good, these days, about beating ourselves up and Making the Tough Choices and Taking the High Road that we forget about how good life can feel if we let it. Sometimes the rougher path is the right one, but sometimes the Normal Days need a little love boost.

Things About the Holidays

Current Mood
Feliz Navidad, Amigos!! Ok, so it's officially the Holiday Season, and if it weren't for my kids transforming my house into some holiday extravaganza of mismatched Christmas attire while I was in Mexico, I am not sure that we'd be getting in the spirit of the season at all. It's December 13th and not only do we have NO TREE to date, I also haven't made it to Costco to purchase the wreath for my door that has been a tradition since 2003 when Aunt Tracey brought one to my house and I felt like a Real Live Grownup. In fact, my Costco membership expired and I am not 100% sure that I will renew it, which feels like the most sacrilegious of all perpetrations, since Costco is like home to me. But I only have like 1.5 children at home at any one time these days, so all I end up with is rotten lettuce and moldy cheese. Also a Grocery Outlet just opened in Colville. But I digress.

It's true that we swapped out some holiday traditions this year for a visit to the Nation's Capitol (not to mention my foray to Baja), but we still have enough time to sneak in a few of the prerequisites. The advent calendar hangs on the wall, sadly neglected like a cast-off chore chart. 13 days behind, and nobody seems to care. I guess that's what happens when all your kids are old. We haven't made a single Christmas Cookie, and my sister and I keep playing leapfrog in scheduling, canceling and rescheduling things like tree hunting and Gingerbread Houses (OK, so she beat me to the tree, but still). This is holiday reality. Basketball games instead of gingerbread, fevers of 102ยบ instead of tree hunting... But it's still the holidays, as evidenced by the jingle bells strapped relentlessly around the neck of the poor, deaf Old Truck Hound. 

Speaking of hounds, I took a little nostalgic detour through Grinchland this morning - we haven't had time to watch it yet, but we have the whole story on CD that stays in my disc changer in the car year round - I pretty much have it memorized. Anyway, I was thinking about how much I relate to Max the Reindeer/dog, because he really doesn't mean to take everybody's crap, but he's just loyal to his guy, and wants to make everybody happy. He tries so hard, pulling that GIANT sled of confiscated merriment, and it finally gets the best of him. I can't help but thinking that Max is in part responsible for the Grinch's turn, for the 3X growth of his cold, Grinchy heart, as the faithful little dog quietly perseveres, waiting for his master to Get It.

Well folks, I figured it out. The Grinch is Real Life. Bills and responsibility and stealing all the joy. It's overcommitment and obligation and worry. But once we hear the music for what it really is, and that none of those things matter - not the snoof or the fuzzles or tringles or trappings. Max is the people we love and the ones that love us, reminding us that we can do All Those Things, but do we really need to? Or can we just go eat Roast Beast with the rest of the Whos? Maybe Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more...

Things That You Can't Take Seriously

Life. Life is way too short to take so seriously. The other day, I posted about how old I was feeling, the aches and pains, and how certain I was that the End was near. Turns out that I was having a reaction to a medication that I was on. Once I realized what I was doing to myself, stopped taking the drug and gave it a couple days,  I found myself with plenty of energy and pain isolated to my shoulder and 1.5 hips. Feeling sheepish, it occurs to me to share with all of you the reminder that it really is often darkest just before the dawn, or at least before the realization that you have an intolerance for certain antibiotics.

Life is short and it's funny as hell. I have been forgetting that a lot lately. Forgetting to laugh at the ridiculous things. I blame part of that on the time this summer that I got in big trouble for laughing at the ridiculous things in a blog about a fire situation... which the bosses didn't think was funny. The fact that I became infamous from the post was almost as funny and ridiculous as the post itself, but a threat to my job made me kind of crabby. But there's a balance, right? And you have to know who has the cojones to make fun of life with you, and which incident commanders are all about maintaining a facade in the throes of chaos. #lessonlearned

I guess I've been so caught up in the sort-of-serious aspects of my life lately that I forget to talk about the ones that are not at all.

Like when I thought for several days that the resident bear was getting into the garbage in the front yard, but it was really Old Man Truck whom we caught red-pawed early one morning. And Old Man Truck himself, the zombie dog who will live forever. I don't think he can see or hear a thing, but his hound dog nose, even in it's current state of decomposition, seems to work well enough to steer him in the direction of the garbage, recently relocated out of reach of "the bear."

Truck. The undead, zombie truck. He's a 13-year-old hound who is quite literally falling apart at the seams.

Even in the aches and pains, there is comedy. I had the orthopedic surgeon's assistant in stitches the other day when I couldn't remember which joint I was there about, or which one I would choose if I had to focus on one, or how to explain how each one was slowly obliterated over the years....

(I never finished writing this and so now here it is, published in it's unfinished glory.)

Things That We Didn't Do: On Baja Dogs and Breezes

We came to La Ventana to kiteboard, or more accurately, He came to kiteboard. I came for the beach and the beer and the warm sunshine on my face. A little fishing village nestled into a protected cove on the Sea of Cortez, La Ventana was founded in 1940 by a disenfranchised pearl diver and his family in search of a new beginning. Most parcels of land in the La Ventana bay were co-opted by the government, subsidizing small family plots until 1996 when Mexican law changed and granted ownership to the longtime farmers and ranchers who had worked the land for generations. La Ventana became a mecca for wind sport enthusiasts in the 1990s as the daily El Nortes (northerly fronts)  make for a wind sport enthusiast’s wet dream. It was a history I could relate to - a new beginning and the dream of doing my job somewhere that wasn’t cold and dreary. Anywhere that wasn’t the snowless frigidity of post-holiday wintertime in the northwest.

We got into La Ventana just in time for dinner on Thanksgiving night, and by some miracle, one of the little restaurants squeezed us in for an all-the-trimmings turkey dinner buffet, sans reservations. Later, He would say how it was the best food we had the whole time we were there, the piles of deep fried turkey and mashed potatoes so creamy that they couldn’t have been real. Even the wine tasted better than the merlots we had back home. I would agree with Him, except for the bag of totopos that the last residents of the Casita had left behind. They were salty and perfect. I couldn’t stop eating them at midnight and for breakfast, and while we laid out in the sun on the plaster roof top in the late morning the next day.  

All I wanted was a space of seaside to sit next to and write. Or daydream. Or drink. Maybe all at once. There was seaside, all right. Miles of it, white and sandy and the perfect amount of warm. Occasional Canadian kiteboarders drifted by, and the fourth generations of the family farmers, picking up sticks off the beach and being chased by little white Baja Dogs everywhere.

Late Friday  morning, we walked three miles along a dirty highway to cash in whatever tourist panache we had for a couples massage at the only large resort in town. We paid the going rate willingly, if for no other reason than to feel like we could afford it, and then we tromped back down the highway and then the three minute trail of sand and clay from our Casita to the beach with all of His kiteboarding gear and sat expectantly in the sand, waiting for the wind to pick up. And waiting. And waiting. In between the waiting, we wandered over to Baja Joe’s where everybody goes for coffee, and then beer, and then tequila, and some killer Asada Tacos. Saturday we repeated the process, but with less waiting and more tequila, the kiters bemoaning the quiet air over their Pacifico and nachos. Frustrated windseekers found solace in the mellow beat of a reggae band at Joe’s on Saturday night, the dance floor carelessly littered with multinational escapees of all generations and some of the farmers.

There wasn’t much accounting for Sunday morning, thanks to the Peyote IPA and the number of Baja Fogs that Paula the bartender made for us the previous night, but by afternoon, the waiting game began anew, and in anxious earnest as the wind picked up just enough to rustle the palm trees in the courtyard at Baja Joe’s and tease all of the pent up athletes. Kiters with small physiques and large kites hustled out to the beach to catch the gentle breeze, but those of greater substance knew the wind wasn’t enough to carry them offshore, so the wait continued.  

I didn’t do very well at proving that I am good at working “anywhere,” since unplugging and not caring about work seemed so much more important than getting 18 new stories cranked out and all of my deadlines met ahead of time. But it was heavenly. No place to be unless we wanted to be there, and nowhere to go except where our feet would take us. Lazy afternoon siestas were punctuated with walks up and down the beach for food, catching sunrises and sunsets if we felt like it, counting the constellations we could name and making up new ones. After a few days we found the Baja Dogs on our heels like the farmer’s kids, weaving in and out of kite shops and little make-shift patio restaurants that most of the locals seemed to run as a by-the-way businesses along the beach.

Another night at Joes’ brought in a cover band that played everybody’s favorite song from all generations and genres. The dance floor was full of expatriate and unfulfilled kiteboarders dancing to “Jesse’s Girl,” locals still wearing the uniform of the restaurants next door from the shift they just finished, old run-away hippies and Baja Dogs. Pacifico bottles rolled across the paving stones and beer splashed between the toes of bare feet while the band played AC/DC and Elvis covers. That night nobody cared that the wind hadn’t come for them. That night the moonlight and the tequila and the music was enough.

He only got out on His kite once, and even then it wasn’t His kite, but a bigger one that He rented, hoping the bit of wind that picked up one afternoon would do it. It didn’t, and after fighting His way down the curving shoreline, He endured the walk of shame back up the beach, board in hand, to get back to the more readily accessible sport of beer and tacos and dreaming up ways of smuggling Baja Dogs home to the northwest. Secretly, I didn’t mind the lack of wind, mostly because I was selfish and liked Him next to me on the beach. But Him being next to me made for less work getting done and more lazy wave-gazing, watching the hermit crabs scuttle sideways across the beach and staring at the cloudless sky as if the wind might suddenly appear visibly. I wouldn’t call it a loss, for Him or for me.

Things I Am Able To Do

I would like to say that I have never given up on something because it was too hard, but that would be a reckless untruth. I, as the epitome of a comfort seeking creature, have many times walked away from a project or a dilemma because it was too frustrating or physically challenging, or because The Universe was set against me and no solution was in sight. Maybe I have even done this with people, which is a thought that makes me very sad. One of my daughters was just telling me how she can't do anything, because nothing works for her. Setting aside the gross overstatements, it's an attitude, or even an overwhelming feeling, that I have modeled for her in the moments that she has seen me quit.

While I am definitely guilty of quitting, I have also been successful at pushing through hardships to accomplish things, even when I was not entirely sure of my ability to do so. As I listened to my daughter huff and puff about the impossibility of ever accessing a website since her password was wrong (one of my GREATEST pet peeves and lessons in anger management), I was wrestling with a broken pellet stove and a Phillips screw driver that had no intention of behaving as I imagined a screwdriver should. It was a three hour contest that ultimately, after a few tears of frustration and MANY calls to the stove shop, I won.

Within the first hour I wanted to quit. By the second hour I wanted to throw the screwdriver through the window. I realized that the alternative to me overcoming the stupid thing meant waiting until after Christmas for the only repair guy in town who charges $69 an hour and $1.90 per mile to come to my house. This adds up to hundreds of dollars after you add in parts and troubleshooting and the time it would take to lecture me about my shoddy maintenance in the last four years. So by the third hour, I was determined that victory would be mine.

There I was, belly down on a floor that smelled suspiciously like a Weiner Dog hadn't used the dog door last time she needed to potty. I was frustrated, irritated, uncomfortable and WAY out of my comfort zone. But after eliminating all of the other possibilities, I found the problem, and I fixed it. I did it because the several hundred dollars I would save were worth more to me than the irritation of having no idea what I was doing. I did it because I could stop for a minute and remember why it was important for me to keep going.

Not because I am the smartest ever. Or the most clever (in fact, later I would discover that I broke a different part in fixing it and have to re-fix the damn thing). Generally speaking, I avoid hard things. But I did it. And I can do it. And I don't have to rely on somebody else all of the time. I just have to take the steps. To keep taking the steps once I identify what's important to me. And when one step doesn't get me there, I take another and another... and my whole life is full of steps that aren't getting me there. But then again, maybe they are. Unless there is really here, and I have actually arrived, and I just need to see this topsy-turvy journey as the destination.

It's not all fun. But it's all good. And while there are lots and lots of steps, there are no wrong turns. Just hard work and learning and I'll be damned if I'm not gonna try to find the joy in it, or at least the upsides. Like for instance, a newly mopped floor and a merrily burning stove. And marketable knowledge worth $69 an hour and $1.90 a mile. Because now I am a pro.

Things That Aren't Mine

I’ve never lost someone very close to me. Seems like lately, all the people I care about are losing loved ones and I hurt for them, but it’s hard to know how to be there for them.

My sister in law, whom I think is a super rad girl, recently lost her dad. I’m not bffs with my sister in law. I can’t even say we’re totally close. The most time we’ve spent together was a jam packed weekend for her wedding to my brother and some kick-a$$ dive bar karaoke in a little beach town on the Oregon coast. We’ve had a lot of late night messenger chats about boys and men and Boyz 2 Men and yoga and fashion and family and the ire of all those of those things.

But when her father died, I wasn’t sure how to be there for her. Knowing she’d be flooded with support from people who were closer to her than I, I held back from reaching until she asked me for a little help with something in all the memorial commotion, which, obviously, I jumped at the chance to do.

But in the whole scenario, like many others, close friends losing friends close to them, it is hard to know how to process and how to BE THERE without indelicate interference in an experience somewhat removed from my immediate sphere of influence. It's certainly isn't that I lack empathy, to the contrary, I find myself weeping on behalf of others, even total strangers, more often than I would care to admit. But I am also keenly sensitive that this grieving process has nothing to do with me and I get sort of terrified of being the kind of nuisance that makes every one else's ordeal about me.

It has steeled my resolve, for the inevitable times that I will face my own grief and tragedy, to remember the ways that I wanted to be able to help. And maybe I can remember to ask the people outside of my immediate grieving circle for the specific help that they can offer, and give them a chance to pay their respects in a practical way.

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