That is going to be my mantra now.  I have put way to much pressure on myself to only post "meaningful" or "well-written" posts with pictures and links.  So, I often will start a post, but never finish it because I never get it to the point where I feel good about it.  But, that isn't much of a "voice," now is it?  

So, I'm going to start writing, posting and repeating.  They may be short.  They may not have pictures.  They may not have links.  But, they will be blog posts.  Some may be good.  Some may be longer.  Some will have pictures.  Some will have links.  But, I'm going to stop making myself crazy and start making myself heard.  That is, after all, what this blog is about.  So, I'm going to use this space more.  Maybe some will come and read and be encouraged to use their own voice for something good, even if it is just for themselves.

So, today, I write.  Today, I post.  Later, I will repeat.  I hope you will join me in putting your voice out there!
 
 
So, it isn't really New Year's Day.  It is, instead, the Summer Solstice.  The first weekend of summer.  And I am taking this opportunity to have a "do-over" of my New Year's resolutions.  In all honesty, I don't even remember if I made resolutions this year.  Which means, if I did, in fact, make them, I did not, in fact, keep them.  So, I'm using this Solstice as a new starting point.  I need some direction, some aspirations, some goals in my life.  And what better way to do that than Summer Solstice Resolutions!

But, in the midst of this decision, I came across this post from Sas Petherick and decided that maybe I should try answering her six questions.  It shouldn't take long considering the fact that I can't remember most of the first half of the year (something is seriously wrong with my memory - it is like I just blank out large chunks of life on a regular basis).  But, I will give it a shot:

One: Did you have a word for this year? How has it manifested itself? If you didn’t have a word, what is the theme that has played out in your life so far this year?

I had no word for the year.  Well, I did pick a cheesy phrase - Beachy Keen.  It was supposed to make me focus on the ease and peace of life at the beach.  But, I don't think it has really manifested itself in any way other than a few more beach items around my house.  The theme that has played out so far this year has been, hmmmmm...from what I remember, I would say the theme is "small improvements" or "baby steps".  I have made some small improvements in life.  I have baby stepped into what I feel like is a better location, although very close to where I was before.  So, yeah, small improvements is what I will go with here.

Two: What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of finding a new church.  I feel like I have wanted and needed a community of faith for years and I finally ventured into one that I love.  I love that Bean loves it and enjoys going to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.  I love that theirs is a message of grace and love (that I so need).  I love that it is a large community with options to get involved in different ways and with many people from my work location attending.  I love that they have coffee on the patio before and after every service on every Sunday.  It is really good for me and I think it will be really good for Bean.  I have been afraid of trying to find a church for years, but this one came easy.

Three: What have you chosen to let go of?

Not enough.  I have let go of the need to "advance" in my career.  I have been constantly seeking something "better" since it became apparent to me that there is no chance of raises or "advancement" in my current position (well, cost of living raises, but no merit raises).  I felt driven by all I knew and read that I must be in a place where I can "advance," get ahead, prove my worth, be paid what I'm worth, blah, blah, blah.  I have chosen to let go of that.  I really like my job.  I really like where I live.  I am making enough to live comfortably.  I do not "need" something better.   I need to focus my energies on where I am and how to make that all I want it to be, not where else I could be so "they" could recognize all I am.  It feels good to let go of that.  I don't think I realized how much is was making me crazy - trying to go somewhere else when I loved where I was.

Four: What has been your greatest joy or surprise?

Feeling good about faith.  I have been a bit resistant to Christianity over the years because of a few bad experiences with judgement-based faiths and community shaming.  I loved the church I grew up in and I missed being in a place where I felt loved just for being me - just because I am a child of God.  I have hungered for that feeling of acceptance.  For that feeling of grace.  And I feel like I've found it, and it feels good.  There are still pangs of fear every once in a while, but they are fading.

Five: What book, movie, exhibition, tv programme, play, concert, article, photograph, or website has been your favourite find? 

Tough one.  I feel like I've found a ton of websites that have been really helpful to me.  But, I guess I would say Hannah Marcotti.  She has been a true inspiration to me this past half-year.  I did a workshop with her and this blog arose from it.  Feeling good about my spirituality and faith arose from it.  A desire to do more and to know myself better arose from it.  It has really been amazing.  

Six: What three things do you want for yourself by the next Solstice – 21st December 2013?

And here is where my New Year's Day Take Two goes.  My next half of the year - through the Winter Solstice, I want to do the following three things:
  1. Do something fun every day.  That's right, every. single. day.  It doesn't have to be like river rafting fun, just a swing on a swing or a rough and tumble game on the lawn with my dog or a game of tag with my daughter.  It may even be sinking into a comfy chair at a coffee shop with a good book...completely lost in it.  That is fun.  So, one thing, every day.  If I get to the end of the day and I'm climbing into bed and haven't done something fun, I will have to go downstairs and watch an episode of Murder She Wrote - not as punishment, but because, for me, that is fun.
  2. Eat at least one salad every day.  I guess depending on the salad, this could double up with number one.  :)  But, seriously.  I realize that I need to take better care of myself (I say, as I just finished a Haagen Das ice cream bar at midnight).  I figure totally changing my diet is probably a lost cause.  But, if I can just make sure that at least one of my meals includes or is made up of a salad of some sort, made with fresh veggies or fruits or both, it will help me to improve one little aspect of my diet.  And, as I said above, the theme for me this year seems to be "small improvements", so I'll go with it.  
  3. Establish a doable, enjoyable, peaceable routine.  This is by far the most difficult for me.  I am routineless.  My life is full of chaos and spontaneity (not the fun kind of spontaneity where friends steal you away for a slumber party but the sad kind of spontaneity where the sink overflows and you have to figure out a way of cleaning it up and fixing it right in the middle of getting ready to leave for somewhere you would much rather be than at home cleaning up and trying to fix a leaky sink) and just pure procrastination.  I want to have a routine where things have a place, duties are done (on time) and it is enjoyable for me and for others.  Too much to ask?  I guess we'll see on December 21, 2013.  
So, what about you?  Want to jump on the Summer Solstice Soul Train?  You can comment here and/or on Sas Petherick write your own blog post about it and 
 
 
Picture
from http://commons.wikimedia.org/
Isn't that picture beautiful?  Strange that something so incredibly destructive can be so incredibly beautiful as well.  I don't know how realistic that picture is in representing a black hole, but I would like to think it is somewhat true to life.  According to the Physics About.com page on Black Holes a black hole is such an extreme space/time curvature that it allows nothing, not even light, to escape.  

Life is often beautiful as well, but like this picture, sometimes I feel like just over the horizon is something that will suck me in and never let me out.  There were times that I felt like this while spending every day in a hospital room next to my infant daughter who was on a paralytic and unable to interact with me.  I showed up every day and sat in a chair in the room, sometimes next to her bed with my hand on her head (where you are touch infants in medical distress because other places can cause them more distress), sometimes I would change her diaper and it would feel like something "normal," sometimes I would read to her.  But, there was never a time when I felt like there wasn't something just over the horizon that could suck me in and never let me out.  In all fairness, I often felt like there may be something else just over the horizon that would set me free suddenly, but more often is what the "black hole".  Sometimes I felt like I was already there.  

I feel a little further away from that black hole nowadays, but every once in a while, I still feel its pull.  I'm not sure how powerful it is, so it causes a lot of anxiety for me.  Sometimes it is the pull caused by my daughter's illness.  Sometimes it is the pull causes by my parents' illnesses.  Sometimes it is the pull caused by my seeming inability to organize my home, my finances, my self-care, my work responsibilities, my social obligations, etc., etc.  

So, each day is a fight of sorts.  A fight to move further from the black hole and its pull on me.  The further away I can get (a long period of wellness for my daughter, a clean house, getting work obligations done, working on a routine for my day-to-day life, getting some bills paid off, etc.), the less I feel anxiety.  But, it isn't easy escaping the pull of a black hole - after all, it is extreme!  But, I am going to do my best to take this cosmic trip of sorts - away from the black hole and back to Earth, where I hopefully can plant my feet firmly on the ground for a bit.
 
 
Picture
That was my dad only two short years ago.  Today, he lies in a hospital bed in a room outside of my parent's home, unable to communicate, enjoy life or the company of his granddaughter, unable to walk around or sit in "his spot" on the couch.  These two years have brought many changes, but the most difficult has been his inability to tell us what is going on.  It is nearly impossible to figure out his needs and wants.  

It is so disappointing to see the way my dad is treated because of this inability to communicate.  He is frustrated and he lashes out.  People, especially caregivers, seem to think that he is able to control this behavior and that we, as his family, are able to influence this behavior in some way.  My mom has been told numerous times about his "bad behavior" or his being "uncooperative".  Caregivers have told her to "talk to him".  That they "will try" to do things like give him a bath or feed him or shave him, but that they "can't make any promises."  I am confused by this, as I am not a caregiving professional, but I am aware of the symptoms of dementia that include angry outbursts, uncooperative behavior, etc.  So, why are these supposed "professionals" confused or surprised by this behavior?  

I question the training that is received by these individuals who often become the primary caregivers for these individuals who can no longer speak or advocate for themselves.  We have a relatively strong family unit and my mom has an additional caregiver for herself (she is suffering from long-term cancer) who goes with her twice a day to visit my dad.  Without these visits, I am unsure of what care he would receive.  My sister and I are well-educated and financially secure.  We can take the time necessary to come down and deal with paperwork and medical appointments and medicine needs.  I often think of what my mom would do without this support network.  But, there must be many out there who do not have these support networks.  And even with this support network, my mom is often a nervous wreck, worrying about how to do better by my dad, worried about what her medical results will show, worrying about what will be done with my dad if her cancer takes her before his dementia takes him.  And there is no comforting her out of this.  Her concerns are all valid.  Her life has become one of a depressing wait for death to take one or both of them.  And I can speak for and advocate for them, but I can not take that end point away.  

So, why am I saying all this?  What is the point?  What do I want done?  The answers are not as easy to find as the questions/frustrations.  I think the reasons I'm saying all this is to consider how we, as advocates, caregivers, citizens who will probably be part of this aging community (or maybe already are) can make this place a bit better.  I know I'm not the only one who wonders about these things and some have already taken action - my new favorite place is Caregiving.com - part resources, part therapy, part support!  I know there are many blogs out there.  I know that there are great movements in creating better education, better advocates, better speakers for those who can no longer speak.  I hope to join those movements and make some changes, if not for my own parents, then for parents of others, and myself, and my daughter.

It isn't easy though.  But, nothing worth doing ever is...

 
 
A girl, once confined to a hospital crib with tubes and machines keeping her alive (barely), now runs free through the park with someone's else's heart beating inside her chest.  Her health is not perfect (she currently has pneumonia, again...), but she is alive and outside of hospital walls and free from tubes and machines.  Instead, another child's heart keeps her alive.  A child who is no longer able to run through a park or be held by his or her parents.  The story is one of amazing joy and gratitude for us.  But, the story is one of crushing pain and loss for some other family.  

I must admit that I don't think about it all the time.  It would probably not be healthy to do so.  But, I do think about it quite often.  It is hard to have your story of joy tied so intimately to another's story of pain.  I have not heard back from the donor family (I wrote a letter, something that was obviously, in every way, not telling the story well - how do you thank someone for saving your daughter's life by losing their own child's life?).  So, I don't know the story of pain, I simply imagine it in my head and hurt for it in my heart.  

I love my daughter so much.  I am so thankful that her life was saved by this amazing medical procedure that seems as much science fiction as science fact to me.  But, I am also sad for that unknown family out there and for the loss of that unknown child.  It is a strange place to be, here in the land of pediatric heart transplant.  It is our every day to give our daughter many medicines to make her body not reject this "foreign" object beating in her chest.  Is is our every day to know that this heart is not likely to last her lifetime.  It is our every day to know to that she is doing amazingly well for the condition she was in when she received her new heart.  

It is a unique story and the picture above captures the pure joy that we have been given.  But, that picture also leaves out the other story, that I have committed to telling in the hopes that the child's life who was lost to give mine life does not go forgotten or unrecognized.  I wish I had a picture of that child or knew the story of that child so I could share it with you, but for now, the simple recognition that there is a story left untold will have to suffice.  It is a reminder that although every picture tells a story, it also leaves a lot out and sometimes that untold story is just as important or more important than the one told.
 
 
Inspiration, according to dictionary.com, is "The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative."  I can honestly say that I often feel inspired, if I'm just considering the mental stimulation to FEEL something.  I am inspired by photos, by webpages, by people's stories, by TV shows, by movies, by books, by articles.  I am constantly feeling things and they are often strong feelings.  I am often mentally stimulated.  Sometimes I even go so far as to make plans and sometimes I follow through - e.g., I have been cooking from Pinterest INSPIRED recipes lately.  But, often, I lose the momentum and my inspiration becomes more feel than do.

So, although a prompt I'm working from asked me to make an inspiration list, I prefer to make a MOTIVATION list.  Things that motivate me to actually DO something.  And although the list may seem a bit strange, perhaps you can relate to it and perhaps through making the list, I will be able to discover a bit more about how I can go about DOing more about the feelings I get.  This is in no particular order:

1.  My daughter.  Well, actually this is in a particular order.  She is my number one motivator.  I want her to see me being creative, doing fun things and being a well-rounded person.  She is only four, but I already see so much how she models my behavior, appreciates my attention and DOing things WITH her, and it makes me want to DO more.  She is both a great inspiration and great motivation!

2.  A timer.  I know - weird.  But, I have this system that I work on where I set a timer for 10 minutes and force myself to DO something.  I have a list of different things I cycle through - cleaning the house, grading assignments, going through my email, reading blogs, etc.  I will often end up spending more than the 10 minutes on that thing, but sometimes I can cycle through the list over and over again, never tiring of any one thing and feeling productive during the process.  This is often how I get cooking and then I end up staying there to see it through to the end.  I am using a timer to write this blog post.  If I didn't have the list and the timer going, I may put things off and put them off until they end up being left undone.  So, it is both an inspiration and a motivation.  I guess it is more the combination of the list and the timer...

3.  Pinterest.  I am not a terribly visual person (note the lack of pictures on this blog so far), but I do get inspired by certain visual qualities.  Sometimes it is a picture, sometimes simply a color or an object.  But, Pinterest will often inpsire me, sometimes motivate me.  I noticed how often I pin things (inspiration) versus DO things (motivation) on my boards, so I put Pinterest in my list (that I use with the timer). And now, at least once a day and sometimes more often, I am actually taking action on a pin!  

4.  Other's stories.  I am lucky in that I have joined a group of women who are working together to build, share and rejoice in their stories.  Hannah Marcotti is our benevolent leader and this blog is a result of that group and my own exploration of my story.  Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in feeling like the "only one".  I suffer from a weakness of not being totally willing to admit weakness.  I have been trained from a young age to hide problems and cover up weaknesses.  I am slowly breaking out of that historical training, but it is not easy.  But, it is much easier to face up to and admit to those weaknesses and problems when you are in a community of people willing to do the same and be there to support you.  So, this group has been inspiring and motivational to me.  

5.  Quotations.  I am strangely attracted to quotations.  I collect them like jewelry.  I display them on my Facebook status or in an email here and there or on my Twitter feed.  They cause me to think and feel and they are often the driving force behind my action.  Words are special to me.  They are lasting and meaningful and do not discriminate between people - every reader gets the same words.  What they do with them is up to them.  This is one reason why speaking is so important to me.  Because words matter.  And people who know how to use them garner power and respect.  Using words with the good of humanity in mind and the willingness to speak while being mindful is so important to me.  

6.  Public advocacy.  Connected to the quotations is the idea of individuals willing to get out and use their voices for good.  Public advocacy is incredibly inspirational and motivational to me.  In this era of cynicism about and sometimes disinterest in the public good, the voices for good are so important.  I don't necessarily agree with everything that goes out there publicly, but I always respect those who are willing to put themselves into the public space and speak their truth.  Some do it through speaking, some through song and still others with their art or poetry.  But it is all public advocacy and I feel a little more committed to doing the same myself when I see/hear others doing it and doing it well.

7.  My students.  As a college instructor, it is easy to get discouraged and disillusioned about the youth of today.  As in any "public service," I work with a wide variety of individuals.  But, there are some shining stars in there that really make me WANT to do my job better - to give them the best skills possible, the most opportunities possible, the space to do the amazing things they are capable of doing.  It has been a tough four years for me at my job.  I have found it really difficult to devote myself to my job in the same way as before with a chronically ill child at home (and now chronically ill, aging parents as well).  But, every semester there is at least one student (if not more) who really make me glad to have the job I do and make me want to be the best possible instructor and coach.  As I get to know my new self (post-child, post-child's lifelong illness diagnosis, post-realization that my parents will not be with us much longer), I realize how happy I am to be doing what I'm doing.  How much I feel like I am in a place where I can change people - and they can change me - for the better.  Sometimes it is hard, but it always gratifying.

I'm sure there are many other things that motivate me and there are a TON of things that inspire me.  But, these are the core.  There are connections between some (4 and 6 for example), but they are all a bit independent of each other as well.  I am an eclectic person who has problems defining myself, which can be good, but can also be a bit distracting.  But, I can define HOW I am encouraged, inspired and motivated and I can seek out/be sure to include those things in my life.  I have not thought a lot about this particular issue lately, so this was a nice "inspiration" to get me to really consider what "floats my boat" so-to-speak.  
 
 
"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see."  --John Burroughs

This is how I feel everyday.  Often, I am focused on there not being enough time to do the laundry or the dishes or clean the messes that inevitably come with a four year old at home.  And so I sometimes can not wait for the day to be over, to fall into bed and finally close my eyes and rest my body.  But, I sometimes wish that I could make the day go on for longer, to give me more time to play, more time to read, more time to enjoy all the things that life brings me.

Sometimes, though, I think I use lack of time as an excuse to NOT enjoy life.  Instead of taking the time I have and using it well, I let it slip away while I sit on my couch, watching TV or surfing the internet.  This quotation reminds me of how important it is to use the time I have to think and talk about meaningful and enjoyable things, to spend time outside enjoying the beauty that surrounds me, to read more than just a page on the internet or an email advertisement, and to spend time with people I enjoy and who appreciate me.  Prioritizing is something I have not done well in my life.  But, it is time.  Time to recognize that the time I've been given is precious and should be used well, not just used up.  It should be savored and appreciated rather than simply survived and disregarded.  

So, as I enter into the summer months - my slower season - I will consider time a bit differently.  I will consider using my time wisely and wonderfully rather than "saving" time or "managing" time.  The time will come and the time will go.  The only thing I can do is use it to do the things that matter and are enjoyed most.  Slowing down and savoring the time I have for thinking, reflecting, writing, reading, spending time with my family and friends.  Noticing all the time I have available to me during this season of the year and this season of life.  

Sure I will still remain busy and my to-do list will remain long, but I will consider that to-do list a bit more seriously. I will consider what I can cull from my home to make cleaning and enjoying it easier, but also what I can cull from (or maybe even add to) my to-do lists to be sure that at the end of each day as I fall into bed and finally close my eyes, I have something not only to look back on with joy and love, but also something to look forward to in the days to come.  

I want to live life to the fullest and to always be looking for more - not things, but experiences and time spent with people and doing things I love.  This is what I want for myself.  I do not want to waste a day, an hour, a minute of this limited time that I have to enjoy life to the fullest.
 
 
"It is safe to be open and accepting of inspiration and communicate love through purposeful thoughtfulness."

As I read those words, a question jumps out at me:  Have I ever really felt totally safe?  I have definitely had places where I was comfortable, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt safe.   It may go back to my childhood with an alcoholic father.  I have never really identified what may be the long-term impacts of that experience.  Feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, and fear are definitely in the mix.  But, I have spent a lifetime hiding them behind a smile or another excuse.  My mother taught me to hide things.  I’m not sure why.  She is still doing it to this day. Hiding her illness from her siblings is the latest, but it has been a lifetime of hiding information that may be disturbing to or judged by others.  So, I followed suit.  Very few people in my life knew my dad was an alcoholic, despite the fact that his alcoholism was probably obvious to many.  No one ever said anything and I certainly didn’t volunteer the information.  We never had a lot of close family friends for this reason.  It makes it harder to hide things when people are just dropping by or staying over for extended stays.  So, we didn’t have much of that.  I had a core group of friends that I had from Kindergarten through high school and although I’m sure they knew my dad drank, I’m also sure they never knew the extent of the problem. 
So, now as an adult, with my dad suffering from dementia that may have been caused by all those years of drinking and my mom hiding her cancer from her siblings and none of us really knowing how to talk about anything in any sort of meaningful way because we have worked at keeping it hidden for so long, I try to navigate my own life.  And, I find myself coming up short quite often.

I am more open with the facts of my life with my friends and family – my daughter’s illness is public information.  But, there are areas of my life that no one knows that much about (even me?).  Those same feelings of shame, guilt, confusion and fear are definitely still in the mix. 

And so I enter this stage of my life, with a child of my own and relationships to build and I want nothing more than to be able to live life feeling safe to express myself – my real self – warts and all.  I want to be open and accepting to others who inspire me to be a better self, but still my real self.  Not some façade that I have to keep up for appearances.  I want to express myself and my love to others with purpose and thoughtfulness. 
It is difficult to move from shame and guilt and fear to a place of safety, love and appreciation, but it is what needs to happen.  I am ready to move towards a better place and arrive at that place a better, happier, and inspired person.
 

    Author

    I am a 40 something mother of one beautiful four year old daughter who has another's heart beating inside of her, a second-time wife, and in my second or third career.  I am a late-comer in all aspects of life and still finding my way.  I teach Speech Communication and I love to help others find their voice and use it for things that matter. 

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