#246 Do Something Unexpected

The term ‘go big or go home’ is novel and sounds brave but could be financially or emotionally expensive and perhaps not a good way to get your feet wet with the experience of variety.

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#246

Do something unexpected

Are you predictable?

Is there someone in your life that finishes your sentences? Do people make decisions for you based on historical data? Are you in a stagnant place; doing the same thing day in and day out? When life becomes too certain or too predictable, it can become boring. While we all need certainty to some extent, too much of it is not a good thing. Stability is a great thing but it needs to occasionally be sprinkled with variety with the understanding that tolerance for the unexpected is totally personal.

Take Control

For those of us who covet certainty, it’s a good idea to take some control of the variety we need and the best way to do this is to get up and do something unexpected. Make sure you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to experiencing any change up in routine. I’m not suggesting any wild or crazy things necessarily although if you’ve always been skittish about heights and suddenly express an urge to go bungee jumping, that may make sense. However, leaving a job that sustains your livelihood without another way to meet your obligations probably won’t be in your best interest overall.

Take a Risk

In order to step out of your comfort zone and do the unexpected – you must assume some amount of risk. For this reason, it is suggested that you start small – especially if you are just now stepping out. The term ‘go big or go home’ is novel and sounds brave but could be financially or emotionally expensive and perhaps not a good way to get your feet wet with the experience of variety. Be responsible and take calculated risks or the whole ‘certainty’ issue becomes more cemented.

Benefits

Doing the unexpected builds confidence both in yourself and in you for those around you. It requires courage and bravery to step out into the unknown. Even if you are certain of the results, doing something that no one would anticipate can be a recipe for surprise and entertainment; both of which contribute significantly to feelings of happiness.

Do yourself a favor and keep life interesting by making a commitment to …

Do something unexpected.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#252 Be Adventurous

Adventure helps us grow. When we experiment a little (or a lot), we will have successes and successes grow confidence.

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#252

Be adventurous

Are you willing to take risks? Try new things? Test new ideas?  Enjoy new experiences? If so… congrats, you are adventurous and I suspect your happiness level reflects as much.

Adventure is about curiosity. Happiness research indicates that when we are curious in our daily life, it may elevate our happy base line. This is great news for people who tend to be glass half empty type of people. Many of us operate from a state of fear and it keeps us locked into familiar positions. When we are curious… i.e., adventurous… we step out of that comfort zone and – in many cases – are pleasantly surprised.

Adventure is personal. For some, it may be bungee jumping. For others, it may be getting on an airplane. It’s the unknown, the uncertain, maybe even the mysterious which, of course is different for us all based on experience.

Taking risks is difficult for some. Start close to your comfort level. Increase by degrees and pay attention to your body which, is uniquely designed to warn you when you are approaching the boundary of risk tolerance. Push lightly – a little at a time – and before you know it, the benefits of being adventurous will be felt.

Adventure helps us grow. When we experiment a little (or a lot), we will have successes and successes grow confidence. Yes, some of those trials will not be as successful as we hope but trying again is being adventurous and each time we try, we open the door to success and the elation that comes with it. There’s a great surge of dopamine that travels with the words “I did it!”.

Stop for a minute and think of something that would feel just a little outside of your comfort zone, or a place you’ve never gone, or a thing you’ve always wanted to do and make plans to…

Be adventurous.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

Choosing Love

I picked up the phone to call him, just to remind him that I was excited to think about what lay ahead for us.

Continued from Falling

“The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry lifetime after lifetime.” ― Alex Collier

After Harlan told me he had been treated for melanoma I was a bit heartbroken. I didn’t want to go through that again, I couldn’t imagine setting myself up for loss one.more.time. I struggled to find some peace with the idea of letting him go – before he ‘really’ got under my skin and into my heart. I felt disappointed and a little defeated because I had finally met someone worth allowing myself to fall in love again and he is telling me that he had thought he was going to die a few years prior.

He had said the only treatment he had was excision of the mole… no radiation or chemotherapy. One would think that it couldn’t have been too serious and yet, a cancer diagnosis is terrifying no matter the circumstances. Every time I thought I could overcome my fear, the memories of my step dad’s journey with melanoma crowded my vision and then I could see myself again as a widow sitting in the front row of a funeral service. I just couldn’t do it.

I picked up the phone and called my Aunt. We had been close since I had settled my grandparent’s estate and she was like-minded in spiritual philosophies so it was easy to talk with her most of the time about this existential stuff. I needed to think out loud and bounce my thoughts off of someone.

“I met this guy”, I started telling her the story of Harlan and our instant connection. I shared with her, the prophecy from my mountain trip and gave her a general description of how things had transpired so far. I told her about his melanoma and how scared I was to take the risk of loving him.

“So, let me get this straight”, she said. “You are going to throw away the opportunity to love a person whom you are describing as a ‘soulmate’ because he MIGHT die?”. She sounded incredulous. “I thought you believed that everything happened for a reason”. She was challenging me.

I recalled an evening she and I were sitting on the porch at my grandparent’s farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania overlooking the amazing acreage there in the Blue Mountain region. The beauty of it was always intense, no matter the time of year. It was one of those places where you sit and observe the perfection of God’s work, of creation. It is one of those places where the paragon of color, texture, and shape are apparent. We were sitting there talking, taking a break from the emotional aspects of our losses; she of having lost a sister and her parents and me – my mom and grandparents. It was a lot to process. The conversation had turned metaphysical. We talked about the lack of coincidence, cosmic design, divine intervention, universal intent… all of the things that inspire me deeply…

Suddenly it was clear. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, then I had to deduct that

THIS moment

In its intention

Is perfect.

That meant – every moment of my life – each one… in its overall intention for the rest of my  life was perfectly designed.

The intensity of the meaning of that realization took me by surprise. Whether it was God, the Universe, Mother Earth … it didn’t matter – each moment of my life was moving me toward the next… perfectly. It was a concept that we both internalized and committed to memory – feeling quite satisfied that we had discovered something so profound.

She was reminding me of that now as I questioned the value and or the validity of meeting Harlan, of falling in love with him. She reminded me that there are never any guarantees. She asked me if I would have married Rocky even if I knew that our time together would have been short. I knew I would have – those short three and a half years were precious to me and had produced Frank… I would never have given that up. She asked me if I would have married Hubby even if I knew the outcome and as much as I wanted to say a resounding ‘no’ – I knew that the girls were a product of that union and nothing on earth would have me regret those blessings. I wouldn’t change anything about my life.

She asked me to think about whether I was willing to reject even a day of love, of being loved, the experience of the joy that being in love brings for the sake of safety. So, “in other words, she said, “you would rather feel nothing – no pain, no joy, than to feel love and potential pain??”

Hmmm…

I didn’t ‘want’ to feel ‘nothing’ but I was afraid. I was afraid of the pain that loving someone -and losing them- entailed. I was terrified of the darkness that ensues when love ends. The idea of experiencing that again panicked me but then again, the idea of never loving again wasn’t what I wanted either. Crap. Shit. What do I do now?

I appreciated the phone call even if it didn’t solidify a decision to end my budding romance. Rather, it did just the opposite I was more clear on the emotions that I experienced when he told me about the melanoma. I realized that when I noticed the potential for emotional pain, my response was to shut down, turn, and run away. That’s normal, right? Who ‘wants’ to feel pain? I understood then that the ‘fight or flight’ response we instinctively use wasn’t only for our physical protection – it was for our emotional protection as well. In our efforts to preserve our emotional integrity, we avoided or fought back emotionally.

My desire to run away from Harlan in case he died was an instinct to avoid the pain of losing him. The mature adult part of my brain that held on to rational thinking knew that there were no guarantees even if he had never known the word melanoma; after all… Rocky believed he would live to be one hundred years old. Nope, no guarantees at all. With very little conscious thought from that point on, I allowed myself to love.

I picked up the phone to call him, just to remind him that I was excited to think about what lay ahead for us. I looked forward with a little apprehension but less fear by knowing that right now… here… in THIS moment I was choosing love. At some point, I noticed that I always choose love.

Falling

I had to end the phone call and collect my thoughts. I couldn’t find any logic or rationale that correlated to my willingness to take the risk that yet another man I loved, would die on me.

Continued from And the Kissing Begins

“All love stories are tales of beginnings. When we talk about falling in love, we go to the beginning, to pinpoint the moment of freefall.” —Meghan O’Rourke
After only a few dates I knew I could easily love this man. We were able to talk about almost anything and we shared a number of important priorities. I could also tell that we were different in a lot of ways. I knew now that a good relationship is one where we celebrated the similarities between us while at the same time, embracing and respecting the differences.  When we weren’t hanging out with one another, we were talking on the phone; and still – the conversation flowed.

On the next kids weekend with their dad, Harlan came and stayed at my house. We built a fire in the fireplace, rented movies, opened a few bottles of wine and created a blanket / pillow heaven reminiscent of our childhoods. We slept there – in front of the fireplace – participating in an adult style sleepover as if we were in our twenties all over again. It was romantic and loving and relaxed. For approximately 48 hours, we ate, slept, and chatted at will… no schedule, no interruptions, no expectations. It was magical.

Eventually, we got into more nitty-gritty things, what had happened in our marriages, the imperfections of our extended families, the challenges that we grew from. One of the many things that really attracted me to Harlan though is his heart. He appeared to be intensely compassionate and considerate of others – an empath almost. I could tell that he would literally ‘feel’ the experience of others and sometimes, there was simply no benefit at all in that.

We talked about him meeting the girls. I had introduced them to Jay too soon but then, I had never felt this way about Jay. I felt something stronger and growing for this man. I wanted to see how he would be around the girls.

That desire made me think about myself as a mother… how many mistakes had I made? How many had I learned from? What had I learned exactly?

The girl’s father hadn’t been discriminate in his choice of partners and had no regard for the girls’ thoughts on the matter, telling them to ‘get over it’ and ‘it was his choice, not theirs’. Consequently, the girls certainly didn’t have the relationship with him that I had always envisioned. There was a strain on the father-daughter rapport almost constantly because of his relationship. I didn’t want the same outcome. I wanted to find a way to balance a personal romantic relationship with that of my role as a mother and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the latter.

I knew from my own childhood that when moms and dads begin dating again, they can get too absorbed in the new partner – way before the kids have a chance to ‘catch up’ with their feelings and that, wasn’t the best scenario either. I wanted the girls to like Harlan and so, I invited him for dinner.

It wasn’t as smooth and as easy as when Jay came… even though Harlan had daughters, he wasn’t up on Gilmore Girls or Hanna Montana because he mostly watched sports or public broadcasting. He wasn’t a reader of Harry Potter or Nancy Drew. He attempted to connect with Swimming but eventually found that they like many of the same movies. Harlan likes practically any movie; chick flick, adventure, or animated. It didn’t’ matter too much, he had seen all of the trailers if he hadn’t seen the actual movie and so he was able to foster a conversation on that front, easily.

My oldest daughter Sara, being a bit more mature and perhaps more present and considerate of her surroundings – attended to Harlan like proper company by engaging him in conversation as she could. Erin seemed indifferent and Emily stuck to me like glue. I watched each of them carefully and at one point, noticed that they were watching me. This was a new thing for us and we were all in unchartered territory. No one knew the rules or how to play the game so we were just ‘winging’ it but it was going ok – at least for now. He didn’t stay long after dinner; I guess we were thinking we would ‘ease’ into having him around.

And that’s what we did. Harlan made it very clear to the girls that they needed to come first – he wanted them to know that if they didn’t like him or want him around – it would impact our relationship negatively. He knew- he realized that for US to be happy, they had to accept him in my life. It was his philosophy in that regard that opened the door for me to fall head over heels in love with him.

I told him one evening when we were at his house. We were standing outside, under his carport and I was attempting to leave but each time I took a step toward my car he would lean down and kiss me, stealing my breath and preventing me from moving further. I knew I had to go but it was so difficult sometimes – tearing myself away from him. I loved all that kissing. I reached my hand up to his chest to hold him back, keep him at bay for a minute… I had to breathe. “You know”, I said… “I am falling hard for you. No doubt. I am falling in love.” As if it was some kind of competition and he knew he had won – he replied “Oh yeah? I already fell. I love you.” He was one up and I was too weak to prevent an all out swoon. He caught me by placing his hand firmly and strongly on the small of my back as he pressed me to him again, for another kiss – this one full of love.

Later, I’m not sure if it was a week or a day in an austere conversation we were having for the sole purpose of filling in more details about our previous years of life, he mentioned that he thought he was going to die. He had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma and had a significant mole removed from his shin. It had been nine or ten years at that point and he said it in an unremarkable manner as if had been just another day. And yet, he spoke about it as if he had thought his life was over, the melanoma had been considerable enough that he somehow believed his life was in danger.

My heart lurched as memories of my step-dad and his slow, agonizing death from malignant melanoma inundated my mind. He too had found a mole and his life ended because of it. My thoughts also went right back to Rocky’s death and the excruciating emotional pain that I felt when he died. I felt as if I was on a merry-go-round, noticing all of the love and loss in my life as it went faster and faster while the seat I was on went up and down, creating a chaotic sensation so intense that I found it difficult to catch my breath. No way… I was not doing this again. Nope. Thank Goodness I found out early… while it was still easy to get out.

I had to end the phone call and collect my thoughts. I couldn’t find any logic or rationale that correlated to my willingness to take the risk that yet another man I loved, would die on me. At least it hadn’t gotten very far and it would be easy to end. Shit. I really fell for this one.

Dreams Come True

I saw us here. I imagined our first Christmas tree, birthday parties, and social events. I was filled with excitement for everything to come.

“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.”  – Roman Payne

I’ve never had closure over that photo. The explanation just did not set into my sense of reasoning. It may have been my growing sense of insecurity, or my fear that I wasn’t ‘enough’ for this man I married, or jealousy of his ability to have such extraordinary alone time. My only option was to ‘drop it’ and yet somehow it got tucked into that old mental file of mine, the Yuck file that had been created just a few years back.

We were outgrowing our inner city townhome. We were facing the reality of educating three children with a private education due to the impotence of the local public school system. Additionally, the neighborhood in which we lived was changing; becoming a less desirable location for raising a family. We began house hunting. We looked at house after house, week after week and the discouragement began to build. Simultaneously, we had our home listed for sale at a price far below our cost and offers were not flowing in.

One evening we were pouring over a real estate magazine (before the internet, we had to look in newspapers and weekly magazines) and saw a four-bedroom home on an acre of land in our price range. It looked amazing but we didn’t know anything about the location as it was in a neighboring state. We agreed to drive out and investigate. Thirty minutes over the state line we found ourselves in the country where curvy roads wound around gently sloping landscapes dotted with small communities in a suburban fashion. It was so pretty. We eventually found the house from the magazine and immediately became captivated by its position on an acre of hundred-year-old oak trees. It looked small from the outside but since it was empty, we stole views of the inside from each window. We walked around the circumference of the building, creating an image of the layout in our minds, based on the visual information we were gathering. It seemed perfect! We made an offer that was accepted and relented on trying to salvage money from our townhome and sold it for a low number. We were scheduled to move Labor Day weekend, in time for Francis to start a new school at the beginning of the year.

Our new house was perfect and there was so. much. room. Francis started 7th grade and we found a preschool for 3 & 4 year old’s that Sara could attend that fall. Our settlement date wasn’t actually scheduled until mid-September but the owners allowed us to ‘rent back’ from them for two weeks so the kids could enroll in school. It was a dream come true for me. We had a house in the country (on a cul-de-sac in a tiny neighborhood) and children in the rooms. I walked from room to room, relishing in the fact that there was space for all of us, playroom, bathrooms, laundry, kitchen and dining rooms… I saw us here. I imagined our first Christmas tree, birthday parties, and social events. I was filled with excitement for everything to come. My dream of love and family had come true. It wasn’t perfect but it was mine and I allowed myself to be happy.

I’ve been remiss in omitting memories of a very important friendship that I developed shortly after marrying Hubby. Michele was the mom of another boy who was a classmate with Francis and very graciously agreed to keep him while Hubby and I honeymooned in Spain. Afterward, we formed a great bond, forged on our sons, our time as single mothers, and our new relationships with men who loved – or at least accepted our children. Shortly after I married Hubby, she also remarried. When I discovered I was preggo with Erin, she announced she was also expecting; our due dates were a week apart. She delivered 6 weeks early but now we each had three children – two of whom where the same age – and our husbands, although NOT the same age, had the same birthday. It seemed destined for us to be allies. We talked almost every day. In many ways she was my barometer of normal. She was clearly my sounding board and allowed me to vent on any subject at any time. I’m not sure I would have survived the life I lived without her.

In any regard, our move happened with the whole of Hubby’s family as helpers. They showed up ‘en mass’ to assist in unpacking and to satisfy their curiosity about our new digs. It was such a great home for family, for big families to gather. The house stood on an entire acre, tucked in at 1:00 on a circle at the end of a small street. There were only six neighbors and we didn’t meet them all at once, rather one at a time although no one was really similar to us in age or station. No matter, it was such a far cry from the crowded, noisy, and unsettled part of the city we came from that the absence of sound was its own music to our ears.

When the contract to the house was accepted, Hubby darted to the home improvement store and purchased a chain saw. It was a boy toy by any definition but in fact, it was logical for the acre of trees that we had acquired. The day his family arrived seemed to be a good day to demonstrate that toy even though we didn’t exactly OWN the house (or the trees) quite yet. There was one – out by the sandbox – that was overshadowed by larger trees, unable to thrive in its location and sure to be a problem as time went by and so – they (Hubby and the brothers) decided that tree needed to be removed.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with Hubby’s tree removal knowledge, as far as I knew it was extremely limited. There were no ladders, no ropes, no professionals. I corralled all the women and children into the house for prosperity sake as the men fired up the chain saw and pumped their biceps. The testosterone level was almost measurable as the sound of the saw meeting the tree permeated the house in a noticeable tone. And then… the sound changed. In less time than it took my heart to engage a single beat there was an audible “oh shit” and a tree came crashing over the roof to expose its crown against the window of our new dining room. Suddenly, we noticed an absence of sound. I ran outside to see this ‘little’ tree (about 6 inches in diameter and 25 feet tall) laying across the roof of our new home. Nothing appeared broken or significantly damaged thankfully. My heart was sitting in my throat and something was trying to pass through my vocal chords but it wouldn’t move. I wanted to laugh and part of me was attempting to cry – everything was fine but it scared me. It took some time for me to understand that I was reacting to the ‘accidental’ nature of this event. That something dangerous was happening and the outcome could have been disastrous. It was a chain saw and a little tree but it was a big deal for me. I didn’t communicate this message, instead I was bitchy about doing something irresponsibly before we actually owned the property – about taking unnecessary risks.

It was a trigger I didn’t realize I had.

Sand Castles

We become slaves to positive response and most importantly, we fail to learn how to COPE with the idea that it is impossible to please all people – all the time.

In my sophomore year of high school my mom and step-dad had to relocate to the metro DC area so that mom could obtain some specialized medical care for an at-risk pregnancy. She spent three months on bed rest before my (half) twin sisters were born. In an effort not to have us change schools AGAIN – we, my brother and I (sister Allysen was living with dad in California) went to stay with our grandmother until the school year was finished. It entailed come unique transportation arrangements since she did not live in the district we attended. They made arrangements for me to be picked up at an intersection of a state highway that a teacher drove for her commute. It was rural Pennsylvania and the term intersection is loose. There were a couple of roads there actually, the state Highway, a county road leading into a town of a few hundred, and a dirt road that was predominately farm access. It was the dirt road that I travelled to meet this teacher.

Occasionally, my grandmother was unable to pick me up in the afternoons and I was relegated to walking the 3.5 miles home. No, really…. It’s true. And no….. it wasn’t uphill both ways and yes…. I had shoes. I actually loved those walks when the weather was good. I recall singing Karen Carpenter songs and making up poems. One of them won a poetry contest at school. I still remember it.

As the autumn leaves turn to red

Lay your sleepy soul upon the bed

Close your eyes and go to sleep

Listen to the Willows weep

Nestle down all snug and warm

If you chill reach out your arm

Let me hold you extra tight

Before we kiss and say goodnight.

I’ve never forgotten the words to that poem and no, I don’t recall any special significance from it. I was probably missing my mother. I’ve had people say that it reminds them of death….. In future years if ever an English professor somewhere decides that there is some amazing underpinning of sorrow here and decides what it must mean, please know it is beyond my conscious understanding.

The other memory that stands out from one of those long walks is the profound understanding that I was “too young to feel this old”. I was fifteen and had assumed primary responsibility for my 6 year old brother. In all of the moves, the one consistent element is that he and I were together. Our sister often chose to live with the opposite parent and it was only a year or two out of our entire childhood that we all shared the same home. Along the way people would say “take care of your brother” or “you are such a big girl” and “it’s nice to count on you”. I became that girl – the one whom everyone depended upon. The idea that I may fail or let someone down became unacceptable to me. I began to thrive on people’s reliance on me. I became Miss Responsible while I lost my childhood.  That day I realized I was “too young” I didn’t know why or how it had happened exactly that I “felt too old” – I just knew I did and I didn’t believe that my thoughts about it would be taken seriously or accepted. I knew I needed to be dependable.

Perhaps on some crazy deep plane I was somehow in touch with the idea that my youth was escaping, my innocence waning, my adolescence disappearing and that is the source of the poem. Perhaps there was some subliminal pain that was unable to rise to the surface except metaphorically in that collection of rhyming words. Is that where art comes from? Should I have paid closer attention? Should someone have noticed? Nope, adults in my life were on auto pilot, coping with their own stuff – looking across the valley and choosing not to see the garbage there.

By the age of 15 I had learned and deeply engrained into my psyche the need to please – to be dependable and responsible – to take care of others. I had demonstrated so greatly that I could meet the needs of other people that *I think* people assumed I knew how to meet my own. I’m not sure I was aware that I had personal needs. How does a young person become aware of their needs if someone isn’t guiding them and teaching them about emotional and physical needs and about healthy methods of self care?

Some might argue (in fact, I often have a mental debate/war ensuing in my own mind) that learning dependability and responsibility are admirable attributes and actually, they are. However, there are UNHEALTHY behaviors that arise when we forget to set limits, to listen to our own needs, and fail to use our voice in fear that someone will feel disappointment. We learn to keep secrets where truth would meet displeasure. We develop perfectionist personas and fears of failure. We become slaves to positive response and most importantly, we fail to learn how to COPE with the idea that it is impossible to please all people – all the time.

That was me by the age of 18. I had become a complete and total people pleaser without skills to manage negative responses in a healthy manner and so it began, like a drippy sand castle…. one situation after another, the fears of disappointment and the inability to handle failure. Mental messages that slowly accumulated into a distorted perception of self.  There was my ‘inside’ self and the identity that I portrayed to the world. I had allowed a constant state of disconnect to exist in my mind between the person I felt like on the inside and the person I allowed the world to see. When people looked at me, they saw a confident, strong, smart, motivated, determined, and fearless young woman.  That was my outside – the part that people were proud of; teachers, parents, friends, siblings, employers, neighbors. I was a ‘good girl’. And, while those qualities are definitely there, the 12 year old girl who missed her mom and wanted to ride bikes and play hide and seek ‘til dark also existed and she was at war with me. She wanted to come out and be taken care of. She needed love and compassion. She wanted to cry in the lap of someone who didn’t judge. She needed to learn how to disappoint without risking total approval.

Merging my inside and my outside happened, but not until a storm blew in and washed wave after wave over the well fortified castle.