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Watercolor … “Inspiration” by Barbie Dallmann

I was halfway through the morning dog walk, a little less than a mile from home, when I heard it. Subtle. In the distance. A faint fluttering of leaves in the treetops. I hoped the breeze would make it to the ground. It was a muggy morning, with intermittent sunshine coaxing wispy bits of fog from the low-lying grasses.

Then I heard it again. The sound was a little louder this time. No, not the sound of wind rustling leaves. This was a sound I never heard growing up in the treeless prairies of Nebraska. It is the sound raindrops make when they hit leaves. The tiniest splat. So tiny it can only be detected when there are millions of raindrops hitting millions of leaves.

“I hear the rain coming,” I told the dogs. “Let’s get home!”

I quickened my pace and dismissed the idea of running. Two dogs, hiking shoes, and no bra. If ever there were reasons not to run, I had plenty. As the sound intensified, I knew what was coming. The words “torrential downpour” popped into my head. I looked behind us and could see a sheet of water in the distance. There was no escape. This was going to be really bad.

A burst of wind, and my muscles tightened in anticipation. One huge drop hit my head, then two, then twenty all at once. This was not the gentle shower of a watering can, but the splash of water pouring from a bucket. Oh, my goodness! So loud, and so much water! My thoughts were racing, expecting a lightning strike or to be washed away by flood waters. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Get home!

And then, within 15 seconds, the rain stopped. I waited for a second wave, but that was it. I marveled as the tiny, yet powerful storm moved on. The dogs shook themselves, and I laughed, swiping the dripping hair out of my face. It felt more like getting hit with a water balloon than a rain storm.

Before we got to our driveway, the sun was out again, and I saw something sparkle on the ground. A quarter and a nickel. Wow! Thirty times more money than I usually find on a morning walk. This feels like my lucky day.

 

Sign: Creating A Summer I Love

A sign in the cottage I use as a constant reminder to add the right ingredients.

It’s been several weeks since I declared my intention to Create The Best Summer of My Life, complete with a promise to provide REGULAR progress reports. I’m happy to report my summer is being filled with a balance of pleasing ingredients. In the daily conscious choosing, however, I decided to drop “regular progress reporting” in favor of occasional disjointed musings. In the end, it makes for a much more appealing recipe.

Journal Entry

Journal Entry: “How I Spent My Summer”

After my initial declaration, I created a hope-filled journal entry entitled, “How I Spent My Summer.” I used both memories from my best summers along with plans for this one.

I’ve been thinking a lot about 1970, the summer I turned 16. It was my last innocent summer. I was in love for the first time, and my heart had not yet been broken. My parents were not yet divorced. I had no summer job. For the first time, my twin cousin visited without her parents. My life was full of freedom and fun. I went to the pool, visited parks, and hung out with a fun group of church kids. No one in my crowd used drugs or alcohol, although there was a fair amount of heavy petting. From that summer, I chose the ingredients of freedom, fun, swimming, parks, and believing in true love.

Several times my good friend Ann has texted an invitation to join her at the neighborhood pool—right in the middle of the work day! It’s new for me to rearrange my work schedule for the sole purpose of spontaneous fun, but it’s on my list!

One weekday morning I loaded both dogs in the convertible and drove to Kanawha State Forest for an early hike in the woods. Just this morning I refused to accept a transcription job of poorly recorded tapes. From experience, I know listening to the droning background noise and muddy voices will culminate in frustration and a nasty headache. No, thank you. Not this summer. Instead, I happily accepted a typesetting job for a client’s second novel. It fills the workday with enjoyable reading while my fingers get a little exercise.

One ingredient I’ve been using sparingly is multitasking. It’s hard to be really present to my life when I’m focused on doing more than one thing at a time. I choose minimal juggling this summer. Instead, I concentrate on being, rather than doing, and living at a slower pace.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a LOT on my to-do list. To reclaim a little extra time, I asked my hairdresser for a wash-and-wear style, and I’ve stopped the daily make-up routine. It’s amazing how quickly I can get ready when all I have to do is take a quick shower and get dressed.

I think last night is a fair Best Summer representation. The love of my life and I ate grilled chicken salads on the back deck, enjoyed a small fire in the pit, watched the dogs playing in their kiddie pool, and chatted while playing Scrabble. Early to bed and up with the sun. Another day. Another opportunity to choose delicious ingredients.

 

Healing Hearts

memorial

Memorial in the Woods for Mom’s Ashes

I spent a couple of hours this morning reading journal entries from the year after my mother died. What a story they told. Grief stitched its way through the tapestry, leaving knots of sadness here and threads of gratitude there. In awareness of my mortality, I frantically set out to live life more fully.

The busy-ness of that year was both comforting and numbing. I traveled nearly 20,000 miles (by car, by plane, on foot), perhaps trying to outrun the pain, but more likely simply because I could. After nearly five years of care giving, I was finally free to come and go as I pleased, and, boy, did I ever come and go as I pleased!

This grief retrospective was triggered by present circumstances as my husband prepares to travel to Phoenix to attend his step-mom’s funeral. Our son is accompanying him, the ever strong, compassionate, resilient one.

There have been other deaths in the last two weeks. My friend said goodbye to her father. My former neighbor lost her precious aunt.

As I approach my inventory to choose yet another sympathy card, the cycle of life appears scrawled on the sides of small greeting card boxes: Birthday … Graduation … Wedding … Anniversary … New Baby … Get Well … Sympathy. I sigh deeply as I notice the words Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Why do I still have those? No parents, but I still have the boxes of cards. As I think about throwing them away, tears trickle down my face. Oh, I remember now why they’re still there. Maybe they can stay a little longer. Not ready for that step quite yet, it seems.

The grief journey takes as long as it takes. That first year was incredibly difficult, as I embraced and moved through the pain, one step at a time. Just last month I sorted through Mom’s recipe books and cards, put a few in with mine, put a few in storage, and threw out the rest. The process was full of smiles as I remembered the dishes she used to make. I joyfully baked her “Easter Cake” and shared it with friends. No tears, just happy memories.

Today as I stand on the fringes of the wordless grief of those around me, I breathe deeply, close my eyes, and envision their inner spirits being rocked in the arms of angels, comforting, protecting, loving. I pray they will find the strength and courage to work through the grief, however long it takes, and that they will be gentle with themselves on the long and winding road to a healed heart.

 

Mom's Ashes

Still missing you, Mom. XOXO

 

August 2014

these are my doodles as I dream about bike riding in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii on my 60th birthday

 

I’ve been thinking lately about what it takes to create a memorable summer. Seems like the sort of thing Adventure Barbie might enjoy though, don’t you think?

If asked to pinpoint the best summer of my life so far, I’d be weighing carefully the summers of 1967 and 1984. Both deviated from the norm; each changed my life in important ways.

Go Lite Travel TrailerNo more than two days out of 7th grade, Mom and I packed the Go Lite camping trailer, hitched it to the back of an International Harvester pickup truck and headed for Indiana, the farm country where my mother was raised. We spent four weeks visiting my aunts, uncles, and cousins before heading back to Nebraska so that Dad could join us for the next leg of the journey.

We spent the entire month of July exploring Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. I swam in the Great Salt Lake and hiked in the Grand Canyon. I waited impatiently for Old Faithful to erupt and enjoyed playing cards with new groups of kids as we changed campgrounds nearly every night. I wrote post cards to my friends at home and learned many ways to entertain myself during the long drives between sites.

Go-Lite0002In August, Mom and I traveled alone once again. I remember visiting Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, my uncle’s candy store in northern Michigan, and my twin cousin in Minnesota. On my 13th birthday I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and I struggled to prepare for my impending demise. No, I didn’t feel THAT bad, but I was convinced it was a terminal illness and that people were just being kind by saying I would be okay.

Thirty years ago this week in 1984, I voluntarily left employment as a secretary in corporate America. After Memorial Day I officially began full-time as the owner and operator of Happy Fingers Typing Service, the first secretarial service in our city to offer cutting edge “computerized word processing.” That, too, was a summer of adventure as I took on the many challenges of self employment.

The experiences of both of those summers are important to the person I am today. In 1967, I had plenty of time to imagine what I wanted for myself as an adult. I believe many of my ambitions and dreams were planted during that summer of discovery. I’m also immensely grateful to my 29-year-old self for her determination, courage, and resourcefulness as she set out on her own. My life has been shaped time and again by the challenges and opportunities of owning my own business.

Now, as I count down the weeks to my 60th birthday in August, I’m determined to make this summer memorable, one with ample doses of discovery, challenge, and adventure. This summer I am committing to stepping outside my comfort zone; to making choices that will boost my levels of courage, compassion, and creativity; and to allowing you, my readers, to hold me accountable for Creating The Best Summer of My Life (so far). Stay tuned for Regular (dare I commit to weekly?) Progress Reports.

 

ReadAloudYesterday I finished my third year as a ReadAloud Volunteer in a grade school classroom of approximately 25. Next Thursday I’m going back to celebrate the penultimate day of school with a class pizza party and an opportunity to say good-bye to a very special group of people.

Reflecting on this past year’s experience induces a tearful sense of gratitude. Where do I begin to describe what it’s been like for me? Somehow the books, the kids, the teacher, the questions, and the laughter (lots of laughter) have come together to create an idyllic situation, one I have found myself eagerly anticipating each week. I enjoy practicing the reading as I try to get the voices of the characters just right. I anticipate questions that might arise and do a little research, hoping to be prepared.

This hasn’t been an experience of simply “reading books to children.” Yes, I do read books, but not to “children.” I read to lively, funny, inquisitive, and tremendously smart young people, complete human beings in every way. We’ve engaged in some of the most intriguing discussions, ranging from life on Alcatraz Island in the 1930s, to autism, inflation, Elliott Ness, ice boxes, and tooth powder. We’ve talked about the stock market, summer jobs, and even debated the pros and cons of kissing and marriage. This class has kept me on my toes all year, and I have loved every minute of the hour spent with them each week.

And so, to Mrs. Burdette’s Fourth Grade Class at Overbrook Elementary School, I say a big THANK YOU! Thank you for the smiles, for the laughter, and for the applause. Thank you for inspiring me to expect more from young people. Your ability to listen, to learn, to grow, and to share has warmed my heart. I hope you’ll always remember the fun we had with books this year and that reading will forever be an important part of your lives. I feel blessed to have been a part of your fourth grade experience.

 

 

Stepping Out

R.C. and Ika

Adventure Cat and Ika Rose

This morning when I prepared to drive Ika Rose to the park for her morning walk, our cat, R.C., bolted through the door and followed us to the car. He seemed to be asking to go along. Really? Since when does a cat want to go for a car ride? My first thought was to hurry him back into the house, but then the Spirit of Adventure overtook me, and I tossed him into the car with the dog.

He intoned the all too familiar, “Cat in a Moving Car Blues,” throughout the mercifully short trip to the park. I’ll admit I chuckled a bit, thinking he had probably learned his lesson by the time we arrived, but I was wrong. He was still brimming with curiosity as he observed Ika trotting onto the walking path. R.C. jumped out of the car, too, quickly surveyed the area, and then strolled confidently in the direction of the dog.

My own adventurous spirit in high gear, I jogged to catch up and then established myself as the leader of the motley pack. In the pre-dawn light, we made it twice around the one-third mile track before a jogger showed up. That sent us down a rugged trail, following a creek about a quarter-mile through the woods behind the park. Yes, the cat kept up and seemed to be having the time of his life. Occasionally he would cry to be picked up, ride on my shoulders for a brief time, and then leap back onto the trail and run after the dog.

As much fun as this adventure was in retrospect, the actual experience was interwoven with nagging concern. There was a persistent voice reminding me that “Cats don’t do this sort of thing! You know they can’t be trusted. What if he runs off? You’ll never catch him!” and so on. I listened but kept walking, more engaged than fearful.

Now with all three of us safely home, I feel exhilarated. I took a risk. I had an adventure because I stepped out of my comfort zone. My willingness to move through my own discomfort allowed my cat to have an adventure, too. When we grow, those around us have an opportunity to grow, too.

This morning was a good reminder that I am constantly choosing the quality of my life experience and that nothing extraordinary ever happens inside my Comfort Zone.

 

Front Cover of Book

The cover of my first published book. To learn more, click here.

 

I’m happy that my book is finished, published, and ready to sell. In fact, I sold several copies last week from a casual mention on Facebook. Truthfully, though, I’m more excited about using my book than I am about selling my book.

Let me explain. Creating a Life You Love is predominantly a workbook; it’s intended to be a tool for increasing self-confidence and joy. Yes, I wrote a few chapters of supportive material, but like any good tool, the real power comes from using it, not from reading about how it works.

As I face the daunting task of developing and executing a successful marketing plan, I’m beginning to long for some increased self-confidence as well as a bit more joy. To that end, I picked up the book and began with prompt #1, “My Favorite Flowers.” It was easy to zip through numbers one, two, and three (daffodils, crocuses, and lilacs … I do love spring flowers!) But then the listing slowed as I thought hard about limiting my list to five. I wanted just the special ones, the flowers I can always count on to warm my heart and leave me smiling.

I doodled a bit on the page and then observed as some of my favorite flower memories floated into my awareness. There was the peony corsage made for me by my high school boyfriend. I was worried when I heard what he had planned and relieved to find the home-made corsage was actually quite pretty. But before the dance was over, all the petals had dropped down the front of my dress. I was left with a ribbon, greenery, and an empty stem. Too funny!

I remembered fondly the vase of lilacs I placed on the altar for the Blessed Virgin when I attended Catholic grade school. Each student took his or her turn bringing flowers each day in May to honor all of our mothers but Jesus’s mother Mary in particular. So many colorful aromatic flowers!

I closed my eyes and allowed the joy of flowers to wash over me. Wild flowers; spring flowers; flowers cut from our yard; purchased flowers; wedding bouquets; flowers in Moscow, Vienna, and London; the flower fields of Carlsbad; Mother’s Day flowers; Anniversary roses; dandelions; crab apple blossoms; day lilies. The deeper I waded into a lifetime of flower memories, the more joyful I became and the luckier I felt.

When my session with the workbook was over, I went grocery shopping and picked up a bouquet of roses for my office. I painted flowers in art class, and noticed periwinkle blooming in the woods.

If working with one page on one day can fill my heart so completely, can you see why I’m looking forward to completing the next 79 exercises? I didn’t just write the book on Creating a Life You Love, I’m living it!

 

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