Archive for the ‘Dear Friends Letters from Isabella, our sister site’ Category

Taking Ourselves Off Automatic

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

[Dear Friends letter from our sister site Isabella Catalog.]

I’m having an issue with the trees and plants in my back yard. After over 10 years of everything thriving, something’s not right. Several of my favorite trees are starting to die, and the arborists I’ve consulted speculate that the trees are just getting so much water that the soil doesn’t have a chance to dry out enough to suit these particular trees.

The solution? Completely turn off the irrigation system and water by hand, selectively giving more or less water to appropriate parts of the yard. ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ was my first reaction. I’m used to my sprinklers coming on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For 5 minutes. In the dark of night. While I’m sleeping and not even aware that anything is going on out there. So convenient. So automatic. So clean and hassle-free.

But you know what? It turns out that the mandate to get outside and hand-water my yard is the best thing that could have happened to me (yard-wise, anyway). As I stand there with hose in hand, looking, really looking, at each and every plant and tree, I find myself infinitely more connected to my little corner of nature. I marvel at how abundant and big the succulents have gotten since I planted them 2 years ago. Time to divide them and give them more breathing room. I notice the Staghorn Fern isn’t doing so well in the spot I had it, and I search out a better place for it. The delicate spray of my hose finds and showcases a perfect and exquisite spider web I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. The Gardenia needs some fertilizer, and, whoa, there’s a bird’s nest I hadn’t noticed!

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Friends Through Thick and Thin

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Not too long ago my husband and I had the opportunity to spend the weekend with our oldest and dearest friends, Nancy and Jeff. Oldest because we have known them for over 25 years (I have actually known Jeff for nearly 35 years, but that is another story altogether), and dearest because no matter what the situation or circumstance,we are always there for each other. Over the years we have attended each others’ weddings, cared for each other during sickness and surgeries, offered support and encouragement through illness and loss of loved ones, celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, and new homes, and spent many, many glorious hours on weekend trips and adventures. There have been times of laughter and tears, times of fear, anguish and uncertainty, and the occasional brief moment of hurt feelings, but mostly,more than any other feelings or emotions, there have been years of joy and respect and an immeasurable amount of love.

We have shared many off-road adventures, bouncing and sliding along a steep, rocky, nearly impassable trail with no choice but to either go over the sheer side or to continue up the trail to the summit and on to easier paths. Nancy and I have gotten out and walked on more than one occasion, but our boys always get us home safely. On one trip several years ago,we were stopped at some crucial point in the trail (this seems to occur frequently on our adventures) and Scott and Jeff had to get out and examine the rocks to find the perfect line through, the one that would cause the least amount of damage yet still provide a white-knuckle experience, when I was struck by the fact that these two boys that I had known for so long and knew so well were no longer boys but had turned into grown men. When did that happen, and where was I when it had?

The answer finally came to me years later as the four of us were relaxing under the magnificent nighttime desert sky. It just happened. Gradually without any of us realizing it, we grew up.We’re adults. We actually have been for quite a few years now, with all the responsibilities and worry that can go along with the title. But in addition to those things, we also have the wisdom and experience to know that tough times don’t last,we are as strong as we need to be to get through any difficulty that comes our way, and if we falter,we will always, always have our friends to help us through the rocky parts. Thank heavens for enriching and nurturing friendships like these. They make such a difference in the way we handle life.

Worst Case Scenario

Monday, March 14th, 2011

How many times have you caught yourself saying,”Well, with my luck (fill in the blank with the worst case scenario for what you are dealing with)”? I find myself doing this more than I like to admit. Several weeks ago, during a particularly trying time in our lives, my husband and I were driving home from a very scary visit to our vet’s office. We had taken both our dogs in for their yearly routine exams having no clue anything could seriously be wrong with them. When the vet found a large, very suspicious mass on one of the dog’s chests, he soberly told us he didn’t like what he saw and would let us know the pathology results in 5-7 days. On the car ride home, I burst into tears and told my husband, “We just can’t catch a break these days.” My husband was very calm and told me to just keep my emotions in check until we knew what we were dealing with.

That was the longest week of my life. My stomach was in knots, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t find joy in anything, and basically just wanted to curl up in the fetal position. My dogs are brothers and extremely close. All the worst case scenarios of how the other dog would go on without his brother kept running through my mind. It was horrible. The test results finally came back and showed that the mass was large and in a very bad spot, but was benign. A great deal of money, a quick surgery and recovery later, and our pup is back to normal.

This whole incident made me take a serious look at why I am always ready to jump to the worst case conclusion. Am I trying to protect myself? Get my armor up and ready for battle even though it might not be needed? Why can’t I be more positive and optimistic? Does it always have to be the darkest day in my brain?

I think a lot of us do this. We expect the worst and the worst hardly ever happens (thank goodness!). But when it does happen, it rocks our world, and we decide to not be caught unprotected again. So, next crisis, our minds go into overdrive and we imagine what it will be like when the world falls on our heads so we can be “ready.”

While this is just human nature for some of us, starting now I am going to make a real effort to temper this impulse. Spending those 7 days imagining life without my beloved dog was in no way good for me or my family. And, of course, as it turns out, totally unnecessary. I am going to try to put my imagination in a lower gear, be realistic when things come up, but not panic and freak out. I know this will be harder than I think, but in the long run, it will balance my life, allowing me to be a more positive presence for myself and a more positive force in the world.

Break Away From the Herd

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Leave it to my dad to find enlightenment from a herd of one-track rabbits. Eons ago when he drove one of those open-car, hand-cranked railcars for the Milwaukee Railroad (Hello, Elmer Fudd?!), he said that rabbits would get on the track in front of him, and once they started running, they couldn’t seem to figure out that all they had to do was jump off the track to avoid their demise. I don’t know if my dad realized what a powerful life lesson he imparted with this story, but it’s about the best metaphor for life a dad could share with his daughter.

Just as life never pans out for rabbits running from trains, it doesn’t fare too well for us when we’ve got railcars of pettiness, negativity, and — well, you fill in the blanks — heading our way. I don’t know what motivates rabbits to continue in their folly, but I have an inkling of what compels us as people. Long before wheels and railcars were invented, group survival was where it was at, and I still fall prey to its siren song of ‘there’s safety in numbers’ as well as that strong desire to be ‘included’ and the fear to change.

In that sense, it takes a brave bunny to break away from the herd (especially when that herd is its family of origin!). But I’ve found life is so much sweeter when we take a daily look at the track we’re on, our traveling companions, and what we have stuffed in our brain’s baggage compartment. Over the years, I’ve learned that if it looks like a train, sounds like a train, and smells like a train, it’s my cue to take the nearest exit. There’s no need to hurl insults at the rabbits who choose to remain, or throw rotten eggs on the railcar, track, or conductor. Just get yourself off the track now. Refuse to spend one more minute of your precious life huffing and puffing in order to stay out of harm’s way. You’ll never out-run a moving locomotive, and it’s no fun trying.

Truly, life is too short to settle for being steamrollered by anyone or anything. It’s a new year. The next time someone in your life wants to engage in drama, trauma, or just plain petty meanness, choose to get off the track! You can do it. A beautiful world of unlimited possibilities awaits you. Wishing you all a Happy New Year and Happy Trails!

Lessons From Feral Kitty

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

The Real FK - Feral Kitty

The Real FK - Feral Kitty

Dear Friends,

I’ve never been a cat person, but all that changed when ‘Feral Kitty’ came on the scene. Over the past year I’ve watched this creature transform from a hissing flash of white fur darting through my yard to a welcoming, purring presence on my doormat. In exchange for some kibble and a lot of space, I’ve learned more about relationships from this feisty tomcat than from a year of couples’ therapy with my ex!

Prior to being Feral Kitty, F.K. lived life as a domesticated cat in training with my grown daughter who had adopted him as a feral kitten. Despite her love for him and all her best efforts, she could not socialize this cat whose feral roots ran deep. No longer willing to put up with scratches on her son’s face, and knowing that no one else would ever adopt this surly, scratching mean machine, she finally gave up trying to change him. She decided to accept his feral nature and set him free — in my yard.

Although the food I left out for him every day would disappear, I didn’t see him for months, nor did I really expect to. I accepted his wildness and supported him in it. And here I am, a year later, in love with my good buddy who greets me at my door step every morning.

It’s funny how when we let go of our own agendas and just love someone unconditionally for who they are (as opposed to who we want them to be!), we end up getting the love we’d hoped for in the first place! It’s such a simple concept, but I think a lot of our resistance has to do with giving up what is actually more just an illusion of control. When we let go and let people be themselves, everybody wins.

Because F.K. is a feral cat, he doesn’t need a litter box or cute little cat toys. He does, however, need food, wide open spaces, and a covered place to sleep each night (underneath my house). F.K.’s happy; I’m happy. He has total freedom, and I don’t have to deal with litter boxes or fleas in my house. How much happier we’d all be if we supported each other in our uniqueness like this. Why do we insist on turning our night owl friend into a morning lark or Mr. Life-of-the-Party into a stay-at-home recluse? We can either accept and support each other’s unique needs or we can release our loved one ‘into the wild,’ but wishing for someone to change his basic makeup rarely has a happy ending.

During the holidays we’ll find ourselves at gatherings with all kinds of ‘unique’ people — the niece who refuses to go to college, the 56-year-old cousin who still isn’t married, or the uncle who dropped out of law school to become a clown. Each of them has the right to live life according to his or her own desires, as long as it’s not harming anyone else (speaking of which, yes, F.K. is neutered!). This holiday season (if not the whole year or the rest of our lives!), my hope is that we can suspend our need to change or control others and just enjoy them for the one-of-a-kind people they are. Who knows what lessons or love might be in store for us by practicing a little more acceptance?

The Art of Imperfection

Friday, November 12th, 2010

No matter how hard I try, the perfection I strive for seems to be just out of reach. As soon as the floors are mopped, a little tuft of dog hair inevitably appears in the corner. No matter how many hours of tender care I give my roses, the critters that forage in the yard at night leave nibbled petals and an occasional broken branch for me to find in the morning. Then, there are those personal life ‘experiences’ that burst the perfection bubble. Let me explain.

It was a picture perfect (nature can be perfect!), sunny afternoon, and my husband, our two sons, and I were at a high school graduation party for one of the nicest kids you could ever hope to meet. He and his beautiful mom (also one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet) live in a gorgeous home on a hill with an absolutely stunning view. I felt pretty confident that I looked nearly perfect: my hair was up, my dress was cute, and everything about my outfit said ‘this woman has got it together.’ Little groups of people were scattered about, chatting and munching on the yummy food, enjoying the whole setting. As I was chatting and munching, a soft breeze came up and blew a couple of pieces of lettuce off of my plate. Being the conscientious guest that I am, I stepped back so that I could pick up the lettuce. Did I mention we were outside? So, I stepped back — and directly into the Jacuzzi. Way in, to the middle, completely submerged. When the need to breathe overpowered my feelings of utter humiliation, I surfaced and slowly opened my eyes to see a row of surprised faces and my oldest son sitting on the steps and holding his head in his hands in total mortification. As I retrieved the piece of pizza bobbing on the churning surface of the water, all I could do was laugh. My stunned husband helped me out of the water, the really nice kid brought me a big towel, and his even nicer mom asked what, if anything, she could do for me.

Well, there wasn’t anything she could do; it was up to me to own the moment. So, I wrapped the towel around my dripping dress, apologized to my embarrassed 18-year-old son, removed the clip from my hair and fluffed it a little so it could dry, accepted the new plate of food my darling husband brought me, and enjoyed the rest of the party. Did I still look nearly perfect? Not a chance. My hair was frizzy, my dress was a little wrinkled, although it was completely dry by the time we left, and my mascara had settled into dark smudges beneath my eyes.

So, as you are frantically cleaning, decorating, baking, and wrapping this holiday season, remember that the little mishaps in life make it interesting. Your friends and family are not coming to your home to check whether your cloth napkins are expertly pressed, or whether or not all the candles in the centerpiece are perfectly straight. They are coming to see you, to share your warmth and laughter, because they love you and want to be with you just as you want to share yourself with them. Relax and own the moment, imperfections and all. Who knows, you may just end up with a great story to share.

When the Student Is Ready…

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

My “to do” list is ridiculously long. Couple my written list with the “to-do’s” that pop into my head when I’m not near pen and paper, and it’s almost comical. The number of balls I’ve got in the air is crazy, and frequently the balls hit the ground and/or I don’t accomplish all of what’s on my list. A good part of the time, I’m running in several different (and inefficient) directions at once. I mean, I recently scalded my hand as I was steaming milk for my cappuccino while simultaneously pouring boiling water over green tea leaves!

So, when an opportunity came up last month to rescue a 15-year-old “throw away” dog at the shelter where I volunteer, I figured, why not?

Now, I already have an aging, blind dog who is nearly my constant companion. Being blind, he’s very cautious about all of his movements and thus walks slowly (very slowly!). Truly, walking Homer is about the only time that I walk the speed of a normal human being, and over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at taking a deep breath and simply moving at his pace. It’s part of the “Homer package,” and I wouldn’t give it up for the world, as challenging as that is for my Type-A personality.

My newly-rescued dog, the new “kid” on the block, Tobin, is a Dachshund, which means he has 2-inch-long legs. If anyone can walk even more slowly than Homer, it’s Tobin. (Well, he’s walking fast, but he covers so little ground with those legs that he makes Homer look like a Greyhound.) I can’t even walk the two old guys together because their gaits are so different. With Tobin on the scene, I “get” to slow down even more and do it twice as much because now I have two dogs. During these times, my “to do” list must go on “hold” and the balls I’m juggling are suspended mid-air while I tend to this new — and slow motion — addition to my life. Resistance is futile. I am finally learning the meaning of “saunter.”

There’s a Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” These teachers can appear at any time, and they can simply be experiences or situations, rather than anyone/anything living and breathing. And as much as we may resist having these teachers in our lives, it helps us to learn the lesson more easily if we remember that, when class is over, we’ll be a better version of ourselves. It’s obvious to me that a teacher recently appeared in my life, and he most certainly didn’t take human form!

As another year draws to a close and a new one begins, here’s to our teachers, whoever and whatever they may be. And here’s to sauntering!

Saddle Up

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

From the time I can remember anything at all, my burning passion was to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl, a cowboy. There were plenty of cowgirls in all the westerns I grew up watching, but they seemed to always be waiting for the cowboys to get back to the ranch. I wanted to be where the action was, ropin’ and ridin’ and living life out on the range. Unfortunately, growing up at the beach in southern California, I didn’t have many opportunities to test my wrangling skills. I set my dreams of spurs and campfires aside and got on with the business of living: finishing school, marrying the man of my dreams (although, not a cowboy), and raising two beautiful boys. Life is good, really good, and I honestly would not change anything about the way things have turned out.

As my 50th birthday looms ever closer and I ponder all the experiences that go along with living for half a century, I still think about being a cowboy. Granted, my focus has changed a little. I am no longer very interested in sleeping on the ground using my saddle for a pillow. Now the appeal of the cowboy life is really all about the horses and riding and being out in the open country, but the dream, the passion, is still there, as strong as ever. The only difference is that now I can do it, I can live my dream. I don’t have to compromise because of my age or my gender or my circumstances. Whatever I want to be, I can still be; we all can.

May we all live our dreams, whether it is one we have carried with us since childhood, or a newly discovered passion we are itching to explore. Is there a college degree in the future, or a musical career put aside because life happened? Whatever your dreams, big or small, practical or fanciful, go ahead, saddle up; I’ll look for you out on the trail.

Hurry Up and Wait

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

I was at a party recently on the 10th floor of an old building in New York City. Right beside the elevator everyone had to take to get to the party was a big sign saying to limit the number riding the elevator to six people. Since there were only 3 of us in our group, this wasn’t a problem. We climbed in, and, I have to admit, became a little concerned at the creakiness of that old lift. Nervously making jokes about getting out alive, we were relieved when the ride was over and the doors opened, welcoming us to the party in progress.

We hadn’t been there too long when a big commotion in the hallway got everyone’s attention. Sure enough, the elevator was stuck between floors and nothing could get it to budge. In what seemed like the wink of an eye, New York City firemen, laden with their gear, were climbing up the 10 floors. They popped open the elevator and got everyone out within 5 minutes. Truly, it was a sight to behold! When the doors opened, out came seven people.

I have thought back to that scene many times since. Would I have gone along with cramming one more person into the elevator, thinking ‘it’s just one more, what can that hurt?’ in my haste to get to the party? Maybe. Probably. But I hope not.

How many times in life do we push the envelope because we’re in a hurry or because following the rules would be an inconvenience? And frankly, when we do it, we do usually get away with it and suffer no consequences. But this time it backfired on an elevator full of people. Because seven people chose to ignore that sign, they took two truckloads of firemen off the street and out of pocket for those who truly may have needed their remarkable expertise and courage in a crisis. And, with the elevator now broken, our having to walk down 10 flights of stairs at the end of the night sure didn’t endear the rule breakers to the rest of the party goers!

This summer, I hope we can all pay a little more attention when we’re hurrying about our day. If we can slow down, we may actually find that we truly settle into a flow, and we’ll know at our core when we are about to do some dumb, inconsiderate, or dangerous thing. Not only that, we’ll be savoring more precious moments than we ever do when we are in such a hurry to get where we’re going.

Don’t Just Stand There. Do Something!

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

On a flight to New York last month, I experienced the wisdom in the phrase ‘Don’t just stand there. Do something!’ By the time we were over Omaha, nature called, so I joined some fellow passengers waiting in line for the bathroom. TSA would not have been happy with how many of us were standing in the aisle. I wasn’t happy either, as the line seemed to be at a standstill. When I noticed one of the lavatory doors said ‘Vacant,’ I pointed it out to the woman next to me, and she said the last passenger who used it had said it was ‘dirty.’ That was that. End of story. We continued to patiently stand in silence. Finally, my curiosity (not to mention impatience!) got the best of me, so I sought out a flight attendant and told her what I just told you. Within three seconds, we had two working restrooms, and the line began moving again. (It turns out the last user just didn’t know how to flush the toilet!)

An unflushed toilet really isn’t a big deal. What kind of is a big deal, though, is that nobody spoke up to find out what was going on, let alone what could be done to help the situation. It was the old herd mentality in action — accept the way things are, don’t question it, and don’t rock the boat (or plane). Because it was a long flight, I had plenty of time to think about how this shows up in our everyday lives and how easy it is to allow little annoyances to grow into big annoyances or even life-threatening crises when nobody speaks up or takes action. Albert Einstein said, ‘The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.’

Since this is a Dear Friends letter and not some political editorial, I’m not even going to bring up how this ties into global warming, poverty, or educational issues. I’m thinking more about looking at what’s not working in our personal lives. While summer is the perfect time to chill, it’s also the perfect time to get off the couch and take action. It’s a wonderful time to ask ourselves, ‘What’s wrong with this picture’ and then take steps to make it right. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing where to go to get help.

This summer I encourage us all to not just stand passively, unquestioningly, in the aisle while summer 2010 slips away. If there’s something not quite working in your life or something you’ve always pictured yourself doing in the summer months, let this be your time to not just stand there, but to do something about it!