Fish out of Water

This picture asks a thousand questions. My best guess, a small child was escorted to the bathroom. Said child held shark toy until perfectly aligned above the toilet. At which point, small child let go, releasing the shark back to the water. Wasn’t it “Nemo” who taught us “all routes lead to the sea?”

One hopes the toy was dropped into a “clean” bowl of water, allowing adult escort of child to fish out the toy. (Pun intended). But then, how does adult convince small child to leave the shark on the rim? And if one goes to the effort of retrieving something from the toilet, wouldn’t the more obvious place of eternal rest be a trash bin? Or…someone before me found this little treasure in the water and retrieved it in case small child returned? Not sure I would be that person, but it’s comforting to imagine a world where such humans exist!

Back to the shark, which not only provided a wonderfully unexpected photo to send to my son who is vocal about his fear of sharks, but it also brought enormous joy from a normally mundane activity.

But how does this track with my current journey?

A few weeks ago, I described being in a state of anxiety and apprehension. My first chemo treatment was right around the corner. I felt like a fish out of water – flailing and unsure how I got here. How does one navigate the terrors of the unknown –  especially unknowns with names that illicit horrific connotations – like emergency surgery, or chemo? But, I’m discovering time marches on, and eventually, the terror inducing moment weaves itself into the fabric of personal history.

I survived my first round of treatments. The days after were not exactly fun, but they are in the review mirror. While I never wanted to say “been there done that” regarding chemo (and five treatments still to go), there is something to be said for a familiarity gained from experience.

Especially the experience of being a fish out of water.

While I’m learning to allow the spectrum of feelings their moment, it helps to remember, regardless of my feelings, time will move me along…through the thing…until it becomes a blip on my linear timeline. My dad used to boil it down to a well-known saying, “This too shall pass.”

Like my little shark friend, at some point, we all find ourselves on the brink of a toilet experience, literal or metaphorical. Chemo is my current toilet experience. However, I would bet a sizable sum my little shark friend is no longer in the same place. And neither am I. Round 2 starts on Monday and yes, I feel a bit anxious, but less so. Cheers to progress!

If you are in a toilet experience, remember my little shark friend. Perhaps the only constant in this life is change. Which means, toilet experiences don’t last forever.

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You are Here

Where is here? State of confusion…denial…angst?  Oh yeah, that last one. Definitely the last one.

There is not much I remember about my childhood. I contracted chicken pox when I was five and we were moving. That was a hassle. Or I was. When you’re five you don’t differentiate that line very well. I also remember having a lot of emotion as a kid (and by kid I mean anywhere from birth to like mid-thirties). What can I say? I’m a deep feeler.

At some point, I realized I needed to figure out how to control some of that emotion. The goal was to learn to live in the state of even-keel. How I felt about something wasn’t nearly as important as what was true. The energy previously spent on an emotional response was channeled into that fun game that Pita from the Hunger Games played when he could no longer make sense of the hijacked memories – “Real, not real.”

I could say I got pretty good at it. I still have a lot of feelings. But I guess that’s just it. I’ve learned to redirect. I think that’s how I would describe it. I show passion in my work. I extend emotion to my family. The good feels can stay, but there must have been a moment of epiphany when I decided negative emotions no longer served a valid purpose. Why waste the energy?

How’s that working you ask? I’d say okay until recently when the excrement hit the high velocity spinning device.

Just a few minutes ago, as I was wrapping up an anxiety attack (we will get to that in a bit), I had this weird flashback. I was standing in front of one of those directory, map-like thingies found in malls to guide you to Cinnabon. Guess what was missing? A giant red star, created to state the obvious, “You are here.” I couldn’t find it anywhere! As I frantically searched, the world started to pull away, like the waters receding from the beach in anticipation of a giant wave. An existential tsunami was gathering just off the horizon of my subconscious…

“Okay, I got it. Let’s go.” My husband pulled on my sleeve, snapping me into an alternate reality where he is now giving me directions. (heehee)

This flashback floats back as I’m in child’s pose on my bed (which I would like to think is a step up from the fetal position), focusing on my breathing. The map flashback is so absurd it makes me chuckle. Oh the times I have mocked that red star.

You are here.

My current life map happens to have a giant red star. “Here” is recovering from the insertion of a port into my chest officially marking the countdown to chemo.

Here is shit. (Look at me! I’m practicing having negative emotions). I don’t want to be here. I don’t want my family to be here, or my friends, or the dermatologist I saw today who gave me good news, but was clearly uncomfortable being in the room with someone so close to walking into the veiled and uncertain world of chemotherapy. Probably why they pursued dermatology. And for observation sake, how is a sense of humor not required to enter the medical field? Did Patch Adams teach us nothing? 

Anyway, nobody wants to be here.

A week ago, I had a run in with fear and panic. Once again, the good feels swooped in to save the day. Perspective arrived and the world made sense again.

Until it didn’t.

Apparently a dalliance with fear and panic is not a one and done type thing. Noted. And they don’t always present in the same way.

In an ongoing attempt to do “normal” things and stay just this side of sanity (avoid negative emotion), I have been making an effort to connect. This has created some awesome moments, one being lunch recently with some dear friends who I see maybe twice a year. They are the kind of friends you sit down with and dive into deep discussion, peppering the entire conversation with laughter. But also, they have seen some stuff. I trust them and asked them to look at my most recent battle wounds (port incisions).

“Does it look right? Not infected or anything?”

“No,” they reply in tandem, “looks okay, why?”

“I just feel weird. I’m spending way more time thinking about breathing, which I have always relied on as an autonomous action, and I feel something in my chest. Like my chest hurts. That can’t be good, right?”

There was an awkward pause as the three of them looked at me. I braced myself. I’m dying, and they can’t find the words.

“Um…” one of them began with trepidation, “it sounds like anxiety.”

I stared back at them and tried to digest this information along with the salmon I had just eaten. Anxiety? Like Ted Lasso? Should I watch that show for the third time straight through as a type of research? (Just a quick glance into my thought process). 

You are here.

I currently reside in the state of anxiety. I have been trying to distract myself – reading, embroidery, making bracelets, checking I don’t have skin cancer – and although there is a strong possibility I will be fine in six months, logic doesn’t always seem to win. Or at least not long term.

My chest hurts, I keep telling myself to breath, and tears are always standing at the ready to cascade down my face. AGH!!!

But I am here. And I committed to learning on this journey – I dubbed cancer Professor C. I get him for a semester, he’s an ass, but I’ll learn something. My first lesson? How to process emotion (not be so quick to dismiss it) and figure out how to feel all the feels. Not just the ones that are comfortable.

BTW, the “gown” angst persists. The dermatologist’s office had me don a “paper gown”. Her exact words. I really wanted to say something, but my previous attempts a breaking the ice (humor is my go to when I know I am going to have to get naked) had created a thick fog of awkward, so I left it alone. Her loss. Anyway, I think I’ve decided it, the “gown”, should just be referred to as an article. “This…put this on.” It doesn’t deserve to be a noun.

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Two Bitches – Fear and Panic

Photo credit: darkbird77

“I expect great results.” The charming and jovial doctor sat across from us and smiled. “Everyone I have treated in your shoes has responded positively.”

“And how long have you been a doctor?” My husband smiled sheepishly but also, yes, let’s get a read on the extent of “everybody.” Good question, Babe.

The doctor looked at his watch pensively and replied, “I think like two weeks?”

He was kidding. I’m pretty sure he was kidding. We all laughed so I’m assuming…High fives all around ended the appointment and more appointments were scheduled. Just another path to walk. No big deal. Been there done that.

I walked into the prep room of the hospital a couple weeks later. The quick routine procedure spiraled unannounced into a panic attack and hit me square in the chest in a split second. The last time I was in a room like this, “a routine procedure” left me in the oncology ward for five days.

“This isn’t that!!” I internally shouted at myself trying to get a grip while I donned the “gown”, attempting to redirect my focus to the directions I had been given.

(Side note, can we please rename the “hospital gown”? The crepe like square of cloth reminiscent of an old flour sack, with random holes and too many occupants to count does not deserve to be called a “gown”. The word “gown” should be proceeded by adjectives like “inaugural” or “beaded”. Also, I may have had a bit of fun with “”. One must entertain oneself.)

Anyway, I surrendered my clothing and dignity and the nurse returned to take my blood pressure. It was high. No kidding! The world had turned to a swirling mass of chaos! Your lucky I’m not a giant pile of goo right now!

I kept trying to take a deep breath and fight back the torrent of emotion. She said she would come back in a few minutes to retake my blood pressure. I nodded and wiped my eyes.

“Get a grip, Rebecca!” I yelled internally again. David handed me a tissue, rubbed my back, and I climbed onto the gurney (not a bed – see above discourse on the word gown). I shut my eyes and kept trying to breathe. For an autonomous action, it’s amazing how difficult breathing can be at times.

Life leaves no one unscathed. At some point, we all find ourselves in the metaphorical forest, as the sun sets, and enveloping darkness and strange threatening sounds push in and isolate us.

I’m in the forest. I can’t run. And Fear, smelling my indecision like a shark smells chum, runs at me. A chill rises from the damp mossy ground, adding an eerie mist. I try to reason with her. “Hey Fear, listen, it’s going to be okay. This isn’t going to be a big deal. Of course I’m fearful. Who wouldn’t be? But, you can go now, and uh, thanks for stopping by.”

The vapor swells, dancing at my feet, and blocking any view of the ground where I’m standing. I spin around looking for any way out, a tiny vantage point into the trees, some faint hint at a direction to run. The expanding fog rises and swirls around me, pulling in the smells of pine and damp earth. The shock of the cool heady vapor hitting my nostrils stings and announces Fear’s twin sister Panic has heard the thudding of my heart like a drum calling soldiers to battle.

For the last few weeks, I have attempted to fight Fear and Panic, pulling out as many strategies as I can muster. The plan was to get all the facts then start fighting the disease, understanding fully the outcome looks positive. I may have underestimated my foes.

Fear and Panic are ruthless bitches. I’ve delude myself into thinking there’s an ounce of humanity within them – or that their reign of terror would somehow motivate me. When I was a teacher, I used to remind my students, “Fear is a powerful motivator.” But now I wonder. Remember the scene in the movie where the deeply frightened teenagers being chased through the woods run as fast as they can into the barn? Fear “motivated” them, and how does that turn out? Fear just made them run into the next chapter of doom.

I think fear pushes us and causes us to move, to attempt to run away, because she loves a good hunt. Her and her sister are like tigresses who isolate the weak and wounded, setting up a chase where the outcome is nearly guaranteed. But I’m not sure that’s the same thing as motivation. It’s just movement. It feels like motivation should have an association with something positive, maybe?

My forest is cancer. It’s back, and I start chemo soon. Fear is on me like an angry swarm of bees and I can hear Panic breathing heavy in anticipation of her quarry. Mantras like, “It’s fine”, and “No big deal” run through my head at frequent intervals. Turns out, Fear and Panic chew trite platitudes like bubble gum. They chew them up and spit them in my face, causing me to retch.

I started fumbling around in old files on my computer looking for something productive to do and keep Fear and Panic at bay. I found this gem in an old blog post I wrote and probably never posted, “But gratitude is always the fruit of correctly altered perspective.” Seriously? I wrote that?

Correctly altered perspective. Hmmm. Currently, my perspective is dictated by those two bitches, Fear and Panic. So, what would happen if I invite Perspective? “Come on over Perspective. Meet my nemesises…nemesi?” Give me a sec…nemeses. “Come on over Perspective and meet my nemeses. You can take a swing at these two and I’ll take a breather.”

Turns out, Perspective is a bit skittish and fragile. She wants to crawl into my lap. So, in the middle of the fray, I sit in the dirt, cross my legs, and close my eyes. Fear, sensing I’m changing the rules of the fight, begins to scream. I hear her and instead of the continued futile attempt to ignore her, I listen. All this time she’s been whispering nonsense, but I was too afraid to register the words. This entire time Fear was a complete idiot? Why did I listen?

Perspective brings me back. She times her breathing to mine and I being to calm down. She then rises above me in an orb of light like Glenda the Good Witch. A hint of illumination reveals she is not alone. She has brought her friends – Hope, Faith, Love, Joy, and Peace. They stand in the blurred edge between light and shadow, incandescent and translucent like a rainbow. Fear shrieks. She wants me to keep wrestling with her, engaging her, and focusing on her.

Perspective laughs and her glow brightens as I steady my gaze on her beautiful gown (see what I did there? That’s a proper use of the word). It reflects tender memories where Hope, and Faith, and Joy, and Love, and Peace have visited. My new born child placed on my heaving chest until our breathing falls into sync and we both drift into a blissful rest. A student’s eyes alight, find mine, and I see a whole new world of comprehension has opened up to them. And the time I stood on the parapet of a broken and ancient castle and heard history whisper to me in the wind. Memories play like an old home movie reel, one after the other.

Perspective rises with each memory, supported and heightened by the presence of her allies.

I can no longer hear Fear or Panic.

A warmth falls across me, as if the sun has just burst through the clouds – the humbling realization and recognition of all the amazing and glorious moments. And then faces fill the screen – my husband, my children, friends – a cloud of witnesses who surround me with love and support – the amazing people who share life with me.

Perspective has done her thing and made way for Gratitude.

Lesson learned…perhaps again. As I said before, apparently like 15 years ago, Gratitude is always the fruit of correctly altered Perspective.

I have a couple of questions for you:

  1. Any thoughts on a new name for a “hospital gown?” Seriously, maybe we can help make the world a better place.
  2. How do you invite Perspective? … Prayer? Meditation? Exercise?

Shoot me a response in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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New Year’s Restoration

While the trend about now is to look to the future and decide to achieve things in the coming new year, I’m thinking about going a slightly different direction. Metaphorically of course. This post is not about a newly discovered worm hole or alternate universe. Sorry.

It started with a blog post “Lessons Learned in 2023” I was working on. See below…

It doesn’t matter what you look like, how much money you have, or what you have accomplished. Insecurity, self-doubt, sadness, and loneliness do not discriminate based on these criteria. 

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you have been, or where you are headed, chances are you have a friend who believes in you and encourages you to remember the best version of yourself. (If this isn’t true, email me…I’m happy to remind you!)

It doesn’t matter if you are good or right or socially conscious, someone will spread rumors to tear you down. Refer to paragraph one. 

It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, your relationships, or your stage of life, there will always be hurdles, both external and internal. These are merely opportunities to overcome. How do you know this? Because they are in front of you and the best direction is forward.

It doesn’t matter if you are weary, disheartened, betrayed, wounded, or destroyed. The choice to persist will always be in your hands. And moving forward will never negate the betrayal or condone the yuck hurled in your direction. It’s merely a chance to redirect your focus to something productive.

But, it’s the beginning of January so I started thinking how this relates to the common, albeit annoying, practice of resolution setting. “Ignore the ugly voices and try not to talk crap about others?” Perhaps a good start, but seriously? 

After further consideration, it turns out I don’t want a resolution – by definition, a seemingly benign practice that masquerades as a vehicle destined to deliver large doses of guilt or foster internal accusatory dialogues to deepen self-doubt. Pass. 

Don’t misunderstand, I have intentions for 2024. I want to improve as a human. For example, I intend to go on a word diet. If words have the power to create or destroy, maybe I should be careful how I brandish them. Also, I do not wish to be one of the “spreaders of rumors”. But still, it felt short sighted. It wasn’t enough. The question plagued me, beyond simply moving forward, can we affect the past at all? Do all the decayed and burned-out buildings of yesteryear get to stand as monuments to pain and error? Do we simply give a nod periodically at their existence and try to move on? Or…is it possible to deconstruct some of the crap and haul it out? I realize our scars define us in beautiful ways, but do I have to keep all the dilapidation that’s taking up valuable real estate? Can I tear it down, leave a plaque, and build back better? 

I don’t want a shallow resolution. I want some restoration. Maybe that’s a lot to ask but I’m learning if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Can this be a sort of both/and situation? I will purpose to choose my words more carefully, and also, walk into 2024 with hope toward a new stretch of internal skyline? Sounds idyllic, but honestly, I’m not sure where to start so I consulted some wise council.

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.” – Gandhi

Easy enough (sarcasm), so I guess I start with my thoughts. Wish me luck. And before I forget, I have another idea for the next blog post already. “Don’t be an Octopus.” I promise it relates. It’s on my calendar to post the beginning of February. 

Cheers everyone and Happy New Year! May 2024 be full of joy, peace, and discoveries of better.

P.S. I’m still using my treadmill, but also thinking the above practice might affect my mental health in a positive way as well. Worth a shot.

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If I’m being honest…

snowy night in Nevada
Snowy night in Nevada

Anyone else notice this phrase infiltrating most conversations? “If I’m being honest, I really prefer this restaurant.” Are we starved for this level of honest? But I’ve caught myself saying it, if I’m being honest.

Seriously though, it makes me wonder. What is it about our current psychological state that we feel the need to convince others, or ourselves, that the next words to escape our lips will be truth? I have a theory, but first a story.

Once upon a time, in a town buried in snow, there lived a woman. If her life were to be measured in Facebook posts (of which she never actually makes), they would likely garner lovely comments, and small hieroglyphic responses. She does not find herself struggling with hunger, or bombs exploding, leaving a haze of dust, debris, and chaos. She plans trips, enjoys her job because she works with amazing people, is happily married, has children who call and text her and friends who reach out…Webster might define her existence as nearly idyllic. 

But as in all good stories, there must be a villain—a force to test the mettle of our heroin and give rise to the triumphant. There have been villains that have crossed her path. She has woken from a routine surgery only to find herself in an oncology ward. She has started and failed a business, damaged her children and generally struggled with her identity and existence. She has crossed oceans and swam in grief. But if she were being honest, there is one particular villain, perhaps even a nemesis, who, like her shadow, cannot be truly vanquished. It has followed her for nearly half a century. 

Perhaps the power it wields lies in its shape shifting essence—frequently transforming and donning a clever disguise veiling its true nature and confounding at every turn in her story. But she finally recognized this menace, after months of turmoil, and to vanquish or at least send this threat back into the subtext of her life, she bought a treadmill. 


I think the whole “if I’m being honest” thing gets to be me because unless you are a sociopath, or just icky, your goal during engagements of conversation is to be honest. And in a world inundated by half-truths, media hype, and tortuous levels of advertising, we have to wonder if we ever hear a grain of truth in the course of a day. On top of that, I think honesty is like onions, and parfaits. It has layers. We want to be honest, but do we want to be totally, brutally honest about where we are and how we are feeling? Can the world handle our own brand of naked transparency and vulnerability? Can we handle our own truth(s)?

Here’s my onion (at least some of it regarding this topic). I bought a treadmill (spoiler alert, the woman in the story was me) because I don’t like being cold and apparently Nevada is having an identity crisis and it thinks its Alaska. And one should exercise. Layer one.

I bought a treadmill to attempt to shed the poundage delivered by the bitch menopause, and attempt to fit back into my clothes again. Layer two.

And if I’m being brutally honest, the kind of honesty that deflates justifications and sears through self-righteous nonsense to reveal the vulnerable, if I’m being that kind of honest, I bought a treadmill to hold at bay the familiar foe of mental illness. 

A perfect storm of normal changes and new life adjustments knocked me sideways recently, and experience has taught me the consequences of not recognizing the familiar signs indicating I’m headed down a dangerous path. If I don’t acknowledge the indicators and fight back at the onset of these signs, a thick presence of indifference will settle in around me like a soupy fog, blocking joy and love, and isolating me until I begin to believe there is no way out. Then a spiral of despair and depression begins…therefore I bought a treadmill. (I’ll get to the connection between spiraling and treadmills later but for now, you’ll just have to go with it).

In a conversation with a friend recently (we were making jewelry so of course the conversation went deep) she pointed out I had written a book that highlighted my husband’s struggle with PTSD and the reverberating repercussions, several posts about marriage as it relates to horses (shameless teaser), but seldom have I (if ever) gone deep into my own mental illness struggles. What the hell is that about? (She didn’t say those exact words. She’s not a monster).

But it got me thinking. Why am I avoiding? And, it seems the best chance of finding out would be to just stop avoiding and start writing. Hence, this prologue post to a series on mental health. (EEK! The word “series” makes my palms sweat a bit, which means I cannot promise a consistent release of posts. But I’ve started at least. And maybe you feel this is simply a self-indulgent, narcissism fueled attempt to garner sympathy and attention. You can tell me that as long as you start with, “If I’m being honest.” Because then at least there will be a bit of irony, which will make me chuckle and it will be easier to absorb your opinion).

On that note, I realize perhaps I’m only adding one more strained note into the cacophony of voices shouting into the ether. I have no ideas of grandeur that what I have to say will be anything new or revelatory. But, what the heck. Nothing ventured nothing gained. 

Perhaps I have painted this blog with enough self-doubt for now. Until next time, when I either discuss crippling abandonment issues or postpartum depression. Either of which sound equally riveting, I’m sure. 

P.S. I am not a trained professional. I’m just a woman, who appreciates sarcasm, sharing a story. This post is not a plug for treadmills nor is it a claim that treadmills are a cure for depression.  

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It’s Time to Let Go!

Photo from Katman1972 (free

Top Gun Maverick. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 97%. You read that correctly. 97%! For those of you who didn’t have a stellar math teacher, only 3 out of every 100 people that saw the movie were like, “Meh.” Only 3.  

I’m with you 97%. I cried. I cheered. I felt elated. And thank you, Hollywood, for the power of the cinema. Thank you for embracing a bit of the real. Just a bit. But I’m struggling to say it was truly real.

For those of you who have been around for a beat, I have some experience in the PTSD arena. (I may have even written an entire book dedicated to the cathartic journey of being married to someone who has been diagnosed with PTSD. Insert tireless self-promotion here.

It’s time to let go!

Absolutely no disrespect to Val here. That man is a warrior. But I think Hollywood missed the mark a bit. PTSD cannot be reduced to a simple act of “letting go.” I appreciate the fact that they went there. Especially since I know the military doesn’t do “mental health” all that well. (Topics for a different time.) Maverick is still struggling with the past. That’s real life. But maybe there could have been a better way of representing the theme of the movie.

In true Hollywood fashion, the one-liner foreshadows the ending. Several men, intimately aquatinted with grief, and one (ahem, Maverick) who clearly struggles with PTSD, find themselves wrestling with the past. (I’m not a psychologist but willing to go out on a limb if for no other reason than the literal flashbacks and nothing says PTSD like flashbacks.)

Don’t get me wrong, there is now another musical score that rivals Chariots of Fire and Harry Potter for moving and inspiring. Duh duh duh dadadada duh duh…it’s moving. It’s heroic. It makes you want to kick ass. But is it entirely real? 

It’s time to let go!

I honor what Ice was trying to say. And at some level his intent seems legit. But it doesn’t seem to work quite like that. At least from my experience. It’s more like, “It’s time to practice reprogramming the guilt and it’s going to take a long time…a very long time…and oh, it never fully goes away because it’s a scar on your soul.”  Yeah, I hear it. Maybe not something 97% want to hear. 

But here’s what they did get right – it’s engaging. And maybe, hopefully, it moves us a notch closer to being able, as a society, to reconciling the impact PTSD has had on our culture and our oft ineptness at knowing how to deal with it. 

It inspires me to think that 97% connect with the movie. But do 97% think PTSD can be conquered, and in 2 hours no less or do 97% watch and feel a sort of solidarity with Maverick? 

I’m hoping for the later. I’m hoping a national audience walks away with not only the intense thrill of being in a cockpit, but a sense of understanding of the sacrifices made by those who willingly chose to put themselves between us and danger–fighter pilots, service members (but a shout out to Marines), law enforcement (and CHP because, you know), firefighters, even those who work for state transportation agencies (maybe like NDOT) who are tasked with running into the road to pick up the sh!t that fell out of the back of your truck so someone who is slightly distracted doesn’t hit it and crash. When you see those people, doing those jobs, remember the 97% elation you felt after this movie. 

Remember that such a level of dedication and risk comes at a price. 

Here’s to the 97%. May it spark awareness, conversation, and empathy for those who choose to wear a uniform that bears a weight they may never be able to take off. 

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A Female Bedtime Story

Once upon a time, there was a woman. The doctor kept referring to her as a “woman of your age” until numerous witty retorts danced across her face and emblazoned her eyes. He then found a different way to explain to her that she didn’t need her uterus any longer. To this she argued, “What if I wish to surrogate for one of my children someday?” Her husband looked at her with a small degree of alarm and the doctor shifted his head very slightly to one side. The woman wasn’t trying to be difficult or irksome, she only wanted the doctor to be sure he was guiding her down the best path. You see, he wanted to remove all of her reproductive organs, along with a fibroid they had found on an MRI. This course of action seemed like a big deal to the woman. But the doctor persisted in his explanation and a date for surgery was set.

The woman soon discovered there’s work to be done to prep for this kind of surgery. She was asked to conduct a bowel cleanse the day before. Her initial thought was to imagine she was simply doing a juice cleanse until the numerous trips to the toilet made it impossible to paint the experience in a different light. The evening quicky focused on her success in ridding her body of everything. The next morning, feeling empty, hungry and anxious, the woman and her husband drove to the hospital where they waited and waited for her surgery.

The two-hour surgery turned into three and a half hours when the doctor opened her up and found the fibroid was a nasty tumor the size of a cantaloupe attached to her small intestine. He removed the tumor, taking part of her small intestine and appendix with it, as well as the lady bits they had discussed originally. Once she was patched up again, he sent her to a room in the hospital to recover. 

The next morning, when she awoke, she was told she could not have anything to drink until she was able to pass gas and that she would not be able to go home until she could have a normal bowel movement. Brushing aside the initial injustice of it all, she reminded herself she had been doing these activities since the day she was born. It surely couldn’t prove to be that difficult. 

With great determination she put her mind to the task at hand. She took walks, practiced the child pose, and generally concentrated on getting things moving. By the end of the first day, she was frustrated and exhausted. How could something so inane and base be so difficult? The nurses, seemingly convinced it would happen, encouraged her as best they could, and it turned out they were right. The next day, her body remembered and what a joyous moment it was when the gas finally arrived. She continued to progress until they announced her fit to return to her home. The end. 

As with all good bedtime stories, we must discuss the moral. During the struggle, the woman could not escape the irony of the situation. She was required to poo to have the surgery, then required to poo to go home. (The exclusion of the “h” is intentional as not to confuse this topic with a small adorable yellow cartoon bear.) Many times, her roommate heard her say, “The outside world is far less concerned with excrement as the medical world. In fact, we poo-poo it.” The woman thought she was clever. Regardless, the irony just would not leave her alone. 

Being in a hospital for several days gave her opportunity to explore this idea further and sit with it awhile. Is the outside world missing something? Beyond the obvious obsession with bowel movement, was there a lesson to be found? Understandably, the doctors and nurses didn’t want to send her home until they knew all was well and things were functioning as they should. But the woman continued to ponder the irony. Her life experience had taught her there is often great profoundness to be found in the presence of irony–like standing in front of a magnificent wisteria tree in bloom and expecting the alluring scent to find its way to your nose. 

And then the profound whispered to her. 

Maybe we should spend more time thinking about what we waste.

 If her exit from the hospital was determined by her waste, perhaps there is something to be gained in the outside world by being mindful of what we metaphorically flush down the toilet. Clearly this is the current idea as we strive to eliminate plastic and superfluous materials out of our landfills. There’s one application of the idea. She knew she was on to something and pondered further until another whisper. 

Maybe we are measured by what we waste

We furiously endeavor to be defined by what we accomplish. We want to be measured by our achievements or our image or by our successes. But maybe we should give as much attention, if not more, to the things or people we push aside. 

Maybe we are more defined by the opportunities, relationships, moments that we allow to pass by–those glimpses of eternity that we discard–the “base” things we waste.

That was it. That was the profound hidden in the irony. The woman took a deep breath and pondered this, wrapping it gently in the folds of her mind so that she could cherish the lesson found in the struggle. 


In case you missed it, I’m the woman. And as I’m sure this will spark some questions, it was a tumor, but possibly the best-case scenario. I see the oncologist next monthand will know more but for now…I’m visiting the bathroom often, which means ample opportunities to ponder the lessons learned in the hospital. And as the journey unfolds, I will share more profound lessons as I learn them. At least I will try. 

It is easy, natural even, to measure the day in minutes and hours. It is a far different and more difficult practice to measure the day in moments. 

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All I’m askin’

A cold day in Paris

The French have a saying. “Pfffft.”

Okay, saying is a stretch. It’s really more a sound of derision–the expulsion of emotion in a puff of hair through the lips. (Seriously, it’s a thing.)

Several months ago, the phrase “the new normal” seemed quaint and clever. Isolation. Lockdown. Change.

The new normal.  Pffft. We had no idea. 

I thought of writing something at the beginning of this journey fifteen weeks ago. And then the cacophony of voices erupted from the internet. How could I compete with “Some Good News” by John Krasinski? 

But that was really only the beginning of the great disgorge. It’s as if staying in our homes has caused a divergent response in what once felt like loud talking has now become maniacal screaming. Here me or maybe I don’t exist! And that’s when I noticed something. Something disturbing. 

Some of the caustic posts are discomfiting enough all by themselves but I began to see a pattern. The two-by-four between the eyes moment came when I read a post full of the words “anti” and “pro.” 

When did we start choosing titles over traits?

When did we come to believe that “anti” and “pro” statements are adequate descriptors of who we are?

Shakespeare coined the phrase about wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve. Someone unable to hide how they really feel. Is it just me or have we magnified this ability and turned it into a cultural phenomenon? Our opinions become our titles we wear like badges on our chests to distinguish what camp we live in, who we vote for, what we vote for, who we hate, what we hate… 

I’m “anti-…” “I’m pro-…” 

We have chosen titles over traits.

Who we are and how we see others has been compressed into inane descriptions of our opinions. I don’t want to be defined only by what I think. I want to be defined by who I am. Who I really am. I’ve worked hard to love better, to laugh more, to listen harder. And I know a lot of others who are involved in the same tough work. But it is beginning to feel as though all that work goes out the window if my “anti/pro” statement doesn’t align with someone else’s. 


Is it possible to go back to traits?  I’m talking about things like kindness, honesty, respect. You want to spell that last one don’t you? Or sing it? With abandon? Throw in a finger snap?


And then, of course that makes me think of her. 

Oh yes, the indomitable Queen of R&B. The great Aretha Franklin. Do you see what I did there? I gave her a title. “The Queen of R&B.” I promise I did it on purpose. I’m about to prove a point. Technically, Aretha is going to prove my point. I could not do this moment justice. You’ll have to see for yourself. Watch this!

There’s no way a woman who changed the music industry with her 1967 release of “Respect” could be relegated or defined by a title. It’s a nice title but still—it doesn’t come close to defining who she was. The “Queen of R&B” rocked the Grammy stage in 1998 as “a stand in” for Luciano Pavarotti and smashed it. Aretha a “stand in?” Pfft

The so-called Queen of R&B shook the roof and swept the audience with opera. I want to be like Aretha. I want to be defined by more than titles. I want to be known for my contributions not captions depicting my opinions. I want to learn how to love better, to laugh more, to listen harder. And I think Aretha nailed it. A little more respect has to be a great place to start. 

No more titles. They’re just so “pfft.” 

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not opposed to opinions. But can we have more? Can we expect more? Can we be more? I care what you think. But more than that, I care why you think it. I would rather know you. The you beyond the titles. 

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Unprecedented: adjective

“never done or known before.”

The landscape looks different depending on where you stand. This is applicable in wrestling with a vacation destination and equally so when contending with the truth from an event in our past..

I am struck by the extreme vantage points as I read the opinions of close friends, acquaintances, people from my past and present. There’s a militant strength on both sides. “Take this seriously,” shout some of you. “Make the media stop freaking us out! It’s just the flu,” others scream. Then there are those dancing somewhere in the middle posting memes about beer and toilet paper, giving us a chance to smile and breathe if only for a split second.

The master bedroom of our house is on the third floor and our house sits atop a hill overlooking South London. We stand at our window in the early morning and look down on rooftops, tendrils of steam rise into the cold London air, like flags rising on masts to furl in the wind and declare life below. On our way to bed, we look out our window and a sea of millions of colorful lights twinkle in the distance like fairies watching over the masses. Skyscrapers become the stuff of puzzles. The lyrics of Bette Midler’s song “From a Distance” find a home in reality.

From our third floor rooftop view, the world looks normal. All is as it should be. Reality is setting the alarm to get up for work. Scheduling a trip to the theatre next weekend. Making dinner reservations at our favorite Turkish restaurant down the street. Only two floors down, the view changes drastically. On the first floor, images flash on the news and words from solemn strangers paint a far different picture. Most recently, a story of a neighborhood in Italy, the inhabitants have been forced to stay in their homes under a government lockdown. Can we even imagine? And yet, they have been heard singing, blending their voices and instruments into the streets below. Uniting through music and keeping them together as their economy, plans, maybe even dreams shatter around them.

I wonder if this whispers of a previous time. Never before have I known anyone to have to cancel a memorial service for their 45 year old husband who has died suddenly out of a conscious decision not to put anyone at risk. March 16th’s memorial for Dave has been cancelled. There was a wedding in three weeks, now postponed indefinitely. The bride saddened, mourning a day that was supposed to be the happiest day of her life.

I was speaking with a colleague yesterday (the UK hasn’t suspended school yet) and she used the word “unprecedented.” It definitely feels like that. Unchartered waters. High school sports suspended. Schools around the world canceled regardless of weather conditions. And yet, history whispers of moments when such chaos and confusion have altered lives, stories, and families. It is a rare moment to meet a survivor of global tragedy. Perhaps for that reason, we steel our hearts and our determination.

It would be much easier to stay on the third floor with the expansive view of a silent sparkling civilization. Of calm and peace and rationality. Much easier. And although even my parents cannot recall a time when food and goods were rationed, such living conditions are not entirely unprecedented. History is awash with stories across the globe of opportunities missed. When tragedy has struck and the thin vein of humanity went into hiding. In this current unprecedented moment, we have opportunity again.

I hope and pray we allow ourselves the space for our opinions to change. I hope and pray that if things do change, we transfer our strength of opinion into strength of community and remember, unprecedented or not, and like it or not, life is only lived out on the bottom floor.

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The Queen’s English

Photo by Suserl just me from FreeImages

Halloween, at least the American version, has jumped the pond. People put a lit Jack-O-Lantern on their porch and hand out candy to those dressed in costumes. Only they don’t dress in “costumes.” They call it “fancy dress.” We noticed this a couple of weeks ago on an outing. We passed a pub with sandwich board advertising a Halloween Party and “wear your fancy dress.” I had seen other signs on thrift stores for “fancy dress” and wondered if they sold prom dresses or cocktail wear? Which then made me wonder how often the common British folk were required to wear “fancy dress,” and should I start to worry if we ever were invited somewhere. The sandwich board regaling “fancy dress” in the same sentence as Halloween put my anxiety regarding dress code requirements to dinner parties at rest.

Translation: Fancy dress simply means, “come in a costume.”

However, this led to an interesting exchange in our house several days later, and I thought I might use this opportunity to practice dialogue. My day job is a math teacher (maths teacher in the UK) but I like to write. Someday, I may even publish a second novel (I have started it…about 37 times. And finished it…twice. Stay tuned.)

Here is one more example that the citizens of Great Britain speak a different English…

David is gone for three days. It may not sound like a big deal, but he is the one who has kept the rest of us alive. Grocery shopping, meal planning, dinner execution. Literally, keeping us alive. It’s a job I’ve done before. A point the two of us have discussed recently with great overtones of irony. But, one cannot subsist on irony, so, I tie on the apron, and get to work. Dinner for us girls. I haven’t had to focus on work for the past week so I have time to visit the store, and plan a meal. Sausage and butternut squash risotto. The recipe called for red wine. Sold.

I’ve missed the creative outlet of cooking. Not that I’m ready to take over the task of keeping us all alive. I am probably enjoying it because it’s not something I’ve had to do everyday.

Dinner finished, my two daughters and I sit down to eat.

“Are you girls excited to go to Wicked in a couple of days? And just so you know, my friend from work told me it was going to be way better than the musical we saw here in Wimbledon.”

“Oh really?” My youngest doesn’t look up from her dinner.

“What are you wearing?” My middle daughter joins the conversation.

“I’m dressing up. “ I assume this means conversation is in full force, so I continue. “It is in Central London this time and not a matinee. So, dress up.”

“In a costume?” In the incredulous tone of voice only a teenage girl can fully and wholly articulate.

“Um, not a costume.” My age is showing and I’m trying not to sound confused. “More like fancy. More dressed up than before.”

“Fancy dress?” Both girls are now looking at me.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“So a costume?” A small choir of two teenage girls in unison.

“Why would I wear a costume to the theatre? I’m not planning on joining in.” Do you ever have that feeling like you are missing something relevant? Both girls are now staring at me. Awkward half seconds tick by. I’m wondering how long they have known me. Have I ever worn a costume outside of a Halloween Party? Why would they even…and then a flash of light and I get it.

Images and lines from Abbot and Costello, “Who’s on First,” flash through my mind in rapid succession. “I don’t know…no, I Don’t Know’s on third…”

The only rational thing to do at this point is to carry the entire conversation on my own because I now think it’s hilarious.

“Why would I wear a costume?” I ask. And before anyone can answer, I keep going. “But you said you were wearing fancy dress…” I change the pitch of my voice slightly. (Think King Julian of Madagascar.) And I thoroughly amuse myself as I proceed to parody the best duo in comedy.

In mid-stride I hear, “Like Who’s On First. I get it.” At least my children are educated. But her recognition can’t slow my roll. I feel as though I just found my stride, so I obviously keep going. Another two lines at least.

“Right, fancy dress…so a costume…Why would I wear a costume?…”

Both girls have gone back to eating. But that is the beauty of writing. I get to re-live what I think was a hilarious interlude and now the frivolity has been transcribed into the written word for all of posterity. Heavy is the head…

Happy Halloween! Be safe and have fun in your Fancy Dress!!!


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In the Queue with Qualls

I had a post written about Isaac and how he is in boot camp and how it’s the first time we have been apart as a family. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker. Quite frankly, I’m tired of crying. I’ve cried because I miss that kid like crazy. I have cried because I am overwhelmed at work. (They call the trunk of a car a boot. Extrapolate that out and you get how education might be extremely different as well.) I’ve cried for my girls when they have felt overwhelmed. I’ve cried because of hormones. I’ve cried. 

So, let’s move on. 

Today, I had a training day in a different part of London. It was called “acclimatization” training. There’s a great deal of irony here. It was just under 60 degrees Fahrenheit (I won’t do Celcius yet) when I left the house and clear, but it’s London. Someone sneezes and it starts raining. “Never leave home with it,” means rain coat and umbrella. But now, I’m literally underground, in my trench coat, in a heard of people. They are British so it is rather civilized. No eye contact. Never talk to anyone near you. And pretend this is what you do everyday of the week. 

I proceeded to transfer to a different subway line, and then walked at least half a mile through a small homeless camp to arrive at the building where my training was to be held. I was soaking wet and it hadn’t started raining yet. Thank God I’m still on my American strength deodorant. I found the bathroom (or toilet as they call it-they can be literal, just mostly choose not to be) just to take a moment to collect myself and attempt to look like a professional teacher, not a professional athlete. Toilet tissue came out as an attempt to absorb the aftermath of my trip. 

Ok. Breathing back to normal. Sweat was no longer pouring down my back. Progress. Until I began to wash my hands and I glimpsed in the mirror. There were a dozen small flecks of white all over my face and neck. Like I was a recently pubescent boy learning how to shave and my first attempt was my whole face. 

Remember when I said the day was about acclimatization training? I seriously thought of turning around and repeating the journey home. How much more acclimatization training can one person endure in a day? The queue alone was so incredibly British! But I stayed. The rest of the day was spent listening to a British lady who spoke rather fast and I spent half the time trying to decide if she was saying “half” or “have.” (More irony.) Remember I am a math teacher so the distinction is rather important. I’m not going to lie; I was thrilled when I thought the day was over. I finished my survey and enthusiastically headed for the door, only to find my acclimatization training was yet to be over. A short bus ride to the tube station and a quick switch to the second train when two stops in, the conductor comes on the intercom to say the train will no longer go to my stop, but will “terminate” early. We all pile off the subway, stand on the platform, again with a great deal of British decorum. I desperately wanted to ask someone if they thought the next train would actually come. They all stood so poised and assuming. They make sweatshirts that say “Keep calm and carry on” for an actually reason. It’s how they are. But in my American head, I was already planning two alternate roots. I could ditch the subway and find a series of buses that would get me home, or say, “screw it” and hail a cab. But today was after all, acclimatization training, so I held fast to the British decorum and continued to “carry on.” 

The next subway train came. Maybe it was the British who can claim the whole, “If you build they will come” ideology. We all got on, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred and of course, I had to process this. I’m standing again on a train I hope will get me to the literal end of the line and I realize today was really about one word–capacity. We spend a great deal of time determining if we are “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” and I think we are obsessing about the wrong thing. We are asking the wrong question. Who cares how much is in your glass? (I’m tempted to insert a gin comment here.) The question you should be asking is this, “Am I allowing my ‘glass’ to grow?” 

We all think we have our capacities. We believe there are limits to patience, grace, strength, insert your word here. And consequently, we spend a great deal of energy managing the ends of those limits. “I’m running out of patience.” I felt that today. Standing on and off subway trains for almost two hours, but then I saw a little boy take the gum out of his mouth and proceed to wrap it around his thumb after he has subsequently touched every public surface within a foot radius. 

That made me chuckle. So much so that I actually made eye contact with the girl standing next to me who had obviously seen the same thing. Maybe I’m not almost out of patience. So then I had to think what if our limit is really only a construct, a feeling? What if, in reality, there’s an endless supply? Today’s training could have been a test. How acclimatized am I? If it’s a test, there is a limit. The glass will reach a certain measure. That’s it. Pass. Fail. The end. 

But maybe it’s not a test. What if it’s just an opportunity? A chance to change the capacity, to grow the glass a little, to stretch the boundaries.

I used to think patience was a string. It could be consumed. At some point I would run out. But now I’m not so sure. I think it might be a rubber band with a tremendous capacity to grow. Or maybe a piece of gum wrapped around and around and around your thumb. Maybe it has the capacity to keep going. Maybe we have that same capacity.

We all need a bit of acclimatization training now and then. It stretches us. Pun intended. 

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The View

an evening view

I have been thinking about my last post and I feel I need to paint a more accurate portrait of our current status. The last post shows the view from our rooftop terrace. That really is the view but there are two things that I feel may have been overlooked by the singular perspective. 

First addendum. My mattress currently resides on the floor. Sure, we have a great view, but I can literally roll out of bed onto the floor. Last night, my dog curled up next to me. That was a sobering moment. If my mattress is on the floor, do I really sleep on a giant dog bed? But 3 hours in the local IKEA store on the morning we got the okay to move into the house could only yield so much fruit. We had four carts (aka trolley) full of necessary items to sustain life in a house. I’m talking ice cream scooper, pots and pans, and other necessary housewares. We were fortunate enough to grab a few things for every room, including mattresses and sheets. Bailey was the only one ready to pull the trigger on a bed.

I was walking home from the bus stop the other day and thinking about what we left behind. We have rugs, and beds, and headboards, and a drawer full of kitchen utensils. I remember putting a large plastic box of Band-Aids into an even larger cardboard box to store in the garage in Nevada. I think it safe to say that counts as surplus. Thankfully, Bailey was insightful enough to bring some Band-Aids with us. I chose another pair of shoes above a box of Band-Aids which is ironic because that leads me into the second issue that needs rectifying.

I brought with me several pairs of heals. It’s what I wore to work in the States. But I drove to work everyday. Here, I ride the bus. Which also means I have to walk. No one would want to walk a mile in my shoes. I don’t want to walk in my shoes. My feet are killing me. I have had a neon blue Band-Aid on the back of my heel for a week now. Not covering a blister but an actual area where I rubbed the skin off. We traded the rural country drives, for the slick streets of London and the sometimes running to catch the next bus. The amazing rooftop view comes at a price.

The four of us hung out up there yesterday afternoon. It was a sunny day in London and perhaps the last one for a while. We can see a long ways into the distance. Alternately, if we look down, we can peer into the lives of our neighbors. It reminds me of the Hitchcock movie, “Rear Window.” For those of you who haven’t seen it, the moral of the story is don’t be a voyeur. We could easily be drawn from the expansive view by the daily, often mundane routines happening around us. But thanks to Mr. Hitchcock, we know that generally doesn’t end well. 

Here’s what I see when I look down, metaphorically. I’m super stressed at work. There are a couple of classes where I have spent far more time teaching behavior and impulse control than math. It’s so frustrating! And in my forty plus minute commute to and from work, I have time to reflect. There are days when I struggle to see anything more than the mundane task of behavior management. It becomes a cycle where I feel ineffectual as a math teacher and then I’m falling down the rabbit hole where my current life choices come under intense scrutiny. I could be in Nevada with a bed off the floor, more kitchen utensils, and a house full of stuff, not to mention several pairs of boots I left behind. 

I know I’m not alone in this. Literally, I have three other people here struggling on different days with similar issues. We have replaced the familiar with everything that is not familiar. And in the moments of high stress, it’s so important for me to take high ground. To stand on the terrace and look out as far as possible. In the future my foot will heal. In the future, the consistent and patient care of my students will reap reward. In the future, the unfamiliar will grow to be familiar. In the future, I will have a bed off the floor. While I can’t live in the future, I can allow a bigger perspective to breathe hope into the chaos of the present. And I’ve found an amazing thing happens. It isn’t limbo to live between the chaos of the present and the hope for a different future. I think this middle ground is a garden that grows gratitude. I’m far more grateful for the smile or greeting from a student. For the moments of laughter with colleagues. For a seat on the bus on the way home. 

I find myself saying this a lot. Through different stories or blog posts, I apologize for repeating myself. But I need to be reminded so often. Reminded how my perspective, what I choose to look at, makes all the difference.  

P.S. Since I started writing this post, we have obtained beds. Just didn’t want anyone to worry unnecessarily. 

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Sometimes it’s about the destination

our view
The view from our rooftop terrace

If you are flying off to some tropical location, do you reflect on the flight to get there? Is there some life lesson in the movie choices you made to endure the crying child three rows ahead of you and the rude man behind you kicking your seat? 

If you get a flat tire on your way to work, do you stop to analyze the metaphorical lessons while some stranger (saint) stops to help you change your tire?

We have made a point to wax eloquently about the journey. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who graced us with the oft-used quote. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” We have proceeded (myself included) to alter this quote to something like, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” 

And by alter, I mean butcher. Sometimes, it’s about the destination. Sometimes, it’s about gritting your teeth, taking multiple deep breaths, and pushing your limits to get to the other side.

We moved out of our house on July 31st, so we could rent it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We could travel through California, saying good-bye, staying with friends and family, then arrive in the UK, find a house and settle in. 

We just moved in today. For those of you unaware of the date, or reading far beyond the publish date, that’s five and a half weeks. Over two weeks was spent in hotel rooms. With 12 suitcases. And not suites. Just a room. With four people. And two dogs. One bathroom. I don’t even think Picasso could encapsulate the sheer stress of such an arrangement. 

Five and a half weeks was a journey. I’m sure at some point, we will reflect on the journey. Possibly there will be laughter. Possibly. But at the moment, there are genuine sighs of relief. There are four people spreading out and maximizing personal space. We are a family again, cooking in our own kitchen, making our own plans. Closing doors to keep out the world.

And know, that the last five and a half weeks, there has been teeth gritting, deep breath taking, and pushing on despite how we feel. And for those of you who are smug, wondering if I get the lessons we have learned, the answer is yes. But I won’t even start a conversation about this until I have showered in my own shower for five and a half weeks. That seems fair doesn’t it?

Oh, and our son left today for boot camp. In three months I will be a Marine Mom. And for the record, I will be telling him (only in letters as I can’t talk to him for three months) to grit his teeth, take deep breaths, and keep pushing because he too will get to the destination. Because, sometimes, in the moment, it’s really just about the destination.

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But tomorrow, there’s coffee

coffee please!

It’s late here. Almost 11 pm. Or as they would say here, 23:00. (We call it military time. They just call it time. I’m sure there’s a witty quip in there somewhere but did I mention it’s late?!) The offer for the house was declined. They won’t accept pets. We went through a great deal of trouble, and expense, to get 2 dogs here. It would be a shame to give them away now! Haha! Buddy (one of the dogs) keeps looking at me like he somehow knows I have even suggested such a horrendous idea!

I’m not going anywhere.

So the hunt continued today. Six houses, none of course next to each other. We drove and drove and drove. Had words with the navigation app. As the bird flies it is only say 12 miles, but nothing in London is direct so we actually drive 20 to get there. We are all exhausted. However, the evening ended with the four of us (we miss you Isaac!) sitting around a table, eating moderately tasteful food (which is rather high praise at this point), and discussing the pros and cons. The conversation led to choosing another house. Once again, we cross our fingers, say a prayer, and take a deep breath.

Oh, and today, David and I braved a Laundromat. I’m sure they won’t quickly forget us as we were the ones who accidentally put a Euro in the machine instead of a Pound. They had to call in the repair guy. He was quite jovial about it and in our defense the two coins (bills don’t start here until 5 Pounds) look remarkably similar and feel quite the same. We apologized profusely. I’m sure they think we are nuts. Now the consensus is the same in at least two countries! 

We are told so often to live in the now, enjoy the journey…I’m trying but I’m not going to lie. I’m so looking forward to familiar coffee in the morning. We stopped at a store to purchase a sort of French press, Starbucks ground coffee, cream, and mugs. There’s a hot water pot in the hotel room because the British are bonkers for tea.

It was a long day. We still don’t have a home. Our lives reduced to suitcases stacked in a hotel room…but tomorrow, there’s coffee! 

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No More Purple Mountains

Smith, Nevada

Purple mountains

When we first moved to Nevada almost 7 years ago, I was struck by the stark beauty. “Purple mountains majesty” are really a thing. I remember standing in the cold, 14 degrees to be exact, watching our little kiddos at the time, sled down a sand hill covered in snow. Surrounded by high desert, lungs and toes objecting to the cold, I couldn’t help but think of the Israelites as they left Egypt.

(Some of you may not know this but I’m a bit of a Bible geek. Hang in there. I promise there’s a point.)

The Israelites leave Egypt. This nation within a nation, leave the only home they have known for generations. They end up in the desert, surrounded now by the majesty of creation. No doubt a huge contrast to the opulence and grandeur that they had grown accustomed to in Egypt. Confronted now with the unmistakable magnificence of the ordinary, they began a journey. Their journey was to last 40 years and I have always found that exhaustive and oddly specific. While I cannot speak still to the length, perhaps I am beginning to understand the reason. Maybe it wasn’t enough for them just to see something different. Maybe they needed to be pulled far outside their comfort zone. A reboot sort of.

We left our home in Nevada on July 31. The hospitality and graciousness of friends and family has been overwhelming and so greatly appreciated. But we have been nomads. We’ve sold cars and belongings, whittling our existence down to 12 suitcases, a rental car, two dogs, and a hope of someday having some space to call our own again. Three weeks of being stretched outside our comfort zone. And as I think of the Israelites wandering for 40 years, it makes a bit more sense. If we had jumped straight from Nevada house to London house, there would inevitably be a fair bit of comparing. Well in Nevada we had…It would be human nature to want to go back to the Nevada house. The familiar. Our home. But now, perhaps we are all so tired of traveling, the greater response may simply be gratitude. Hearts that are thankful to have space again, a place to call home, a chance to settle. A reboot sort of.

The house hunt begins tomorrow. An archaic boots on the ground approach. You know how you walk through towns you may be stopping over in and there always seems to be the reality agent on main street with houses taped to the window? I’m hoping there’s a UK equivalent. And yes, we know about the internet. But it’s a house we are picking. A neighborhood, a community. Boots on the ground seems appropriate. (And at this point, a chance to get out of the tiny hotel room.)

At this point, I’m praying our nomadic journey is nearly done. In search of 3 bedroom home, 2 baths (we have teenage daughters), pet friendly, and some furniture would be amazing!

The hunt begins tomorrow.

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A Lesson from Knots

After two weeks of living out of suitcases, lugging around multiple other suitcases, teaching our dogs to travel, and living under the nervous cloud of expectation about whether our travel plans would work out, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. But it wasn’t just me. We are all feeling it. None of us have our own space. We are grateful to friends and family who have housed us and offered unparalleled hospitality but we are tired. Patience waning, butts sore from hours spent in the car, and we really only have dirty clothes to measure our progress to date.

So, I started laundry. As I pulled the first load out of the washing machine, I found a pair of panties that were tied in a knot. True story. Not an analogous knot, an actual knot. I won’t wander down the rabbit trail of how and why. Instead, I’m going to jump straight to the obvious metaphor.

This random and remarkable discovery gave me pause. Literally, I had to pause the transfer of laundry into the dryer to untie the knot. In that brief act, I learned a valuable lesson. One that has taken me a few days to practice and truth-be-told, I’m still trying to master it.

Here it is…I’ll walk you through it.

When your panties end up in a knot,

try these three easy steps…

  1.   Take a deep breath. A seemingly obvious choice and hopefully most often subconscious but when the unexpected strikes, the conscious choice to breathe deeply provides a moment of space. A chance to set aside the why or how and refocus attention to the immediate issue at hand. 
  2. Patiently untie the knot. It has to be done. You are the one holding the knot, so carefully get the panties out of the twist. Set them free.
  3. Finally, move on. It happened. Yes, it was unforeseenand apparently unavoidable because panty knots can be an actual thing. Oh, and I have found it very helpful to take a moment to practice gratitude. Thank God the knot didn’t happen while wearing them.

As I mentioned, I’m still practicing the steps on more metaphorical panty knots. We still don’t have our visas. The deadline is noon today. It’s our deadline and a rather long story, a boring one. A story about expectations and “best-laid plans” and such. Long story short, I may spend today cancelling travel plans and transferring us further into limbo. But now I have three easy steps to help. And I commit to practicing today.

Any steps I missed? Feel free to share!

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The Best-Laid-Plans

Photo Credit: "Keep calm and carry on", © 2009 Derek Keats, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The best-laid-plans…Ironically, this is a phrase coined by a Scottish poet in the 18th century. (Once again, truth refuses to age.) Robert Burns tells of a farmer who unearths a mouse’s nest while plowing a field. I think perhaps a more modern approach might be the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Both of these well used phrases could easily describe the day I’ve had. It’s a rather tedious story about the logistics of moving across the pond and the oodles of migration paperwork. (This could be an easy mark to go adrift into the political weeds of immigration in general but then we would miss the point.)

For the last few months, we have planned. It’s sort of like a target. The further away one is from the intended action, the more vague the planning. The basics are talked through. Should we sell our home or rent it? Can I find a job? What happens if I can’t? The general aspects are ironed out and we move to the next concentric circle. One step closer to the thing.

We are rather close to the center now. We leave our home in 9 days. I spent the morning filling out visa applications and realizing that our well-planned itinerary may come crashing down around us. What happens if the visas don’t get approved before we are scheduled to fly out and we have to change our tickets? What happens if I miss my training? How much is it going to cost to change the tickets for the dogs? (Yes, as if taking 4 people isn’t challenge enough.)

The spinning begins. The stress meter tops out and darkness and despair descend like a chaotic fog. Quickly the questions change from how to why. Why are we doing this again? A question I have been asked frequently and for good reason. A question I have had to revisit myself today as I watch the best-laid-plans get doused with gasoline.

Several years ago our daughters expressed an interest in studying abroad. David and I encouraged the idea then realized we would be sacrificing a whole year we could be spending with them. He came up with the brilliant idea that I teach math (maths if you are in the UK) somewhere abroad and we take them on this adventure. Bailey and Ryan were fairly persistent, encouraging this idea of moving to another country. The discussion of a few years ago brought us to this point of visas, and packing, and leaving in 9 days.

Each one of us has had breakdown moments in the past few months. Sudden realizations that our lives are about to drastically change. (Oh and did I mention Isaac is going to be a Marine? Can we add that to the mix?) I find myself having to lean into the advice I have given others. Remember. As the stress of the unknown looms overwhelmingly, breathe and remember. This is what I tell myself…”Remember the specific times you have overcome difficulty. Remember the hurdles you have already cleared getting to this point. Remember why you started this thing in the first place.” The landscape of the adventure may have changed drastically, but the heart you had when you took your first step has not.

We leave in 9 days. And truthfully, I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out. But I remember why. So, best-laid-plans be damned. We jump ship in 9 days (metaphorically, of course) and these best-laid-plans will turn into stories and moments to remember as we stand on the precipice of the next adventure. (Insert deep breath here.) Or as the Brits would say, “Keep calm and carry on.”

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Accidental Social Experiment #1

Perhaps some of the best experiments happen by accident. Case in point, Post-It Notes. “Accidentally” is used twice to describe this incredible can’t live without office tool.

An accidental discovery occurred at our house this past weekend. Yard sales are stressful to begin with. Add a thunderstorm the night before just as you’ve finished carefully laid rows of random items once thought to be of paramount importance. Thankfully the rain was intermittent, although I think secretly David (husband) and I were hoping for a well-placed lightening strike to save us from the actual chore of conducting the sale. Alas, all treasures survived and for the first three hours of said sale, we averaged one car every hour. Morale was sinking as the temperature was marching toward one hundred.

Around 3 pm, a critical decision was made. We were no longer interested in an exchange of worldly goods for money. It was time to give it all away. Here is where it gets interesting. Because people were not going to be required to pay for anything, they spent far more time browsing and picking things up. Great! That was the idea. But not one of them left without giving a donation. That was the surprise! It seemed that our unselfishness inspired them. They began shopping for others, saying things like, “so-and-so would like this. I’ll just pick this up for them…” Oh, and they would leave a donation for it of course.

Get this. We averaged just as much money per person when we started giving things away as we did when we were charging pennies on the dollar. It appears people are far more willing to be compulsory givers than bargain shoppers. We accidentally conducted an experiment of human generosity.

I wonder if it also had something to do with our mindset. No longer trying to squeeze pennies out of treasures, we were happy to see people take interest in things that once interested us. The fiscal outcome was virtually the same but what started out as a mundane attempt to detach ourselves from possessions, turned into a rather entertaining and competitive game of who could out give the other. Perhaps they gave us money out of guilt or not wanting to look cheap. Sorry, no Survey Monkey to tell us about their shopping experience. But in reality, their motives don’t change the outcome. So maybe there motives are irrelevant? Perhaps trying to understand the motives of those around us, isn’t nearly as important as trying to understand our own motives?

Our motives were strictly desperation and frustration because we are moving to London next month and as they say, “You can’t take it with you.” (Well, in this case you can but it costs a fortune.)

More on our upcoming adventure to follow as I’m fairly confident there will be more accidental social experiments as we dive into a different culture. So stay tuned!

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Don’t be an Octopus

wood carved of octopus
Photo by Kindel Media on

Disclaimer: It is my understanding octopi are sentient, highly intelligent, and rather remarkable beings. Therefore, the admonishment to avoid imitating this phenomenal creature is metaphorical, mostly.

If they just know me better, they will like me. If I give more time and energy, he will love me.

There are moments when a great deal of time and energy are spent chasing. This applies to friendly, romantic, or even a quest to find ourselves. In these moments, there is a strong pull to throw all we have into the pursuit. But…

Don’t be an octopus.

She used to be my friend. I don’t know what happened. I’ve done all these things to put our friendship back the way it was…I don’t understand what changed…

A recent conversation turned to tears of frustration as I listened to a story about the ineffectual results of the pursuit for the attention of another. A heart, feeling broken from neglect or indifference.

And then an image popped into my mind…

The Incredible octopus that can walk on dry land | The Hunt – BBC

Like something out of a sci-fi story! But, my point is octopi have the capacity to expend energy through eight different channels, simultaneously! Humans on the other hand, do not have eight appendages. Perhaps an obvious observation and yet, there are clearly moments when we forget this. We dispense energy as though we are not bound by our miserly four limbs and the implicit laws of the universe.

In the instances where we pretend to be octopi and flail our metaphorical appendages around hoping to garner attention, affection, validation, we are simply proving the First Law of Thermodynamics – energy can only be transferred; it cannot be created or destroyed. In other words, it is impossible to give limitless energy to others.

When my daughter was about three, she asked for gum. I didn’t have any gum. She kept asking, and asking, and asking. (I’m sure you can imagine). And then in a blaze of brilliant failure to communicate, I blurted out, “I can’t give you what I don’t have.” The asking stopped as suddenly a charge filled the air in the car. The profound had hit like a bolt of lightning.

Apologies if you have heard me tell this story, but seriously, it just applies to so many things! Gum, faith, love, energy…

I can’t give what I don’t have…

Please give to others. Give kindness, love, patience, peace…but don’t be an octopus. Give in appropriate quantities. Keep some energy for yourself to grow your own container. Then you can give more.

Don’t be an octopus.

Stop whipping limited appendages about in pursuit of attention, metaphorically or literally. Chose rather to give, arms outstretched, and palms open – like a human. And actually, that puts you in the perfect position to receive something in return.

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I Dwell in Possibility…


I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – For Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And an everlasting roof

The Gambles of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

-Emily Dickenson

Over twenty years ago, someone told me one should never ask, “What if?” I still struggle with this idea. For one, I’m a writer. In the most obvious sense, if I never asked what if, my stories would be very short and rather boring. The exploration of the “what if” is the very thing that propels the protagonist through the angst. 

But that’s pretend. Should one never ask “What if” in the real world? 

I went to bed last night wondering a what if question. My last blog revealed a recent health detour from normal (another word I’m wrestling with, so stay tuned.) The follow up appointment after surgery ended with a referral to an oncologist. The massive tumor met the definition of the dreaded “C” word. (I used this phraseology recently to someone and they asked which dreaded “C” word I was referencing.  I’m still trying to figure out the other dreaded “C” words. I didn’t ask. One is enough for the time being.) The oncologist requested a PET scan to see if there is more cancer and said we would discuss future steps depending on the outcome. The follow up with the doctor was today. So for several weeks, my family and I have danced with “What if?” 

A common phrase has been, “I hope it’s clear.” But I never want to use words like hope or love frivolously. So before I could embrace the hope of a comma in this chapter of my story, I sat with Hope for a bit, to get reacquainted. She reminded me of the time we spent together in England. She would meet me every day (not exaggerating) when I got off the bus and then she would walk with me the 10 minutes I had until I arrived at work. Adjusting to a new school is a challenge. Adjusting to a new school in a foreign country was at times, daunting. So, Hope and I would discuss the possibilities that lay ahead each day. It would have been easy to focus on the numerous things I could almost count on going array. But Hope kept whispering in my ear, “What if?” What if? What if today, you make a connection with that student that keeps misbehaving in class? What if today, you get a smile out of the student who is mute? What if today, you make your students laugh and for a few minutes, it’s actually fun. What if? Hope helped me climb atop the shoulders of dread and see the possibility.

We often erroneously accuse Hope of being fragile. On the contrary, she’s rather resilient. She has withstood battle fields strewn with stories ended too soon. She has survived the starvation and anguish of multitudes caged in concentration camps. She has persisted through famines and pestilence and all manner of suffering. And in the midst of all of it, she stands in the middle of the decay and chaos and says, “What if? What if our lives stretch beyond our death? What if every breath we breathe ripples through eternity? What if?

Hope is a brilliant artist. She takes the drab, life-less colors of our fears, and she spins the most beautiful tapestry.

I woke up the first morning after my surgery in the oncology department. I was supposed to be waking up in my own bed after a routine procedure. In the midst of my processing, I heard a voice. (This time it was a real person, I promise.) “Good morning, Rebecca. I’m Meridith.” Before I could even respond with any amount of civility, I was uncertain the social protocols of conversation between two cancer patients separated by a sheet, she kept going. “I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over a year ago. I know a little bit of what you are dealing with in this moment. If you ever have any questions, I’m right here.” 

Tears streamed down my face. Much like they are now. Sometimes, Hope shows up in people. For five days, Meridith walked me through the first parts of my cancer journey. She laughed at my jokes (she seriously may be a saint), she helped me process, she cheered me on, and she whispered, “What if?” But even more profoundly, she exuded life in the unlikeliest of places and she reminded me what Hope looks like.

So, if you haven’t met my friend Hope, the next time your mind is swirling in a cacophony of fear and chaos, listen for her. Her currency is possibility and if you chose an encounter with her, I can’t guarantee your circumstances will change, but your perspective might and maybe that’s the more important of the two anyway.

P.S. The PET scan was clear! Thank you all so much for your prayers, positive thoughts, and best wishes! You have no idea how you lifted us and helped sustain us! Muah!!!

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