I’ve spent part of my morning doing something I don’t do often enough, reading other blogs. I recognize that I am part of a community of writers on WordPress, but in my daily struggle to find enough headspace to write and publish one post of my own, I usually neglect to read others’ works. It’s not a great plan, honestly, because other writers can provide food for thought, inspiration, and unexpected wisdom. I recognize I need to employ the Ted Lasso way of being. I need to be more curious with regard to other people. I am already a curious person regarding most things, but I’ve never been very curious about others because my childhood taught me human beings are unreliable and not necessarily worth my time or trust. This year, however, I decided to take more risks and that includes taking more risks in my experiences with others.
I found this quote today while reading someone else’s blog, and I thought it was brilliant.
I wish I had seen this quote when our sons were young and I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t do what other children their ages were doing. Parents read the What To Expect series of books about childhood development and, if our children don’t measure up according to the charts and graphs, we immediately assume something is “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with our children. They are simply on their own path. Some will be on target with the milestones in those books and some will not. They are individuals, and individuals come to this life with their unique set of gifts and challenges.
Because my sons are mostly grown now, I am looking at this quote with a different perspective. I learned that lesson about my kids, that they would eventually find their stride on their separate and beautiful path. It never occurred to me when I was giving my children the grace to get where they were headed in their own time to do the same for myself. From the beginning, I’ve imposed unnecessary, stringent guidelines on myself with regard to what was appropriate in my life and when. I cried hard on my 25th birthday. Why? Because I was upset I reached that milestone without having my master’s degree. Shit. I’m still aiming for unnecessary and contrived goal posts. I wrote the other day about what a person my age “should” be wearing. I am an adult. It doesn’t matter what others think is age appropriate and acceptable for me to wear. It only matters what I feel comfortable in and what I feel makes sense for my life. I don’t even have a job with a dress code. I could wear a Disney Tigger costume every day if I felt like it and not get fired. (What would I fire myself for? Being too cute?)
We are all popcorn. Some of us don’t pop as children, however, so it’s unfair to put that expectation in place. We will pop in our own time or we won’t. There are those among us who will remain the same coming out of the pot as going into it. Maybe our goal should be not to worry about when the pop will happen but to believe instead we will reach that potential when we are ready. Some of us might just need a little extra time in the pot to get there. Patience is key here. Don’t count us out.
Public speaking. It’s anxiety-inducing for most of us, which is why most of us are impressed by those who do it well. Our house has one member who does not fear speaking in front of others. In fact, Luke was born with two traits most people lack: self-confidence and a gift for public speaking. When I say born with, I’m not joking. For most people, confidence comes either through racking up a series of successes or repeatedly messing things up and then realizing we survived that calamity successfully. Luke needed neither of those experiences to acquire confidence. He simply had it in spades from the beginning.
From the age of two, Luke’s confidence allowed him to work a room. His toddler birthday parties were a dream. He would open a gift, carry on as if it (a toy, a blanket, a toddler potty, a dollar bill) was the greatest thing he’d ever seen, and then he would run to the gift giver and hug them. It was something else. We couldn’t have trained him to do that if we’d tried. When he was in first grade, we were looking at some of his art work. He looked at me and asked, “Am I pretty good at art or am I amazing at it?” He didn’t even consider that he might be meh at it like I would have. Another time around that same age, while he and his brother were discussing attractiveness, Luke said, “I’m attractive. I’m totally attractive. I’m like 300% attractive.” Well, okay then, I thought. The thing about Luke, though, is you can tell those statements aren’t made because he’s overcompensating for a lack of self-esteem or because he’s an arrogant little weasel. He just knows who he is and he’s comfortable with it. He also knows what he wants and how he will get it. He’s not conceited. He’s convinced.
His gift for public speaking first showed itself in school plays, where he was often given the funniest line and would deliver it and soak up the laughs like a lizard soaks up the sun. He would volunteer to give presentations to his class or other classes. When his voice dropped, his public speaking presence only increased. In junior high, he was chosen to lead tours for school visitors. He quickly became a Lead Ambassador in high school. Then he ran for offices in the Student Senate and the school chapter of the National Honor Society and won. Along the way, he kept killing it at public speaking. All students are required to compete in the Great Debates during junior year, and Luke finished in the top four. During senior year, students are asked to give a 50-minute presentation on a topic of their choosing. Most students think of this as something they have to get through. Luke started considering topics for his presentation his freshman year.
Last night, Luke stood in our living room and did his final practice for his Senior Symposium presentation today. His topic? Mars in Science Fiction. Luke started practicing for us on Sunday. He quickly realized he would run long with the copious amounts of information he had (he calculated he had read 8200 pages of science fiction about Mars over the years), so he presented to us again on Monday night with a reduced format and nailed the timing. Last night he practiced in front of us one last time. He was ready. Here he is in a one-minute practice snippet, which he granted permission for me to share:
Luke’s plans at this point are to become a college professor. That could change, of course, but he is aware that his comfort with public speaking is a gift and something he should find a way to use in his life. When we watched him give his speech, I have to admit that I could imagine him as a professor. He needed no notes. He spoke extemporaneously with little effort, comfortable in his subject-matter expertise. He was excited to give his speech to his classmates today. When he got in the car at the end of the day, he was ebullient. He was still hyped up over his presentation, for which received accolades.
It’s something else to see someone using their gifts. It reminds you that you should be doing something with your own.
I first saw the quote above maybe seven or eight years ago. It hit me hard then because I knew that was how I operated. Raised to believe I was something to tolerate, when others didn’t meet me halfway or make much of an effort at all, I went out of my way to keep them around anyway. I didn’t question their lack of effort or their lack of respect for my boundaries because I knew I was a lot to tolerate, and this meant I had to work so they would continue putting up with me.
In the years since I first read the quote, though, I have worked to increase my self-esteem. I have at last come to the place where I am able to see my negative qualities without allowing them to convince me I am worthless or worth less. I don’t want to offer a discount on my company anymore. I have a lot to offer my companions. I’m not especially bad, as I previously thought. I’m especially human. And that is awesome because it means I am like everyone else after all. I don’t have to accept less from others in our relationships. I have agency. I can decide what works for me, and I can let other people walk if they aren’t comfortable with what I need to stay in relationship with them.
So now I am at last in the place in the quote. I am finished allowing people to treat me a level below my worth. I am not on clearance. I’m not handing out coupons. This isn’t Goodwill. If what I want is too much, if you don’t want to make the effort, move along. I’ll be better for it.
“I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” ~Walt Whitman
I’ve been implying here for years (literally years, there are archives of proof) that I am going to get my shit together. Yes, indeed, I’ve proclaimed. My poop is nearly in a group. Nearly. Like it’s so close I can almost gather it in with a poop scoop. I’ve said these things time and time again. Truth is, though, I really am there now. For real. All those years with the training wheels on, getting closer to the growth I was craving and then pulling back in fear before finding a nugget of courage to continue forward again, they’ve created a muscle memory of being brave, of putting myself out there, of pushing the boundaries of my history, and of finding my voice. All those things are far easier for me now than they were seven years ago when I started this journey. I know my worth. I know what I am and what I am not. I’m willing to walk away from people and situations that are toxic to a healthy mindset. I am done playing games. I’m finished living my life to make others comfortable. I’m choosing me now.
I found this shop on Etsy that creates these cute little rocks. You choose your word and a color from their selection and they make it for you. I originally just wanted a couple that read “TOWANDA!” from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, but then I decided this was an opportunity to set my intentions. Small tokens with actions words to remind me what I want to do, how I want to live intentionally, in whatever time I have left in this life. I didn’t choose love because that seemed too obvious. Instead, I chose words that asked me to go beyond my comfort zone. I chose words I’ve struggled to live in the first part of my life. I chose dare, believe, dream, relax, stretch, practice, create, and shine to be my words. These words represent growth. These are my new core values. This is the future I want and am prepared to enact. TOWANDA is my rallying cry, my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
We brought our newest family member home on September 26th when he was 8 weeks old. We’re now beginning our 21st week with our little mischief-maker. We’ve spent the past five months figuring him out and trying to get him adjusted to our life here. We’ve taken him to puppy socialization classes where he excelled at holding his own against dogs far taller and heavier than he is. We tried him at puppy training classes at Petsmart, only to be foiled by two very small, very barky, very distracting miniature schnauzers that made it impossible to hear the dog trainer and practice commands. We finally went back to the trainer who ran the puppy socialization classes, Lynn, and signed up for Delightful Dog class. Loki had a real affinity for Lynn, so we knew this might be the person who could help us get him on track (although we already thought he was a delightful dog).
Fortunately for us, there were only four puppers in the class including Loki. With fewer doggy distractions (and no excessive barkers), we were in it to win it. Lynn gave us plenty of wonderful tips for positive training. It’s all about treats and clear messaging for positive behaviors and lots of patience. Loki came to class already proficient in Watch Me, Touch, and Sit, plus a couple fun commands we worked on just for giggles, Spin (self-explanatory) and Boop (he has to put his nose through the hole of a donut toy). Our first real challenge with him was Down, which is hard to teach a dog who only has six inches of ground clearance. He thinks he’s already pretty far down and doesn’t see why we want him to lower himself. Lynn showed us how we could sit on the ground and lure Loki under our bent knees, which would force him onto his belly to get underneath for the treat. Once his belly hit the ground, we let out an emphatic “yes” and gave him a reward. It took about five minutes of this before he figured out that Down meant flat on his belly. Over the course of a couple weeks, we got him to the point where we can say Down and point to the floor and he drops onto his belly. Such a good boy.
We were still working on Stay and Come when time for the class final arrived. I was nervous on the way to class. I told Loki not to embarrass us during his test, but I knew he probably would, at least a little bit. Lynn did a great job of not making any of us, dogs or humans, feel anxious once we arrived. Loki blew through Watch Me, Touch, and Sit like a champ. Then he showed Lynn that he had learned Down. Loki did pretty well with Leave It, ignoring the treats in my open palm in front of his face. He did an okay job with Stay, but when it came to Come things went off the rails. With his leash off and other dogs and humans nearby, it was a Loki free-for-all. Despite my treats and emphatic cries of “Loki, COME,” he was what you would expect from a corgi named Loki…all mischief and tricks. But, that’s okay. He’s an adolescent corgi. We can keep working on it. He will get there eventually. He’s a smart little guy who loves treats and has patient parents who want to see him succeed.
When all the dogs had cycled through the exam material, Lynn played “Pomp and Circumstance” and handed out diplomas, with tacit acknowledgment from all the pet parents there is still plenty of work to be done. For us, it’s going to be many more walks to perfect loose leash walking, along with time focusing on Come and Stay. I would also like him to learn Place and Wait. And I will never stop teaching him tricks. If I taught him to use Inside Voice, I’m pretty sure I can follow that up with Crawl, Stretch, Shake, and a few others. Teaching a dog to behave is hard work. Teaching a dog to be cute is fun work. We’re proud of our little graduate. He only got a B- on his final exam because of the disaster with the Come command, but he gets an A from us for making us laugh every damn day. Good job, little Loki.
Over my years of blogging here, I have minced no words when it comes to my disdain for Valentine’s Day. I think it is ridiculous. A holiday, dreamt up in cooperation by the greeting card, candy, and flower industries, that makes people either feel bad or stress out. That said, I do buy cards and candy for my husband and sons because they like those things and I like them. I also do send simple greetings to my most treasured friends because I love them and I don’t always remember to tell them that.
As a rule, my husband and I exchange cards. I do not want or expect gifts on this day. Truth be told, receiving gifts is not part of my love language. I would much rather my husband take my car to get the oil changed or drop things off at Goodwill to show me he loves me. Actions speak louder to me than words. Acts of service make sense to me when it comes to showing someone you love them. If I cook your dinner, wash your underwear, and pick up after your messes, I love you. I won’t do those things for just anyone.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into the closet this afternoon after my morning’s worth of errands and found this:
This is my happy place. In actuality, a hammock is my happy place, be it in a park, at a campground, on a beach under a palm tree, or in the country. Somewhere peaceful, where I can enjoy the surrounding views and the blue sky while swaying ever so gently in repose. A seat where my mind, busy with all its overthinking, can take a few moments of respite while I practice my skills at being a human being rather than a human doing. This is everything.
It was apropos that Steve hung this in our closet because that is where I meditate (don’t judge…it’s quiet and no one goes in there). It is also where I go when I am stressed and need to take a pause to breathe and get ready to face life again. I have been in our closet more than usual lately. In the absence of a shady, quiet spot where I can float in a hammock, I will totally use this visual reminder of my happy place in our closet. It will work just fine in between times when I can be in the mountains or a park or on a beach staring at the sky.
Every single day I am grateful for my husband who has given me every good thing in my life and always allowed me space to grow and be the introverted nutball I am. Marriage certainly has its ups and downs, but there are decidedly less of those when you are married to someone who truly gets you.
If Valentine’s Day is your special day, I hope you have a great one. If, like me, this day is just another day on the calendar to you, I hope you get to spend it with people who know how to make your happy place appear when you need it most.
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!” ~Jim Henson
As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It was given to me by a thoughtful, supportive friend last month, and I’ve slowly been making my way through it. The beautiful thing about Brené Brown is that her struggles and her authenticity seep from the pages of her books, making her words both relatable and heartening. She touches on so many difficult and uplifting emotions in the book that reading it has been equal parts soul-crushing reality and soul-inflating inspiration. Read about shame, guilt, perfectionism, fear, blame, and addiction and recognize how much those habits and emotions define and control you. Then read about hope, joy, play, creativity, resilience, authenticity, and self-compassion and see where you might be able to grow in a more positive direction. More than once while reading I’ve exclaimed out loud to myself in response to what I have read. Holy crap. That is me. I operate that same way. I so relate. I need to work on that. That makes so much sense. I have some work to do. I am really good at that.
The part of the book that hit me the hardest was the portion about shame. I know Brené began her work as a shame researcher, delving into the components of shame and how humans deal with or deflect it and how we can grow out of and away from it in healthy ways. So I fully expected to read about shame in this book. What I didn’t expect was to discover that for the majority of my life shame was my constant companion and operations manager. Ouch.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by this discovery. I grew up commonly hearing, “You should be ashamed of yourself” and “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Most of my reactions to events in my life were approached from a shame vantage point. Boyfriend broke up with me? Of course he did. You were acting like a needy jerk. It’s a wonder he didn’t leave you sooner. New job too much for me? Of course it is. Who do you think you are? You have no life experience. You can’t be expected to manage other human beings. Can’t stick to a diet and lose that stress-eating weight? Of course you can’t. You suck at dedication. Struggling with parenting? Of course you are. Your mother always said you were too selfish to raise childrenand it turns out she is right. Brené’s definition of shame snapped me like a wet, locker room towel: “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It was through this lens that I grew up and approached my adult life. I was an imposter, one misstep away from everyone I knew discovering my deep secret. To deal with this, I became a perfectionist. (That is another blog post entirely.)
I was continually baffled that anyone would want to be my friend or date me. I couldn’t see what they saw. I only saw my unworthiness. Still, I must have been presenting something else to these people too. They didn’t seem to see what I was seeing. The incongruity was not lost on me, but it never once occurred to me that maybe what they were seeing was the true Justine and what I was seeing was a story I had been sold. It took decades for me to figure that out, and I’m still shredding the pages of that story and working on my rewrite.
Perhaps the most life-affirming part of this book for me has been the section on Cultivating a Resilient Spirit because this is where I shine. I grew up feeling unworthy, less than, and invisible, but I persevered and took risks. Somehow, despite all the negativity and fear, I knew deep in my core I was capable. In my late teens and early twenties, I arrived at a place where I almost was able to recognize the big lie I had been sold. I was brave enough to imagine for myself something bigger. I took steps in that direction. I stepped away from guilt and forced obligation and walked towards autonomy and growth. I stepped up. At age 22, I graduated from a four-year university, the first in our family to do so. By 23, I was starting graduate school. At 24, I voluntarily sought help and signed on with a debt relief organization to pay off tens of thousands of dollars I had accumulated in loans and credit card liability. I was adulting and taking ownership, being resilient, and moving forward.
Then I realized I’d run out of money for graduate school. Rather than rising up and trying to find a way through that financial quagmire, I took my mother’s advice and I quit because I couldn’t afford it. I fell right back into the pattern of being a fearful, self-pitying, self-loathing coward and I stayed there for another two decades, operating from the familiar mindset that told me I wasn’t worthy.
I’ve spent more of my life in that shame mindset than I have spent believing in myself. I let other people’s negativity inform my choices. I asked for advice from the wrong people. I spurned the pleas of the right people who tried to guide me towards my better angels. Now I’m grateful for the difficult day that opened my eyes and taught me who was not to be trusted with my dreams and hopes. I learned to lean towards the people who raise me up, and I walked away from those who make me feel less special, talented, helpful, kind, and important than I am. I ignore those who don’t get me or who think they know me but don’t. I face my shame, talk about it, and deconstruct it. And all of this has led me to a place where I am starting to understand who I am and to like myself.
Shame grows through secrecy, silence, and judgment. Understanding this gives me a pathway out of it. You deny it oxygen by addressing it, sharing your difficult stories with others, and walking away from those who would keep you grounded in it. I am happier more often now, able to be joyful and at peace. I make better choices and I forgive myself more easily when my choices aren’t the best. I appreciate others. I try to apologize when I screw up. I am still working on self-love and I am having a devil of a time beating the judgment out of myself and my life, but I am making progress. I’m embracing my humanity and feeling part of a bigger whole rather than feeling like a lonely pariah. I am proud of myself, dammit. It feels good.
Sharing my darkness and vulnerability is terrifying, but blogging about these shadow monsters here has changed my life. Shame has no power over me anymore because I have named it, gotten cozy with it, and discovered its weaknesses. It will never leave me because it is part of my story, but it buzzes quietly in the background now, just white noise that my brain blocks out.
A few months ago, my sister sent me a journal so I can practice some narrative therapy. Narrative therapy helps an individual become an expert in their own life through telling the stories they have carried around. Putting the stories of your life into writing gives meaning to your experiences and influences how you see yourself and the world around you. When my sons were younger, I used my blog as a form of narrative therapy to help me rearrange my negative perceptions about their struggles and create a better path forward for all of us. More recently, I’ve used blogging to tell stories from my childhood as a way to validate those experiences and increase my own voice and messaging around those pivotal events that shaped who I am. Through these exercises, I’ve begun to understand myself more fully. I am more aware of why I am the way I am and more capable of making adjustments in areas where I’m not fond of the trajectory I’ve taken. The process is helping me have greater self-compassion because I understand that my fears, coping mechanisms, and judgments didn’t originate in a vacuum. These behaviors arose to protect me. Now that I understand why they existed in the first place, I can begin to jettison habits that once protected me but no longer serve me .
One thing my sister and I have challenged each other to do is start some reconstruction. We are creating lists that outline what we like so we can recreate ourselves fully as the people we actually are and not the people we were told we were. We are rewriting our stories. That may sound odd or even disingenuous but, when you have spent your life in a pattern of reaction borne out of the fallacy that you are not an expert on your own self, you need to start with the basics to reclaim your identity.
Today my sister threw a gauntlet down. She sent me a photograph of a page where she has started listing things she knows she likes. To keep things equitable, I too started a list. My criteria? Things that make me happy or give me a sense of hope and possibility. Here’s what I have so far:
a sunny day in the mountains
medium roast espresso
puzzles and word games
all types of travel, including long road trips
smelling lily of the valley and lilacs
long, hot showers
deep conversations about faith, life, death, philosophy, space, current events, politics, or anything that avoids the pointless drivel of small talk
skiing, camping, hiking, cycling, kayaking, snorkeling, being active out in nature and not in a gym
documentaries and foreign films
anything with the flavor of passion fruit
the color of a green apple
lectures presented by experts in their field
Coca Cola and Bugles
the Buffalo Bills
Wes Anderson films
I will keep adding to this list in my journal as items come to mind. In the meantime, I know that being bold enough to enumerate here these items is the first step reclaiming my story. I know who I am. I know what I like. No one knows me better than I do. And I’m finished letting others dictate to me who I am.
For this last day of 2021, I vowed to be more present. It’s something I have been working on this year, through mindfulness and meditation, because I want to be more checked in than checked out and because I want to learn to manage my monkey brain and respond more carefully to people and to life’s choices. So I spent less time today on my phone and more time simply paying attention to my surroundings rather than trying to photograph them.
The first thing we did this morning was head out to do some snorkeling at a beach known for clear waters and loads of reef fish. Kahalu’u Beach Park did not disappoint. Although we did not bring an underwater camera, I saw oodles of fish, many of which I had not ever seen before. While I was unsure how I would like the Big Island and her scarcity of sand beaches, it turns out that the lack of sand means clearer water for viewing fish. This has made the paucity of sandy beaches a total non-issue because I would rather snorkel than sit in the sand and carry it home with me anyway. At this snorkel spot, I saw myriad yellow tang and bullethead parrotfish, several different varieties of trigger fish, Moorish idols, huge corals, and a porcupine fish. We were out for about an hour and it was worth every second.
The wind picked up substantially in the afternoon and the surf got a little crazy for a few hours, so I spent some time along the lava rocks behind the house searching for shells. I’ve found a couple full cowries, which made me happy.
In the late afternoon, I spent some time staring at the tumultuous seas. I would move here in a heartbeat. If I won the lottery, a place like this one, right on the ocean, would be my first purchase. Since we are down to our last two days here, though, I decided to soak this hammock thing up because I don’t know when or if I will have this opportunity again. And I have officially decided that Hawaii agrees with me, so it is only natural that I end up here somehow, someway, someday.
We opted to cook in tonight. Steve grilled tenderloin and we sautéed some shrimp in garlic butter and topped it with chopped parsley. It was perfection. The sun set behind a huge bank of clouds as fireworks began to pop off on the hill on the other side of the bay from our rental. Overall, it was a perfect end to a long, tiring 2021. Here’s hoping that 2022 finds our situation, on the whole, improved from the last two years. Happy New Year from this beautiful place!
I was born in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. In 1977, when I was 8 years old, my family relocated to Littleton, Colorado. Most of our family still lives in New York, primarily in the Buffalo area. Although I’ve spent 75% of my life in Colorado and feel as close to a native Coloradan as one can get, one part of Buffalo has always remained with me. I am a Buffalo Bills fan. I know. I know. The Bills can’t win. You think I don’t know that? I was a Bills fan back when they lost four Super Bowls. I am well aware of their history. So, what keeps me a Bills fan despite all the heartbreak? Two things: first, I like an underdog, and second, Bills fans are resilient and have huge hearts.
Don’t believe me? Last weekend, the Bills suffered a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led by Tom Brady. Many Bills fans believe the loss was due at least in part to missed calls by the NFL referees officiating the game. So, what did the Bills Mafia do? Did they sit around and whine about it? No. They found a constructive way to shed light on their loss by donating $17, reflecting the number Bills QB Josh Allen wears, to a local charity for visual impairment. Yep. Bills fans from across the nation and the world have been donating to Visually Impaired Advancement and trolling the NFL refs while doing it. It’s genius. And it reflects how passionate and big hearted Bills fans are. Thus far, Bills fans have raised over $40k for this charity through their generosity.
So, while the Bills may have lost their game last weekend, they haven’t lost their sense of humor or their kind, generous hearts. Bills fans, when encountering another Bills fan, no matter where or when, always shout out “Go Bills.” It’s exactly that camaraderie that makes being a member of the Bills Mafia an honor. Some people cheer only for a winning team, but Bills fans show up win or lose, season after season, always hopeful, always devoted, always involved.