No Distractions – Living Out Who We Are Meant To Be

Which one is the real path and which is the distraction? Or perhaps neither are the right path at all and you must cut a new trail.

I’m addicted to a soundtrack (The Greatest Showman). It’s been some time since I have been addicted to an entire soundtrack—one where I don’t skip any of the songs. I don’t even like the whole soundtrack to the Sound of Music, one of my favorite shows of all time (I mean, who doesn’t skip over Climb Every Mountain?)!  The songs in the Showman soundtrack tell a complete and inspiring story about living out who you are and who you are meant to be. Everyone isn’t going to like you or your choices. If we chase after other people’s dreams or approval, or we try to spend our lives “proving” something to people, it is merely a distraction from the joy of being who we are and giving our gift to the world.

As I’ve been listening to these songs, they have made me contemplate my own life. Most of the songs seem to be an anthem for the way I already live. I love that! It encourages me.

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

The part of the movie and soundtrack that has me thinking is the theme of the distraction.  At my work I have one major distraction right now, but I’m not sure yet if it is a distraction or if it’s who I’m meant to be. Time will tell. But this movie and these songs have really given me some good perspective with which to judge my actions and decisions.

I think we all second guess our abilities at times, at least I do. I wonder if I am “good enough” at what I do. The world is filled with people more talented and better than I am and I think my natural competitive nature makes me want to be the best. Not because I want to be hailed as better than other people but simply because I want to be the best I can be. The problem is knowing when to stop . When is “good” good? When is “great” great?

Sometimes no matter how hard you work at something you just don’t have the raw talent to be amazing. I’ll never be a sprinter, for example. And just being the best sprinter I can be isn’t satisfying. Trust me.

I’m toying with the idea of flexing new muscles–ones I have, but haven’t had the opportunity to develop fully–ones I think could be really great. No matter how hard I try, the work muscles I’ve been developing for the past eight years might be about as good as they can get and I’m unsure of their quality. My team is incredible and deserves the best. I may not be able to take them to the heights they could go. The raw talent may just not be in me. And without the raw talent I will forever beat myself up.

‘Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see

A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make

I’m trying to listen to the wise counsel of others, who can sometimes see things we can’t see in ourselves. And, I’m also listening to my heart and digging deep to figure out who I am meant to be. Because who I’m meant to be has little to do with who my boss is, where I sit, if I will have friends, how much money I make, or if I’m comfortable. I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m not afraid of hard people. I’m only afraid of not taking every opportunity to be all of who I’m meant to be.

Am I living in a distraction or am I running toward it? I think I’ll listen to the soundtrack again.

Christmas Selfie Project

This year’s crop of family at Christmas.

Christmas is an exhausting week, or at very least an exhausting 48 hours. There are so many traditions and expectations tied to Christmas. But really, when you take away all the expectations and traditions, what it boils down to, at least for me, is family. Lots and lots of family. And it isn’t always the same crew every year. As our families grow, some aren’t always able to make it to ALL their gatherings in that short 48-hour time frame. Of course they are missed, but we all understand–Christmas is an impossible holiday to manage.

Because of this, I decided to try something new this year. I planned to embrace the chaos by taking a selfie with all the individuals I saw from my family this Christmas (sorry Uncle John, I somehow missed our selfie…I’ll take it next year). At these gatherings I typically think of them as a group of people…not this year. These crazy selfies made me stop and appreciate each and every individual in my life and what was unique and good about each person,  I embraced each individual as a gift and I’m treasuring these pictures as I’ve been shuffling through them on my phone this week.  (The selfies also gave me another great insight… I am going to make a more concerted effort to comb my hair on Christmas morning from now on.)

Merry Christmas family! Thanks for being the unique people that you are!

My Life as a Web Page

What if my life was a web page?  By day I am a web strategist …so of course it got me thinking. What if my life was represented on a home page? Would it be a good design?

First, you might ask, what makes a good design? There is no perfect answer to this question. It depends on the purpose of the site. There are visual design principles one might typically want to apply. Use of negative space, or white space, is one, for example. It adds balance to the page.

Web pages are built on grids. So I started with a 16-column grid and separated it into boxes to represent hours in a day.  If I were to represent my average day, how would it look? I figured out the areas of my life where I invest my time each day and laid it out on the grid to represent the hours spent.

Then I added some visuals to represent the activities that occur in those boxes.

Did this make a good life home page? It’s not bad, I suppose. I have a lot of boxes, so that means I have some variety in my life, but do I like the size of them?

What I noticed was pretty obvious. The very small 15 minutes worth of nothing—the white space.  These are super rare minutes in my life, but I know what they are. Sometimes they are the  minutes when I contemplate life before my eyes shut for the night. The minutes I spend writing a blog or sketching. Sometimes it is the minutes in my car—purposely sitting —not getting out quite yet. Or excusing myself from my office and sitting in the “quiet room” at work just trying to breathe for a few minutes where no one can see me. White space. And looking at this page, I think more of it might be needed. The activities of the white space get relegated to the footer of my life page, the less used but persistent “links” of my life – the soul time where I can create things, walk in nature, or just be.

Unfortunately, I can’t stretch the page like I can in the digital world and and make more time and create more white space. I must make one box smaller to make another bigger. I’m pretty sure I’ve pushed sleep to my limit at this point in my life. So that leaves the rest to try to jiggle around.

Granted these boxes aren’t perfectly labeled. Life isn’t this segmented. The Learn box could sometimes be labeled Play.  It just depends on the day. And I do Learn at Work sometimes, or Work when I Give. But generally speaking, the time averages are about the right size and I’m not sure I like what I see. The Work box is a tricky one. It’s not really an option to eliminate it, but change it….possibly…. dare I say….shrink it?  Yes. This could be considered. Do I need different boxes than the ones I have here? Does this design communicate my purpose? Does it say who I am or who I want to be? These are the questions I must ask myself.

That’s what the new year is for, right? To evaluate. Some of these frames are in need of growing and others in need of shrinking and I’m determined to find ways to do a little website redesign of my own in 2018.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

sleepstar

Silent night.

Suicide is a logical option, but not a good one. This is #7 on my list of top ten midline crossings—things I’ve learned that have shaken my world and changed the way I act and live. I have neglected to write about this topic yet. I’ve started to on several occasions, but stopped. Today is the day.

I understand the option. I understand the logic and the rationality behind the decision. People may say it’s irrational, but I don’t think so.  It makes sense in so many ways. When you get a cut, you put on antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid. You fix it. When you break a bone, you put on a cast. You fix it. When you are suffering inside, a place no one can see…a place no Band-Aid or cast can protect….there is a way to fix it. Quickly. Permanently. I get it. All can be calm, all can be bright….you can sleep in heavenly peace.

So if it is such a great fix for the pain, no different from a Band-Aid or a cast, why might it not be a good option? I think because the “fix” actually breaks things. A Band-Aid heals a cut, a cast heals a bone…suicide heals one wound, but in turn, creates many more. Band-Aids don’t do that. Band-Aids are personal. Suicide is not. It might feel like that, but it’s not. Suicide might be a logical fix, but not a good one.

All death brings pain to the survivors whether sudden or long-suffering. Tragic deaths are surprisingly painful—lives that seem to end too soon. Suicide is both tragic and long suffering. The long suffering just doesn’t often show on the outside, like cancer or heart disease. It’s a hidden kind of heart disease.

And now the suicide rate is at a 30-year high and has increased by 80% for white middle-aged women since 1999.

I’ve watched too many lives close to me, including my own, be hurt by suicide. Healing? Never. Scars? Yes. Never full healing. At least not in this life. Just scars. And this week I’m watching it, feeling it… again.  Can I be glad for my friend? Happy she found the peace she was looking for? Maybe…if I think about it logically…or from her point of view.  But I can’t see anything happy right now. Her pain has now turned into another wound on my heart. And there is nothing happy about it. It hurts. She couldn’t see what fixed her heart broke so many others.

It’s hard to see in the dark.

And now here we go again. It’s Christmastime. Flickering candles. Twinkly lights. Bright stars. It’s easy to start saying “if I only….” and to tell ourselves we just weren’t bright enough to shine light into her dark. These are the scars – the internal wounds we now carry.

As I stared blankly into the lights of my tree last night, it made me sad. One light is out. And it is missed. And yet…I know even the smallest light can illuminate dark places. So I’ll keep my light on, weak as it is today, and maybe give an extra hug to the middle-aged women in my life.

Pandemonium!

The zookeeper tossed a lunch sack into the panda area at the National Zoo. Inside was a delicious treat. The panda happily opened the bag and let us watch as she savored every bite.

In April 1972, the government of China gave the United States two giant pandas (Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing) as a gift following Richard Nixon’s visit to the country. I saw those pandas right after they reached American soil (or so I’m told). I was 5.

In return for this gracious fluffy gift for peaceful international relations, we gave China a pair of musk oxen. Really? We couldn’t come up with something better than musk oxen?

This week, as is my tradition when traveling for work, I embarked on an adventure in my spare time to see something besides the screen of my computer. As I had not seen the pandas since I was 5, this seemed like a perfect quest. And let me tell you….a simple quest became joyful pandemonium!

This guy put on a show for us at the National Zoo. He lumbered down the tree, which we were surprised could even hold him, and promptly tumbled off the last branch, eliciting ooohs and ahhhs from the crowds.

The giant pandas at the National Zoo are delightful and entertaining. I watched one climb, take a dip in the pool, and, best of all, sit in front of me and daintily lick an orange and cranberry popsicle. The experience was so moving, I just had to have a panda of my own. So my colleague and I bought pandas at the gift shop…… and that’s when the pandemonium really started.

I learned that many people have misconceptions about pandas. They are actually not lazy. They eat 40 pounds of bamboo a day and that takes walking to find it and a lot of hard work. They also do eat meat at times—they are not strictly bambootarians. They are also not sweet and cuddly. They can be quite aggressive.

Armed with this knowledge, we deemed it important to take the pandas out for some fresh air to see the rest of the city and eat! So, after hours of long meetings, we took Chuck and Elizabeth (we gave them American names) out for a walk. And they really enjoyed the sites.

The WWII Memorial was a nice rest stop for the pandas on their first major outing outside the National Zoo.

The pandas were very impressed by the scale of the Lincoln Memorial.

 

It’s true! Pandas don’t just eat bamboo. They were hungry after their long journey.

The pandas enjoyed learning about their heritage at the Mandarin Oriental. Thanks for the gift, China. Goodnight, pandas!

Story Time – The Adventure Continues

Our best bedtime stories never had a single word on a page.

A time-traveling elephant named Hubert Cumberdale. A teleporting oak tree and a prized German chocolate cake.

A city spared by aliens from a worldwide pandemic using magic stones, then destroyed because of human greed and power.

A slave who saves his master to gain freedom from natives on an island south of Iceland.

Sound interesting? It is. And it happens every Wednesday night in front of the fireplace at my house. Each Wednesday one member of my family is on point to tell a story. Next week, I’m in the spotlight.

My children were never into athletics or board games growing up. Instead, our family sport was storytelling.  At bedtime, after reading a book, our boys would congregate in one of their rooms for what we called “adventure stories.” My husband and I took turns telling the story each night using three random items given to us by our children. As my kids grew, they joined in the game and began telling the stories, too.

Now, years later, our young adult children have come back around on Wednesday nights to break bread and tell stories. Apparently, my husband and I weren’t the only ones who missed the creative family bonding time we enjoyed during their first 18 years.

We never wrote down any of the stories. We never will.  They will simply continue to feed our imaginations and fill our souls using a treasured family oral tradition. Attempting to write them down would turn joy into work.  The stories are simply shared and the chuckles and smiles in the remembering are more precious to me than the stories themselves.

Noisy Shoes

Dancing through life with my noisy shoes. Can’t wait!

Midlife crisis or just another six weeks of something I MUST try? Not sure yet. But my latest obsession is tap dancing. This summer I was overcome with inspiration thanks to Thoroughly Modern Millie and La La Land. My husband is getting just a bit tired of hearing Another Day of Sun and The Tapioca blaring around the house. It’s time to move my obsession to the basement.

I’ve ordered “how to” videos.  I’ve created a logo for the front of my concrete basement tap room. I’ve assembled a group of friends who are willing to tap with me. I’ve purchased tap shoes. And now all I need to do is clean my basement.

This was too good of a pun to pass up.

I’m not sure it matters, but it has me asking the question. Why? Why tap dancing? As a kid I was forced to take ballet when my gymnastics coach told me I needed some grace or I would be done in the sport.  I was done. Gymnastics had already given me all I needed to make me smile. Run. Swing. Flip. Fly. Grace not necessary.

Tap dancing is different, I think. I hope. It looks wild and tiring and musical and a little like exercise. These are things that all make me smile.

When I put my tap shoes on for the first time yesterday, I was not disappointed. I already sounded like an instrument when I walked through the kitchen. It was so cool. I wore them for a few hours just so I could hear myself walk. Noisy shoes! I love them. I want to wear them all day everyday. I want to tap dance in the elevator like Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore on my way to my office. I want to tap dance through the supermarket parking lot. I want to tap tap tap my way through life.

I guess I want my noisy shoes to shout to the world that there is joy on my way…even when the way I am going is really, really hard. I can let my noisy shoes remind me of the “happy” as I walk through the sad. It’s just so hard not to smile when your feet make such amazing noises.

This is a crazy tap dancing classic!

 

Hidden Maui – Here’s to the Ones Who Dream

Stopping to smell the flowers on my adventure in Maui.

Few people go to Maui to spend it freezing in a tent in the rain. I know this because in three days of hiking through Haleakala National Park, I did not see another soul on the backcountry trails. And I wouldn’t have traded my experience for three extra days on the beach. No way.

Day 1: Circle of Waterfalls

She smiled
Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again…

from Audition, La La Land

With a time change of four hours, we were up bright and early and left the hotel in the dark to avoid the alleged difficult road and traffic on the Hana Highway. Our goal–circle the east side of Maui, seeking out awesome pools and waterfalls.

Our route around the island on the first day started at 4:30 AM.

We had the highway to ourselves and were able to hike to our first hidden pool by the light of our headlamps. We drove off the highway for a detour to see the sunrise at Hanomanu Bay.

At about mile marker 17 we got out to hike down to the often missed Ching’s Pond. I got my wake up call with a cold dip at 7 AM.

A dozen awesome waterfalls later, we landed on the southeast side of Maui at the base of Haleakala National Park to hike the 4-mile Pipiwai Trail through an incredible bamboo forest up to Waimoku Falls.

The bamboo forest sang to us in the wind, like a impromptu percussion concert.

Waimoku Falls is just one of many waterfalls we admired on our first day.

Day one complete. Our warm up for what Haleakala had to dish out the next 2 days.

Day 2: Summit to Paliku

She told me
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”

from Audition, La La Land

In the morning, we drove to the 10,000 ft. summit of Haleakala to find the crater below invisible–completely socked in with clouds. We dropped off our gear at the visitor’s center then staged a car at the Halemalu’u Trailhead. My husband hitched a ride back to the summit via the handy hiker’s hitching spot.

Day two the yellow line. Day three the blue line.

We took the Sliding Sands Trail all the way to Paliku (yellow line above), a wilderness backcountry campsite.

Dropping into the crater on the Sliding Sands Trail.

We stopped for lunch at the Kapalaoa trail junction for a snack after descending 2490 feet and traveling 5.6 miles.

The Nene Goose, endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, stopped by to say hello at the halfway point.

We continued for the next two miles through a hot and rough trail of lava rock. The last mile offered relief from the rock and descended down into the Kaupo gap.  We reached the Paliku campsite after a total of a 3360 ft elevation drop and 9.1 mile hike from our starting position. The total walk took us 5.5 hours.

We had a few hours to set up camp before the gap became completely socked in with clouds, wind, and rain. During that time, I took a stroll before sunset down part of the Kaupo trail to get a good view of the ocean and the 13,000 ft. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanos in the distance on The Big Island.

This is the part where I am freezing in Hawaii.

Day 3:  Paliku to Halemalu’u

She captured a feeling
Sky with no ceiling
The sunset inside a frame
 
from Audition, La La Land

After epic winds and rain pelted our tent all night, a sudden calm woke me at 3:30 AM. We got out of the tent and were treated to a sky filled with so many stars there was hardly room for the inky blackness to spill between them. After 30 minutes of “wow” we slept until dawn and were met with rain again in the morning as we began our wet hike out via the Halemalu’u Trail.

We were treated with a new landscape on the way back, less sharp lava and more “grassland-like” terrain for the first 5K. Then our landscape turned into a walk on “Mars” for the next 5K until we reached the wilderness camp of Holua.

For three miles we felt like we were on another planet.

After lunch we had the grueling job of climbing out of the crater on a 3.7 mile switchback up 1000 ft. to Halemalu’u overlook where we staged the car. A total of 10.3 miles for Day 3.

A whole new climate and terrain treated us with views of the gap on the opposite side of the crater on our steep hike out.

Were we tired? Yes. Were we sore? Yes. Were we glad we did Hawaii differently? Yes.

And, yes, I’d do it again.

Sugar Cookies at the Pentagon

Flowers floating beneath one of the benches at the Pentagon Memorial.

“Get over being a sugar cookie.” That’s what Admiral William H. McRaven says in his book, Make Your Bed. McRaven is a retired Navy SEAL and his simple book of truisms about living rang in my ears this September 11 as I stood in front of the Pentagon staring at the point of impact from Flight 77.

An American flag marking the point of impact on the Pentagon.

Life isn’t fair. In SEAL training you are “called out” for no apparent reason and required to dive into the ocean and then roll on the beach until every inch of your body and uniform is covered in sand. Then, you spend the rest of your day with those annoying grains itching and poking at you. That’s a sugar cookie.

On business trips to Washington I always take the Metro from Reagan International to downtown D.C.  I hear the Pentagon stop announced over the speaker each time, never giving it much thought. I gave it a lot of thought as I rode the train this September 11. And I got off.

Life is short. And it’s not fair. So I stopped.

The date and time of of the plane crash mark the zero line. The first bench is for the 3-year-old that died on the plane.

The Pentagon Memorial is a collection of swooping benches. One for each of the 184 people that died that day. The benches swooping toward the building are for those that died on the plane. The benches swooping away from the building are for those who died in the building. Fresh flowers adorned the seats and floated in the small pools of trickling water beneath each bench.

The fanfare of the morning ceremony was being cleaned up when I arrived. Workers were wheeling away speakers and stage gear. I wandered among the age lines marking the year of birth for each victim. The youngest was 3. The oldest, in her 80s.

A woman approached me and asked if I could help find Hilda Taylor, a sixth grade teacher, and her friend, who had died on the plane that day. I asked her what year Hilda was born and we walked to the appropriate age line to begin our search.

As we sat together on Hilda’s bench, her former teammate dug in her purse and pulled out an article written about Hilda for me to read. She filled in between the lines and told me about the real Hilda…the one with spunk…the immigrant from Sierra Leone who always spoke her mind…the one who loved her students.

As I heard her story unfold for the next 30 minutes, the benches around me all became people–each with a story and a life worth remembering.

All the survivors I saw and met that day had to roll in the unfair sand and move on, just like we all do when tragedy strikes. They have to live with being a sugar cookie, as those annoying grains poke at them again today on September 12…and every other day.

Communing with Goats

I hear the term “communing with nature” a lot. But I never really thought about what it meant until last week when I had a conversation with a mountain goat. My walks and bike rides in nature are more than exercise for me. They always have been. They’re spiritual. But I’m not sure I can say I commune with rocks,  mountains, and trees. I would call that more deep awe and appreciation of the world, as I commune with God.

Commune: share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone or something), especially when the exchange is on a spiritual level.

But last week on the top of Peak 9 in Breckenridge, Colorado, I communed, with nature itself. As I neared the summit, a mountain goat was also ascending. He took his place at the summit and stood his ground.  Though at the top, I was not at the true summit. He stood where I needed to be to finish my goal. About 12 ft from me, we stared at each other along the ridge. He began moving toward me. I put my head down, acknowledging it was his mountain and stepped to the side of the ridge, offering him a path to walk by me. As if he knew my intention, he walked right by and stood at the other end of the ridge, waiting for me to take my turn at the top.

My new friend “Bucky” standing at the summit of Peak 9.

After a couple pictures and a look around, he looked at me again and made it clear it was time to switch places and time for me to leave.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’ve seen a lot of wildlife. Studied them. Watched them. But never talked to them. Never had a friendly conversation and a civil exchange of intentions.

My new friend waits on the other side of the ridge while I take my summit photos and claim my prize.

In those moments I remembered this wasn’t my first experience with goats and high places.  I was reminded of my trip to Greece many years ago, where my journey led me to the highest heights in Crete. While backpacking, I was left dehydrated and tired one night only to awaken to the what sounded like fairies singing. The fairies were actually the bells jingling around the necks of  goats, and unbeknownst to me, I was asleep in their pen. The water I drank from their well that morning saved me.

My goat herd alarm clock in Crete (1992) , leading me to water (left). Standing at the summit (right) now hydrated and able to find a way down.

There’s something incredible about being so close to the sky. So close to heaven–heaven on Earth. An Eden, where the lion lies down with the lamb. Or in this case, the human with the goat.

After my time at summits, I sadly must always descend. It is over all too quickly.  The reality of the fall hits me hard…back down the mountain I go. Still communing, but with a harsh reality facing gravity and its less than gentle push forward.

But I’m so grateful for my time at the top. Thanks for the peek at heaven, my fluffy friends!