Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Thoughts on the Eve of a New Year

glasses

Another year has passed. Of course, seasons and years are artificial constructs – they don’t truly exist, except in our minds. Still, they provide a way for us to divide the expanse of time into digestible chunks. At the end of this chunk we call 2015, I find myself reflecting back on a year of heartbreak and breakthrough.

The breakthrough began when I finally went to counseling. Yes. Me. I know I’ve ranted (for decades) about the voodoo that is psychology and huffed self-importantly as I denigrated the soft social ‘sciences’ (usually including the air quotes.) Dubious or not, I finally tired of repeating certain life patterns and found a competent counselor.

07atiyeh 48webOn my first visit, I did my best not to roll my eyes when she wanted to start with my childhood. Hello. I’m almost 60. How relevant could my childhood be? I’m WAY past blaming Mommy for my choices. Then I found myself blubbering like a baby as we discovered that my deep-seated abandonment complex came not from my husband’s suicide in 2002, not from my mother’s remarriage in 1961 (she spent two whole days alone with my step-dad before fetching me to share the rest of their honeymoon) but from my bio-dad’s abrupt departure when I was a toddler. It turns out, understanding origins really can help.

cherie bio pic 2016I learned that there isn’t a bad Cherie and a good Cherie. That the good Cherie isn’t the ‘real’ Cherie, but that I come as an entire package and until I learn to embrace my whole self, I can’t be happy. So I let bad Cherie out of the dungeon. I felt sorry for those around me, because bad Cherie – ahem, because I – can be snippy and abrupt, quick to let others know when they’ve tread on my toes, and impatient with rudeness and incompetence.

Imagine my surprise when a friend told me I’m actually easier to be around. “You’re more light-hearted,” he said. “You seem calmer, even in the midst of small crises.” He’s right. I do feel calmer. I’m glad to know my outside matches my inside.

My self-improvement crusade included losing fifteen pounds (ten to go), having a regular yoga practice, daily prayer/meditation, and regularly indulging hobbies, including playing my piano, guitars, and ukulele. I haven’t opened my clarinet case yet, and I’m sure my neighbors are grateful. I’m clearer on my life and on my goals. And at the very end of the year, I met someone. More on that (I hope) in posts to come.

My heartbreak is for our nation. Police treatment of people of color in our country has been beyond shameful – it looks a lot like deliberate genocide. The response of our court system to the police murders is even more horrifying. It appears they’ve totally misinterpreted the statement, “Justice is blind.”

grandkidsI fear for my grandchildren, who could be shot dead on a playground for playing with toys that white children may use with impunity. I fear for my son-in-law – a teacher, a tri-athlete – who runs daily. My daughter said she worries every time he goes out. She should. Apparently, no judge would prosecute the police officer who killed him for the crime of jogging while black, which means it’s open season on people of color.

grandma and gidu scanThe Syrian refugee crisis hits just as close to home, because my grandparents emigrated from Syria in the early years of last century. The rhetoric of some in our country toward the refugees scares me. Their concerns have nothing to do with national security, it’s merely an excuse to hate and to attack anyone who looks different from the white ‘norm’. I am outraged at those who dare use the name Christian while spouting such ignorance and hatred. I am frustrated because I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know what to do about ANY of it. The injustice. The bigotry. The deliberate choice to hate. What I do know is that I cannot respond with hatred. In the midst of it all, I am called to love. To embrace those who are hurting. To embrace those who do the hurting. To embrace myself. All of myself – the hurting and the hurter, because I am both. Our country is both. Hating will not lead to healing. We can only love ourselves into wholeness.

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Journeys

caminoI’ve been exercising. Regularly. Inspired by Kristin (see previous article) I’ve kept at it. My friend, Miriam Haugen, has joined me, too! We’re both noticing increased strength and endurance. And my Wii isn’t yipping at me anymore. Hurray for stuffing a sock in the figurative mouth of an inanimate device!

I’m taking my vitamins, minerals, etc. I can tell when I forget (which I do a lot) because my energy flags.

So it turns out that doing the right things make you feel better. Who knew?

I’ve been working on my insides, too. Being honest with myself about what I want – and DON’T want – in my life. I have journeys ahead of me, both literal and figurative (the map is a *hint*.) It’s going to be an interesting year.

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A Wild Inside Pitch

baseballLife throws the damndest curveballs. It’s not fair. You straighten your jersey, step bravely up to the plate, stand with solid form, dig your heels in, hold your bat high, and whoosh! comes something you didn’t expect, a wild inside pitch that causes you to dive for the dirt. You end up with a mouthful of dust and bruises from the fall.

‘You’ is, of course, ‘me’ in this scenario, and it happened quite recently. I’d protest to the ump, but the potential for an inside sneaker is, after all, part of the game. Grrrr. I’m pissed.

I’d like to just take my equipment and go home. But life isn’t like that. First of all, the equipment isn’t mine. Second of all, I’m as home as is possible – prone beside the plate.

It would really help if I could hear the encouragement of the fans. But I’m face-first in the mud and I can’t see if there’s anyone in the stands.

So all that’s left is to stand back up. Take my stance. Dig in. Try again.

Here’s a secret every baseball player knows: I have to clear my head in order to continue my at-bat. I can’t clutter it up with rage about the last pitch. I can’t worry about what’s coming next. I just have to stand here with a clear head and a clear heart, and wait.

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It’s Broken – FIX IT!

Piper and Larry reunite under Thompson's watchAs you know, I’ve been watching the TV series “Orange is the New Black.” I just finished the book upon which it was based, the true story of Piper Kerman, a Smith College grad who at age 35 spent 13 months in the penitentiary for smuggling a suitcase of drug money for her then-lover, a crime she’d committed 10 years earlier.

This was a memoir, not an indictment. Yet, with her factual telling of her experience, the ineffectiveness of our legal system was evident.

It costs the government (that means US) a lot of money to incarcerate people. In this economy – really, in ANY economy – it’s fiscally irresponsible to spend money locking people up just for the sake of ‘punishment.’ For my money, I want to see increased safety in our society through a lowered recidivism rate. I want to see rehabilitation. I want to see reintegration. But that isn’t reality. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Kerman states,

What is the point, what is the reason, to lock people away for years, when it seems to mean so very little, even to the jailers who hold the key? How can a prisoner understand their punishment to have been worthwhile to anyone, when it’s dealt with in a way so offhand and indifferent?

She wasn’t speaking on her own behalf. Piper is a educated, connected, privileged person who had a loving husband, a good job, and a network of influential friends waiting for her. She was speaking on behalf of her fellow inmates, few of whom had her advantages. Her prison experience opened her eyes to the desperate social situation of many in America – a reality many of us never experience nor understand.

Public school teachers are required to show proof their teaching is efficacious. Students are tested and must meet minimum standards to show they are progressing. Why don’t we do the same with those who run prisons? I believe they should be required show their efficacy through increased post-incarceration employment rates, increased education rates, and reduced recidivism rates. If they can’t, the systems should be turned over to those who can.

OK,  rant over. The book is an entertaining read, available here: Orange is the New Black

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Work in Progress

orangeMy kombucha molded. I can’t help feeling it’s symbolic of my whole ‘healthy me’ kick. True confession time: I’ve fallen off the bandwagon. I’m afraid to get on the scale, because I know I’ve gained weight. I’m not exercising – well, unless 10 minutes every week or two counts. My focus has been on other things, which is fine, but I really need to be able to focus on those other things without losing the vision for my physical, emotional and spiritual self. Bottom line, I’m disappointed in me. I know I can do better.

Deep breath. Now I’m going to reframe everything I just said. Here goes.

When I moved from my house a year-and-a-half ago, I sorted through the boxes in my basement. (You know the boxes I’m talking about. THOSE boxes. The stacks and stacks and STACKS of boxes that accumulate over a lifetime. The ‘I’ll get to this later’ boxes. The ‘oh, I can’t bear to get rid of it though I don’t know what I’ll ever do with it’ boxes. The ‘I don’t want to deal with it, and out of sight is out of mind’ boxes. Yeah, those.) I reviewed, reorganized, and let loose the myriad items that no longer served me.

Fast forward to the past few weeks, where I’ve been sorting boxes that have accumulated in the basement of my life. This time, I’ve reassessed what I do and why. I’ve reorganized my time. I’ve given myself permission to quit focusing on that which I felt I ‘had’ to do or was ‘supposed’ to do. As a result, my life is larger. My vision is clearer. And I’ve acted on that vision.

I’m becoming more realistic about my health goals. Bryan and I were watching Orange is the New Black last night. I looked at the leading actress, Taylor Schilling, who happened to be naked at the time, and said, “Wow. Look at that flat tummy and firm everything.” And Bryan responded, “Yes, and it’s a full-time profession to look like that. She has to spend at least four hours in the gym every day to maintain it.”

Right. (And by the way, I’m married to the best man EVER. I’m just sayin’.)

I don’t have that time. Wait. That’s not true. I absolutely do have that time. I have exactly the same amount of hours available to me every day as she does (Twenty-four, last I checked.) It’s just that, for me, spending hours in a gym doesn’t interest me. And that means I need to readjust my ideas. Quit making ‘flat tummy, firm everything’ my goal. I can’t reach that goal, because I don’t really want it, not enough to discipline myself to do it. That means it’s really not that important. To continue the analogy, I can get rid of the contents of that particular box.

What IS that important to me is writing and photographing, using my images and my words to enrich the world. What IS that important is speaking to individuals and to groups, encouraging them until I see the SPARK that tells me their fire is lit. What IS that important is being a conduit of the Divine into the world through word, sacrament, and image.

Wait. This isn’t new. I’ve already sorted this stuff. Where is that box? Oh. It’s here, under my nose, where it’s been all along.  In it is my candidacy for the Episcopal priesthood. So I’ve re-engaged the process. There is ongoing discernment needed (by me and by others) and that takes a lot of ROOM to unfold. I’m glad I’ve created the space. I did it partly by refocusing my business vision, which meant engaging others to pick up the pieces I needed to let loose.

That’s not easy for me. I am a CONTROL FREAK extraordinaire. What if they don’t do it *right*?

The answer came as I was driving home from church. “It is better for things to be done in a messy, sloppy, joyful way than to have flawless results and a miserable, rigid attitude. Besides, how are you doing at getting it all done?”

Fair enough.

So. The past two years have been about clearing my external space. The last two months have been about clearing my internal space. I’d love to think I’m done and ready to move forward without further delay. But we all know how that works. We are ever and always a work in progress. So, I don’t need to worry about ‘doing better’. I just need to keep on doing.

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Farewell, Little Girl

sweetaphiSeven years ago, I read Marley, a tale about the world’s worst dog. The next thing I knew, I was at the Humane Society, looking at dogs. “I’d like one smaller than a border collie,” I said. “One that’s 4-5 years old.” I reasoned that an older dog would already be trained, an activity I was loathe to take on. The one thing I DIDN’T want was a puppy.

They brought me a lab mix. ‘Lizzie’ was a bit larger than a border collie. “She’s two years old.” Huh. A little bigger and a little younger than I wanted.

She’d been on the streets for a while. She was captured in Bend and brought to the Humane Society in Salem, because her chances of adoption were better here.

She was obviously well trained. Lizzie sat when I said ‘sit’. She extended her hand for ‘shake’. She knew ‘fetch’. She was gentle. She laid her head in my lap, and looked up at me with her beautiful brown eyes. I was smitten.

“We aren’t calling her Lizzie,” announced my son when I brought her home. “We’re going to call her Aphrodite, the goddess of luh-huv.” Aphrodite it was – a fitting name, because she was a lover. She craved attention, and we were happy to provide it.

Aphi was a little dog trapped in a big dog’s body – she would have loved to climb in my lap and curl up. She occasionally tried, and I had to discourage her. “No, Aphi, you’re too big,” I would say. So she’d lay her huge head in my lap and look at me with mournful eyes.

Aphrodite was an escape artist. We built new gates after we found her clinging to the top of an ivy concrete wall adjacent to our home. She found all the weak places in our six-foot fence. She annoyed all our neighbors by running in their yards. She annoyed me with her propensity for finding deer poop and rolling in it.

She was SO energetic. Every day, I took her to the (fenced) playground next door, where she tore around like a crazy woman – er, dog. I’d had her about a month when it struck me. She wasn’t running, she was galomphing. Like a puppy. Not only that, but I’d swear she was getting larger! I called my friend, Neil, who’d been a strong advocate for adopting Aphi.”Neil, is Aphi getting BIGGER?” I demanded.

“Well,” he replied in a sheepish voice, “I didn’t want to SAY anything…”

I took her to a dog-expert friend. She looked Aphi over. “Oh, Cherie, this dog isn’t even a year old!”

Like it or not, I had a puppy.

Over the next four years, she was the delight of my life. Yes, she was big (and got bigger) but that meant I could take walks after dark. I could hike in the park. I could go many places because my Aphrodite was there to protect me.

Life changed in those years. I started traveling more and more. I had less time to walk her, and our small back yard didn’t provide enough bounding room. I realized I was not providing her the quality of life she deserved.

Enter the Haugens. My friends had an eight-and-a-half acre property outside of Salem, one Aphi loved to visit and run around. Would they? Could they?

They could. Aphi became part of their family. She was a willing 4H project for their son, Lars. The property wasn’t fenced, so Aphi occasionally visited the local school yard, bounding up and barking her big-chested woof! But the children and the police (mostly) understood, and Neil & Miriam did their best to keep her from wandering.

Last month, Bryan & I joined the Haugens on ‘the farm’, as we call it.Their big house seemed empty after their older children left, so we rented the lower level and had a joyful reunion with Aphi. Introduced her to our new puppy, Tali, a (tiny) poodle mix.Tali immediately asserted dominance over Aphi, insisting that she lay down so he could leap on her head and be king of the mountain. She loved it. He loved it.  I envisioned years of happy romping.

But a week ago, I went upstairs to find Neil in distress. “Something’s wrong with Aphi,” he said. “I’m taking her to the vet.”

I looked at my girl. She was breathing hard and noisily.

The verdict was congestive heart failure, possibly caused by a bacterial infection. They treated the infection, and for a couple of days, all seemed well. But yesterday, the labored breathing returned. She refused to eat. The verdict from the vet: there was nothing more to be done.

So we spent last night and this morning saying our goodbyes, as Aphi lay on her side and panted. It would have been cruel to wait any longer, so we loaded her in the car. The rest of the family took her for her last ride. I stayed home with Tali, because I couldn’t bear to watch her very last breath. I’m waiting here, to help put her to rest next to Synch and Katie, two other beloved family doggies.

Those two lived to ripe old ages, well past fifteen. Aphi was only eight. It doesn’t seem fair. She was gentle, beautiful, loving. She – and we – deserved a longer stay.

Her short life reminds me to slow down and enjoy the NOW. I have a bad habit of not being ‘present’. Instead, I gaze about three steps ahead or ruminate about ideas/plans or (more rarely – I’ve gotten much better about this) poke old memories.

Today, though, I think I’ll give myself permission – for a short while – to freely roam about in Aphi memories. Be at peace, little girl.

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The Injustice of it All

I’ve been a wandering fool this year. Up to the Portland area. Two moves of my studio within P-town. Lots of exploring and trying on parts of the city for size. And through it all, the growing realization that there’s no place like home…

…and that as much as I LOVE PORTLAND, that’s not the loam where my roots twist and burrow.

salemSo last week, we moved back to the Cherry City. Well, outside it, actually, on a farm near Monmouth – a little college town that these days bears a strong resemblance to the Gilmore Girls’ Star’s Hollow.

I’m pissed. I am pissed as hell that Salem, stodgy old Salem is, for better or worse, home. I’ve been angry about it in the past. I’m beyond angry about it now that I’ve tried to return to the city of my childhood.

I’m mad at my late husband, who grew up in Salem and wanted to raise his kids in *his* hometown. Who after fifteen years decided he couldn’t take it anymore, killed himself, and left me stuck here, because my kids were firmly entrenched and I didn’t want to traumatize them any further by moving.

Where are those children today? They’re not here, of course. Salem isn’t their home, not anymore. They went away to college and developed new communities. They’ve tried to return…and left again. Most recently, Nick & Hanna returned with the intention of staying. They lasted three months before leaving because…well, it just isn’t home anymore. Their connections are elsewhere.

I’m pissed, pissed I tell you. I’m mad at the world, incensed with my fate…

and really, really happy to be back amongst those who know us, who love us, who are already filling our social calendar with happy reunions.

Needless to say, the only open thoroughfare in my psyche right now is Rollercoaster Road.

The injustice of it all! And the joy…

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Dream Curling

Some people have a dream that consumes them, one that brings life-long contentment upon its fulfillment. Me, I’m a serial dreamer. As soon as one is achieved, a new one takes its place. I’ve never had the satisfaction of *arriving* – for me, it’s always about the journey and the joys (and frustrations) therein.

A year ago, we moved to Portland. Correction: we moved to Milwaukie. Which is NOT Portland. (How can a city that abuts Portland manage to be so conservative and hicksville? To the fourteen people in town who have a liberal leaning – I’m not talking about you. I love you.)

tali 16wk

Taliesin this morning
sixteen weeks

But we lived close enough to Stumptown to enjoy its vibrance and weirdness. Close enough for it to whisper in our sleep at night…”you need a dog…” (Portland is dog-town USA, if you didn’t know. And not everyone there feeds their dog a vegan diet.)

Portland is not one big gritty lump of city – it’s a amalgamation of neighborhoods, each with its own wine bar, pubs, dress boutique, and chachki shops. A place where everybody knows your name.

Except that, even after a year, no one knew mine. I never found my stomping grounds. Never developed a ‘Norm!’ relationship with a pub – though I tried, I really did. The only place where we were greeted with neighborly warmth was St. John’s, located at the OTHER end of Portland, too far to travel for a nightly brewski and shout-out.

We explored the area around my studio – both locations: first the inner SE Buckman neighborhood, and then the west side in John’s Landing. We talked about moving to one of those locations. Maybe there we would find our peeps?

But my dreams carve their own paths, and they rarely coincide with my imaginings. It’s like curling. Some of us are throwers and some are sweepers. Throwers heave their dreams like stones onto the ice and run along behind to see where they come to rest. Sweepers run in front, carefully grooming the path to help the stone land right where they intend.

Truth is, we need to do a bit of both. If we don’t throw, but merely sweep, the dream is as immobile as a rock. But if we throw without brooming, our dreams can veer wildly off-course, crashing and tumbling, coming to an abrupt halt far short of any goal. Me, I like to toss as hard as I can, and do just a bit of sweeping.

It means I need to maintain a fluidity of heart, mind and soul as the dreams slide and move in ways I don’t anticipate. I prefer it that way. I’m the girl who never peeks in advance at her Christmas presents, because I like the surprise.

So, this week, we moved. Not to a Portland neighborhood – in fact, we moved over an hour in the opposite direction. We’re living on an 8-acre farm outside of Salem. WHAT????!!!! you may think. Yeah, me too. How did I wind up here?

Well, the little town nearby, Monmouth, is a college town, and its developed a really groovy little downtown. A wine bar. Pubs. Coffee shops. Dress shops.

And I walked into the BiMart, which I haven’t visited for at least five years, and the checker said, “You’ve changed your hair since I last saw you.”

Norm!

I guess I’m home. For now.

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Hodge Podge

Today’s post is a hodgepodge of unrelated bits I’ve been meaning to share for a couple of weeks now. Short and sweet – here they are!

No retouching

No retouching

1) Remember the frown remedy I shared earlier? I thought you’d like to see the update. Honey & sports tape really works!

Time to remove some SCOBY! Anyone need starter?

Time to remove some SCOBY! Anyone need starter?

2) Kombucha’s made ALL the difference for me. I have noticeably more energy, and noticeably less appetite. Everything I’ve read states its chock-full of probiotics, and it’s ridiculously easy to make! I don’t know if it’s responsible for the redistribution of weight that I’ve been experiencing (tummy and hips are shrinking, while weight remains fairly static), but I’m not messing with a good thing. Love me some kombucha! Get Kombucha starter HERE (cheap!) Also, I highly recommend Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. He explains how to make kombucha and MANY other fermented foods.

 

From my favorite boutique, http://twillclothing.com/

From my favorite boutique, http://twillclothing.com/

3) Sometimes bribes work.

This dress has hung in my bedroom since I purchased it two months ago. I knew it would look great on me once I lost a bit of weight, so I bought it, then put it where I would see it EVERY time I entered the room.

As you can see, it’s a summer dress, so if I was going to enjoy it this year, I needed to remain dedicated to my exercise and diet plan. Many times I wandered into the bedroom, forbidden food in my hand, saw the dress, and put the food away.

I’m pleased to announce that I wore the dress this weekend! I felt very pretty, though I still have some ‘redistributing’ to go before it looks PERFECT. Putting my *reward* where I could see it all the time was a good ploy for me.

Now we all know, Cherie can be bribed. 🙂

In my next post, I’ll be talking about the medical effects of obesity. It’s pretty sobering. As a woman approaching her third ‘time trimester’, I am oh-so-aware that how I treat my body NOW will hugely affect my future quality – and quantity – of life.

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The Grace of Grandma Betz

hanna grandmaThis has been a death-filled two weeks. It started when my friend, Cher, had to make the choice to put down darling Mo, a fifteen year-old chihuahua, her constant companion through joy and travail. Next was my friend David’s cat, also fifteen. Then Ryan’s ancient kitty (Guess how old?) Then Neil & Miriam’s  gentle Katie, a – you guessed it – fifteen year-old Chow. (Interesting that most of my closest friends were in ‘pet acquisition’ mode a decade and a half ago.)

Death hit closer to home yesterday, not a pet, but a beloved grandparent – Hanna’s grandma. Hanna and my son Nicholas’ wedding is less than two weeks away. In a time that should filled with nothing but anticipatory joy, death has elbowed in.

That’s not fair. I’m still a momma bear at heart, and I want to step between my children and the dark interloper, hold my hands up and say, “No! You will not bring sorrow here!”

But I can’t do that. No one can. We can’t shield each other from the pain of a loved one’s passing. In fact, we shouldn’t, because grief reminds us that we love and have been loved. It reminds us that we matter, that our lives – and the lives of those we mourn – have meaning.

Hanna’s grandma lived an optimistic, active life, even in the face of cancer. She remained positive and determined, winning round after round. But when it became clear she would not prevail in the last skirmish, she acquiesced with grace. She modeled how to live courageously and die well. It’s what we all hope for – to live fully and die peacefully.

These recent encounters with mortality remind me that I have only one go-round in this configuration of space/time. I want to live it with gusto, like Hanna’s grandma. I want to experience it with exuberant joy, like our beloved pets.

It’s what drives me to personal improvement. It’s not so that the surface looks prettier – though I’m shallow enough to consider that a significant bonus. No, as I float through this amorphous cloud called ‘being’, I want the physical strength and spiritual wisdom to appreciate it fully. Because then maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the grace of Grandma Betz when it’s time to let it go.

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