Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Window to My Soul…21st Century Scrapbooking



In a world where we are bombarded by technology and “always on” with social media, I find myself appreciating a new way of sharing and preserving an old fashioned way of life.

A Monarch in the making.

I am a romantic at heart.  That is to say I like to take the simple and routine and embellish it with what I’ll call “life trimmings” to make it more memorable.  Take gardening for example.  I love to garden and can vegetables and jam.  But if you ask me what I liked best about these little pleasures, it would be easier for me to show you than tell you.  Because I trim my life in ways that make me happy.  Let me explain…

A day in my garden rarely begins and ends in a single visit.  Life is busy and I work and have teenagers in high school.  That’s why I planted my garden in the front yard next to my driveway.  I am always on the go and in and out several times a day.  And every time I’m leaving or coming back home, I find it almost irresistible not to walk over and pull a stray weed or take a peek at my tomatoes or squash.

Southern Pumpkins

My favorite moments are in the evenings or weekends, when I can kick off my shoes and walk barefoot in the middle of the garden.  The straw mulch gives me a soft bed for my feet and I can more gingerly walk around the cushaw vines trailing around in every direction.  I have a woven hat, with a lime green band.  It’s mandatory attire for sunny days and makes me smile when I see it in my kitchen hanging on a chair.  I feel happy when I grab it on my way out the door with basket and nippers in hand.


Another mainstay I keep in the kitchen are aprons.  I have a few really pretty vintage ones from the 1950’s and a few more functional ones for messier work.  I pull up my unruly hair in a ponytail and am instantly reminded of my Granny shoo-ing me out of the kitchen as a kid to put my hair up before entering her kitchen.  In my kitchen, I survey the assortment of pots and pans, canning jars, and supplies.  Like me, it’s a work in progress.  It's roomy and has potential to store all my kitchen staples for baking and canning in some organized way.  For now, I make it work with a banquet table and Rubbermaid tubs underneath.  And I’m always on the lookout for an oversized buffet or cabinet that could be re-purposed into a work center that can accommodate more storage.

I see potential in most things in life and enjoy the journey in seeing a dream or vision coming to fruition.  It’s like looking at a blank canvas and instinctively knowing what needs to be added or something that would complete the picture.  Sometimes it will be days or even weeks before I figure out what’s missing from a shelf or a mantle in my home.  But it eventually comes to me…often at a yard sale where I find a small vintage treasure.  You can be sure it will be cheap enough not to break the bank and easy enough to swap out without any sentimental value.  I used to be a huge collector of things.  I still appreciate and have a fondness for antiques, but have also learned to appreciate a more minimalistic environment…from surroundings to thoughts to everything in between.  I enjoy “props” that enhance my setting and help to set the stage for my romanticized way of life.   I recently picked up a scarecrow at a yard sale and added it to the garden.  I have included him in every picture I take while measuring my growing produce and enjoying the view.

Which brings me to my last “must have” accessory…something I take with me wherever I go.  It’s not old fashioned and lacks the beauty and character of an old Mason jar with a zinc lid.  It hasn’t been hand sewn or trimmed in lace.  In fact, it is the opposite of antiquated items I typically gravitate towards.  But this gem is what fuels and powers my creativity and passion for every day living.  As incongruous as it may sound, my i-Phone has become a mobile scrapbook of sorts.  I used to cut pictures from magazines and glue them into journals.  I’d write and mail letters to family and friends to share things happening in my life.  And while I will admit there is a tradeoff in leaving behind a good stock of paper or stationery, the benefits and ease of sharing far outweigh the downside for me.

My kids get aggravated when I want to take a picture.  They can’t understand why I don’t just enjoy the moment.  But for me, it’s all about capturing the moment and remembering why it was special.  And I get that not everyone will understand the importance of a photo shot in portrait mode taken from an i-Phone camera, depicting a basket of freshly picked tomatoes...or why I'll position the leaves of my squash, so that the plump and rapidly growing cushaw can be shown surrounded by a frame of straw.  It’s my way of scrapbooking in the 21st century, utilizing all the tools of a different sort of revolution than that of the industrial age.


But please don’t try to pin me down to a generation or type.  I’m just tech savvy enough to be dangerous.  I can’t master Snapchat, however, Facebook is my friend for sharing the moments I capture.  Instagram and Twitter are close seconds.  I think like the industrial revolution, the mediums and channels for making and doing will always change.  What remains a constant for me is a love and passion for living in the moment and appreciating the natural beauty that abounds if you take the time to see it.  And if I embraced a tech-free existence, I’d miss out on a lot of moments I want to look back on and remember.  It may sound funny, but it’s true.  My i-Phone is the window to my soul…see for yourself…



































M




Sunday, November 5, 2017

Change is good?




My first attempt at writing after months of silence might be disappointing and fall short of inspiring anyone, least of all me.  But it's important.

I could talk about the past few months and all the twists and turns that happened before finally landing in my own home again.  But lately, my focus has been on a different kind of journey.  It’s been equally daunting and it hasn’t been as simple as driving down winding roads, without purpose or direction.  Turns out a map or general sense of the direction you’re heading in can be helpful, especially when you are headed in a direction you’ve not yet been before.  And trust me when I say I have never been here before.

For now, I’m foregoing the move details except to say that a big part of this move involved a lifestyle change and redefining what success looks like, which served as a catalyst for all the change that followed.  

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s some mid-life crisis, where she goes off to eat, pray, and love…not even close!

I believe that our entire life is a journey and there are so many moments that fill up the time between destinations.  It’s our choice how we decide to live those moments. 

As a kid, I think I let the best moments rise to the surface, choosing to let the less than stellar moments and experiences sink to the bottom.  That has not always been the case.  There were times when I was consumed with the past, wondering about alternate outcomes and endings.  And as time went by, I realized that looking back served little purpose and actually felt like a hindrance in trying to move forward.

So I moved forward, fully believing I’d left all the bad stuff behind.  And when I say I moved forward, I’m talking decades…not the past few months.  And when I say “bad stuff” I mean the same kind of dysfunctional shit we all have to overcome unless you’ve lived a charmed life and grew up within the proverbial white picket fence.  I know very few people who can claim that childhood.  But I’m not denying it could exist for some. 

I have lived ahead of the past, not realizing it was lurking in the present and impacting the person I was.  I never realized that every bit of who I am is made up of every bit of where I’ve been.  Sure, in principle, that’s pretty basic.  Experiences shape who we are and give us perspective.  But in my case, it went a little deeper. 

Without going off on a tangent about self-help and self-discovery, suffice it to say that my past has impacted my future in every area of my life for most of my time on earth, thus far.  At this point, my first observation (one I’ll make more than once) is that change is hard.  Especially when you set about to change the very nature of how your life has been shaped…things like unconscious behaviors and tendencies…I’ve come to compare it to the equivalent of learning to breathe under water like snorkeling.  It feels so weird and can put you in a panic.  It doesn’t feel right.  It feels off.  The idea of breathing in air, while submerged under water, shit…why would you even try? But that is precisely what I had to do in order to break a cycle that has dictated the way I have lived for my entire adult life. 

I have been writing this blog for a little over two years.  I’ve covered some tough issues and shared a lot of personal struggles.  I think this past year has been one of the toughest….re-setting my normal and choosing to change parts of me that were unhealthy, yet still felt vital for every day living (and importantly, breathing!). Change is fucking hard and so is breathing under water.  I’m learning to do both. 

What do I mean by unhealthy?  I need to be cautious in my approach and attempt at self-analysis in the presence of strangers and friends of varying degrees of closeness.  People who know me well are going to know that I’m just moving to a new level of learning.  They’ll know that learning is what I love the best, but resist the most (yeah, I’m always the one that in spite of my own stubbornness and need to believe I know what I need to know…time and time again, I am surprised by how very little I really do know).   I’ve learned to accept that my view on life is constantly shifting and changing.  I think life would be easier if we all kept an open frame of mind and were willing to adapt and adjust expectations when we actually have a little more information.  Because fuck, ignorance never changes if that’s the only reality you’re willing to accept…the one you started with.  I guess you could follow life with blinders on, avoid people and situations where you don’t understand something.  Okay, yeah, remaining ignorant is an option for some.  It could never be for me.  Every time I face something I don’t understand, I ask questions.  I want to know and learn.  I want to grow.  Growth is synonymous with change, and I’ve already said it’s fucking hard…but growth?  Once you’ve moved a little further along and reached a moment where you can feel the growth?  It makes the rest worthwhile.  Growth is something you sit with at the end of the day…hell, probably even more so at the end of your life, and can feel the solid strength within your spirit…you’re centered and standing firm in life, still ready to accept new learnings, but with a rock solid base that represents years of fine tuning and growth…I imagine it to be like the way you feel on those days when you wake up and conquer something big.  Maybe it’s a meeting, something you did for your kids, or something as simple as speaking your mind instead of remaining silent when someone said something you knew was wrong and felt it was important enough to defend.   

Learning to grow more and in ways I didn’t know where to start…I finally realized that it boiled down to my own reflection and how I see myself each day. I am my own worse enemy as the saying goes.  No one is harder on me than me. The very biggest hurdle I face is something most of us fight every day of our life, which can also determine how aggressively we tackle life.  It’s fear. 

For me, fear has manifested in a lot of ways depending upon the situation.  The key here, though, is the response it has elicited in me when confronted with fear.  Being afraid makes us behave in ways we’d rather not.  It quickly turns us into irrational creatures that barely resemble the people we could be with a little more faith and confidence.  I think about the Titanic and the real fear people faced.  Theirs was a clear and present danger.  They didn’t want to drown or die.  I also don’t believe they wanted to cause harm to anyone else.  And yet they swamped the boats, giving little regard to the safety of those already inside, fueled by that primal survival instinct. I haven’t faced that dire kind of circumstance, but I can tell you that I’ve faced other fears that, through my flawed lens through which I filter life, left me feeling just as desperate to cling to a life raft, with an irrational belief that if I let go or even loosened my grip, I would find myself alone and abandoned.  Big observation…it doesn’t matter how hard you try or what you do to try to influence change in an outcome that has already been pre-determined.  In fact, I’d argue that undue effort and influence can actually change the outcome to reflect exactly what you don’t want to see happen.  I have found this to be true in all aspects of life, from careers and jobs, friends and family…end to end, every relationship that has touched my life.

There it is.  That ugly truth I’ve been beating around the bush about.  My truth and fear since childhood…fear of abandonment.  Why?  Because I remember being left behind as a child (no, I wasn’t an orphan and there’s no big story behind this other than the one that makes it clear my childhood didn’t have a white picket fence).  So in every relationship that came after those first few critical ones forged from childhood, I have carried that same fear.  I didn’t know it at the time.  But shit, I know I swamped a few boats in my youth.  I was so sure I was drowning…that the call for help would never come.  History and experience taught me to expect the worse and even when it didn’t come, I think I had some kind of self sabotage happening … like when I felt vulnerable or exposed, I instinctively wanted to pull closer.  I wanted to know with complete certainty that I was safe and would not be left behind.  I can’t think of a better way to destroy relationships than lacking the self-confidence to believe that you are worthy of having one in the first place.   I’ve never liked conflicts and have avoided them whenever possible.  I never learned how to resolve something without ending it.  That had to change as well.

I’ve stayed in places that were rotten and decaying (metaphorically speaking) because I was paralyzed with fear.  This is a broad assessment of relationships and situations.  From career paths to life choices to personal relationships.  Because change is fucking hard.  So hard I sacrificed all else to avoid growth…until now.

Would I have willingly taken myself down this road if I’d known how difficult it would be?  Honestly?  Shit no!  Would you?  So I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t see it coming because this has been one of the most important areas of growth for me and has helped to reset my life in a way I did not believe was possible.  I don’t know many people who are willing to breathe water and learn to choke panic.  I’m not a heroic individual and I know I have limitations.  I nearly reached them over this past year.

But once I was forced to breathe under water, I was able to open my eyes (after a long struggle and period of denial) and see myself for who I was and not who I thought I had become.  I didn’t like what I saw.  Sure, the essence of “who I am” remains and I like who I am.  It was the “how I was” that created issues.  I felt shame and embarrassment just admitting my fears.  I consider myself to be fairly put together and able to tackle most challenges.  I am asked for advice from others often and I think my guidance is sound.  Saying out loud that I have a deep seeded fear of being left behind doesn’t fit with that equity.  And after reading this, I might lose a few people on the list, who see me as a resource for counsel.  What few people realize is that some of the most fucked up people have the best advice!  Because we’ve lived it and while we might not choose to follow our own advice, it’s still sound and born out of life experience.  So maybe still ask…and consider it sage advice indeed!

 If you wake up one day, and realize you aren’t the person you want to be, you’re going to be disappointed and you’re going to want to fix it. I was afraid it was too late to change.  Because change is fucking hard (yes, I’m saying it again and again because it was and it still is).

So I started by taking a more conscious approach to living.  And it’s a way of life many would avoid.  I think about everything…that might not sound different from what I did before.  But the focus has changed.  I used to think too much about uncontrollable things…other people, circumstances, life.  Now I think about how I am responding to it all.  I ask myself every day what I want out of life and remind myself that I am no longer some scared kid waiting for the bottom to drop out.  In most instances, it won’t.  And if it does, it’s not a reinforcement of my inner fear or confirmation that my fear was valid.  It’s fucking life.  Shit happens and it isn’t always what we expected or wanted.  We pick ourselves back up and keep going.  Another observation is that the next logical correlation to the fear of being abandoned is the fear of being alone…thankfully, I conquered that a long time ago and am quite comfortable in my own skin.  I don’t have a complete answer, but I’m on the right track.    

So that fear I have of being abandoned?  Did I overcome it?  No, it’s still there and it pushes my buttons at times.  Shit doesn’t change overnight and maybe it will never leave entirely.  But the way I respond to it has.  For the first time in my life, I see myself for the very imperfect being that I am.  I see so many flaws and I just have to laugh sometimes.  I can’t tell you whether or not I’ll fix them all before this journey’s end (well yeah, I can…I won’t…not even come close, but I’ll still try).  I want to be a better person.  I want to feel good about that person staring back at me every morning.  And I think I’ve reached a comfort level now.  I’m still full of the past, but I have not let fear win out.  I don’t see weakness as a character flaw of mine.  Not because I don’t feel weak or scared sometimes…but because admitting it means I will get stronger.  Just like working out and losing weight.  I will get stronger and better.  And just like working out, it’s a personal competition that needn’t be measured against anyone else’s success.  And always…always…still a work in progress.      


M

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Recovery

Okay...it's not what you think.  I've been locked out of my account for four months and have been unable to post anything!  Today, I successfully recovered access and control over my Blogger account.  I tried absolutely everything, including all the steps and blog guidance I found online.

So what finally worked?  I remembered my second to last password, which triggered my recall for the one after that LOL.  I have now updated email address from the Time Warner Cable account that was closed months ago and I am back in business!

More to come...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Beyond the Ice Age?

A little over two years ago, I started my Old School Journaling Blog.  It provided me with a creative outlet to share my thoughts and stories…life lessons I picked up along the way as we all do.

I also used this blog to share my first book, a collection of letters, stories, and poetry that, once cobbled together, became a timeline of my early childhood and adulthood.

After having published my first book, Following the Path of the Dinosaurs; A Childhood Saved
I should have "looked inside" more.
From Extinction
, I believed I’d slayed all my monsters and was on a path to being a more confident and healthy individual.  I’d clearly identified first, how I’d followed the steps of my parents and their behaviors (Following the Path of the Dinosaurs), figured out why I made the choices I had in the past (Lingering Footprints), and finally moved past all these dysfunctions and turned behaviors from my childhood into more positive and healthier choices in the future (Beyond the Ice Age).

I still like the three-part analogy and see it as completely relevant in moving forward.  But events and circumstances that have occurred since 2015 has led me to re-examine whether or not I am indeed, in that golden place of having survived and moved past the Ice Age so to speak and into a brighter and sunnier future.  My conclusion is that I have not and that I am still stuck somewhere between the “Lingering Footprints” of my childhood and family and just short of being free and among the living, “Beyond the Ice Age.”

If you haven’t read the book, some of this won’t make sense (if you’d like to read it, here’s a link to Amazon to purchase J  https://www.amazon.com/Following-Path-Dinosaurs-Childhood-Extinction/dp/1512243795/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495281988&sr=8-1&keywords=mary+niehaus+ralles ).

Writing the story of my childhood had a much bigger impact than I first imagined.  It wasn’t until later, that I realized that purging my soul had set yet another catalyst into motion.  A catalyst that would force me to examine my life once again, reminding me that I was still on a journey and that my learning was incomplete…stymied and stalled. 

I have talked about ignorance before, willingly admitting that there are often areas I simply don’t know anything about and I’m still seeking to learn.  There are times in my life where I have welcomed the opportunity to learn and others, when it was too painful and difficult…and I resisted, preferring to hide my head in the sand rather than face any new truths that might challenge the grounding I thought I’d found.  Awakenings and enlightenment seldom come quietly.  You don’t go to bed one evening and awake with a new wisdom and strength you didn’t have the day before.  No, in my experience, enlightenment is a by-product of a very difficult path or journey.  And more often than not, the journey contains a high degree of uncertainty, with constantly changing variables.  Variables that require you to react and respond faster than you’re comfortable with, leaving you in active peril of choosing too quickly or relying upon incomplete facts or assumptions that could result in…that could result in…hell, who am I kidding?  We are all in that same environment.  It’s called “life” and it’s completely unpredictable.   If we’re lucky, our internal compass is well developed and we’ve had a solid foundation in growing up and learning how to make healthy choices.  We’ve learned by observation in the first family we came into life with.  We know what is right and wrong based upon how that family unit operated.  We know how to feel about ourselves, and others because we were taught from an early age what appropriate behaviors and boundaries were.

But here’s the thing…there will always be variations to our reality and norm.  Because every family unit grew up in a different reality, operating with a different set of rules.  And that’s not all bad.  It brings diversity and growth into future families and relationships.  It helps us to give and get empathy and understanding.  And it enables growth for future relationships.

But what happens to those of us who may not have been quite so “lucky” in experiencing a charmed life in childhood?  What about those of us, who grew up thinking our reality was safe and normal, only to learn later that everything we grew up believing to be true…was not necessarily healthy?   What happens when we wake up and realize that we were conditioned to operate in a reality and norm that was built on a foundation of dysfunction…a set of rules that perhaps helps us reach survivor status as adults, but prevents us from re-establishing rules that fit for us now in a healthier environment, where we have a chance to not just merely exist and survive, but to thrive with brilliance. 

I want to thrive with brilliance.  I want to leave fear behind and find excitement when I look at unlimited possibilities…instead of feeling paralyzed in fear of making the wrong choices.  I may still want to hide.  I know I will still be afraid.  But I won’t be so afraid that I stay standing still at this single point in time.  My life is evolving rapidly, with significant changes happening in virtually every corner of my life.  I am leaning heavily on the wonderful truth that we all suffer from; the affliction of being human.  I know there is no perfection to be had.  Even still, I have to believe we all have the opportunity to thrive brilliantly if we keep putting one foot in front of the other…even at times when we don’t know where we will ultimately end up.


I think I’ve just written the introduction to a sequel.  As with everything else I’ve shared, I invite you to join me on this journey as well.  I’m taking that first step and I can assure you, I have no idea where it will lead me.  I have a few guides on this path, including a few new books I’ve read.  I’ll share as I go.  And this time, I hope to move a little further beyond the “Ice Age.”