This project's goal is to give each family member and myself just 10 minutes of unconditional positive regard every day. All attention is focused on the other person for those 10 minutes and only positive comments or thoughts are allowed. Just 10 minutes often becomes much more. Try it and see. You'll find the Just 10 guidelines on the right side of this blog.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Happy Hat

This past weekend, in an act of desperation, I "invented" the "Happy Hat."  We'd spent most of the weekend under the bad influence of heat and hormones.  We were like a pack of rabid hyenas, snapping at each other.  I wanted out of the wilderness.  I'd been joking about making a silly hat/helmet several days before.  A crazy image of a nerdy helmet, covered with tin foil and a whip antenna popped back into my brain.  Ah, I'll make mine invisible so as not to disturb strangers,  but I'll pop it on my head to deflect negative energy.  I shared my new creation with my family who by now is quite used to my zany ideas.

I commanded them to put on their own "Happy Hats."  They were not to talk to each other unless they were wearing their hat.  I then began to chant,  "I'm wearing my Happy Hat.  I am wearing my Happy Hat."  This worked for about 30 minutes.  Which is actually a lot longer than some of my less successful ideas.  I was the first one to take off my "Happy Hat"and jump up and down on it until it was a pile of junk.

I'm not entirely sure what lit my fuse but I went up like a firecracker.  I got really angry about being interrupted mid-sentence. Can you imagine?  How many times a day are we all interrupted by our children?  Maybe I was feeling especially fearful that if I didn't finish my sentence right then and there, I would forget it.  (Don't laugh, that really happens to me all the time.)  In a smoking pile of smoldering ash, I told my daughter to stop being so "b" plus "itchy."

I'm aware of the irony here.  Someone was"b" plus "itchy" and it wasn't my daughter.  My poor husband looks at me and says,  "Don't you think you were a little harsh?"  He was right but his words were a bit like lighter fluid on a dying fire.  Let's not go there.   After some sputtering and a wee bit of stomping, I realized I'd better get a grip. I put the cork in my evil word waterfall and paced around picking up stuff around the house, trying to get the flames to die out.  (Yes, I know that I've got water and fire metaphors together but I was a conflicted mess.)  When the last whisp of smoke was gone, I apologized to my daughter and immediately started constructing a new "Happy Hat."  I'm determined to make this one "stomp proof."  Maybe this one shouldn't be invisible.  Maybe I should wear it any time I feel myself sliding into a ball of negative energy.  It can be my monument to the folly of anger and a tribute to a sense of humor in the service of love.  Or I can just look really stupid to punish myself.  Even I think this ideas is more than a little bit crazy which is exactly why I'm going to give it some Just 10 thought.  Carry on.  Carol has left the building.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Messenger

I start my Just 10 walk with word soup sloshing in my head.  I'm afraid it will start spilling out my ears.  Today, I am eager for that special encounter along this path.  For a long time, nothing comes.  I'm getting tired of my word soup.  I try to empty the bowl.  (At this point, you can see parallels to yesterday's "Just Flush It.")

And then, along the path, I encounter a young mother and her tiny son on a tiny scooter.  He must not be more than 3-years old.  He looks at me, squinting against the hazy sky, and says a perfect, "Good Morning."  Ah, the angel has spoken.  He is the messenger and a delightful one at that.   I hug the memory of the cute "Good Morning."

My pleasant escape from reality doesn't last long.  Not far up the trail, I spot a woman.  She has an unusual gait.  Her flip flops almost don't leave the surface of the asphalt trail .  A purse dangles at an akward angle.  As she nears, I see that her unnaturally colored face resembles that of Bette Davis in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane."   Even in black and white you'll get the idea. 

My painted lady is no Jane.  Her thorazine shuffle won't allow her to serve rats for lunch.  That takes too much energy.    The memory of my daughter's often plaintive query,  "Mom, do you always have to make fun of people" pierces my awareness.   Sadly, she speaks the truth.  I make jokes to hide the pain.  I feel for this woman.  I'm also a tad bit frightened by what I don't understand.  You'd think with the word soup I have in my head, I'd look at her and see a kindred spirit.  I wonder what mental patient I'll see next on the trail and feel instantly ashamed of my cruel humor.

I've just passed my painted lady when I hear the rhythmic clicking of a bike, slowly spinning to a stop.  An eager voice greets my lady.  Without turning, I know it's the two Morman missionary boys who have been haunting this trail.  Part of me wants to slow my pace so I can overhear this sure-to-be-interesting exchange but I push on.

It's not long and my two boys are next to me, brimming with young eagerness.  My soul is weary of all these efforts to save it.  With a grand, cartoon-like gesture, I point onward and say,  "Boys, you hit me every day.  Keep moving onward.  Someone out there needs you."  I gesture again with the same cartoon-like manner to dismiss them.   I see myself playing the role of guiding angel.   I am giving them encouragement for their quest.  I make a mental note that I might be a little too crazy myself this morning.   My boys look puzzled.    They nod a polite good bye and ride into the sunrise.  I bet they'll stop to save me again tomorrow.

Their departure is bittersweet.  I chide myself for being such a crusty old soul.  All the Latter Day Saints, I've known have been wonderful, salt-of-the-earth type people.  How can I tell them that while they are the salt, I am the earth.  Too much salt isn't good for me.  I've had the honor of attending some of the Sisters gatherings.  Their strong values and sense of community is edifiying.  I envy them their simple belief.  Nothing is ever simple for me.  I am blessed and cursed with more layers of complexity than I can sometimes handle.  I want faith, God, people to be simple.  They never have been.

I start thinking of myself as a spiritual CSI investigator.  From messenger angel to gritty CSI inspector in mere minutes.  I wonder if I've really shaken my head or only thought about it.  I'm suddenly knee deep in murky reality, picking over the carnage for a clue.  I look evil in the eye and live with the jaded pieces of my soul forever changed by what I've seen.  Reality sometimes gives me the worst nightmares.  I flash back to Baby Jane.  Am I more Blanche or Jane?  Darn it, I am both.

I soothe myself by questioning.  The people that I meet, may not be messengers of anything.  That it's all me trying to impose a sense of order and importance on things and events that have none.  I am writing the story of my life with bits and pieces of pure fiction all the while thinking it is true.  Yet, does it matter as long as it feels true to me?  It doesn't matter to a tired yet refreshed me.  I arrive home and take a long cool drink of water.  I return to our bedroom and rid myself of my sweaty clothes.  Before I shower, I make the bed.  I note that I am naked.  This morning making the bed with no clothes on feels right.  I smile.  Writing this blog is just like making the bed with no clothes on.  It seems odd but I'm strangely comfortable.  It is good to be known.  I am ready for what the day will bring.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just Flush It

Those of you with more delicate sensibilities may not want to read today's entry.  It may contain graphic allusions that are not suitable for all readers, especially those very visual thinkers.

First the back story, because every story has one.

A most reluctant, walker started off for my Just 10 walk this morning.  Inside, I was a disgusting mass of hideous self pity.  I seemed to be hopelessly caught in a Sargasso Sea of disappointment, a never ending whirlpool of disgust with no way out.  As I walked, I hoisted myself onto a log in this swirling sea to get a glimpse of what lay in the floating debris.  What I saw there was frightening.  Shame, low self-esteem, recrimination, frustration, fear all came hurtling by.    I let go of the log and slipped into the nasty sea.  I was particularly horrified by the fact that now that my blog is being read and I am often painfully honest.  I began to worry about the impact.  I was full of doubt.  I suddenly shot to the surface.  I know this sea very well.  It is depression.  For me it's wild, ugly and full of garbage.  (Oh, all right, sometimes it's full of sewage.  Are you satified?)  I climbed aboard a jumble of wood bound by sludge and seaweed.  A two-by-four became my oar,  I started rowing.

I was angry that this sea was inside me.  I remember the adage:  "The best revenge is a life well-lived."  I was going to vanquish this foe.  I kept walking, the sea swirling inside me.  I hit the trail one step at a time.  This sad sea gets its strength from my fear.  Resistance gives it power.  I review the events of the last few days, the good and the not-so good.  I'd crawled into the deepest crater of my mind.  I was ignoring my family in a crazy attempt at self-preservation.  It's a bad yet very old habit.  I've been neglecting them.  They aren't getting their Just 10 time.  I have seen a negative result.  They need it as much as I do.

As much as I want to blame myself and focus on failure, I do not want to stir this sea into a greater frenzy.  I know what needs to be done.  I can forgive myself and begin again.  Just 10 doesn't come naturally to me.  I have to work at it.  Out of the blue, I remember what I've told my son when stuck in his own sea of negativity,  "Some times you just have to flush your head."  I've explained that we can get so much bad junk stuck there we make ourselves miserable.  To show him how it's done, I raise my hand along side my head and in one smooth motion flush it.  Of course, I add the whooshing sound side effect for full impact.

I decided to flush my own head but before I could reach up and make goofy sounds, my two eager Mormon missionary boys from the other day come pedaling toward me.  The wise one smiles and pedals on but the second has to take a chance.  Salvation is at stake.  He wants to talk.  I smile politely and say, " no thanks."  I know that I am already saved.  Flushing helped me remember.  I don't feel saved very often but the deepest part of me knows that I am.  Completely, undeserved, I am still saved.  I start to feel better.

Then, for a few seconds, I feel saved.  Peace washes over me.  Flushing must have helped that and the endorphins released by my walk.  It doesn't really matter why or from where.  It is a moment of grace.  I don't want to lose it in questions and thought.  For a few brief seconds, I just am.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Poor Camp

My Just 10 walk was dominated by two opposing ideas this morning.   The things for which I desparately need money and the things that money can never buy.

I started my walk ranting and raving about some of the evil hijinx of the financial institutions.  Those of us facing foreclosure or suffering from job loss and underemployment, alright,  anyone who is living below the federal poverty level, for any reason, knows all too well. Insanity, incompetence, dishonesty run rampant among many of the institutions we've been told to turn to for assistance.  For, example, we get several Federal Express letters from our mortgage holders collection agency asking for documentation.   We send it it and receive several more Fed Ex letters (duplicate and expensive mailings) asking for the same documents.   One family, so close to our home, played this exact game for a year to suddenly receive the dread letter stating they've been foreclosed.   This hits hard.  We know it's only a matter of time.  We have no plan, no safety net. There are few options.  Options require money.  I feel like I'm hanging on to a gnarled branch, dangling over Hell's Canyon.  My fingers are starting to slip.

Evil seems to rage unfettered by morality, ethics, justice.  We, the American people, are caught up in a rabid polarization that pits right against left in a useless struggle while the evil plays on.  We are distracted by a slight of hand, unable to address and effectively solve problems.  We are becoming a divided people, of little hope, who see evil every where yet miss it as it slithers among us.  It divides us.  We relinquish our power in endless fighting among ourselves.

Ironically, I also find the greatest comfort from others.  Friends, who are there to laugh and sometimes cry with me.  Friends, who provide the port in the storm, friends who encourage, friends who care.  Yesterday,  I spent the best part of my day with friends.  We met my dear friend, Donita, for lunch.  There was no time for deep conversations or verbal exchanges of trust but just being with her was enough.  We've known each other since we were both thirteen.  We have grown older together.  We understand each other with few words needed.  We couldn't look more opposite on the outside but inside we are kindred spirits.

The evening was a time for new friends.  The women of the book group shared themselves.    We laughed much.  It was a healing laughter.  The effect of these experiences of friendship lingered and floated around me today in a wonderful aura of communion.  I am not alone.  I felt gratitude for the people in my life who have a value far beyond any price. 

I began to dream of a union that rises above poverty.  A union that is bound together in positive and healing ways.    My inner idealist, saw a great camp out.  I began to envision people like me, those in foreclosure, the homeless, those without adequate health care, camping out on the grounds of every state capital, in a peaceful rally.  The poor are often invisible.  We need to make our faces known.  We need to put aside our differences and come together for the greater good.    We could conquer much with the good that could result. 

It's a nice dream.  For a time, I experience some of the fervor of youth.  I believe we have a common enemy.  It lives within us.  Sometimes, it's ourselves.  We also have a great capacity for good.  We must remain vigilant and open.  The most important things in life can not be purchased.  We must make sure that money doesn't divide us.    I'm ever grateful for good friends, who lighten the load in ways they can not imagine.  Thank you.   You make it all worthwhile.  Maybe we can change the world, one friend at a time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Passing it On

Today, I'm just sharing a link.  Anna Quindlen gave a commencement speech at Villanova University.  It's so full of wisdom.  I'm going to reflect on what she says during my Just 10 today.

Commencement Speech by Anna Quindlen

Monday, July 19, 2010


A dark cloud hung over me as I began my Just 10 walk this morning.  It was raining worry.  I struggled not to give it the satisfaction of acknowledgment.  Concentrating on my breathing, I focus on my posture.  I often walk with a slight limp and favor my left leg.  This form of favoritism isn't a favor at all.   My left leg is much weaker than my right.  Often, when I walk, I focus on distributing my weight evenly on both legs.  This shift in focus helps when dark clouds rain worry.  It gives me something physical to focus on.  It give me an action to  perform.  It's a tiny bit of empowerment.

Pushing on, a dozen different ideas pop into my head.  These could all be seeds for a blog entry.  None of them excite me.  I begin to doubt that I have anything to say.  Maybe I never had anything to say.   Maybe I've been kidding myself about the writer that has been hidden inside me all these years.  Maybe I've been dancing with delusion.  Maybe this morning the veil has slipped.  I go back to concentrating on my breathing.

Suddenly, around a bend in the trail, a man pops in view.  He has an awkward gait. He is extremely bow-legged.  His hair is cut short.  His eyes hide behind sunglasses. On his hands he wears large canvas gardening gloves.  They are white covered with black dots to improve the grip.  He is clutching a neon yellow tennis ball.  I note that he has no dog to retrieve the ball.  He exudes the feel of an overgrown puppy.  Maybe the ball is just for him.   He sees me and says, "Hey.  How many miles do you do each day?"

I am on guard.  I mentally survey the landscape.  In full view of the traffic, the bushes on the side of the trail are wild roses.  It's not likely, he'll suddenly shove me in them especially since the traffic on Padden can see us.  So, I smile but keep a safe distance.  I reply,  "Only about three.  How about you?  How many miles do you do each day?"  He eagerly replies, "Twelve."  I'm not sure I believe him but nod politely.

He then begins to relate a story he says is remarkable.  He told me he found a set of keys this morning near Ward Road.  (I take mental note and decide that he might have been telling the truth about the 12 miles.)
I lose track of some of his words.  They seem to meander.  There are too many words for me to focus on this morning.  I keep putting on the face of polite interest but my mind is a thousand miles away.  I do not find his tale remarkable but he does.

On the trail, we are suddenly met by two young Mormon missionaries, who don't want to let this chance meeting go to waste without trying to bring us salvation.  My bow-legged, long distance walker and now epic story teller, waves them politely onward.  They linger, reluctant to go  They don't want to miss this God-given, providential encounter.  I too, dismiss them politely and turn my attention or rather my inattention back to my gloved-walker.  I think he looks like Disney's Goofy with those gloves.  His face also has a Goofy openness and naivete but then again what are his eyes really like behind those glasses?   Maybe he is really clever and cunning.  Maybe his eyes pierce like Ted Bundy or Charles Manson.  But then again, I really doubt that.  My intuition tells me he's harmless.  A bit strange maybe, but harmless.
His story final ends.  I am eager to continue my walk.  I comment on his "remarkable" story and tell him, "You really were a Good Samaritan this morning.  Good to see you."  I don't remember ever passing him before.  He acts like he remembers me.  I seem to be doing a lot of pretending this morning.  And then, without warning my topic of the day, hits me just as I meet someone I often meet on the trail, my blond walker/jogger with iPod strapped to her arm.  Her iPod armband reminds me of the armbands the Jews were made to wear in Nazi Germany.  I'm struck by the odd thought and more so by the odd convergence of 5 people on the trail: me, the gloved-puppy man, two Mormon missionaries with acne and my blond, iPod-wearing walker/runner. 
I note how weird a gathering this is.  I wonder what any of us have in common.  I wonder what any of it means or if it means anything.  I, who look for meaning everywhere, can not always find it.  Yet, I continue to ponder this chance encounter.  If any of us had been 30 seconds behind schedule, we would not have met in the same fashion.   Could each of these people teach me something, anything?  I hoped I didn't look as goofy as my bow-legged walker but I just might.   My gait is a bit unusual.  I often limp.   One day, I also found a ball, bright orange.  I clutched this ball and a blue t-shirt I pulled off the outside white line near the intersection.  I think I also had an odd twig in my hand as well.  You can't tell me that I didn't look a bit odd to any passersby.  I'm not so different from this Goofy-man.

As for the Mormon missionaries, I too, knew their zeal in youth.  I had gotten an old rusty bike while I was in the convent.  I'd rubbed it with naval jelly to remove as much of the rust as I could.  I painted it a pale blue.  I often rode it to clear my head, to escape the craziness that seemed to occur behind the convent's imposing walls.  I often rode it in my habit, my veil flapping in the breeze.  Unlike my Morman brothers' mission to save others,  I was on a mission to save my self.   My sanity had been shaken by all that had happened within those convent walls.  I pedaled in the bike lanes of Beaverton, trying to restore what had been lost, my innocence, my belief in the goodness of others, my hope for the Church.  No matter how fast I pedaled, I couldn't find  any of those things.  Remembering this, I uncovered an empathy for their zealous quest, so early on a Monday morning.

As for my blond, pony-tailed-iPod-wearing  companion,  she has earned the connection by her faithful consistency.  I do not know her name or anything about her for that matter, yet, we seem to meet each day. We have created our own ritual of connection.  We acknowledge each with our eyes.  I smile and nod an hello.  She raises her hand up to her chest in a greeting salute and whispers a breathy,"hi."   We are part of each others' landscape.

On the trail this morning and precisely at the same time, five very different people met.  These five people may not be as different as they first seem but whatever their differences, their motives or their exercise rituals,  today, they all shared the same trail.  They all shared a moment of convergence.  Such moments of convergence are often overlooked.  Today, I got to honor that convergence with awareness.  I'm excited to see what tomorrow may bring.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Good-Enough Mom

"You're not listening to me."  My daughter plaintively growled this at me in the grocery store yesterday.   She was right.  I wasn't listening.   I often fail to listen which is exactly why I developed the Just 10 project.  Listening doesn't come naturally to me.  I have to work at it.  I also have to work at being a good-enough mom.

This last week has been sprinkled with doubt in my parenting abilities.  It was hard to find the energy to come up with new strategies.  My children are still not good about following through.  They get distracted easily.  Their childhood is very different from what mine was.  What I think should come naturally to them, does not.  I have to teach them to be problem solvers and critical thinkers.  I felt overwhelmed by the job ahead. 

In this maelstrom of self-pity, I was thrown a lifeline.  I had the good fortune to share some of my parenting woes with two women who are great moms.   I don't think they really know or always believe that there are.  These women are the moms of grown children and yet they keep utilizing their maternal skill sets on children who need good mothering.  They gave me hope and ideas.  They helped me remember that I'm in it for the long haul.  Sometimes you just can't see results until much later.  They helped me see the bigger picture. 

Most importantly, the spaces between their wise words, told me that it's ok to be a good-enough mom.  Perfection isn't attainable.  You will make mistakes.  Giving up is not an option.  It's time to get back in the game.  I'll keep trying and that will be good enough.

A special thanks to Kathy M. and Jeanne GYou inspire me.

Friday, July 16, 2010


During my Just 10 walk this morning, I waited for inspiration but it was a stranger.  Often, I'm the ditch that words flow through.  Today, the ditch seemed dry.  I want to panic.  What if I never have anything to write about again?   The zen master, hidden deep within, says quietly,  "Relax."  Worry seems to take too much effort as I step off the miles.  Suddenly, I am calling myself, "the emotional bull in the china shop."  I thrash about without thinking.  I knock things over that I have to pay for later.  Where is this image coming from and why?

My stomach has been in knots since returning from a visit to my mothers.  It was a pleasant visit.  My mind doesn't understand why my stomach is telling me that something is wrong.  The more I walk, the more I ponder this.  My mother and I don't have a  very close relationship.  I think it's because I am a bull, an emotional bull.  Stubborn, casting words about freely, paying for things later,   I often come on strong.  Mom is often intimidated by my emotional size.  I have always had the ability to blurt out things that seem to pierce to the heart of the matter.  I can leave people blinking, speechless and sometimes crushed by my words.  It is often unintentional, this bullish manner.  It is a part of who I am.  When I was young, I hadn't learn to corral this bull.  It's fierce kicks often wounded the people closest to me.  I hurt them and they became afraid.  

For the first time, I can see this.  I know it to be part of the truth.  I have played a part in the complicated and often distant dynamic between mother and daughter.  I know for the first time, how my mother might have felt.  I do not give her complete absolution for her flaws but neither do I give myself that absolution.  We each must pay the price.   I see how complicated parent/child relationships are.  I see how our temperaments interact in interesting ways.  I see each of us bringing a history of hurt to how we interact now. 

I do not visit my mother with great frequency although she lives within easy driving distance.  I have been convinced that this is what she prefers.  Our recent visit made me question all that.  I feel guilty.  I have deprived her of my company.  I am the eldest.  I know many of the people she knows or did know.  In some ways our lives are more intertwined and alike than I've ever wanted to admit.  We share many hobbies in common.  We, who have seemed so different may be the most alike.

I understand the need to forgive myself for past transgressions.  More importantly,  that forgiveness needs to extend to others.  I need to forgive mom even if she can't forgive me.  It's up to me to allow the bull in me to express itself when it can't harm anyone or anything.  It's time to corral it's bullish power and tame it, to use it for good, not harm. 

As I step off the miles,  I feel the dew of my physical exertion dampen my collar and the hair under my cap.  The perspiration feels good as the morning breeze washes over me.  I've wrestled with the angel and I have won.  My stomach is calm.  Another day begins.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The House of Memories

Yesterday, we spent my childrens Just 10  in the van as we traveled down to Grandma's. They sometimes ask for their Just 10 while I'm driving.  It can be a simple way of making sure they get their time.  On the way back, I spent my private Just 10 with radio blaring and kids tired after a pleasant day. I have condensed my tornado of thought into a single gentle breeze which I share below.

Once upon a time, this farmhouse in the distance was my home.  Now, that home exists, for me only in memory. The house is occupied by strangers.  Some of the out buildings are gone.  It is not the place it once was.  I've heard it said that memories are often faulty.  Our minds can fill in the blanks with things that never took place.  We often interpret events and feelings based on what we think happened and not what actually did.  We struggle to make sense out of all the bits and pieces of our experiences.  We become creative authors as we write the stories of our lives.  Does that make the stories any less real?

I spend my life in a physical body in a temporal world.  That body houses a mind and a soul.  The real story seems to take place there, in the mind and soul, in a world often filled with illusion and dreams.  I often dream of this farm house at night.  In these dreams, it is a haunted house.   Sometimes, I'm a child with young parents just as they used to be.  Sometimes I return to live in this house with the family I have now.  In all these dreams, my feelings about being "home"  are always complicated, a mixture of fear and relief.

Lately,  I've found myself thinking about this house.  These day memories are pleasant ones.  I am often a young child, alone, walking through the pasture toward the creek in the wood.  Our dog, Poochie, is with me.  I've packed a snack of soda crackers spread with peanut butter.  I put them in an old bread bag.  Sometimes, I drag along an old blanket.  I find a nice spot in the pasture on the side of a hill and lay down.  A little rest before going to play in the creek.  The dog comes back from exploring and lays down near me.  She becomes my pillow.  We look up at the clouds and I call out the things I see in their fluffy shapes.  The dog snores.

The house that lives in my dreams at night is very different.  It is built of broken memories and pieces of emotion that I can never seem to catch.  The actual house had been home to my paternal grandparents and their children.  As a child, I was convinced that one of my uncle's old rooms, still full of the pieces of the youth he spent there, was haunted.  I was told not to go into this room.  Such an admonition was a sure invitation to a spirited me.  It was fodder for my imagination.  It was soon haunted with things I could not see, things I could only sense and know in the most primitive of ways.  I stopped exploring that room.  Instead, I would hurry past the closed door, sometimes making the sign of the cross as a precaution.  It became my little ritual of fear. It was enough to keep the spirits trapped behind the door, or so it seemed.  These spirits have returned to me at night.   I understand them less now than I did then.

As a rational adult, reviewing the memories of young childhood, I am certain that there were no facts to support my early belief that my home was haunted.  There were no sinister spirits lurking behind closed doors.  No phantasms materializing in the night.  Yet, in the faulty world of memory, the spirits are very much alive.  They tell stories of tragedy and triumph.  They frighten me with the unknown.   They tease me with snippets of truth.  They hold up a clouded glass and challenge me to see.  In the light of day,  I see the best of times, days of ease, childlike abandon, freedom, a strong sense of self.    At night, I am in the dark.  I wrestle with the unknown.

Yesterday, the fear of the unknown was less compelling than the desire to get a glimpse of the house again.  It sits at the end of a private lane, a good quarter mile from the main road.  It is often hidden from view.  A visitor to this piece of country may never know this house is there.  I left this home over 40 years ago yet, still knew where to look.  When I spotted it from the road, I was flooded with the good memories.  In the light of day, I answered a quick, "no" to my childrens' desire to see more, to drive down the lane again.  This was close enough.  The house I lived in no longer exists.   The time, the child I was,  live only in memories, hazy bits and pieces that play hide and seek in the corners of my mind.  This is the back story of my life.  I create from it what I will.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Instant Replay

Do you ever have days that you'd like to do over?  You know the kind, a day in which nothing goes right, the littlest things get on your nerves.  Most of my yesterday was like that.  Since there are no real do overs in life,  I've decided to do a little instant replaying during my daily Just 10 of some of yesterday's low spots, just like the sports' guys do.

I had two problem areas that really affected my overall game performance yesterday:

1.) I discovered I'm allergic to pineapple.

2.) My children have been terrible at not following through.

First, number one. I was convinced that I was not allergic to anything.  The "mighty"  (you can insert the foolish here if you want) has fallen.  My head knew you can develop an allergy at any time in life.  I just didn't believe it would happen to me.  Boy! was I wrong.  No, there were no hunky paramedics and a ride in an ambulance but after eating nice bowl full of fresh pineapple at lunch, it wasn't long and my throat got really scratchy, I started to cough.  My upper lip started to swell slightly.  I wanted to scratch my eyes, nose and mouth right off my face.   I took some generic Benadryl which eased the symptoms slightly and went about my day, hoping to forget about it.   The itching subsided with several hours but the gastrointestinal aftermath has still not disappeared entirely and was rude enough to wake me several times last night.  A little online research this morning gave me some answers and hopefully knocked a bit of sense into me as well.

(Please don't do this at home.  Allergic reactions can be life threatening.  I was too cavalier about my reaction and was really lucky.  This past school year, I watched a student have an allergic reaction.  Things started to go bad very quickly.  Paramedics were on the scene in time and several weeks later, I ran into a very fortunate and grateful student who  filled me in on the details of what happened once at the hospital.  The student had an allergic reaction to something most people would never suspect to be a danger.  Allergies can develop suddenly.   The first reaction is often less intense than the reaction may be in a subsequent exposure.  The body has time to recognize the "enemy" and can really revolt against it when you are exposed the next time.   If you have an allergic reaction, check with your doctor immediately.   Don't do what I did.)
When I apply the instant reply to my fumble of yesterday, it's pretty clear what I'd do if I could do it again.  I would call my doctor's office.    They'd probably have told me to go straight to the ER.  My poor performance in the field has left me shaking my head.  Next time, I will perform better.  Remember,the game ain't over 'til it's over.  Even the pros can learn from their mistakes.

The second "agony of defeat" from yesterday feels like parenting failure.  It's time to drop kick that thinking and develop a new strategy so I'm better prepared for the next team crisis.  The problem is a simple one.  My lovely children are acting like children.  They would rather play and do their own thing that follow through with their chores and responsibilities.   Doesn't sound too different from what I really want to do which is probably why it really "kicks me in the keester."  Lately, I'm a broken record of nag.  "Did you brush your teeth?  Did you pick up your stuff?  Did you put that away?  Did you take out the dog? They don't pick up their end of the work and our game suffers.  I forget we're on the same team and we develop an adversarial relationship. We end up losing the game. 

Now to apply a little mental instant replay and examine my moves with an eye toward improvement.   Micromanaging my youngest team members puts too much stress on me.  We're going to use the consequence program.  If you fail to pick up the slack and do your part for the team, then you're going to be spending time on the bench.  In other words, the fun stuff will wait until you do the work stuff. 

These two team members are also failing to take care of their gear.  Time for a bit of tough love.  Gear not retrieved and stowed appropriately is going to go in "gear jail."  I hope I can find a big enough locker.

Now that I've applied instant replay to analyze the "footage" with an eye toward improvement, yesterday doesn't seem nearly as bad.   I plan on using the instant replay technique again.   Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, July 12, 2010

No Happy Place

For the last few days, it's been obvious that then worm of discontent has been eating at my husband.  I finally asked him why.  It wasn't really a Just 10 moment but some days, you have to take what you can get   To my surprise, the truth seemed to fall out of his mouth.  Inside him, the seething volcano of dissatisfaction spewed the lava of truth.  "I want things to be easier.  I want a break.  I want a little happiness."  To that, my own hot spot of dissatisfaction said a silent, "Amen."

After several moments pause, I found the well of my own inner truth gush to the surface.  I said to him, "Happiness is not a place, or a thing.  It's not a commodity or a prize that can be attained.  It is a state of being, Grasshopper."  I added the Grasshopper for a touch of  levity in case my statement was not well received.   I also knew my "Grasshopper" would get the reference to David Caradine's show, Kung Fu.  That bit of TV nostalgia combined with martial arts might make what I had said more easily digested.  I knew I needed to speak in testosterone to be better understood.   I don't know if my metaphorical round house kick met his metaphorical solar plexus but it was worth a try.

So I thought about happiness on my walk this morning. In the last week,  I've run across several references to a book called, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  Apparently, the universe/God (however, you define that which is beyond our knowing)  is trying to tell me something.  I've read a little about Martin Seligman and Authentic Happiness.  I like the idea of Positive Psychology of focusing on coping skills instead of the pathology of mental illness.  I've been thinking about all those things and more.

My thoughts didn't seem to have a connection at first.  I remembered a video I watched yesterday of Elizabeth Gilbert giving a talk on creativity.  You can view the approximately 20 minute video here:

She speaks of the ancient idea of genius, not as something a person is or has but as something that a person allows to flow through them.  It occurred to me that this is also true of happiness.  Maybe, my thoughts which had seemed to be a mental soup filled with flies, wasn't that at all.  Maybe, this was great soup.   I was ready for the main course.

This idea of being a conduit of sorts for creativity for genius, for happiness brings me great comfort, dare I say joy.  It's not something I have to look for or achieve, it's something for which I need only to be ever ready, ever patient and ever welcoming.  How many times had I chased after happiness to only have it escape me?   How many times had I looked for it in all the wrong places?  How many times have I cursed its absence when it was really only waiting for me to prepare the room?

I have confused happiness with things it is not.  It is not the companion of wealth or success.  It not something I can earn or even deserve.  It's not really an emotion.  It's not an end result or a reward.  I can't find it in a place or a person and yet, it is all around us, all the time.  It is a gift to be enjoyed and shared.  All that is required of me is to get out of the way, to open my eyes and recognize my guest, my genius, my own piece of happiness.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Constantly Unexpected

Son and I like to haunt the local Goodwill Outlet.  One day, he finds these party hats.  He calls, "Mom.  Look I'm a pinata."  He is the master of the unexpected.

This morning, he wanted to join me on my walk.  Before we left our driveway, he asked,  "Can we have our Just 10?"  I reply, "Sure."    I know that this will be the perfect time to have our talk, to tell him what we share in common.    I started by asking him how he was doing.  I told him I know that yesterday was a hard day for him and did he have any idea why?  He said,   "I don't know why but I couldn't get to sleep the night before.  I was up until 11:30 p.m."  He goes to bed at 9 during the summer.  The old-school mom in me almost gets caught up in a lecture or at the least an admonition about getting to bed earlier but I know that his trouble sleeping is part of his constellation of symptoms.  I put scolding on a shelf, a shelf so high I can't reach it.

Since, young Mr. A was in the room the day of his school eval, I asked him what he remembered about that day and what was said.  He knew that he had really improved in the social skill department and felt pleased. He also knew he still qualified for educational support.  He understood some of his challenges perfectly and articulated them to me.  He didn't have a clue what bipolar meant.  Here was my opportunity.  I tried not to let the weight of the discussion crush me. 

I, who hate the confinement of a label, gave him a quick and simple definition.  I explained that his low feelings were more intense than the average kid and that his silly times were a little zanier than average.  I explained that the medicine he takes morning and evening is to help balance out the sad and the silly.  And then I took the leap and said,  "Andrew, I have it too.  I take medicine to help me balance my moods just like you do."  He responded with, "Really.  You do?"   "Yes, really" I replied.

He was quiet,  letting the words sink in.  I gave him a bit of silence and then asked, "How do you feel about what I told you?"  He said, "Curious."  Then he quickly asked,  "Is it bad to have this?"  I had the tiger by the tail.  What I said next could really matter.  I took another leap.

"Well, this can be a challenge.  We feel things more intensely.   Sometimes, we can get stuck in thinking that how we feel about something is also the way things really are.  Feelings are not the whole truth.  They can mislead us especially because they feel so strong.  We have to learn how to talk to ourselves inside so we can make good decisions even when we don't feel like doing so."  I told him that our "sads"can feel a lot worse than other people's normal "sads" but that we can also have some incredible fun because we can get an extra dose of happy sometimes too."    I told him that I wanted him to come to me and tell me if he ever finds himself  feeling really bad.  He said, "Ok," and nothing more.  I asked him how he felt about all this and he said, "I think it's interesting."    I said, "Yes, yes, it certainly can be."

We said more than recorded here but not much.   I'm relieved to have opened the door on what I hope will be future dialogue.  When Mr. A asked, if it were something bad,  I found myself taking a hard look at the inventory in my own mental arsenal.  I answered him as simply and as truthfully as I could at that moment.    My life for all its ups and downs (mostly downs) has been exquisitely rich, a beautiful tapestry of vivid experiences.   I have often lost sight of this beauty especially when the view is clouded by depression.  My experience has taught me this:  by hanging on, by choosing to believe that things will change,  one day I awake to the promise of sun.  Age has brought me many gifts.  Some I'd like to return to the author of this life.    There are others, like the wisdom born of time, experience and yes, suffering for which I am forever grateful.  May they serve me well as I try to guide my son.  He is a fascinating and delightful mixture of darkness and light.  I wouldn't trade him and all that he is for any other.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Bug's Last Stand

On my Just 10 walk this morning, I swallowed a bug.  I didn't notice it going in.  Apparently, I failed to use my teeth as an effective grill to screen out my unwanted morsel.  I might have missed his entrance completely if this bug hadn't made one valiant struggle to live.  Its' tiny legs and fragile wings flailed against the soft tissue of my uvula before falling down the inky black tunnel of death, also know as my esophagus.   This isn't the first bug I've swallowed.  I'm sure it won't be my last.  I'm a hopeless mouth breather.  My mouth has an open invitation to many of my flying insect friends.

Notice the word, "friends."  I've made peace with many inhabitants of the insect world.  I've been playing with potato bugs and caterpillars as long as I can remember.  I also had enough sense to leave centipedes and suspicious looking spiders alone.  My children don't share this affinity with insects.  If my son had swallowed the bug, he probably would have returned his breakfast to the earth, choking up his revulsion.  I pondered my peaceful acceptance of my bug morsel this morning.  My mind had been a whirlpool of thought.  All right.  For a few moments the word, "cesspool" may have been more descriptive.  I was still feeling very vulnerable after my last blog entry.  Despite all the wonderful encouragement and support, I still feel exposed.  I'd found myself in an undiscovered country of emotional candor.  I am a bit lost.

It hasn't helped that our womens' book group has been reading and loving, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.  We all love her candor, her ability to capture feelings we experience with her wonderful use of the English language.  I want to write like she does.  I would dearly love to have a New York Times Bestseller, not to mention a movie based on a part of my life  (The convent years have great movie potential.  Don't you think?)   That would sure end our financial worries.  I compare myself to Liz Gilbert and I find my writing almost juvenile and inane.

Ah, I recognize that voice.  It's the childish voice of my ego.  "Hey, I thought I showed you the door the last time you showed up here."  It replies,  "I found an open window.  Get used to me, Baby.  I'm here to stay."

But, I digress.  Let's get back to my bug.   My mind kept returning to it as I walked.  Obviously, part of me wasn't as nonchalant about its' ingestion as I'd like to think.  I wondered if its' death was pointless.  I also wondered if my writing really had a point as well.  Almost instantly, I got my answer.  The bug and I were doing what comes naturally.  The end doesn't matter.  It's all about the journey.  It's about being true to who you are.  It's about me sharing the simple truths in my life for the joy of the sharing, not for recognition but for the pleasure of writing.   (That would be great by not necessary. . . immensely helpful though.)

So, like my little friend the bug, who made one last stand against a seemingly senseless death, I will not curse the darkness or the fact that I am not Elizabeth Gilbert.  I will honor my truth until the end and I will derive pleasure in the simple act of writing, the sharing of who I am.

I pay tribute to the bug.  "Bug,  you did good.  You were all bug.  You lived a simple bug life.   You fought with your little bug honor to hold on to that life.  You taught me how important it is to hold on to mine."  Thanks, bug.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Coming Out

Since this blog relies on my candor as its life blood,  I am compelled to venture into areas of my life that I am still somewhat hesitant to reveal.  Over the years, it seemed best not to be too candid about some aspects of my life.  Recently, I've begun to wonder if it isn't time to reveal one of those secrets.  I believe there is a greater good to be served.  My candor may be helpful to my son.

Andrew was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was three.  I always knew that he was atypical.  He was atypical before he was born.  During amniocentesis, he reached up for the needle.  It really shook the doctor who was performing the test.  For me, it was just a a sign of something I already knew.  I was oddly calm about my unborn child's gymnastics. 

When he was born, he had managed to not only tie a knot in the umbilical cord, it was also wrapped around his neck.  He wasn't born as alert as his sister.  With a little oxygen, he was soon responding as a newborn should.  I sometimes wonder if that indeterminate time of little oxygen made a difference.  My intuition is that it really did not.  His genetic makeup was already set. 

Since our son was diagnosed at an early age, the team of specialists admitted that they didn't have a concensus as to what to attribute his "specialness".  At that time, they were split between ADHD and Aspergers.  They went with Aspergers because it opened more doors to learning support.  I am eternally grateful that they did.   He has had wonderful teachers and the social support he received has been invaluable.  Yet, over time, it was apparent Aspergers or ADHD didn't explain what we saw in our son.

Some years ago a trusted psychiatrist gave our son the diagnosis of Bipolar II.  He felt that it more adequately captured his particular constellation of symptoms/behaviors and thought patterns.  Inside, I have not wanted to accept it as true.  Somehow being bipolar seemed more final, less hopeful.  I hadn't wanted our son to define himself by a label whether it was Aspergers, ADHD or Bipolar.  I've been afraid that he would use the diagnosis as an excuse to justify his behavior and to stop striving for optimal functioning in a world that often seems too much for him to handle.

This year at his school evaluation, the team said he no longer qualified for educational support due to Aspergers.   He did still qualify due to his being Bipolar.    His lack of focus, his oppositional behavior, his inability to handle frustration, his sometimes inappropriate silly spells,  point toward a bipolar pathology.   I have to agree with the team.    As I watch him this summer, I know it's true.  It's also time I tell Andrew that I am Bipolar also.

As much as I understand that the bipolar diagnosis does not mean that I have a weakness of character or personal defect, it feels that way.  I rarely admit to having this illness.  I've carried this label largely in secret over the almost 20 years, it has been assigned.  I like to think that I function well.  A psychiatrist once told me with an air of grave finality that "you'll never be able to handle stress."  That made me angry.  I'd like to think that if he were in my shoes today, with all the stresses life has brought me, he wouldn't be doing as well as I.   Most of the time, the less I think about the label and all that it carries, the better I function.  I take medication to manage it and it usually works very well.

I've also had the benefit of years of living with depression and the occasional hypomanic episode.  I have learned to observe my moods and feelings and understand that they don't necessarily represent reality.  This hasn't been as easy as it sounds.     Help is available and I've learned to seek it out when necessary.  Has it affected my overall functioning in life?  Yes, I'm sure it has but when it's all said and done, I've had a full and interesting life.  I may not be a stellar success by the world's standards and I may never know all the ways that depression has limited  opportunities but what is, is.    I am who I am today in large part because of the unique blend of talents and handicaps that are at play inside me.  I am who I am because of who I am.

Even with my personal experience, I have wanted to spare my son.  Books on the bipolar child found their way home with me on a recent library trip.  I avoided reading them until a few days ago.  The first book I picked up was The Life of a Bipolar Child by Trudy Carlson.  Trudy lost her son, Ben.  When he was 14, he shot himself in the head.  There are many parallels in the life of her son and mine.  I believe that my son's condition isn't as serious as hers was but that doesn't mean things won't change. 

As much as I don't want my son to define himself or burden himself with a label,   I have to be realistic and be willing to help him learn how to cope with the particularly dark way he can view the world.  He still believes his perspective is reality.   The time has come to put my own experience to use and help show what I have learned and how I've learned to cope with bipolar illness.  It's time to come out.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Low Rider

Low  Rider seemed to be the theme for the last few days.   It was one of the songs that Goatshank,  the band, played on the July 3rd picnic. Fellow band groupie and friend,  Debbie and I were amused how the meaning of the lyrics was probably escaping the largely upper white middle class crowd at the picnic.   Honestly, they escape me too and I'm not upper middle class.  Feeling low class is often a source of shame for me even after all these years and after all my life experience.   I've been feeling very low class.   Low also describes my mood.  The two lows seemed to be connected.

Going down to Mom's to celebrate the 4th and her birthday left me with an all too familiar empty feeling on the ride home.  My biological family and I are not close.  For the most part, we have a distant and usually polite acquaintance and little more.   There are rare moments when one or more of us might really connect as siblings but that is often followed my years of avoidance and awkwardness.  My mom will be 83 tomorrow and we still don't really feel comfortable with each other.

Over the years, I've tried to bridge the gap in a variety of ways.  Mom hasn't known how to build the bridge to meet me and so I've had to resign myself to what is.  It's no surprise that I don't do intimacy well which is why Just 10 has become so important in my own life and in the lives of my own family.  I want something different for my own children.

Which is exactly why I made time for Just 10 with my daughter several days ago.  She has changed so much in the last few months.  I've been hard on her.  When I remembered what it felt like for me to be 12, how much I wanted understanding and approval from my mother, I knew that I had to reach out to my daughter and be open and honest with her.  I needed her to know that I really like and value the person she is.  I needed her to know that it's hard for me to let go of the little girl that I knew, the one inside me and the one that's inside her.

Most importantly, I needed her to know that I do love and care for her but that sometimes I will fail to be the supportive and understanding parent that I want to be.  My daughter was obviously touched by my candor.  It also made her uncomfortable.  That is a feeling I know well, so I spared her further deep sharing and we chatted about songs on the radio.

Today, I began my walk with a heavy heart, threatening my neurotransmitters, telling them to kick the endorphins in high gear,  "I have a day to power through and I want to spare my children a grumpy mom. Get busy."  I took off for my Just 10 walk like a bolt out of  H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks.

I couldn't run from how I felt so I had to run through it and review the events of the last few days.  I remember how on the ride home, I'd suddenly asked my husband, "Do you remember the last time you felt care free?"  His response, "Wow.  It's been so long ago.  I must have been a very young kid."  His answer was identical to my own.  I thought of how difficult the job of being a grown up is.  Part of me has been in serious rebellion against accepting the job.

Then I remember, the car talk with my husband, from the day before.  I shared a sudden insight.  As we passed under the 130th Ave. overpass, I blurted out the following,   "As long as I fight against the simple truth that life really is a series of problems, one after another, the more miserable I make myself.  If I just go with the problem scenario, every thing gets easier."   I didn't know where that came from but apparently, I needed to hear it under the130th overpass.   It was something my head has long known but something my heart has struggled to accept.   I was still dealing with  the vestiges of that struggle on my walk this morning.
I kept up a vigorous pace.  I quickly arrived at my turning point.  The endorphins were beginning to lighten my mental burden.  I was sweating out some of the anger and frustration.  Simple resignation was slowly seeping through my veins.  And, then the final low rider analogy came to light.

As I passed the high school baseball fields, I became aware of an unusual sensation.  An article of clothing was no longer where it should be.   The article of clothing I wear closest to my body on my lower half was slowly, but surely heading south.  My first thoughts were "Oh Oh, now what?  Do I dare attempt to return it to its former position in public, in plain view of the other walkers, bikers and the traffic?  If I ignore it, will it soon hobble my walking?  Can I stop thinking about it?  Should I stop thinking about it?

Just as quickly, I came to the conclusion that such a wardrobe malfunction was evidence of my white trash nature.  This hurt.  To soothe the hurt, my better self came to the rescue.  I reminded myself that I was the product of centuries of simple, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth-type people.  They were not nobility but many had found nobility by embracing the simple realities of their lives.  I need not feel any shame at being peasant born.  I could feel proud.  So I did, low riding underwear, and all.  I returned home with a smile.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Triad of Death

Death has touched my life three times this week.

1.) The Demise of Mrs. Doodles.

My son's pet crayfish, Mrs. Doodles surprised us by dying this week.  She was suddenly discovered, scary legs and claws reaching for the heavens.  Son was devastated.   While son regrouped in his bedroom,  Dad and I discussed interment.  Dad wanted to flush it down the toilet.  Mom argued against it.  What if in the rigor of death, the claws and legs splayed out against the plumbing and formed a trap for all matter coming after it? Chagrined but not convinced, Dad took Mrs. Doodles outside and dumped her in an empty bucket.  Way to go, Dad.  Our dog, the neighborhood cats and one sad little boy are all aware of her bucket tomb.

Mrs. Doodles was the crabbiest of pets.  She spent her days hunkered in her artificial cave, coming out only at night to climb on the stones in her bowl.  If we removed, her cave, she'd threaten us with her claws.  Now, I actually miss her clunking and her silly threats.  My son blamed himself for her death.  I reminded him of a fact that he had taught me,  "The average crayfish lives to be only a toddler in human years.   It may just have been her time to die."  I reminded him of the crayfish in his classroom and asked him how many had died.  He said at least half, most met death at the hands of another barbarous crayfish.   He'd saved her by freeing from her from the threat of other crayfish.  She'd lived a good life. 

2.) Cat with  Legs Akimbo

Midweek, on my morning walk, I saw a cute, black and white cat laying, crumpled by the side of the road.  Its' little body, lay across the white stripe at the edge of the road, its' legs raised in impossible angles.  It was alive no more.  I hoped that no young children were awaking to the loss of their pet.  I thought about the folly of forgetting cat's curious natures and their thirst for adventure.  If you let them out at night, they will roam.  Some times, they won't return.

3.) Mouse of Eternal Peace

I wasn't aware that death had come calling in it's bizarre trifecta until I discovered the mouse.  As I walked, briskly on the trail, I looked down to spot a still and peaceful mouse.  For a fraction of an instant, I wanted to tenderly pick up this mouse and lay him off to the side of the trail.  Fortunately, practicality and the fear of some hideous disease, was at the helm.  This peaceful mouse looked like a cute stuffed toy that was stitched in the posture of sleep.  It pierced my awareness and I remember the belief that "death comes in threes."  I remember the cat and then Mrs. Doodles.  Three it was!

Why had this mouse gotten through my hard outer shell?    Then, I remember the "Summer of the Mouse."

During the summers of my youth, the field mice that lived in the field behind our house liked to move into their summer home, our home.  Little mice teeth made a big hole in the carpet at the bottom of the stairs.  It was a tunnel to their expressway through the downstairs closet and kitchen.  Some times, they ventured to the second floor, making nests in the dark corners of our closets out of the pages of a treasured book.  As cute as they were, they were the enemy.

So, one day, when my brother, Dave and I cornered one small mouse in the upstairs bathroom.   We were full of blood lust.  We enjoyed the hunt.  Stuffing a towel under the door to prevent escape, we stomped after the tiny little intruder.  It's last moments were filled with terror.  When we discovered that we had indeed killed the little mouse, we were flooded with feelings of shame and remorse.  We looked at each other and said, "This wasn't a good thing.  Let's never do this again."   I have not.

One of the things I said to reassure my grieving son was "Death is a part of life."  This morning a cute, tiny and dead little mouse reminded me that there is no escape.  Life and death are hopelessly linked.  You can't have one with out the ever present possibility of the other.  And so, to the trifecta of death, I say, "thank you.  You make me more alive.  You remind me to honor life and to accept the reality of death with dignity and grace.  You bring me back to what is essential.  Sleep on Mrs. Doodles, pretty kitty and tiny mouse.  Some day, not so long from now, we'll join you.  Until then, I've got a trail to walk, a life to live and people to love.  Peace.