Doom Dibbling or Hope Harvesting

Have you ever heard of a dibble?

How about a doom dibbler?

I was truly lucky to have my amazing dad in my life for 26 years.

I am equally fortunate that I carried over so many valuable memories and words of wisdom into my life today. Too many to share here, but there are a few that lend themselves effortlessly to being hopeful and resilient.

My father used many inspiring sayings that have stayed with me over the years. I don’t feel I experienced a lot of hardships growing up, but he would often fall back on the tried and true, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” Apparently, this phrase is attributed to either JFK’s father or Knute Rockne. My dad would say it whenever I needed a little extra encouragement and the impossible loomed. My dad thought most things were possible. Sending the tough on its way has a lot to do with resiliency. A resilient person has the courage to bounce back and deflect tough things because he or she is tougher. Being tough and strong is the only choice. Some see this as stubbornness. I take those words as a compliment because the tough has to get going. So long, tough. You are not welcome here. Get going and be gone. My inner toughness will prevail.

My father was one of the pivotal hopeful figures in my life. He made me feel like I mattered every day. His positive outlook and upbeat attitude were repeated over and over from people who knew him at his visitation and funeral. I already knew these things, but it is so important that he spread hope to others. I believe that it’s part of his legacy. What qualities did he have that made me feel like I mattered? He was always in my corner. He spent time with me every day and sang me bedtime songs. He read to me. He loved watching me play tennis, win or lose. He drove me back and forth from home to college almost every day during my fifth year so I could live at home and save money. He drove me to job interviews and waited in the car until I was done. We had good talks. He made me laugh. He really believed I could do anything.

Another one of his key phrases was not to be a doom dibbler. JFK’s dad or Knute had nothing to do with this one. It is an original Dad concept! Really, I never thought dibble was even a real word. He had a way of mispronouncing things and getting some words wrong. He was raised in a German-speaking home so this was typical for him. I figured he had made it up, but I knew what he meant. Much to my surprise, dibble actually is a word! As a verb, it means to make a hole in the soil with a tool (from the noun called a dibble) for seeds or young plants. His background was in farming and agriculture, so now I understand doom dibbling on a whole new level.

He knew exactly what he was saying.

My dad didn’t just want me to stop whining about something and have a positive outlook.

He didn’t want me to plant that seed of doom that would grow larger and larger.

Doom dibblers get bogged down in negativity and worry. Constant emphasis on what undoubtedly will go wrong becomes toxic and central to their world. Are you thinking Debbie Downer? Womp-womp. Nothing is or ever will be right. What if the worst happens? It becomes central to their identity as a doom dibbler. Doom is quite an ugly word. Do not be a doom dibbler.

Become a hope dibbler instead. Perhaps a hope harvester better expresses the sentiment. Emphasis on the positive spreads that energy in the world. Use whatever dibble you have to plant the seed of HOPE and watch it grow. What if it all works out? Imagine all the wonderful possibilities. My dad knew a lot about hope. Yep, he definitely was a hope harvester.

My dad also had a habit of writing me notes that I’d discover tucked away in my slippers when I was home for the weekend or he’d mail them to me in college. Little stick figure sketches of himself, our dog, or Bucky Badger were included. A twenty-dollar bill was usually clipped to the notes. Little words of wisdom were also included. We were a close family who spoke regularly and saw each other every weekend. Yet, he’d still send weekly letters filled with words of hope and wisdom. Hope was a message in almost every note I saved. Usually the notes began that he hoped all was well. He was so eager to hear about school and support my studies in any way he could.

“You are such an outstanding young person. Do share with us all your accomplishments.”

Well, shucks. See what I mean about him being in my corner? These notes were my own personal cheering section. I cherish them now more than ever. Yes, I’ve kept them. His hopeful words and messages transcend time.

On one note he wrote that smooth sailing didn’t make good sailors. (I don’t know the source for this advice. It probably isn’t JFK’s dad or Knute.) He owned a recreational motorboat before he married my mother. He kept the boat after they married, but it was used infrequently. I remember playing in it when it was stored on one half of our home’s garage. I never thought of my dad as much of a sailor, but I’ve often come back to his comment about sailing.

Sailor or landlubber, the point was that hardships help us learn and grow.

In the end, they shape our character and strengthen our spirit. Hope plays a role because you land on your feet a stronger person after going through the struggles.

Another repeated theme in his weekly notes was on the value of saving money. I always thought I had been good at saving money, but maybe I’ve been good at it because of his influence with his notes. On some notes, I’d find articles attached on investing. In one note he wrote, “You’ll find a short article on the value of investing early for retirement. I know you’re young and still going to school, but it doesn’t hurt to have your ideas focused for future investment moves. Enclosed are a few dollars.”

I hope you hit the jackpot when you were given your father. I know I did, and even though he’s been gone for over twenty years, he’s never left my heart. Some of you reading this may have had the good fortune to know him. My words really can’t do him justice. Maybe my memories have made you smile with some of your own about special people you’ve known in your life. Thank you, Dad, for all the love and hope you gave me, and for everything.

vacation 1 copy

 

 

Finding Hope

There are 26 places named Hope in the United States, ranging from Wisconsin to Mississippi, and from Alaska to New York. Hope is on the map in several European countries, and even farther away in Pakistan, South Africa, and New Zealand. There are a total of 50 cities throughout the world named Hope.

But you don’t have to travel to any of them in order to find hope. Likely, you would find some there if you did, because hope is everywhere. You just need to know where to look and be really good at keeping it when you find it.

Hope is plentiful. It can be found in every smile, the water, and in the air. Unfortunately, hope can also be elusive when it’s most needed. Below are ideas of some of the expected and unexpected sources where I have found it. As you read the ideas below, I encourage you to identify a strong example of each that resonates with you.

  • Family: These are the people who know you best and have your best interests at heart. Choose the family members that have always given that unconditional support. My grandma was always a source of comfort and support. I loved holding her wrinkled, beautiful, and amazing hand. She wouldn’t even have to say anything. Just looking at the miracle of a woman in her upper nineties who had lived a remarkable life made me feel hopeful. Memories of her words and actions still echo wisdom, warmth, humor, and hope.
  • Friends: I know some of my friends will be there through thick and thin. When the chips are down, true friends are the ones who show up. I can be myself even if I’m feeling tired, down, unwell, or a little grumpy. They are givers and they lift me up. We have the stupidest jokes that we still think are funny. These are the friends that keep me hopeful.
  • Strangers: How strange! But every once in a while you will cross paths with someone who says exactly what you need to hear at exactly the right time. Family and friends cannot always do this. These strangers come in and out of my life in a flash, but they often say or do something that has a lasting impact. Maybe it’s a tweet I read or a comment I overhear. Perhaps it is something said directly to me. It could even be a small act of random kindness.
  • Faith: Maybe you get hope from going to church, temple, a mosque, or some other physical building. Maybe it’s through prayer, reading scriptures, or through sharing your faith with others. Feeling a spiritual presence creates strong feelings of hope. It’s different for everyone, but I believe we all believe in something, and that something is the faith needed to lift us up when we need help standing.
  • Fitness: I often find my spirits are raised when I’ve gone for a walk or I’ve spent time hiking or biking. When I achieve something that I couldn’t do before, it makes me feel confident, believe in myself, and be more hopeful. I think the endorphin release that goes along with exercise not only contributes to happiness, but also hopefulness. It was an invigorating 27° F the other day and being outside walking really made a positive difference to my day. When I’m happier, I naturally feel more hopeful.
  • Nature: See fitness. But also just being in nature and listening to the stillness or surrounding sounds can make a person feel happier and more hopeful. More and more people are finding health benefits when spending time in nature. These are physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Feeling hopeful definitely is part of one’s emotional health. Give me trees!
  • Meditating: Find the best way to meditate for you. It can be completely focusing on your breath in total silence. It can be a guided meditation. Music, nature, yoga, other fitness, and prayer all have potential for meditative practice.
  • Books and Movies: Both are great sources for telling stories of hope. Find what appeals to your individual tastes and interests. There are far too many possibilities for me to even make recommendations. What a fun book club idea it would be for readers to bring books or titles that have nurtured feelings of hope and then swap them with one another.
  • Music: Here is another place where you have to find the right fit. Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” always has been an incredible piece filled with hope and possibilities. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” is another good one where you actually can see the moments in the song when the sun rises above the horizon to greet a new day with hope.
  • Art: Nature photography and pictures where I feel I can walk into the scene give me hope. I’m not sure what it is, but I think it has something to do with my thoughts while enjoying these types of art. Most of the cards I send actually are crafted from my own photos from nature. I find them visually pleasing and love sending them.
  • Science: Yep, it surprises me a bit too, but science holds future cures for diseases. Hope and science should not be separated. Researchers don’t live in isolated worlds of facts. They are inherently hopeful that what they theorize, what they believe, will become fact. Their ideas are rooted in curiosity, wondering, possibility, and hope. Hope works through science. My medicines are infused with hope. It’s one of the side effects I don’t mind experiencing.
  • Self: When you get really quiet, when you dig deep into yourself, you will find your answers and the hope you need. You know what works best for you. Blogging is a way for me to express my hopeful thoughts to others. A journal may be an excellent way to explore your inner most thoughts in a manner that allows you to reflect back on thoughts. The place where hope must absolutely be kept is within your heart. Hope is a little bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she discovers there’s no place like home. Hope has been there within each of us all along. From time to time we need reminders. We need to know how to nurture it.

Hope is an essential part of a Stage V mindset.

If you have chosen to ignore a timeline provided by medicine and wake up each and every day choosing to live relentlessly, you understand.

If you believe in science that will prevent cancer cells from mutating or becoming treatment resistant, you understand.

If you believe in immunotherapy as the future of cancer cures and treatments, you understand.

If you believe that life is good and that your actions, beliefs, and the strong voice you speak defines hope, you understand.

If you believe in remission, in positive energy, and in hope, you understand.

You’d also be right.

Stay hopeful.

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We all need hope. Please share any ideas about hope so we all can benefit. If you are enjoying reading these posts, please consider officially following through your WordPress account or with your email address. Click on the gray “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and follow the prompts if interested in following as an email subscriber. Thanks for reading!

Hope, Belief, and a Monthly Planner

In early January of 2017, I bought myself a new monthly planner for the year ahead. My main motivation was I wanted a different one other than the school academic monthly planner I had used. Every time I used my school planner, there was a visual reminder that I wasn’t there. This was before official retirement when my leave had been extended for the entire school year. I pondered maybe it would be a good step to transition to a different planner.

The first sign that this was good was it only took me about five minutes to choose which new planner I wanted. I grabbed five or six off the shelf at the bookstore and sat down and started comparing them. One was too heavy and had a magnetic snapping cover. It was going to take up a lot of space in my bag. Weekly planners were out because I liked looking at the entire month as a whole. My final two choices were between a planner with a blue floral cover I liked but with very plain inside pages, and a colorful, almost hippie style outside cover, with equally flower power inside calendar pages. It was all very cheerful and bright. I bought the colorful and cheerful planner.

I had bemoaned for months over whether I would continue my leave from school or return to teaching, and here I had been able to make a decision quickly and effectively. Yes, I know my decision concerning work was much more monumental, but it was also stressful. It felt good to make a decision quickly about my planner and know I was happy with my choice.

But there is more to the story. I remained happy about my new planner for days afterward. It became one of my favorite objects. People would ask what was new, and I’d tell them in great detail about my wonderful monthly planner. It was weird and a bit obsessive. Truly, I did have other things going on. Then I figured out why my planner was a source of such joy. The planner was about hope. People who are hopeful make plans and write them down. When I bought my planner, my decision had been made to extend my leave, and I wanted a planner not connected to school while I didn’t work there. I was going to make and keep lots of plans. I did just that.

My calendar has been fuller than ever these past two years. My new planner for 2019 has a few too many things already penciled in for an introvert’s liking. One constant for the coming year will be to fill each day with hope, and maybe try to schedule a little less to balance with my inner peace.

Hope springs up in the most unexpected places. Consider the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I expected a graphic, emotionally hard to read story of Louis Zamperini’s unfailing will to survive and beat all the cruelties of war and imprisonment. Throughout the book, I found myself wondering how in the world he managed to pull through and dodge death for another countless time. What I didn’t expect was to relate much on a personal level because my day-to-day life is so different from what Louis Zamperini lived. His resilience and strength really empowered his spirit. I had that in common with him. About halfway through the book, there was a chapter focused on his family’s beliefs that was powerful. You see, the Zamperini family always felt Louis was still alive after his plane went down and he was assumed dead. His parents still spoke of him in the present tense. This section of the book made me think for weeks about the intersection of hope and belief. Hope was a wish. Belief was a feeling. Belief persevered without proof. If your hope became part of your beliefs that you thought of as true, you then had this awesome force on your side to surround and support you.

Time and time again, I have needed to dig deep into my springs of hope. It happened a lot early into the cancer diagnosis when I was told why surgery or radiation wouldn’t work for me. There have been countless times when I have heard a medical NO, and always one more time than this where I have had to bounce back stronger and more hopeful than before because the hope in my heart said YES. There is often chaos and fear in NO. NO can be a very useful word. NO is a complete sentence all on its own. But here it carries a lot of uncertainty. There is always a path and hope in YES. YES carries lots of belief and promise.

Hope may make all the difference.

Never.

Ever.

Give.

Up.

Hope.

 

You are always welcome to leave a comment below.

What plans are you making?

How is hope part of your belief system?

 

Tennis and Life: A Resilient Match

I remember the crisp pop the racket made as it connected with the tennis ball in just the right way in the center of the racket.

It was a solid sound.

I remember the feeling of oneness that came from getting your racket back, making contact with the ball, and following through with a forehand as I watched the ball sail through the air and land cross court.

It was a fluid feeling.

It was also twenty-five years ago. Or more. I never played much beyond competitive play in high school. Recreational play after that had its ups and downs, mostly downs. I played too infrequently to maintain any real skills. Friends I had played with moved away. Finding people with whom I was moderately well matched was challenging. There never seemed to be time. Life got busier with work and other interests. I barely knew who the top ranked players were and seldom caught a match on TV. Years went by as they do.

Last winter, I decided I wanted to play again and made an action plan. I researched my tennis options. I would take a lesson. It would be private so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my level of play with another player. I largely wanted to see what it felt like to be on a court again after so many years and get baseline data for my abilities. I wanted to work on the mechanics of net play, my serve, and my forehand and backhand with minimal running. I figured my brain and body still had the neurological maps for how to do those things, but I needed to focus on them in isolation.

Isolating strokes revealed I still had a lot of really good moves. There was a lot of joy in hitting things.

A LOT.

My mental focus is much stronger in my late forties than in my teens. On that particular day, it was like a part of me was watching me play in slow motion and I noticed what I was doing so I was able to adjust where I needed while I did it. I felt in control, which was something that had been more of a foreign feeling in my life lately.

Before I started, I was concerned I wouldn’t last the seventy-five minutes scheduled for a lesson, but my stamina held up well. I was also playing with my chemo body. I felt really good on the court. The feeling was there as soon as I stepped into the court enclosure. Honestly, I hadn’t expected to have a sense of belonging wash over me as it did. Then I realized the feeling was the mix of joy and excitement.

The joy felt electric, which is a very odd way to describe how I felt, but so much was firing together in my body and mind. It wasn’t just the popping sound of a solid hit or my strokes that felt fluid.

I felt solid and fluid.

I was capable and a little more whole than I was when I woke up that morning. My instructor was impressed with what I was able to do taking into consideration my current health needs and how long I had been away from the game. So was I.

You know how people always try to make things look better than perhaps how they really are? Facebook is a platform for this. So are Christmas letters. We can take multiple photos of ourselves and delete the unflattering ones instantly. This narrative I’ve spun about my triumphant return to tennis feeds into this need to always portray everything in our lives as wonderful. It’s natural to try to look and sound your best and put your best foot forward. But none of those are completely accurate versions of reality. Keep reading.

I am no star athlete and I don’t believe I ever will be. I just want to do something again that I used to love and be more active.

And hit things.

But here is my reality that I’ll leave out of the holiday letter . . .

I got hit with a rogue tennis ball in the head.

Of course I did.

I managed to keep all the balls I hit in my court and not hit any over the high net that divided court enclosures. My control was surprisingly impressive. One ball however came flying over from next door.

My instructor hollered, “Look out!”

I just froze. I knew a ball from somewhere was coming but didn’t see it. Hopefully, it would miss me. One more step and it would have.

Bonk.

After decades of not playing, I was in just the right place at the right time. What were the chances? What was the lesson? Life is filled with imperfections and this was simply a good example of one. In anticipation of my lesson, I had worried I wouldn’t move fast enough and get hit in the face with an oncoming ball. Here I was being taught I had nothing to fear.

Nothing.

Everything was still fine.

And sure, there’s always the lesson to laugh at whatever life throws your way, even if it’s a tennis ball.

Or is this the part I edit out when I share with others?

I guess it’s a little too late for that idea.

Which sounds better?

A)  I got hit in the head with a rogue ball from another court because those are the types of things that happen to me.

B)  It felt great to be on the court again. I discovered I still had a lot of good moves and hit many balls confidently.

I personally favor B, but know both together give a more complete picture of what happened.

Few things are ever completely wonderful or awful. Keeping the part in about being hit in the head shows resiliency in action. The ball bounced off my head and it was no big deal. I bounced back from that perfect fluke before that ball even landed on the court.

The lesson that offers the biggest take away for me is the lesson of resiliency. It shows up again and again, just as its name implies it should. Resiliency shows up going on longer walks, hiking a hill that seemed out of reach, and taking a tennis lesson.

Every activity offers opportunities for learning more about my capabilities. They provide me with templates to learn how to adapt where I need to and stay flexible in the moment.

Resilience always leads to growth.

Much like the tennis ball, being resilient allows us to keep bouncing. Whether the ball bounces in court, into the net, just out of bounds, or off your head, it bounces in the realm of possibility for making future challenges probable and more successful.

Resiliency is a good match for all of us, whether we play tennis or not.

How has life shown you that you are resilient?

Mirror Mirror

At first, I thought I was really reaching to connect things together in my life. Setting and achieving physical goals kept me focused on moving forward. Some sort of emotional “ah-ha” always manifested itself through these physical goals that were in process. My evidence is below.

One

Last summer, I wanted to complete a hike that required climbing an exhausting staircase made from rocks. The last time I completed it was in the summer of 2016. My body had been through so much two years ago and even more since then. But this is what I wanted to do and felt I could achieve. I began training in spring. Stair climbing became part of my workout routine. I increased time from ten minutes, to fifteen, and to twenty minutes in my house, going from my basement to second story, over and over again. It wasn’t terribly exciting, but it did what it was supposed to do and was a super workout. I knew both my strength and endurance had grown. I accomplished my hike (on a triumphant second try) and checked it off my list.

Work was going well in my weekly sessions with my fitness coach (permission given to shout out to Forest Coaching and Studios ). I also had made the difficult decision that it was in the best interests for my health to retire from teaching second grade. Necessary emails had been sent to my superintendent, my principal, my teaching team, and finally the staff at school. Describing those emails as tough for me to write is an understatement, but they were part of the plan to move forward with continued better health and my life. So, I was retelling all this to my coach while I practiced huge steps up and down from big blocks. It was all work going toward the successful hike. They were not average size steps. She commented on my retirement emails saying, “That’s a really big step.” Yes, it was. Then it hit me as I towered over her on top of one of these blocks that physically these were really giant steps and it all was a metaphor for what I was going through in my decision process.

My hike was something I had to do. I thought it was just about proving that I could do it. It did test my physical abilities and my will. Initially, it was planned as a birthday activity. It also became a celebration of a career that had successes, challenges, and finally closure.

Two

Building strength is a continued physical goal. Again through the support of my awesome fitness coach, I had progressed from lifting eight pounds to 65 pounds over the course of six months. Whooo-hoooo! Now November, I hadn’t lifted that much since summer. I worked on it again a couple of weeks ago. My first rep was tough. The blasted weight didn’t want to be lifted. I was frustrated. I remained immobile in my lifting position and commented on what was pretty obvious.

“This is heavy.”

Duh.

Then I dug into the lift. I slowly straightened.

“But . . . I . . . am . . . stronger.”

I stood strong and tall, victorious over the challenge. I almost cried, but I achieved it, and completed all my reps, with great satisfaction. Here is another strong metaphor for the emotional strength I’ve strived to build over time in terms of decisions, plans, and support I have needed to give myself. Knowing I am physically capable reinforces that I am emotionally and mentally competent to take on everything I do. I make the choices that are best for me. I am the only person who can be me. No one else knows exactly what’s it’s like. I get to decide. I can accept it if others aren’t with me. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. I am strong. I am enough.

I am more than enough.

Three

A couple of years back, I could walk an hour fairly easily. Due to side effects being on a certain chemotherapy drug long-term, walking deteriorated bit by bit due to neuropathy and then muscle issues caused by neuropathy. I didn’t have much stamina. Again I had to start slowly from the bottom. First, I walked twenty minutes on the treadmill. Gradually, I built that up to thirty minutes, and then forty minutes. When spring came I figured I was ready for outdoor walking. Eventually, I’ve built back up to a 60 minute walk. I feel my physical stamina and endurance mirrors where I am emotionally because I am so in this life for the long haul. I have more to do and need stamina and endurance to achieve all my goals. Just like with my physical strength, I feel my physical stamina positively spurs on my emotional determination every day.

Four

Now, I am working on jumping. I do not know how long I have not been able to jump. At the very least, it is correlated to the time when I was not able to climb or walk very well. I don’t remember really trying to jump for the sake of jumping before then. My “Jump Around” bits at Camp Randall Stadium on Badger Saturdays were always movin’ and groovin’, but not very jumpin’. Recently, much to my dismay, I discovered I could scarcely muster up a hop. I felt really old! Now, I can manage a high enough forward jump to clear a super small hurdle. It still bugs me. Surely, higher and farther jumps will be the next thing on the list to conquer. Interestingly, jumping too has an effect that’s mirrored in my non-physical life. I have been visualizing more writing endeavors for myself (like blogging, finding representation for a book I want to publish, establishing a platform). I must make a leap of faith. Learning how to physically jump again has been the hardest for me, perhaps because its mirrored counterpart is equally as hard for me. Well, blogging has become a reality for me, and that bodes well for my other writing goals. I will keep jumping in leaps and bounds.

None of these are coincidences. I don’t believe in those. My physical pursuits have incredible meaning for what I am working on personally. Cancer impacts both, but it doesn’t define either. I hope you can see symbiotic mirroring in your life. I’d love to hear from you if you have stories to share.

A Strong Mind

Some choices are a lot easier to make than others. Choosing the length of a walk on a given day is an easy choice. Ordering a favorite meal at a restaurant is easy. Snuggling up with a good book is an easy choice. Sleeping in is a no brainer.

Other choices are harder. We all face tougher decisions about many things ranging from work, finances, home, relationships, marriage, parenting, and health to name a few.

Giving myself a chance is often the hardest. I can be my own worst critic. It’s easy to support others, and yet I doubt myself with the exact same task I am so confident others can achieve. Sometimes I perceive a physical drawback; other times it’s a mental obstacle of self-doubt, inner criticism, and negative self-talk. The mental obstacle always is present, causing me to question a physical choice. Just as I do physical strength training, I can strengthen my mind.

How do I maintain a strong mind?

I can’t do (insert difficult activity here). Well, what if I could? What would it look like? How would I get there? Why do I think so definitively that I can’t? When my fitness coach asks me for two or three more reps during a workout, I respond that I can do three more and I do. This wasn’t always the case. When I think of all of the reasons why I shouldn’t do something, I have to stop myself and come up with reasons why I should absolutely and unequivocally do it. It isn’t that I have to do something, but rather that I get to do something. Positive self-talk and compassion sends negative thoughts on their way.

If I don’t believe in myself, I’ve already greatly limited my chances to succeed. There are times when it feels like I am the only one believing in me. Being stubborn is usually a great strength of mine that I need to recognize and work to my advantage. I must tell myself that I can and reframe things in the affirmative.

Planning is a huge reason for many of my successes. I am a planner. When I have a plan, success is more likely. Plans used to always work for me. Then cancer threw a wrench into some of those plans and success took a lot more work. Success had to be redefined. I needed a lot more contingency plans and attention to so many details that at times all it seemed I did was planning and plans were never put in motion. Plans so often changed. Then I transitioned into a “plan and adjust phase” where I wouldn’t take it as an automatic failure if Plan A didn’t work out. I would adjust a bit and call Plan B a learning opportunity. I would just keep chipping away at whatever until I found a way to succeed. This still works well for me, although I often feel like I have to work a lot harder to pull off something physical than someone who looks like they’re achieving it effortlessly.

Looks like. I have no idea what effort someone may be making physically or mentally. It also rings true that others do not understand how hard I’m working. We are all the same that way.

As an aside, I would like to state that when my plans change, it isn’t something I want to happen. I want to keep plans, but can’t always make it work. Please don’t take it personally. I’m already too hard on myself when I have to cancel or turn something down in anticipation of side effects I know are coming. I’m working on finding more soft spaces within myself.

Breathing resets my body and gives my mind a reset as well. Maybe it’s just thirty seconds of good, deep, diaphragmatic belly breaths. It’s all I need to remind myself that I am the boss of me, that I am strong, and that I can do it. Meditation has proven health benefits in that it reduces stress, blood pressure, and has sleep benefits. Even a deep sigh with an extra long exhale can trigger the automatic nervous system from being over stimulated to being more balanced.

Music also helps me, whether I need something relaxing and classic, or I’m in the mood for more current hits. Do country roads take you home? Is it all rock and roll to you? Does Bach have your back? Fine, fine, I’ll stop (in the name of love). The point is to have music available that you love and that suits what you need. Music expresses emotions and works with parts of the brain in ways that words alone do not.

Movement resets both my mind and body. Sometimes I think exercise really does more for me emotionally than physically. Even though there is a chill in the air, the cold, fresh air makes me feel alive. Not too long ago, I took a walk in one of my favorite places on a very windy day. A slight mist became heavier. I didn’t care. In fact, I absolutely loved it and knew it was exactly where I needed to be. There’s also a correlation to walking faster which helps keep my heart happy. Although it sounds counterintuitive, moving around lessens fatigue. It may feel like the last thing I want to do. Exercise helps clear mental fog and I feel better overall when I’ve finished.

Having cancer compounds negative chatter all the more. It can step in instantly when something doesn’t work out and tries really hard to stop me. There is no room for that kind of chatter if I am to maintain my strong mind. And I am. I just need to keep giving myself the chance I know I deserve.

And so do you. We are all the same that way, too.

 

Why I Like Men in Kilts

You know why.

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It’s the varied plaids.

Over twenty years ago, I spent a year teaching in Scotland thanks to a Fulbright Teaching Award. I loved the lilt of the Scottish accents. There were many moments I knew Scotland’s history better than my own. I was a bit of a talking guidebook when I went places with my friends. Living in a land of castles was a dream come true. I drank whiskey. Its burn was warm and its taste long-lasting. I loved the music, the sheep, the people I met, and the experiences I had. I taught third graders. It was why I was there, but it did interfere somewhat with all my other plans. A few students still flit through my mind from time to time. All my memories remind me of this special year in my life.

Oddly enough, last week I reconnected with a kindred spirit who lived in Edinburgh the same time I did and who just happened to stumble across my blog. I already had drafted most of this post. The way life continues to weave people, events, and experiences together amazes me. Forces beyond our ken weave these things together like personalized patterns in plaids for each of us. Some threads naturally go together and overlap more than once. All the threads are important.

I really do like the plaids. The colors do more than just complement one another in a pretty design. Historically, the British government forbade the wearing of the family tartan in the Highlands after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. It was an attempt to suppress the culture and to take away an important part of Scottish identity.

You probably see where this going. Cancer works hard to take away important parts of someone’s identity. There’s hair loss. Surgery. Lots of other subtle and not so subtle changes happen with activities, a person’s social life, and perhaps employment. You look in the mirror and see someone you don’t know anymore. Photographs from a time when you felt you looked like you haunt you because you don’t know if that person is coming back or even exists anymore. Perceptions change (perceived by others or yourself) of what you are capable of accomplishing. Some people even have the nerve to tell you how you feel or what you think. Uncertainty looms.

Not so fast, cancer. Kilts have powers. Envisioning a man in a kilt transports me back to a place where I can hear the bagpipe music running through my veins and feel the heartbeat of a strong Celtic drum. I don’t have any Scottish ancestry, but I believe what I’m trying to describe transcends a person’s roots. It is still identity based, but an identity that is more at your core that can’t be stripped away by cancer no matter how hard it tries. The tartans worn by the Highlanders couldn’t be wiped out. Identities were strengthened rather than weakened. My identity will prevail strengthened rather than weakened, too. It already has. I know who I am.

There are a couple other reasons, perhaps more obvious ones, to love a man in a kilt. Take a dramatic pause here and let your imagination wander for a moment.

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A man in a kilt embodies confidence and freedom. It can’t be denied that a man who dons a kilt in the traditional way it is to be worn is a confident man. He is proud and knows himself well enough to be completely free. He is bold in his freedom. Cancer works to wipe out confidence and freedom, just as it does identity. It fails here, too, because we are people with hearts, grit, and souls. Cancer has none of these. Therefore, those of us who live with cancer have the freedom to defy it every chance we have. Our souls won’t have it any other way. We can be just as confident, free, and bold. Kilt or no kilt. Hair or no hair. Breasts or flat chested. Defy.

I have learned so much from traveling and time spent in other places. Opportunities to be immersed someplace else for an extended period of time aren’t available to everyone. My year in Scotland taught me many things about myself. I realized I was extremely independent and quite a capable being. What I didn’t realize was that so many years later, men in kilts would still be teaching me new lessons.

I have much to embrace. I returned home from Scotland with two kilts of my own, a plaid throw, and at least three plaid scarves. A couple plaid flannels hang in my closet. Don’t get me started on plaid pajamas. I even have a chair with plaid upholstery. Whenever I have the chance to rise up and stage a rebellion against cancer, I take it, and I think very plaid thoughts. Plaid has become a secret weapon. It represents a lasting identity, confidence, freedom, and more.

Aye, whenever I might get a bit beaten down, I will think very plaid thoughts, and those thoughts will be good. My soul can’t have it any other way.

You know why.