Bittersweet

As I hugged my son before he headed back to college, I looked up and saw my neighbor from across the street with two of his young boys.  Seeing them triggered a memory of us moving into the neighborhood when my son was only four and his sister not yet born.  So much has happened in the time since we moved here.  Now my little boy is a man, and my dream of raising beautiful children has been realized.  I waved to my son as he headed away, then blinked and felt stinging in my heart.

I went inside and told myself to put on a smile and be glad he was able to visit the entire break.  My practical side usually wins out, but not this time.  I wondered why this good-bye felt so poignant – and came up with no explanation.  After all, my son is a junior in college and has been saying good-bye between terms for 3 years now.  His university is only 80 miles away; I will see him quite a few times over the next months.

I looked for comfort by reminding myself how wonderful it is that he has grown into an extraordinarily beautiful person.  Then another memory flashed through my mind.   Many years ago, a friend and I walked together after leaving our boys to start their first day of kindergarten.  As the school doors shut behind us, my friend stopped and leaned back against the closed door.  She slumped and looked out absently.  “Now what?” she asked the air around us.

On that hot August day sixteen years ago, I did not share my friend’s feeling of emptiness.  In fact, my reaction was the opposite.  I was excited about my son starting school and looking forward to what would come next in our journey together.  Now I identify with my friend much better.  Today, I understand how bittersweet it can feel when some dreams come true.

One day my neighbor across the street will hug his son as he leaves home…, but today is my day.  I blink a few more times and let “Now what?” float through my thoughts and feelings as I wait for what’s next on our journey.

Davis at 5      Davis at 20

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Raggedy Ann

I woke up on my 5th birthday to bright morning sunlight coming through the windows of my grandparents’ den, where I was sleeping on the couch like I always did when we visited their house.  Lying on my side facing across the room, the first thing I saw was a Raggedy Ann doll sitting on a chair by the door.  I couldn’t believe it!  Raggedy Ann was the gift I wanted with all my heart!  Seeing her was so incredible, I wondered if she was really there.  Then I remembered it was my birthday, and flew from the couch to pick her up.

100_9121 She truly was a Raggedy Ann doll, the full-size one with red hair, red and white striped stocking legs, apron, calico dress and bloomers!  If she was the real Raggedy Ann, the one in the books Mom and Dad read to me, she would have “I love you” written inside a heart drawn on her chest.  I checked.  There was.  I knew right then it was going to be the best day ever.

Raggedy Ann has been with me for over forty-two years.  As I moved into my ‘tweens, she sat on my bed with an assortment of stuffed animals.  Eventually, the stuffed animals were given away and Raggedy Ann placed safely in a box for many years.  She had become a bit tattered over time and needed stitches in her neck and a stocking replaced, so when my little girl was born Raggedy Ann was put on her shelf instead of into her hands.  Raggedy Ann didn’t hold the same sort of appeal for my daughter, so this worked out just fine until it was time to store Raggedy Ann once again.  It’s funny how a particular moment or gift will stick with you all your life.  Although Raggedy Ann is a doll long outgrown and will likely never be on the top of any future granddaughter’s wish list, I will keep her safely stored, because the truth is she is keeping a wonderful childhood memory alive for me.

Raggedy Ann HeartI’ve been thinking about the children I know now and how excited they are about Christmas next week.  Many of them will wake up Christmas morning hoping the gift they want most will be in their stocking or under the tree.  I was once one of those kids, and on many years received the gift I wanted most of all, yet it’s the memory of Raggedy Ann sitting on the chair of my grandparents’ den that stands out as my most delightful childhood gift.  Christmas is just a few days out.  I hope each and every child wakes up to an exciting fun morning with plenty of delight and love in everyone’s heart.

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Enchanted Rock Run

Enchanted Rock State Park has a wonderful 4.87 mile loop trail running around the second largest granite dome in the United States, and is only a twenty minute drive from my house.  It’s a great trail for an afternoon hike or trail run.  A couple years ago my training program included running the loop trail on a regular basis; now I’m content to jog along for about ten minutes, walk a bit, and repeat.  Two Sundays ago, I decided to head out and try running it again, but on the drive there I started thinking about the parts of the park I hadn’t seen yet.  It’s a small park by state park standards, yet with all my explorations there are places I haven’t been.

And with these thoughts my agenda began to fade without me even realizing it.  As I parked and walked along the paved road to the trailhead, I thought my original agenda was still intact.  After all, the reason I went there in the first place was to run and test my current endurance level, wasn’t it?  As I began to run, I decided to head off-trail along a park ranger two-track which splits from the loop trail and quickly ends at the park boundary.  My new plan was to explore that corner of the park while picking my way along the border, before heading to the trail a few minutes later and continuing my run.  I was reasonably sure it would be a quick detour and I was right, but like an appetizer before dinner being off-trail for a few minutes simply enticed me for more.

Too quickly I was back on the loop trail, crumbling agenda figuratively in one hand while reaching for new experiences with the other, and before you knew it I changed my route to include a look-out point.  Upon arrival, I noticed it was only a slight slope down from the look-out point to the expansive view in front of me – and I just kept running.  As I jogged down the slope into a wide field of smooth granite and scrub bush, I no longer held an agenda or goal of any kind.  I simply ran.

Picking my way across boulders and around prickly pear and other thorny plants, I concentrated on my footing while simultaneously looking ahead.  The terrain soon changed and boulders forced me to redirect my course.  It was a beautiful, glorious day and exploring the park felt fantastic.  I jogged slowly and enjoyed being free of both the goal and time constraint of my earlier agenda. Then I jumped a narrow gap between boulders and felt soreness from a sprain in my foot injured a few weeks earlier.  This reminded me I was completely alone and off-trail in the late afternoon of a November day, wearing running shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt.  No bandana, phone, water bottle, or any other extra item was on my person.

I decided hiking was safer, and besides I needed to catch my breath.  Then I laughed, remembering how my friend, Robert Deming, modeled a character in his book after me and described her wearing a water bottle fanny pack on her jog around the loop trail.  Right!  As if I would ever take a water bottle on run of under five miles.  Well, fanny pack contents and water might be handy if I managed to sprain my ankle again – or get lost.  I’m pretty good at getting lost, but wasn’t worried about it because the park is small and the setting sun gave an accurate gauge of the direction I was headed. Thinking of Robert’s books, I sincerely hoped the mountain lion featured in his second book, “Enchanted Rock Blue” wasn’t based on a recent sighting of a panther in the park.

This time the park boundary fence was high up a steep climb, so I changed course and headed out into a more open area.  Having no agenda freed me to go wherever I wanted without regard to reaching a particular place, while the slower pace of hiking allowed me to be curious about where I was in the park.  I really had no idea where I was, but knew the granite dome was between me and my car even though I couldn’t see the rock right then.

Nothing looked uniquely familiar, though it all looked the same:  granite expanses, boulders, scrubby trees, cacti everywhere, and a little bit of wildlife.  Whitetail deer and birds were plentiful.  I wondered which peak was Freshman Mountain and thought it might be the peak near Buzzard’s Roost.  I laughed again remembering a different character Robert created in his first book, “Enchanted Rock Red”, which he said was also inspired by me.  He didn’t tell me which character it was, because he thought it would be plain to me when I read it.  Well, he writes some of this book from the point of view of Clarice, a vulture, and for a short while I worried she was the character based on me.  Then I realized he liked the vulture too well to use her as a prank on me.  Unfortunately, the character I inspired through some tiny little personality trait wasn’t much more complimentary, but I still recommend his books.  Each is an adventure and a fun read.

By the time an hour had passed on this no-agenda sojourn, the sun was sinking lower and I had been steadily attempting to cut back toward the main dome of Enchanted Rock without any success.  Each time I was high enough to see the rock, I was just as far away as before and appearing to be heading in a wide arc around it.  Thick pockets of yucca and prickly pear blocked many routes as did thorny trees and boulders.  Then I spotted some odd looking boulders and knew I was very far from the loop trail.  Extremely large rectangular shaped pieces of granite along a fence could only mean I was looking at the quarry, a place usually seen in the very far distance from on top of the rock.  It also meant my wide arc had only brought me around the rock a little bit.  Then I reminded myself it didn’t matter how long or far I went because there was no agenda or timetable.

Knowing this let me relax a bit, but I started walking faster and more purposefully toward the big rock.  Once again, I didn’t realize my agenda was changing.  It was building and gaining importance each time I glimpsed the dome and found myself still no closer.  Soon enough I fully embraced my new agenda to find the loop trail again and finish jogging around it.

As I kept trying to hike straight to the rock, the topography continued to thwart me.  After crossing a dry riverbed four times, I began to wonder if I was simply going in a circle.  Possibly I had made a circle or two, because the setting sun I tried to keep more or less behind me kept popping up on my right or even directly in front of me.  I don’t know how it moved around like that so fast, but with my new motivation find the loop trail, I adjusted and kept moving.  No longer was I daydreaming or even exploring.  Now I was on a mission to find my way to a familiar place.  Nearly another hour passed before I saw a wooden post with an arrow on it, a trail marker leading to civilization.  I was relieved and glad to know my journey would soon end well.

Altogether, it was an enchanting afternoon.  My original agenda gave me the impetus to suit up and head out.  Dropping the agenda gave me a chance to be curious, explore, observe, and daydream, while creating a new agenda focused my attention and kept me from worrying about my choices.  Next time, I might pack my handheld GPS into a runner’s belt, which isn’t actually a fanny pack, but might be close.

If you are in the Texas Hill Country, you might throw out your agenda and spend a day at Enchanted Rock State Park, with a water bottle and picnic packed away for afterwards, and one of Robert’s books to round it all out.  See you off-trail and maybe just a little bit lost.

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From The Horse’s Mouth

Actually, the only thing that came from the horse’s mouth was a small nip on Barbara’s thigh.  Everything else we took away came from insight gained while participating in leadership and teambuilding activities with six team members, one horse, and two Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) leaders.  It was a chance to pet horses and play all afternoon, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Better yet, we each learned more about how to work together as a group while being under pressure to achieve multiple goals.  It was a perfect fit, as the teams included school board trustees participating in the 2013 class of Leadership Texas Association of School Boards.

Our horse, Annabelle, was a gentle and patient horse.  The horsemanship on our team ranged from “never touched a horse” to team roper.  By the end of the first exercise, we had each found an excuse to lead and pat the horse, which gave us more confidence about how the afternoon might go.

The next exercise assigned each of us a role or goal, some of which conflicted with another team member’s role or goal.  We were very pleased with how quickly we moved from keeping our assignment a secret to sharing our intentions with each other.  The co-leaders purposely did not state any rules, and we soon realized we were making up rules that didn’t exist, like not telling others our goal or role.  Immediately after this realization, we started sharing information.  Excitedly we finished our assignments and began congratulating ourselves while making analogies to real-life situations.  We were busy talking about how often information is better shared than held close, when we realized we had missed one of the other points of the lesson.

It came in the form of Annabelle’s nip.  Clearly, the nip was intended as more of a scolding than a warning.  It left no physical mark, but mentally underscored how important it is to pay attention to the needs of others who are affected by our decisions.  You see, once we had accomplished what we needed to do with Annabelle, we ignored her.  We were all crowded around her, but engaging only with each other in those moments.  Oops.

There were many more lessons to be learned that afternoon.  You will have to try it to see what insight you might gain, however here is one more that stood out to me:  It’s easy to break the rules when you are intent on completing a goal, especially your want to do it more quickly than another team.  A later exercise required all but one member to remain silent, with those same silent members grouped between two buckets placed several feet apart along the fence.  The lone member could speak and move about without regard to the buckets.

When frustrated by our inability to help our team leader, we cleverly picked up the buckets so the rest of the team could move around as a group and help out.  It was hard to stay between buckets while helping our leader and simultaneously dodging turns of the horse.  We didn’t intend to break that rule, but often did.  Oh, and the talking rule?  We consciously broke it repeatedly in our zeal to finish the task.

Luckily, before we started the last lesson, the co-leaders suggested we define a method for correcting ourselves when we broke a rule.  This revealed another important lesson.  Once we decided amongst ourselves that the rules were important, devised a method for reporting infractions, and even created a “punishment” for the team each time we broke a rule, we found we did not break them again – not even once.

Taking ownership is more effective than simply being told what to do.

Yep, lots of life lessons can be found in the horse arena.  Thanks to Annabelle, we had a chance to put on our boots and enjoy learning some of them.

P.S.  There are EAL facilities all across Texas, however the one holding our team/leadership building activities is Five Horses, LLC.

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Creativity Saboteur

Creativity doesn’t come easily to me, and the saboteur inside my head makes it even harder to be inspired.  We all have a self-generated saboteur or two.  It’s the voice, which only you hear, attempting to thwart you from trying something new.  Inner saboteurs warn you of imminent failure or embarrassment in an effort to protect you from harm.  The problem is sometimes the warnings prevent more than failure.  They also prevent you from succeeding.

My creativity saboteur shows up by whispering things like “Only buy exactly the materials you will use or you’ll waste your money.”  Other times it sounds like, “This will never look like you imagine it.  You know you’re not good at stuff like this.”  Everything I work toward and believe is disregarded by my saboteur.  I work toward recognizing mistakes as part the learning process.  My saboteur thinks mistakes are a waste of time and money.  I believe there is joy and value in time spent creating and learning.  My saboteur measures only the end result as validation for time well spent.

You can probably think of times when you wanted to try something new and found discouraging thoughts flitting through your mind as you planned how to learn the new skill.  One time a saboteur was speaking so loudly in a friend’s ear, the friend said out loud about himself, “You shouldn’t even play if you’re this pathetic!”  My friend hadn’t played tennis in over a decade, yet his saboteur expected a solid performance and prevented him from enjoying our time on the courts.  It was a very limiting saboteur.

I’m working to recognize when negative thoughts step in the way of being creative.  That’s why a little flower arrangement project became a reminder to step back and ferret out what was really going on when my saboteur started talking a couple weeks ago.  If you had been party to my musings while choosing flowers and pumpkins, you would have heard the same old refrains about choosing carefully, only buying exactly the right blossoms and stems, and fretting about buying “extra” bouquets to fill in gaps or complement colors.

Then I remembered it wasn’t about how much was spent or how efficiently the materials were used.  It was about having fun creating a pretty fall floral arrangement for my mom’s birthday party.  The moment I recognized the saboteur was pointing me to the wrong goal, I stopped worrying and chose everything needed to do the job well.  Then I went home and enjoyed time being creative – and ended up with enough material to make a beautiful arrangement for my mom, and one more for me!

  

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