waiting for sandy

So I’m sitting around waiting for a hurricane to hit.

The trees outside my window are swaying, the sky is grey. I’ve got a pile of books to read but no groceries because I went out for ice cream sundaes with friends last night instead of scrounging for batteries and stocking up on non-perishables.

It’s the calm before the storm.

Everyone is in deep speculation mode. How hard will this hit? How many will lose power? How long will we lose power? Will Halloween be cancelled? Will everyone be okay??

The questions are endless.

And as we sit and wait, no one knows the answers. No matter how much internet trolling I do, no matter how much Weather Channel I watch, no matter how many times I get out of bed to peak out of the window in the middle of the night; this is going to be what it’s going to be.

Everyone’s got a storm style. There are folks who plan and prepare and take care of business. Folks who freak out and worry and worry and worry. Folks who think everyone else is crazy for even talking about the storm. Folks who get excited.

Maybe our storm styles are a reflection of how we approach the unpredictability of life.

I can’t control what Sandy will bring, so all I can do is be. I’m the calm through the storm.

So on this blustery, weird day, I’m headed to where I feel safest and happiest during a storm: in my pjs hunkered down with a dear old friend.

(Stay safe and warm everyone. xoxo)

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susie’s got her groove back

Oh, okay. I never really lost it…

But it’s officially Fall and I just like the sound of that: I’ve got my groove back. I’m getting my groove on. I’m in the groove. Grooving.

These first days of Fall are delicious. When the air starts to feel crisp and sleeping with the windows open means pulling the covers tight and snuggling in, when sandals get traded for boots and the leaves begin to change… A perfect time to reflect on what’s gone by and what is to come.

The past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. Summer vacation, a major hiatus from my computer, lots of little trips to here and there… it was the Summer of Yes!

Saying yes is easy when you don’t have a shower or a toilet for two months. Yup, that’s right. I had no shower or toilet for two months. This summer included the DIY transformation of my hideous bathroom into a sparkly, beautiful new bathroom! For this, I have my amazing Dad to thank. I said yes to his offer to help me with the renovation; he said yes to helping me and took on the project with such enthusiasm and energy, I can’t say that I did much other than cheer him on. I can say that this was truly a labor of love… it was not an easy project.

The moral of the story is that one has to be resourceful when without a shower and toilet! So YES! I was open to whatever came my way. I said yes to opportunities. I ate out. I went to the beach. I road-tripped with my mom. I picnicked. I visited the beach my family camped at when I was little. I drove to Rhode Island to spend a few hours on the beach. I chilled with my family and my oldest friend. I danced my butt off with old friends. I flew to Florida and laughed myself silly with the girls. I went wine tasting with new friends. I visited my camp GALS. I carried a bag full of necessities with me wherever I went and I said yes to any invitation that came my way… it was a wonderful summer!

And so it’s Fall. And things are changing…

It’s time to let go of the pieces of myself that no longer serve me. It’s time to prepare for the hunkering down, to take a good look at  life and see what I really need to move forward.

I learned a lot in this Summer of Yes that I will take with me into this transformative time:

  • It is the people in my life that make my life beautiful. Wherever I am. No matter what.
  • Laughing rocks. Even when crying seems more logical.
  • Being there matters. It matters to someone. It matters in ways that are immeasurable.
  • Sometimes there is nothing to say. So don’t say anything. Just hug.
  • This is your one life. So live it. Live it big.
  • Maybe the things we think we really need aren’t really the things we need.
  • Love is the best.

It’s amazing what you figure out when you don’t have a toilet.

Groove is in the heart.

sawubona: i see you

I waited 23 minutes at the dentist today.

The hygienist offered me a magazine but the pickings were slim so I opted to look out the window instead. The reclining chair left me just right with a perfect view of the slanted slate roof and a big old tree outside. In that 23 minutes I saw four different kinds of birds.

Framed by the antique window, I saw them through a different lens. A little bird with a bright yellow breast hopped along the peak in the roof. A robin with something stuck in it’s feathers fluttered and fluffed and fretted before flying away. A crow popped in with a crooked smile and was gone in an instant, surely up to something. A cardinal landed gently on a limb and stayed just long enough for me to marvel at his red feathers. Just before the dentist came in I remembered that these little magical creatures can fly!

Birds. Holy smokes. They are kind of amazing. And they’re all around us and we see them all of the time but, it’s been years since I remembered how freaking cool they are, how resilient, how resourceful, how high they can fly.

How many other amazing things in my life have just become so much a part of the day-to-day, part of the normal, part of the giant blur of all that is around me that I forget to really see them?

Just as the crow disappeared, I thought of my students at school.

I thought of my seniors, kids that I have seen every day for seven years. Kids that I have lost sleep over, kids that have struggled through things that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, kids that have risen above grief and trauma and loss and poverty and gossip and failures, kids that have it all, kids that have a little and share like they have a lot, kids that stopped being kids long before they should have had to. I thought of all they have gone through to get to this very moment.

And while these seven years with them have all blurred together, on Saturday as they received their diplomas, as they looked me in the eye on their way off the stage, as they tossed their caps in the air, I saw each of them.

I remembered how freaking cool they are, how resilient, how resourceful, how high they can fly.

crazy, stupid, mindfulness

Yesterday I had one of those days.

You know, one of those days where no matter what you do, nothing goes your way? Yup, that was my Tuesday.

I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I woke up an hour late. I rushed to work, arriving late, only to walk into a big, ugly girl-fight as I came off of the elevator. Decided that my pinched-nerve-self needed to break up the fight, which then left me all shaky and freaked out. I got my haircut and couldn’t pay because in all of my rushing, I grabbed the wrong bag and forgot my wallet.

Stupid day.

Nothing horrible. Just stupid.

A stupid day every once in a blue moon is good for me. It brings me back to the moment. It makes me remember that all of my busy, crazy, rushing, overworking, nuttiness is just that: busy and crazy and nutty. No matter how much I try to control things and put everything in its place, I’m still going to have a ridiculous day every now and then. There will always be things that just don’t go the way I want them to go.

And so?

I breathe. Deeply.

I slow down.

I call someone who will marvel at how tired I must have been to sleep through my alarm clock blaring for an hour. I call someone who will laugh at the image of me jumping into a fight and pulling some angry girls (and a 40 year old!) off of each other. I call someone who will tell me that it’s okay to take the battery out of my butt and just relax.

And then, once I’ve stopped? I see what has been in front of me all along.

This moment.

Pretty freaking amazing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”

– A. A. Milne

roots and wings

Staying put was never my thing.

There was a time when I moved every two years, at least. I itched for change. For the rush of starting something new, carving out space in an unknown corner. I traveled, I moved. I made friends, started to get settled, and than picked up and moved again. Sometimes I’d move back to my hometown for a bit and then take off again. I was in full on flying mode, wings ever at the ready; I knew I wasn’t ready to put down roots just yet.

And that made my life pretty interesting.

In 2004, I wound up on a road trip in the Kalahari Desert with a great friend, her mom, and her stepsister. Four women piled in a jeep, cruising through desolate southern Africa; it was really something. At the time, I was living in New York City, just finished grad school and had turned down counseling jobs in the Bronx and Shanghai. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back to the U.S., so my desert adventure was a perfect detour. We spent our days spotting rare birds and springboks, goemsboks, and zebra, chatting with San Bushmen. At night, we’d crouch in shelters overlooking watering holes, hoping to spot a lion, drinking tea out of thermoses, whispering and giggling in the cold.

One night, I looked up at the amazing, huge, sky and marveled at the sight of it. Clear. Limitless. Not so unlike the sky I’d seen lying on my back in the front yard at home. I knew in that moment, that whatever I ended up choosing to do, wherever I ended up choosing to go next, it would be right; I could feel it in my gut.

And so weeks later when walking down Farmington Avenue, rocking my favorite pink “Glam is Back” t-shirt, I listened to that feeling in my stomach when the opportunity to move back home presented itself. Worlds away from the Kalahari, I conjured up that clarity and though it seemed crazy to be 29 and moving from the greatest city in the world back to Hartford, I heard what my heart was telling me.

Seven and a half years later, I am so grateful that I listened.

I wound up back in little old Hartford, whose sidewalks I know as well as my own palms. Whose homes cradle the people that I love. Whose streets inspire me, challenge me, remind me. I wound up wonderfully enmeshed in the lives of family and old friends, in the families of my friends; challenged by carving out a new space for myself in the place that I knew so well but that had changed as much as I had.

I wound up working in a school where I am happy to go each day. Where I have found so much joy and reward; where I have been part of building something exceptional. I wound up being one of the lucky people on this earth who get to make a bit of a difference each day; working in a place with people who have empowered me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined that day on Farmington Avenue when my phone rang.

At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I felt like everything in my life was up in the air. I was mourning the end of a phase of my life and reveling in the beginning of another. I was scared. I was completely in flux.

Today? The flux continues.

And as it does, I go back to that quiet night under the stars; I conjure up the Kalahari clarity and remind myself that change is good; it’s not comfortable, but it is good. I give myself permission to reflect on all that for which I am grateful. I remind myself to trust the process, to trust my gut.

No matter what kind of noise is crowding my mind, my gut is always worth listening to. It has led me to some amazing people, some unlikely places and some experiences that made no sense to me until they were long over, but, my gut, it knows a thing or two.

This time, I don’t need to go to the desert to listen to myself. While my life may not be quite as exciting and interesting and story-worthy as it was back when I was rootless, footloose and fancy free, the flux feels powerful and exciting instead of scary.

And while I haven’t put away my wings entirely, my roots are here, at home; deep and strong and full of hope.

the 40 year-old PICOUP

My brother turns 40 today.

They say 40 is the new 30. They must know my brother.

He is vibrant and funny and full of incredible ideas and always making something neat happen. He is full of energy and passion and magic and music and stories. His spirit is limitless. He is magnetic. Babies love him. Nuns adore him. Even middle school kids who hate everyone can’t help but love my brother; he’s got a pocketful of stupid-human tricks that throw them instantly into idol-worship mode. (I just felt like Rob Bass: I mean even the ones who never saw him like…)

Since we were little kids and he could stand on his head and wiggle his ears first, I’ve been in complete and total awe of him. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments when my awe was coupled with, “oh my god! get away from me!” There have been plenty of those over the years. The time he tried to vacuum me comes to mind. I mean, literally, he vacuumed me. That’s all fun and games until the nozzle comes towards your hair.

All brother/sister torture aside, being the younger sister is kind of a cool perch.

I’ve been witness to my brother’s journey from a seat of looking up to and learning. He did almost everything first. He tested the waters. In many cases, he didn’t just stick a toe in, he cannonballed right into the deep end. In some cases, he dove headfirst into the shallow end.

No matter what he was doing or where he was, through the darkness and back into the light, my brother has always been an incredibly influential force in my life. I can count on him. Deluxe. And even though we’re older and I’m taller than him, I still love when he calls me his little sister.

My brother’s road has been windy. And bumpy. But as he turns the corner into 40, his road is smooth, new pavement with all sorts of great scenery. He’s kicking some serious world-butt. He has a beautiful family. He’s written a book! He has carved out an incredible career and he has a diverse group of interesting friends who, just like me, are in awe of how funny and cool and smart and ridiculously creative he is.

Today I see him more clearly than I ever could when we were younger.

Today I see a guy who loves so deeply and with so much of himself. I see a guy whose mind is racing, whose ideas are powerful, whose potential is limitless. Today I see a guy who can find something magical in everyone; a guy who seeks that connection, to draw that out in each person he meets.

My brother’s mentor and friend, Mike Gessford passed away unexpectedly last year, just before his 50th birthday. Mike had a sign above his desk that read, “PICOUP: Person In Charge of Unlocking Potential.” Mike was that. And, my brother Justin, he is that: a person who makes it his mission to help others find the magic inside of themselves.

Happy Birthday, Bo. Thank you for being the ultimate PICOUP to me…

UBUNTU and I love you.

 

sweet judy

Today my friend Judy died.

She was a giver. A first-order, drop-everything, be there with a smile on her face, lend a hand, giver.

Judy was full of laughter. She was kind. She was funny. She was feisty. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She spent her days at work helping people out and her time out of work helping people out. And it was never a strain; this was just who she was, a giver.

This completely unfair life left Judy with a brain tumor just weeks after she retired; she spent the remainder of her retirement fighting for her life until today when she passed on while surrounded by her beloved husband, children and others in their family.

When I think of Judy, she’s making a cheeky comment and cracking up. She’s finding the good in the most ordinary of moments.

So life isn’t fair. But it sure is full of amazing people.

I want to make sure that I make the most of every ordinary moment I have with the amazing people in my life.

Sometimes that’s doing something incredible together. Sometimes it’s a quick phone call or a check-in email. Sometimes it’s a full-on snugglefest complete with Thai food or movies or TV reruns of cop shows. Sometimes it’s a yoga date or a group at dinner or just sitting together in silence. Sometimes it’s boisterous laughter or planning a trip or taking a long walk at the reservoir. Sometimes it’s hijacking someone from their regular routine for a glass of wine on the couch while ignoring the kids or driving to Ikea or sitting together knitting. Sometimes it’s doing a whole lot of nothing but being happy with the people that I love.

Our time here is precious and it is not promised to us.

Life is better when you give. It’s better when you laugh. It’s better when you live it up and when you surround yourself with amazing people.

And most of all, life is better when you love with your whole heart.

Rock on, Judy. xoxo

bring on the hamster bubble!

I want one of those hamster bubbles.

You know the kind you can stick a hamster in and then watch it run around furiously on it’s little tiny legs while the bubble rolls around the room?

I want one. (Except mine is invisible and I’m not trapped in it and everyone around me isn’t laughing at how ridiculous I look.)

I want an invisible forcefield between me and all of the negative energy swirling around out there in the universe.

Not germs, I can handle germs, but some shield between me and those folks that just can’t seem to find the good in anything. My hamster bubble would only be penetrated by good energy. All of that other stuff…the nastiness, the disappointments, the dissatisfaction that everyone is dealing with and projecting out on to others…none of that can get in. I will just roll around all day in positive-bubble-wonderland.

I get that sometimes people need to whine and complain and just generally kvetch about this and that to get things off their chests. I’m a counselor, after all, it’s my job to help people work through those moments.  The world is crazy right now. Everywhere we turn there is tragedy, poverty, conflict, oppression.  The weather is all sorts of strange and the economy is terrible; everyone is completely stressed out in all sorts of ways.  Negativity is floating all around us, engulfing us; on the news, at work, on the road, in the world.

In this stressed-out, crazy world, it’s hard to find refuge from all of the rough-stuff and we end up taking it out on each other. We forget to say hello. We neglect to say thank you. We vent ad nauseum. We get caught up in all of the ugly stuff because sometimes it’s easier to see than the good.

I’m not throwing stones; while my glass is generally half-full, I have plenty of those nasty moments myself.

I get snarky and tired and hungry and hurt and disappointed and I take that out on other people. I hint that I need someone to give me the sympathetic face while I moan about my aching back or  beg for someone to snuggle me quickly to remind me that things will look up soon. I vent and bitch and moan and need someone to give me advice on how to solve a problem that’s nagging at me. I often need a friend to give me a fierce “snap out of it!” when I’m really on a whiney bender.

We all have our moments when we’re stuck in the rut, even those of us positive, optimistic, lemonade-out-of-lemons folks that rock the rose-colored glasses.  Life isn’t perfect and pretending that it is would be painful. I thank my lucky stars ten times a day for my family and friends and confidantes who indulge me with their time and their sympathy and their words of wisdom when I’m in the rut.

But at the end of the day, even when it’s been a really bad day, life is just easier when we can find the good in it.

And though it’s not perfect, in fact, it’s often incredibly hard, overall, life is pretty amazing. And if I allow myself to be consumed by all that is wrong, when I focus my energy on all that isn’t working, I fail to see all that is working, all that is good, all that I CAN do.

The positive energy can get sucked out of a space in the blink of an eye.

I can do that. I can suck the life out of a room when I’m in a bad mood.

We all can.

And, holy smokes, that’s a lot of power.

When I stop and think about the amount of people I interact with on a daily basis and remember that everyone I’m connecting with is getting some of my energy, for better or worse; that’s a lot of responsibility. And since the giant hamster bubble is probably not going to happen, I have to take care of my energy all on my own. I owe it to myself. I owe it to everyone that I interact with.

After all, in this crazy world, there are no invisible forcefields.

All we’ve really got is each other.  How cool is that?!

release of the resolutions

I rang in 2012 with my family.

There was no wild party, no hats or noisemakers. There was a dance party, but it ended at 8:00 when the 6-year old and 4-year old went to bed. My night was mellow and just what I needed, my brother and his wife, my niece and myself snuggled up in blankets hanging out.

And, we played a silly game.

We ditched the game-board and went low-maintenance; I read cards full of seemingly random collections of words for everyone else to decipher, kind of like that short-lived game show, Bumper Stumpers where people decoded vanity license plates for loads of cash. We got super hung up on Run Hazel Wig Here.  My brother, Justin, must have said those words 3,000 times, emphasizing different syllables, using different accents, different intonations, different paces until finally we solved the puzzle, tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard.

Over and over in my head I could hear my brother’s voice saying those ridiculous words and then the word RESOLUTION popped into my head (it was New Year’s Eve after all).  I could hear it all slow-mo-style like when we used to click records down to the 16 setting on Dad’s record player.   My 6-year old niece had just proclaimed that she had three resolutions and I thought, whoah, if she’s got three and she’s only six… I should have 18.5 resolutions going into 2012. The pressure was on.

The truth is I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions.

Not just because it feels cliche to all of a sudden determine that I will lose weight, stop eating out, floss daily, vacuum more, not wait until my laundry bin has exploded in my closet to actually do the wash, work less, relax more, pay off my credit card, swear less or quit drinking coffee just because the calendar is turning from 12/31 to 1/1.

Resolutions make me feel like I’m ending the year focusing on something about myself that just isn’t good enough. Ugh, what a way to break up a good party snugglefest: deliberating over problems. These resolutions I’d been making seemed to be just that: REsolutions…attempt after attempt after attempt to fix what was wrong with me.  What a rotten way to start a new year.

Enough of that craziness!  Resolutions are soooo 2011!

Last January a group of amazing people gathered in my home for a pot-luck dinner. I have the great fortune to have found a small extended family in a group of former students and we gather, along with a teacher/friend, each year over Winter break and Summer break to share time with each other. Last year we took a quiet moment in each other’s company to set an intention for ourselves for the upcoming year; something that we wanted to hope into our lives or into the lives of someone else. Some of us shared with the group, some of us kept our hopes in our own hearts.

My intention was two simple words: grounded growth.

In that moment, I was setting an intention to grow, to expand, to reach out from a place of strength and stability. It had nothing to do with starting a blog. In fact, it wasn’t until that slow-motion resolution word kept echoing in my ears, that moment when I resolved to let go of resolutions and focus, instead, on being at peace with myself and all of my imperfections, that I remembered that scrap of paper.

I wrote those words in a room full of friends. In a safe space amongst people with whom I feel beloved for sharing my quirky-random-imperfect self.  I had no idea that those words would lead me to start this little adventure of writing and sharing and connecting! I ended 2011 feeling like I had accomplished something that I hadn’t even realized I had set out to do; full of hope and excitement and a feeling that I am enough just as I am.

It’s 2012. This year feels special.

It’s the year that many of the students from the group I mentioned before will graduate from college. I cannot begin to express how proud I am to bear witness to their growth. It is the year that my current group of kids at school will graduate from high school; I’m not quite sure what I will do without them when they move on! It is the year of my 20th high school reunion.

2012 is the year of all sorts of beginnings and endings and milestones and changes and wonderful moments and adventures and little fabulous gifts that have yet to reveal themselves.

This year starts not with problem-focused craziness, but with a quiet thought on all that I would like to bring more of into my life.

It’s going to be good. I can feel it.

caught in my tin can

I got caught singing in my car today.

I was in full-on concert mode; not pretending to be Adele, but pretending that her song was my song and I was on stage fully bringing it to my adoring audience.  The crowd was vast, waving their iphones with the candle-app; I think I was even doing the closed-eye thing singers do when they are really feeling the groove.

Just as I hit the chorus, I got completely snagged. I was doing a little hand motion thing, fist clenched with passionate intensity, when I felt eyes on me. Not the eyes of my adoring imaginary audience, but real eyes from the car speeding up next to mine. My heart beat out of my chest.  I had that horribly mortified feeling like I just stepped out of the shower and dropped my towel accidentally in front of a crowd.

As I was cruising along in my little tin can on the highway, I forgot, in that private moment, that I was, in fact, out in public.

We all do things we wouldn’t do if we knew someone else was watching. We all do things in front of some people that we might not do in front of others. In so many instances, we put away pieces of ourselves for others. We have our “at home” self and our “in public” self.  We are careful about what we say. We rein ourselves in. As we were taught as kids, we demonstrate self-control.  We diligently protect ourselves. We carefully protect others from ourselves.

I don’t mean to imply that not putting oneself completely out there is bad. The world would be pretty nuts if we all just said and did exactly what we were thinking all of the time; I mean, there’s something to be said for a little bit of decorum!  But as we tuck pieces of ourselves away, out of fear or shame or insecurity, we risk losing what is most wonderful about each of us.

So where is the line? When does putting away who we are when no one is looking to be who we are in front of others become a compromise of our own integrity? How far do we let the fear of not being accepted take us?

Teenagers are in the thick of this. I see it every day as I witness their wade through the deep waters of figuring themselves out.  While they are rolling in the deep, the older I get the more I feel like I just take the occasional plunge. I thought for sure I would wake up one magical day and not care one bit what anyone else thought of me.  Do I dare admit that I sometimes care? And if I admit that I care, do I somehow compromise my own character?

With each day I grow more comfortable with the fact that I do care, that I do censor myself to a degree.  Each day I grow more at ease with admitting that rather than trying to hide yet another piece of myself by pretending that I don’t.  For me, that’s as authentic as I can be right now.

There are people in this crazy world with whom I don’t have to put any pieces of myself away.  With each day, I realize the incredible value of spending my time with those people.

And so there I was, wanting to just speed away from whoever was in the next lane over without ever looking at them.  Just as I was about to accelerate away from the embarrassing confrontation, something in the air made me duct-tape the mouth of my innerjudge.  I faced my fear, and there in the next lane, in the car with all of the eyes, was my dear friend B with her husband and their three kids; all of whom I love.  They were all frantically waving and laughing and giddy at seeing me in concert.

I laughed and waved back, still singing.

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