Tag Archives: inspiration

Why The World Needs Heroes

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In the aftermath of a tragic moment, a hero can be born.

Heroes propel themselves from the ordinary to the extraordinary not in what they choose to do under ideal circumstances, but by what they can’t stomach avoiding in moments of immeasurable stress.

We need heroes when our world is shifted off its axis because they’re willing to pick up the pieces, no matter how crushed, damaged, or broken, and put them back together.

Heroes move while the rest of us sit mute in stunned silence. They do what others can only manage to watch. Heroes don’t have time to take pictures because they’re already working from inside the frame.

We need heroes because there is exponential strength in numbers.

If only for a moment, heroes ignore their ids and embrace their super-egos. They reject selfish and replace it with selfless. They sprint from the spotlight toward the trenches. They don’t think. They act.

We need heroes because they remind us that we’re all part of a tapestry much more rich and meaningful than the narrative of our individual lives.

Heroes don’t just rise to the occasion. They rewrite the rules.

We need heroes to inspire us. Generosity is contagious and grows without boundaries under the right conditions.

Heroes prove, by their humanitarian feats of kindness in the face of uncertainty, destruction, and death, that when the scale is tipped between good and evil, good always prevails.

We need heroes because they choose love over hate.

Heroes stand up for those who have fallen.

We need heroes because they are the living definition of patriotism and are the antidote to cowardice.

Heroes run to the places everyone else is trying to escape.

We need heroes because they make us believe in silver linings.

Heroes aren’t comic book characters pre-determined to walk the earth as Gods. They’re humans with flaws and frustrations. But in that moment when they choose to be something more? They engage. They are selfless. They serve. They overcome.

The world needs heroes because they remind us, in moments of bewilderment, confusion, and pain, that maybe, if confronted with an unexpected test of compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters, we could be heroes too.

If you would like to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, please contact the American Red Cross or The Salvation Army. Both organizations are providing much-needed support to survivors and first responders.

Learning to Love Chaos (or) Yes, I Adopted A Dog

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“In a world that constantly throws big, unexpected events our way, we must learn to benefit from disorder.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This quote is from “Learning to Love Volatility,” a fascinating Wall Street Journal article I read last month. The basic premise of the piece is that huge, unanticipated events, like stock market crashes, wars, and Al Gore’s invention of the World Wide Web teach us to subconsciously learn and advance through placement in an unexpected position of volatility, variability, and tension. Think “Survivor” without that huge stash of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff hidden in a hollowed-out tree or the anniversary sale at Nordstrom after the bank’s just put a $300 limit on your credit card.

Major stress.

This is an incredibly candid picture that my eight year-old freak of nature, canine fanatic took when we first brought our dog home, and the beer can is not a prop.

This is an alarmingly candid, non-ego driven, somewhat blurry picture that my eight year-old freak of nature, canine fanatic took when we first brought our dog home. The beer can is not a prop.

Building on Taleb’s “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or at least less of a loser” philosophy, I recently entered, via free will and completely by choice, the fragile, deep, dark forest of the unknown.

I adopted a dog.

For anyone reading this who happens to be an animal lover, rabbit hoarder, or somehow ended up owning forty-three gerbils, please stop. You won’t understand me or my people. We’re of the Rent-A-Pet variety, not the hearty portion of the populace whose sole mission in life is to rescue stray lorikeets (or steal them from the zoo). We Rent-A-Petters offer to babysit your awesome, perfectly trained dog for the weekend simply because we know we can give him back. We do this not to help you, but to help ourselves by placating our eight-year-old canine fanatic offspring until the next Apple product rolls off an assembly line in China.

This is not my house.

Rent-A-Pet people don’t have time to bring a real canis lupus familiaris into our lives because we’re too consumed with alphabetizing our spice racks and color-coding the origami paper in our craft closets. We are busy, buried three feet deep in the nuance of separating paper clips from rubber bands in the junk drawer so that when we’re in search of our handheld hole punch to string together a quick homemade anniversary card for our parents? We know exactly where to find it. We are orderly, organized, and uncluttered. We are a band of cleaners, our solidarity purpose sealed by a true commitment to shoe bin organization, and our group doesn’t include anything that sticks to us like hairy glue.

This is my alphabatized Lazy Susan full of spices, made all the more efficient because I never use it.

This is my alphabatized Lazy Susan full of spices, made all the more efficient because I never use it.

Until, that is, as Taleb explains, life is upended, chaos ensues, and everything we know to be true in the depths of our solid core stone hearts is called into question.

After several fly by field trips to the local animal shelter with my eight year-old canine fanatic offspring where I was in and out in less than an hour, promising my daughter that she could do anything she wanted with these cute, friendly stray dogs except bring one home, I got a little tripped up. We spent time with one I actually liked, and not in the pet-and-flip, smile-and-wave (goodbye) manner I’d handled every other four-legged creature that had come my way in the past.

Ummmm, that’s not cute.

This one was different, so unique and personally appealing that I put him on hold (yes, there’s a layaway plan for adoptive pets), went home to get my other two freak-of-nature canine fanatic offspring to meet him, and pulled my husband off the river on a fly fishing trip in New York to discuss something I swore I’d never consider: inviting a living, breathing, hair-coat creating canine into our house to stay.

Within the first few hours of bringing our new family member home, I realized that shelters kind of lie, but in a nice way. When they say the dog you’re adopting is “kennel trained, leash trained and potty trained,” what they really mean is “hates his kennel, will pull your arm off if, while on a walk, he sees one of the 1,000,000 mangy jackrabbits that cross the street on a daily basis, and will immediately take a dump on your favorite rug when he enters his new house for the first time.” I think it’s just a matter of semantics or messed up hand signals, but still. I thought I was getting a Rent-A-Pet.

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This is what happened when I tried to run with my dog who isn’t really leash trained after he saw, and subsequently cut in front of me to chase, one of the 1,000,000 mangy jackrabbits that cross the street on a daily basis.

Right when I least expected it, life threw me a curveball, putting me in an unanticipated and uncomfortable position that has actually (I think) precipitated growth. On our shelter visits, my plan was to someday (as in probably never) adopt a non-shedding, small dog in the summer. Instead I ended up with a shedding, seventy pound, greyhound/lab/pointer mix who is both smarter and faster than me. And it’s the start of ski season.

It turns out that Nassim Taleb was right after all, and anything that doesn’t kill you actually can make you stronger, or kinder, or better, or less inclined to worry about personal hygiene, or something like that.

That’s me, selling my soul for some obedience training. Just ignore all the hair growing from my hand. I can no longer afford my monthly dermaplane appointments.

I once thought that people who swore their dogs chose them were suckers. But I love mine, he absolutely chose me, and by that definition, I’m a full-on sucker too. He’s been with our family for a month now, and although in some ways life is harder, in many others it’s better; slower, messier, and full.

Sometimes, early in the morning and long before the sun comes up, when I can’t sleep and the entire world seems dark and still, I take him for a walk. Just me and my dog. With a patchwork quilt of snow on the ground and a tiny flashlight to guide our way, he matches my pace as we move through the night in silent step, tuned to one another and all of the elements that would scare me if I were out on my own. Yesterday, I saw a shooting star (or a rapidly disintegrating plane engine, I’m not sure which). Imagine witnessing an unexpected meteoroid rip through atmosphere as it burns a path through the clear, pre-dawn sky, with the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, you’re the only one lucky enough to watch its fall. That would never have happened in my previous life as a Rent-A-Pet person. It was pretty amazing to see.

Wrigley.

Wrigley and my  canine fanatic offspring.

A big shout-out to Calahan, who was kind enough to ask where I’ve been for the last month. The answer? Walking my dog.

For someone who never really cared for man’s best friend before adopting one, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about him.

If you want to see where my whole dog journey started, read this: Have You Seen Goldie?

If you want to see how far I’ve come, read this: My New Dog Hates Me.

If you want to cry, read this: My New Dog Is Gone

If you want to see what I do with stuffed animals when I’m bored, read this: Have You Seen Goldie? Part II

If you want to read something that might actually be of benefit to you in life, here’s the Wall Street Journal article I quoted above: Learning to Love Volatility.

Why I Run

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I run to be alone and I run to return to the world a better person.

I run to ground myself and I run to be free.

I run to practice what I preach to my kids because they have too many things to fight for fitness.

I run to see the world from a different point of view.

I run for inspiration.

Oscar Pistorius inspires me. Image via telegraph.co.uk

I run to keep it together and I run when I’m falling apart.

I run to maintain a resting heart rate of 56. Heart disease is prevalent on both sides of my family.

I run to focus and I run dream.

I run to do something with my friends besides drinking cocktails. OK, that’s not true. I run to do something healthy with my friends before we drink cocktails.

A Moscow Mule tastes a lot better after a 10K. Image via Stacie Chadwick

I run to stay sane on days when I feel anything but.

I run to create.

I run to release my demons and I run to capture my spirit.

I run to remind myself to focus on the moment.

Beach art. Image via Scot Chadwick.

I run to find my space and I run to be a small part of something much bigger than me.

I run because sometimes my legs tell me not to and I don’t like being told what to do.

I run to strengthen my body and I run to relax my mind.

I run to eat sea salt caramel pretzel ice cream.

I run to get away and I run to come home again.

Running on the beach in flip flops with one kid on your back, one kid crying, and one kid about to throw sand in the face of the crying kid can still be fun. Sort of. Image via Stacie Chadwick.

And when the morning is still, the kids are asleep, and the sun is just beginning its climb toward the sky? I run because it makes me happy.

Colorado is Burning

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I’ve always been a big non-believer in luck, at least the kind that bleeds bank accounts dry because it’s tied to an arbitrary sequence of numbers that careen down a treacherous path to nowhere. The definition of luck I subscribe to isn’t random. It can’t be bought or sold. It’s more of that mathematical equation based on the concept of preparation plus opportunity yielding positive results…a fortunate position that’s actually earned through hard work, dedication, and skill.

With devastating fires consuming large chunks of my state, I’ve thought a lot about luck lately, and how my perception of its significance is changing as quickly as the landscape morphs outside, both products of a caustic natural catastrophe fueled by a flame that flickers and fades only to catch the wind and ignite under a hazy cloak of dark sky.

Image via notmytribe.com

Colorado is one of those rare places that captures the attention of anyone with vision. If you’re fortunate enough to get here, you never want to leave, because the perspective inspires artists and poets, athletes and day-trippers, and you and me to harness a small piece of the beauty surrounding us and do more. Become better. Grow stronger. Rise to the occasion of a 360-degree view.

But Colorado is burning, and I want to know why.

Image via canoncitydailyrecord.com

Someone who’s deeply religious might say that the fires are simply God’s Will. I’m not that person, because many of the things I want to see stretch beyond the grasp of my mind’s reach and are firmly rooted in the beauty of the landscape that is now being destroyed. Any higher power I might believe in doesn’t cherry pick victims.

Image via foxnews.com

A scientist could point to Global Warming, one of the probable causes of the lingering beetle infestation that’s killed so many of our trees and created forests full of kindling. While that’s arguably a factor, trees don’t spontaneously combust.

Image via handcraftedsites.com

An ecologist may speculate that the fires are simply a means of deforestation, and thus, a necessary part of life’s natural cycle, but this point of view doesn’t take into account the loss of hundreds of homes and displacement of tens of thousands of evacuees who sit in a daze on second-hand sleeping bags with the pins and needles of loss stinging their spines.

Image via tampabay.com

As I watch the smoke plume into the sky, surrounding and swallowing the mountain views I’ve always taken for granted, there’s one thing that’s clear. Short of the sickening thought of an arsonist lighting a match and letting it fly, there isn’t a single spot to place blame. These fires belong to everyone and no one, because as much as any other factor, they are the result of luck. Horrible, catastrophic, painful, defective, damaged luck.

Image via bloomberg.com

Colorado is burning, and similar to the view out my window, the way I see the role that luck plays in life is different today than it was last week. There’s the luck tied to opportunity…a cooler day, a subtle shift in the wind patterns, or a sudden storm over the foothills that sneaks up unannounced. We need that.

Image via forbes.com

Then there’s the luck associated with preparation that will impact the trajectory of this fire…the complex matrix of organizers, first responders to the scene, and thousands of volunteers working 24/7 to help those in need. Without them, this fire would be a raging incumbent, unchallenged and out of control.

Image via coloradodaily.com

Finally, there’s the luck I didn’t quite believe in before this catastrophe…call it serendipity, kismet, karma, or a fluke. It’s that point in time when everything right or something deeply wrong happens for no apparent reason, and life simply looks up. Or down.

My state has been on the wrong side of luck for too many days in a row now, and we’re all trying to do whatever we can to force change. Thanks to the generous residents of this amazing place I’m fortunate enough to call home, a group of us will take a truckload of supplies down to Colorado Springs today in an attempt to help those who are fighting future loss, and others mourning the things that are gone.

Image via 2amazonaws.com

But in an attempt to somehow brush up against that serendipity, kismet, karma, or fluke from above, I’m also crossing my fingers, doing a rain dance, and wishing on a star with the hope that the skies will clear, the fires will retreat, tomorrow will be better, and the kind of luck we need so badly will come back around to the right side.

If you would like to contribute to the fire relief efforts, place considering making a donation to the American Red Cross http://www.coloradoredcross.org.

How Do You Move Forward When You’re Grinding All Your Gears?

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As humans, we’re constantly in motion. But motion and movement are two very different things. Just because you’re in motion doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going anywhere.

Trust me on this, I know.

If I could catch a ride with Richard Branson on his uber-expensive Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, I’d easily be able to assess the difference between the two. But first I’d hit him up for drink. Specifically? A glass of 1907 Heidsieck. At $275,000 a bottle, it would help defray my ticket price while momentarily absolving me of the guilt associated with blowing the kids’ college tuition just to prove a point. BOGO at its highest and best use.

Space cowboy Richard Branson. Image via cognitivelibertyuk.wordpress.com

Space cowboy Richard Branson. Image via cognitivelibertyuk.wordpress.com

The second thing I’d do is settle in to check out the real estate, because isn’t leveraging my children’s future to see the world from a different point of view all about perspective? I imagine myself staring out the window at an earth below that looks less and less like the picture we all try to paint on a daily basis. Not so much a three-dimensional place anymore, but from way up above? A ginormous chessboard marked with clearly defined grids, gateways, and boundaries, as tiny balls of energy collide, advance, deflect, promote, dodge, gather, seek and recede in an endless effort to check the king.

Image via portwallpaper.com

Image via portwallpaper.com

Fascinated with the sparkly surface patterns of intricate motion that everyone on earth longs to be, and all happy-tingly-woozy from my six-figure, speed of sound buzz, I’d almost miss what I didn’t know I flew so high to see. Something small and seemingly insignificant situated inside the massive advance of energy that everyone else on board paid a lifetime of 401K savings to witness.

I’m talking about inert matter. Those pinpricks of light that mimic motion, but whose movement is an optical illusion: running in circles, dancing in place, and bumping up against imaginary walls. As everyone else on board focuses on the obvious, I’d be able to drill down a little deeper. But only because I’ve been there. Stuck. In motion, but not really going anywhere.

Image via trojantimes.org

Image via trojantimes.org

Looking back at my adult life, it’s easy to categorize it into a series of phases.

Phase 1/1980s: The Sussana Hoffs era of Big Hair and Big Dreams.

Big hair is hot. Image via houston.culturemap.com

Big hair is hot. Image via houston.culturemap.com

Phase 2/1990s: The Yves Saint Laurent era of Big Black Suit and Big Career.

Don't look at my body. Look at my soul. Image via www.girlsguidetoparis.com

Don’t look at my body. Look at my soul. Image via http://www.girlsguidetoparis.com

Phase 3/2000s: The Barbara Billingsley era of Big Belly and Big Bills.

That’s not me. OK it is. On the verge of birthing an alien.

I’ve always considered myself fairly stealth, able to move seamlessly in and out of various roles at-will to the beat of a metronome perfectly synchronized to my tune. But about three years ago, on the cusp of my 40th birthday, everything changed. For someone who’s always been confident enough to chart her own course, I suddenly found myself drifting. I was lost and knee-deep in the weeds without a compass, while a storm of my own design grew larger than it appeared in my peripheral view.

Somewhere between my career and the kids, buried in a pile of laundry or possibly lurking inside a box in the basement that I hadn’t opened for years, I lost my perspective and appreciation for the life I’d so carefully built. I don’t know how it happened, but it felt like I simply woke up one day yearning to be anywhere and anyone but who I was. Confused, I couldn’t seem to recognize the woman looking back at me in the mirror when I washed my face every night.

No matter how enlightened I become, I will always hate matching socks.

It’s easy to get lost in a pile of socks.

I was that person who, although constantly in motion, wasn’t actually moving. Busy with my responsibilities as a parent and a wife, I had somehow forgotten about the inner workings that support the common denominator between the two, and then the kids went off to school, and could tie their own shoes, and make sound decisions without being told how, and I realized that I had unintentionally parked myself on an island and hadn’t taken the time to learn to swim. Even in the middle of paradise, isolation is lonely, and days on end of the most beautiful sunset somehow lose their color. Things that shine on the surface, like the tiny balls of energy you might see from outer space, sometimes look entirely different from the inside out.

Telluride, CO August 2011

When you’re stuck, you’re forced to stop. You don’t have a choice. And then when you’re ready to move forward, you have to look around and figure out where you want to go next rather than simply allowing the tide to sweep you along. That initial inertia and subsequent plotting of a new path has great value, even though in the moment it feels miserable, like treading water in quicksand.

One of the side effects of getting lost is the unexpected places you get to visit on your way to a new destination. Like for me? Writing. This blog is a direct result of a yearlong, step-by-step, rocky hike on a circuitous path. And I’m still going. I’m a constant work in progress, but I’m now comfortable with my ever-changing state of being because I’m doing the work to figure out where I want to end up. Plus I reserve the right to change my mind, which is a great back-up plan when all else fails.

I believe that in life, we all get stuck at some point. Whether it’s due to things like divorce, disease, death, or distraction, almost everyone loses their way. Sometimes we have to move backwards to go forward, or hit a bottom so hard that the force of impact acts like a catapult up to the top, but the a-ha realization at the end, when lessons are learned and intersecting lines actually connect, is priceless. It isn’t easy, but almost everything worth accomplishing in life is born from some type of hardship or loss. So what about you? Are you simply in motion or are you actually moving? It’s a question worth asking, even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear.

Taking the road less traveled and finding my way.

Coming of Age in a Jeep Wagoneer

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During a Christmas break sophomore year in college so lame it seared a slow burn straight through the shelf, my mother released me from the death-grip of boredom and into the open arms of memories being made. The call to adventure went something like this:

Susie, college friend from not-so-sunny Cleveland: “Hey Stacie, wanna go to Florida?

Me, stuck in sucky Louisville: “Totally. When?”

Susie: “Tomorrow. We’ll pick you up at 9:00 a.m.”

Me: “Awesome!”

I had no idea who Susie was with, where we were headed, or how long we’d be gone. And I didn’t care. All I knew was that Florida, surrounded on three sides by the ocean, was a hell of a lot warmer than Kentucky, and there was a hot pink, strapless bikini with the tags still attached suffocating under a pile of long underwear in my drawer.

Susie and Rob picking me up in Kentucky where everything was...cold.

The only barrier between the freedom I’d come to take for granted while away at college and the freedom I desperately missed from…being away at college?

My Mom.

In high school, I didn’t call her Big Bad Brenda because she was particularly mean. She earned this nickname because she appeared, in 3-D technicolor megapixels, right in the middle of every lie, plan to lie, or daydream of lying that crossed my mind.

Here’s a parenting tip for anyone lucky enough to have spawned a teenage daughter. When she tells you she’s going to the youth group lock-in at church but is really planning to sneak over to Jenny Clark’s house because her parents are out of town? Don’t believe her. In fact, follow her not-so-subtle scent straight to Long Run Park, post-football game, where she’s hanging out on the hood of Will Anson’s red Camaro with the sole purpose of getting a ride to school on Monday because the bus is for losers.

Watch where you walk. The air is so thick with humidity, heat, and hormones that you can hardly elbow your way through the haze. But please. Persevere. Move to the dead center of the crowd and pull out a bullhorn. That’s right. A bullhorn. Something to amplify your voice above the fully synchronized, eight-speaker, subwoofered surround sound stereos blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd, because by now your daughter has been alerted to your arrival, and she is hauling it toward the woods in her Dr. Scholls. Which is fun to watch if you happen to see her stop, drop, and roll into the dense underbrush for cover. Put the bullhorn to your lips, and with the best mom stare you can pull out from under your sensible shoes, scream the following,

“If anyone has seen Stacie Whitten tonight, please tell her that her mother is looking for her.”

And then leave.

The utter humiliation your daughter will feel as she frog-hops fallen trees in an attempt to escape her now not-so-cool life is more effective than any corporal punishment you could inflict.

I know. I was there.

With that small incident (and it wasn’t the only one), burned into the folds of my impressionable brain, I couldn’t quite figure out why Mom said yes when I casually asked the next morning, after getting up early to clean the house, fry her some bologna for breakfast, and hum Kumbaya under my breath whenever she passed by, if I could go to the beach with my friend. But she did, so before her pre-caffeinated mind had the chance to catch up with her mouth, I was out the door, and into this:

Image via my cool friend Matt, who posted this on Facebook.

There is nothing that screams road trip like the faux wood-paneled siding of a Jeep Wagoneer, so as Susie, her big brother Rob, and his friend waved to Mom from the curb, I slid into the plush, pleather middle row, took in the Waxman-like scent with a deep breath, and settled in for the ride.

Still pasty, but happy.

Still pasty, but happy.

These are the things I remember about that trip:

  1. Rob drives really fast, but in a safe kind of way.
  2. Rob has a lot of spendy friends. We couch-hopped for over a week in some of the most expensive real estate on the planet.
  3. Drinks taste better by the ocean.
  4. Susie doesn’t just sing karaoke. She sings karaoke to win.
  5. Susie’s favorite thing to win, while singing karaoke, is free drinks.
  6. Free drinks also taste better by the ocean.
  7. If you’re not by the ocean, it’s perfectly acceptable to down your free drinks while playing pool.
  8. I look older in Florida than I do in Kentucky, which is a bonus when you’re 19.
  9. If Susie just won another karaoke contest and everyone’s downing free drinks by a pool table instead of the ocean? It’s fun to share them with some random dude named Enis who looks like he could use a free drink.
  10. Getting a free ride, free drinks, a free place to stay, and a free tan in December is awesome.
Me, Susie, and Enis.

Me, Susie, and Enis.

For me, there was a time when “road trip” simply meant getting in my car and going…with a Big Gulp, mix tape, and limitless possibility staring back at me through the rearview mirror. But now I map directions and time my ride, living a life so synchronized to the tune of obligation that an open lane has become nothing more than a means to an end.

When did taking the road less traveled morph into plotting the easiest path?

I was thinking about this as I touched down in Atlanta last week and made my way to the rental car counter to pick up the Ford Focus I planned to drive to my Dad’s farm. But the rental agent, who is now officially my new best friend, gave me the keys to a brand new, black-on-black BMW 528i instead. I am not lying. Go ask my mom.

As I slid into my practically self-propelled, fully loaded, freaking awesome ride with a Big Gulp and my mix tape (O.K., iPod), I realized that if life is really all about the journey? It looks a lot sweeter from behind the wheel of a $60,000 car.

I can't drive 55 in a brand new BMW 528i

I can't drive 55 in a brand new BMW 528i

My New Dog is Gone

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When I started this blog a few months ago, my intent was simply to build an audience to support the book I’m writing, so an agent could cyber-stalk me and see that people were interested in what I had to say. Or so I hoped. But as I began to post, a beautiful yet unanticipated outcome emerged…the opportunity to not only give you prose to read, but words to feel. I hadn’t expected that.

When someone tells me my work made them laugh, or cry, or change their mind, or think differently about life than they had before, or feel like they’re not alone, it’s a gift that defies value. It’s incomparable, and for me, a much more important result than my original purpose. Whatever feelings I’m able to generate are doubled, squared, and amplified when they come back. Hearing your thoughts and opinions satisfies my soul in a way I’ve never felt before, and I appreciate it. Every day. So thank you for giving me something so rare. It’s incredible to be surprised by life when you’re halfway through the journey.

People create blogs about everything on the spectrum of anything: cooking, sports, disease, motherhood, death, demons, and gods. I write about my life, and if I had to pick a word to tightly wrap the layers of emotion I’m trying to bind together and deliver, it would be a simple one. Real. Whether I aim to be funny one day or serious the next (remember, I’m a Gemini, and was gifted the right to change my mind by Zeus himself, or the rhythm method, or two x chromosomes, or all of the above), I want to be real, because life is as much about pain as pleasure, and to ignore one in pursuit of the other doesn’t work.

When my husband’s grandfather, Jim, died in February, the only world I knew the day before shifted. Not off its axis and out of control, but a critical element in the chain of my life disappeared. Just like that. Most of us swim with a fairly predictable current every day. We ebb and flow with the tide, catch our breath in shallow water, and brace ourselves when the temperature changes, and colors darken and deepen. But when you’re floating along and suddenly slammed against a rock hidden by a breaking surf? There’s no anticipation, and you’re forced into a position of picking up whatever’s left in the aftermath.

The only thing left alive in the wake of Jim’s death was his dog Brandy. We took her in, largely because we felt an obligation to do what we considered to be the right thing out of respect for someone we loved, partially because I’m an eternal optimist, or so I thought at the time, and lastly, because nobody else volunteered.

I’m a fixer by nature. I believe that if I try hard enough, feel strongly enough, and force my will and resolve, I can change the world, or more specifically, you. I often substitute the reality in front of my face for the vision I see in my head, because I draw pretty pictures up there and the sun often shines.

When we adopted Brandy, I conveniently ignored the fact that we had avoided her for the past couple of years because she bit my youngest, Essa, when she was five. In the face. Luckily the bite was sent as a warning on Brandy’s part. She broke the skin but didn’t go deep.

I also ignored Brandy’s temperament. She was testy, unpredictable, and didn’t like anyone or anything, except Jim. He came over one day last summer wearing the remnant scars of bloody claw marks all the way up his inner arm. Brandy had attacked another dog on a walk, and in trying to pull her off, he’d been caught in the crossfire.

Regardless, in the heat of emotion and the cocoon of denial, I was determined to make Brandy one of us. For Jim. For Scot. For me. Out of a painful longing for yesterday and a life that no longer included someone I desperately wanted back.

And I failed.

Brandy never assimilated into our family. She attacked another dog, tried to bite our next door neighbor, actually bit Scot, growled at my children and their friends, and frightened my mother-in-law so much that she was afraid to walk around her in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, in a multitude of occurrences, and over a succession of days and weeks. In one visit where we had to muzzle Brandy to get her out of my truck and through the door, the vet recommended we give her a huge wake, especially the kids, and a house that was filled with grief became one augmented by an undertow of fear.

With Jim gone, we slowly realized that there was no way to replicate the life she had, and we were forced to make a decision about her future. She couldn’t stay with us anymore. The risk of her hurting a child became too loud to ignore. We researched shelters, but found that her quality of life would be no life at all. Due to her temperament, she would be caged, walked once during the day, and left largely alone.

After days of discussion, debate, denial, and tears, we came to the conclusion that the only humane choice was to put Brandy down. Scot was the person who took her to the vet. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength. How he did is something I will forever question. Jim was the father my husband never had, and the personal sacrifices Scot had to make in doing so say more about his character than my words ever could.

When they got to the office, Brandy was serene. There was no stress. There was no muzzle. There was no fight. Scot laid out her blanket, Brandy jumped on, and he carried her in. As he describes it, she was at peace, having curled up into herself and fallen asleep as he stroked her back and whispered that everything was going to be alright.

Often, in life, everything isn’t alright. It’s ugly, raw, and real. So I have a new definition of optimism. Optimism isn’t waking up to a bright, sunny day where the birds chirp through an open window. Optimism is facing darkness everywhere you turn, choosing the best of equally shitty paths, and believing that the road you took was somehow the right one.

Why You Don’t Want Me in Charge of Your Memories…or Your Garage Sale

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Sifting through almost ninety years of my grandfather-in-law’s stuff just sucks.  On multiple levels.  In an effort to weave a path through lives still in motion, things become pretty cut-and-dry, and more quickly than I’d like to admit, a keep pile, sell pile, and trash pile form.  Multiple mounds ebb and flow seamlessly, in constant competition with one another while they grow in disproportionate shares.  Every artifact is there, present and accounted for, if not fully appreciated for a sticker price that can no longer be collected on demand.

One man’s treasure is another man’s trash, like the wooden bowl with a permanent, oily sheen that’s tagged for Good Will.  Even though it held a homemade Italian salad every Friday for fifty years, because spaghetti night was Gumps’ favorite of the week, valuables must be sifted, prioritized, and turned into chattel.  Tschokies are tagged at a dollar each because they don’t match anyone’s décor.  The truth is, no one else in the family is into cluttery collections, or understands the international appeal of the Lladro-like figurines that lined every dresser and shelf.

Image via teachickadees.com

If you’ve been in the position of having to troll through a loved one’s possessions, you know that determining the “value” of the mementos left behind not only feels wrong, it is.  But life sometimes becomes commoditized, drilling down to a series of lists to be checked off and eventually thrown away.

I’m not going to mine a trove of memories too deeply right now, because I’ve been sad for two weeks, and at the moment, I’d rather smile.  Instead, I’m gonna tell you why you shouldn’t put me in charge of anything you cherish or might want to keep.  As sentimental as I may sound, my actions tell a different story.  It’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do.

I’m a classic discarder, the anti-hoarder, an OCD Gemini who cleans the kitchen counter and sweeps the floor about nine times a day, with or without Necessary and Proper Cause.  I’ll pick up your glass and put it in the dishwasher before you’ve gotten halfway through your drink, and you’d better nail down or hide anything I consider to be superfluous, because I’ll toss it through the air and into the trash before you have the chance to remember that it was ever yours.

I am not a hoarder. I am, however, hyperventilating while looking at this picture.

This is especially true with anything containing the words “stocking” and “stuffer,” and if it was purchased at Dollar General?  Forget it.  It never existed as far as you know.

So I found myself in an interesting position yesterday, suddenly a person of great influence and power.  I was tasked with the responsibility of negotiating prices at Gumps’ estate sale, and while others in the family were actually trying to make money, my goal was a little more mild: to get anything inside the house out.

If you’re gonna take the time to argue over why a box of sandpaper should be $0.50 instead of a dollar, you can have it.  Seriously.  Take it, because I’ve got better things to do than give you the thrill of your life when I settle at $0.65.  In fact, since I’m in such a generous mood, why don’t you add the dining room set and a Mandarin-to-English dictionary while you’re at it?  You’re a big guy, perfectly capable of strapping a four hundred pound organ on your back, right?  So go for it.  It’ll look great next to that new table and chairs you’re lugging home to set up in your backyard alongside the washer and dryer that don’t work and your collection of blown-out tires.

Sanford and Son rules!

But in my haste to discard waste yesterday, I was little trigger-happy with a couple of things that deserved a second thought.  I’m listing them below so that when you have to spend a warm, sunny day selling the relics of someone you wish was still around, you’ll be a little more judicious than me.

Even though the Craig’s List ad says the doors open at 10:00 a.m., there’s a contingency of scavengers who get to a garage sale at least an hour ahead of the start, and sometimes camp out the night before (just kidding…I hope).  I imagine this occurs because at a certain age, the sleep that’s beginning to elude me simply disappears, and rather than watch an endless, glassy-eyed loop of Lawrence Welk reruns, it’s a lot more fun to get out of the Barcalounger and haggle with me.

Image via furnitureplanners.com

So when an ancient dude walked up with a box full of old spray paint, I thought I’d hit the mother lode.  Not only was it useless junk, but hazardous waste that I couldn’t put out by the curb.  Double score!  If he’d been the clairvoyant zombie that keeps popping up in every book I read lately, he’d understand that I would have paid him to take that stuff off my hands.  Instead I got a crumpled $10.00 bill.  Sweet!

Image via senseslost.com

I was feeling pretty good about myself until a nice lady tapped me on the shoulder and told me the real value of what I let ricochet out of the tool shed.  Apparently, there’s an ensemble of successful graffiti artists, mostly residing in Malibu or Park Avenue co-ops and not anywhere close to the river in a tent, who will pay just about anything for certain paint colors that have been retired.  Like, to the tune of $1,000 a can.  As I internally high-fived myself, about a dozen of them walked out the door, on my watch, and under the appraisal of my self-satisfied eye.  Oops.

A little more on my guard (or so I thought), I immediately ran into another kind person who found a box of toys we hadn’t had the chance to sift through.  We managed to pull a vintage G.I. Joe off the top just ahead of the sale, but hadn’t yet foraged into the depths of broken Lincoln Logs, pick-up sticks, and dirt.  He rummaged around, and at the bottom found some old Barbies with mismatched clothes and really bad hair.  He mentioned that his granddaughters loved to play with dolls, he missed them dreadfully because they lived out of town, and that he’d take them off my hands for $1.00 each.  I found this sentiment to be endearing, since I have two little girls of my own.  Plus, he was old, and even though the coot with the spray paint pulled one over on me, I have a soft spot for elderly people who smell like Vicks vapor rub and mentho-lyptus all rolled into one.

Vintage Bad Hair Barbie. Image via Flickr.com.

Had I made it past remedial math in college, I would have realized that at about eighty, his granddaughters would be like, twenty years old today.  Playing with dolls when you’re almost legal is creepy, but I was so touched by his desire to look out for his sweet girls (and excited to get rid of more junk), that I would have happily let him take the whole box off my hands for free.

These are the Barbies I deal with on a daily basis at home:

In the land of Essa's misfit Barbies, amputation is common, and floating heads fly across the room for no apparent reason.

This is the one he was most interested in at the sale:

1962 Bubblecut Redhead Barbie loves hanging out in the desert.

Notice any similarities?  Right.  They’re all scary as hell.

Luckily, the same kind, genius-lady who knew what a fortune we lost in paint was hovering nearby, and stopped him in his tracks.  Not only was he trying to get out the door with the previously pictured 1962 Bubblecut Redhead Barbie with extra-large bangs, he had Yachtsman Ken #789 buried at the bottom of his stash, who was totally spiffed up and packaged in mint condition as he smiled winningly from the confines of his box.  You could just tell that Ken was dying to go sailing with the mega-millionaire graffiti artist who buys four-figure cans of half-used spray paint on a whim, and probably, in a strange twist of fetish-fate, loves to play with overpriced vintage dolls.

Vintage Ken wants to play with you. Image via boocoo.com

The old codger’s offer immediately went from $5.00 to $100.00, my savvy mother-in-law said no, he turned a ghastly shade of do not resuscitate, and quietly slithered away.  As it turns out, Barbie, Ken, their friends Skooter and Skipper, and all of the mismatched clothes are worth thousands of dollars.  Don’t come lurking around my house in search of them as they await their eBay fate, though, because they’re nowhere near my house.

Everyone in the family is onto me now, and next weekend?  I’m in charge of the free coffee and donuts, and that’s about it.

My New Dog Hates Me

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Anyone who’s read my blog for the past couple of months knows how I feel about dogs.  It’s not that I don’t like them.  As a species I think they’re generally fine and great to have around as long as they’re across the street, next door, or tearing their way through someone else’s underground sprinkler system (in case you didn’t know, dogs love to dig up anything that’s supposed to be firmly embedded beneath the earth…especially if it costs about $1,000 to repair).

Image from squidoo.com.

We all have our personal boundaries, and I like to maintain a huge wake when a Canis lupis familiaris comes sniffing around my brand new knee-high, chocolate brown, super-soft suede boots that I siphoned unmarked bills from our vacation fund to buy.  I just love expensive footwear, so in other words?  Back the hell off.

Français : escarpins ouverts en Élaphe de marq...

All things considered, when it comes to canines, I’m a “smile and wave” kind of girl.  The smile serves as a decoy.  It says “Hey!  You’re cool.  I’m cool.  Now please don’t attack me and dig your cuspate, frothing, serrated mandibles into my left calf as I sprint past your driveway on my morning run because your awesome owner never turns on the electric fence anymore due to your deceivingly docile nature when you’re laying at his feet eating nasty dog biscuits.”  The wave is meant to establish authority, so you know that when I’m bounding by your house, I’m the one in charge.  Alternately, if you happen to be a two hundred pound Bullmastiff and I’m on the ground pinned underneath you?  It becomes a fairly effective cry for help.

I don't like this dog. Image via topnews.in.

I don’t know about you, but I process pretty much everything through my pseudo-bionic senses, and I don’t particularly care for dog smell.  Or dog breath.  Or copious amounts of dog saliva.  Or wearing a dog hair fleece when I run to the grocery store to pick up a $6.99 rotisserie chicken to feed my family for dinner (everyone is so over the new Taco Bell located inside the gas station where you can get a twelve-pack of chalupas, Captain and Tennille CD, ginormous can of WD-40, and a bag of pork rinds all at once).

Super-masculine man stare. Image from 991.com.

All the people sleeping under our roof understand that Man’s Best Friend is not mine, and as the primary dog chaser, puke cleaner, hair remover, and everything disgusting scooper in the house, my vote far outweighs yours.  If you know me, you’ll begrudgingly acknowledges that the most direct route to my heart is straight through the front door, on two feet and upright, shoes off at the entry, and please pick your coat up off the floor while you hang your backpack on that cute little hook I installed in the laundry room.  My fuse is pretty freaking short at the moment and I’m not your maid.

My fuse. Image via thepave.net

But as I’ve learned, a carefully plotted life often has plans of its own.

As I mentioned on Monday, my husband’s grandfather/best friend/coolest person on the planet passed away last weekend at the age of eighty-nine.  In addition to amazing memories and enough love from all of us who knew him to fill an ocean, Gumps left another very important thing behind.  Brandy.

Brandy is a rescue dog, physically abused by her original owner and adopted by Gumps when she was just a pup.  Understandably skittish and now thirteen years old, she’s bonded with nobody.  No one, that is, except the person she searches for every day and can no longer find.

Against her every wish, she’s been with our family since Sunday, pacing back and forth while she explores each room with her cataract-clouded eyes.  Restless, she spins in circles trying to find a place in our house that feels like home.  First one spot.  Then another.  Switching rooms.  In the middle of the floor.  Back in a corner.  Out of sight.  On her blanket.  In everyone’s way.  She tests countless options, but nothing feels right.

As of the past couple of days, she’s shifted from a state of mild annoyance to outright resignation.  When I walk into the room she lifts her head, cocks it to the left, looks me in the eye, and immediately turns away.  I’m not anywhere close to someone she wants to see.  Grief-stricken, she lays listlessly on the floor, refusing to eat unless I bribe her with bacon, bologna, or sausage; a desperate attempt on my part to communicate in a language that every dog speaks.

Brandy perks up a little when it’s time to go outside, but her arthritic hind legs make it hard for her to go up and down stairs.  Our youngest, Essa, wants nothing more than to wrap her up in a huge cloak of love, but the kids have to keep their distance.  She’s already snipped at me, our neighbor, and even my husband, Scot, who’s a natural magnet to any mammal with four legs and my absolute opposite when it comes to short words containing the letters d-o-g.

She’s a mess, so much so, that some well-intentioned people have recommended giving her to a no kill shelter or putting her down.

But I can’t bring myself to seriously consider those options.  Unless the vet tells me she’s in unbearable physical pain, I’m not letting her go.  I can’t.  If I do, I’ll be giving up on myself.  And that’s not how I roll.

Before the unspeakable spoke last weekend, we hadn’t planned to adopt a dog, much less one that on a surface level appears broken past the point of repair.

But maybe, if I can find a way to open my heart to her, she’ll return the favor.  Just a little.  I don’t expect a miracle, but if we can walk together, if she’ll let someone stroke her back, whisper in her ear or at least lie next to her and be still, our family will be able to give her something worth holding onto until the end.

Our love can’t fill her void, but it can serve as a buffer.  Her presence can’t bring Gumps back, but she can remind us, every day, of someone we never want to forget.

Perhaps, in some inexplicable twist of fate, we were all meant for each other in ways I don’t yet understand.  I have got to get her teeth cleaned before Brandy and I release a flock of doves in the back yard, sing Kumbaya, and intertwine our souls, though.  I can smell her breath from across the room and her halitosis majoritis seriously bums me out.

At the end of the day, maybe life’s not about getting what you want after all, but getting what you need instead.

Me and Gumps

The American Dream Wrapped Up in a Cannoli

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I first met Caity DiFabio at the epicenter of all clichés.  A bar.  On a trip to Louisville two years ago, bored and waiting for a friend, I settled onto a stool and ordered an Old Fashioned.  That such a young girl could serve an ancient cocktail the right way surprised me, almost as much as her sarcastic wit and quick smile.

English: Picture of an Old Fashioned cocktail,...

This cocktail is targeted at a specific demographic: old. Old Fashioned Image via Wikipedia

Eventually my friend showed up, Caity got off work, Old Fashions took a sharp left toward tequila, then dinner, which was a great excuse for….more tequila, enough laughter to annoy everyone at the bar who wasn’t in on the joke, and tears.  Lots and lots of tears.  If you happen to have two x chromosomes, you know that four seasons of emotion over a seared tuna salad with a stranger is rare.

Not only was I impressed with Caity’s mind, but also?  That girl could drink.  She was the one with her arm around me at the end of the night as I sniffled over a long-lost love and babbled my way into a cab.  Anyone who doesn’t agree that tequila is the ultimate truth serum hasn’t gotten to the bottom of the bottle.

This however, appeals to just about everybody, including your underage son. Tequila via Flickr

Even though she was hardly born the year I left Louisville to go to college, I knew almost instantly she was an old soul, and we would be friends.  Not the talk-on-the-phone-every-day-to-compare-notes-on-life’s-little-nuances kind of thing, but a real connection nevertheless.  It seemed what we had to say to one another mattered, regardless of the chunk of variable time and space placed in between.

So it came as no surprise when I got a Facebook message over a year later that she had something important to tell me.  Caity is from a family of restaurateurs, and spent considerable time in and around the kitchen growing up.  They had decided to open a branch of their restaurant in Louisville, and she was to be a key player in the new initiative.  At the time, she was excited and scared and nervous and ready, and was also only twenty-two years old.

DiFabio’s Casapela opened in 2010.  Caity was barely legal to crack the pop-top off a beer when her family launched the restaurant, much less understand the delicate balance between supply and demand, and that the term “management” is really just secret code for “what the customer wants, the customer gets.”

English: Beer cans and bottles.

Image via Wikipedia

Yet somehow she got it, and is doing it, and still has time to sit down over a shot of tequila and listen to the bleary-eyed stranger of the night lament the things that matter most.

Day after day and way too late into the evening she shows up, often early, to orchestrate the chaos and earn an MBA on the fly that kids her age pay up to $40,000 a year to buy.  If you ask, she won’t tell you that running a family business in a foundering economy is harder than she thought it would be.  She won’t mention the NOI isn’t always in the black, her stemware keeps disappearing, and she doesn’t get to see enough of her dogs.

Image via Flickr

She’ll just smile that impish smile, fill your glass, and substitute the Piccata for the Marsala, because you could have sworn that’s what you ordered (you didn’t).

At a time when corporate profits are being redistributed as dividends or kept in cash instead of creating jobs, and the stimulus package that was or wasn’t is debated around town, it’s the Caity DiFabios of the world who remind us what it means to pursue the American Dream.  All of it.

Image via Flickr

If she wanted to, Caity could simply ride the coattails of the lost generation, cash her unemployment check, and go home.  Instead, she’s building a business, hiring employees, and figuring out how to handle the bills.  And life.  Even when she’s supposed to be off, she shows up every day, regardless of what happened the night before, to do her job and roll with the tide of whatever crazy customer happens to come in the door.

I won’t bore you with my take on the gorgonzola filet versus the chicken parmesan.  This isn’t a restaurant review…it’s more of a critique on life.  As far as I’m concerned, Caity’s already earned a full five stars because what she’s doing is the heart of the American Dream, and I’ll take it with or without the sauce.