I was strolling over to retrieve my daughter for dinner from a neighbor’s house. A classic move on her part, forgetting we told her to be home in a half hour. I think I saw it in my peripheral vision first, something pegging my monkey brain there was something amiss and telling me it was in the middle of the road. I thought at first someone had dropped their purse or maybe a curved piece of bark from firewood. Then it moved and I realized it definitely was not a purse.
Persian: A thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!
Stelios: Then we will fight in the shade.
–From the movie 300.
A little over a week or so ago I was called in a meeting room at my workplace and handed a huge challenge.
I was laid-off.
Since then, I’ve been trying to get my feet underneath me as well as sticking to my strong beliefs that all challenges are actually opportunities. What can be learned? What can be changed? Over the past few weeks, however, this is proving to be a bit difficult.
I’m a firm believer in applying a survival mindset to all of all Life’s challenges, not just situations in the “wilderness.” A lot of things happen when you hear your weekly take home check is going away. Every one of those thoughts have a common denominator of Fear and it’s no different from learning you’re lost twenty miles into the mountains without a map and no food. The physiological responses are the same. Your system is flooded with stress hormones, your vision narrows and, if you get carried away, you can make a mistake. You have to slow down; take stock in what you have. Fear can be overcome. It can be managed, worked with, and if ignored can make your situation worse.
One of the ideas I had straight off was to use this blog as a vehicle for me to chronicle the next steps and as a venue to express what I, and my family, are about to go through. I hesitated at first. Why? Well, the above part about making a mistake by reacting in fear was a big part of that hesitation. Fear is sneaky. After sleeping on it for about six days, I realized that even that hesitation had been brought about by fear. I was worried about what people might think. I was worried I might say the wrong thing or take the wrong tone. I was concerned it might not be taken well.
Then, I realized what I was doing.
I’ve decided to go ahead with it, lay it on the line. My main thought is what better way to show people how to maintain a positive attitude of grounded happiness than to go through something most people do not equate to “pleasant.” There are a lot of challenges in front of me, now more than ever before. The thing about a lot of challenges is that, to me, it can also mean equally rampant opportunity. I can decide to wallow in the enormity of those challenges or I can decide to take a grounded mental attitude and suit up. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be all rosy and pleasant. There are some damn difficult decisions coming up on the financial calendar which are far from “fun.” (One of which will be a hard lesson in learning to let go of some key important but ultimately material items.) What it does mean is that I have to carry a much different attitude about those decisions when the time comes.
The opportunities I have currently? What resources do I have? First off, I have an amazingly supportive wife. I have children that are awesome and who unknowingly (and knowingly) make me smile every day. I have a wide reaching network of friends and allies. In all of those things, I am as wealthy as Midas.
I have more time to focus on multiple things that mean a lot more to me than what I was doing previously. I can get things organized which have been dormant for many years. I can spend more time with my kids before they grow up and fly from the nest. I can get back to more writing. I have an opportunity to take all the things that I have worked on privately and apply it, test it. If me taking the time to get this down helps someone else down the road in a similar position then I think it’s the best possible result of the whole situation. Matter of fact, it’s what Jane McGonigal of “Reality is Broken” would call an “epic win.”
To me, it’s a matter of not accepting the status quo, perhaps taking a hit now in order to be better later, in believing that in the middle of a devastating situation you can find everything you need to come out of it better and stronger then you were before.
It’s about survival with a smile. Or, if all else fails, perhaps just a stalwart grin.
I look forward to being able to post here about the upcoming adventures, the rough struggles and the eventual victories. I won’t promise they’ll be pretty and I’m definitely not going to promise to use nice language. What I will promise is some perspective, some amusement and that, most importantly, we’ll get through this one way or the other.
I’ve been dreading this post for a long time. However, because I’m scared of it, because I dread it, it is something that needs done. It’s been sitting on my chest for several months and it’s time I take care of it.
I will warn you going in – this post is long and it is emotional. You see, it has to be. It’s the only way to get it all out. As I am fond of saying to friends and family, “the only way out is through.”
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In late July of this year my best friend, an eleven year old lab/husky mix by the name of Pooka Grasskiller, passed away. I knew he was getting older and I was sadly anticipating emotional vet visits and watching him begin to slide downwards. In regards to his age and health, I said numerous times to friends as well as to Pooka himself, “The next few years are gonna be rough.” I hated the concept of having to watch his body give out on him, on watching him disintegrate to his age.
Last year, it was obvious his back hips were hurting him. He was moving slower and slower. We took him to a vet visit and, except for the obvious failing back hips, they gave him a clear and clean bill of health. Even then, I tried to walk him a bit more, make sure to sit with him and just to soak up what time was left with him.
It all started in a northern Indiana town. I’d found him, as a puppy, on the side of a residential road. I’d been going about my normal business as an all-purpose handyman for my girlfriend’s father after a recent move. I’d questioned the move but as it were things looked good. It was temporary but the end promised to be worth it. It ended up to be a move filled with depression and confusion since nothing had gone the way it was supposed to go. I was fighting the good fight though and had stopped at a coffee shop to fill my travel mug. It was a sunny October day but there was still a chill present. I thought another cup of warm coffee would do me some good. With coffee mug warming my hand, I was going to my car when I saw two men down a side street walking away from a small, black, fuzzy creature that was following them. They were yelling at it and waving their arms, obviously not wanting to be followed.
The creature left the sidewalk and wandered, unknowingly, under a parked car and into the street. I flew out of my car and jogged towards it. Getting closer, I could see it was a small oblivious lab puppy. I waved at a oncoming car to stop and I got down on one knee, calling to it. Without hesitation, the puppy ran up to me, tongue out and happy. I scooped it up and while it licked my face I spoke to the men. They said it had been following them about a block. Otherwise, they didn’t know anything about it. I asked around. No one knew the dog. I took him home, fed him, played with him and tried over the next two weeks through the local shelter, the vets and the paper to find the owner.
No one wanted him.
I think it’s funny that within 24 hours of making the goal of writing here three times a week that the Universe decided to drop a box of crazy on me. I KNEW the holidays were going to be a little tough but it’s always what you don’t see coming that throws you off. As I like to say, you can have the best plan ever but you should be ready to meet Mr. Murphy at the door. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Murphy, please see this link. It might save you considerable frustration down your own road!
As I come out of my birthday, dash through Yule and sprint towards the New Year’s, I’m realizing something. I’m realizing that I’m using a lot of verbs focused on hurrying and racing about my holidays. Why did I do it? Because there is something that overhangs our culture that says that is what you should be doing. Hurry to get your presents! Go go go to get on the road. Rush rush to get the baking done. Scramble to get the tree up and the lights hanging! What kind of holiday is that? As I simplify my life more and look to what is REALLY important I realize we all run the risk of needing a vacation from our holiday.
The real kicker? It’s all our choice.
So, this Yule I am intending to kick back and I’m encouraging everyone I meet to put the caffeine down and step away from the hectic. Take a look at what you feel you SHOULD be doing and weigh it against what you want to be doing. Take a deep breath and relax.
It’s the holidays after all, right?
What is it that makes you, well, YOU? We are told early on, “define yourself”, “understand yourself”, “be yourself.” We take to it with great zeal. “I like thunderstorms! I like ponies!” or “I like outer space so I wanna be an astronaut.” As children, we’re sometimes told what to like. We take it to heart. “If you’re from here then you have to love football,” or “Any good child of the family needs to like grandpa’s chili.”
We also learn to define ourselves by what we don’t want or like. “I don’t like tomatoes and I don’t like the color blue.” We tell ourselves this. We tell other people. And, as the years go by, as we hear it over and over, things get locked into place.
Our pain defines us as well, emotional and physical. Initially, pain is a teacher. It teaches us what NOT to do. But, if we hold on to what caused that pain, it can become a handicap. It can twist us. A child may have been stung by a bee. “I hate all bees!” he proclaims loudly, “Bees suck!” Someone else might have had their heart broken by a lover with blonde hair. She might tell herself, “I’ll never date a blonde again! They can’t be trusted!”
If we don’t, from time to time, take a look at the definitions that we’ve given ourselves we run the risk of getting trapped within them. We miss the wonder of watching bees work a field of flowers. We pass on the blonde friend of a friend who could be our soulmate. In this hectic world, it seems easier to just keep running ever forward, from one hectic emergency to the next. Do This! Go here! Buy that! Buy This! We don’t take the pauses we need and we get locked into the very definitions we’ve given ourselves. We get so distracted we forget to pause, to reflect.
Hopefully there comes a time when something inside you causes you to stop. A moment when you question things, when you become curious. “Wait a minute, maybe I DO like the color blue.” Or, “Why do I dislike bees again?” It might take months, it will probably take years. This is redefinition and it’s those very moments which keep you young. If you ignore those moments, brush them off as fancy, than you’re on a declining path to stiffness and true “old age.”
You’ll notice I put “old age” in quotes. It’s because I’ve met 80 year old people who knew how to think like they were 20 and I’ve met 20 year old people locked into frozen and old-school mindsets. The body ages but ultimately it’s the state of mind which defines our youthfulness and this state of mind is powered by curiosity. If you want to stay young then you have to stay curious. Curiosity supports redefinition. Redefinition feeds curiosity. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Recently, I was dealing with yet another wave of stress and I was blessed with a moment of pause. It came out of nowhere in the middle of a very hectic, depressing and blustery day. I asked myself, sitting in a heated car, in a warm coat, and sipping on a tepid cup of coffee two simple questions. “What the heck am I stressed out about again?” And, “What is driving my discontent?”
The questions caused me to focus internally. It wasn’t the cold. It wasn’t the tepid coffee. What I found was that much of my issues of the day were being driven by old pains, old limits. Old items that were, quite frankly, worn out and no longer applicable. I realized I had a choice to redefine them. I was choosing to define them out of fear, or, more importantly, the fear of perceived pain and stress. It was my call not only how I perceived them but also what I chose to do with that very perception.
I could choose the old model and wonder why I my blood pressure was so high or I could redefine things, redefine myself, and hopefully make a better choice.
Oddly enough, it was just that simple.
It’s still incredibly dry around here. We had a teasing of rain last week and there’s a small percentage of more tomorrow. We need it. The earth is dry and cracked, the grass is brown and many species of trees are dropping their leaves about four weeks too early. When they fall the leave are brown and curled, dehydrated. It’s not a good sign.
To be honest, I’m amazed we’ve not been put under water restrictions. I believe it’s been about 80 days since we had substantial rainfall. The local retention pond is getting lower and lower. The nearby reservoir is the lowest I’ve ever seen it.
Been a bit busy over the past few days and have been unable to get out and make a vid. I’ve also been fighting the heightened allergy ratings around here. Fought off a sinus infection late last week and just now seeing a return to normal energy. Without more rain to knock the allergens down, it’s taking it’s toll everywhere.
Last night, I worked on hulling the last of the hickory nuts from the video I put up. I tried something new and since it worked I thought I’d share it here.
Salted Hickory Nuts
Right after getting the nut meat, I set the oven for 180 or so. While waiting for that to preheat, I took an average bowl of warm water and added a few teaspoons of salt into it. Stirringso it dissolved, I then dumped the hickory nuts into it for about three to five minutes
Then, I took the nuts out of the water, shook off the excess water and laid them on a cookie sheet. I then baked them in the oven for about a half hour. (I went a little longer with this group because a lot of the nuts were very fresh from the hulling.)
Once done, you get a nice, light salty taste to the nut! After forcing myself to eat them warm and right off the cookie sheet, I let them cool and put the rest in the my glass container in the refrigerator. Yeah, forcing myself. That’s it. The same way I “force myself” to eat chocolate chip cookies…
I know, it’s not necessarily a “survival” recipe but it’s darn tasty for a home snack! Besides, you could also throw them in a zip-lock bag and toss that into a backpack!
I’ve finally found the time and the energy to get an update to this blog! July and August were an odd mix of pain and pleasure for me. Matter of fact, when I look back over it all I can’t believe it was only two months. It felt like six!
Mid-July brought the passing of my wife’s grandfather and a little over a week later, my closest friend and companion, Pooka, my dog of 12 years, passed away suddenly. (He was featured in a previous post with my spring maple bonsai.) I have more to say about him but, for now, let’s just leave it that his departure rocked my world.
I still wasn’t fully recovered when it was time to start planning for the first full blown, 10 day long family vacation trip in August. On top of that, there was medical stress, doctor’s appointments, financial issues and school starting for the kids. All in all, I’m not sure I remember the last week of August!
The dust of all of it has finally started to settle and as one of the most intense summers in my life comes to a close, I’ve felt a yearning to work on this blog again. During the Summer, this site was always in the back of my mind, pecking away and reminding me that it was still here, postless and waiting. Part of my energy of returning to it was spurred, in part, by our vacation.
For the first time, we bundled the entire family up into the car and drove North of North into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The area had always been restorative for me and this trip was no exception. I was honored to be able to introduce it to my wife and children just as it had been introduced to me by my grandparents. Passing this onward to another generation has already been placed on my year’s list of greatest gifts.
I think the first seeds of inspiration for more posting to this blog came from that trip. I’ve got some cool ideas and I hope you’ll enjoy where the momentum is taking me. Some of it I wanted to do during the summer but the Universe had other ideas for me. It’s ok. With the scorching hot weather hopefully coming to a close, I can start moving forward in the more comfortable climate of Autumn.
Stay tuned! Good stuff coming along shortly!
I wanted to send out a quick post to everyone this afternoon with an announcement. I’ve been able to move forward on an idea of mine lately which was to start a blog that focused only on my photography, both nature and otherwise. Needless to say, I take ALOT of pictures from everything to Roller Derby bouts to public events and even, occasionally, portrait settings.
This blog’s main focus is nature awareness and I’d like to keep it that way for the foreseeable future. My new blog is focused on all the elements of my photography (nature shots included) and I’d like to invite you over for a look-see. I just launched it this morning so it’s a bit sparse. There’s much more to come!
Light Balance The Art and Images of Bryan Roberts
Let me know what you think and have a great summer!