Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Color Exploding Around Me!

It's fall in Wisconsin and it seems like, overnight, the world exploded into brilliant color!  It's a celebration!

I sit in a chair, as I type this, looking out a patio door onto golden trees with hints of lingering green and splashes of red underbrush.  I watch the birds and squirrels frantically eating, digging, working to build up reserves.

It's cooler now, making it easier to be outside but also drawing me out because of the certainty of much colder days to soon follow.  Get out there now, while there's still time!

Color and light has exploded all over me!  It's a wonderful time of year.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pure and Lasting...Joy!

Today was the last day of the Next Steps Academy and I couldn't just go home!  Instead I found myself at this great place in downtown Milwaukee called "Splash" where I could just sit and reflect and paint...this hummingbird!

It had to be a hummingbird, you see because the hummingbird is the symbol for JOY!  There is no other word to describe this week.  There is no other way to show just how inspiring the last five days have been, not just to me but to every single adult who had the honor of working with this awesome group of fifteen students who all have autism.

Today was the "performance" and with that knowledge came a very real sense of fright.  Like that little hummingbird, there was lots of movement in and out of the room, sometimes lighting for a moment but then up again and flitting from one spot to another.  We made it through a very short "dress rehearsal" and tested everyone's ability to be flexible.  Some did better at that than others.  One boy had been singing our daily song loud and clear and at the last minute we asked him if he would like to lead the whole group in that song.  He didn't hesitate and just said "Sure".  And he didn't let us down.  He stood tall and proud and sang out loud and clear, leading us through the practice.

Then showtime arrives.  The room is packed.  The kids are doing the best they can to stay in one location.  One boy sat in a chair reading a book, ignoring the growing crowd, and periodically putting his arm on my leg which was his way of asking me to rub it.  One boy stayed in the hallway until it was time to perform, another started playing a game with the teacher...anything to pass the time.  At exactly 11:30, one anxious student loudly announced, "Alright, it's time for Ms. Jenn to start the show!"

Early on, during the initial interviews, one boy had said that all he hoped for was "two minutes of fame!"  Well, today everyone of the fifteen students got at least two minutes of fame!  The cameras rolled and people smiled until their faces hurt.  And in thirty minutes, we were done!  The kids took a bow, the audience applauded (silently) and all of a sudden it was over.  Although everyone was encouraged to stay and visit after the performance, the kids were anxious to leave, already on to the next thing which was "What's for lunch?"

What they didn't realize is that they left us all today...they left us now with a void!  We were watching these incredible hummingbirds, flitting in and out of a skit or a song or a game, and they not only shared their fears, anxieties and factual (sometimes blunt) view of how things should work but they willingly shared their intelligence, their talents, their unique and profound gifts.  They filled our days with a kaleidoscope of color that brought tears to our eyes.  They filled the time so intensely that we left every day exhausted but unable to stop thinking about them and wishing we could have had just one more week!

I asked one boy if he thought he would come back again in the spring.  He said "Well, yes, I think I will.  Will all the other kids in NS1 come back too?"  "I hope so," was all I could say.  And then a mom reaches out to touch my arm.  She is being hurried to the exit by her son.  As she leaves, she says "We will have love in our hearts for First Stage forever!  Thank you for this week!"

I think from everyone of the adults who worked with this group of kids in Next Steps Academy this week, we too will have love in our hearts... for these kids, forever!

Ok, one last funny story shared:  One of the boys is laying on the floor and won't get up.  The teacher says "Come on, it's time to get up!"  His response "I can't get up.  I have autism!"  And she of course replied "So does everyone else in here and they are all standing right now!"

Thank you to everyone who read through my version of this incredible journey.  I have been truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate this week.  Writing about it at the end of each day just helped me collect my thoughts and relive the JOY!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's Already Thursday!

This week went by fast,  but with each day there was growth. I wish I would have had the opportunity to watch the older group as much as the younger group.  I can only say that something happened today with the younger ones that made it feel like we had mastered an ultimate goal.

  • Monday, everyone was quiet and apprehensive.  
  • Tuesday, silliness reigned.  
  • Wednesday, excessive energy sent some of the students over the edge.  
  • But on Thursday, we reached calm!

We figured out that we didn't need to rev their engines up; we needed to slow them down!

 "Look at me.  Do this (touch your head), do this (touch your shoulders), do this (put your arms up in the air)" - a game that brought focus back to the group - was used over and over again throughout the first part of the morning with group one.  

Then we started the second part of the morning relaxing flat on the floor and rubbing our arms, shaking our fingers, squeezing our shoulders.  The engines calmed down and fun filled the space for everyone again.  Yesterday, by the end of the morning, three of the kids needed to retreat to the quiet room.  Today, everyone stayed and everyone played!

One activity was to come up with a problem that one hero tries to solve but can't and then a superhero comes in to save the day.  These were not long running skits, mind you, but the kids were able to quickly come up with an idea, compromise on the final product, and perform the skit to the rest of the group.  Now, I think there was some influence from certain video game characters but I'm too old to actually be current on all of that so, to me at least, it was amazingly imaginative.

Then we tried making up an info-mercial.  This one was a little harder because not everyone was sure what that was.  In fact, one of the students said "I don't know what that means but I do know what introvert and extrovert means. Can I ask everyone which one they are?"  We told him that he could do that during the break.  Then the question was posed again.  What is an info-mercial?  One young man matter-of factly just said "It's a commercial about a product that you don't really need!"  And that set the stage.

Tomorrow, the kids will put on a skit for the parents.  Yesterday, while trying to put it together, one student left the room because he couldn't deal with the choice of song being played on the piano.  Another had a melt down right in the room because he was worried about how to make a choice of whether he should or shouldn't be the bad guy!  Today, the same song was played on the piano and, this time, noise blocking headphones made it possible for student one to stay.  And the question of to be or not to be the bad guy never came up so student number two just calmly joined the skit as one of the passengers on the train.  Our skit is about a train for very good reason.  One student is continuously sharing departure times of trains to Chicago.  He will be the conductor in the skit tomorrow

The best quote of today though comes from him actually.  Everyone was laughing hard while playing a version of Duck, Duck, Goose, and he said "I laughed so hard I nearly leaked some oil!"

Oh my goodness, I am going to hate to see this week come to an end.

PS - There are 5 extroverts, 4 introverts, and 3 who think they are both!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creative Genius Tied Up In Knots!

Day three of Next Steps Academy finds me firmly placed with group one.  They are younger.  They have an energy that quickly gets out of control. And they have an independent creativity that is surprising.  Their favorite game is "What's Your Business?"  We go around the circle, the first person names the business, the next person responds with what we sell there, and the third person  quickly throws out a slogan for this business.  It's fast.  It's spontaneous.  It's unpredictable. And they love it!  The only one I can remember is a little gruesome so beware!  Business - A barbershop, What do you sell? - Decapitated heads stuffed with stuffed animals.  What's your slogan? - Haircuts priced so cheap, you'll lose your mind!  Not all of them involved losing body parts but each of the kids love being quick and the more creative the better. Nobody's idea is bad.  Nothing is ever wrong.  Well, I take that back.  We had to put a stop to one boy's use of a pretend firearm for every skit.

Today, they formed small groups and developed short skits with a beginning, middle, and end.  Today, we saw more creativity and more anxiety.  More willingness to share talents and more openness about sharing fears.  They worked hard at controlling themselves well enough to be an audience while each group performed and the adults are learning techniques that work to bring the energy down if necessary - back rubs, deep pressure, hugs, especially hugs!

While group one was working on following directions and self control, group two was focused on a short script for the Friday performance that the teachers say is going to be awesome.  They are clearly enjoying each other and are quickly forming friendships.

And, what about our lone boy?  Well, after getting to know him a bit better and some serious brainstorming between First Stage teachers, he had a fantastic day today!  He handled two stories that were clearly "not real" and he spent a solid fifteen minutes in with the group, sharing and listening with everyone else.  The best part, though, is the commitment of other adults here to make this week work for everyone.  Members of the costume department took him under their wing.  They found out yesterday that he has an interest in designing things.  They saw that he had an interest in costumes so they drew up a pattern for him to sew.  They also showed him how puppets are made and offered to help him make one.  His teacher said "You should have seen his face light up!"

So what have the adults learned so far?  You really do need a Plan B... and C... and D.  When a child with autism gets "out of control", he really can't control it.  All of us are completely focused on saying calm and just working with it!

One student couldn't handle the last activity of the day.  He did but he didn't want to have a role in a short skit.  He wanted but he didn't want us to decide for him.  It became a vicious cycle that he couldn't stop, nor could we.  Everyone else in the room kept a focus on the skit.  We finally found the perfect blend of a quiet space, deep pressure, and his book.  When his mom got there, he was calm again.  The last thing he said before he left?  "Let's just wipe this out of our memories, ok?  We'll just pretend it never happened and we don't need to talk about it again, ok?'  I asked him if I could give him a hug before he left.  He said "You can give me a little one.  Big ones are saved for my mom!"

And what did one of the teachers say at the end of today?  "My face hurts from smiling so much!"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do All The Other Kids Here Have Autism?

It was day two of the Next Steps Academy and the energy level was high!  When we laughed, we laughed a little louder...and maybe a little too long.  When we were told to spin, we spun but sometimes couldn't stop.  Still, almost everyone tried everything at least once.

Remember the boy from yesterday who got up and left the "Beginning of Day"?  Today, he stayed there for the entire time, just positioned at the back of the room.  He had brought two new books.  One was about science projects that could be done in a hurry but he was adamant that you should never do things in a hurry like that!  When everyone moved to their small group, he politely said "No thank you.  I'll just go read my books."

We pretended to make up conversations speaking gibberish to a partner. "Have a happy conversation.  Now, pretend you're angry.  And now be excited.  Don't use your hands and feet, just use your voice." The teacher asked the boy in the quiet room if he'd like to join in that activity.  "Don't you think it sounds like fun?"  "No, that's not a real language! Why would anyone talk like that.  It's not real!"

We made sounds that we might hear in a swamp.  One boy spontaneously gave another a compliment, "Wow, that was a really good frog noise.  I can't do that!"  Some were better at making the sound of the wind.  Some made no sounds but pretended to be an alligator.

By mid morning, everyone was ready for a break.  The group in Room One got their snacks and a book and went off to different parts of the room to be alone.  The group in Room Two stood in small clusters having conversations with each other.  The difference between the two rooms was interesting and possibly due to the difference in their ages.

By the second part of the morning, the teacher with the one young man asked him if he wanted to make friends this week.  He said "Well yes, I do."  To that, the teacher replied, "Well, you can't make friends if we sit alone in this room every morning."   He thought about that for a bit and then said "Do all the other kids here have autism?"  And she said "Yes they do and they are in the other rooms making friends."  And so, for a part of the morning, the boy joined the group, sat with them in a circle, and answered the question of the day.  "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  His answer, "I want to be a scientist."  And then he continued with more and more information.  At one point, the boy next to him asked a question and he said "Excuse me, let me finish please!" So, we'll have to work on making friends but at least he entered the room...for a while.

It would be great to be able to say that all of Day Two went smoothly but that would not be completely true.  As the second session wore on for the younger group, one boy was making announcements letting us know which train was leaving the terminal at that time and what the chances were that they were running on time.  Another boy began asking "How many more minutes?" and he fell apart before the time elapsed.  One had his hands over his ears because it had gotten a little loud and the youngest one tried playing deaf when he didn't like the directions and when no one paid attention to him, he left the group altogether.  He had grown tired of not being able to make up his own plays.

Still, by 11:45, they all regrouped for End of Day.   Our lone boy, once again willingly shared in front of the whole group and many more offered to share acknowledgments.

Day two was about reaching a new level of comfort at the academy!  Day Two stretched all of try something new,  to get quiet when we wanted to make noise, to handle a little more frustration, to last a little longer, and to try out some of that advice from yesterday...there's always Plan B!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Day One - "I Just Want You To Know, You Are All Loved!"

Day one for Next Steps Academy began with nervous anticipation felt primarily by the parents and teachers.  The students seemed calm, prepared with their backpack which held a snack and self selected comfort items.  Without hesitation, each one followed an adult back to the meeting rooms.  Some parents followed and some just watched in stunned resignation.  "I guess he'll be fine.  I'll just go then.  See you at noon."

"Beginning of Day" large group started off with exercise warm ups and announcements.  Three minutes into it, though, one student picked up his backpack, a yoga mat, and his water bottle and said "This is too much!"  He headed for the door followed closely by an adult.  Without incident, he made it to a quiet room where he spent the majority of the morning; looking at his book of lego kits, and complaining about not being able to ever finish what he wanted to say...but wait until you hear how his first day ends.

After large group, the kids were divided into two smaller groups.  One room was for students, ages 11-14 and in another room for students ages 14-18.

One of the older boys wanted to start by saying something. So he formally stood and said, "I just want you to know, you are all loved!"  And so the first morning began!

An hour of drama and an hour of music was the plan, but both first day activities were heavily movement oriented.  The lead teacher began and amazingly all the students followed - activity after activity.  And the laughter filled each room!  Spontaneous actions, blunt comments, unexpected movements all brought joy to the kids and the adults alike.

Do you know what pantomime means?  "Yes, I do.  It's pants that are mine!"

One student quietly writes a note on a whiteboard.  "Are we going to do any Shakespeare?"  A teacher reads it and calmly says, "I agree.  I would like that too."  And so it went.

We pretended to lift and pass heavy balls and tiny microscopic balls.  We formed lines and walked, first fast, then as slow as possible.  Then everyone focused on the teacher who stood quietly at the front of the room and started making gestures with her hand. Soon everyone understood what each gesture meant and followed along.  Before the activity ended, they had all taken turns being the teacher.  Then we started to learn a couple of songs, one complete with a hand clapping rhythm.  By the time the morning classes ended, two students were moving arm in arm, one student was wrapped up tight in the blanket that he had brought from home, one student had chewed through a whole pack of gum and kept asking "How many minutes more?"  But they all made it successfully to "End Of Day" where their parents were waiting.

Ms. Jenn said, "Would anyone like to share something that they learned this morning?"  One teacher said, "I would love it if someone would help me show how we did the Ball Activity."  With confidence and courage, one student (the gum chewer) said, "Oh, I will!"  And as he got up, so did many more!  And laughter again filled the room.  That was followed by someone volunteering to act out a pantomime with a partner.  The partner was amazingly willing. Everyone, parents and students,  got involved in guessing what they were doing.  "I was a butterfly and he was a butterfly catcher."

Remember the boy who left the room after three minutes of the Beginning of Day large group?  Well, he was jumping up and down in the back of the room for End of Day obviously excited about something.  After everyone had shared an activity, his teacher of the day said, "I think we have one more."  Straight up to the front he went followed by his teacher saying "You have to see if you can guess what I am doing.  It's ok if you can't guess though.  I will tell you."  And away they went - he pretending to be an alien and she pretending to be a spaceship.  When they finished, everyone applauded.  He handled the noise with grace.  In fact, he smiled and took a bow!  Then he hurried to his spot at the back of the room.

Day One ended already with tears and hugs.  We did it!  And the kids?  Well they just said "I'll see you tomorrow!"

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"There's Always Plan B"

They came to us, one at a time, with a mom or dad, an uncle or aunt, or both.  They came to meet us, to tell us about themselves, or to let their parents do the talking.  Some knew why they were meeting us but not all were sure.  What we learned about them is the beginning of our story.

"He's quiet in the morning you know.  Sometimes you have to push down on his head or do wall push-ups.  He memorizes scripts and sometimes, to get him to stop scripting you just say 'Put a bookmark in it'.

"He loves Seinfeld trivia and smooth jazz but it make him angry when someone fake cries."

"I've been in plays.  I can handle a lot."  "We'd like him to stand up for himself more, to take the lead once in awhile."  "Oh, I don't know about that.  I'm not sure really."

"I want to be a Christian singer and a chemistry teacher.  I'm not so good in front of people though.

"He looks like he's not paying attention but really he can repeat back everything that you've said.  No, he's not shy."

"He can imitate voices.  Do Ernie!"

"Why do I want to do this Academy?  What's my goal?  Well, maybe I want to know the history of First Stage.  Is that why I'm here?"

"I brought along some videos for you to see him playing his classical piano.  He doesn't like to practice.  He would rather play video games but he loves it when the audience applauds.  He loves getting attention for playing piano."

"I like to play with legos."  "Tell them what you do with them."  "Well, I like to create sets and then make stop action videos."

"He was once in an elementary play.  He's done intensive autism therapy and music therapy.

"It says here that I will 'Conquer my fears'.  What does that mean really?  Will I have to eat spinach?  I don't like spinach.  What does 'Take a risk' mean?  Does that mean I will have to climb Mt. Everest?  Mom, I don't think I can do this!"

"People say I'm highly intelligent.  What do you think that means?"

"We want him to be more confident.  We want him to make more statements, to stand up for himself, to set realistic goals, to not be so shy, to have an opportunity for a creative outlet, to be flexible, to meet friends, to have something to be excited about, to regulate his voice, to make a friend."

And what happens when you get upset or anxious about something?  "We have him take deep breaths, or go for a walk."  "He likes to draw." "The End."  "That's what he says when he's done talking about something."  "So if you're done what do you do?"  "Well, there's always Plan B.  I just come up with Plan B."

Monday morning is the first day of Next Steps Academy.  It has been designed specifically for children with autism.  The teachers have met for hours with a trainer.  Social stories have been written along with simplified versions of our one-on-one interviews.  We feel like we know them all but each is so very different.  We want them to feel comfortable but this will be an uncomfortable experience for them.  We want them to learn something new but it might be us who learns the most.  And what will we do if this doesn't work?  Well, there's always Plan B!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stand Tall

There's been no rain for so long. Plants are struggling to survive. I watered the tree line plants and it brought a deer out of the woods to eat something that wasn't dry. All I can do is pray for rain. Most summer months , we want an abundance of sunshine but now the day after day baking sun feels like punishment.

In my last entry, I shared how I always look for the bright side of everything. That's kind of like saying that I want the sun to always shine! In reality, everybody has rainy days and everybody needs the rain to breathe life back into tired smiles. During my journey to Sedona, I "rained" all over everyone but the "sunshine" that filled my soul when I left was stronger than it had ever been. So, I can appreciate the power of rain.

Have you ever heard someone say " The sun must be shining on you today"? And, how many times do we reach out for God's smile turning our faces up to the sun?

Maybe, just maybe God's smile comes in the form of rain too! Right now, the plants and animals are longing for that to be the case. Now, I will always be a fan of sunshine but it's the rain that has helped me stand tall!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Nothing Is Easy!

I took this picture at the small pond in my neighborhood nature preserve.  It looks stunning and perfect.  One would never know that it was floating alone.  Alone, that is,  in a pond filled with messy weeds, some fallen tree limbs, and a discarded plastic bottle or two.

In the eye of the camera or the eye of the photographer, we get to crop out everything but the stunningly perfect!  And then we can pretend that it's reality.

Well, it is!

Everything in life can be beautiful...if we zoom in on it.  That doesn't mean that there isn't debris outside the frame of the picture. Life comes with debris too.   It's up to us to choose what part of this world we are going to focus on.

I, myself,  am in love with the beauty!  I want to surround myself with others who see the beauty too.  What I have come to realize is that if we spend too much time with those who focus on the weeds and debris, we find ourselves thinking that may be all there is out there.  Then we never bother to take a picture. No one wants pictures of ugliness.

Well in my little world, I take my camera.  I look out at the big picture of weeds and downed branches and I choose to take a picture of the one blooming lily pad floating beautifully alone, not deterred by it's surroundings.  It decided to be stunning and perfect anyway!

It's not easy.  Nothing is.  But it is a choice we all have.  My choice is to go with the lily pad!

Monday, June 25, 2012

I Think I Can, I Think I Can!

Apparently, no one told the chipmunk that this was a "bird" feeder!  Apparently, it didn't understand that the feeder was meant to be out of reach!  All the chipmunk understood was that it was hungry and there was food, so it just went and got it!

Why aren't things in our lives that simple?  If I need something or want something, why don't I just go get it?  I think the reason is that along the way, I have had messages that played in my head saying "You can't, You can't, You can't"

"You can't" is often a message of kindness, unfortunately, designed to keep you from harm.  But "You can't" can also be an ugly chain link fence put up to keep you inside boundaries!  Through the links, you can see the world, you just can't quite get to it.

Over my lifetime, I have had my share of "You can't"'s surrounding me but my inner chipmunk said "Yes, but I'm hungry and I see that food right there so I think I can"!

My "I can" attitude pushed me through college, helped me get my first job, assisted me up the ladder at that job and kept me from succumbing to old specified gender roles.

Now, I have to admit that "I can" has sometimes left me stranded on the side of a mountain thinking "What was I thinking, I can't do this"?  But, even then...even then, after I collected my wits, I had to be proud of the fact that I had tried!  In fact, if I hadn't started saying "I can't", could I have gone further?

Over one's lifetime, there are different stages.  At the beginning of each new stage there are chain link fences. Again, these fences are often intended to be out of kindness, trying to protect us.    We try to protect little children  from obvious dangers as they navigate a new world.  We try to protect teenagers for the same reason.  But both of these age groups are like the chipmunk and defy imposed boundaries.  Chipmunks don't see fences.   "You can't" hasn't yet been engrained in their heads.  But then, as you get older, "You can't" is repeated over and over and becomes embedded in your brain and all of a sudden, fences appear.  You become afraid and hesitate to cross the imaginary boundary.  And the chain link fence is no longer about safety, it's about fear!

When you become comfortable again, the fences become invisible.  Then when you "get hungry" and push the boundaries...whoosh - the fence materializes!  Fear sets in.

It's here where you have had to channel your inner chipmunk!  
Now is when you have to say 
"I'm hungry.  I see the food right there."  
And "I CAN" reach it!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Follow the Chosen Path...Or Not!

I consider myself a rule follower, always the "good girl".  I obey traffic rules.  I didn't experiment with drugs during college.  I sit in my assigned seat at a ballgame!

And yet, when it came to assigned gender roles, there was always something in me that fought against the simple act of following.  Most times, the "path" was clear but almost always I said "Well what would happen if I went this way instead"?

When I was young, this very behavior was seen as being obstinate.  It caused a rift between my mother and myself that was never resolved.  But there I was, this timid, awkward creature, trusting my instincts and veering off the chosen path just to see what else might be out there.

In the beginning, each time I ventured out, I kept the chosen path in my line of vision at all times.  I will never forget how I used this strategy when I first entered the workforce after college.  My plan was to work as a teacher for three years to get my life time teaching license and then quit and be a full time stay at home mom.  My plan - veer off the chosen path then come back - did not work, though, because what I ultimately found on the other path was something that I liked just as much, if not even better. I also realized that the adventure and discovery that occurred when I took different paths was exhilarating!

I believe, now, that this is the reason I can embrace change with relative ease.  Over the past years, I have heard others complain about how difficult it is to deal with all the change that's occurring around them.  In fact, it seems to be causing them severe anxiety.  To me, change is just following a different path.  Change is also being willing to constantly evaluate your current path to determine if it's taking you where you want to go.

My life has been about trusting my instincts and following unexpected paths. To my daughters, I have said, "Life provides different doors for you.  You choose to go through a new door or not."  On the other side is...well you have to go through it, yourself,  to see!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dreams Unwritten!

The typewriter that my mom used in her high school typing class...the shoes she wore as a child...I carry these mementos from place to place with me as a reminder.  Now, however, I wonder - what am I trying to remember?  What is it that I don't want to forget?

The answer has been crystalizing over the past months as I have embarked on a new life journey.  This mother of mine who described me as a fussy baby,  who taught me how to be afraid, why do I carry her around with me in the form of a typewriter and little girl's school shoes?

Well, my mother was a writer.  Oh, she didn't write for anyone but herself but she loved to write.  She loved this, along with many other things, but never had the opportunity to do.  The reason was not because of personal limitations or lack of motivation or desire.  The reason she never had the opportunity to live out her dreams was because of the expectations and demands of others...and maybe that ugly word, FEAR!  My mother was born in 1921.  Women had just been given the "right" to vote!  Still, women had roles that they were expected to carry out.  During my mother's lifetime, she described how she almost wasn't allowed to attend high school until a Catholic school opened up. College was out of the question.   All this education was unnecessary for a girl.  Her dad dictated who she could and could not date.  They, too, had to be Catholic.  The Catholic church dictated that there be no form of birth control used other than what they called the "rhythm method".  In the end, my mother had eleven pregnancies with six of us surviving.

By the time I came along, my mother was an angry woman.  She was tired of laboring on a farm and caring for children especially me.  Remember I was that fussy baby!  Her bedroom "office" was her sanctuary.  Any spare time she could find was spent banging away on this typewriter.  She wrote beautifully descriptive pieces about mornings on the farm, the sounds of the birds, the gentle breezes blowing.  She wrote about Christmas' and the excitement of children with their presents.  She wrote poems and snapped pictures of other people and their new acquisitions.  But she never wrote about her disappointments in life.  She never wrote about her anger; how she would grab whatever stick was handy and start hitting and hitting and of us!

If the written stories were all that was ever passed forward, one would believe that she had been a happy person with a gift of seeing the beauty in life.  She was anything but happy!   She instead lived a life dictated by others.  She wrote about moments that perhaps gave her momentary joy and took out her rage on those  of us who were handy.

Have you ever heard the saying "they broke the mold when they made you"!  Well, I think that fussy baby was born to break the mold!  I never could accept the idea that I had a dictated role to play.  I never thought it was fair that girls were supposed to have specific girl roles!  I broke the family cycle that said college was "unnecessary"!  I worked full time and raised children but I left the Catholic birth control method at the door of the church!  I did the best I could to raise my girls to believe in helping others but also to believe that their own personal dreams are possible as well.

I think now that I carry my mother's typewriter around with me to remember the heavy burden she endured.  It's symbolic of all her unwritten dreams.  She was a person who spent her life being told how to live, afraid to do what she really wanted to do. The typewriter holds the memories of all the anger and resentment that truly lived behind her beautifully typed descriptions of our life events.

Mom's typewriter is a symbol that says:  

  • Don't let others hold you back.  
  • Demand the freedom to pursue your dreams with conviction and determination.  
  • You control how your life is written!
Sometimes others try to dictate my path and sometimes fear tries to take over but, in the end, strength prevails!  I have more dreams yet unwritten!  

Fussy baby has more to add to her life story!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Breathe - Part Two

So, the first week of May, my daughters and I completed a journey to Sedona, Arizona called Freedom from Body Memory. We were told to expect life changes upon our return. I had such conviction that first day back that I knew what my next steps needed to be. I immediately drove to an apartment complex in Franklin Wisconsin and signed a lease.

Today is May 18th. It should have been a day to celebrate my 16th wedding anniversary. I am celebrating it at my new apartment,alone! Well, actually not exactly alone. I am surrounded bythesounds of birds and a great big old raccoon sauntered out of the nature preserve to say hi as well!

When Jim and I married, we had each already experienced divorce before. We made a promise to each other that if the time ever came that one of us wanted out, we would not make it a painful experience for the other. In our own way, we are honoring that request. I came back from Sedona and shared with him my revelations. At the end I thanked him for the lessons I had learned during our years together.

Tonight, I sit in peace, having conquered one of my fears. I faced the fear of the unknown. I pulled that blanket down away from my eyes and here I am again, looking out at beauty!



Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Power Animal!

One of the lessons learned from my Sedona journey is to open up our awareness to all things that present themselves to us. Entertain the possibility that all things happen for a reason. On the first day of the journey, I sat enjoying coffee and listening to the sounds outside our rented home. In minutes, I heard the buzzing sound of a hummingbird. I have always been intrigued by these littlest of birds and this morning, seeing this particular bird gave me great joy. And I found myself asking it, "What are you trying to tell me this morning, little bird"? Then, we spent the day with a powerful woman by the name of "Healing Wolf" and she reiterated the sense that I had long believed. Animals do carry messages to us! I was told about a book that could actually help guide these thoughts and the one purchased was "Power Animals - How to Connect With Your Animal Spirit Guide". What I read was that Power Animals are "spirit guides" that serve to guide you through challenging times. They are meant to protect, guide, and provide us with encouragement and inspiration.

I read through the first part quickly and understand that my Power Animal might be one that I am especially drawn to...and the first one that jumped into my thoughts was the hummingbird! I turned immediately to these pages and find the following:

Hummingbird's Message to Me - "I love life! It's such a treat to be able to fly backward, forward, up, and down. Lots of flexibility as to which direction I go. I'm especially sensitive and careful about who I let close to me, so if something seems at all scary or intimidating, I'm outta there!". Does this sound like me?

but then the message continue "Say yes to life! Taste the sweet nectar that is always nearby, even if you have to fly around for awhile until you find it. Know the only true prison you have is the belief in your limitations. Let them go, and experience the abundance of love and opportunity that's all around".

Still the message continues to speak to me. I will take more time to study this book and the power of animal spirits. It's intriguing, isn't it? Think about the possibility that animals, flowers, trees all exist for a higher purpose - to guide us along this journey called life. All we have to do is open ourselves up to it and just Listen!

Oh, and just so you know, each day as I sat on my rock waiting and thinking about the lessons I was to take from the climb, I was visited by the hummingbird!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Redefining Me - Conclusion ( for now)


The mountain became a metaphor for my life and the lives of each member of the group. My journey stopped me short of the top both times leaving me out of the loop on the aha moments of the others.

My daughters shared stories of how they pushed through fear. Erin's was found on a narrow ledge.

Katie surprised herself with her strength.

Both of them complimented me on mine! I had not felt strong or able! I had spent hours, instead feeling trapped by my own fears! As everyone prepared to leave, Bob tentatively offered his card. I looked him in the eyes for the first time and then hugged him, saying "I'm so sorry I yelled at you. And I don't generally use inappropriate language. But thank you for pushing me to my limit"! He very quietly just said, "That's my job"!

I had not been a full member of this group, twice not being able to join the learning circles, yet as each said good-bye, they added such wonderful words of support - "you were an inspiration!", "I will always admire your strength to keep going even though you had no idea what this journey was about", " every time you spoke, I was taken by your insight". I will channel these words every time I find myself feeling like a failure!

What I did come away with, though, was that I had climbed MY mountain! I had reached a place that now gives me a strong conviction to love my life, to push forward with power, to know that I have more strength then I think I have, and to face fear head on!

Deeper then before, I also have a new respect for the strength of my daughters! I will never allow myself to be a burden to them, nor will I ever stand in the way of their life journey. On the last night, we raised a glass in a toast that we will "hold space" for each other's issues but know that it is up to each one of us to solve them ourselves. And no matter what, we will love each other, unconditionally!

Life is short! We each have to find the ways to live it 100%. Ending with no regrets! I am on the right path again! The journey to Sedona became a journey within! I found a group of people who each climbed their own mountains. We all left stronger!


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Redefining Me - part 3

We're climbing again today! It's not as steep as the other and when we get to the top, you'll have a 360 degree view of below!

I am already panicking. I go to Bob and say, "I'm only going as far as I feel comfortable today. I don't want to slow everybody down". He just responds with, "whatever you say"!

We start the long trek and he tells the two slowest walkers to lead the way! That would be me and another lady who is 66 years old and has hip problems. We make the flat path part of the journey look like we are seasoned hikers. At least in our minds! But then the path starts leading up the rocks and there I am again feeling weak and unable! Bob is yelling from behind, "come on, Jane, use those legs. Let's go"!


Pretty soon others are passing us, easily climbing those rocks. My feet slide and I become more and more nervous. The 66 year old lady is helping me! Bob tells her not to pull me. I need to use the power in my legs! I keep climbing, panting, sweating, and thinking...I want to stop right here. Bob keeps pushing me forward. " find your feet. Feel the solid ground. You don't want to stop. Wait till you see the top. You can do this. I sip some water. Take a few breathes and keep climbing. Slipping and sliding on pieces of red rock, wanting to enjoy the moment but feeling only fear. Others seem so able to move from rock to rock up the hill. I have to study each one to find the most secure path.

I reach a certain level and we're told to stop and take a break. "Hey Jane! High five! You made it half way"! Half way? I'm exhausted and this is just half way? We are to turn and continue. The climb becomes steeper. Bob is right in my ear saying "you don't want to give up now! You have more strength then you think. Dig deep. Push yourself"!

And then it happens! I look at a rock that I can't imagine climbing up. I don't have enough strength in my legs to push up this rock. I start to breathe fast and hard. "I can't do this one"! "yes you can". "No, I can't! Leave me here I'll be fine". "The top is right there. Thirty more feet and you've got it". "No, Bob, I can't. Let me stay right here!".

Then Jonathan says "maybe this approach would work better. All you have to do is ease across the front of this rock and then climb up this side".

I look it over and decide to try. Easing myself across the front of this rock, I try not to look down. I'm almost to the other side when I realize the the assent is still steep and I reach full out panic! I start to cry. "I can't do this. I need to go back". It's then that I realize that I don't know how to go back. I'm afraid to turn around! With some help, I am turned so I can face the rock, but then I start sliding. Not much, but I can't tell where I sliding to so I cling with my whole body to the flat surface of this rock and the horrifying fear takes complete control. I can't move! There is nothing to hold on to. My hands are sweating as I desperately cling on. Jonathan is right behind me saying "you're perfectly safe". But I don't believe him. I can hear that the others have made it up. Why can't I do this? I start to sob. Deep painful sobs that seem to come from nowhere I have ever been before! Jonathan stays with me saying "let it out. Release it. Let it go"! Sobbing, sobbing, sobbing! Frustration, anger, fear, helplessness! Deep painful despair! And then it's done.

I quietly still cling to this rock while Jonathan says "you'll need to push yourself away from the rock and turn your feet into the rock so you don't slide". I think that I can't make myself do either of these things. And then from above, the group starts singing Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a retch like me! I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind but now I see! Somehow, I gather every bit of strength I have and push my arms away from the rock. It was surprisingly easy! My feet followed and I find that I can ease back across the face of the stone. A couple of slides and reoccurring panics but I make it back to solid ground. I am relieved but totally spent, happy to stay put on yet another rock while the rest of the group continues to the top once again!


For the next two and a half hours, I sat in this spot trying to come to grips with what had just happened,thankful to be on a solid surface but humbled by how fear had taken over my entire being and rendered me frozen. While the rest of the group continued their journey to the top, each fighting their own demons, I had found mine on the side of that rock!

How much of my life has been defined by fear? I think of how I would sing to myself as I went into exams or class presentations "I have confidence in confidence alone and so you can see I have confidence in me"! How many times in my life had I not done something because I lacked the confidence? How many opportunities went by me because I had too much fear to see them? How much of my life had I settled for something other than what I wanted because it was easier to just keep the peace. How many times did I avoid a confrontation because I was afraid of the fight that might erupt so I sat in silence like my dad?

I closed my eyes and let a peace come over me. "Let go, let God".

We will each die when it is our time. We have just one brief moment on this earth to enjoy. I had been pulling a big heavy blanket over me, covering my eyes so I couldn't see...but now I let that blanket fall away and all that's there is beauty!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a retch like me! I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind, but now I see!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How Do I Define Myself? Part Two

So the next morning arrives and I feel stronger and ready to tackle the day...dancing, swimming, whatever. I don't want to be defined as a quitter!

We get to the first destination and we're greeted by a woman who will guide us through a ceremonial dance designed to help us open up memories and feelings from our past. This is the second time we experience the tradition of the "medicine circle". As we face north, we are to think about how we might have felt as a baby and let our bodies move in a way that would depict that. I start out rocking slowly, inhibited but moving. With my eyes closed I forced myself to be that baby but then in rushed the words of my mother..." you were a very fussy baby! You made your brother and sister so mad because they had to rock you and rock you!". I started rocking and moving around in the circle, holding this fussy baby!

Then we were told to face south and bring forth our inner child. Think about being playful and carefree! I could hear the others as they seemed to easily take on this role, laughing and dancing in crazy circles! I tried to feel that child in me but it wasn't clear. I was glad when we were told to face east.

Facing east we were to bring out the shadows. Think about your ancestors, those who have gone before you. What lessons did they leave for you? Think about your parents, your mother. What did she teach you? The answer came flooding into my brain---FEAR! My mother taught me to be afraid! We were to keep moving and dancing to represent the shadows to acknowledge their presence in our lives. I was completely in my own space, in my own head, the feeling of anger replacing inhibitions.

Finally facing west, feel the sun on your face. Gather strength from it's warmth. Feel that strength fill your body. Bring forth the lessons from infancy, childhood, and your shadows. Acknowledge their roles in your life but now think about how you want to move forward. I feel it. I know it. I want to move forward strong! Now join everyone together, making one sculpture. Choose one position and hold it. I make a fist and raise it towards the shadows. Fear cannot define me!

Leaving the circle and heading to the next destination, I am happy that I had chosen to come back. This "dance" had just clarified so many things for me. I felt confirmed that although I have deep hurtful memories from my past, I don't need them to define me. But now we arrive at a place that requires us to walk across a stream from stone to stone. Well, there goes my strength again. I feel fear. I don't want to slip! The last time I slipped, I injured my knee so bad that it required surgery. I finally decided that wet shoes were a better option then falling so I just stepped into the water and walked across!

While everyone swims, I talk to Marla. She too is facing a separation from her husband. She said they are still great friends. She had finally thanked him for the role he had played in her life and for the many lessons she had learned from him. She left him feeling whole and because of that, they were both able to move forward.

Before we left this final location for the day, we were asked to share our thoughts. I said, "you know, I had not planned on coming back. After yesterday, I was angry, frustrated and humiliated. I think mostly at myself but also at Bob! But after talking about it with my girls, I do know that I don't want to be seen as a burden. This is my journey and I need to make sure that I don't expect others to carry me. I also know that I have an awesome opportunity to be a great role model for two fantastic daughters. I don't want the shadows to define me! I want my lessons to be about strength not about fear! And Bob, I'm not mad at you anymore. I understand what you were telling me"! Later Bob said, " yesterday, when you sat on that rock for three hours, did you see anyone pass you?". I answered with "no". He continued then, "do you get that? Do you understand that most people only take the hiking paths down on the ground?". He then just walked away leaving me to process what he had just said.

I had felt bad about not making it to the top of that mountain. I felt like I was weak and a quitter. In his quiet subtle way, Bob had just told me that I had actually had more courage then most people! Do you get that, Jane?

How Do I Define Myself? Part One

Today was a journey that pushed me, angered me, humiliated me, and then guided me back to the ground.

I worried about this day, not of the potential revelations but of the physical challenges. I braced myself with good shoes and a pair of walking sticks. Looking at the mountain we were to climb made me tear up! I can't do that! I was reassured. It's a slow steady climb. Looks can be deceptive! So I started.

Already on flat ground, I am out of breath. I can't keep pace. Bob hangs back with me. Tells me to just go one step at a time. No problem. Sip of water, catch my breath, keep going. Then the climb begins! It's not just walking uphill, it's climbing up rocks! I do the first couple and then I feel the fear! I can't do this! Yes you can. Feel your feet, trust your feet. You don't need the walking sticks. They get in your way. Trust the strength in your legs. I don't! My legs are the weakest part of me. I start to cry and I'm told that I'm releasing! Releasing what? Maybe frustration...maybe anger...but about what and at whom! Me? Bob?

So then Bob says " I heard you say that you like traveling with your girls because they push you to do things you wouldn't normally do"!  No offense, but do you really want to be a burden on them? They have their own journey. Yet they are here worried about you! Do you want to keep them from their own journey? Of course the answer is "no"! "How old are you anyway"? When I answer with "61". His response is "my grandmother is 84 and still runs circles around us". So I push up several more rocks, angry and frustrated. I don't want to be a burden. I am not old. I can take care of myself. But then the rocks getting higher and the fear deepens. Now it's replaced with "How am I going to get back down"?

Bob says "is this where you want to stop? I spent four hours with another person once and I swore I was never going to do that again! Is this where you want to stop!". "yes, go, go! I don't want to be a burden. I don't want to slow you down'!  "Ok, you have water. You have food. Stay in the shade!"

So there I am on the side of this mountain, higher then I thought I'd ever go, sitting and waiting for the others to finish their climb and come back down. I sat there for three hours!

I sat and first thought about how stupid I was for trying this anyway. Then running over the words that Bob said, I spent the rest of the time thinking about how much I don't want to be a burden on my kids, how I want them to experience their lives the way they want.

My next thought was I am sitting here alone. So much of my life has been dealing with things alone. Everyone else is at the top of the rock. I find out later that they are "unwinding" - what ever that is - but with the support of each other. I am sitting on a rock alone!

All of a sudden, I think about how hard it is to be alone. How frightening. Perhaps the choices I am making to leave Jim are all wrong. Maybe what I should do is show the courage to stay in this marriage. Perhaps my job is to help him get the help he needs. He told me as well how desperately lonely he was in Florida. He also told me that Erin and Katie were not going to want me around all the time. Now here was Bob saying the same thing! So ok, if I ever get off this rock, I will just go back to Jim. He wants me and it's comforting to think about just letting all the stress, anxiety, and fear of leaving behind.

So there it was, my reason to be alone on this rock was to figure out that I needed to go home!

Three hours later, I hear a voice. Jonathan is coming back down followed by three others. "How you doing Jane?". I just start to cry. "What's the matter?" all I can say is "I'm afraid to climb down". "Here, take my hand, I'll help you"! I make it off the rocks and I walk the rest of the way with thoughts that are so conflicted. I don't want to burden my daughters. I want to show them a strong woman.

Bob calls out "Hi Jane! How you doing? My answer was, " You know what Bob, the lesson I learned from today is that I am alone and I need to figure things out for myself! He says the typical stuff like "How's that worked for you in the past? My answer is "It doesn't seem to matter. It's been this way my whole life! I'll figure it out!". Then he says, Here take my hand! I reply with "You wouldn't give me your hand when I couldn't get up the rocks, why would I need your hand now on flat ground"?

He walks on!

Later that night, my girls share their insights about the day.  I say, "I don't think I'm going back tomorrow"!  I was still angry and frustrated as I recounted the way things happened from my perspective. They had worried about me being left behind but had been told that I was fine and in the right place for "my journey".  The next day we were told that we would be dancing and swimming!  Great!  Two more things that I don't feel that good at!  Let's just add to the humiliation, shall we!

Then, Erin says, "You are not a burden to us.  You have always pushed us to do things and you have never held us back.  Bob just heard a couple of things and thinks he knows you and us!  He's just wrong... Mom, what if Bob was intending to make you angry?  What if he did that on purpose"?

I showed them the picture that I had taken from "my rock".  Erin said, "Look at this, it's beautiful! If you really look at it, it could have deep meaning.  The cactus is like all the prickly parts of your life, the two yellow flowers could be us, the tree stands protective, and the horizon just shows how much beauty there is out in the world if you just look out at it."  I smiled and gave her a hug.  Wise beyond her years!

Then a red cardinal landed on a tree branch.  Katie asked who I thought that cardinal could represent.  We decided that it could represent my brother Dave.  Then Katie said, "What would Dave think about your decision to return home to Jim"?  I said that he would just weigh the facts.  So we started laying out the facts of my marriage to Jim and in the end the fact was that my decision to just stay with Jim was not about being strong but instead it was about staying just because it was easier.  If this weeks journey was to prove to us that we are strong and capable women, then I needed to not give in so easily.

If this week is to be about being strong and capable, then I need to not give in so easily...I need to go back tomorrow!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Today begins a journey!

This morning, I was up early! Coffee cup in hand, I sat in this beautiful swing and just listened to the sounds! There is running water far below. You can make out just a hint of a stream! Bird sounds come from every direction.

Then, while I sit and take in the beauty, I hear a buzz! Right in front of me is the most charming hummingbird! There it is, fluttering wildly and staring at me. What are you trying to tell me little bird? Do you also see the beauty in this day? Let's both just take it in, shall we?

Let the journey begin!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Here You Come Again!

Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to live alone!  At some moments, it was sad and lonely but those were just moments.  The rest of the time was spent "finding myself"!  Now if that isn't a 70's Hippie thing to finally do in 2012!

Out of the rubble in my brain came a 60 page document that I entitled "Here You Come Again"!  It highlights lessons that I have learned from people who have been in my life but have now passed on to another  world.  I added links to different songs and videos that reminded me of that person or a particular lesson and all in all I feel that the document is a personal masterpiece!  Emphasis on personal.  I will never be the kind of person who boasts about myself but this document has maybe helped me to clarify what I think and why I think the way I do.  It has been a revelation in how to accept people for who they are and not pile blame on them for who you are!

Here You Come Again is the title because of the voices in my head that just keep playing over and over again during my life journey.  Those voices can very clearly be sorted by person who has passed.  Do you suppose that our loved ones continue to surround us daily, doing the best they can to whisper suggestions into our ears?  Maybe!

At any rate, I would like to see if I can copy and paste this document into a blog so that the links can be followed.

Here You Come Again

I have it linked here right now through iWork.  This may or may not last over time.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Somehow I had started this and never sent it. Now I open up Blogsy and here he is. I will see him this weekend. He has been moved to a rehab center. Don't know if he will be better or not. I have been so wrapped up in my own drama that I can't remember to call him.

You know, I love him even though I can't take on his care. I wish he had made better choices in his life but who am I to talk.

This is a Test!

I am being tested right now.  Over the past months, I have had the opportunity to reflect like never before on me, on my family, on the lessons learned over a lifetime, and on the feeling about the rest of my life and how I see it playing out.
What I have come to realize about myself:
  • I might be selfish but never want or expect anything for myself,
  • I might be stubborn but always feel as though I am doing what others want to do,
  • I think I am smart but I do so many dumb things!
  • I come across as a confident person but I am generally more like a scared puppy inside.
Because of these contradictions, I have struggled to really understand me and that has become my greatest frustration.  So, this winter I went on a search for that person by really studying the people I feel have had the greatest impact on making me me!
After completing that awesome assignment and reading the results over and over again, I see a person who maybe at one time was afraid but pushed herself anyway; maybe lacked confidence but never gave up; continued to find joy in learning new things; and although I really never ask for anything, I do expect a lot.
So... I am confident.  I am smart.  I am stubborn.  And I am selfish!
And, I know these two things for sure - 1) life is short (I have proof) and 2) life is about choices!
So here is the testWhat does a confident, smart, stubborn, selfish person do when they find out that they are unhappy in a marriage?  
They leave it!  They leave it with no regrets even if it will cost them monetarily.  They leave it even though it will be initially painful.  They leave because they know that they have been through this before and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel!  They leave it because this confident, smart, stubborn, selfish person is also a positive person who always, always sees the rainbow!
Please God, let me see the rainbow!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stop and Enjoy the Beauty!

Stop and Enjoy the Beauty!

What will happen if it freezes now?  It's not unusual for snow to fall in Wisconsin as late as April and sometimes even in May.  My mother always warned about planting a garden before Mother's Day.  Someone should have warned Mother Nature!  The magnolia trees have blossomed and blooms are already slowing falling to the ground.  Daffodils are spent!  Tulips are blooming.  Lilacs are ready to bloom.  Apple blossoms are open.  What happens if it freezes now?

Better enjoy this past month.  It could be fleeting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Hear and I Remember

Have you ever heard a song and instantly been transported back to a place and time when that song played?  That's what happened to me this morning.

I heard "Hey Jude" by the Beatles and instantaneously I was at a high school dance in a church basement!  It was a Friday night.  I had such a crush on the guy I was dancing with.  I never wanted the song to end.  How is it that I can remember all of that?

People experience things in different ways.  For me, music seems to be the one avenue to lock things into my memory for years.  I memorized the multiplication tables from a series of rhythmic songs on little 45's. I figured out how to remember the plays of Shakespeare by developing a verse.  Perhaps American History would have been easier for me if I had been able to hear the roots music of the time.

I have been writing/reflecting on people in my life and find that I want to connect them to specific songs or performers.  For instance, when I think of my dad, the song that comes to mind is "Tumbling Tumble Weeds" by the Sons of the Pioneers.  When I think of my mom, I think of the Lawrence Welk show.

And on and on the memories go.

So today,  although I have never been a musician,  my thought is that I am so grateful for the music in my life.  It seems to be the rhythm of my memories!