Screen Test

Screen TestAs part of Self-Care month and inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s “Better than Before.” I decided to tackle the habit of staring at my laptop screen for hours at a time.

The first step was to get a feel for how many minutes, hours actually, I am tapped into my browser. This was easily done by opening my browser (I know!) and looking at history. Turned out I averaged four hours of screen time a day over the past week, a third of it after dinner.

“I’ll bet I can cut my screen time in half and still get my work done, keep up with my friends and read the news,” I said to myself.

Changing a habit always begins with a decision. I decided to stop using my computer after dinner by turning off my laptop before I ate.

The first evening, I glanced at my To Do list after shutting down my computer and nearly turned it back on when I saw the word “Write.” I wondered if I had enough willpower to open a document without also opening the browser. The little voice in my head chided my search for a loophole with “Screen time is screen time” and I left the laptop off.

That blog post would have to get written the old-fashioned way, with pen on paper. I started scribbling.

My father who is also a writer, told me years ago when I first began writing on a computer that he preferred to use his typewriter. It kept his mind sharp, he said, to have to think out what he wanted to say and write without editing.

I found myself feeling a little lost on my first day into my new habit. I actually had too much time on my hands. I wondered who I might be letting down by not checking my email at 8pm. I had gotten ready for bed, scoured the kitchen sink, taken out the compost, pulled some weeds and dead-headed the petunias. I flirted with laying in the hammock for a spell but thought it a bit too reckless. Besides, it was a chilly evening and I would have had to put on a pair of socks.

I’m optimistic about using my new-found time wisely. I believe my writing will improve and the weeds will suffer. The next step will be waiting an hour before turning my computer on in the morning. I may try writing in my journal while I sip my cocoa. Heck, I may even do a little reading.

I’ll let you know how it goes. But I’ll probably tell you to your face rather than post it on my facebook.

Mastering Underachievement

“Sigh…” I thought as I surveyed half a dozen used coffee cups at Betty’s Diner on a winter morning in 1976. As the dishwasher, it wasn’t my job to clean the tables, but the waitresses were hunched over their coffee and cigarettes at the counter, and it was only a matter of time before another flush of truckers pulled in for breakfast. I was only 22, hardly old enough to boss the help around so I didn’t say anything. I bussed the tables and slid a rack of cups into the washer. It seemed like I’d been doing other people’s work all my life.

If you’re reading this post, you may have already embraced the concept of self-care. Perhaps you’ve always known it. Perhaps you were born knowing how to take care of yourself. You didn’t need the flight attendant telling you to “secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” Perhaps your tendency for self-preservation came with your first breath; a survival instinct as automatic as your heartbeat.

Not me. Caring for my own needs did not come natural. The first time I heard the term “Self-care” I snorted and thought to myself, “I’m not sick! I’m not an invalid that needs to be ‘taken care of’.” Self-care – it sounded so…Selfish. In my hubris I thought, “I’m the care-TAKER; I don’t need taken care OF!”

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Working on self-care with Jesse in 1999

It took a long time for me to realize that not everyone is wired like me. I assumed others saw the same un-done tasks as I did, and couldn’t understand why they didn’t feel an urgency to get them done. My inner voice had an under-current of resentment as I took care of things that no one else wanted to do. It wasn’t until reaching my fifties that it slowly dawned on me that I was an overachiever.

Even more startling, I realized that I didn’t need to bend over backwards to earn my keep. Much of the work I had burdened myself with was driven by an undue sense of duty and responsibility. My expectations of myself were much higher than what others expected of me. I began hearing my resentment for what it was – a gentle nudge to throttle down. I now pause to reassess my actions whenever my inner dialogue begins with “I’ve love to do this but I can’t because I have to…”

It doesn’t matter where my sense of responsibility comes from (being an oldest daughter with six little brothers) or how long it has been in play, or how much I imagine others depend on me. Every time I step in to solve someone else’s problem or clean up a mess they left, my irritation tells me I am on the wrong path.

I’m learning to walk the line between contributing and enabling. And I find that others happily step up to the plate when given that opportunity. Since removing my barriers to self-care, I’m getting good at asking others to pitch in, and at staying my tongue before saying “yes” or offering to solve someone else’s problem.

Although I worried about becoming lazy and selfish or about getting kicked to the curb for not pulling my own weight, this has not happened. In fact, I’m still getting just as much done. The changes I’ve made are transparent, no one has accused me of being an underachiever, and I’ve never felt happier or more relaxed!

Author’s Interview!

MicheleMy first Author’s Interview! Thank you Michele!

Michele has done a lot for the local writing community and Not only do Michele and I both love to write and blog, but we share the same birthday. Check it out:
 
Friendship and Travel for Two “Brauds” Abroad: Author Interview with Camille Armantrout

Seeing and Sawing

Seeing and SawingOne of my happiest memories of late was the time Tami and I went over to Rock Ridge Park and tried out the new playground equipment there. The see saw was our favorite. The feeling of being up in the air, looking down at the other, and the next second looking up from our seat on the ground was intoxicating. We laughed and laughed.

Not long after that, Lyle bought Tami a see saw which he placed beside her swing set at The Plant. Because it takes two to operate, I have yet to try it out or see it in use. But every time I look at it, I remember the fun I had at Rock Ridge.

The See Saw is a fitting metaphor for the ups and downs of life and relationships. As Tami and I traded places that day, we talked about how we balance out our spouses and vice versa. When one of us is anxious, the other assumes an air of calmness. If I worry, Bob assures me everything will be alright. When he runs out of social energy, I step up to represent the Trouts. Naturally, we do the same for the people around us. When you walk into a room and sense tension, it’s natural to try and lighten things up. We are social animals, after all.

A few weeks ago I started asking myself what were the high and low points of my day. My email buddies are happy to play this game with me even though it isn’t easy to come up with the answer right away. After a little thought the answers do come, though and they are often surprisingly little events. One one day, for example, my low point was being lost in the morass of QuickBooks payroll hell and the high point, the moment after when I walked outside to bring in a handful of Spring flowers.

My high points can be something someone said, a gift given or received, a small epiphany or a breath of sweetly scented Spring air. Perhaps it’s enough to take note of the high points. Maybe trying to recall my low points is just looking for trouble. But I think it’s important to look at both. Not only does it give me a yardstick with which to measure my days, they balance each other out.

Everyone who has ever played on a see saw has reached that moment when the rhythm of ups and downs becomes too predictable and so they sit on the ground for a few extra seconds, their partner on the up side. For a moment, being stuck on the high side is a pleasant surprise, and then the smile begins to fade. Life is not meant to be lived perpetually up or down. We crave the movement between the two. Without one there would be no other.

Staying Safe

StaySafeI had to laugh when my co-worker asked me, So, what is there to be scared of?” I had been telling him about my year in Belize and he was entirely in earnest with his question. “Nothing.” I said lightly.

During our time as managers of a remote lodge, Bob and I frequently met guests from the developed world who were apprehensive about everything from snakes to drinking water. It was our job to assure them that they were safe. Trying to put it into perspective we would ask, “Have you ever been in a car accident or know anyone who was in one?” We’d point out that the odds for becoming a highway casualty far outweigh those for getting snake bit.

We live on a short stretch of road with a speed limit of 45 mph, 10 miles per hour lower then the rest of Hwy 1012. This piece of road is striped to indicate two passing zones, one for south-bound traffic, followed immediately by a passing zone for traffic traveling north. A few years ago Tami discovered that if you get hit trying to turn left in the passing zone, you are both the injured party and at fault.

Before pulling out of or back into our driveway I hold my breath and tuck my tongue safely behind my teeth. The unmistakable squeal and thud of wreck sends us scrambling and we’ve played the role of first-responder three times over the past six months.  Our neighbors are also quick on the scene and the running joke between us is, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this!” Afterwards, I email the traffic engineer at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and ask them to consider re-zoning it to no passing. No luck so far.

When we returned to the States from Nicaragua, we noticed a ubiquitous new phrase. At first, I bristled when grocery cashiers sent me on my way with a casual, “Be safe!” This must be a reaction to the 911 attack, I thought. How myopic to think that we, of all people, have anything to worry about. Here we are, perched on top of the world’s resources with every imaginable safety net installed.

And yet…

Sunday found us on our back porch with a happy group of people, filling plates with potluck food when we heard the familiar thud of an accident. I set down my plate and ran to the road, hoping to find a mere fender-bender but when I arrived I saw Bob, who I last saw napping, leaning into the window of a truck. Someone was still inside!

So I dialed 911 and began answering questions. Was the patient breathing? I didn’t know. I walked over for a look and to my horror recognized the driver as a friend who had intended to join us for dinner. The dispatcher’s patience was commendable. Several times she reined me in with, “Okay, I’m going to ask some questions and I need you to answer.” I made it through the call, but not with flying colors. This was too close to home for comfort.

After I got off the phone, Haruka and I held each other in a long embrace. My neighbor Jimmy grinned wryly, saying “We have to stop meeting like this,” and I waved to his wife across the street. The ambulance quickly arrived and whisked our friend away. Everything turned out as well as could be expected. The truck suffered much, much more than the human. My contact at DOT will look into our piece of road again, and the State Troopers who wrote up the report promised to keep an eye on our stretch of road.

Still, the whole affair had a sobering affect. As much as I dislike the phrase, staying safe actually has meaning when the danger is right outside your door.

My Favorite Brother

Even with five to choose from, it isn’t hard to pick my favorite brother. Johnny was my compensation prize for being dethroned as the only child and quickly became my best friend. Only fifteen months younger than I, he was my constant companion throughout all our early childhood adventures.

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The Cookie and Johnny Show 1958

But wait, Bobby could also be my favorite brother. He came along three years after Johnny, a cheery ray of sunshine with his bright smile. The three of us became inseparable, like a pack of puppies. I’m pretty sure Bobby was Johnny’s favorite brother too.

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The Three – Johnny, Bobby and Camille

Yes, I’d have to say Bobby was my favorite brother until little Jody arrived, a lovely child with a seriousness that bordered on divine. By now I was old enough to cradle the new baby in my arms and care for him like a little mother. I fell in love.

Joe began showing his adventurous side early on. Before he was two, he disappeared and was found several blocks away at the beach. After his second escape, my mother was forced to tether him to our back yard clothes line.

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Jody

Two years later, Mike appeared on the scene and soon became my newest favorite brother. He watched wide-eyed as the rest of us bounded around him, so fascinated he rarely cried. When Mom went to hook him up to the clothes line, he begged her not to, promising not to stray. There was enough going on in his own back yard to keep him entertained. I found his unique blend of humor and uncanny ability to express it through music, cartoons and water colors irresistible.

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Musical Mike with his ever impish smiling eyes

Nineteen and a half months later, James stole all of our hearts with his big, beautiful eyes. Another favorite brother had been born. When he was four and a half years old, James Taylor released Sweet Baby James. The lyrics “And rock-a-bye sweet baby James,” tickle my brain whenever I think of my youngest brother.

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Sweet baby James

Today, Johnny is still my favorite brother. Our earliest memories are so intertwined that we remain as connected as twins. And Bobby, with his unique blend of common sense and wry sense of humor is also my favorite. I’m looking forward to the annual road trip with my favorite brother Joe, who often tempts me into dubious adventures. My favorite brother Mike and I often delve deep into the mysteries of life over the phone. And I get so excited at the prospect of seeing my favorite brother James that I catch myself squealing like a little girl.

With five favorite brothers, I must be the luckiest girl in the world!

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James, Mike, Joe, Bobby and Johnny – 1989

Alone in the Woods

HeleninherKitchenDear Nana,

I dreamed about my girlfriend Ruthann last night and that made me think of you. Plus, I can’t think of a blog topic, so I decided to write you instead.

Ruthann passed away the week before Thanksgiving. I woke up thinking, “I need to email Ruthie” and then I remembered. That’s when I thought of you because you also have a habit of showing up in my dreams. Most of the time, though you show up in my day dreams.

Even though you’ve been gone for more than twenty-five years, you are still all around me. I can smell your legendary Sunday dinners in the utensils I inherited from your kitchen, and hear your voice in the jays and blackbirds that mimic the soundtrack of your yard. I see you standing in your red plaid flannel shirt whenever I pull on a piece of red clothing. I remember you telling me I looked great in red and so I have a lot of red clothes. So did you, by the way.

Anyway, beyond dreaming about Ruthann and thinking of you, here’s what’s going on in my life: I published my first book. I know! I always knew I would write a book, but didn’t think it would be this soon. And yes, I did say “my first book.”

I guess 60 isn’t all that young, but I didn’t think I’d write my first book until after I retired. These days, however retirement is a lost concept. Come to think of it, you really didn’t retire either. You just kept on cooking up those incredible meals into your 80’s. I’ve never tasted chocolate chip cookies like the ones you baked. Please whisper your recipe in my ear one of these days.

If the truth be told, I am as close to retired as I care to get. I’m involved in my community just enough to give me social legitimacy, leaving more than enough time for writing, cooking and walking in the woods. Oh, there. You popped into my head again as I thought about the woods behind your house. What a great place to play! All of us so loved our hikes up to the sand pits.

The_Sand_PitFrankIllo2000Did you know Frankie has not been up there in years? He says he wants to keep the image in his head of what it looked like when he was a kid. He even painted a picture of it from memory.

Anyhoo, as you used to say, when I was walking in the woods today, I took stock of my mental state. Okay, that’s a fib. I interviewed myself. I know it’s weird but sometimes when I’m alone in the woods, I talk to myself. It’s amazing what I learn by talking out loud. Come to think of it, I probably started this habit right after you died and I didn’t have you to talk to anymore.

So, I was walking in the woods and I asked myself, “How are you today?” and I answered, “Pretty good” and I said “Well you sound kind of down.”
“I guess I’m feeling a little guilty.”
“How come?”
“I’m not working as hard as I used to.”
“Heh heh, I seem to recall you being resentful because you were working too hard, vowing to cut back on your responsibilities, and now that you’ve done that, you’re feeling guilty?”
“Yeah, I know. I guess if I have to choose resentment or guilt, I’ll go with the guilt.”

It’s not like I don’t do anything for anybody anymore. There goes your voice in my head again. Good point. Guilt is a symptom of a healthy conscience, so it’s a good sign to have a little twinge of guilt here and there. But no point in getting carried away.

Well, thanks for the nice chat, Nana. I do love you so!

“I still blame myself – for what, I can’t exactly say. I might as well condemn myself for choosing the wrong parents, or the wrong planet.”
– Sy Safransky, editor and publisher of The Sun

Not for Profit

You hear stories about people who chased their dreams and ended up with a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow. At the moment, we are not those people.

Shortly after Bob and I said our wedding vows in July of 1994 we created a mission statement which reads, “Team together to avoid negative influences and create a life of challenge and fulfillment by following our hearts.”

Over the next twenty years, we would weave in and out of fiscal security, jumping on lucrative opportunities when they fit our ideals, and pursuing unconventional lifestyles the rest of the time. The pursuit took us all over the globe, each move bringing us closer to paradise found.

So here we are today, living our dream, surrounded by people who share our values, all of us trying to eke out a life that doesn’t tread too heavy on the earth. It’s a struggle and a joy.

We have a sense of purpose, agendas that support local food and economy, and a richness of community that throws back to our grandparents’ era. We’re immersed in meaningfulness, but are all teetering on the edge of our overdrafts.

Maybe this is what collapse looks like, because I really don’t know anyone who is making buckets of money in today’s economy. Even my friends who have corporate jobs with health insurance and retirement plans are struggling these days.

If that’s the case, if the choices are sell out and flounder or stay true and struggle, following your heart is clearly the right choice.

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Friday Afternoon Club – because sometimes, you just have to party in a greenhouse.

 

Sharing

duke_university_chapelMy recent ruminations about sharing began with a news story about Christians and Muslims sharing a Christian chapel, bled into a story about the murder of three students over the sharing of parking spaces, and are permeated by the daily challenges of managing The Plant, a diverse eco-industrial park.

The art of sharing begins in childhood. As a short-lived only child, I did not have to share my parents or anything else until my little brothers began to arrive. I recall learning at school that if you had an apple and your friend did not, you should cut the apple in half and give them the bigger half.

At the dinner table, I learned to stay my appetite for second helpings until the boys had taken their share. Ditto for thirds. These early lessons explain my obsession with leftovers (no one else wants them, so they are mine, all mine!) and a tendency towards sneaky eating, resulting in a lifelong struggle with the scale.

In my professional life, the diverse hive of activity at The Plant is rife with sharing challenges. When the farmers build their Spring planting beds, tractors hurry back and forth across the main drag, leaving tracks of red clay on the asphalt. The winery fills the parking lot with polyester-clad tasters, industrial aromas of insecticide and biodiesel permeate the air, and the massage therapist strives to provide her clients a pleasant-smelling, quiet experience. On at least one occasion, a swarm of bees left the hives to colonize one of the offices.

It requires open communication and diligent surveillance to keep all factions reasonably satisfied when what one business needs to operate is in direct conflict with what another requires. Fortunately, we are all up to the task. Bob has helped this effort immensely by tackling the issues head-on and putting in place community institutions such as FAC  in his greenhouse. Friday Afternoon Club is the perfect way for tenants to unwind after a busy week, strengthen friendships and chew on the topics of the day.

Obviously small, communicative groups deal with diversity in the way that larger or more factionalized groups do not. The news is full of stories about failed relationships between families, neighbors, countries, ideologies and species. Human disregard for the other life-forms that share planet earth is the ultimate example of inadequate sharing protocols.

Last month, North Carolina’s Duke University made international news when they “canceled plans for Muslim students to sound the traditional call to prayer from the school’s iconic chapel tower amid threats of violence and a backlash from anti-Muslim groups, conservatives and Christian leaders.” Despite the chapel having been shared between Christians and Muslims for decades, apparently, broadcast prayers was over-the-top. Having lived with daily broadcast prayer in Africa, I was happy that line was drawn.

On Tuesday, ten miles away in nearby Chapel Hill, a dispute over sharing parking lot spaces led to the execution-style murder of three young students who happened to be Muslims. This story also received global coverage. I couldn’t help but sense a connection between these two indicents. The consequences for not working out problems, can be deadly.

As a result of these musing, I’ve come to two conclusions about sharing:
1. Keep it small because large groups don’t share well.
2. Communication and compromise are the keys to a long life.

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Friday Afternoon Club in Bob’s ginger greenhouse at The Plant February 13, 2015

Sources:

In Chapel Hill Shooting of 3 Muslims, a Question of Motive

Amid Threats, Duke Moves Muslim Call to Prayer

Free Kindle Version of Two Brauds Abroad

TwoBraudsBookFor a limited time, you can upload the free kindle version of the new book, Two Brauds Abroad – A Departure from Life as We Know It by Camille Armantrout and Stephanie De La Garza.

Available through Thursday at midnight Pacific Standard Time via Kindle USA or Kindle UK.

Two Brauds Abroad is a travel adventure about Camille and Bob’s year and a half in West Africa and Steph’s life traveling around Costa Rica, working with animals, house sitting and other ways she figured out for living on the cheap in a beautiful place. Part I is the story as told through actual correspondence interspersed with blog posts, photos and updated information. Part II is a primer on how you would go about transforming yourself into a world traveler with tons of tips and inside knowledge.

Even if you don’t have a kindle, you can download the free Kindle Reading app from Amazon. Please tell your friends about this offer. Our goal is to get our story out there.

And what a story it is. I won’t spoil it for you, but as you might suspect Steph and Camille face a lot of interesting dilemmas living in our host countries and being such good friends, they tell each other everything. If you have ever wondered what it might be like to live in Africa, or Central America, or love to travel, or just like reading other people’s mail, you will enjoy Two Brauds Abroad.