Vivi la vita che hai immaginato

“Live the life you have imagined!”

Coming Soon!

A little over 35 years ago, just entering my senior year of college and needing an elective to fill my schedule, I signed up for Intro to Art History.  Little did I know how much that class would end up captivating me and eventually even changing the course of my life.  I remember to this day the feeling that came over me as I watched the world’s great works of art flipping through the instructor’s slide projector.  I was so mesmerized, I even considered changing majors.  Not exactly a smart move in your next to last semester from graduation but when the instructor one day mentioned that I qualified for a study abroad program in Florence, Italy that could be taken my final semester, I thought, I have to at least do THIS! 

At this point in my relatively sheltered life, I had never even traveled out of the state of Florida beyond our family’s move from New York, let alone traveled out of the country.  My family and my entire circle of friends thought I was crazy.  I knew no one else on the program that was attending; I knew nothing about getting a passport; or flying; or living in a foreign country; or even how I was going to pay for the program as my entire college education was self funded – I just knew I had to go! The desire to see in person all of the beauty and history I saw projected from the slides of that class coupled with the challenge of accomplishing something no else in my family had ever even dreamed about was the incentive to find a way to bring this dream to reality.

Me, my Florence roommate Ginny (who I met for the first time in Florence but loved her immediately!) and our favorite hotel clerk!

It was during this time in Florence, that I also began my love affair with food.  Trust me, I never had a problem eating but I had not yet learned how to savor and truly appreciate good food.  Italy had me with the very first breakfast at the student pensione where the tables were filled every morning with pane, burro e marmellata  – delicious fresh baked loaves of bread served with creamy European butter and jam.  Often in the late afternoon my fellow students and I would stop on the way home from classes at Rosticceria Alfio, a small street side takeaway cafe, where we were single handedly responsible for hundreds of sales of their rosticcerie specializzate – deliciously moist rotisserie chickens packaged in their own special little takeaway bags that we would open and devour as soon as we got back to the hotel.  They were so good I kept one of their bags as a souvenir!  By the time I had Spaghetti alla Carbonara for the first time at Nannoni’s Restorante & Pizzeria, my love affair with food and cooking was written in stone.  On every postcard home to family and friends all I talked about was the food.  So much so that one of my friends even joked “did you do anything else but eat while you were there?”  “I did”, I remarked, “but I can’t for the life of me remember anything else!”.  So much for falling in love with art history!  In truth, the time in Florence was magical.  How could it not be when our pensione was a stone’s throw away from del Duomo, one of the most famous cathedrals in Florence and highlights of our semester abroad included trips to Rome, Venice, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. 

The beginnings of my love affair with food!

That trip literally opened my eyes to the world.  The fact that what started as a tiny spark of a dream in my mind even came to fruition made me a lifelong believer that anything is possible if you have the will, and possibly a bit of luck, to make it happen.  In my adult life, I have been fortunate to continue my worldly travels, both for business and for pleasure, and even lived overseas in Okinawa,  Japan for three years.  Yet, I have never been back to Europe.  When I retired, my “imagined life” was filled with nothing but yoga and travel.  I even started my small craft business with the sole purpose of funding my travel adventures.  My husband has never shared this passion or retirement goal so I have been happily absconding on my travel adventures thus far with friends while hubby graciously holds down the home front and our four legged family. I got a few wonderful trips under my retirement belt before, well, life got in the way (in more ways than one), as it did for all of us.  When both my world and the world at large finally started returning to some semblance of normal, I couldn’t wait to start planning my next excursion.  I was looking forward to a cruise to Russia planned with some friends for late September, needless to say, that was cancelled and hard as I tried I couldn’t fit the new group itinerary (a cruise to Greece) into my schedule or budget.  But there was something else happening as well.  For quite some time now, I have had the desire to travel completely solo.  Something about the unscheduled time free from the demands or whims of others; the ability to do exactly what I want to do; or the luxury of complete peace and solitude doing nothing at all. When I started researching, the Italian Riviera fit perfectly into my summer. What chance did I stand against kismit?

I will see you again soon my beloved Spaghetti alla Carbonara!

So in a little over a week,  just as I took that leap of faith over 35 years ago, I will once again be traveling completely solo on an Italian adventure.  A small part of me feels just like that girl in her twenties who pushed through her fears and doubts to try something she’d never done before.  A few things have changed however in 35 years and I’ll be traveling a little more decadently than I did in college!  After all, I have never purported nor desired to be the kind of person that backpacks willy nilly through every street and hillside of Europe on $1 a day or whatever it is now! I definitely need a plan; and an escort; and a cashmere mattress!  I will find all that on my 9-night French & Italian Riviera Cruise on the Celebrity Beyond. Celebrity, by the way, is one of the few cruise lines that have balcony single cabins designed exclusively for the solo traveler.  I hope to continue my foodie love affair with paella in Barcelona, bouillabaisse in Marseille; salade niçoise in Nice; and focaccia in Rapallo.  I’ll refine my Italian palate with a pasta cooking class in the Tuscan village of Lari and olive oil tasting in Tuscania. There is not one doubt in my mind that I will also be finding at least one meal of my beloved Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Will I miss the rambunctious company of my friends? Of course I will (especially at happy hour!), but I am more than looking forward to this solo outing.  I will come back either saying “Well, I got that out of my system!” or I may never want to travel with anyone else ever again!  Either way, I invite you to join me in spirit and follow along on my journey!

Buon viaggio e ci vediamo dall’altra parte!

~ Colleen

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Operating Life at Level One

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

 ~ Havelock Ellis

After eight months of lamenting the life that I’d lost when my mom moved in like a hurricane and completely consumed our lives, I always thought that when she was gone I would just go right back to my “old life”.  That her time with us would just be like a parenthesis in our “real” lives.  But now that she is actually gone, its not quite that simple.  I didn’t expect much from myself the first month after her passing as time was consumed with arranging funeral plans, coordinating with friends and family, filing paperwork, and all the other sorting through required after a death, even if was somewhat expected.  By the second month, with the closure of a service, I began to take stock once again of my own life.  To my surprise, I found it almost impossible to just pick up where I left off.  My mom had been suffering with Alzheimers for almost 10 years before her actual death and in some sense, I felt like I mourned her passing long ago.  But when her dementia became so severe to necessitate moving in with my husband and me, I realized all the little parts of her that were still there.  Her wicked sense of humor and sound of her laughter at my humor; the ability to keep my head too far out of the clouds and grounded firmly in reality – though this was not something I even realized I needed; probably the result of her disease, but her pleasure in the simple things of life – a favorite TV show; an afternoon spent watching the world go by from our front porch rocking chair views; a good bowl of ice cream.  I was initially, selfishly, so focused on a sense of relief to be released from the the duties of caring for my mom and honestly relieved that cancer ended up giving HER an early release from the dementia prison she was fast tracking towards, that it took me a hot minute to realize how much I actually missed her newly constant presence in our lives.

So for the past three months I’ve found it hard to just resume my daily routine pre-Mom.  I am an avid yoga practitioner but in caring for my mom, my practice had understandably slipped.  Ironically, around the same time that my Mom passed and I just assumed I would jump back into my rigorous practices, my local yoga studio also completely revamped their class schedule.  Like every other business, they have had to get creative in adjusting to the changing habits of people as they begin to recover from a world-wide pandemic.  Did I mention all this caring for mom took place in the middle of a pandemic???  Anyhow, I digress… so, despite being hot to trot to get back to “my life”, due to this new schedule, I found all my favorite teachers and vigorous more advanced classes now at inconvenient times for me.  Instead, under the new schedule,  my preferred time slots were all slated for what they call Level 1 classes which are less intense and suitable for beginners.  I went just to force myself back into some kind of routine. Initially grumbling about how these were not my favorite teachers and the class was “too easy”. To my surprise and delight, I actually found the Universe had given me exactly what I needed without even knowing myself.  As I puttered through the classes, I realized, those hot sweaty, more intense practices would not have served me at that particular time in my life.  I needed ease, comfort and serenity.  I needed a fresh approach, given to me by the voices of these unfamiliar teachers. I slowed down. I listened – to them and to myself. My body may have still been capable of returning to my old styles, but more importantly, my mind was not.  Funny how the wisdom of the Great Mother Earth steps in to save us from ourselves. So like a new yoga student in an unfamiliar class, I found myself tentatively stepping through my days, wondering how to put my life back together and fearful to move too quickly lest something break.  

Even my marriage seemed to operate at a Level 1 beginner’s pace.  Early retirement is not for the faint of heart and I felt like my husband and I finally (after 5 years!) had just gotten past the stage of staring at each other 24/7 wondering what the hell to do with our lives.  We’re very different people, opposites attracting and all that, and it took some time to develop our own new individual routines, but we had managed to craft together a nice little retirement life for ourselves.  That is until my mom moved in with us and turned our perfect retirement life upside down on its head, spun us around and left us curled on the floor in fetal positions.  This situation did however make us a united front – suddenly we had a shared purpose – self preservation!  Like new parents, there was something other than ourselves to tend and be consumed with and yet still try to figure out how to maintain some sense of “us”.  That taken away, after the dust settled, the old familiar stares returned – “now what the hell do we do?”  Like any marriage over 20 years old, your intensity with each other ebbs and flows.  I was not myself, my husband didn’t know how to help and therefore everything he did got on my nerves.  I finally understood some of the feelings my empty nester friends must go through when their final “kid” moves out of the home.  Oh – its just us two now?  Who are you again?  I found myself resurrecting my reoccurring daydream about buying an RV and escaping on a SOLO cross country adventure.  Oregon was looking to be a pretty good distance from Florida right about then.  But like my yoga classes, I stepped gently and with the love, care and concern that only 28 years together can bring, my husband and I eventually found our way back to each other.  RV left unpurchased (for now!).  Oregon road trip plans scrapped.

We are moving into month four now since my Mother’s passing and every day there is still at least one moment where my breath catches and hard tears fall.  I’m mommy-less.  An orphan at 57.  My husband and I kept my mom’s little dog that came into our home with her when she moved in and at least that’s somewhere to transfer all our love.  That little rug rat as we like to call her was my mom’s life in her final years and so having Ellie May is like a walking, breathing piece of my mom still running around.  Truthfully though, as those of you that knew the tough love style of my mom, Ellie May is a lot sweeter (wink) and she has absolutely stolen our hearts!   

So this month at least, the ice is finally thawing.  Some of the “old me” is returning.  Some of the old “us” is returning.  I went to my first Level 2 yoga class last week and felt I was ready.  Ready for the heat, the sweat, the stronger intensity of class and life.  I bought red flowers this spring for the yard and planted them not long before Mom passed away.  The other day a mysterious white bloom surfaced among the red.  It must have been some fluke in the plant packaging but I kind of feel like that one white bloom pushing through all of the blood red emerging to claim it’s rightful place in the world.  The red is still all around, but the white bloom stands out strong.  Like me – different than before, different from the rest, but yet fighting to continue not only growing but thriving!  Watch out world – I’m on my way back!

Live the life you have imagined

~ Colleen

Lasts and Firsts

“I hold the view that death is rather like changing one’s clothes when they are torn and old.  

It is not an end in itself.  

Yet death is unpredictable…you do not know when and how it will take place.”

-Dalai Lama

It turns out that Alzheimer’s disease is not the worst thing that can happen to your parent – Alzheimer’s disease and metastatic cancer is. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease which is recognized years before it begins to steal your loved one away, stage IV lung cancer comes in like a tornado. Once spotted, it’s far too late to get out of the path of quick and total destruction. I’ll admit, when the mass was initially found and limited prognosis given, my first emotion was relief. Shame and fear soon followed but the relief was still palpable. Relief that my mother wouldn’t have to suffer through years of slow decay to a hollow shell of her former self. Relief that I wouldn’t have to watch that happen. Heartbroken and afraid of how the untreated cancer would wreak her physical body but relieved in the belief that it would be a shorter period of pain and more compassionate ending than what could be expected from the Alzheimer’s attack on her mind. So since the day of first hearing her oncologist declare that further testing and or treatment, given her secondary dementia, would be “cruel and unusual punishment” and his subsequent referral to Hospice, I have become a chronologist of my mother’s lasts and firsts.

These lasts and firsts were not a new thing as our family has been witness to changes in my mother for more than a decade now but the cancer brought an acceleration yet unseen. The progression of my mother’s dementia brought an end to many things over the past six or seven years. First was her independence. A confused afternoon outing spent driving down the wrong way of a one-way street caused an accident that resulted in the last time my mother sat behind the wheel of a car and the first time she became a permanent passenger. I can’t exactly pin point the last day my mother stopped cleaning her home but I can clearly remember the first time I brought in a cleaning service, behind her back, to deal with the resulting mess. Incidentally, this was also the first time she was bribed with ice cream to keep her from punching me out when I told her what was going on back at her home while I was spiriting her around on errands.

My mother was never an especially affectionate person, and I can count on one hand the times she spoke the words “I love you” when we were growing up.  She took it for granted I think that we knew she loved us and didn’t feel the need to state it out right.  Somehow through the last couple of years of visiting her, I started saying “I love you” when I kissed her goodbye at the end of every visit and to my surprise, she always said it back – except for the day I hired the cleaning service!  Both the Alzheimers and cancer have robbed her of most speech the past couple of weeks and so I do believe I got the last “I love you” yesterday afternoon.  That’s ok – I don’t need to hear it again.  Spoken or not, I feel it now as much as I did all the years of my childhood when it was never stated.

When my mother moved in with us, my husband and I were both taken by surprise by how much time she spent in our living room when she had a perfectly good recliner in her perfectly private bedroom. She became instead a fixture in the living room recliner demanding her dog be taken out every hour and commandeering the TV programming in the afternoons until my husband very politely took back the remote control every day at 5 o’clock for “Around the Horn”. I mean the man has his limits! So there was a gaping hole the first time she refused to leave her room and we saw the last of her in the living room. I’m still not sure what to do in there without her organizing our days.

I also made it my mission when mother moved in to establish an exercise routine for both her and her slightly rotund dog. The first outings were a huge success if my mom made it three houses down on her walker and the dog waddled just a few houses further. Though my mom eventually had to transition to being pushed in a wheelchair, we had a steady afternoon routine of traveling a good half mile around the block with little Ellie May spryly stepping along the whole way while mom enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine. These outings were always followed by a well deserved rest on the front porch where we watched the neighborhood pass by and occasionally indulged in a cup or two of ice cream or a few Chessman cookies. I never said it was a Weight Watcher approved routine! We made it to the porch for the last time two days ago.

As became our tradition, at least once a week and sometimes several, my mom would accompany me in the car while I ran errands about town that always ended with a final stop for ice cream – of course! We became quite the connoisseurs of the local ice cream establishments all on heavy rotation. The last time my mother rode with me in the car was also the first time she had to be spoon feed her dish of ice cream. Though it should be noted the dish was emptied same as always. She has not feed herself since that day and so it became my first time learning how to puree and hand feed any matter of fine cuisines. Sadly, a new feather in my culinary cap.

Despite my mother’s declining condition, I counted myself among the lucky ones that she maintained her wicked sense of humor and oddly endearing biting personality. Never one to mince words or make her true feelings unknown, even as her speaking abilities diminished, she found non verbal ways to get her very specific points across. When she could still speak, her most common answers to me for most any new request were either “No. you’re a nut job” or the ever popular “You’re a pain in my ass”. When speech failed, facial expressions left no doubt to her feelings on the matter at hand. The last time I heard my mother laugh or call me an ass was a week ago. What I wouldn’t give to hear either of those statements again or to be stopped dead by one of her looks.

As the lasts have grown more frequent over the past week, I find myself now for the first time sitting vigil at her bedside waiting for the final last.  Like her loyal canine companion Ellie May, I am reluctant to leave her side and know the ending of this story,  just not the when.  As I sit, I can’t help but remember her first day moving in with us and am grateful for all the days that followed even though sometimes I didn’t know how I would make it from one to the next.  I have a lifetime of first and last memories that can never be taken away.  I have a circle of friends that have all been through this already with their own loved ones. It is merely my turn.  I am ready.  I can only hope and pray that the end will come as painless and compassionately as possible and our final last will be spent together. 

Live the life you have imagined…and sometimes the one you haven’t

~Colleen

The Prescriptive Power of Friendship

“A good friend is a connection to life  – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.” 

Lois Wyse

One of my most favorite greeting cards shows a picture of two elderly women sitting comfortably hand-in-hand together with the caption “We will always be friends until we are old and senile” and opens to “and then we can be new friends!”  The first time I saw this card, I knew I had to send it to my best friend of 37 years and counting.  Though the card at first glance seems like just a crack at getting older, the more important sentiment speaks to the magic and power of a true friend.  A soul mate whom you know deep down you would be friends with no matter the life circumstance – even when you are no longer able to remember you are already friends. 

I never knew my mother to have very many close friends or even acquaintances.  Until the time I was eight, we lived in a typical suburban neighborhood filled with beautiful wood sided homes nestled among pitch pine and red cedar trees in Long Island, New York.  The kind of neighborhood where your next door neighbor is a shout away and the streets are filled with kids playing ball in the summer and riding homemade sleighs in the winter.  My parents were friends with the Boscos, a lively couple and their two sons that lived next door to us and my mom and the wife Cathy were best friends.  In my memories, we had an idyllic life there but my parents evidently didn’t agree after they made a spontaneous trip in 1972 to the most rural part of Florida and came back with a vision for a different kind of existence.  The next thing I knew, they had both quit their jobs, sold our idyllic home, packed up 8 year old me, my 2 year old sister, my grandmother who lived with us, a Great Dane, 2 cats, my pony Red (who in New York had been boarded) and all their worldly possessions to move to a town in Central Florida that at the time wasn’t even listed on the map.  The town only two years ago got it’s first red light.  Anytime you asked my mother why they made such a drastic life change she would respond “they started building houses behind ours and I couldn’t take it anymore”.  The “it” I presumed was civilization.  Close proximity to other human beings must have offended them for in our new Florida town, the closest neighbor was at least 5 miles away.  The solid wood shingled house traded for a double-wide mobile home that threatened to blow away in every hurricane.  The scenic pitch pine and red cedar replaced by groves of orange trees and dirt…lots and lots of dirt. My pony Red no longer needed to be boarded but roamed free in his new fenced enclave right in our very own backyard.  My sister flourished and I couldn’t wait to get the heck out of there! But I digress, as the point of this tale is the necessity of friendship.

I remember the Boscos visiting Florida once or twice and my parents may have made a trip back to New York a time or two but in reality my mother left behind her closest friend and to my knowledge never made another.  She and Cathy did remain lifelong good friends despite the long distance and though they never got together in person, both too busy working and raising their families I presume, I can still recall the long spiral cord of the wall phone weaving its way through the house as my mom talked for hours on their monthly calls.  If too much time had passed or when life got rough, you could hear her mumbling “I need to call Cathy”. When the Boscos finally retired to Florida themselves some 30 years later, the four of them resumed their friendship as if not a day had passed since they last got together face to face.  After both husbands had passed, my mom would pack a suitcase and her dog and drive out to Cathy’s for a girls weekend at least once a month.  I don’t think I ever saw my mom happier than when she would return from one of these outings.  It’s no coincidence to me then that my mother’s mental decline began in earnest shortly after Cathy passed away in 2012.  

“Multiple medical studies have found that maintaining social connections in middle age and late life appear to lower the risk of dementia.  More specifically, researchers found that old friends help keep our brains young.  It was found that individuals in older age groups who reported having maintained “positive, warm and trusting” friendships were more likely to have brains that worked as well as those of people 30 years younger – suggesting that maintaining a solid social circle could be key to slowing the cognitive effects of aging.” ~ Emily Rogalski, researcher

As her Alzheimer’s disease progressed, my mother became more and more reclusive.  It didn’t help that she lived alone in a still somewhat rural area.  She belonged to no church, clubs or other “girl gangs” and really had no hobbies other than reading.  She began turning down invitations even for holiday gatherings with my sister and her growing family of grandchildren and great grandchildren.  It became increasing difficult to get her to leave the house even for daily excursions when I would visit.  When she was no longer able to live alone and reluctantly agreed to move in with us, I made her room as comfortable as possible.  Even purchasing a replica of her beloved living room recliner – a monstrous puffy thing that barely fit in her room and was in no way in keeping with my impeccable guest room decor! – with the assumption that this is where she would spend most of her days.  To our surprise and consternation, she hardly spent any time in her room, other than to sleep.  Rather she spent most of her day ensconced in the less pouffy, more stylish living room recliner, curiously watching my husband and I going about our routines, apparently happy to be right in the middle of things.  She seemed to flourish in this new social existence and willingly accompanied me every time I asked her to leave the house. Of course, the reward of ice cream never hurt to motivate. I remember thinking to myself how lonely she must have been all those years alone despite her outward social disinterest.  

I wonder often if my mom’s friend Cathy had lived longer if her sanity would have lasted longer as well.  I’m convinced good friends are the key to happiness and as the opening quote states and even research verifies, “the key to sanity in a totally insane world”.  Unlike my mother, I have been blessed to have a life filled with wonderful and amazing friendships.  Maybe because I never felt like I quite fit into my family’s new rural dynamic, I have always been open to the outside company of others and by the greatest stroke of luck been able to maintain these precious relationships through both years and distance.  My oldest friend and I have know each other almost two-thirds of our lives now.  We are just shy of forty years sharing life’s joys, pains, secrets and laughter together.  Lots and lots and lots of laughter.  When my husband and I fulfilled our long held dream of retiring back to Florida after 25 years away, the one dark cloud was moving somewhere where we no longer knew anyone.  The first year or so was a little rough wondering how I would make new friends not having the social outlet of a job but along came a wonderful neighborhood book club with seven equally wonderful women.  In just five short years, we have seen each other through a mountain of books, individual health challenges, the happy births of grandchildren, the heart wrenching passages of both husbands and parents and in this last year, a world wide pandemic.  

Good friends are like rowboats helping us stay afloat in the unpredictable sea of life.  Supporting us through both the highest waves of joy and the lowest dips of despair. And a best friend…well, if a good friend is a rowboat, than a best friend is a whole freaking cruise ship! They are the party on the deck; the lifeboats at the ready for disaster; the feast at the buffet; the unlimited bar; the cabin steward, safety officer and cruise director all rolled into one – along for every adventure, ripple and wave until you reach the next shore.  I couldn’t imagine my life past or present without the love, companionship, support, encouragement, honesty and just plain joy of my best friend.  Plus…she’s already promised to feed me and change my Depends when we’re old…even if she doesn’t remember we’re already best friends.  But she won’t have to worry about me forgetting who she is, for with my friends by my side, I plan to stay sane a very very long time indeed.  So a heartfelt thanks to all my friends and never ending gratitude to my best friend.  I only wish my mom had been blessed with even half this bounty of friendship in her life. 

Live the life you have imagined…and sometimes the one you haven’t

~Colleen

Accepting the Present Moment – Lessons From a Dementia Patient

“The moment that judgement stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.” -Eckhart Tolle

I recently read a raw and beautiful article from a first time mother describing coming to terms with her previous identity being striped away in place of the all consuming new identity as parent to her newborn son.  The process of grieving that she went through in recognizing that she was no longer all of the things that she thought defined her and the guilt that immediately followed by thinking this somehow made her life less – that her past life was somehow more “her” than her present life.  Though never having been a parent myself, I recognized her grief and guilt immediately.  Since I retired, I have identified as a yoga student, a yoga teacher, an artisan, a traveler, a carefree retiree living the life I had imagined.  Nowhere in my identity was “the caregiver of a parent living with dementia”.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and articles on simplifying life in the pursuit of happiness and almost all of them come back to one simple tenant – live in the present moment and accept it as if you had chosen it.   I didn’t choose this, not in a conscious way, and I write this article on the eve of ending the yoga class I have been teaching for the past two years.  A long held dream fulfilled, an identity I had sought out and manifested, and something that brought great joy to my life.  There is grief in losing this part of my identity but I have come to this decision after several weeks of reflection.  Perhaps all these years of yoga and spiritual study have simply been preparing me for this ultimate test of living in the present moment.  For now, self chosen or not, caregiving is what I am meant to do.  There is a sense of peace in acceptance.

It turns out however that I didn’t need all the books and articles I’d read after all.  My 87 year old demented mother has been my teacher.  There is no truer example of living in the present moment than in the mind of a person with Alzheimer’s.  In the later stages of the disease, they really have no choice.  Stripped of most of their past memories, they never fixate or worry on how they could have changed anything – good or bad.  They aren’t attached to their past identity – they don’t even remember it.  My mother also has no concerns over the future – not one minute, one day, one year or ten from now.  If you ask her directly, she’ll say she really doesn’t even care if she wakes up tomorrow.  This is the very definition of “living in the present moment”.  It’s true she’s no longer bothered by the daily drudgeries of life like laundry, cleaning, cooking – she has me for that now! – but I actually sometimes envy her simplified existence as it comes with a peace of mind most of us never experience.  Her only concern at any given moment is her immediate need – stand, sit, sleep, potty, eat, drink, ice cream – “where is my thing?”.  Absolutely freeing I would imagine for the demented – maybe not as much so for the caregiver! 

When I stop fighting for my old routine however, and allow myself to follow a little of my mother’s, there is a sweetness in that acceptance.  I am not less “me” by this new identity.  If I release my grip just a little bit on the things I think I’ve lost, there are perhaps new gifts to be found.  There is less stress in acceptance.  There is more suffering in wishing things were different.  Living in the present moment means celebrating life just as it is.  Appreciating it – even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it.  Only then can you make room for love, for joy, for peace.

Live the life you have imagined…and sometimes the one you haven’t

~Colleen

My Ducks Are Not In A Row

Some of you may know that I have a need every now and then to tell a story.  I haven’t written in some time, but now as in my past forays into literature, it is my family more often than not that causes the keyboard to get a workout.  For the past four years, I have watched from a 100-mile distance the decline of my mother’s mind and body.  Traveling to her home to assist with various medical appointments, household chores or just for a girls day out, our monthly visits soon increased to bi-monthly and then weekly as I watched her losing the ability to care for herself.  Throughout last year it became increasingly apparent that she was no longer safe to live alone.  So last August, two days after her 87th birthday and approximately 6 years after her official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, my mother and her dog moved in with me, my husband, our dog and two cats.

To say it has  been life changing is an understatement.  My husband and I, childless throughout our 27 year marriage, have never cared for another living breathing human being.  Never went through the adjustment of a new infant or the growing pains of an adolescent.  Never even had a niece or nephew stay with us for an extended vacation.  It has always been just the two of us and our four legged family members.  Dogs, cats, turtles, fish – we got that!  An 87 year old geriatric that acts like a 3 year old toddler – nope, no sir, don’t got that!  The degree to which our life has been turned upside down has been startling.  It’s as if we suddenly inherited a child through a guardianship agreement – something we knew that was a possibility but that we in no way expected or ever really thought would come to an actual reality.  I like to tell people I had my first toddler at age 56.  The sad part is that toddler used to be my mother. 

I have personally lived carefree for most of my 56 years, doing exactly as I want, when I want and with a strong Type A personality need for control!  My mother herself raised me to be independent, without compromise, a go getter for whatever I wanted.  Funny how the Universe has a strange way of bringing things into your life whether you planned for them or not.  Caregiving a person with dementia takes extraordinary patience, flexibility and letting go of control.  Three things which I would say are definitely not my strong suits.  That first month was rough.  My best friend of 35 years who knows me better than I know myself said to me when I called her crying one particularly bad day, “you are a person that likes your ducks in a row and it’s going to take some time to figure this one out”.   I am here to tell you people, my ducks are most definitely NOT IN A ROW!  Not then and not now!  

Lucky enough to have taken an early retirement from my career, I had spent four years crafting the perfect retirement.  I would happily move about my day with no real responsibilities beyond yoga classes in the morning and tending to a budding craft business in the afternoons. Moving my crafting space out of the guest bedroom to turn it into my mom’s room was, I now know, only the beginning of the changes that would affect my perfect retired life.  Where I used to spend hours a day working on my beloved creations, I am lucky now to steal one or two.  An outing with my husband to walk on the beach or go out to dinner together takes NASA like coordination to ensure someone is available to sit with my mom as she can not be left alone.  My yoga routine has only been saved because we are lucky enough to have the aid of home health care most mornings, a luxury that I know is not afforded to most.  The fact that my proud mother even accepts help from a stranger speaks to the degree of her decline.  So yes, perfect retired life shattered.  Ducks askew!

Having just passed our six month anniversary,  there has been SOME progress – my ducks are at least swimming in the same pond most days if not in a nice neat little row but to say this is the most challenging “job” I’ve ever had doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.  There is no “off”, it is constant 24/7 putting someone else’s needs, schedule and increasingly nonsensical requests before your own.  As a case in point, my mom brought her dog, an adorable long hair chihuahua mix, with her when she moved in and the dog on its own is an absolutely joyful addition to our home.  I’m sure the dog feels rescued herself given that in the months preceding their move, my Mom was feeding her cereal, Boost and peppermint patties as a meal rather than the traditionally accepted dog kibble.  We suspected Mom was no longer capable of living alone when one of her neighbors told my sister she would see Mom “walking” the dog – leash in hand – with no dog attached.  We rescued the dog as much as my Mom .  We quickly got little Ellie May on the same walking and feeding routine as our own dog and she fit right into the family.  If only my Mom recognized this transition as seamlessly as we did.  Some time ago, my mom lost the ability to speak coherently, so at any given time, Ellie May will be identified as her thing, her cat, her bird, her horse and any number of other farm animals.  A huge chunk of our days are now spent answering the question “Where is my cat, bird, horse, chicken thing?”  More often than not the answer is “Right beside you Mom”.  And don’t even get me started on her telling us that the “bird” needs to go pee.  Our clockwork schedule means nothing to my Mom when she thinks 5 hours have passed instead of 5 minutes.  Did I mention that patience is not one of my strong suits?  Sigh.

These laments express only a few of the ways our lives have been upended.  The real tragedy of course is in witnessing my mother’s diminished life.  It has been startling to see up close and personal the degree to which my Mom has declined once I was witness to a full day in her life.  In the six months she has been here, I have seen her pour coffee instead of milk into her cereal; brush her hair with her toothbrush; put on a full set of new clothes instead of her nightgown to go to bed; drink the syrup accompanying her French toast breakfast; mistake the closet for the bathroom and the laundry hamper for the toilet; struggle to answer the simplest of questions and perform the simplest of, as the manuals like to say, activities of daily living.  How she lived on her own I have absolutely no idea.  I have cried more tears in the last 6 months than I have in the last 6 years in equal measure for both her and myself.  

Yet I know from friends and relatives who have already watched this terrible disease in their own loved ones lives that these disturbances are only the tip of the iceberg.  Right now, I am actually one of the lucky ones.  My mother still recognizes me as her daughter even if she doesn’t always remember my name.  Even with her marbled speech, it is evident she still has her wicked and sarcastic sense of humor.  I am forever grateful that she still laughs.  Our weekly outings for ice cream; singing and dancing to Willies Roadhouse as she accompanies me in the car while I run my errands; and our afternoon “porch sitting” are parts of my life now that I can’t imagine being without.  Pieces of “my mom” are still there.  When my cat could no longer battle the cancer she had been diagnosed with and I made the final decision so many of us are forced to make with our beloved pets, I came back in the house from the vet crying “I need my mommy” and she said without hesitation and her arms open wide “come here baby”.  And once when I had been short with her all night and acting a little ugly, I apologized when I was putting her to bed and she matter of factly just answered “oh that’s ok….I don’t listen to anything you say”.  So much for guilt eating me alive for the last four hours. Sigh. 

So yes our lives have changed and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how long I, or my husband, will be able to do this.  My husband, who is a saint – and those are words I would not have used to describe him before – recently put it best when he said “I can’t even remember anymore what life was like before your Mom moved in and it’s only been six months”!  But I do know one thing, my mother (and her dog!) is immeasurably better here.  On a recent outing to the park, as we sat comfortably by the river on a beautiful sun drenched day, I asked Mom if she was happy living with us.  Prepared really for any answer as her wish was always to die in her own home, she said “of course – look where I live” and in true Ann Cronin fashion “and I can’t do shit anymore on my own”.  So, no, my ducks are not in a row; my mother doesn’t even know where her ducks are; and this Type A planner has absolutely no idea what the future holds.  I miss my time alone.  I miss my uninterrupted crafting.  I miss unscheduled bike rides and beach walks with my husband.  In short, I miss my old perfect retired life.  But most of all…I miss being a daughter and I miss my mommy.

Live the life you have imagined…and sometimes the one you haven’t

~Colleen

Am I My Mother?

I moved back to my home state when I retired.  In part because I’m a beach girl and I was happy to get back to my beach filled state.  But a secondary motivation was to be closer to my aging mother.  She turned 85 this year and the past two years of assisting in her care have been a sobering experience.  Getting old is not for the faint of heart, not for the one getting older, nor for the observer.  It is a frightening thing watching your parent decline before your eyes but equally frightening is feeling like you may be looking into a crystal ball of your own future.  This kind of introspection only occurs once you yourself have entered, or exceeded, middle age and start to notice the beginning stages of your own physical and mental failures.

My mother has always been a very strong, independent woman with a quick temper and a sharp tongue which she was never afraid to use.  Good traits to have when teaching your daughters how to stand up for themselves and instilling in them the belief that they can accomplish anything.  In the early stages of dementia, however, the quick temper and sharp tongue have only been exasperated as she sees her independence slowly slipping away.  There have always been a lot of similarities between my mother and I so I find myself becoming more and more terrified with each passing visit that I am witnessing myself in 30 years time.  I’m already seeing glaring signs that have me quite disturbed.

Of most concern is the cantankerous and irritable attitude.  At a recent doctor’s visit, struggling to get herself sitting back upright from the reclined exam table, my mother cursed “goddammit!”.  It was not quite clear whether the curse was directed at the nurse making the request or at herself for her failure to be able to comply.  Just the other day I was struggling to open a particularly tight jar of spaghetti sauce and frustratingly screamed out “goddammit!”.  Equally irritated at both the jar and my seeming inability to open it, I recognized my mother’s tone of voice immediately.  Is this the beginning?  How far is it from the spaghetti jar to the exam room table?  When my husband offered assistance, I lashed out at him, interpreting his suggestion of help as a reflection of my newfound weakness.  My sister and I have both been the recipient of my mother’s tongue lashings which are especially vehement when she feels we are implying she is incapable of doing something, or worse yet, telling her how to do it.  Have I mentioned I hate being told what to do and my go-to emotion is anger?  I know my husband is already frightened.

Throughout our years growing up, my mother was a fastidious housekeeper and I have inherited that trait as well.  Every Saturday of our childhood, without fail, we could count on the smell of Mr. Clean and the comforting white noise of the vacuum.  These days, my mother’s house is a horror show and we are hard pressed to believe it even gets cleaned on an annual basis, let alone weekly.  Worse yet, she won’t allow anyone else to clean it.  I find in the past few years, the “weekly” cleaning of my own home occurs on a more flexible schedule.  How long before the stretch of a month becomes a year?  In her defense, at 55, I can no longer clean the entire house in one fell swoop. Rather, each room must be parceled out before I either exhaust myself or grow exasperated.  I mean, what’s the point?  The dirt is just going to come back, right?  Any kind of deep cleaning requires weeks of psyching myself up to the task and equal weeks of physical recuperation.  Add 30 years to that number and where will I be?  Smack dab in the middle of my mother’s house, that’s where!  My only saving grace is that, unlike my mother, I have absolutely no qualms in handing over the mop to a cleaning service.  In this task alone, I will, free of anger, relinquish control.

My mother’s worst vice to her physical health is her love of sugar.  On an average shopping trip, her grocery cart contains 3 cartons of cinnamon rice pudding, 6 Entenmann’s frozen pies, 6 mini bakery pies, 2 bags of cookies, a bag of mini donuts and 2 bags of assorted chocolates.  No number of scoldings from her doctors, or her daughters, will persuade her to cut down on her beloved sweets.  She claims they are basically all she has to live for.  I am convinced they will be the death of her.  Though I do not share her love of sugar, I will fight you for a bowl of carbohydrates and butter.  During the last stressful visit to her home, my only source of joy came from a Bob Evans Slow Roasted Turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes and extra gravy.  My mother sat across from me at the table eating her Bob Evans Slow Roasted Pot Roast but her face didn’t really light up until dessert.

Exercise is non-existent in my mother’s schedule.  I was inactive in adolescence and early adulthood but found a love for bike riding and yoga in later years.  I still find myself slipping though – skipping a week here and there.  How long before a week becomes never and the slow decline to inactivity begins?  The “struggle is real” already. At what age do you start giving up entirely?  I know vast numbers of people who lead active lives well into their golden years but I know an equal number whose sole exercise is changing the channel on the remote.  This may be one of my biggest fears – that I will follow in my housecoat and slippers to my mother’s recliner.

There is only one point in which we vastly differ and for which I still hold out some hope.  My mother has never really had an interest in life itself.  She was not one for hobbies or clubs.  She is not a church goer nor did she ever have a wide circle of friends.  My mother once told a friend of mine that her life was her family but she never went through that reinvention of herself phase that so many empty nest mothers do.  She doesn’t particularly like to travel and will look at you with incomprehension when you express your desire to see the seven great wonders of the world or any other travel goal.  I think she is lonely yet she abhors social situations.  This has always been of wonder to me because she has a sharp sense of humor and in years past would sit for hours with me and my friends talking and laughing.  I know some of this is the dementia – the shutting down and turning inward – but it is so sad to witness.  The apathy.  The lack of joy for life.  These are the things that keep me up at night fervently praying that they will not happen to me.  If I could change one thing about my mother, this would be it.  I’ll take the cursing, the lessening of physical ability, the fuddled mind, but please don’t let me lose my joy.  The belief that life may at any moment bring you the unexpected, the beautiful, the happy crazy.

Live the life you have imagined.

~Colleen

What I’ve Learned From My First Year of Retirement Entrepreneurship…or What In The Heck Am I Doing With My Life?

Even though I’m no Steve Jobs or Martha Stewart, I decided to open my own business last year…in my first year of retirement.  I really don’t know how to do “retirement” and because of this “happy crazy” decision, I have subsequently never worked harder in my life….kinda.

Now this isn’t a business that’s going to go viral or take over the world.  It’s just a small on-line craft business and I occasionally do local craft shows.  When I was a working girl, I would often go on the weekends to local craft and art events and walk leisurely among all of the booths admiring the creativity and enviously imagining what a simultaniously serene and colorful life the artists must have.  In my bohemian haze, I never once stopped to think how much work this lifestyle choice actually is.  When I became more e-commerce savvy, I discovered Etsy.  As an equally admiring customer, I thought this too must be a piece of cake for the hand-crafting sellers.

I’ve since found out how wrong I was – about well – ALL OF IT!

And now tonight, the night I devoted to preparing our taxes, the reality of it all has been sobering….even after some stiff drinks!  After a mind numbing six hours of crunching numbers, my grand profit total for my first year of effort is…. DRUMROLL PLEASE… $25!  Woo hoo!  AND… this is NOT EVEN including start-up costs for the craft booth, marketing materials and other boring miscellaneous expenses.  Did I mention already that math was never my strong suit?  English, Arts, Sociology – these were my strong suits.  Not Math, Economics or yikes! Business.  This is also why, even though I worked for a retail organization for 24 years, I never once worked on the actual retail floor.  No – I was behind the scenes creating displays, planning the store layout, making pretty signs.  Nothing at all that would prepare me for running a business.

WHAT IN THE NAME OF ANNE GEDDES WAS I THINKING????????

Oh don’t get too judgmental.  I’m not a complete idiot.  I ran plenty of projects in my working career that required keeping a budget, tracking expenses, figuring out pseudo profit and loss scenarios…but this was with someone else’s money!  It’s an entirely different situation when it’s YOUR money!  Or worse – YOU and YOUR HUSBAND’S money!

SO AM I QUITTING????   Not just no – BUT HELL NO!

I HAVE NEVER HAD SO MUCH FUN IN MY LIFE!  And truth be told, if not this, I would have just ended up spending my start-up costs on some other decorative thing for the house that I didn’t need which would not have had the opportunity to be turned into this $25 profit!

What I learned in this first year of entrepreneurship is that the rewards come in an entirely different form than when you are working for someone else.  For instance, I don’t dread getting out of bed in the morning.  When I am hot on the trail of a new creative idea, I practically jump out of bed in the morning, barely remembering to eat breakfast or attempt to exercise before I’m holing myself up in my craft room.  Which by the way used to be a closet.  I graduated to an actual room only 3 months ago….EXPANSION!

The rewards don’t come in the form of a raise or an achievement reward but in the smiles and giggles of customers as they pass my “happy crazy” booth and exclaim on my creativity.  This is really the only reason I even started to do live craft shows.  It’s hard to hear accolades from an on-line store.  Buyers are notoriously stingy with on-line reviews.  I refuse to believe that the sellers that have hundreds of reviews didn’t pay people off.  I’m sure this opinion will change if I ever reach these numbers.  So those of you that knew me when I was working, will be glad to hear my ego is still in tact.

It’s amazing what you have to go through though for this ego stroke…endless hours making the product, a good 90 minutes to set up the booth and another 45 to tear it down.  But the actual time sitting at the show is quite glorious.  Just me and my happy crazy wares with “ohs” and “ahs” and exclamations soothing my tired fingers and toes.

My only current satisfaction from the on-line store is when I suddenly, without any warning, hear “cha-ching”.  An ingenious cash register notification sound built into the Etsy mobile app.  The first time I heard that sound, I ran around the house as if I’d just made a million dollars.  It never gets old – but that’s because my sales are still only in the low double digits.  Very low.  I’m sure the really successful Etsy sellers have long ago muted the sound and consider it annoying.  Not me!  Not yet!  It’s the only notification I still have on.  Screw phone calls, text messages or social media alerts.  I live for the “cha-ching”!  Gotta start earning that next $25 yearly profit!  It totally makes up for the hundreds of hours spent taking photos, writing the endless descriptions, tags, and various other tedious steps it takes to actually post an item for sale.  Especially when you are a Type A personality that has to do everything three times so it is perfect.

And don’t even get me started on the hours spent trying to promote my business on the endless social media outlets.  I’m in my 50s – this is akin to the struggles of learning Microsoft Office back in ’95.  I know all of my friends and even common contacts hate me by now.  I really don’t know how the Kardashians do it.

Finally, the last thing that I learned in this first year can be summed up by a quote from my all time favorite zen yogi Rod Stryker:

Image 3-5-18 at 11.57 PM

If I’m honest with myself, I didn’t really try last year.  I was disconnected somehow and my creativity and drive came in fits and starts.  But something snapped at the beginning of 2018.  A creative force took over and I started to become possessed again.  Right about that time I saw this quote and realized that last year I didn’t believe; I didn’t really love; I didn’t really have passion.

I learned that it is the passion that makes you keep creating and striving even when the profit and loss statement is dismal.  The rewards are beyond monetary.  I’m still not sure what I’m ultimately supposed to do with the rest of my life but this will certainly do for now and I will powerfully believe!  This year, the missing passion is present and HappyCrazyHats (and Hangers!) will be an unstoppable decorative force!

I might even make $50 this year!  And maybe even change the world – one smile at a time…

-Colleen

NEVER STOP EXPRESSING YOUR HAPPY CRAZY SELF!

www.happycrazyhats.etsy.com

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Christmas Tree Confessions of a Former Visual Merchandiser

In most homes, the annual tradition of decorating the Christmas tree is a family affair.  Children gathered around excitedly placing their favorite ornaments.  Mothers and fathers (or at least mothers) sentimental over homemade keepsakes made in years gone by.  Each treasure carefully packed away from the previous year and exclaimed upon anew with the current season.

This is not the case in our home.  You see, I was a retail store visual merchandiser for many years.  For those of you unfamiliar with the profession it basically means “I got this”.

I know all the tricks – Always! AND I MEAN ALWAYS! use wired ribbon!   Hang ornaments in clusters of three rather than individually and place them on top of the branches not dangling.  Layer your ornaments within the body of the tree not just on the tips of the branches.  I could go on and on….  Nowhere in my helpful hints is there a suggestion for homemade ornaments.

I’m not sure what I ever would have done had I had children and had to contend with the yearly school made treasures.  I do know that the one rare year that I happened to be at my sisters the day her family put up their tree, I needed psychiatric intervention afterward.  I mean there was tinsel involved!

Having decorated hundreds of trees through the years, my own personal tree is a work of art.  The Christmas tree is not a sentimental outlet but the chance to create a masterpiece!  Decorating day is not a saunter down memory lane but a painstaking event fraught with sweat and tears until every ribbon and ornament is in it’s perfectly symmetrical place.

The day is MOST DEFINITELY NOT a family affair.  In fact, my husband often leaves the house or hides out in his study as he can’t bear to see me in such angst.

There is no caroling.  There is cursing.

Don’t be mistaken, I do look forward to the event but every artist knows it is not the journey, it is the destination.  Rest is not to be had until the tree is done and is the picture of perfection that began in your head.  That is the goal for the day.

I’m secretly in awe of the carefree way most people put up their tree.  To have such freedom and joy!  Imagine not caring if a gold ornament ends up next to another gold ornament!  Or if your ribbon doesn’t match your tree skirt!  Or, sin among sin, if the tree is not fluffed properly!  The year I helped my sister’s family, I was basically fired.  The only thing I got credit for was the fluffing.  They said it was the best fluffed tree they had ever had.  I will never know such simple contentment.

Oh I’m not a stone.  We have our handful of sentimental ornaments collected through the years.  A couple of dozen or so picked out in places we’ve lived, cities we’ve vacationed or purchased in honor of one of our four-legged children.  A heart string or two is tugged as these are pulled from the storage box each year but not tugged enough to place them in a location on the tree which would ruin its symmetry!  I mean, honestly!

I confess however that I must be going soft with age.  My husband has a long-standing tradition of giving me the annual collectible Godiva Christmas bear.  Every year, like a homemade ornament, it is there under the tree.  After twenty-four years together, I have quite a collection now.  A few years ago, I started using them in my Christmas tree.  The first year I did, I got more compliments on that tree than I had on any before.  Last year, having just moved to a new house I omitted them in favor of a new upscale theme befitting of our fancy new house.  After posting pictures to Facebook I can’t tell you how many comments I got asking where the bears were.   Sigh…

I confess – I actually missed them too.

So this year the bears made it back.  Make no mistake – there was still tears and cursing – perfection was still attained! – but the bears made it back.  🙂

~Colleen

Create the holiday you have imagined!

 

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…

I wasn’t an active child, preferring instead to have my hands on a book or a hot buttered roll rather than any kind of sports equipment.  My parents never pushed sports either.  So, absent the typical parental pressure, I happily spent hours of my childhood on my bed, with a book in my hand, and Peter Frampton turned up full volume on my headphones.   With the exception of a rare energetic period of a few years in my late 20s, this trend continued through adulthood.  Physical activity was not my friend.  Food was. And books. And through high school and college – pot.  Neither of these three other loves lent themselves to great physical exertion.

It’s not that I didn’t try.  In a life-long struggle with my weight, I always maintained a gym membership and had periodic interest in many group fitness trends through the years – step aerobics, jazzercise, kickboxing, Body for Life strength training – but I never became committed to anything.  With the exception of the strength training, I attended most of these activities for the music – not the movement.  Nothing ever became essential to my life.  I envied the people who had this.  Those that started the day with a run or scheduled their weekends around the local 40 km road cycling event.  Who were these people?  And how did they get like that?

Yoga came the closest.  It was one of the group exercise classes that I occasionally attended and I even had a couple of favorite yoga DVDs that I did quite regularly.  Indeed, from the first moment, I felt a connection to yoga that I had not ever had to any other type of physical activity before – but it still wasn’t a part of my daily life.  It wasn’t something that I couldn’t live without.  Like food.  Or books.  Or Grey’s Anatomy.

The year I turned 49 and quickly saw 50 approaching, something shifted.  At 49, I suddenly looked up from my life and realized things had gotten way out of control.  At least all those other years, I had good intentions.  I had tried.  But I had not even tried for the past five years or so.  No restrictions on what I ate.  No attempts to join a gym or try the latest fitness craze.  No yoga – not even DVDs!  Nada.  Nothing.  Zippo. My body ached.  My soul was a wasteland.  I couldn’t even get up from sitting in a chair without limping from the pain in my joints.  My spirit felt non-existent.  I did not! want to spend the second half of my life the way I’d spent the first.  So, as one of my favorite book titles reads, “she got up off the couch”… and I ... I stepped through the doors of a yoga studio.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

I started out slowly with a few gentle classes and felt the old connection immediately.  I felt myself getting stronger with each class I attended and soon craved more challenge.  I decided to try a more advanced class.

When the student is really ready – THE teacher will appear.  And boy did she ever!

My first true yoga class left me a sobbing puddle on the ground.  Spent both physically and emotionally – I had never felt more alive.  Through her soulful practices, my first teacher allowed me to see what my long neglected body was truly capable of and allowed me to feel compassion for what it was still working on.  These practices, this teacher, at that precise time in my life was a gift from the universe and forever cemented yoga in my life.

Still…cautious of my old habits creeping back, I did not trust myself to maintain a practice on my own.  So I consistently and joyously practiced at this yoga studio for almost 3 years.  Not fully believing in myself, I was suspected that my commitment was tied to the methods of this particular teacher.  I remembered her telling me one day that she “would not be my teacher forever”.  “Yoga doesn’t work that way”.  I felt like screaming “blasphemy!” – under no circumstances could I picture being as committed to my yoga practice without her as a teacher.  Well, she was right.  As my personal yoga practice grew, I began exploring other styles in an effort to expand my knowledge of yoga as a whole.  Some I liked and some I didn’t but I began to understand what she must have been talking about those months ago when she first spoke those blasphemous words.

Through the course of changes in both our lives, I began practicing with another teacher whom I came to love almost as equally.  My second teacher taught me the joy of chanting and the sweetness of slowing things down to savor the beauty of the body and spirit working as one.  With our household preparing for a major move to another state, the thing I dreaded most was leaving this yoga practice.  I felt I had only touched the surface of what I could learn from this teacher.  When I said goodbye I told her I hoped I found someone as good as her in my new city.  And she replied, “I hope you find someone better”.  Spoken like a true yogi.

So I was on my own now.  I had only a slight fear of abandoning my practice and slipping back into my old ways but I couldn’t be entirely sure.  49 years of past history left me cautionary.  But I wasn’t connecting to any of the local classes that I tried in my new city so I continued working on my own.  I had nearly convinced myself that this solitary yoga practice done in the glorious sunshine of my private patio was all I needed.

But I forgot about the teacher…

Looking back now, I believe my resistance to returning to a group yoga practice was actually fear.  Fear of something new.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of leaving my comfort zone.  So much had recently changed in our lives – retirement, new house, new city – I think I just wanted the familiar.  While I am skilled enough to put together my own practice, I know I don’t push myself.  I do what’s comforting.  What feels good.  What I know I can handle.  But deep down I knew the truth.  I knew finding another teacher was needed.   For that is what a good teacher does – pushes you out of your comfort zone.  Makes you work on the things you hate, which are more likely than not, the things you need the most.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

And so my search began.  The search itself was enlightening.  If I hadn’t started searching, I wouldn’t have tried Qi-Gong.  Qi-Gong is a form of gentle exercise composed of repetitive harmonized movements designed to loosen and limber the joints and ligaments and build awareness of how the body moves through space.  It also involves a lot of touching yourself.  Oh, not the Seinfeld “Master of Your Domain” kind of touching yourself but an invigorating body tapping that begins every class and is designed to move chi through the body.  The classes that I tried took place at sunrise on the beach.  It was lovely and every class ended with everyone hugging each other.  One of the regular students told me the hugging practice was started for the majority of elderly that attend for whom this may be the only touch of the day that they receive.  Heartbreaking.  Beautiful.  In the end, it was too slow a practice for me but I retained the body tapping…and the hugging!

If I hadn’t started the search for a new teacher, I also wouldn’t have discovered the JapJi meditation heard in a Kundalini Yoga class that I tried.  Though I had done Kundalini breathing practices before, I had never experienced a full kriya class which is a series of postures, breath, and sound that work toward a specific outcome of your being.  Practices often include beautiful chanting – one of which was the JapJi.  The kriya practice was not for me either but the JapJi meditation and the hauntingly beautiful devotional music of Snatum Kaur remains engrained in my soul.

I have no doubt I was meant to encounter these things in my search and ultimately the Kundalini class lead me to find my third teacher.  Though I didn’t connect to the Kundalini practice, I did connect to that teacher and following her to one of the other studios where she teaches allowed me to find my new yoga hOMe.  I thought I was set.  I had finally found a new teacher.  I was ready to start being challenged again.  I was ready to be another puddle on the floor.

Then, the ultimate teacher named Life showed up.  Life brought an unexpected surgery that threatened to derail all of my progress with a projected 6 to 8 week recovery to include no exercise of any kind.  Not even yoga.

No yoga!  I couldn’t fathom it! Without my even realizing, yoga had become a part of my daily life.  Like food.  Like books.  It was something that I couldn’t live without!  

I’ll be honest.  I was more frightened of not being able to do yoga for two months then I was the actual surgery or accompanying recovery.  I saw my pre-50s life come hurtling back.  In my head, I was already again that slug on the couch.  I know, and any true yoga practitioner knows, yoga is about more than the physical movement.  But still….  Thankfully, gratefully – I was spared.  In the end, a less invasive surgery was able to be performed which has cut the recovery period to 4 weeks rather than 8.  No actual yoga class for a month, but stretching and gentle movements can be worked back in as early as 2 weeks.

Thank you Universe!

So here I am at two weeks.  Moving gently.  Gratefully.  Humbly.  Solitary.  Again my own teacher but with a whole new perspective.  I know now without a doubt that yoga is an essential part of my life.  Never to be forsaken.  I am committed.  For yoga is more than the physical practice.  It’s a mindset.  It’s a gift.  The practice of yoga is its own teacher and I am happy to be its life long student.

Namaste.

Live the life you have imagined.

~ Colleen