Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 11)

A Box Packed Full Of Love

In a few short days, I’ll have another birthday. As is the case for most my age, birthdays are arriving faster and faster each year, but that’s not the only way mine have changed.

A year and a half ago, I lost my mother, as many of you already know. It was a traumatic loss due to a massive stroke, and there are times to this day that I think I must be dreaming. She can’t really be gone. I miss her every day, but special occasions exacerbate the longing.

My mother had mastered special occasions, pulling out all the stops on making those she loved feel special. I hadn’t been home for a birthday in years – having moved away in 1991 – but we did share some together. Both parents flew to celebrate with me when I turned forty, and I went to them for fifty. Otherwise, having a birthday so close to Christmas made it too challenging from a job perspective to be home for both.

What would she do to compensate for my distance? She’d send a whole box full of gifts. Little things, mostly, since Christmas was our real time to splurge. In later years she found this more challenging, stating that I’d gotten hard to buy for, because I didn’t need anything. But I knew it was because she’d exhausted herself making Christmas perfect and just couldn’t put in the same amount of effort. I didn’t care. It wasn’t what was in the gifts so much as simply getting them.

Every birthday, I’d open those gifts with mom and dad on the phone – each on an extension. In the last few years of mom’s life, we’d Skype, so that they could watch, while I unwrapped each one and squealed with delight – and I did squeal with delight, knowing that it would bring her joy.

My gifts always arrived early by a week or two, so that I could “enjoy them.” I’d put them in the big ceramic bowl on my dining room table and send her a picture. And I did enjoy them. They always looked so beautiful with their strategically placed stickers and bows, all the while calling my name and tempting me to open them before the day. I never did.

My ceramic bowl sits empty now, although I do have a great deal of love in my life, and I do receive gifts. There was just something about getting them from mom that I never took for granted. I knew that someday they’d stop coming – those cherished boxes – and I knew my heart would ache.

I still have my dad, who has become the best-damned card shopper in North America. He picks out the most special (and surprisingly sentimental) card on the shelf and writes something loving inside that brings a tear to my eye. When I receive them, I write the date on the back with plans of keeping them forever. I also hug the card and cherish the moment, knowing that my mantel will someday be empty, too.

I will celebrate my birthday this year (and every year), and I will feel loved. In the process of redefining tradition, however, melancholy can be a tough thing to avoid.

I think taking time to cherish what still is before it’s gone is the most important thing we can do in honoring our loved ones. I fill my imaginary birthday box with memories now, and I give myself plenty of time to enjoy each one.

Judging the Harassed

Yes, I too have experienced sexual harassment on the job.

I can sense the collective sighs and eye rolling now – a desensitized response that seems to be increasing in popularity.

It happened many years ago and at the time, I’d been only one among several victims at the same place of employment. Our harassment included outright grabbing (this went far beyond the simple cheek of an ass – not that any form of it is acceptable), disgusting sexual comments and indirect threats of firing. Did I confront the perpetrator? Eventually, yes, but it took me some time, and when I finally did, he stopped – with me, anyway – for a while. He had just begun making advances again when the lid blew off the situation, and he lost his job.

Why am I telling this story? I’ll get to that, but I think it’s important to note that I hesitated writing this post for fear of judgment. Then came the realization that fear of judgment is often why victims don’t say anything in the first place, so piss on it.

Okay, here’s why I’m telling it:

Hypothetically, had this individual not lost his job, and he’d gone on to a far more important position of power and influence – say in politics or the entertainment industry (which he didn’t, to be clear) – and say that a young woman or two had stepped forward in present day to say they were being victimized by him, only to be discredited by a subsequent media frenzy – would I step forward after 30 years to say, “Hey, he did the same thing to me?” You’re damned right I would. I would stand up and defend them in the way that I should have defended us all back then.

And why didn’t I defend us at the time or confront him sooner? Why did it take someone else to bring an end to the whole sordid mess?

It irks me to no end that people have to defend their behavior in these situations, and that’s why I’m writing on this topic. It’s not to tell my story; it’s to illustrate a point.

I feel like I’m continuously bombarded by posts, comments and videos containing both men and women saying things like, “Why are they coming out of the woodwork now?” “Where were all the complaints when it was happening?” And my personal favorite (insert sarcasm here), “Why didn’t they stop it from happening. I did.”

For all of the women out there who suffered sexual harassment and took efforts to stop it, I applaud you, and I mean that with all sincerity. I’m proud of you, and I respect the courage it took for you to take a stand. For those of you who didn’t take efforts to stop it, I empathize with you, I feel your anguish, and I wish I could take you in my arms right now and say, “Don’t let them judge you. You did what you were capable of at the time, and none of this was your fault.”

When did the world become obsessed with this, “You should have,” attitude? Do we not all come from different backgrounds? Don’t we all have unique histories that shaped who we are as individuals? Aren’t there some among us who are just naturally stronger and more capable of standing up to bullying and blatant manipulations of power? Can’t we support each other instead of judging who should have done what and when?

I’m of the opinion that we need to drop the, “They had two legs and a voice. They should have walked away,” mentality and harmonize more on “I’m really sorry that you were violated in this way at all, and I empathize with how the experience – and your reaction to it – were unique to you.”

Harassers are masters of control and sly manipulation, not to mention retaliation. The harassed often learn only to master survival. What that survival looks like for that individual is none of society’s business. Stopping this bullshit and protecting our women from the outset is where we need to focus our attention.

Would I put up with any level of sexual harassment now? Hell no – not for one second, and I’m proud of the strong, independent and self-protective woman I’ve become. I am also, however, tolerant and loving toward the young woman I once was – the one draped in vulnerability and fear trying to find her way in an often very harsh world.

When it comes to sexual harassment, I’m all for judging the action. How about we lighten up on judging the reaction?

How I Make Decisions

It’s simple, really. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who loves change – which doesn’t hurt – but I’ve been using a foolproof method for years now when dealing with big and small decisions alike, and it works.

Try this . . .

Sit quietly without distraction and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and feel yourself in a rocking chair, on an expansive porch, at the ripe old age of 90.

Really dig deep. Cross your hands over the textured afghan on your lap. Feel a warm breeze pick up enough gray hairs to tickle your cheek. Let the sun massage its way into each well earned line on your face.

Next step? Think about your decision and let that 90-year-old self reflect back on it, while really feeling from your core.

Some sample decisions may be, ‘Should I marry the guy/girl?’ ‘Should I quit my job?’ ‘Should I sell everything and park my Westfalia on the beach?’

Your 90-year-old self will do one of two things looking back on that decision: feel peaceful with a smile on their face, like my sweet Auntie Lee in this pic, or experience intense regret and sadness with the corners of their mouth on a downward turn.

Done.

It may sound crazy, but it works for me, every time.

Recently, I saw this quote from Kahlil Gibran that reminded me of why I take the above steps in the first place: because I loathe regret. If I have any, and there is some but not much, it’s either because I made a stupid decision prior to implementing this process, or I ignored my senior self like a pig-headed idiot. I ignore no more.

We all have an inner voice, or compass, that knows if a decision is going to be good or bad for us. What we tend to do, however, is ignore it and plunge forward despite the gnawing ache in our solar plexus that’s screaming, “DANGER! BACK AWAY!” When you practice accessing your future self in a state of reflection, and really take heed of their reaction, it becomes harder and harder to screw up.

Again, try this, and let me know if it works for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you haven’t read Kahlil Gibran’s THE PROPHET, your future self will thank you for picking it up – with a smile.

 

Adulting

All aspects of the scene are still so vivid: my tiny self, sitting at the dining room table, filling out magazine subscription cards, while mom listened to my many future plans.

Was the intent of the cards to burden our mailbox with copies of Redbook and Chatalaine? Hardly. They were blank checks in my imaginary world, each one awaiting my all important and very grown-up signature.

Independence has admittedly been an obsession of mine from the outset. I actually begged my dad to build me my own house in the backyard as a kid. I mean, come on. He had his own masonry business. What could be so hard? And he’d built a house for our dog, Spanky, with real shingles on the roof and her name across the front. Didn’t I deserve the same consideration?

Of course, I understand now why he didn’t, but then?

As an alternative, Spanky and I would spend hours together squeezed tight into her little digs. I’d verbalize my vision to her at length as we both kept a watchful eye out for brazen foe (be that stray cats or my menacing brother).

I’m reminded of that tiny me quite often when faced with adult challenges, and one thing still remains the same: I love filling things out. In fact, for me saying good-bye to paper checks proved painful, almost like destroying childhood momentos. So sue me for holding tight to my last shred of Leanadom: that old-school transaction record from the bank. That’s right, I’m that person.

I loved playing grown-up so much as a kid that I appreciate every nuance of being the real deal today. I particularly like opening mail, because it transports me back to mom’s kitchen table. I still tend to stockpile envelopes over several weeks – just like I did those subscription cards, and when I finally get settled in to open them, we’re talking a bonafide event.

A stack of envelopes, a cup of hot coffee and my ceremonial Canadian letter-opener. I just adore the “schlit” sound it makes slicing through each and every seal, while individual stacks grow higher: one for garbage, one for the shredder, and yes, even a special one for bills.

Being an adult rocks, and I don’t take one iota of my freedom and independence for granted. I would even go so far as to say that the older I get, the more I love it. It’s everything I dreamed it would be plus some, and I’m so glad that mom got to see me revel in the experience. I only wish that Spanky had, too.

You can take the girl out of the doghouse, but . . .

MY NEW FAVORITE QUOTE!

You know the guy. The one who sits down beside you on a plane and doesn’t stop talking? Yeah, I spent two hours with him yesterday. Initially I wanted to scream, having planned to sleep during my early morning flight, but the conversation proved interesting.

We covered a lot of ground together (literally as well as figuratively), and I left with a nugget of a quote – one for the reactionaries among us who suffer from seemingly involuntary knee-jerks when things spill out of our control:

“DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING; SIT THERE!”

It’s nothing short of brilliant! Maybe you’ve heard it before, but I hadn’t, and I now plan to practice it at the first sign of trouble.

And is it just me, or are the reactionaries among us proliferating? Impatience – everywhere – and I’ve had enough!

Okay, all joking aside, short fuses now seem like the rule instead of the exception, with no one having tolerance for anything or anybody else. Maybe it’s because our culture is obsessed with instant gratification. Or it might be our steady decline in values. Perhaps even the highly contagious spread of apathy among Westerners. Whatever the reason, I’m a firm believer that we all just need to chill, which is why I love this quote, SO MUCH!

It’s going to happen again, you know. You’re going to be somewhere, and someone is going to piss you off. I firmly believe, however, that we can retrain our blood pressures to be more selective on what shoots them skyward.

I’ll admit that there have a been a few occasions when instantly doing “something” has been the right move, providing the right outcome, but if I’m totally honest, it’s more often been disastrous. That’s why, the next time I get my ire up, I’m going to take a deep breath and sit.

Actually, let’s start a movement: SIT FOR YOUR SANITY!  Yes, it’s an oxymoron – movement and sitting – but don’t let that annoy you.

Superheroes (Nurses) Week 2017

I know a few things about nurses. I am one, after all, but my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, a number of cousins – all nurses, as well.

Can I chalk up my 25 plus years in nursing to genetics? Maybe, but the superhero cape swayed me more than anything, and then there’s the powers that come with it.

Oh, don’t kid yourself. Nurses definitely have superpowers. Although I’ve personally assisted in resuscitating patients in the hospital setting, as most of us have, I once watched my mother revive someone in public. Full on – CPR on the ground – at a public event, and it worked! I was 20-years old at the time, and the cape she’d apparently been wearing for years became magically visible to me in that moment. I loved the color of the thing and the way it flowed out behind her without needing even a hint of a breeze. I wanted it. Not hers, specifically. I wanted my own.

But the superpowers don’t stop there. It’s 12 hour shifts – day in and night out – on our feet, often without a break. It’s dealing with people who are vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability as anger. It’s putting up with – dare I say it – physician’s egos and screaming rants when things don’t go their way. It’s risking our own wellbeing and safety by handling volatile and abusive patients and family members. And it’s one shit load of loss. 

Old, young, newborns. We’ve transported them all to the morgue and have had to wander back out into society at the end of our shift and function with some semblance of normalcy. 

The average person has no earthly idea what it’s like in the trenches of a nursing career, regardless of how many medical dramas they watch on TV. Each real life drama touches our hearts and souls in ways that profoundly affect our lives until the end of time. And each of us carries a handful of patients with us wherever we go – the ones that touched us the deepest before they passed. They’re our constant companions. I have five. My mother had four.

So do nurses deserve a week? Hell, yes they do. They deserve a week of recognition and a lifetime of gratitude and respect. 

I left the bedside seven years ago to work in healthcare leadership development, but I’m incapable of leaving those 20 years of active nursing behind me. At times the accumulation of witnessed loss can be suffocating, even to this day, but I have no regrets at having been part of such an immensely rewarding community of people. 

Hug a nurse this week, and let them know that although you can’t fully comprehend what life is like in their shoes, you care. Caring, after all, is the very fabric of superhero capes. Expressing it will make one visible on you, too.

HAPPY NURSES WEEK to all of the fabulous men and women I’ve had the privilege of working with at the bedside. And HUGS to those who have cared for me and my loved ones throughout our lives and eventually through to death. Each act, whether profound or simple, has not gone unnoticed. Not in the least.

NURSES ROCK!!

 

Does Public Speaking Scare The S%@# Out Of You?

You know the feeling – palms drenched, knees shaking, mouth so dry your lips stick to your teeth. Public speaking is the one thing that a large majority of us fear more than death. Actual DEATH!

In 2007 I journeyed from life as an ICU nurse to a job requiring weekly presentations. The night before my first “performance” literally left me tossing, turning and imagining every worst case scenario known to womankind. Amazingly, I survived, and I now speak to crowds of several hundred on a regular basis.

Did a few things get learned along the way? You betcha, and because I frequently get asked for tips after people watch my TEDx Talk, I’m going to bullet point some them for you here.

 
To get us started, however, let’s revisit the age-old expression, “Practice makes perfect.” It’s true, yes, but I’m not talking about the practice of getting up in front of people. I’m talking about practicing before you get up in front of people. That is my single most important piece of advice, although I’ll give you a lot more than just that.

  • Practice over and over and over again, especially with new material. Practice always, and until your speech looks unrehearsed. Present to your dog, cat, canary or family member, but especially to your mirror. Practice makes your speech appear seamless and prepares you for possible slip-ups. It will also let you know what areas you need to work on and where to anticipate questions or comments. This one act is invaluable to success.
  • Take a deep breath before you begin. Did you know that people tend to take only shallow, ineffective breaths when they’re nervous? Oxygenate and rejuvenate!
  • When organizing content, follow this rule: tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction), tell them (body of the speech) and tell them what you’ve told them (summarize).
  • Address “housekeeping” items before you start to keep yourself from getting distracted – cell phones on vibrate, no laptops, etc.
  • DO NOT read PowerPoint slides to your audience. You’ll lose them at the “Objectives” screen. Instead, list bullet points and talk around them. They can read.
  • Watch out for filler words such as “um,” “ah,” “so,” and “like.” If you, like, use a word habitually in, like, conversation, it’s, like, going to, like, show up in your, like, presentation. This will guarantee to distract your audience to the point where they could care less about your intended message. You want your presentation to be conversational, but . . .
  • Have someone tape you. Trust me, this is the best way to see all potential distractions, from filler words to annoying movements that distract.
  • Accept feedback! Don’t allow yourself to get defensive when someone suggests ways to improve. In my early speaking career, someone told me to stop playing with my hair, and I had no idea I even did that! Although secretly perturbed, I ditched the habit.
  • Water! If it’s a long presentation, keep some nearby, and don’t feel self-conscious about stopping to drink. It beats having that dry, hacking cough come out of nowhere.
  • Make eye contact with as many members of your audience as you can. Concentrating on just a few can make them feel uncomfortable.
  • If you’re asked a question, and you don’t know the answer, admit it and promise to get back to them. You’ll gain respect and a reputation for being genuine.
  • Use humor to lighten the mood, but resist using scripted jokes. Let your humor flow naturally, like it would in conversation.
  • Remember – they don’t know what they don’t know, so your audience won’t notice if it’s not a perfect presentation. And it’s okay to slip up. Just acknowledge it and move on.
  • If your neck turns red when you speak, don’t wear a scooped or V-neck.
  • This one might sound crazy, but if you’re super new at speaking, petroleum jelly on your teeth can keep those dreaded dry lips from sticking to your teeth.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be lighthearted and willing to let go of perfection.
  • Expose yourself to opportunities. Joining a community club, such as Toastmasters, can really accelerate your skill level.

In summary, public speaking can be the ultimate outside-of-the-box experience, which can only lead to strides in personal and professional growth. And make no mistake, those who do it well were once where you are now. By implementing the above tips, you can minimize anxiety and actually even have some fun with it. Yes, fun! When you truly connect with an audience, you gain just as much, if not more, than they do.

Practice + Practice – Perfectionism = Positively Entertaining

 

 

 

 

The Anniversary Of My Last Drink

One year ago today, I had my last drink. Me. The girl who loved all things wine. Why? Because my relationship with it became dysfunctional.

Like any great love affair that turns toxic, it was an insidious shift. For one thing, we’d started spending far too much time together, causing me to lose all sense of self and wonder how my dreams had taken a backseat. For another, most of that time had morphed into the clandestine variety, sneaking away – just the two of us – to avoid judgement or repercussion. All-in-all, grape – the friend who had accompanied most of my good times and bad – became controlling, and it was literally causing me pain. You know, the pounding variety that pulsates between temples leaving its victims couch-bound on perfectly good weekends.

Was the break-up an easy one? No, not at all. It came with all of the usual fanfare: tears, longing, loss. I don’t fit in with some of wine’s friends anymore, making them somehow feel uncomfortable in a way I hadn’t expected. And then there’s having to really experience emotion without something there to take the edge off, whether facing the loss of loved ones or simply having an awful day. But, oh the rewards.

There is that three or four month mark after a break-up when the dust begins to settle and you start to breathe again. Then there’s a phase of rediscovering the person you’d been before the dysfunction ever started. And finally comes the glorious rebirth of someone that you didn’t even know you had the strength to become. Well, I’m breathing again, my friends. Big alveoli expanding breaths of joy.

A little over a year ago, a friend whom I have the utmost respect for, posted a blog about quitting drinking. I didn’t know she’d quit or that she’d felt the need to, but that post planted a life changing seed. It then got watered by someone I hadn’t seen since high school who confessed that he’d given up alcohol, followed by, “I have no idea why I just told you that.” I knew exactly why. It was something I needed to hear.

Sometimes we don’t find the courage to escape a bad relationship without stories of those who’ve gone before us. For that reason, I’m sharing.

A great many people can be an acquaintance of alcohol’s and never give it a second thought. They manage to see each other on occasion and even have a few laughs. Others, however, commit to the relationship almost unaware and then start to feel that there’s no way out. I’m here to tell you that it’s doable, and that “fulfilling” would be a gross understatement when describing my life without it.

Quitting drinking is one of my all-time top life decisions. Do I miss it? Sometimes, but rarely. And again, like a toxic lover, seeing it may give rise to temptation and longing, but nothing is ever worth going back.

And by damn, you can find love again. Sobriety is now my knight in shining armor.

If alcohol coerced you down the aisle at some point, you’re not alone. Think annulment. Consider divorce. There is a thing called Google, and there are resources.

And THANK YOU to the people who inspired me to have the best anniversary of my life. This girl has no regrets.

 

One Hell Of A Year

It was the best of years; it was the worst of years. Okay, so that was hardly an original thought, but the perfect summation of 2016, nonetheless.

I sit here on the second day of the new year reflecting back on both immense joy and intense sorrow. And how it all flew by as quick as it did, while delivering such a wallop, I’ll never know.

The joy? Plenty of it, including my ongoing work on The Matthews & McGuire Show, getting within weeks of completing the final edit on my second novel and quitting drinking (more on this in a future blog). But I also knocked three big things off my bucket list:

The sorrow? I lost an aunt, an uncle, two cousins and, worst of all, my beloved mother who suffered a massive stroke on the very day of her 60th wedding anniversary. Years have gone by without losing a soul in our family, but the celestial train pulled into the station and refused to leave until every last seat got filled. Many of my friends had loved ones climb aboard that beast of a machine, as well, leading to a permanent heart based bond in grief and support.

So what has two days of reflection on that 12 month roller coaster ride brought me? Gratitude. Yes, gratitude, because that’s what I choose to focus on.

Don’t get me wrong. I have moments yet when I’m overwhelmed by the losses and have to retreat into my cave made of bed sheets, but I’m grateful that I had as much time on the planet with these people as I did and that we got to share so much. Besides, my mother would kick my ass if I didn’t recognize my blessings amidst the mayhem, and nothing reminds us to live quite like death. Believe me, I’ve received that message blastingly loud and clear.

I’m also grateful for the above mentioned highs that pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that it would be a major struggle to crawl back in. Each new adventure prepares us to take on the next, and I’m primed for the new year.

I wish each of you a fun filled, goal-centric, limit breaking, love induced and rockus 2017. Regardless of what it delivers, let’s take one step at a time, one day at a time, and one glorious opportunity to grow at its ever lovin’ time.

 

Derailed . . .

There’s a steady course that I’ve been running for years. One that’s well marked and comforting, for the most part, although its surface has varied over time and presented unexpected challenges. Branches have fallen and blocked my path; weather has turned nasty, requiring an added dose of determination. Even my gear has worn and needed replacing, at times. But all along, I’ve remained fully supported and confident, regardless of terrain.

Recently, however, a hand, a big one, came out of nowhere and knocked me completely off course. My feet stumbled from the trail, and I rolled into thick brush before spiraling down a cavernous ravine. After a massive tree broke my fall, I stood bloodied and bruised and assessed the situation to find it dismal.

The path where I knew I could withstand anything is no longer visible. The woods around me are dense with the thickest of foliage hiding a wealth of unknowns. It’s dusk, and I’m hearing noises that scare the shit out of me.

It’s going to take every ounce of bravery I possess to find my way – not to the trail where I ran before, as that’s gone forever – but to a new one, where I pray I’ll find sunshine again and perhaps even moments of heartfelt joy.

That’s what it feels like to be derailed.

That’s what it’s like to lose a mother.

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