Agree to Disagree – It’s Your Choice

Have you ever read The Four Agreements?  If you haven’t, you should. As I suggested in my previous blog post, I would suggest going in with an open mind, because what he writes might blow your mind. I know it did mine. And it has never been the same since.

I started reading this book at the suggestion of a friend. It was a fairly short read but it wasn’t long before I started thinking about how these agreements relate to me and my life.

The author believes there are only four rules, or agreements, we should live by if we want to be live a life of fulfillment and content. They are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personal.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

He suggests that most people are asleep and it is only when they wake up can they see that what they thought believed, may in fact be someone else’s beliefs.

When we are born, we are at the mercy of our parents. They teach us everything they know about life; how to think, how to behave, our morals and values and what God to believe in. We, in turn, become “domesticated,” a word that Don Miguel uses to describe the process, just as you would domesticate a pet.

We don’t usually question this because when we do, we are “misbehaving” or “rebelling,” which is not tolerated in most households. We learn that there are consequences, and unless we want to be punished, we play the game, obeying, becoming miniatures of our parents (who learned that from their parents, and so on).

By the time we reach adulthood, we assume that what we believed all along was our truth, was in reality, something we never really agreed to.

Many people won’t question their beliefs, because they are loyal to their parents, their families, and to their Gods. Maybe they are afraid to rock the boat, challenge their beliefs, or maybe they are afraid of what they might find.

It is only when we have the courage to explore who we are, and decide what we want our lives to be, that we are truly living the life we are meant to live.

The following is my interpretation of the four agreements, and not necessarily Ruiz’s:

Be impeccable with your word.

I took this to mean that we should not talk bad about ourselves and others. We should say what we mean and be respectful when speaking to someone, even if they don’t always reciprocate. We should be careful with our words. Once they are spoken, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.

Don’t take anything personal.

This is a great reminder, because many people struggle with self-esteem issues that involves taking responsibility for things they shouldn’t. The truth is, the way people treat you is not because of you. It has to do with who they are and their perception of life. For example, if you do something the other person doesn’t like, it’s because they were expecting you to do something, or expected you to be a certain way. But you have a right to be whoever you want. You are not here to please others. You are here to grow. In addition, when we take responsibility for things we shouldn’t, we are stunting others’ growth, as well.

Don’t make assumptions.

Assumptions can kill a relationship faster than anything else. If you want to know the truth about something, ask. Don’t assume you know. Just like the old saying suggest; “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” I know it’s not pretty, but I use it to remind me that assumptions are based on preconceived ideas from my past experiences. It’s me thinking I know what’s going on inside someone else’s head, but there’s no way I could. I am not psychic. It’s better to have all the facts first, before we decide what our next step will be. Making assumptions also indicates that we know all there is to know, and there is no way we couod. Learning is life-long and when we assume we know it all, no one will want to be around us. Stop, listen, and ask questions; and then decide what’s next.

Always do your best.

“Your best is going to change moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

I love this passage, because I used to beat myself up for not being perfect. I am not sure where I got the idea that I could be perfect. Maybe it’s because when I quit drinking and my head cleared, I felt like I could do anything. The truth is, I can’t. I can do some things well, but I will never be perfect. However, I strive to be better than I was yesterday, even if it is just a little bit, and I think that’s pretty good.

Knowing all I really have to do is my best keeps me from being too hard on myself. I used to think I had to be tough on myself, because I really did want to be perfect. I wanted to be the best at something, anything!  Now that I know that is unrealistic, I am good with striving to always do my best.

Overwhelmed and Underpaid

I am not one to complain … not much anyway.  I only have myself to blame for the pressure I find myself under. Some days I wonder why I do this to myself, and then it hits me–I asked for it. There was a time when I wished for the things I have now. But sometimes I forget to enjoy it.

I can’t remember the last time I felt bored. There is always something to do. But that’s a good thing. When I’m not working, I am creating new recipes for my new-found lifestyle (vegan-ish) and spending time with the grandkids, who seem to jump from being 7 – full of fun and wanting to spend time with Grandma – to 13, when all of a sudden it’s like,  “Grandma who?”

Needless to say, I fill my time wisely, which makes for priceless memories, or a way to satisfy my obsessive nature.

I have been away from my blog for quite a while, but it’s not because I was bored with it. All of my spare time has been spent on building my freelance media business and online newspaper, hiawatha-news.com.  I am also helping the Hiawatha History Commission publish a book for the city’s 70th anniversary next year.

On the side, I do marketing work for Tommy’s Restaurant, and help the City of Hiawatha put together its monthly newsletter. Periodically, I hold self-publishing workshops at the library, lead a monthly writing group, and volunteer with the Friends of the Hiawatha Library, as well as the Hiawatha History Commission. I recently started a new business, Turn the Page Publishing, which specializes in helping people write and publish their life story. And I still work full-time at a local car dealership, because, you know, bills.

I have also been writing my own books. My latest, Mind Games, is in the final stages of editing.

See what I mean?

One thing I lack is a knack for time management. I am constantly working on several projects at once, and if I get distracted, it’s hard to come back to it right away. What happens then is that too much time goes by and I forget where I left off. I like projects with deadlines. Those are the ones that get my undivided attention.

It’s good to have goals. I suppose mine is managing my time a little better. And maybe enjoying life a little more. In the words of Albert Einstein, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Actually, I would say the older I get, the more I realize what I don’t know. But he’s the genius.

There are those who will tell you it’s not good to be a workaholic, but there are worse things. I feel most alive when I am busy, and I feel like I am contributing something to the world. But as good as it is, it can also be overwhelming, and there are times when I need to rest.

I need to remember to slow down and enjoy the ride. The thing about life, “It goes on.”

“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. In all the confusions of today, with all our troubles . . . with politicians and people slinging the word fear around, all of us become discouraged . . . tempted to say this is the end, the finish. But life — it goes on. It always has. It always will. Don’t forget that.”

~ Robert Frost

 

 

Book No. 5

I put the finishing touches on my dad’s book last week and was finally able to submit it to Amazon’s CreateSpace.

CreateSpace is a handy publishing tool for those of us who want their books published, but don’t want to waste our time with rejections by popular publishers.

Maybe someday I will see my dream of being a best-selling author realized, but for now, I am content with marketing my book myself.

CreateSpace is very helpful with online marketing, but it’s up to the author to get out and sell it. Published books are available in digital and paperback forms, though paperbacks are a lot more costly.

For those of you who may not know, I posted stories my dad wrote about his life on a separate blog, “Leaving a Legacy.” I started the blog, so my family would have access to it. One of my uncles asked if I was going to publish it, and though I had thought about it, I wasn’t sure how I should frame it. Should I write it “as is,” or do a little editing so it made sense? Or maybe I should tell the story about how I found it in a box after he died and became closer to my family after reading about his life? Or maybe I should break the stories up and put them in chronological order, adding a forward and introduction to explain the misses pieces in his story.

I chose the latter, and got to work editing. It took a few months to complete putting it in order and making it make sense, and another month to edit, but I finally submitted it to CreateSpace last week.

I have used CreateSpace before, publishing a series of three teen sci-fi books and a recipe book, but it has been a while since I used it.

I had to create a cover of my own in the right size in PDF form, and then using a template, had to save my interior content in PDF form, as well. Once I walked through the process a few times, it became a no-brainer.

Here is the link to my dad’s book, which is for sale on Amazon: Legacy: An Autobiography.

I have decided that all the proceeds with go to one of my dad’s favorite charities, but because he had so many, I’ll have to give it more thought. My father was a generous man, and I think he would not appreciate the gesture, but he’d be a little proud, too.

A Writer’s Gift

Every year my kids ask me what I want for Christmas, and every year my answer is the same: “Save your money to buy gifts for your kids.”

But they never listen to me. Most years, I receive a bottle of perfume, gloves, or a candle. And though I appreciate all of them, I secretly wish they wouldn’t have spent any money on me.

I understand how they feel, though. I did the same thing to my mom. (And I still do!)

But this year, I was presented with a big box from my granddaughter, Lily. The first thing I noticed was a DVD if my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The second thing I noticed was a book. I pulled it out and read the title: “300 Writing Prompts.” I opened the book and realized it was a journal. A writing journal, the best kind!

This was the perfect gift for a writer! It’s not always easy to come up with a subject for a blog. Some days the words just won’t come, but this was the answer to my writer’s block.

I still wish my kids wouldn’t spend their money on me; but then again, sometimes it’s pretty cool.

Some of the prompts include:

What is your favorite breakfast to get you up and out the door? Write about the middle of something, anything! What do you want your retirement to be like? How do you act when you’re afraid? Is there a mistake you keep making in your life? Explain.

I think I’ll start using the prompts as a blog writing exercise. Not only will it help my creative writing skills, but most likely I will learn something new about myself.

 

In Search of …. the Perfect Sugar Cookie

I was 6 or 7 when I tasted the perfect cookie. And I have been trying to replicate it since. They were bought at the SunMart store on Mt. Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids, where DrugTown stood for years when SunMart closed, and where Goodwill is now located.

Business started declining at SunMart after Hy-Vee moved in up the street, and I was sorry to see it go. I got my first lesson in “rights” and “wrongs” when I was caught shoplifting, before I knew the consequences for breaking the law.

I have many fond memories of the store; my first Hostess pies and Snowballs; the flavored tabs that fizzed when you put them in water to make a concoction similar to Kool-Aid; the fresh-baked donuts that melted in your mouth; and SunMart’s amazing sugar cookies.

Fifty years later, and I still haven’t found a cookie, nor a recipe, that comes close to it. Funny how our taste buds hold a memory; as if I will know it’s the one when I finally taste it again.

I’m going to do my best to find the perfect sugar cookie this holiday baking season. And even if I can’t find the perfect sugar cookie, I hope I come close.

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NaNoWriMo-The Last Word

 

It was 10:15 last night when I put the last word on the last page, ending what I considered to be one of the most important months in my career as an author. It was important, because I learned more in November about creative writing than I could ever have imagined.

I put my life on hold for practically the entire month. I worked on my novel every day, but I didn’t always reach my goal of 1,700 words. It was tough; work, family, Thanksgiving, migraines, and lack of motivation kept me from completing the overall goal of 50,000 words in 30 days (I wrote 40,294 words, but I finished my story). However, I don’t see it as a failure.

I knew a week ago I wasn’t going to make my goal, and confided to my fiancé that I knew I would finish my story by then. But there was no way I would get to 50,000.

“But you worked so hard on it, and you’ll feel really bad it you don’t ….”

Honestly, I don’t feel bad at all about it. I didn’t do it to prove to anyone I could do it. I did it so I could learn from it. I did it for the experience. And now, I know the price I have to pay if I ever needed to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. I would basically have to put everything else on hold and put all my efforts into that novel. I would have to ignore my duties as a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, and a friend just so I could complete the task.

I truly enjoyed writing the novel, but it’s not done. The editing alone will take a few months, at the very least. Which is fine with me. I’m ready to take a few days off to work on all my other projects that have been waiting patiently for me.

My advice for people wanting to do the challenge next November:

  • This will take most of your spare time. Let your friends and family know you won’t be available for the month.
  • Stick to you goal of 1,700 words a day. Once you get behind, it’s extremely difficult to catch up.
  • Don’t give up. (If you started the challenge with a purpose, chances are you won’t have to worry too much about this one.)
  • Gather a support team. Whether it’s your boyfriend, girlfriend, mother, father, brother, sister, kids, whoever; you will need them to help you brainstorm and keep you on track. They will also become your cheerleaders.

Next year I will be better prepared. And I will also have an advantage; it will no longer be my first.

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Scrolling

I opened my WordPress tab this morning, like I do most days.  Colorful photos caught my eye, along with headings for blogs written by friends I have come to know through their artistic creations.

Most days I go straight to my writing tasks, but today I paused to admire the handiwork … and I started scrolling.

I found poetry blogs, and how-to blogs, and inspirational blogs. I found blogs about the Theology of Carrots ( “We hide our best underground”), Carl Jung’s view of the human psyche (“Very often do we see our own faults in others”), and Peaceful Shit (“Just when I thought things were getting good; Good shit never lasts long.”).

This last one made me chuckle, mostly because the author speaks the truth; “good shit never lasts long.”

But if we didn’t have bad shit, we wouldn’t appreciate the good shit. And, as everyone knows, shit happens. And the world goes round and round …..

And I’m scrolling ….

“Validation is for Parking.” This is an interesting insight.

“Frankly, the validity others provide for us has nothing to do with us. It has all to do with how THEY see themselves and their world.”

I agree with the author. We all have our realities, our own perceptions, about life and the world, which we created based on who we are, what we believe, and our experiences up to this point. No one seems the world in exactly the same way.

The author goes on to say that we need to validate ourselves instead of looking for others to do it for us.

“… we need to learn how to embrace ourselves, learn how to live our lives without asking for another’s permission or acceptance. It is our life. Our journey. ”

And I’m scrolling ….

I see my Blog #2, In My Father’s Footsteps, Chapters 31 and 32, with the familiar family photos I use to decorate my father’s stories. I impulsively click on Chapter 32, though the words are firmly planted in my mind. My motives are purely honorable; research, I tell myself. And Validation.

“My dad was my hero. I’m sure most little girls see their fathers that way. And though my relationship with my dad hasn’t always been the best, he was there when I needed him most, and for that, I am very grateful.”

A few years ago, I found a box filled with typed pages, memories about his life, which he transformed into fun and entertaining stories about his childhood, his time in the Navy, being the oldest boy in a Catholic family, and what he thought about life in general.

I changed it up a bit in Chapter 31, letting my mother take the reins to tell the story of how she and my dad met.  (Despite everything that was against them, they managed to hang on to each other for nearly 50  years.)

They were married Oct. 24, 1959. They caused quite a scandal back then. They had both been married before and divorce wasn’t as accepted as it is today. (And besides, my father was Catholic; definitely a no-no for that denomination). Mom had three kids from her previous marriage. Dad had two, but only Tim came to live with them. And after they were married, they had five more.

If that wasn’t enough, they survived a horrific experience when Dad nearly died in a car accident in 1967. And once the older kids became teenagers, they had to deal with drugs, unplanned pregnancies, and the draft (It was the ’60s, after all).

A few years later, they had to go through it all again with the second batch of kids. By this time, they were either too tired to care, or figured that life was too short to get too stressed about it and learned to relax a little.

“’Story of our lives…’ she tells me.  And she is not wrong.”

And I’m scrolling ….

tributecr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterflies

 

I have a butterfly tattoo on my ankle; a reminder of the changes I have made in my life. Sounds kind of corny and cliché, I know, but it’s a good analogy of  my life.

Twelve years ago, I was broken. I hated my life. I hated my job. I hated me.  I felt lost and alone, and what hope I had left was quickly diminishing.

But something happened that year. My first grandchild, Thomas, was born April 18, and at the time, I was unaware of the impact he would have on the decision to change my life.

Later that year, in July,  I was climbing the 20-plus stairs to our apartment. It was a hot and humid day; one of those days that Iowa’s known for. I had to stop half-way, because I couldn’t catch my breath. I drew air in air in, but I felt like I was suffocating. My heart began racing, and I literally saw my life flashing before my eyes.

I saw Thomas growing up without me. I saw an empty chair at his wedding. I saw him holding his child, and I wasn’t there to tell him how proud I was of him.

But as fast as the visions came, they were gone, and I was back in the hallway of our building, breathing normally.

The thought that came to me was, “I don’t want to die.”

I immediately opened the door of my apartment, took my cigarette pack out of my purse and threw them into the wastebasket.

I tried to quit smoking before, but it was only a day or two before my willpower gave out. But this was different. I knew if I kept going the way I was, smoking two packs a day, I would die. I was sure of it.

I got through the first day, and then the second, and soon I was celebrating a month without smoking.  I felt great! I could climb the stairs to my apartment without stopping to rest. I stopped coughing up crap from my lungs. I could take deep breaths again, and I knew it could only get better.

I was so proud of myself, because quitting smoking was no easy task. I used the patch for eight weeks, and then graduated to nicotine gum. I used the gum for a year and then switched to mints, which I carried in my purse to curb any lingering cravings.

I quit smoking when I found out I was was pregnant with my first baby, but started again as soon as she was born, kicking myself with every drag I took.  By the time I finally quit, I had convinced myself that I would die with a cigarette in my hand.

That is, until I realized I had two choices; I could continue living my life in the prison I had built for myself, or I could break free and do something with my life.

You see, smoking wasn’t my only problem. I had a drinking problem. I used alcohol to self-medicate, to calm my fears,  alleviate the stress, and numb the feelings of shame and guilt that consumed me.

My intention was to just to have one or two beers, to take the edge off, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I was drinking a 12-pack of beer a night, and that still wasn’t enough to keep those horrible feelings down.

The night of August 31, 2005, I was sitting at the computer, while my daughter was doing homework. She’d had a rough year and was trying to catch up so she could graduate with her class.

The third time she asked me for help, and I said, “Just a minute, I’m busy,” was her breaking point, and she threw her books against the wall.  She had a history of extreme outbursts, but that’s not what this was. I truly believe it was divine intervention, because what she said next blew my mind:

“I’m sorry you have so many problems, and that you’re so unhappy, but I have problems, too. …”

For the first time, I heard her words. She saw my pain and my unhappiness, and I saw hers. She was reaching out to me the only way she knew how.

She taught me something significant that night, something that has made me get out of myself and really look at the world around me:

“We don’t live in a bubble; what we do affects others.”

I had been so busy worrying about me and focusing on how bad my world was, I wasn’t seeing what my own children were going through.  My selfishness and self-centeredness had kept me from being emotionally available for my children, and now I had to take responsibility for it, and do something about it.

I was hurting, and I didn’t know what else to do but to close the world in on myself. All this time, I had been inadvertently killing myself, because I couldn’t face the pain I had caused others. It had gotten so bad, I couldn’t live with myself.

I knew I needed to take control of my life.  That night, when I went to bed, I did something I hadn’t done in years; I prayed. I asked God to help me. I promised Him that I would do whatever it took to have a better life, to be a better mother, a better person. I begged him to show me how to do it.

And he did.

The next day, I threw all the beer away and got rid of all the empty cans.

A few days later I met someone who introduced me to Alcoholics Anonymous and I started attending weekly meetings. A few months later I ran into a friend, who was also in the program, and she became my sponsor.

God was putting people in my life to help me.

But that was just the beginning.

To be continued ….

 

That’s What Friends Are For

One day a woman found herself in a hole. She looked around for a way out, but there was none. Suddenly, a man’s head appeared in the hole.

“Hello! Do you need help?” he called. He was wearing a stethoscope around his neck and holding a note pad.

“Yes, thank goodness! Please, help me, Dr.!”

The doctor wrote something on his notepad, tore it off, and tossed it down to her. 

“Take these pills and call me in the morning.”

She looked at he paper in disbelief. Then she crumbled it up and started to cry. 

“Hello!” she heard from above. She looked up and saw a man with a white collar. “My child, why are you crying?”

“I’m stuck … I can’t get out of this hole!”

The pastor made a sign of the cross, and said, “Bless you, my Child,” and walked away.

Just when the woman began to lose all hope, a shadow was cast across the the hole. She looked up and saw a face, smiling down at her.

“Need some help?”

Before she could answer the man jumped down into the hole with her.

“What are you doing?” she exclaimed. “Now we’re both stuck down here!”

“Yes,” he told her. “But I’ve been here before, and I know the way out …”

Leaving a Legacy: My Father’s Story, in His Words

In My Father’s Footsteps is the title I chose for my Dad’s story in my new blog, Leaving a Legacy.

At one point, I thought about having it published through Amazon, but I wasn’t sure how I would edit it.  While he is an awesome writer, the story he wrote while recuperating from a knee replacement in 1994, is hard to follow at times. He switches channels a lot. (Now I know where I get it.)

My dad died in September 2008, the same year Cedar Rapids had the flood that heavily damaged the downtown area.

He died peacefully, sitting in his favorite chair, eyes closed, a book on his lap. Though he had been in and out of the hospital with congestive heart failure, it was a shock to the family.

As I was helping my mom clean out the storage room, I came across a box of papers title, “TPMLIFE.” As I read the first page, I realized I held my dad’s life story, which he started in 1994.

I gathered all I could find and took them upstairs to my mom, who told me my brother had the rest of the pages. I put them in order and began the laborious task of transcribing them onto the computer, with the intent that I would share them someday with the world.

That day has some, and though I know not everyone will share the same enthusiasm that has driven me to work so hard to put them online, hopefully some of his lessons learned will make you laugh, cry, and think a little bit about your own life.

tributecr.com

 

Happiness is a Verb

“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” –  Og Mandino

My fiance and I are currently reading, “The Greatest Miracle in the World,” by Og Mandino. I read aloud to him, and he listens. This way, we both get to enjoy it.

One of the things discussed after today’s reading was how the great writers of the world could very well be messengers of God. Not so much in the biblical sense, but offering hope to those who are searching for happiness and not able to find it.

According to Mandino, these  great writers believe the soul requires cultivation, and whether it is cultivated with blossoms or weeds, that is strictly up to the individual. It is always their choice if they will choose to cultivate the positive side of life, or the negative. Happiness, therefore, has everything to do with your perception of life. If you are a negative person, who only complains and feels sorry for themselves, chances are you will not live a happy life.

I’m sure everyone has their own definition of what it means to them, but for me, happiness is a state of being. It’s how I live my life. Maybe it’s because before I realized I had the power to choose, I lived with a dark cloud hanging over me, and a few times consider seriously about ending my life. I struggled through my day just to wake up and struggle through the next.

I lived this way for years, until something happened to wake me up. My grandson was born, and I realized I wanted to watch him grow up and be a part of his life.

The first thing I did was to quit smoking, which was no easy task. I made it through the first day, then the first week, and before I knew it, I had been smoke-free for a month. I realized I actually accomplished something I set out to do. I honestly think I had forgotten that such a task was even possible.

I began to wonder what else was possible.

I took a good look at my life and saw that my drinking had become a problem. The thought of not being able to drink made me anxious. I had gotten used to using alcohol to “take the edge off,” after getting bad news, or just to celebrate making it through the day.

But I knew I couldn’t do that anymore. Alcohol not only kept me from expressing my true emotions, it actually contributed to my depression, which I struggled with most of my life. I had become a co-dependent people-pleaser. I wanted to be accepted so badly, I became whoever you wanted me to be. Honestly, I didn’t even know who I was anymore.

I took my last drink Aug. 30, 2005.  I started seeing a therapist to help me face my demons. I let go of resentments and forgave myself and others.  I walked through my fears of criticism and failure, and began to like myself again. I did things I only dreamed about, and then I went beyond that, and did things I never dreamed of.

I have cried more than I ever thought possible, perhaps grieving for a life I thought I’d wasted. But once I realized I had the power to become whoever I wanted to be, I decided to make every day count.

Today, I do my best to accept things I can’t control. I have a faith that can move mountains, and a hope that is endless. My life is far from perfect, but I am at peace with who I am.

I am happy, but it’s not because I arrived at a place where all my problems disappeared, but because I continue to do things that bring me happiness. I spend time with those I love. I spend time doing things that nurture my soul; praying, meditating, and exercising. I spend time cooking, crafts, writing, and other projects that make me feel like I am contributing to the world.

It has taken a long time and a lot of hard to get to where I am, but I’d do it all again. I am happy because I choose to be.