Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Mosquito in my Shorts

First things first ... thank you for the mountain of emails you've sent pleading with me to start writing more frequently again. I am deeply humbled by your kind words and your concern for my emotional and mental health. I assure you that my lack of writing over the past couple of weeks isn't because I've crawled into my cave or that I'm in the fight of my life with the big old wolf who seems to have taken up permanent residence just outside my window. Nothing quite so dramatic, I'm afraid ... I simply haven't had enough time to write. Or perhaps I should say I haven't had enough time to write the way I want to write ... from my heart ... always from my heart, friends. Now that my house is officially on the market, I won't have to spend my evenings re-staining every single baseboard and door in the house or washing down all the walls with Magic Erasers (best freaking cleaning thingies ever invented, by the way) or cleaning carpet or down on my hands and knees scrubbing the floors. I'm guessing that might free up just a tiny bit of time for me ... and yes, I'm being sarcastic. Everything always takes way longer than I think it will when it comes to doing stuff around the house. Hmmmm ... I wonder what in the world I'll do with myself when I don't have house stuff to do anymore. But back to my original statement ... thank you all so much for your support, encouragement and concern. I sure as heck don't get why so many of you like to read my oftentimes borderline insane ramblings, but I'm truly thankful if getting a glimpse into my totally whacked-out brain helps a few of you along the way.

So a couple of nights ago, I'm sitting in my spot on the couch in my living room ... the same spot I sit in every night ... with Ollie curled up next to me snoring like a freight train while I answer a few emails. I'm typing, Ollie's snoring ... just another boring night at home. Until ... until all of a sudden the tops of my legs started itching like crazy. And in less than a minute, the backs of my legs, my stomach and my lower back joined the itching party. I seriously thought I was going to scratch myself to death ... no, I mean really scratch myself to death ... that's how badly I was itching. Crazy, right? No, what's crazy is that I sat there for a good 10 minutes or longer scratching like a banshee before I finally stood up, pulled off my basketball shorts and tried to figure out what in the world was happening to me. I may or may not have uttered a few choice words when I saw all the welts on my upper legs ... there were eight on my left leg alone. I hightailed it into the bathroom and looked in the mirror ... between my legs, my stomach and what I could see of my lower back, I counted 28 mosquito bites. Yep, 28 welts left by what I could only assume was one demon-possessed mosquito that somehow got himself stuck inside my shorts. It took more than a half tube of Benadryl Cream to finally tame the itch, but by the next morning I was pretty much back to normal.

Now I know you're all expecting me to share with you the big life lesson I learned from the mosquito in my shorts incident, and since I've already disappointed enough people in my life this week, I certainly don't want to disappoint all of you, too. So here's the thing ... the great big gigantically huge thing I learned from all those mosquito bites. If something doesn't feel right ... if something makes you want to scratch your skin off ... if something hurts like heck, get up and check your shorts. Don't sit around thinking the problem will solve itself, because it won't ... in fact, more than likely it will only get worse. If I'd gotten off the couch and checked when my legs first itching, chances are I would have only had two or three bites instead of 28. What became a big problem for me would have been far smaller had I only made the effort sooner ... had I gotten up, peeled off all my clothes and checked my shorts for mosquitoes at the first sign of something amiss, I would have been far better off and much less itchy.

Go ahead and think on that for a while, friends ... go ahead and mull it over, stew on it, do some serious contemplating. Always check your shorts for mosquitoes, friends ... always, indeed.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go

I thought about beginning tonight's post by sharing a couple of funny pee-related stories from when my three kiddos were little, but then I thought I shouldn't because it might embarrass them. But then I thought, oh yes, I am. Stories like how Meghann used to stand over the air conditioning vent in our living room and pee because, in her words, "Wook, Mommie, I go pee wike da brudders." Stories like how Brad dropped his britches at a rest area on the way to Tennessee ... he peed right in front of the "Welcome to Tennessee" sign and everyone who happened to be driving along that stretch of I-24 got a great view of his little bumpkin. Stories like how Matt would sleepwalk into his dad's closet and pee in his dress shoes. Ahhh, those were the days, my friends ... those were the days when everything in my life revolved around what crazy shenanigans my three little hooligans were up to at the time. Including, but certainly not limited to, where they chose to pee.

It's been more than a decade since I have had a kidney infection, so many years ago that I had forgotten just how miserably painful they are ... until Tuesday morning, that is. And by Tuesday afternoon, I remembered that pain way more than I ever want to again in my entire lifetime. I'm not sure which part of the pain is worse, feeling like I constantly have to pee and then not being able to or my lower back feeling like a semi ran over it 27 million times. All I know is that I never want to have to contemplate which pain is worse ever again ... never, never, never ever again. I feel much better today, not back to 100 percent just yet, but so much better than I have felt for the last couple of days.

So why am I writing tonight about the bodily function of peeing? Because I, and probably many of you as well, take being able to pee without pain for granted. It's something that I just don't think about, you know? My kidneys working like they're supposed to, that is. I pretty much go along assuming they're working just fine and that they always will. My recent experience, however, has been quite the wake-up call for me ... literally ... I think I must have woken up at least 50 times Tuesday night feeling like I had to pee. But seriously, my bout with my sick kidneys has made me think a lot about just how much I, and probably many of you as well, take for granted.

It's so easy to do, to take things for granted ... things like being able to pee without feeling like you're being sawed in half by Freddy Krueger ... things like having healthy food to eat and clean water to drink ... things like sleeping in a soft bed each night ... things like flipping a light switch and watching the light pierce the darkness ... things like having a job that keeps food in the bowl for my little wiener dog buddy. And then there's the really big stuff that I sometimes take for granted, too ... the really, really, really big stuff. Stuff like family ... friendship ... health ... sanity ... happiness ... love. And you know what? I'd bet my last penny that I'm not the only person who does.

I know I've said it a million times, but I'll say it until I draw my dying breath ... life is short and I must be so very careful not take the people who mean so very much to me for granted. Because one day, friends ... one day I may just wake up and find that they're gone. I read the following quote a couple of weeks ago, and it really struck me.

"Never push a loyal person to the point where they don't care."

I think I'll leave you to think on that statement for a while ... I have to go pee.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Miss Me?

I've always thought that's a weird question to ask someone. It seems to me that if someone misses me, he or she would tell me. And more than a few of you have. Told me you miss me, that is. And you've told me lots of other things, too, over the last week. Things like how you look forward to reading my posts and are disappointed when I don't write for a while. Things like how you worry when I take time off from posting and don't let you know I'm taking time off from posting. Things like how I'm making a difference for other people and that I should write from my heart even if my heart is hurting. Things like how you not only get my warped sense of humor but that you actually like it. Things like how when I don't write for a while you wonder if the wolf at my window has crashed through the glass and has its jaws clamped tightly around my neck. Things like ... well ... things like how much you miss me.

My post tonight is to let you all know that I'm fine and dandy, no bloody wolf fangs in my neck ... or in my mind as the case may be. I've just been super busy between work and trying to get my house ready to put on the market, hopefully within the next few days. Speaking of selling my house and downsizing, I've decided to enter into this new phase of life by looking at it as a grand new adventure that is going to greatly enhance my quality of life. Sure I'm nervous and even more than a little bit scared, but I'm also very much at peace with my decision. I know that makes me sound like I'm a few fries short of a happy meal ... feeling both scared and at peace at the same time ... but it's very true. Perhaps for the first time, I think I finally understand how my mom must have felt when she decided it was time to sell her house and move into an apartment ... both frightened by the change and excited for the adventure ahead. 

I apologize if you were concerned about me, and I should have written a post letting you know I was going to super busy for the next couple of weeks but I kept thinking I'd find time to write at least a few posts. Things always seem to have a way of taking longer to do than I think they will, however, hence my lack of posting. I shouldn't be quite as busy on the home front this week as I was the last couple of weeks, so I'm hoping I'll be able to squeeze in at least a couple of posts in the next few days. But if I don't, know that I'm probably not dead and that I'm just trying to finish checking off the list of items the realtor asked me to do before I list the house. And don't worry ... when I do kick the bucket one day, my kids will let you know. Or maybe Ollie will let you know ... he was so successful at learning how to shake, I'm now trying to teach him how to write.

So until we meet again through the written word, take care of each other, friends. Please be kind in all you say and do for you never know what someone is dealing with in life. Treat each other with respect and dignity and honor. Never take the people you love and care about for granted. Remember that life and people are precious and both can be taken away in a moment. Say the words, friends ... say, "I miss you" ... say, "You matter to me" ... say, "I care about what happens to you" ... say, "I love you." Say the words, friends ... say the words.

Miss me? Cause I sure do miss you.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Tale of the Three Smart and Sweet Gals, One Monster-Loving Hawaiian Dude and a Ghee

Once upon a time there were three super smart and outrageously sweet young gals named Courtney, Emily and Samantha, a totally cool monster-loving Hawaiian dude named Micah and a short gray-haired grandma named Ghee. The super smart and outrageously sweet young gals, the totally cool monster-loving Hawaiian dude and the short gray-haired grandma all worked at the same sheep-hating advertising agency together for a few years and, even though they were all very different, somehow became great friends. For reasons known only to fairy godmothers, the super smart and outrageously sweet young gals and the totally cool monster-loving Hawaiian dude actually thought the short gray-haired grandma was hip enough to invite her to join them as they set out on their exciting and magical journey to the incredibly fun and not-at-all-scary land of No Coast Creature. A journey that breathed new life into the short gray-haired grandma named Ghee ... a journey that made her feel young again ... a journey that allowed her not only to help the three super smart and outrageously sweet young gals named Courtney, Emily and Samantha, and the totally cool monster-loving Hawaiian dude named Micah, but to help kids and grownups everywhere know that being different isn't just OK, it's flat-out, through-the-roof, to-the-moon-and-back awesome.

When my young friends asked me last year if I'd be willing to help them out in their new business venture by writing some copy for their recently created line of children's t-shirts and posters for both littles and bigs, I didn't have to think twice about my answer. And when they told me their mission statement ... to help kids and adults alike know that it's OK to be different ... and of their desire to eventually contribute part of their profits to helping charities for kids ... well, just suffice it to say that I feel both honored and humbled to be part of their incredible adventure. From social media posts to press releases to my own personal favorite, the creature stories for the adoption certificates each buyer receives when he or she takes one of the friendly creatures of No Coast Creature home, I'm having more fun than I've had in a long time. The experience has made me a better friend, a better Ghee and a better person, and I get the added bonus of being allowed to hang out with four of the most incredible young people I've ever known and the friendliest, not-at-all-scary monsters in the universe. 

I spent a couple of hours with the gals yesterday ... the Hawaiian dude is on vacation ... at a local arts show where the friendly creatures of No Coast Creature were strutting their not-at-all-scary monster stuff, and my time with those gals was like medicine to my soul. It had been a while since I'd seen the three of them, so there were lots of hugs, buckets of laughter and some good old-fashioned heart sharing thrown in for good measure along the way. And to make a great afternoon even more amazingly great, Courtney just so happened to have her 2-month-old little boy with her so I was able to sneak in some really good baby snuggling time. There's nothing on this earth that's more able to heal what ails you than holding a little one in your arms ... absolutely nothing.

If you haven't checked out the friendly, not-at-all-scary creatures of No Coast Creature yet, you totally should ... in fact, click here to go to their website. Remember that Christmas is just right around the corner and the friendly creatures of No Coast Creature would love nothing more than to help you make someone you love extra happy over the holidays. And just in case you're wondering, yes, this doting Ghee has already introduced my two favorite little Canadians to some friendly, not-at-all-scary creatures of their very own, and they love them.

Once upon a time there were three super smart and outrageously sweet young gals named Courtney, Emily and Samantha, a totally cool monster-loving Hawaiian dude named Micah and a short gray-haired grandma named Ghee. Cheers to the journey ahead, my young friends ... thank you for letting me be a part of your beautiful ride.

                  "Fitzgerald"                                                                "Scout"

                               "Pigskin"                                                                 "Benton"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Be a Pineapple

There are only two people in this world who could convince me to wear a tiara and pretend to be a princess, and since they live in Canada, the chances of you ever seeing me in full-blown princess persona are slim to none. Never in my entire life did I want to dress up like a princess ... never ever. Not even when I was a kid and Halloween rolled around and all the other girls were decked out in their Cinderella or Snow White costumes. No amount of peer pressure in the universe could convince me back then to don a crown or tutu or satiny gown ... no way, no how. But all Coraline and Amelie have to do is look at me and say, "Ghee, will you play princess with us?" and I'll not only connect with my inner princess, I'll willingly do it as fast as I possibly can with an abundant amount of glee. I know those of you who are grandparents will completely get it when I say I'd do just about anything those two sweet little girls asked me to do. Except touch a snake ... even super-devoted Ghees have to draw the line somewhere.

I'm not gonna lie, friends, it's been a long week on many fronts, and by the time I got home this evening, I felt very much like I'd been run over by truck ... over and over and over again. I was so wiped out that I seriously considered going to bed at 7:30, but even having that thought cross through my mind made me feel like I was a hundred years old so I forced myself to stay up. And now it's storming, so you know I'm not about to go to bed until it stops ... geez ... I should have gone to bed at 7:30 even if it did make me feel like an old woman. In my attempt to power through the overwhelming urge to take my faithful wiener dog and crawl into bed before it was even dark outside, I decided to read through some of your emails. It always makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I randomly open an email and discover that it contains exactly the message I need to read, and that's exactly what happened tonight. And since I still feel like I've been run over by a truck and 9:30 seems a much more youthful bedtime, and my favorite weatherman says it's just thunder and lightning and heavy rain and no tornadoes, I think I'll close by sharing that exactly the message I needed to read email and the image attached to it and call it a night. Sleep well, friends, and take care of each other.

"Terrie, I know from reading your posts that you have a good heart and a kind soul. Don't let the people who don't have a good heart bring you down. Unfortunately there are some people in the world who are mean and cruel and hurtful. But you, Terrie, you are a pineapple and don't you forget it."

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Never Trust a Chigger

If I somehow manage to slip in through the pearly gates and make it into heaven one day, the first thing I'm going to do is find myself a laptop and send God a meeting maker request. Don't worry, I'll only ask for an hour of His time, though I'm sure I could easily sit and chat with Him all day. Hmmm ... I wonder if there are days in heaven or even hours or minutes for that matter or if maybe the whole entire concept of time doesn't even exist there. Personally, I think that would be like the coolest thing ever ... to never have to watch the clock again for all of eternity. But even if that were the case, I would still be very respectful of God's time ... I mean, seriously, He is the busiest guy in the universe after all. I'm sure you're dying to know why I want to have my hour-long meeting with the Big Guy, and if you're not, too bad because I'm telling you anyway. I have a list of questions I want to ask Him, not the least of which is, "Why in heaven's name did You create chiggers?"

There's one surefire way to make sure something happens to me that I don't want to ever happen to me again and that's to brag about how that particular thing hasn't happened to me in a really long time. Which is exactly what I did a few days ago when I was talking to a friend and I said, "I haven't had a chigger bite in a really, really long time ... I used to get them every time I walked out in the yard." Betcha can't guess how many chigger bites I have now, can you? Don't even waste your time trying to guess, I'll tell you ... 17 ... I have 17 stupid chigger bites. Yep, 17 of those demonic little suckers decided to latch on to my skin and bite the heck out of me. I have bites on my forearms, my back, my legs, my armpits ... I even have a bite on my breast. It's a good thing I sit in the corner at work so no one could see me scratching the heck out of my boob today ... talk about awkward, geez. And just in case you've never had a chigger bite, multiply the worst mosquito bite you've ever had in your entire life by a gazillion and that might come close to how badly they itch.

I'm sure I must have gotten chigger bites when I was a kid ... as much as I played outside, there's just no way I didn't get my fair share of bites. The odd thing is that if I got them, I certainly don't remember getting them, which, considering how badly they itch, you'd think I would. It wasn't until I moved to Kansas that I discovered the full-blown horror that such a microscopic little creature could wreak. Thankfully, Midwestern folk are generally a pretty kind bunch and one of them hooked me up with a little bottle of miracle medicine called Chigarid. I'm not kidding, friends, that stuff is like liquid gold during chigger season ... at least I thought it was up until a couple of years ago when I found out that a dollar bottle of clear fingernail polish works just as well as a six-dollar bottle of Chigarid. Now the makers of Chigarid will tell you that the camphor, menthol, phenol and eucalyptus oil in their product do more to soothe the itch, but the truth is that the key to controlling the itch is sealing the bite from air and clear fingernail polish handles that task just fine.

So why am I writing about chigger bites? Why indeed, friends ... why indeed?

Monday, September 5, 2016

A New Chapter

A trip back to my hometown in Tennessee would be incomplete without taking time to drive by the house I grew up in at the top of the hill on Ormand Drive. The last time I was there four years ago, the house looked pretty much the same ... minus some of the trees that once meant so much to me. It was still painted the same color ... Mom's trademark cream and beige ... and the ceramic plaque with the house number painted on it still hung next to the front door. Every time I drive by my old house, my mind is flooded with memories of days gone by ... far too many memories to even begin to recount ... memories of laughter and love and life with family and friends who were so very dear to me. It was on my last drive by the house that I finally understood why the tug to see it each time I go back home is so strong. It's not really the house I go to see, it's the memories that live within its walls that I need to see and feel and remember ... it's the memories that house contains that draw me home, friends, it's the memories.

I didn't shed a tear the day I packed up and moved out of my childhood home, but I cried buckets when Mom called and told me it had sold just a few days after she put it on the market. Even though I hadn't lived in that house for more than 30 years, the feeling of loss I felt was overwhelming. The only other time I've experienced such emotion surrounding the sale of a house was when I had to sell the one we moved into when we came to Kansas City. The day we moved out of that house was most definitely another buckets full of tears day for me for sure, again not because of the house itself, but because my children were little guys when we moved into it ... Matt was going into his senior year in high school when we moved. Just like the house I grew up in, there were so many memories wrapped inside the walls of that house ... both good and bad, so very many memories indeed.

Though it's hard for me to believe, I've lived in my current house for 15 years ... the last seven or so of those years by myself. I've written often about how quiet my house became after my third kiddo Meghann moved out, and there are times when the silence is indeed quite deafening. My house would be considered small by the standards of many folks, but for me and my little wiener dog, it's far more space than we really need. It's a true story and a half style with two bedrooms and a bath upstairs ... two empty bedrooms and a bath I never use. The truth is that other than going to the basement to do my laundry or to cower in my storm fort when the weather gets bad, Ollie the wiener dog and I live on the main level ... the main level with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a family room and an eat-in kitchen. And the even bigger truth is that Ollie and I really don't even need the amount of space we actually live in.

My kids have been telling me for years that I should sell my house and move into an apartment or condo closer in to downtown where I work. Their reasoning makes sense ... no home repairs to worry about, less time on the highway each day, no yard to mow or driveway to shovel, having the means to pay off my debt and save more for retirement ... those are all valid and legitimate reasons why I should sell my house. And I think they're right ... I think my kids are right and it's time for me to admit that it's time for me to start writing a new chapter in my life. I won't lie and tell you that it will be easy for me to leave my little house, and there's a part of me that feels very old even just writing about it. But there's also a part of me that feels like this new chapter of my life will be a grand adventure, and the thought of living in a really cool loft is a little bit exciting. I won't ever actually be able to afford to rent a really cool loft, by the way, but saying that the thought of living in a studio apartment is exciting just doesn't have nearly as much literary charm.

I think maybe it's time to write a new chapter, friends ... I think maybe it is indeed. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Most Perfect Follow-Up Ever

She was a teenager when I first met her, the granddaughter of two of the kindest, most generous people I've ever known. She's lived more life than most people three times her age, some good and some ... well ... some not so much. She's mom to two adorable little boys with baby number three due to arrive shortly, and she's an incredible writer who's graciously agreed to allow me to post her most recent words of wisdom in my blog this evening. I always struggle with writing a follow-up post after my traditional joint post on August 30th ... I always feel like my words pale in comparison to those of my guest writers, which is why I didn't write a post last night, much to the apparent dismay of many of my readers who emailed me today asking me why I didn't.

I woke up this morning wondering what I could write tonight, if I could write tonight, why I should write tonight. And then I read the words of my young friend ... words that pierced my heart as surely as if they had been made of the purest untouched steel. Tears poured down my cheeks and I knew beyond the shadow of any doubt that Jeni's words were the living, breathing embodiment of what it means to pay it forward ... to give of yourself to another ... to create a legacy that reaches far beyond what most of us could ever even imagine. So tonight, friends ... tonight, I am honored to share with you the words of my sweet friend Jeni Schroff. My deepest hope is that you will allow them to soak into your heart and flow throughout your soul ... my fervent prayer is that her words will cause you to understand that people come into our lives for a reason and that the intersection of our journeys is a gift far more precious than gold.

"Grab a beverage and have a seat, if you can spare a few. My heart needs a soapbox for a minute or five. It's not often I speak about my journey here - at least this part of it. Remembering is bittersweet...

Roughly five years ago, I was in the depths of the worst chapter of my life. Some of you may remember, those who do not, consider yourself lucky. My family had fallen apart, I was feeling more lost than I could ever imagine and I was in the middle of the fight of my life - with no idea where to start.

After relocating to a tiny, Missouri town, I found myself working the overnight shift at a gas station which sold both machetes and a larger 'chew' assortment than I had ever seen. It was the most tumultuous time I can remember, but the people who entered my path throughout this chapter, assured that it wouldn't be so dark forever.

One of whom I lost last week.


I was mid-shift and town was dark and quiet. It was a muggy, buggy summer night and the stars shone bright as I swapped out the trash bags near the gas pumps, as I did every night before the sun came up, while swatting away insects large enough you could practically saddle and ride.

Before long, a 70's era, baby blue pick-up rumbled into the parking lot and a man with piercing blue eyes, white hair, a trucker cap and overalls (the only attire I ever witnessed him in) wandered into the building.

I assumed my place behind the counter as he entered, greeting him, and he returned the salutation.

He stared at the candy assortment in front of the counter for a few minutes before I asked him what he was after, hoping I could help this old farmer on his way so that I could get back to my coffee and my duties before the early-morning locals started arriving for their coffees, bait and diesel for the day.

'I need some bubble gum for my bitch,' he said with a dead-pan face, eyes meeting mine.

I tried not to flinch - thinking he was referring to his other half, 'Well, does she like a certain type?'

'I don't know. She's a damn mutt,' he replied. 'S'pose I could ask her.'

Those trademark eyes gleamed with mischief as they caught mine before his head tipped back and a monstrously genuine fit of laughter erupted, and I couldn't help but join in.

Jim visited the humble gas station, most nights before he tucked in for the night. He came late, when most of the townsfolk were fast asleep and he'd sit out front at a little table with plastic chairs, sipping coffee out of his travel mug and smoking his hand-stuffed cigarettes.

I'd go sit with him between tasks and customers. He knew everyone in that town by name, and had an opinion on most of them. He was full of colorful stories, crude humor, foul language and more love and generosity than I had experienced in a long time.

We were both thankful for the newfound friendship, as unconventional as it appeared, and I knew he was also keeping a watchful eye on me, which I needed. He had me roaring with laughter, snorting my coffee out night after night, but he also listened and asked questions and cared. A lot. And he was one persistent bastard.

He kept me honest. He kept me hopeful. He kept me accountable to who he knew I was and, probably more important than anything, he kept me from ever giving up, and hell, I was so close many times.

Months later, I started working as a dishwasher at the local greasy spoon. At some point, most days, I'd hear his unmistakable laughter or catch sight of him through the kitchen window, perched on a barstool, over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie.

If he didn't make it in to the diner between errands while in town, I'd often find tell-tale signs he'd been around. He'd leave fresh fruits and veggies in my truck, or he'd cruise by the back stoop to see if I wanted to go fishing at one of the nearby ponds later.

We got a kick out of the looks we received from the people around town as we cruised about in his beast of a truck, windows down, delighting in the sprawling, country afternoons.

He always assured me, that no matter what life threw at me, or my son, he'd do anything and everything for us, and I know he meant it. He always showed up when I needed him most, in his trademark overalls, boots, t-shirt, cap ensemble and gleaming grin.

I called him first when bad or good things happened, which was often challenging as he only had a land-line and an answering machine he sometimes checked when he wasn't out working on his garden or tending his chickens with Tilly, his "bitch", who did, in fact, enjoy chewing bubble gum.

When I moved away, he still drove that beat up truck into the city for birthday parties and visits. When life separated us further, we wrote letters. Yes, hand-written letters on lined paper, often pages long.

As my life became livable and began flourishing, he became a grandfather and we slowly lost touch. I know he still thought of me and I often wondered how he was doing, but one thing or another would get in the way of making contact again.

I finally sat down and wrote him a letter a few months back. I have so much joy in my life and I couldn't help but to want to share it with him. He was, after all, so much of the reason I found my way back to civilization, so to speak.

Back to life.

I never heard back, which makes sense now that I have learned how ill he's been for the past two years. Though I'm equally angry with him and myself for not having reached out to one another throughout those two years, I know he didn't want to bother me with his health, which he never took too seriously in the first place.

Then the news came this week, that he was gone. Just like that. Gone.

This isn't a rambling sermon on loving those near and far while you can. No, far be it for me to tell anyone how to live. This is merely a reminder that love is everywhere, even in the least expected places, if your heart is open to it.

There wasn't a more unlikely duo in the history of the world, in my opinion. Me, tattooed and angry with the world, drinking enough vodka to keep the local liquor store in business, and carrying around a boatload of baggage, lost completely. Him, unabashedly crude and slightly racy in his commentary most days, steady and unfaltering in his routine and heart, always finding something to smirk at.

But the universe brought us together and the chapter we wrote together, will always be one of my favorites.

I'm kicking myself for letting our friendship fade so easily, but I know he would have had it no other way. He was so unselfish like that.

So, I'm going to waddle up to his grave-side service tomorrow with my story, my eternal gratitude, my intense sadness at the loss of this amazing friend, and my two (and a half) sons to bid farewell with a heavy but bursting heart for this genuine giant of a man.

(I know I promised not to preach, but I'm the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist preacher, so just gimme a quick minute and a bitta grace.)

Look for love. Be the love you're looking for. Let people in, but also let them go.

And be thankful for the time spent with each and every person you encounter. Time and love are the only true currencies we have, after all, to give one another.

That is, obviously what my friend Jim had figured out and what made him so rich in spirit, despite the modest home, routine lifestyle and unassuming look of him.

We might not always be here in the flesh, but the love we leave here will nurture far and wide. At least that's the hope, right?

Many people had their own opinions about Jim. He loved that the townies couldn't quite figure him out.

I'm so thankful that I took the time to, and that he took time for me.

...Now, go share a spliff with the other storytellers around the catfish ponds in the clouds, Jim. Rest assured, your love will not be squandered, but rather a testament of the lifesaving power of love in every dusty corner of the world.

You changed my world forever and I'll be forever thankful...

(I'm even designing a thigh tattoo in your honor - which I'm sure would tickle your fancy, you dirty, old man.)

Thanks for reading, friends and family far and wide. I love you, too. You should know that."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Paying it Forward

Sometimes it's hard for me to believe it's been four years since I sat sobbing my heart out in a conference room at work with a then vice president of the company where I work ... sobbing my heart out as I unintentionally came crawling out of the closet. There are times when I feel like the events of that day happened only yesterday, and there are other times when it seems like they took place a lifetime ago. There are days when I marvel at the perfectly orchestrated plan that led me to that room on that particular day with that particular person, and then there are days when I feel the need to chalk it up to mere coincidence because I simply cannot wrap my mind around the magnitude of the where and why and how of what took place that day.

There are weeks when I go digging around in the depths of my soul and I see an entirely different person than I was four years ago. I see a stronger, more confident, authentic me ... I see a more content and satisfied me, a more accepting and transparent me. But there also remain weeks when I can barely force myself to look within because I see the same old me. I see a frightened, lonely, condemned me ... I see a rejected and despised me, an isolated and hopeless me. But ... and this is a big but ... no matter the times, no matter the days, no matter the weeks, there is one truth that somehow continues to rise to the top of my abundantly self-deprecating mind: I am making progress. Granted that there are many times when my progress may feel as though it's creeping slower than a caterpillar on a rainy day, the fact remains that it is indeed progress. And for today ... for this special day ... that's good enough for me.

As it should be, tonight I'm joined in writing by two amazing women ... two amazing women who humble me, inspire me and challenge me. Two amazing women who are committed to making the world a better place ... one person at a time. So grab a bag of Doritos and a Dr. Pepper and settle in to read for a bit. Consider yourself warned, however ... you may come away from this evening's post with an overwhelming desire to first count your blessings and then to pay it forward.

The first time it happened to me was several years ago at the drive-thru window of my favorite Starbucks. I reached out to give my debit card to the gal working the window and was surprised when she waved it away as she said, "No charge today ... the gentleman in the car in front of you paid for your drink." I was even more surprised as she went on to tell me that the gifting had been going on for a couple of days, not just in the drive-thru lane but inside the store as well. The Starbucks employee then asked me if I'd like to join in on the "pay it forward" phenomenon and pay for the drink of the person in the car behind me, and I didn't hesitate as I handed her my debit card and said, "You bet I do!" As I pulled away from the window that morning, I smiled as I pondered which made me happier, having my drink paid for by the person in the car in front of me or paying for the drink of the person in the car behind me. That may well have been the shortest length of pondering time on record for me as I quickly said aloud, "Man, that felt good! Paying for that guy's drink when he wasn't expecting it felt really, really good!"

"Have you ever thought about what your legacy will be? Does it have to be big and impact hundreds of people? Or is it simply something people remember most about you? How do you define your legacy and then live it most every day? What do you want to be remembered for? And then how do live that more and more each day? Are you a person who pays it forward? Are you showing people your best self most of the time? Are you living the life you want to, knowing what your legacy will be?"

"Giving is good for both our physical and emotional health. A wide range of research has consistently linked differing forms of generosity to better health, even among the chronically ill and elderly. Researchers suggest that one reason may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps to decrease stress, which is associated with a variety of physical issues and ailments. People who give to others maintain a lower blood pressure, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that the act of giving activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust creating a 'warm glow' effect. Scientists believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain that produce the positive feeling known as the 'helper's high.'"

I'm pretty sure I'm safe in saying that I've learned a life lesson or two on my journey of the last four years. A lot of those lessons have been big ones ... huge, gigantic, life-altering lessons, not the least of which has been learning how important it is to pay it forward. I wouldn't be here today had certain people chosen not to invest in me. Those kind and compassionate people made a conscious decision to give freely of themselves to help me ... while expecting nothing in return for themselves, I might add ... and in doing so, they created within me a desire to give of myself to others. After all they did for me, how could I not choose to do the same for someone else? How could I not pay it forward, friends ... how could I not?

"We have had an incredible life coach at work, someone we have all been so fortunate to work with for several years. During one work session, she had us write our own obituary. Sitting down, taking time to think about what I want others to remember about me. To think about how they will recap my life here on earth. This is a very humbling and intimidating process, among other things. But it quickly becomes very inspirational and a bit scary. What have I done that is noteworthy? What will I do that is noteworthy? Do I need to do anything that is noteworthy? What will my family remember most about me? Will I have been there for my friends? Will I have helped co-workers when they needed me most? What if I haven't helped enough? What can I shift to ensure I'm living the life I want to be remembered for? How can I constantly be building toward my legacy?"

"Giving promotes cooperation and social connection. When we give to others, our generosity is likely to be rewarded down the line; sometimes by the person you gave to and sometimes by someone else. These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others and makes us feel connected rather than isolated. When we give to others, we make them feel closer to us and we also feel closer to them as well. Being kind and generous leads us to perceive others in a more positive light, fostering a heightened awareness and empathy to their needs and causing us to be more receptive when we are the receiver of kindness." 

If you would have told me four years ago that my coming out post would quickly lead me to a place of understanding what paying it forward truly means, I would have thought you were out of your mind. But there I was on January 1, 2013, sitting alone in the dark in the middle of my living room reading message after message after message from people I knew I would never meet this side of heaven. People like Elizabeth, the 13-year-old girl who wrote, "I'm 13 years old and all I want to do is die. I have a gun and I have bullets and all I want to do is die." Or Maurice who said, "I'm still in the closet and I'm 82 years old." Or Elisa whose words carved a crevice deep into my heart on that cold, rainy January night ... "Now go help other people who need you."

"When I think of my own legacy, I hope it's one built around positivity. And one of personal growth. How can I help others become the best, most successful, most positive version of themselves? How can I work to bring happiness and success to those around me? When I think about my kids' future and what I can help them build, it always seems to come back to happiness, success, fulfillment. And a lot of kindness along the way."

"Giving is contagious. When one person behaves generously it often inspires observers to behave generously too, toward different people. Researchers have found that each person has the ability to influence or help dozens or even hundreds of people by helping one by applying the three degrees theory - you give to one person who then gives to another who then gives to another and each of those people give to others. The long-term effects of the initial act of generosity can jumpstart a cycle of giving where one person's behavior triggers that of another. One simple act of kindness carries with it the potential to create a wave of giving that extends far beyond your initial purchase of the guy's coffee in the car behind you."

It didn't happen overnight, but I've eventually found ways to pay it forward following my conference room confession four years ago. I began speaking to groups of LGBT teens and their parents, served as a panelist at suicide prevention seminars, created the Ears Wide Open? video, "helped old ladies put their groceries into their cars, took food and blankets to my homeless pals who live under the bridge, listened when a friend needed to talk ... I began looking for every opportunity I could find to help someone else along the way. And guess what happened? I quickly realized that every time I paid it forward, it caused me to spend my time focusing on others than on myself. That night I delivered the hams in the hood and met the elderly gentleman who told me he and his wife had gone without food for three days? I sure as heck wasn't thinking about all my stuff when that old guy's eyes filled with tears as he thanked me for the ham. It was impossible to worry about my own problems while I was standing outside on a dark November night wishing I had an old-fashioned handkerchief to give the old man who stood before me with tears pouring down his face. Plain and simple ... paying it forward is good for my soul and I'd bet my last penny it will be good for yours as well.

"It's a lot to think about. How will you be remembered? What will your legacy be? What can you start doing today to build toward that? What can you stop doing that is taking from your best self? Go build a legacy, friends! Start small and make a big impact. Your legacy is up to you - no one else can write that for you. Or maybe they can, but do you want them to??"

"Giving evokes gratitude. Giving can be a means of expressing gratitude or instilling it in the recipient and gratitude is integral to happiness. Cultivating a sense of gratitude in our daily lives causes us to be more optimistic and to feel better about our lives overall. When we express our gratitude in words or actions, we not only boost our own positivity but that of others as well. Think of it in this way, who is happier when you give your dog a treat, you or your dog? As our good friend Terrie would say: stew on that one for a while."

If I haven't learned anything else during the last four years, I've learned this ... paying it forward is a lot like tossing a rock into a still pool of water. Doing something kind for another person has the potential to send ripples out into the world far beyond what I can see. So many people made a conscious decision to give freely of themselves to help me while expecting nothing in return for themselves, and my guess is that many of you have people in your own lives who've done the same for you. How can I ... how can you ... how can we not choose to do the same for someone else? How can we not pay it forward, friends ... how can we not?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Keep in Touch

There are plenty of negative things that can be said about social media, but there's also a ton of positive things that can be said as well. Using social media for cyber-bullying or to facilitate sex trafficking makes me physically ill, and every time I read about a young teen who commits suicide as a result of being publicly humiliated on various social channels, it makes me want to go off the grid for the rest of my life. I wish there was a way to eliminate all of the bad things that can accompany social media and keep only the good things. Good things like getting friend requests from people I went to high school with or receiving tweets with photos of folks I haven't seen in decades or keeping up on what's going on in the lives of people I may not see very often. While I will always remain unwavering in my belief that nothing should ever take the place for face-to-face interaction and communication, I am also grateful for the way technology, and social media in particular, allows me to keep in touch with the people whom I might otherwise lose contact with.

One of the best things about working in the advertising industry is that the business by its very nature attracts a lot of younger folks. One of the worst things about working in the advertising industry is that those younger folks tend to move on to other agencies as they advance in their careers. And when I say "worst things," I mean worst in the sense that I'm not the greatest when it comes to saying goodbye, especially when those goodbyes come with the knowledge that I may well never see or hear from the person again. There are always the invariable, "I'll definitely keep in touch," words uttered, usually followed up with the customary, "We'll do lunch soon!" I've been around long enough to know that more often than not, the truth is that those words, while spoken in earnest at the time of someone's departure, are merely that ... words. We all know that words without action are ... well ... they're just words. I, however, have been very fortunate over the years to have more than a few of those young folks who said they'll keep in touch actually do so. And I've gotta tell you, friends, it's a special feeling for me when they do ... when those kids reach out to an old gal like me and say, "I miss you, Terrie ... can we meet for lunch next week?" 

Over the last few months, several of the young people I've worked with in the past have contacted me, and I've been blessed to be able to meet up with each of them for lunch. One showed up with a big old pregnant belly, and I was just tickled pink as she talked about her little one on the way. One shared some very happy news with me that she hadn't shared with anyone outside of her family. One excitedly told me how he had just proposed to his girlfriend the week before. One showed me photos and videos of his new dog, and asked if we could arrange a play date soon between his Bridger and my Ollie. Just as each one of those sweet young people are different from one another, so were the stories they shared with me during our time together. But their was one thing that was exactly the same the moment we said hello and the moment we said goodbye ... the hugs. Every single one of those kids hugged the starch out of me. Their hugs from those young people had me blinking back the tears ... their hugs made me feel loved and valued ... their hugs said more to me than a million words ever could. Their hugs gave all new meaning and importance to the words, "Keep in touch."

It wasn't until I arrived home on Wednesday evening that the emotion and exhaustion from being in an accident that morning on my way to work finally washed through me. Like he does each evening when I get home, Ollie came running to the door the minute he heard me open it and quickly jumped into my arms. As I stood there holding his squirming little body as he tried his best to lick my face, I said, "Buddy ... tonight I wish you had arms instead of paws so you could hug me." And as I watched my little wiener dog run through the yard, ears flapping in the wind and tail wagging as fast as it possibly could, tears filled my eyes as I whispered those words again ... "Tonight I sure do wish you had arms instead of paws, wiener boy ... I wish you had arms so you could hug me." The phrase "You don't realize what you have until it's gone" bounced around in my brain a lot that evening ... actually, it's been bouncing around in my brain ever since. Were it not for my friend Yosef who hugs me every time he sees me, there are many weeks now when I don't feel the touch of another human being. Which means I'm screwed if you believe what doctors and scientists say about the need every human has for a certain number of hugs each day to maintain one's emotional and mental well-being. I've come to accept that being hugless is just part of living alone, but there are some days ... well ... there are some days when I wish my little wiener dog had arms instead of paws. 

Keep in touch, friends ... give a hug or two to someone this week, and keep in touch.