Leaving Pieces of Daddy

My father passed away three years ago at the age of 94.  He was a lifelong adventurer;  Whether  being a Merchant Marine in WWII or stationed in Korea, hitchhiking across the United States or traveling to the Great Wall of China in retirement. He led teenage boys from Camp DeWitt on canoe trips into the uncharted deep woods and rivers of Quebec and dragged a 26-foot camper behind an aging station wagon with his young family from coast to coast to coast.  He loved to pull off the highway in the Sierra Nevada’s to appreciate a view, marvel at the Terracotta Army in Qin Shi Huang China and appreciate the classic romantic architecture of Saint Petersburg.  My father was the definition of wanderlust.

My father, Benson Noice, traveling the world.

I requested and received a small portion of my father’s remains after his passing.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them except to put some in a necklace.  It was my keepsake for good luck as well as keep him with me wherever I went.  I had a trip to New Hampshire to support my then boyfriend on his hike of the Appalachian Trail. I decided to take some of my dad’s ashes to leave pieces of him in some of the memorable places of his life (and some of my life as well).

These are some of the places where I left a piece of my Daddy:

The Cove at Camp DeWitt

Camp DeWitt is a boy’s camp that my father was the Waterfront Director every summer from the mid-1960’s through the 1970’s.  My father stood on the beach overseeing the sunfish sailboats, canoes and kayaks and countless life preservers while teenage boys, including my brothers, cycled through different activities throughout the camp.  My mother and I lounged, tanned and swam in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. Camp DeWitt was sold some years ago and now has elegant homes along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.  When I think of my happiest, most serene, carefree moments of my childhood, they are on that beach. The most frightening moment would be an errant crayfish or not putting on enough sun screen. I left a piece of my father on the beach of the former cove of Camp DeWitt.

The Statues of Major General Sedgwick

General Sedgwick is a family ancestor who fell at Spotsylvania in the Civil War whose famous last words were “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” My father wrote his Master’s Thesis on John Sedgwick and we did countless trips to Gettysburg where there is a stunning statue of Sedgwick on horseback on Sedgwick Drive.  Over the last few years since my dad passed, I’ve traveled to the monument where Sedgwick fell in Spotsylvania, the statue of Sedgwick at West Point where legend has it that a cadet who spins the spurs on boots of the statue at midnight, wearing full parade dress gray will have good luck on his or her final exam, and to his equestrian statue at Gettysburg. I left pieces of my father at each monument.

Hoosac School

My father spent his teenage years attending boarding schools thanks to his beloved Aunt Sadie.  Growing up in a broken home during the depression and moving countless times, Hoosac school was a safe haven for my dad.  He played football, wrestled and sung in the choir in this remote prep school in upstate New York, just spitting distance from Vermont.  As I was driving to New Hampshire and was trying to avoid the traffic in the greater metropolitan area of Boston, my circuitous route took me, serendipitously through Hoosac New York.  There I was driving alone and looking at the GPS when it showed that I was on Hoosac Road as I headed towards Vermont.  I felt like my father was willing me towards this prep school that I had only heard stories of and had never seen.  Sure enough, the sign for the school was along the road and I drove on campus. There at the top of a hill and at the base of the bell that I’m sure my father heard daily as a teenager, I left a piece of my father.

Penobscot Bay

Last fall, I traveled to the coast of Maine in the fall to see the changing foliage and to see where my parent’s relationship began.  My parents met aboard The Adventure, a schooner that traveled the islands and coves of Penobscot Bay, my mother as a guest and my father as crew.  As we drove into the quaint town of Camden, there was a lone parking space available on the crowded streets right in front of a sign for daily schooner tours out of Camden harbor.  It felt like a sign that I needed to get on one of the boats.  The next day I did, and even though it was cloudy and windless, I imaged my parents meeting in that boat some 65 years earlier; the prologue written that summer when my father turned 30 and met the woman of his dreams. I left a piece of my father in Penobscot Bay.

There have been other places along my travels to scatter pieces of my dad, Longwood Gardens where my father proposed to my mother, the top of Mount Washington, Goat Rock on the Sonoma Coast, Mount Rainer, and his headstone at St. Joe’s on the Brandywine.   I’m never sure of the next location but I know he’ll let me know like an ethereal tug on my attention.  I do know one location for sure and that is Peyto Lake in Banff.  In my father’s last days, he said it was the most beautiful place on earth and I’d like to leave a piece of him there so that he can be a part of that spectacular view forever. 

4 Ways to Combat Gender Bias at Work

In every office I have worked in, it’s always a woman making the coffee. At every meeting, it’s been a woman keeping the notes, all the guys beg off (if they are even asked) because their handwriting is supposedly illegible. It’s also a woman who is watering the plants, refilling the printer paper and making sure there are donuts for the morning meeting. I have been a part of the problem as well; I’ve made thousands of pots of coffee and ordered cake for the retirement party for years. In an article by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg for the New York Times called Madam CEO, Get Me a Coffee, “This is the sad reality in workplaces around the world: Women help more but benefit less from it. In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, we expect men to be ambitious and results-oriented, and women to be nurturing and communal.” So while I’m making coffee and taking notes, some guy is getting the promotion. Yep! 

In an article by Dana Wise in HR Magazine called Bringing Bias into the Light, it turns out that some of this gender bias is unconscious. I have always been the breadwinner for my family but when I recently took the Implicit Association Test (IAT) on Gender – Career, I discover I have a moderate bias towards men being associated with the workplace and with women being associated with family and the home. Me! My mother was the only person who worked outside the home on my street in the mid-sixties and my father dutifully did the dishes every night but regardless, I subconsciously associate men with the workplace.

4 ways to combat gender bias at work:

1. Discover. Take the IAT and discover if you have a bias. Odds are that you have a least a slight bias because the overwhelming majority of assessment takers did. You can’t know that you have a bias unless you find out where you are on the continuum. I tested into the largest cohort (32%) with a moderate bias. Now that I am aware of it, I can look at more objective data like scoring applicants on years of experience, certificates held and level of education. You don’t know what you don’t know.

2. Equalize. Make sure tasks in your workplace are handled equally by both genders. In the Times article they suggest “Assigning communal tasks evenly rather than relying on volunteers can also ensure that support work is shared, noticed and valued.” So ask Joe to make the coffee on Tuesdays or have the minutes be taken on a rotating basis. I actually knew a Vice President who did this with his team and one of his managers was responsible for setting up the minutes and agenda on a rotating basis (two male managers and one female manager). Share the load.

3. Public. Make sure that the efforts are public. In the article, “studies demonstrate that men are more likely to contribute with visible behaviors — like showing up at optional meetings — while women engage more privately in time-consuming activities like assisting others and mentoring colleagues.” This can be especially difficult for women. We are much more comfortable going behind the scenes and making it look easy. So guys out there? Make sure your female co-worker is being acknowledged publicly for pulling that project off. Make it public.

4. First. Women need to put themselves first. I can remember reading in Sheryl Sanberg’s book “Lean In”, that women will advocate for everyone else but themselves. So become an advocate for yourself. Sometimes I think it’s a great idea to imagine that you advocating for yourself fresh out of college. It’s easier if you think about yourself in the third person. I can ask for a raise for my twenty year old self but not for my middle aged self. According to Grant, “numerous studies show that women (and men) achieve the highest performance and experience the lowest burnout when they prioritize their own needs along with the needs of others.” This means that the women out there need to put themselves first, if not equal to everyone else. So don’t wait to be the last to grab a cookie from the plate, grab it first.

I have to say that as I write this, I asked both of my children to take the IAT (it’s free by the way). I am curious to see how both my son and daughter measure up on the Gender – Career assessment. I really hope that I have been an example of a hard working career minded women and that, on some level, it has seeped into my children’s subconscious mind. I’m guessing that it’s difficult to move gender bias in just one generation.

Give Up on Waiting

This is a quote I read from Eckhart Tolle last week: “Give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting, snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be and enjoy being.” Quite the thought-provoking quote. I have spent a lot of time waiting. Countless hours, days, weeks, months, years – just waiting. Red lights, grocery store lines, dial-up (old school internet connection), waiting rooms (heck, it even has the waiting built right in); buying the house; for him to graduate; for her to ask; for the promotion; for him to sign; for her to forgive.

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Waiting is painful, exhausting, a waste. To reframe it as Tolle suggests is very interesting. Instead of looking at your watch or calendar, come back to the present moment. Instead of gnashing your teeth, planning a detour, counting up all the wrongs you are suffering, come back to the present. Engage.

Here are some tips giving up waiting:

Value the time

As Elisha Goldstein writes for Mindful“Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it’s best to fill that time with something…anything.” What if this is an investment in the present moment? What if this is a time to be with yourself? Instead of striving to move on, past the traffic jam, or off the detour, you could embrace the extra moment with yourself. Instead of taking out time from your personal time bank account, you are making a time deposit. So, if the doctor is delayed, or the cashier has a price check, you suddenly have more time for you! It’s a windfall! Value the time you have gained for yourself.

Don’t default to distraction

Look around at the DMV, doctor’s office or line for the movie theater (I know…old school): everyone is on their phones. There MUST be something out there on the web, social media or my inbox that’s more interesting than this present moment. I’m guilty of this at a red light. I pick up my phone without a thought to see if I have anything in my inbox or some interaction on social media. One more “like” or comment or useless promotional email. It makes time slip away by just skimming without any value. 99.9% of the time. Looking at your phone is absolutely valueless and it excites your brain to expect the email saying you finally hit the Mega Millions lottery. That email won’t come and expectancy of some kind of windfall depletes you. Stay off your phone and from the pull of distraction.

Find the opportunity

As Goldstein writes, “In those moments, instead of grabbing something to fill the space, you recognized it as an opportunity to be okay with just waiting.” I think this is about reframing it as a positive. An opportunity. Found money in your jeans pocket while doing the wash. Savor it. Relax into it. Again, Goldstein prescribes: “You can soften the muscles in your body that have just tensed due to a mini fight/flight/freeze response and just recognize you’re safe.” I’ve caught myself over the last week when I hit that one red light that seems so much longer than the rest. Take a deep breath and slide into the moment of right now. Everything is OK. As Goldstein says, “You’re safe.” In reality, 99.9% of the time, you are safe. Find the opportunity to be aware that you are just fine.

Practice, practice, practice

So the best part about giving up waiting and snapping back into the present is that there are endless ways to practice. As Goldstein wrote:

There are so many opportunities to practice.

  • You can do this while waiting for the bread to toast,
  • waiting for someone to get out of the shower,
  • waiting for a certain report at work,
  • waiting for a screen to load,
  • waiting for your partner to clean the dishes,
  • waiting on hold on the phone, or
  • even while waiting for your newborn to settle down as you’re doing your best as a parent to soothe your baby.

There is a treasure trove of opportunity to practice! I have noticed that, since reading Tolle’s quote, I have practiced this over the last week and just noticing my reaction to waiting has been a good start. The moment I say, “Ugh, I can’t believe there is a line of six cars,” I reframe it. I can catch myself and come back into the present moment. It’s just a practice of self-control.

It’s difficult to control our brain’s negative bias towards catastrophe. I found that awareness alone has helped release the tension of those anxious moments when I feel I am needlessly waiting. The first thing is to notice that you are doing it. How can you reframe waiting?

5 Reasons to Go Vegan

I decided to go plant based about 4 years ago while dating my previous boyfriend. On his dating profile, he said he had been a vegan for about 9 months and found it boring. Being that I am quite the foodie, I assumed I could convert him from the “dark side” of boring bland veganism back to being an omnivore. Well here I am, single and four years later, and I am practically a vegan although I have succumbed to cheese pizza and my beloved cambozola cheese. There is also the about once-every-two-months bite or two of seafood, but that has occurred less frequently over time.

My ex slowly indoctrinated me into going plant-based by first sharing a few documentaries, Forks Over Knives and What The Health. These are films not about animal cruelty, but focused on the health affects of eating meat and dairy. I come from a long background of seeking out and preparing culinary delights, regardless of if said culinary delight had a mother or not. Alligator, escargot, caribou, foie gras, yellow tail…I have tried it all and enjoyed it immensely. Vegetables and fruit were in my diet, but I was lucky to be having one or two servings a day. After the documentaries, my ex turned me on to NutritionFacts.org by Dr. Michael Greger. He sent me YouTube video after YouTube video on meat, chicken and pork. I asked him to not send me anything on dairy, as I was not ready to give up my beloved cheese. I finally acquiesced and he started sending me the YouTube videos on the evils of cheese. I am at this point of being 95% vegan, with only small amounts of dairy products in my diet (perhaps some cheese in a salad or a cheese pizza about once a week).

Here are 5 reasons to go vegan:

Cheap

I have saved a ton of money going vegan. I thought it would be more difficult to find ingredients, but every grocery store has apples, blueberries, grapes, mixed greens and a whole plethora of dried and canned beans. I have had a more difficult time finding vegan cheese at my local, rural Walmart, but as long as I stock up when I am at a specialty grocery or natural foods store, the rest of those items are incredibly cheap. I think I used to spend $10 per meal on flank steak, chicken tenders and lamb chops. Focusing on having meat for one, two or three meals (bacon and eggs for breakfast) is a lot pricier than two cans of beans, a bag of greens and several types of fruit. Outside of specialty items like vegan cheese or substitutes like beyond or impossible meat items, the rest of the items are very inexpensive.

Cholesterol

Two years ago, after I had lost 50 pounds from eliminating alcohol.  I had high cholesterol when I visited my doctor. I was on a low carb diet at the time. I had assumed with a dramatic weight loss that all of my “numbers” would have been terrific. Not so. My doctor threatened me with statin drugs if it didn’t improve in the next year. I assumed it would work itself out and that the cholesterol was just a fluke or age-related. I became a vegetarian about two months later and mostly vegan about five months later. When I returned to the doctor for my annual exam, all of my cholesterol numbers were in range. I have to say, I was shocked and assumed that when I returned to the doctor, I was going to walk out with a new prescription for statins.

Prescriptions

I have been on asthma and allergy medications for the last twenty years. I am allergic to dogs (yes, I own my beloved Brittany Spaniel, Baci), cats, dust mites, trees and grasses. I read Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die, about a year ago. He addresses how being plant-based can eliminate many drugs from one’s diet. Well, I decided to drop one medication for about four weeks, and then another, and then another. So that now, I don’t take any medication related to my allergy-induced asthma. I went from 5 drugs daily down to zero. I have no scientific reason for it except that meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation (which is why it is tied to so many cancers). So here I am prescription-free, which is a huge cost saving and hassle-free.

Interesting

I love a challenge. I want to figure out how I can take an old tried and true recipe and make it vegan. It might mean finding a vegan cheese or meat substitute, or searching the internet for how to make cashew blue cheese. It’s all out there. I have some terrific cookbooks like Thug Kitchen and But I Could Never Go Vegan, which really helped in the first months I took this challenge on. There was a point where I just didn’t care about trying to replicate something I would have had as an omnivore. The impossible and beyond products are great but replicating meat isn’t my desire anymore. I prefer beans (Rancho Gordo is the best!), tempeh and whole grains. It’s taught me to flex my culinary muscles and I can make a chili now that you would be hard pressed to even realize it’s vegan.

Easy

In retrospect, it’s much easier than I thought it would be. I think that initially I figured I’d be out there buying tofurkeys and chorizo substitutes. I did a little of that and bought crazy ingredients like EnerG Egg Replacer, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, White Miso and Nutritional Yeast Flakes on the Internet. It’s now mostly buying seasonal items, like butternut squash, figs and Cosmic Crisp apples (they are awesome). Going to a restaurant has gotten easier as well. There are more vegetarian menu options (they will frequently have cheese…usually too much cheese) or even at chains like Cracker Barrel or BBQ restaurants, you can order three or four vegetables as an entrée. Almost everyone has a salad on the menu – you just need to make sure there isn’t any bacon or feta cheese in it. I do carry a vegan protein bar in my purse, but it’s rare that I have to resort to that. Peanut butter on an apple or banana is a perfectly healthy vegan meal…it’s just not that hard.

I never thought I would be a vegan at this point, but as I have been culling out my kitchen over the last few months, I decided I needed to donate my electric knife, whose sole purpose over the last twenty years was to slice up turkey on Thanksgiving. I can’t see going back to being an omnivore at this point. There is no upside and I’ve lost my desire for bacon and foie gras. If you had asked this foodie ten years ago if I would be a vegan today? I’d have said you were crazy. Seeing all the positive impacts it’s had on my life, I can’t imagine going back. What stops you from being a vegan?

Benson Noice Junior the Great

I originally posted this when my father succumbed to Congestive Heart Failure on July 12, 2019. We had celebrated his 94th birthday as a family just a few weeks earlier with the theme being “Benson Noice Junior the Great”. I thought it appropriate to republish the post on what would have been his 97th birthday. I love you, Daddy.

Originally posted on May 24th, 2019:

“Benson Noice Junior the Great,”this is the title of a book my son, whose name is taken after his grandfather, wrote about his beloved grandfather at the age of 11. I recently discovered the hard-cover illustrated book amongst some other treasures like my Master’s thesis, my brother’s journal of our cross-country trailer trip in the late 60’s and a book of poetry I wrote in high school. I read Benson’s masterpiece to my dad over the phone last week and choked through the tears as I realized how much my son idealizes his grandfather. As I reflect on my father’s life, I realize what a tremendous gift my father has been to his students, his friends and his family.

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Benson Robles and his grandfather Benson Noice Jr. (the great)

These are the reasons that Benson Noice Junior is so great:

Perseverance

My dad is the oldest of three kids and was born in 1925. Being born in 1925 means that the Great Depression had a long-standing impact on him and his family. His father, Benson Noice Sr., left the family after the stock market crash of 1929. Imagine being my grandmother with three kids ages under the age of 5 as my grandfather took off. The impact is that my father has always been very self-reliant. He ended up moving 28 times by the time he graduated college. My father hitchhiked, survived on donuts and milk and spent the night on the Staten Island Ferry as a young adult. All of these hardships are in line with his oft-quoted motto “toughen you up for life.” Dad had a tough life especially in the first 30 years, and the result shows in his perseverance.

Teacher

My dad taught eighth grade history for over 30 years. In my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, I can remember running into his former students at the mall, school district picnics and at the grocery store. At the time, I would be mortified that people would come up to him and thank him for being a great teacher. There were several men who saw my dad as their mentor. He would meet them either as students or counselors at a boy’s camp where he was the waterfront director. I can remember them either writing or phoning or making the pilgrimage to our house in Wilmington to see their teacher and mentor. As a kid, I was jealous of the attention my father garnered. I can remember hearing him talk extensively about history or economics or politics late at night as I feigned sleep in the bedroom above the living room. Now I can see what an impact he had on these young men and all the students that went through his classroom.

Memory

Considering my father is almost 94, he has an incredible memory. He may not know what he had for lunch or what television show he is watching, but he can still tell you practically anything about the Civil War, the American Revolution and World History. Does he know when Napoleon was born without using Google? Yep. Can he discuss with me the importance of the siege during the Civil War as he did on the phone yesterday? Yep. Can he reflect on George Washington’s merits as a President and how King George couldn’t understand why Washington would relinquish power after 8 years as president? This is amazing to me that he can have a conversation with a neophyte like myself amid his breaths from his oxygen tube to carry on a complex conversation on a subject that is near and dear to him. This conversation, by the way, was brought on by my reading of a book he recommended by Ron Chernow called Grant. I was never a history fan as a kid, or even adult, but over the last ten years, I believe my father’s love of history has infected me or maybe I just wanted to tap into his treasure trove of historic memories; extend the conversation with him.

Unconditional Love

This is my father’s greatest gift and very few possess it. As I have reminisced with him recently and I asked him what he learned from his mother, he said “unconditional love.” My dad was never a good student or at least that’s what he professes. He didn’t marry until he was 30. I can imagine that moving from college to college and not settling down, probably caused my grandmother some heartburn as well as ache. But he said he always knew she loved him. Well, as I sit here, I know I caused my father a fair share of pain over my lifetime between being a rebellious teenager, an impulsive young adult, and a single mom on the brink of financial ruin. My father always has been there for me. Without fail. He has been there for my children, including uprooting my mother to move from Northern California to North Carolina so that he could sit in cold and windy football games on a Friday night, drive for hours to marching band competitions or walk two miles to my daughter’s graduation from Duke University. I know that I haven’t committed a felony or been a high school drop out, but I sorely tested both of my parents. My dad recently received a cell phone. Yes, my dad learned how to use a cell phone at age 93. I am so amazed when I see his number flash on my phone and know that somehow, he figured out (with the immeasurable help of my brother Rick and my mom) how to dial my phone. He reaches out to connect from Albuquerque, New Mexico to make sure I’m OK and let me know that he’s OK and to maybe impart a history lesson or two. Benson Noice Jr. is unconditional love.

If you measure a life by the impact you’ve had on others, my father has had a very rich life. He has spread his knowledge through countless students, campers and proteges. He was a stable, patient father who rarely raised his voice and only became passionate during debates with my older brothers around the dinner table. He was courageous to serve in the Merchant Marines during WWII and in the Army during the Korean War. He was a phenomenal chess player, writer and sailor. I would bet my life that there is not a single person who wasn’t better off for meeting such a generous, patient, humble man. Benson Noice Jr. the Great is my father and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Decide on Happiness Now

I have struggled over the last few years with finding happiness. I have strained, pushed, and worked on finally arriving at the railroad station, boarding the rail car called Happiness. Having taken this very circuitous route, I’ve come to realize: it’s not a destination; it’s not arriving or departing. It’s not being on standby. The thing is that it’s always been in me. It can be in me right now. It’s funny because as I write this, my dog Baci just relaxed into my lap as I wrote that sentence. She isn’t struggling any more; she is just deciding that laying next to me is perfect. And that is just perfect with me.

I recently read Michael Neill’s The Space Within. It’s a thought-provoking book about just letting things be. About giving up control and focusing on what is. To letting go of your thinking and worrying and just letting things be. I think this is about just deciding to be happy right now. Just let life work itself out and yet embrace happiness now. It doesn’t take a milestone like buying a house or the divorce to be final or for you to complete the marathon; be happy right now. The key is to decide. So go ahead and decide on happiness right now.

Here is how to decide on happiness:

Happiness is not the goal

This seems counterintuitive. If you view happiness as the goal, you never find it.  There is always one more hurdle to jump over. One more thing to check off the list.  You never seem to arrive. I have the new car but I won’t be happy until it’s paid off.  Once the car is paid off, then I’ll need to get new tires. Once I get new tires, then the brakes will need replacing. There is always one more thing before happiness is ours, right? The finish line keeps getting extended. We never achieve satisfaction. We never ever arrive. Quit focusing on happiness being the goal.

Happiness is not dependent on others

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would be happy when I found the love of my life or when I had children. Basing your happiness on someone outside of yourself will lead to disappointment. It all starts with you. When it’s dependent upon others, others disappoint. They let you down and then your happiness evaporates. When you can find it in yourself, there is no disappointment. There is only your mindset. If my dog wants to snuggle next to me or not. If my lover tells me they love me or not. If my child gets the job, or graduates from college or not. Happiness is within me and is self-created.

Happiness is not about getting what you want

As Neill writes, “The secret to happiness is simply this…your happiness does NOT depend on getting what you want.” This means that similar to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy always had home in her heart. She just needed to tap into it. Happiness is within you right now. You don’t need to get the next thing: The new car, house, jacket or coffee maker. Happiness does not exist in the striving for what you want but rather in you right now. Let go of the wishlist and be happy right now.

Happiness is not in the doing

Neill writes, “If you are doing things in order to be happy…you’re doing them in the wrong order.” For me this means to be happy while doing. It starts with the mindset of being happy right now. Start with being happy. Start between the ears. Doing will follow. Just start with a smile on your face and bliss between the ears. Neill suggests looking for the space between words. It’s difficult to look for the space between words when you start looking for it. It’s in the space. That pause. That moment where the infinite is. For me that is being present. Not multitasking. Not looking at your phone. Just be.

Happiness is not a short cut

Neill espouses, “By taking the time to live life in the slow lane, we quickly experience a deeper, more profound experience of contentment.” I opted for a walking meeting with a coworker of mine. The meeting took at least 30 minutes longer than I had expected. The thing is, I connected with the coworker and found out about some recent health issues she was having. I only had thirty minutes on my schedule but the walk and the conversation led to places I didn’t expect or anticipate. It’s letting go of control and letting the path unfold as it needs to. No need to rush, take short cuts or push through. Take the long way, the slow lane and don’t miss a thing.

I wrote myself a note in the Silence Course I took several years ago. The first item on the note was to smile more. Several people at the course had told me what a beautiful smile I had and how it lit up my face. We all have beautiful smiles. We all need to smile more often. Don’t wait to smile or be happy. Be happy right now. Smile right now. It’s infectious. Are you happy right now?

The Best Way Out is Always Through

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost.

This seems counter intuitive. Why go through if there is a faster, seemingly easier way around? Why not just avoid the gnarly, ugly problem, conflict, or ordeal? How about just escape? Perhaps just numb out? I am an expert at all of these attempts at avoidance and procrastination.  I have tried them all with little success. Like right now, I do not want to write. I’m forcing myself to “go through” as I want to get this written and…”it’s not going to write itself.” It is not that the writing is painful. It is the reliving of the grief, betrayal and suffering I’ve experienced that feels like picking at a scab. I reflect back on the last five years and it’s amazing how far I have come, but it was not easy and I can assure you that I “went through.” The hurricane, the end of a marriage, the decline and death of my beloved father, and the endless, costly fight over property with my ex. At every milestone, there always seems like there was one more hurdle.

I am not a professional at grief and betrayal, but I have learned a few things along the way. I am resilient and much more aware of what is important to me than I was a decade ago.

Here are few things I have learned about getting out by going through:

Feel the feels
If I have learned anything, it is to feel the feels. I stuffed, drowned, ignored, and glossed over my feelings for most of my adult life. I was a temper tantrum adolescent. I can remember vividly stomping up the stairs in my childhood house and slamming the door when my parents either grounded or forbade me from some (at the time) life-altering excursion (say roller skating or going to an R-rated movie). I was, to say the least, a bit melodramatic. At some point, most likely in college, I found other ways to disregard my discontent. I numbed it instead of feeling it. Got dumped? Pour a glass of wine. Failed an exam? Bloody Mary’s with Julie. Parking ticket? Pitchers with the gang. To feel the feels is to acknowledge the feeling and pay attention. Accept the onset of what is going on in your body and feel it. Seems strange that I needed to learn this. As an infant, I’m sure if I was hungry, lonely or wet, I cried. I spent the next twenty years trying to ignore or avoid whatever ailed me. I let the heat rise in my neck, my stomach turn, the tension mount in my shoulders, I let it in. To go through, you must feel it.

Label it
This has been the most important learning for me. It is to not only feel the discomfort but to label it. It is the same as labeling thoughts while trying to meditate. By acknowledging and labeling the thought, it is easier to let it go. Name it and let it rise. I remember vividly being angry at my ex’s betrayal. I labeled it “betrayal”. So, this is what betrayal feels like: tight stomach, clenched shoulders, tears running down my face. It helped me be with the feeling but announcing it to myself as “betrayal” somehow let me observe myself.  So allow the pain and it will dissipate. The loss of my father and labeling it “grief” as I felt the heat on my face, the tears streaming and the shuddering of sobs. This is what “grief” feels like. It turns me into the omniscient observer as I watch the feelings rise and lift away once labeled. Going through you must label the path.

No judgement
This is the heart of it all to me. If I feel it, I will judge it and then hold on tight. The key is to not allow judgment in. People grieve. People get angry. People cry. All of us, if we let it, experience feelings. I can think, why is a 60 something grown ass woman crying for her Daddy or I can think, it’s completely natural to grieve. I have found that when I allow the feelings to rise and don’t try to hid it from the daylight, it passes more easily. It’s when I try to bury it, blink away the tears and stuff the feeling down so that I won’t be judged a cry baby that it lingers, sometimes for years or decades. August Gold wrote, “To enter the conversation with Life we only have to change one key word: We have to stop asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and start asking, ‘Why is this happening for me?’ When we can do this, we’re free.” Going through is accepting each twist in the path and seeing the gift in it.

Getting sober over four years ago was a game changer. Everything is available with clean edges. No longer muted by Chardonnay or Gin. Somehow numbing out only increased and prolonged the suffering. I feel an empty vessel that permits it in, acknowledge it and then softly, setting it free. The best way out is always through.

5 Tips on Learning to Coast

I recently read Oliver Burkeman’s “4000 Weeks”. It’s a humbling book.  Perhaps a hamster wheel stopper. The title derives itself from the number of weeks the average person has in their life (if you live to 76).  Gulp. At sixty years old, I’ve got less than 1000 weeks left. It’s made me take stock.  It shines a light on all the striving I’ve done in my life, the next raise, project, bonus check, prom, graduation, wedding, house, promotion, boyfriend, training, client.  It’s an endless path full of hurdles that I keep trying to get past; and the more “efficient” I get at it, the more projects, tasks and duties seem to come down the pike. I so rarely, if ever, just coast.

I remember biking the Virginia Creeper Trail a few years ago.  Most of the riding of the seventeen plus mile trail, is just coasting.  It’s wonderful gliding through the autumnal trees with a meandering river below or beside. It’s mostly effortless and I was able to get back into the moment of the sheer joy of gliding through the air.  That’s the feeling I want for my last 1000 weeks.  Coasting.

Here are some tips on learning to coast:

  1. Find the awe. I try and snapshot moments in my life. Singing hallelujah at the vespers concert in Duke Chapel, a single dancer pantomiming a scream and some 30 dancers falling down like dominos in unison at a Spring Dance recital at the School of the Arts. Or the sweet smell of honeysuckle on a sunrise walk with my dog, the mainsail filling and the sailboat starting to heel on Jordan Lake with a bluebird sky, 83 year old Lena Mae Perry’s electrifying voice singing, “Oh Lord, come by me” at a mesmerizing Stay Prayed Up performance, and the grimace, shiver and might of my son lifting a personal best 176 kg over his head at the Queen City Classic. As Burkeman wrote, “The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.” I’m trying to pay attention to the awe and wonder.
  2. Be curious. Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Being curious and fearful turn on the same reactions in the body, it’s just that reframing it as curiosity helps your mind repackage it.  So instead of your prefrontal cortex shutting down to run for it, it opens your mind to take in the experience.  It’s like reading a signal from your body in a different manner, a different language. As Burkeman espoused, “choosing curiosity (wondering what might happen next) over worry (hoping that a certain specific thing will happen next, and fearing it might not) whenever you can.” I’m trying to stay curious.
  3. Let time use you. This is complete blasphemy to my uber scheduled life of routines, appointments and structure. On the surface, it feels like letting go of the wheel while driving down interstate 40 at 70 miles per hour. As written by Burkeman, “There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.” It’s a matter of response and flexibility.  Let things unfold and find the gift in the unfolding. The traffic jam, being put on hold, the long line at check-out, here is an opportunity to let time use you.
  4. Find what counts. “Follow your gift, not your passion” wrote Steve Harvey. This reframe has been very beneficial to me.  I spent a lot of time trying to find “my passion”.  Knowing my gifts is so much more obvious.  I write well, I’m a phenomenal coach, I’m a good mom and I’m a great cook.  There.  Now all I have to do is use my gifts.  There lies my passion. As Burkeman wrote, “Once you no longer need to convince yourself that the world isn’t filled with uncertainty and tragedy, you’re free to focus on doing what you can to help. And once you no longer need to convince yourself that you’ll do everything that needs doing, you’re free to focus on doing a few things that count.” I need to use my gifts to do what counts.
  5. Do less. I coach so many women who work more and more and more hours each week. Some work until midnight, eat lunch at their desk, or work all Sunday evening to “get ahead”. Only to be rewarded with more to do because, well, they are good at doing so much. As Burkeman posits, “Limit your work in progress. Perhaps the most appealing way to resist the truth about your finite time is to initiate a large number of projects at once; that way, you get to feel as though you’re keeping plenty of irons in the fire and making progress on all fronts. Instead, what usually ends up happening is that you make progress on no fronts—because each time a project starts to feel difficult, or frightening, or boring, you can bounce off to a different one instead. You get to preserve your sense of being in control of things, but at the cost of never finishing anything important.” Perhaps this is the most difficult thing to tackle. To limit what you are working on so that you actually accomplish something. The curse of multitasking is that you really are just task switching and losing ground each time you switch tasks. Embrace doing less.

I’m a recovering efficiency-aholic. I walk into a grocery store and I’ve already mentally mapped which aisles I’m going down and in what order to maximize my time. The concepts in this book are sobering yet in a sense, it’s all about just being in the moment.  As much as possible to be here right now, balance yourself on your bike, lift your feet up and coast.

No One Outside of You Has Your Answer

No one outside of you has your answer.

This was the prompt for Day 114 of the Project 137 by Patti Digh. This idea really sets me adrift, like someone put me in a rowboat without oars and cut the towline. Go figure it out, Cathy. I feel like I have measured myself my entire life by living up to other people’s expectations; other’s dreams and wants. This comes down to me and what I want. My expectations of myself. Gulp.

I run into folks who are either followers or are curious about this blog. This is my sanctuary to work things out. My colander to strain out the unnecessary to find the good parts. I gave my card to someone at a conference last week and she asked about the blog. I said, “It helps me work out my stuff.” The hope is that the byproduct of me working out my stuff is that someone else gains some wisdom or thought-provoking question that propels them forward. But really, at the heart of it all, is me working out my stuff.

So here are some insights of looking inward:

  • Shoes. No one else really walks in your shoes. And I don’t really walk in anyone else’s shoes. I can make assumptions about a loved one’s journey or what my colleague aspires to or if that mystery man is unattached. While I can identify with someone else, I really can’t live in their shoes and they really don’t know what it’s like in my shoes. They probably don’t even know my shoe size! So, the answer is taking care of your shoes and throwing out the ones that don’t serve you anymore. I recently decided to go to Barcelona this summer. I will need sandals to walk extensively and will have to break them in. That answer is in me.
  • Advice.  I have spent the last month grilling friends and family about the fate of a huge financial decision. I sought advice from almost every trusted resource I have. It’s fine to get advice. To be informed. To find a devil’s advocate. To weigh out all your options. I feel really good that I have heard all the pros and cons of my next move. I’m glad I have trusted friends and family to confide in. In the end though, it really comes down to me. I need to make the decision. The answer is in me.
  • Faith.  I realize now that serendipity is always conspiring to help me. The Universe is in my corner and some pieces have fallen into my lap to help me forward; actually leaps forward. As they say, “Let go and let God.” So while I was gnashing my teeth in worry and fear, I learned to embrace the idea that there is a greater plan and I am at the center of that plan. It is freeing to release the pain of fear and uncertainty and know that, if I have faith in myself, the Universe will conspire to help me. The answer is in me.
  • Willingness. As Benjamin Foley writes for Medium, “Wisdom, in my opinion, is the willingness to live the questions of life with an acceptance of no immediate answer. In a world of immediacy, this is a difficult accomplishment, but one that is enormously important if you are to create anything of value.” As my trusted friend Janine says, “You don’t need to make a decision until you need to make a decision.” This means I need to be willing to be patient. Not my strongest suit, but knowing that the decision will appear before me, when it is needed, is powerful. The answer is in me.

I have said over the past year that “you can’t push a rope.” What will be, will be. Trust your intuition, listen to your gut and find the answer in you.

Testing my Sobriety

I celebrated 4 years of sobriety on July 8th, 2021. It wasn’t easy. I’ve been cigarette-free for almost 20 years and, in contrast, that has been a lot easier. The social constructs for the two habits are vastly different. One habit is the elixir of social engagement while the other is shunned. I remember vividly the moment the acronym of H.A.L.T. slammed me in the face. I was in a hotel lobby in Scottsdale, Arizona traveling alone on business last fall (pre-pandemic). I was in the hotel lobby desperate for dinner. It was ten minutes to 4 PM and the lobby snack bar was closed. The only place open was the bar, which was to have a bar menu. I was Hungry (because I had just flown in from the east coast), Angry (because the only place to get food was the bar), Lonely (because the bar was packed with happy hour folks all there for a convention) and Tired (because I had been up since 2 AM Pacific time). It was the perfect storm for someone trying to stay sober. If I had a rental car I would have headed to McDonalds or Starbucks, ANYWHERE, but there. I survived the experience still sober but the acronym is important to remember, regardless of what vice you are trying to kick.

Here are my lessons from H.A.L.T and testing my sobriety:

Hungry

My children have always been very attuned to my state of satiation. I get an edge to my voice, I get impatient, I get antsy. I can hear my daughter Natalie saying, “Mommy, are you hangry?” If so, all bets are off. We may be in a two-hour line at Disney World but we are going to find Mommy some food. Now that I am a plant-based eater, it can be even more difficult. This was the case in the hotel lobby. Most bar menus are meat and cheese based, you know chicken wings, nachos and sliders. I was thinking “my kingdom for a kale salad!” There was a salad on the bar menu as I reviewed it on the stand outside the bar. I stood there looking for a table tucked in a corner away from all those happy folks drinking. I took the plunge and headed to a small table hoping for the best.

Angry

I sat down waiting for a server. There was one buzzing around the many tables of drinking folks. I finally got their attention. She came by to take my drink order. I asked if they were serving food and she concurred. I ordered a club soda and asked for a menu. It took about 10 minutes for my drink. I reminded her I wanted a menu. After another ten minutes, she obliged me with the menu. I waited. I waited. Two servers flitted around the bar refilling drinks. I started to steam. Percolate. Rumble with anger. I was so hungry and, now, angry. I overheard “my” server telling her various tables that it was the end of her shift and she needed to close out their tabs. Ugh. I will never order my food. She will never be back to my table. I sat there another 10 minutes. I knew that the restaurant opened at 4:30 PM. It was now 4:30 PM. I cannot stand skipping out on a check on a server. I spent way too many years as a server and restaurant owner to want to skip out on a check but my sobriety was at stake here. I got up, left money, left the table and the drink and went to the restaurant.

Lonely

When I approached the hostess stand at the restaurant, I explained that I had waited 30 minutes to order food at the bar and that I was hungry (and seething and precariously close to wanting a double martini). They sat me immediately and brought water and bread before quickly taking my order. I was alone in the restaurant, but I had actually felt more alone in the packed bar. Perhaps it was the free-flowing booze, or the camaraderie around a substance that I so freely imbibed for many years. 

I felt like an outcast. It was obvious that most of the folks knew each other.  Everyone was gathered in small groups except for the lone wolf or two at the bar. It struck me how lonely I felt amongst all the people and how, in the past, I would have felt comforted by being surrounded by all those drinkers. I know I was telling myself that everyone was aware I was by myself and not drinking alcohol; I felt that I was on a stage naked and vulnerable. In retrospect, I realize now that my phone was low on power and I felt trapped in not being able to reach out to someone.

Tired

Jet lag is a fickle thing. I can get to my destination and feel amped up and ready to go or completely depleted. Being tired breaks down your willpower and resolve. It’s remarkable as you look around a bar in a destination city like Scottsdale and wonder what time zone someone is on. I’ve met people from Singapore and London and Cape Town all at the same conference. We are all in different stages of rest and exhaustion. I’ve come to realize that I need to plan ahead so that I can be prepared for my state of tiredness when I arrive in a new time zone. I usually think ahead when setting up flights so that I can be better prepared. If I had to do it over again, I would have taken a Lyft to a restaurant that was open all day. When I’m tired, I tend to find the path of least resistance which, that day, was the hotel bar. A little extra effort would have had me either ordering room service or heading out to a Denny’s.

I’m proud to say that I survived the day sober. I remember thinking about the acronym H.A.L.T. that day at 4:15 PM as I waited for the elusive server to come by and take my food order. I looked around that bar as I yawned, seething, isolated and hungry and realized I was sitting in the perfect storm to break my sobriety. I’m proud of myself for surviving it and now I can recount that perfect storm when I face other challenges in the future and be more prepared.