In the Short Rows

We are finally getting there. In the short rows. The short rows is a farming term for the rows at the edge of a plot that are shorter due to odd angles of land. It means we are almost finished. In fact, I hope that when this publishes (I’m usually a few weeks ahead on my posts), that my head will be resting on my king size bed pillow with a view of Lake Wackena. We will hopefully be at least sleeping at the house and eating and relaxing there. My husband, dog Baci and I have been displaced by Hurricane Matthew for almost 6 months. Actually, it will be 6 months to the day on April 8th. It’s been a challenge and a half.


Our generous friends have rented out their lovely in-law to us, and it’s nice to have a private place to call “home”, or as we refer to it, as “Camp Matthew.” We’ve basically gone from 3000 square feet down to about 600. From two computers, two printers, two television sets, a gas range, four bathrooms and three couches down to one couch, one television, electric range, one bathroom, one computer and printer. This would normally be a piece of cake for a week or two. Or the original guesstimate of 2-3 months. But it’s turned out to be 6 months.


This is what I’ve learned about being in the short rows:


Focus.  I have been driving my husband nuts.  I ask a thousand questions a day about the house. “What about the closets?” “What about the vent cover in the garage?” “Should we fix the light in Benson’s room now? Or later?” “Have you watered the plants?” It’s endless. He stops me in the morning and says exactly what we are working on. Yesterday we did an inventory of everything (at the moment) that we need for the house and then we went to Lowe’s and bought it. This morning we moved all the furniture from one bedroom to another. Thank God my husband has focus because I am a scattered mess. So when it comes to a big project at work or at home, make sure you have someone who can focus the team (especially if I am on it).


Positive.  I recently found out that one of my top five strengths is positivity. Thank goodness for that! In fact, one day a few weeks ago, we had a setback on the delivery of the linchpin cabinet we needed for the kitchen. Nothing could continue until we had that cabinet. Well, my husband started grumbling about the cabinet and looked at me and said, “Don’t get all positive on me.” So I went off on a tirade basically, that went something like this: “This sucks. We are never moving back in that house. We are going to be living on top of each other forever.” He stopped me. “Ok. Ok. You can stop now.”

It’s funny how we need some glass half full people around. It keeps everyone’s spirit alive.


Lead.  I’ve learned to give up the leadership to my husband. He used to be a contractor and is incredibly knowledgeable about all things construction. In fact, he is usually referred to as MacGyver. Duct tape and a popsicle stick? Kevin will figure out how to fix the water heater. This morning, he figured out how to get an enormous, awkward treadmill through a door that was too small, without any equipment except a hammer and screwdriver. He didn’t even damage a single freshly painted wall. I was there to “help” but I know he would have done it single-handedly nonetheless. Find out the best person to lead this particular team and let them lead.


Visualize.  Every morning for the last few weeks, I’ve been visualizing laying on my bed back at the house and staring out the window at the lake. My husband and I have been repairing on the deck for the last two nights. We are “acting as if” we are back at home. When I started visualizing being back in the house, the log jam that was holding us up cut loose. The cabinet that was missing in action finally was delivered and everything started falling into place. Half the house was carpeted last Friday and the rest will be done tomorrow. We quit waiting on the fireplace and decided we could move with the carpeting in or without it. I coach several clients who worked on acting “as if.” They get stuck and can’t sell the house or get the job of their dreams and then they start acting “as if” and suddenly they are in forward motion.


I’m really getting excited that we will be home soon. There are a few more hoops to jump through like counter-tops and some plumbing fixes but we are really close! We are almost out of the short rows and onto living on the Lake instead of with the nightmare of the Lake.

How to Be More Resilient

When Hurricane Matthew didn’t make the predicted hard right turn as it passed over South Carolina back on October 8th, and instead dumped 16 inches of water on our Eastern North Carolina lake-front home, I didn’t think that this experience was going to be a test in resilience. My husband, dog and I have been living at Camp Matthew for over three months now. It’s been uncomfortable. It’s been cramped. It’s tested all of our relationships. But it has made us all more resilient.


I have the honor of coaching some fantastic clients, two of whom had huge shifts if their lives this week. Those shifts happened because of their remarkable resilience. Just when you think you are at the end of your rope, there is a magical shift. Everything does a 180. If they hadn’t been able to dip into their bucket of resilience, I don’t think they ever would have arrived at their magic turning point.

Here are my thoughts on how to be more resilient:

  • Label the emotion.  I’ve been using the Whil app for about a year now. Whil has a whole host of teachers who have provided guided meditations and thought-provoking lectures. I listen for about 10 minutes every day. Several of the teachers talk about labeling your feelings. Say if you resent your boss for not returning your call, instead of ruminating, trying to escape, or stifling the feeling, call it out in your own head. Indeed, this is what resentment feels like. Then feel it. Do you find it in your stomach, your shoulders, a tightness in your throat, a heat at your temples? I’ve been feeling “helpless” because some days, there is a beehive of repair on our house followed by days of silence. When I label it and actually “feel” it in my body, instead of trying to escape it, it fades away. It’s difficult to be resilient if you can’t label and feel your emotions.


  • Acceptance.  In today’s day and age, nothing is simple. Whether you are in a legal battle, trying to sell your home, being audited or trying to get money to reconstruct your house after a flood. It’s not going to be easy. My clients and I have accepted that most things don’t happen overnight. Whether I need to call some federal agency, the mortgage company, flooring representative or an insurance company, I have come to accept that we are going to have to jump through a few hoops. If you let every one of those hoops devastate you, it will be difficult to have forward progress. Having an attitude of acceptance makes you more resilient.


  • Reflect on the progress.  One of the best reasons to have a coach is to reflect on your progress. My coach is the phenomenal Tammi Wheeler. She helps me reflect on the progress I’ve made, rather than dwelling on everything that has gone wrong. Taking stock is huge when you’re living in the land of limbo. So we may be living on top of each other at Camp Matthew, but we finally got a disbursement from the mortgage company. The sheet-rock is finally going up. The toilet is not on our front porch anymore. The attorney finally responded. I’ve turned in all the paperwork for the new mortgage.  Reflect and acknowledge what you have accomplished to bolster your resilience.


  • Be a quitter.  Say what, Cathy? What the heck does that have to do with resilience? As Eric Barker wrote for Time, “You can do anything — when you stop trying to do everything.” I can’t be everything to everybody. I used to cook every day at home with a new recipe every night. My husband and I rarely ate out. Now? I buy pre-marinated chicken, open a can of chili or meet my husband for dinner out. Maybe when I get home, I’ll be a gourmet cook again; maybe not. But I’m not going to feel guilty about taking some short cuts. Quitting some things helps you be more resilient with the things that matter now.


  • Routine.  I haven’t quit everything, but I have reconfigured my routine. In the days following the flood, I fell out of sync with my routine. I was a stressed out mess. As we regained power and landed in Camp Matthew (our wonderful, generous friends’ in-law unit), I reworked my routine of meditation, yoga and learning Spanish. Once my routine was back in sync, I was able to handle the ebb and flow of the aftermath. I personally credit my meditation practice and turning off television news with my increased resilience. but you need to find what works for you. In a state of constant change, having a routine that bolsters, rather than deflates you, is important for resilience.


There are going to be pain points. We are not perfect, nor will we ever be. There was a moment when I actually cussed out a customer service person. I’m not proud of that, but I was also able to accept this lapse in judgment at the moment. When you start going down that hole of negativity, just make sure you can resolve to step out of it and veer back to resilience.

The Aftermath from the Storm: Living in Limbo

I wrote about our experience with Hurricane Matthew last week and the flooding of our home.  As I write this, it’s been two weeks since the lake surrounded our house.  My world looking from the outside in “appears” to be normal.  We have lights on.  The trash and debris is slowly disappearing from our front lawn.  We drive back and forth to work.  The water is potable so no more gallon-size containers of water.  I’m at my computer writing and saving via Wifi.  I made our usual Saturday breakfast: eggs and bacon on our stove with gas.  I can recharge my cell phone, watch TV and take a hot shower.  Everything is as it should be.  But it’s not.


My husband and I have been riding the tumultuous waves of limbo land.  The apex of this was when we found out that we had to move out.  Two of our neighbors had moving trucks the day after the storm; carpet mounded on their front lawn and in debris bins.  I thought to myself, Well, that won’t be us, we can soldier through.  But after the contractor gutted the sodden insulation and ducts from under our house, I realized we couldn’t stay in our house anymore.  There is no HVAC.  There can’t be HVAC until all the sodden floors are taken out.  The sodden floors can’t be taken out until someone, hopefully the insurance company or FEMA, sends us a check.  Gulp.  It was fine to live in a house without HVAC as long as it was sunny with a high of 80 degrees.  It’s another story when the temperature dips into the 40’s.  So, there it is.  We have to move out.


So here is how I’ve been coping with the anxiety of living in limbo:


  • Meditation.  There were about 5 days post-Matthew that I wasn’t able to meditate.  I have an app on my phone that needs Wifi and, without Wifi and/or power, I was unable to meditate.  Meditation centers me.  I feel more resilient.  Sudden changes in plans; a zig instead of a zag; accepting disappointment and basic uncertainty are just easier to handle when I am practicing my regular meditation.  After a decade-long meditation practice, I experience a huge shift internally when it’s not in my daily routine.  I quickly get scattered and distracted.  It’s as if the anxiety sucks me in. Being present and mindful for even 10 minutes a day makes a huge difference.  Break out of limbo-land through meditation.


  • Break it into pieces.  Part of the issue with being in limbo is that it’s all so overwhelming.  So if you don’t know if the project is going to get the go-ahead; if you don’t know if you should buy groceries for the week, or pack up the entire house…or maybe just the bathroom?  Just break it up into manageable, informed pieces that you can deal with.  Otherwise, it’s all so overwhelming.  I’ve been frozen into inaction before because I didn’t know where to start.  I’m in the middle of setting up a training for two weeks from now.  I was struggling with getting started.  Then I broke up the whole project into units and scheduled 90-minute sections for each unit.  Finally, I have forward progress.  So just call the insurance company.  The next day, just call the bank.  The next day, go on the FEMA website.  Breaking it up makes it not as overwhelming and you finally get momentum and forward progress.


  • Take time off.  I know what you are thinking: But Cath, you need to get to work on that house.  Pack up the bathroom closet at least.  Nope.  I serendipitously had a massage appointment the Wednesday after the storm.  I went to the appointment.  I think it saved my sanity.  I needed an escape, and rather than constantly focusing on the house, I really needed to focus on myself.  Yesterday, my husband and I golfed in a charity golf tournament.  We needed a break from the grind of sodden cabinets and mud-coated tools.  It was great to spend time connecting and not caring a whit about the score (or the house).  We needed a break from the House Center Vortex of Anxiety.  When you are living in limbo, take some time off to escape and bring some joy into your life.  The mess, the challenge or project will still be there–you’ll be able to deal with it intelligently.


  • Exercise.  I had given up my morning walk.  It was partially due to debris on the road but also because I thought, You don’t have time to take a walk!  The trouble was that by day end, I was exhausted.  I spent all day worrying about a laundry list of items, like when is the HVAC guy coming or where is the plumber and will I be able to be home when he gets there.  More and more limbo creators.  But taking a walk really reduced my stress and helped me center my head.  It was also reassuring to see that other homes in the area were in similar stages of rehabilitation.  Just getting back into my body and out of my head was restorative.  Try and get some exercise to keep the limbo at bay.


  • Acceptance.  I’m learning to accept the good and the bad.  I am not in control of whether the power comes back on.  I am not in control of whether the cable starts working.  I am not in control of whether the insurance check shows up today or not.  So just accept it.  I cannot tell you how many times I have said, This too shall pass.  There will be HVAC someday, just not today.  There will be an insurance check someday, just not today.  There is a debris bin where there wasn’t one yesterday.  It’s all good.  It’s all as it should be.  I remember a friend of mine said on Facebook that we were having a house cleanse.  That’s a great way to reframe it.  We are just in the middle of cleansing our house.  Just accepting what is happening.  It’s as it should be.


My husband and I are slowly getting out of the fog of limbo-land.  We are starting to get better sleep, getting into a routine and focusing on what we can do instead of what we can’t.  You can do it as well.  Be positive and all will fall into place–as it should be.

Lessons from Hurricane Matthew

Our home sits perilously close to Lake Wackena.  This results in spectacular sunrises.   Every room has an unhampered view.  I love this house.  We have lived here for 15 years and, outside of losing a tree or two in a hurricane, we’ve had more than a decade of uneventful ownership.  Then came Hurricane Matthew.  The prediction, as it approached from South Carolina, was we’d be facing a tropical depression and ten inches of rain.  In anticipation, the village had lowered Lake Wackena by about a foot.  Plenty of room for those ten inches of rain. The rain started in earnest by about 8 AM.  By 4 PM, the water was lapping over the sea wall.  By 6 PM, the house was surrounded by water.  We escaped to a friend’s house about a mile away on higher ground.  Upon our arrival, the power went out.


I’ve heard all the stories of Hurricane Floyd and Fran.  I hadn’t lived in Eastern North Carolina and I felt like it was more like folklore than a reality.  But it was my reality now.  It’s amazing how 17 (yes, 17) inches of water in about 16 hours can radically change your life.  You may suddenly need to make a zig instead of a zag, and subsequently take stock in how lucky you really were.

Here are things I took for granted after experiencing Hurricane Matthew:


  1. Water.  Fresh, clean tap water is a beautiful thing.  On demand, 24 hours a day.  You can drink it.  Wash dishes, wash your hands, water plants, fill the dog’s water dish, mop the floor.  You can even take a bath.


  1. Coffee.  Delicious hot coffee made just to the desired lushness. Fresh and steaming hot. Sitting on your own coach snuggled up with a mug.  Ready at 5 AM without fail.


  1. Breakfast.  Eggs, bacon and sausage.  Everything held in a refrigerator waiting to be cooked on your stove or in the oven–whenever you want to make it.  No wait.  No line.


  1. Lights.  Available 24 hours a day, whether you need them or not.  You read by it, play your guitar, find things like clothes in a closet, and check to see if the attic is leaking. Or you see where the water shut off to the house before there’s trouble.  After three days of darkness, I’m still instinctively turning on the switch as I head into the bathroom with my flashlight.


  1. Toilets.  Here is another luxury that is available 24-7.  No need to bring in buckets of lake water to flush the toilet.  No worries about unsanitary waste.  No diseases running amok.


  1. Clean fingernails.  The worst part about cleaning up all the trash and debris in the yard was dirty fingernails.  With clean fingernails, you can put contact lenses in, type on an iPad, or touch your love’s face.


  1. Hot shower.  With the help of item #4, you can take a shower at 5 AM or 8 PM.  Grab some soap and shampoo, and you’ve got yourself a clean body free of mud, muck and body odor.


  1. Fans.  Fans are a marvelous and appreciated appliance.  They’re great at moving air. They help evaporate water so that mildew is prevented.


  1. Ice.  Ice is terrific for all kinds of things.  Keeping food in your thawing refrigerator cold.  Chilling down drinks and water.  In combination with an ice chest, you can keep your food fresh for maybe a week as you wait for power.


  1. Solar-powered cell phone charger.  Nuff said.  And my husband was brilliant enough to have it at home.


  1. Wi-Fi.  With this lovely invention, you can communicate with practically anyone, anywhere.  This, when paired with #10, can allow you access to fun things like buying stuff, inform the world of your whereabouts and general up-to-date info on the weather.


  1. Power.  There are lots of nifty things you can do with power.  Operate computers, televisions, shop-vacs, vacuums, blowers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers (in conjunction with #1), CPAP machines, invisible fences (for your dog to roam outside) coffee makers, toasters and water pick.  Pretty nice, huh?


  1. Clear roads.  It is shocking to see some of the roads that are impassable in the county where we live.  Whole roads were washed out.  They cannot be fixed in a week or two. I-95 is still impassable a week later.  Yes, the interstate.  How spoiled I was to be able to travel wherever and whenever.


  1. Abundance.  The local grocery store finally reopened when they had enough employees who could travel to work (see #13) and food to sell.  I went in looking for a frozen pizza.  The shelves were bare.  When you see a whole aisle of empty shelves in the frozen food aisle, there is the realization of how we take our American abundance for granted.


  1. Routine.  For about 4 or 5 days post-flood, I was a wreck.  Poor sleep and ongoing low-grade stress.  Uncertainty was eating at me.  I could barely work, read or write. My brain was in a fog.  The secret to getting back on track was getting back to my daily routine of meditation and exercise.  I’m slowly but surely dampening down my stress, sleeping better and getting my brain cells firing.


This has been a life-changing experience.  I am hoping I becoming more resilient from having coped with uncertainty on a day-to-day basis.  But I absolutely know that having the love and support of my husband, dog, friends, co-workers and family is irreplaceable. Gratitude abounds that we were spared the worst.  The weather has been beautiful since Matthew left and am so very grateful I still have a place to call home.