Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Courage: Breathing towards New Beginnings

The typical review/reflect on the past year and look towards the coming new year always used fill me with dread. Afterall, in my past, the reflecting back was always looking at a shattering of failed diets and, yet again, an increase in weight. And the new year was always filled with those same "weight related" issues and good intentions: healthier eating, regular exercise, weight going down, etc. The other "disasters" in my life, such as fiscal irresponsibility and compulsive spending also were "reviewed" and "intended". What a sad state of affairs both directions. Lots of prayers. Lots of good intentions. Lots of attempts. Lots of falling down and getting up and getting seemingly nowhere. Yet, changes were being made. So subtly, so softly, so imperceptibly that to the outside world "miracles" have happened. And I do agree that a lot of GRACE has happened, but it is GRACE combined with ACTION.

What I write below, is merely to say that what happened to me, can happen to anyone, for I am simply human and no one "special", without any special gifts or circumstances.

Three years ago, I was too impatient. I would tell myself, "Give it two years; lose just 2 or 4 pounds a month and in two years, all will be well." Over and over again, but deep, deep down, I didn't have the patience for two years. I wanted "Insta-change!": that miracle Clark Kent telephone booth that I could step inside and magically swirl around and viola! Instantly, my life is perfect. I was a big sucker for any "20 Day Miracle" or "Two Weeks and 2 Dress Sizes" or "7 pounds in 7 days"... big, big (literally), desperate woman. I wanted my normal body without having to deal with any of the issues that compelled me to eat. No, no, no. I didn't want to look at those. Those problems/dragons/fears would also magically disappear when I was no longer obese.

In 2014, I hit and have maintained a 100# weight loss. It took 18 months of weighing and measuring my food and then continuing to weigh and measure: every day, without exception.

Now, let us backtrack a moment, just to put 2014 in perspective, and remember this didn't happen overnight:
In 2009, someone gently suggested to me that dieting might not be enough. That I might be a compulsive overeater and, like an alcoholic, need more than a diet. She suggested that I pray for the willingness to be willing. I resented her telling me that, but it planted a seed that made every failed diet after that moment reaffirm the words she had spoken to me in kindness and love.
June 2012: I hit my rock bottom. The pain, despair and terror of continuing to live my life in active food addiction was more than I could bear. My world was in flames and I gave up and acknowledged myself as a compulsive overeater who needed a very serious program. For over a year, I did nothing more than weigh and measure my food. Food that did not include sugars, grains, or refined carbs. No exercise. No change in my spiritual program, just doing what I was told with regards to my eating.

August 2013: I went to a retreat and met, for the first time, a group of people who "do what I do". I saw they fell into two categories-- those who were still full of anger and resentment and those who practiced a form of spirituality that helped them rid themselves of that anger and resentment and gave them simple tools for how to deal with life. That program required things, that until that weekend, I was terrified of: who needs to know my past in such depth? Hadn't I done that with my priest? Why must I review it in such detail and say it out loud? Yet, the difference in the two groups of people was mind blowing, and I knew, more that anything, that I wanted to be in the calm group. So I asked for help and immediately began the task of formally going through the steps to clean out my internal house to a degree that I had never done before. All that stuff that I had buried and stamped down with food began to come up. All those feelings. All those fears. I learned to feel and face fear and understand that I would not perish in this process.

For so many years, I thought two things:
1. That I needed a "white knight in shining armor" to always rescue me. I was not responsible for saving me-- that was someone else's job. Or, conversely, I was so busy trying to save everyone else, I was utterly out of personal oxygen.
2. That I had to be "perfect" in order to face the dragons in my life: those fears that so consumed me. Fears that may or may not have a basis in reality, and may or may not be what I had imagined them to be.

What I learned (am learning) in this spiritual discipline:
1. God is bigger and more that I can comprehend.
2. I am not God and can not do God's job.
3. The absolute truth of the serenity prayer and how it applies personally to my life.

And so, I came to 2014, and if you read my posts over the past year, you will see them filled with a woman who is authentic, compassionate, and full of bravery and courage. For the first time in my adult life, I look back on the past year and have no regrets: not one. I look ahead to 2015, and yes, I see different dragons ahead, but the past year has taught me how to look a dragon in the eye. 2014 has taught me wisdom, courage and bravery. Authenticity more than anything else: for that I consider it one of my very best years. A watershed year.

And for you, Dear Reader, may your year ahead be full of more good than you dreamed possible.
As ever,

Source for image:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How To Get Things Done

We all would like a magic formula on "how to get things done". And I know one sure fired magic formula.
Are you ready? It's amazing.

That's it.
Just do that.
Start. Begin. Do 15 minutes.
Just start.

As I walked around my home this morning, it looked as if a series of cluster bombs had gone off in various rooms. There is the kitchen with nearly two days worth of debris scattered about it, in spite of half-hearted attempts to clean and put away. And over there, the bedroom with the bed unmade, the couch full to bursting with clothes that have not been folded or put away. Here's the livingroom with controllers, pillows and various kid clutter scattered about. Speaking of kids, I don't even want to look over there, particularly not in Bear's room, which is a sad far cry from the day it looked after I spent a full 8 hours decluttering. The yard and porch and deck are full of leaves and debris.
Then there is my "work" as well. And it's work that involves papers and documents and writing and thinking.
It is, in a word, overwhelming.

And I am tired. The children and I have been away from home for nine days and it has sapped me.
And sad. My grandfather died (part of why I was gone), and there is no funeral, no memorial, nothing to "officially" honor and recognize his life, or his death. The part that I could do to honor him, I did, but this still leaves me sad in ways beyond the grief of his death.
Yesterday, I spent the day in semi-hibernation, finally emerging at 3 p.m. to do the three necessary things for the day:
1. wash and vacuum the car
2. buy minimal groceries
3. go to the gym and exercise

And I did those three things.
Today, I've gotten up and started to work on the cluster bombs.
Just 15 minutes at a time.
For me, that starts with what I like to call a "walkabout". I set the timer for 15 minutes and walk about the house (or when I had a desk job, the office) and pick up the clutter, move all the papers into a general stack, start a load of clothes, gather all the dishes into the kitchen from all the various rooms of the house, move toys from all the other parts of the house to the kids rooms, tidy pillows and throws, etc.

Immediately, the livingroom and den look presentable. There is now, at least, one place (even if it is just the couch or your office chair) that is "tidy" and "in order". Next 15 minutes for me, is always, always the kitchen. It doesn't have to be perfect, but having the kitchen gotten under control, makes the entire home feel "put together". It is, for me, the equivalent of getting out of your nightclothes and putting on the day's outfit. Depending on the state of chaos, the kitchen may take more than 15 minutes. Start with one. Then take a break and do something else. Again, I set my timer, so my "something else" doesn't take over the time I've committed to "getting things done".

Then I move in a radius, alternating between things that are easy and things that are more difficult.
Emails, quick office tasks, follow-up calls, meetings, reports.
Social media, coffee break, online shopping.
Dusting, vacuuming, bathrooms, laundry, sweeping, leaves.
Housework or office work it can all be handled in short bursts.
Just try it.
You don't have to do it all in one day... or maybe you do.
So start now.
15 minutes.
Make it a game and "race the clock".
Find some music you enjoy to listen to.
My timer has gone off... time to stop writing and get to the next challenge.
As ever,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Grace Personified in Two Women: Capucine and Tamaria

The magical yard of Capucine and Tamara
Magic happens. Grace happens. Sometimes you stumble on it. My friend, Kathy and I started this social good movement that we named Front Porch Nation back in July. Ever since I have been traveling about looking for front porches and folks on their front porches that I could talk to, photograph and write about as inspiration for all the rest of us. It has been a life-changing experience in so many ways. Today, I got a call from Hubbs. In his excitement to ride his motorcycle before "The Big Freeze", he left his shoes at home. Clomping around work in his motorcycle boots could be done, but he'd look a little odd: they are big, like space boots! So, Bear and I headed down to Fondren to drop off a more reasonable pair. Afterwards, we tootled around looking down not-yet-traveled streets for porches and people out on them. We saw some fun ones and some people, too. Then I turned down a random street and came across front porch after front porch that just sang out in welcome. And, because it was a balmy day, there was a grandma raking leaves out front and then a porch with a massive hand-carved bench and the beginnings of a fountain or raised bed, and then I saw them, two woman in front, one on her porch, still in her colorful velvet robe and a sweetly ruffled cap to protect her hair, the other seated on a vintage cheery bench the color of Meyer lemons, breaking cut branches of vitex into a large black garbage bag. The fragrance filled the yard like incense.

We struck up a conversation and for the next 20 minutes we talked flowers and porches and life. The yard was a contrast in effusive color and order, mums, lantana, roses, mandevilla, coleus, zinnias, vitex all planted in seemingly random beds divided by a straight sidewalk whose entrance was bordered by stately pampas grass and topiary in large urns. I looked at the two women who were a contrast as well, one like a bird, singing and bubbling with her enthusiam to show me all the treasured plants both front, back and through the colorful, sparkling, small home: bright walls of turquoise and keylime. The other woman like a deep ocean, steady and intense. It was breathtaking-- the amount of creative energy exploding out of every space. Capucine, in soft grey sweats and long dark braids twisted gently behind her, talked about her plants and the people in nearby towns whose beds she planted and tended. She asked who tended my yard, and I made a laughing comment about how that was supposed to be Hubbs job, but he wasn't all that into it. She looked at me, with no judgement, and calmly said, "You have a porch, you can tend your yard."

And I saw in these women a truth that I needed to embrace as my own: neglect is not an option. All around me, reflected in every inch of this 1940s bungalow, I saw that to be true. It was not perfection. Not at all. It was joyous chaos, lovingly tended. It was two creative sparks channeling their energies where they best suited them: one via windchimes and tulle and things that sparkled, the other with her hands in the dirt or on a plant. Even the random coleus that was growing as a result of a bird dropping was lovingly tended, as the true gift from Nature that it was. I, on the other hand, have neglected my yard. It is bedraggled and looks unloved. It overwhelms me with its size and the sheer amount of constant work that seemingly has to be done in it. Once, another time ago, in a smaller home and a much smaller yard, I had filled such a space with lushness and abandon: lovely flowers that I cared for and took great pleasure from. I pondered Capucine's words and the calm and steady way she worked during our visit and thought of the decluttering work I have done on the inside of my home, where 15 minutes a few times a day had turned everything around. It could work outside as well. I just had to start. And it didn't have to be perfect. What a relief!

So, after lunch, I headed outdoors and began. It became a race against the trashmen who were soon to arrive. I started with my front porch and worked my way around. Oh gross, there is a dead duck! Well, I certainly don't want to leave him lying about, for it will only get worse. I debated waiting till Hubbs got home and letting him deal with it. Why? Because he's male, he gets all the crap jobs? No wonder he doesn't jump for joy to work in the yard. Who could blame him with that kind of incentive? 15 minutes turned into a few hours, but it was all good. You can't really tell that I did anything, if you were to drive by and not known what it looked like before, but I can tell. The trashmen could tell. I offered them cold sodas and thanked them as they hauled the debris away. Tomorrow, I would do a little more. Even if just a couple of 15 minute segments. I could do that every day. That wasn't overwhelming.

Those women will more than likely forget my visit with them, but I will not, for they changed my life for the better. They welcomed me into their yard and onto their front porch and spoke to me friend to friend. And they lived a life that exemplified a truth: neglect is not an option.
Yours ever,

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Change your life in 15 minutes!

For the past several weeks, a couple of times a week, I have been posting on social media my "daily 3": three 15-minute housekeeping challenges. It's been fun to watch a few people join in and do a micro-blitz on some section of their home. Some days, I'll do all three at once, though usually, if I'm honest, I'll dilly-dally around and drag them out till after lunchtime. Last night, I offered to do one with a couple of friends this morning, so I made and posted my list and set my timer:

C and A, (and anyone else) here are my 3 15-minute challenges for today:
1. The 3-load pile of laundry on my couch (fold, put away)
2. walk-about and dust (general tidy/pick up around the house)
3. clean the windows around kitchen/den (back deck, puppy "smarms"...bothers me every time I see all those smears)
Bear is my "helper". We make it a race... he will get first turn at the duster and help with a window or two. Have fun!
The timer is in the kitchen, so by the time I walked back to the bedroom, where the 3-load pile of laundry awaited me, I already felt "behind the gun", but apparently, I wasn't too overwhelmed, for my folding rather resembled a pleasant stroll than a sprint. As I continued folding (and realized this pile was not made up of giant, easy towels, but lots of socks and little kid shirts and underwear), my pace picked up because I could tell, this was going to be a miracle to finish this before the timer. "Fold and put away." As the compressed pile of clothes continued to expand, the deeper I went, reality hit: no way is this pile getting finished in 15 minutes. What to do? What to do? These napkins really needed to be ironed first, they were a wrinkled mess. I debated putting them in the charity pile, but simply folded them instead. I can iron later. As my folding started to hit its rhythm, I thought ahead to the next challenge. It was kind of a "cheat" 15... I mean a walk-about could be anything and if I didn't quite get the clothes done, walking them to the bedrooms and putting them up would still "count", right?
So I folded and folded and folded and started to put things away. Mid-stride, the timer went off and I briskly walked to the kitchen and reset it and kept briskly walking to the children's rooms to put away their piles. Make a bed here, open curtains there, put the shoes in a nice line. I walk past the timer thinking I will have at least 10 minutes remaining before this challenge is up. Five minutes and 20 seconds remaining! Yikes! How did that happen? Quickly, I pick up dust bunnies. Where's the duster? Bear has decided to use one of his 30-min "tech blocks" and is busy playing Angry Birds. I thank God as I am now on my hands and knees under the table trying to gather up what seems to be an exploded part of last night's dinner. There are dust bunnies everywhere. They swirl around just out of reach as I swat at them with my duster. The old electric clock starts its quarter-chime and I know that I've got about one more minute before the kitchen timer goes off. Kitchen floor crumbs or bedroom dust? I choose kitchen floor and grab the dust pan. By now, my face is turning beet red and my hair is starting to stick out in all directions. As I sweep, I think about the next challenge: windows. Why the HELL did I say I was going to do that one? They are filthy and there are 7 of them in the kitchen/den area...and they have TWO SIDES, an inside and an outside! Bad idea, Erica. Bad idea.
The timer dings and I reset it and grab the paper towels and windex and start cleaning the interior windows like my life depends on it. Spray, spray, wipe, wipe, wipe. Up. Down. Figure 8. I am grunting and huffing and my back is saying, "What are you doing all this moving about for?" Is this sweat? How did I become so lazy that this simple chore is kicking my butt? Quick. Quick. Quick. Inside panes done, I grab the ratty broom out of the garage and quickly wipe down the two sides of my glass back door. Ugg. There's a chocolate milk ring on the glass patio table. I clean it as I set down my supplies. Gross! What did I just step in? Chicken poop? I had seen Pilot up here yesterday, stupid bird. I wipe down my foot and take the broom to attack the spiders and cobwebs and leaves that are all over the sills and edges of these windows. My reflection stares back at me: who is this woman acting like a maniac? I spray and wipe as fast as I can. When did I do this last? Thinking back, and back, and back: springtime maybe? No wonder it looks so bad. Finally, I finish. There are still two more windows, but those are a part of the master bedroom and technically do not count, so I gladly walk back in to check the timer. Seven minutes blinks back at me. I have seven minutes remaining? What the heck? I laugh and go back on the deck and clean the other two windows, then do the inside panes that they belong to. Then clean two toilet bowls, and wipe down two bathroom counters, and a light switch that looks amazingly spattered with grime. There is one minute left and I wipe down the kitchen counter. Somewhere in the world, two women are believing me when I say I'm going to do something. They are doing their little somethings, too. And though my house is not fully clean, it has been cleaned enough for today. Anything extra is a bonus. And the bonus doesn't need to happen to make me feel better about myself. It is enough for today, in and of itself. 
Bear is restless now. The library and park are on the agenda today.
15 minutes can change your life.
It's changed mine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Family History: a lesson in perserverance

F.O. Havener of Bangor, Maine, circa 1860
one of my forebearers
Over the weekend, I had the chance to read through one of the journal's of my great, great, great-grandfather, F. O. Havener. Like so many folks, he started the journal on his birthday. This one started on his 30th birthday, on the eve of the Civil War.
He was a merchant, a trader, who owned a small merchantile shop in Bangor, Maine. In it he talks about the ships that come in and the ships that sink in storms. Ships holding his cousins and uncles and friends. He has a brother who travels extensively to London and Hong Kong. He talks of his success in trading horses, and the unfortunate buying of a cow for $5 that dies that very night. Of a suspected murder and a boy who dies of hydrophobia (rabies). He speaks of politics, both local and national, church doings, and his brother-in-law George Russ of Rockland who, once civil war breaks out, was in the 4th Regiment. 

More than anything though, he records the days in terms of weather and trade.
"Lowery (blustery) and trade dull".
He seemed constantly, mildly depressed, yet he refuses to despair or give up.
He tells a brief bit about his adventures at the age of 19, when, in 1849, he set off from Maine to California to join the Gold Rush and make his fortune. He struggled there for four years and came back empty handed and in very poor health. It seems he never fully regained his strength, for he mentions several long periods of illness. At 30, he has a wife and two children and "a few sticks of furniture".

Yet, at least on paper, he doesn't seem to find his lot a dismal one. And, despite the daily litany of "trade dull" or "trade very dull", he periodically makes a rather large investment and within that same day sells nearly all of what he purchased for a tidy profit. He took risks, such a sending cargo down South (before the war breaks out), only to find his tons of potatoes rotting on him before reaching New Orleans or another shipment to England, only to lose it all with the ship went down and the captain (an uncle) having failed to procure insurance on the cargo. He lends food to his neighbors, knowing they will not pay him back, and simply marks it as "bad debt" without naming the names of those to whom he lent. 

The journal spans a course of three years, with nearly daily entries for a period of months, followed by lengthy gaps (illness?). At the end of the first year, he was tremendously happy to have made the purchase of a home off Main Street on Waldo Avenue for $800 w/terms. This home he referred to as "the Veazie house". For it had belonged to a former ship captain, Wm Veazie. He several times mentioned his pleasure in having a home. My great-great grandfather, his namesake, is born during the time of this journal. The one who later built Roxmont

And it ends, on Tuesday, May 31, 1864 "Pleasant all day  wind N west war news unimportant   Gold 192  Cotton 1.08 a lb  am better than I was yesterday  trade rather dull"

I really like this ancestor for his courage. For him writing a bit of his life that I could read and discover more about him and the world he lived in; however monotonous those days seemed to be in their running together.
Grateful for his not giving up or falling into melancholy, despite all the hardships he endured.
Happy for the joy he found in his family and the home he provided for them.
He died at age 37. It sounds so young.
And here again, I see that "family legend" is not fact: he was not a shipbuilder, nor a larger-than-life robust man. I realize, too, that my very life, and that of my kinfolk, depended on someone long ago not giving up. 
Someone who kept trying. Who was steadfast. Who, though the successes did not equal the failures or "dull days", he didn't give up on life. Thankfully, the successes sprinkled here and there were, simply, enough.
Fail, learn, and try again. And again.
Don't give up.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The questions that can never be answered

How can our friend be gone?
To leave so abruptly, of his own choice?
To leave without saying goodbye?
There is no making sense of it, and I am but a stranger.
Yet, I loved him.
Like some favorite uncle, I looked forward to seeing him at any opportunity.
Time would pass, but I would think nothing of it, for he was a consistent part of my life.
He was funny.
He was deep.
He made me think.
He succeeded.
He failed.
He didn't give up. Until the other day.
There is no getting past the lump in my throat, nor the sadness in my heart.
You were my friend, Robin.
And you leaving in the manner you chose, leaves me, and the rest of the world, feeling like we failed you.
Forgive me.
Forgive us.
How do we forgive ourselves? Our friend suffered so greatly and we did not see it?
What could we have done or said to make you change your mind?
Change your mind and stay a little longer with us?
And this, if you are in a dark place, know that we are here for you. You are not alone.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mississippi to Maine: Day 8 (Roxmont)

Sometimes family history and reality don't match up quite exactly as they ought to.
Or at least as you've been told as part of your family lore.
And the shift of almost truth and truth, today, was the equivalent of a 100 year time warp.
Today we went to the "ancestral home" of Roxmont in Rockport, ME. It was built by my ancestor, F.O.H. and was the summer cottage on Penobscot Bay. It is a grand old thing,  and in it's hey-day is said to have had an underground bowling alley. Comparatively, as a summer home by the wealthy shipbuilding industrialists and Bostonians' standards, it was considered a modest house, and the H's "new money", even if only by a generation. There is, in family lore, for example, the incident where the H's were invited to a dinner party at one of the larger homes and the host is reported to have called my forebearer "a pleasant conversationalist". We never quite knew if that meant we passed the test, or still were considered poor goobers.

And, it is true, it was new money. My H ancestors were merchant shipbuilders in Bangor, ME and had land and lumber in West Virginia. That took several hundred years of hard work to get to that point of success. The boats they built were not glamorous boats, but rather sturdy, solid, well-crafted ships that could cross oceans and return to home port safely. Family lore again states that these ship captains regarded well, good F.O.H. and brought him back small gifts from their voyages, in particular, beer steins. A sizable collection is now dispersed amongst the clan of H. I grew up with part of that collection.

And here the lines of fact and family slip and slide, for in my mind, this salt-of-the-earth F.O.H. is the one who built Roxmont and that the house stood in the family for several generations before being lost to a series of unfortunate money events, namely the Panic of 1907, where the stock market lost half it's value, and a failed investment venture into Mexican silver mining (1910 saw the Mexican Revolution). A quick dabble into history shows these two events to be easily plausible reasons where a family could lose a fortune and then another fortune quickly thereafter, which would make the sale of the family "summer" home a blatant necessity. (Please note, I do not know the date of the failed silver mine investment, but look into history and one can plainly see that American investors in Mexican silver was big business for a number of years at the turn of the last century, and after much success, to not even be considered a huge risk.)

What I did not know until today was that Roxmont was built in 1903, and that, Dear Ones, as our gracious tour guide at Down East, JB, accurately surmised, is a family tragedy. With this undeniable truth of when this home was built, familial time shifted, for it also meant that the F.O.H. in reference on the blueprint and shipbuilding legend FOH were not the same. One was the father and one the son. FOH1 had died and was buried in Bangor in 1868. So this home was lived in by my family for only a very short period of time and built, without a doubt by FOH2.

Which catches us up to how most family history is told: by word of mouth.

My dad's (JFH2) father (JFH1) passed away when my dad (JFH2) was 16 years old. Most young boys of 16 are not prone to closely pay attention to family history. Grandfather VOH (JFH1's dad and son of FOH2) lived well into his 80s. My dad spent time with him and heard stories as an older, young man. VOH was roughly 11 years old when his family lost their fortune and left Roxmont behind. I have walked the halls and looked through the windows of Roxmont, now the headquarters of Down East Magazine. I have had my hand glide down the steep banister and caress the simple glass door knobs. We wandered the grounds and smelled the sea air and the wild roses. Fondly, I watched my children leap about the wide expanse of lawn, strewn with flower laden grass. I can understand, with my middle son aged nine, how the loss of such a place at such an age would have a profound effect on a person.

He later moved, for a time, to a modest house 5 miles away. JFH1 was born in this house.
As I walked around both homes, my mind wondered if VOH never got over losing Roxmont and wanted to be close to her, and build her memory to legendary proportions. By the time my father was a child and boy, West Virginia was, once again, home for VOH and his wife. No one remembers the H family in Maine, even though, they had been settlers there since before the Revolutionary War. They are a forgotten part of Maine's familial history.

Obviously, I have some serious research to do on that side of my history. To put all the confusing pieces and parts of my family tree together in a way that correctly assembles family history and actual fact. In the dark stillness of the evening, I think of all those many people who lived before me and as my ancestors, helped to create me. In many ways, we seem a tossed about people, blown by wind and sea, looking for a safe harbor. We settle, we prosper, we fail, we leave and we start again. Here and there are fragments of my family past: a building named "H"; a road named "Roxmont". Maine, West Virginia, Mississippi and so many, many other places: scattered.

Today, I walked on sacred ground, but not because it could claim a rightful place as an ancestral home. Roxmont is not that. My forefather dreamed it and created it and brought it to existence. It still stands a place of beauty. A useful place, home to a magazine that cares for the entire state, and a worthy caretaker. But Roxmont, for me and my ancestors, represents longing, that deepest longing to have a place, to belong, to matter. As, I walked quietly along the expanse of her beauty, listening to my children play, and peering through the now overgrown woods to catch glimpses of the Bay, I reached behind my ear and pulled out a few strands of hair and gently let them fall to the ground.
Fall and remain at Roxmont.
Ever yours,
Erica Robinson
Our Down East host, JB, had found the original blueprints of Roxmont,
and let us look at the many detailed pages.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Leaving Neverland...

Hello Darlings,
I've missed you this past week, but you see, it wouldn't have done to have written till now: till at least this part of the story was completed. I will probably still talk a bit in riddles, "to protect the innocent" as the elusive "they" say. And please do not think for a moment that this is about me "consciously uncoupling" from my spouse. It is not.

Do you remember the story of Peter and Wendy? Everyone always focuses on Pan and the Lost Boys. Or the ineptitude of Hook. Or the magic and spiteful jealousy of Tink. Very little thought is paid to Wendy. She's not exactly the "princess" type. Yet, to me, she is very much a modern day heroine: a good girl who, though rash actions and good intentions, gets lost, yet is brave enough to leave Pan and Neverland.

Wendy has been in my thoughts for a while now.
Wendy is good and kind and honest and loyal.
She is a helper.
A nurturer.
A gifted storyteller.

By a modern phrases, Wendy might also be seen (at first) as naive, imaginative, impulsive, co-dependent, and disrespected.

Wendy gets to go on this grand adventure. An adventure that she in part created.
To a land that is not real.
But it doesn't turn out the way she pictured it would.
Good things at first, and then more and more misadventures.
To the point where it becomes intolerable to remain in Neverland.
Wendy, and her brothers, thankfully go home.

I like Wendy very much, primarily because she grows up to a point in the story where she says, "Enough!" and without drama or conflict, removes herself from Neverland. She is a classic tale of quiet recovery. Do we notice? Do we see?

Over these past 22 months, my life has undergone a dramatic transformation as the direct result of putting down my addiction (the food) and the working through and daily practicing of my spiritual "tools." A lot of facing my biggest fears and, in the process, growing up and becoming a responsible, authentic person. A person who sets boundaries. Someone who wants to be firmly in reality and not fantasy or delusion or make-believe when it comes to myself, in particular. No longer do I want to hold on to "Neverland" beliefs like "Oh, you're not fat." (I weighed nearly 300 pounds) or "You don't have an eating problem." (I could not control my eating/binging for any length of time).

I am not a Lost Boy (or Girl). I have no need for Pixie Dust. You do not need to be one of the lost either. We can be like the heroine Wendy: strong and brave and good and determined to grow up.
Turns out, growing up is a very good thing.
Erica Robinson

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Addict in me: being brave.

It was weigh day today and I gained weight.
And I'd had the stomach flu the day before, so I really shouldn't have gained weight.
But I had. 1.2# Boo. Hiss.
It was the first time in 21 months of faithfully doing my program that I had not lost weight.
It shook me.
What did I do wrong? What do I need to give up? What should I have done different, or better, or something...?

I knew I wasn't going to stop weighing and measuring my food. That would be disastrous! I'd end up pushing 300# again before I could say, "Jack Sprat".

It still was eating at me though.
And then her call came. This new friend of mine. Who does what I do. And gets it. She called to reassure me that it wasn't about the food. It was about other stuff going on. Things like stress or other things that I wasn't willing to let go of, so my body was in "protection" mode. Shore up the defenses mode. It was a relief to hear her kind and balanced words, because I don't want to be on a diet. Ever. Again. I don't "do" diets well. I'm always fatter at the start of a new diet than I was at the start of my last one, so I don't want to go there. Never.

And she's been doing this for eight years. So, she has some experience. And I listened. And I thought. And I got real quiet with myself and asked, "What am I afraid of?"
- surgery on Friday? Yes, a little.
- work stress? Yes, a little.
- upcoming son's wedding stuff? Yes, a little.
- upcoming son's graduation? Yes, but a very little.
- being too amazing if I'm really, truly me? Yes, a lot.
- losing all my friends because they can't stand me anymore? Yes, a lot.
- by no longer being a people pleaser, having to face the reality of unmasked lives? Uh-huh.
- by putting people outside my circle of trust who used to be there based on their behavior? Uh-huh.
- by wearing a wig everyday because I feel more "me", even when people give me odd looks. Or won't look. Or ask Hubbs questions they won't or don't or can't ask me? Yep.
- by becoming "all flame" in every sense of the word and not being consumed and burned up, but rather spreading joy and light and happiness and truth and goodness and it compounding and growing ever brighter and brighter? Yes.

Oh, well now that measly 18 oz doesn't seem like so much.
Now, I catch a glimpse of how much easier it was to numb out in the food and just be oblivious or slightly depressed that I wasn't reaching my potential.
But now, to not only say, "I want to reach my potential," but "I want to explode and count and matter and do what it takes to make that happen! So watch out world, I'm here and staying!" That is scary. Freaky scary.

But you know what I have learned about myself these past six months as I've been doing my 12-Step work? One of my character assets is that I am brave.

And it is true. I AM BRAVE.
So, respecting myself and my freaking out body, I'm going to take care of myself by staying abstinent and realizing that I can be brave and be me.

So, here are two of my favorite songs that beat with my heartbeat, "be brave", "have courage", and "face your fears, don't run away". The first is "The Misty Mountains Cold" (You'll need adobe flash to watch)

The second is a song that we sing in church from time to time. It is called, "Rejoice, O unwedded bride." (which is the chorus). This version is sung by Divna Ljubojevic. Whenever I hear it, a symphony of courage and praise goes off in my head.

Be Brave, Dear Ones, be brave. Life lived in fear is not what you are meant to live.
Erica Robinson

Monday, March 31, 2014

The addict in me.

His movies, frankly, terrrified me. The Talented Mr. Ripley had me running from the room. So much so that I didn't watch his films: he was so gut-wrenchingly real.
You would think Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death would not have been noticed by me. But is has impacted me so very much. Daily. Because, unbeknownst to me at the time, he was an addict in recovery in all that jaw-dropping brilliance. A life led full-bore. Authentic. And then he relapsed. About the time I got sober with my food addiction. He accelerated as an addicted personality, with multiple addictions, at a break neck pace and then died in a humiliating manner (my recurring fear as an addict): One a father would surely never wish for his children to see. Or a friend to bear witness, too.
And so I want to learn from him. To honor him. To realize that the lie of that first bite, first drink, first whatever you and I are addicted to, is exactly that -- a lie! And it will kill us. We don't all get second or third or fourth chances at recovery. It is not something to be taken lightly. At least, I am dead certain that I can't have that attitude. For if I do, I'll soon be listening to the seductive reasoning of "I can handle it now" or "moderation is the goal" or "I've been sober/abstinent for ___ years, obviously, I've got this down now."
Understand: an addict is NEVER cured. They are only one of two things: acting out in their compulsions or in recovery.
I give up on being cured. There is; however, a solution. I'm in one. I'm grateful for that. I want others to know there is hope: not in a cure, but in a simple day by day recovery program. Today. That is all I really have.
All any of us have.
Make it count!  Even if it seems immeasurable.  It matters.
You matter.
Bet you knew I was going to say that!
Erica Robinson

Sunday, March 30, 2014

You Matter. Be Brave.

All right, Friends. I've been writing and erasing for over an hour.

So, be brave.
Do the thing(s) that make you you and don't be afraid of what everyone thinks.
Say the things that need to be said.
Good and hard.
Stand up for yourself.
Allow yourself to play, experiment, explore and figure out what you like and what your preferences are.

It can be intimidating.
That's o.k.
Some people may not like you.
That's o.k., too.
Be brave.
Be willing:
- To try.
- To fail.
- To succeed.
- To be not only awesome and amazing, but also an occasional dork and sometimes even a dud.

Be brave.
Erica Robinson

Source for video via YouTube: or

Friday, March 28, 2014

You Matter. It is elemental.

For the ego maniac: this post is not for you. 
For the timid soul, the quiet soul, the wondering soul: please step forward.

It is very important for you to understand, Dear Reader, that you are important. Just as you are. Whether you are a child of four, who is completely obsessed with Darth Vader and light sabers or a young teenager exploring how to express your uniqueness, or a young man who is supposed to have it all together and really feels like it's all a sham, that it will all fall apart in a moment, or a woman past menopause, past children, past caring about what to serve for dinner, or the elderly man of 95 who wonders why he is still alive: you matter.

You have experience, strength and hope that others need. You see the world slightly differently, and it helps all of our perspective to see it from yours. You are brave. You don't give up. You endure great things and show us that we can endure too. You have a quiet faith. Or a questioning faith. Or maybe just a vast puzzlement mark when it comes to God. That's o.k. too. God can handle that. Just keep being you and being open to finding out the truth about yourself, God, the world. 

You matter. You may not see it now, but it's true. As true as the sun and moon and air and water. It is an elemental truth: you matter.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

You Matter. You Have a Gift That Others Need.

Do you believe those words?
Probably not.
If you are honest with yourself, and quiet, you have perhaps convinced yourself that "I am nothing special...not really."

Of course, there is always the flip side of this. The ego-driven personality, who believes themselves to be the Supreme Being of the Universe and that the world and everything in it must revolve around him/her.

Yet, if you look at the sentence above "You have a gift that others need", you will see the balancing act in this "mattering". That key is "You have a contribution to make".

If you view your life as one of service, as one where you can make a positive difference on the world, then you know deep within that you actually really do matter. You can, if you want to. You can start right now. Even if you are only 9 years old. You matter. And your actions, no matter what your age, define your impact on the lives of people around you. And like a pebble tossed in a still pool of water, that ripple of good you do, goes on and influences people that you do not know and will never meet.

So, don't forget to look around and see the unique genius in others. Things like:
- C, here at work, is earnest and hardworking. He carries himself well and has the beautiful blend of talent and humility that make him a pleasure to work with. You actually want to work with this fellow. If you get a chance to, you are a lucky duck indeed.
- BB has a genius for making all of his friends feel special. Even the much younger ones. He is learning the art of diplomacy mixed with patience and kindness.
- Our local post office has a reputation for meaness and rudeness. Today, the opposite happened. Everyone was nice and smiling. I didn't realize how tense I was going in there, until I started to leave and it hit me, "That was the way it's supposed to be when you go to the Post Office."

And my "mattering"? Well, most recently:
- I have a genius for comforting: sick children at 2 a.m. included.
- My courtesy to sales clerks and fellow shoppers is contagious. Imagine that!
- My food tastes amazing, both for me and my family!

You matter. How are you helping the world today?
Erica Robinson

Source for image: Angela Maiers

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You Matter. We Matter.

So, I won't name any names, but someone in my close circle sent me a Calvin & Hobbs clip about "whining, instant gratification" and asked if that's what I meant by, "You Matter."

Obviously, that certain someone has yet to watch the video I suggested. :)

So, have you observed three other people doing something that matters?
- J at work does an amazing job helping clients feel comfortable and at ease with doing their own content entry. He is calm and easy-going and folks walk out saying, "I can do this!" It's a two-for-one win in my book!
- Miss Muffet will persist in something until she understands it. She may be frustrated and on the verge of tears. She may even be crying in frustration, but she doesn't give up. Never. She never gives up. I love that part of her personality.
- Bear got grounded from video games for throwing a temper tantrum. He was very sad, but he took his punishment and made the best of it, which included playing in the water hose in 45*F weather when I wasn't looking. Good learner. Good imagination.

And have you observed the three positive things you did that mattered yesterday?
- I kept at a project that was spiraling out of control and got help from teammates to get the job done. Some parts late, but no longer out of control.
- I honored my service committment to the food group I am a part of. Even though the easier thing would have been to call and cancel.
- I took 30 minutes at the end of the day to clean off the counters and turn back the children's beds and soften all the lights, so that the "mood" said, "This is a peaceful, calm, serene space. A good place for rest and sleep."

So, we're into Day 2 of mattering.
Start noticing and writing.
Source: unknown

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

You Matter, Yes, You Do!

This weekend, in my online rambling, I stumbled across Angela Maiers' Ted Talk about "You Matter" and how important it is for every human being to feel that they, as their own person, matter. And being recognized as mattering, matters.

Please listen to the talk. It can change your life, if you'll let it.
Change you, because you will view yourself, and everyone around you differently.
And if you've ever wondered what your purpose on this planet was, well this can be one of them: to know deep down that you possess a genius that no one else on the planet has or will possess, because it is a part of who you are. And that others have a unique genius too. And that we all matter. And, ironically, it is more often than not the little things that matter.

So, here is my challenge for this week.
Take a notebook (any old one will do, I'll be using my journal) and make the daily intentional effort to notice three positive things that other people did... things that mattered. They can be big or little things. It can be the gal in the grocery store who was so cheerful as she stocked shelves and wished me a blessed day, or the little boy who noticed my wig and gave me a double thumbs up. Or the spouse who unasked gathered and took out the trash. Write them down. Now, the bonus challenge is for you to do three positive matters that are you. Ask the curious question. Smile kindly at the teenager stalling out in the road as they learn to drive stick shift, terrified. Allow yourself that cup of tea with a friend. Write those down.

Let's do it for a week and see how our attitude on life in general is.
You up for the challenge?
Erica Robinson

Monday, March 24, 2014

Self Care

So much has happened over the span of 48 hours, it's a little hard to know where to start,  so before the day is done, I need to honor my commitment and write: something. So, we'll forget about the week's writing plan and just talk about the major shake up that is going on in my life, right this very moment.
My bladder is falling out. Hanging down in places where it is not supposed to. And no amount of muscle strengthening excerises are going to help, because the muscles are shattered. It is freakish and awkward and humiliating. And I didn't even realize it till my spouse pointed it out. Good grief!!! The doctor was kind enough to see me today, and I'll have another appointment with a specialist on Wednesday to talk about what my options are. Miss Muffet was home sick with a cold, so she tagged along. Full of questions. More and more awkward.  It was; however, important for me to let her understand what I was doing (vaguely). "Something is wrong with Mommy, so I need to go to the doctor and have a check-up." And, "Yes, I am going to be o.k." And, "When something is not working right in our bodies, we take care of ourselves. We ask for help. We pray and do what we can to be healthy." 
The very few folks I've told want to say that, "Oh, well that is because you had five kids and your girly parts are just worn out. 15 months ago, I went through 4 surgeries to deal with those falling down, torn, broken parts, and now, here I am again,  with another repair needed and I'm barely in my mid 40s! Am I some classic car that requires ongoing upkeep to keep from being a rusted out pile of junk? Maybe. I do know this: whether I live only one more day or 50 more years, I am LIVING all out with whatever time I have. That, for me, means purr, hum, sing, dance, roar, and worship; certainly not languish.
Understand though, it's not just having kids that did this. It's being a farm girl and lugging around feed sacks and hay bales. Later, it was enormous bags of wet leaves in suburbia.  It's being the she-wolf, who would drag/heft things way too heavy for way too long, because the job needed to get done. It was the impatient girl who felt all things had to fit on my timeline and would forcibly make it happen at the cost of my health. It was lugging around an extra 100+ pounds of fat for more than 20 years and the strain on my entire system and havoc that caused this. It's because as a girl who had had five kids, I had a convenient, weakened girly place for things to go "pop" vs being a guy who would bust a gut hernia. It's all those things, and probably more.
What saddened me though was the doctor's comment that I could just do nothing about it. That a lot of women my age did nothing about it till they were in their 60s or later. And then they faced complications from being 20 years older and having the surgery.  My 97 year old godmother waited till she was 95! Why do we women abandon ourselves in such a way? Just suffer in silence? 
You are worthy of self care. I am worthy of self care. We are better when we can function fully.
My days of hefting and dragging and lugging are over. As much as it chaps my backside to be "helpless", my body has thrown down the gauntlet.  And I will respect that boundary.  I must. Or I will break more and more.
So if I don't offer to carry more than a gallon of milk,  have mercy. And if I turn pale and excuse myself abruptly,  grant me kindness, for it is just my body reminding me how it has suffered.
So, here I am, imperfect. And that's o.k.
Erica Robinson

Friday, February 21, 2014

Killing June Cleaver

It sounds like an awful thing to do: kill June Cleaver. But I had to do it.
At least the persona, the "role" that I had adopted for myself, "the forever mother", the "perfect wife", the "tight and tidy good girl". I thought as a teenager that "June Cleaver" was who I was supposed to be. So, I adopted that role as my own. I tried to become everything June idealized:
- wife
- sedate
- calm
- homemaker
- mother
- well dressed
- caregiver
- cook
- housekeeper

None of the above roles or job titles are wrong. Please understand that I am not out to bash motherhood or wifery or good home cooking. I'm not. I actually think I'm quite good at all of those things. Somehow though, for me a lot of these things got warped and I tried with supreme effort to be this make-believe ideal and it nearly crushed the life force out of me.

You see, I am many things, but being some ideal is not me. I'm me. Unique and varied. And you are you. You can't be me and I can't be you. And some fictional character from TV-land surely is impossible to be.

So, I killed her.
Went and did something so profoundly un-June and so "unclassy" that it freed me from the role of being "Mrs. Cleaver".

I got a tattoo.
Are you gasping?
Eye rolling?
I know. A friend laughed when I told him, "Oh, that's so typical early recovery." It made me smile, for I am in early recovery. I am recovering my personhood. My authenticity. So, I'm comfortable with "typical" in that sense of the word.

But understand, Dear Friend, that tattoo came to being with a great deal of soul-searching and agonizing. You see, my spouse was dead set against it. Furiously against it. To quote, "I just wanted you to lose weight, not change!" I also knew for certain that others in my circle would be none-to-pleased either. "I mean, really Erica, a tattoo? They are so low-class and tacky." Even well-meaning church friends wondered if it was against my religion. And my boss tried to talk me out of it as something that you do in your 20s, not 40s. To be honest, I do not know why my freeing myself from that role had to take the form of a tattoo, but it did. And to be free I was (and am) determined to be!

There was, it seemed, a very real possibility of rejection from my spouse. Being true to myself meant that whether he accepted me or not, I was going to be me. No matter who accepted me or rejected me. I am done with people pleasing. This doesn't mean I have no more regard for society and being a civilized person. It rather means, you have a right not to like me, and that's o.k.: I don't have to try to be something that I'm not to try and make you like me. And that included my Beloved.
Free to be my true self, whatever that may be.

Happily, there was a voluntary change of heart before my spouse even realized that I had gotten a tattoo. And, I think, if you would asked, they'd say that they are very glad for what that tattoo had done for me. For us. As my friend, H, said, "You've already changed. The act of weighing and measuring your food for more than a year, in and of itself, has changed you. If you go back to hiding and sneaking in your behavior (about non-food things), it's no different than hiding in a corner eating." She was right. I'm through with shaming myself or being shamed and acting out in compulsive overeating to deal with that overwhelming shame and grief and rejection. Rejection of myself because I was afraid.

And I have learned, when I am afraid, I will do two things: pray and be brave. You can do that, too. Push past the fear and be yourself.
Be free.

Erica Robinson