Entries categorized "Resilience"

The Five Words No One Wants to Hear. Ever.

As Big Ben and I walked along the river's boardwalk recently, I caught a glimpse of a little girl waving and pointing in our direction. She had just come out of the ice cream parlor and gripped her overflowing waffle cone tightly with both hands. Smart girl. 

"Hey!" she shouted between licks of her Blue Moon. Not the flavor I would have picked, but since she was about six years-old, I cut her some slack.

"Hey" I waved as I approached. I didn't recognize her, but little kids often get a kick out of Big Ben. Her blue lips were moving as if she was talking to me, so I stopped and pulled out my earbuds. 

BigBen on bed"Hey lady," she said, "you look like your dog."

I froze. 

She turned to her mom, giggled, and then a little louder said, "Mama, she looks like her dog, doesn't she? Doesn't she?"

The smattering of mid-day ice cream-eaters turned and stared.

I looked left and then right, but most unfortunately, I was the only person present with a dog. 

Dumbfounded, I managed to say "I look like my dog? Really?"

 

Dear reader, I must note that I was wearing earth tones.

The little girl continued, "Yeah, you've got that white streak in the part of your hair. You know, where it's a different color from the rest of your hair. And it's all dark and stuff around your eyes."

Seriously? No mention of the earth tones?

"And you both have those big white arms. And--"

I looked at Ben's arms. I looked at mine. He wasn't wearing nail polish. Hardly the same. 

I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to run, but Big Ben and I don't really do that running thing.

The girl's mother laughed nervously, "Honey, stop."

"See Mom? They both have big cheeks, too. See their big cheeks?"

The mom put her hand on her hip. She looked like she was about to mean business. But--

"And BOTH of their big cheeks droop. They droop, Mom! They drooooooop!"

Big Ben's tail wagged as the devil-child spit sticky, blue venom on his snout.

Olive upcloseEmbarrassed, the mother pulled her child along and said nervously, "Oh dear, out of the mouths of babes..." 

"Babe" is not the term I had in mind. 

In any event, it was a life-changing moment.

After that day I knew exactly what to do in light of the fact we end up looking like our dogs.

Dear reader, you may think I went on a diet or brought home Jenny Craig.

Screw that.

I got a new dog.  

Meet sleek-cheeked Olive, 30 pounds soaking wet. 

  

Ben and Olive in yard
 


Met My Old Lover in the Grocery Store

Remember that old Dan Fogelberg song? When he runs into his old girlfriend on Christmas Eve? 

Met my old lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling, Christmas Eve.

This just happened to me. Well, sort of.

Granted, it wasn't Christmas Eve. I wasn't in the frozen food section and we didn't share a six-pack in my car.

BUT, the rest was just like the song.

Not long ago, completely out of the blue, I received an email from an old boyfriend. It's true that right after my divorce I may or may not have tried to find him in the usual places: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I might have even Googled him. Oh come on. Don't judge. You've done it with your exes, too.

Anyway, back to the email. For once, his timing was impeccable.

Twenty-six years ago, in May of 1990, I had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in English. As I waited for the job offers to pour in (who doesn't want to employ a girl who can read a good book like a biatch?), I spent the summer waitressing at an old-fashioned summer resort and fell in love.

And I had the time of my life.

*cue Dirty Dancing music*

He was like Patrick Swayze (without those stretchy dancer pants they try to pass off as regular pants but you can totally tell they're dancy-pants) with a million dollar smile, great hair, and an Australian accent. He was a race car engineer. I didn't even know what that was, but his accent was so dreamy that when he talked about Midnight Oil, even though I knew nothing about cars, I could listen to him all night.  


FullSizeRender (25)By August, I had packed my belongings and moved with him to San Francisco. I was high on romance, and a trek across America was the ultimate trip. I was ready for adventure. What girl didn't want to move to California with an Australian instead of get a regular job? I had big hair, bigger shoulder pads, and a red Cabriolet filled with mix tapes.

And although motorsports was an exciting lifestyle, it turned out to be quite stressful and unpredictable as well. After a couple years, I began to crave routine and security. My friends were marrying accountants and buying starter homes. We were long on love, yet short on money, maturity and wisdom. Good mix tapes only get you so far.

If we had met three years later, we may have had a chance. A darn good chance. But as he traveled and I went back to school, our dreams conflicted. He needed to be on the road. I needed to be in class. Love wasn’t enough, and eventually, through a lot of tears and hugs, we parted ways. That was over twenty years ago.

In his email, he explained he'd be in town for one night on business and invited me to dinner. Before saying yes, feelings of insecurity plagued me.

Would he still like my smile? My laugh? And the way I talk with my hands?

Would he hear resilience in my voice?

Would he see the extra weight I carry as armor against my loneliness?

Would my laugh lines remind him of my humor and not my age?

Would he see that under my tough exterior and crutch of humor there is still a great deal of pain from a hurtful marriage? 

Seriously, I went on overthinking the whole thing for a good hour, asking myself these ridiculous questions, because before I do anything, I've got to complicate the shit out of it. In the end, I channelled my inner Stuart Smalley and said, "Yes." 

The minute I walked through the door, I saw the same 20-year old with whom I fell in love. He wasn’t looking at my thighs or examining my wrinkles. He flashed that same toothy grin and I immediately felt decades younger. My heart warmed with relief as we hugged. 

I told him about my boys, my writing, and my xxxxx, xxxxxxxx marriage (phrase redacted per wise divorce attorney). He was visibly surprised and concerned. Pouring out my heart to him was different than sharing with a long, lost girlfriend. Here was a man who had loved me very differently than my husband. Being in his presence again reminded me that I am worthy of goodness and that I can be a good judge of character. Not everyone is xxxxx, xxxxxx, xxxxxx (yep, she made me remove that part, too).

I listened as he told me about his mum, who I remembered fondly. He showed me pictures of his beautiful daughter and wife. It turns out he did find success as an engineer for a racing team and also became a world champion jet ski racer. (Seriously! Right!?!) He told me about the life he had built for himself. It all came together for him and I could not have been more happy for him. He was clearly content and fulfilled.

We reminisced for hours. We laughed about how I couldn’t figure out how to turn on our first vacuum cleaner and that time some pervert stole my underwear from the laundry room of our apartment complex. We lamented that the pay phone from which he used to call me had been taken down. 

I hadn’t expected to reconnect so easily. The longer we talked, the fewer years seemed to have passed. For a moment, I could have walked right back into that life.

But that’s what love does. In my head I knew that chapter in my life was closed. He has a wife and I have… Well, I have my sons and they need me.

I fell into a funk in the days that passed. My loneliness seemed magnified and harder to manage. It had felt so good to sit across the table from someone who had loved me so much. Someone who could finish my sentences. Someone who didn’t take so much work. Someone who made me a better person. I had forgotten what that felt like.

I was teary, and before we parted he said, “You look exactly the same, except without the big shoulder pads.” And from that moment on, I knew I'd love him forever. 

Just for a moment I was back at school,

And felt that old familiar pain 

 And as I turned my way back home, The snow turned into rain.

 

 

Not familiar with some of the references? Click on the highlighted text. 

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Have Cowboys. Will Travel

I woke up this morning and realized my three sons are on three different continents. 

I shuffled out of bed, let the dogs out, and sat on the lawn. It was eerily quiet. Signs of the boys were everywhere: an arrow stuck in the lawn which had missed its target by a long shot. Olive, our little Sheltie, was chewing on a faded soccer ball. And one, lone, white sock, partially covered in mulch, peeked out from under the boxwood, because..., well, just because. 

And then I cried. I mean, I really cried. I cried tears of relief because each had made it safely to his destination. I cried messy, happy tears because each of my boys was doing his own thing, taking the world by storm. And then I cried out of fear because this has been one helluva violent summer. And my babies are out there. 

IMG_2841The oldest, 16, is in Beijing through SYA on a language immersion program. My 13 year-old is doing a student exchange with our sister city in Esslingen, Germany through our chapter of the People to People organization. And my youngest, 12, is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (feels like a separate continent) on the shores of Lake Superior at Michigan Tech's amazing hockey camp. 

Plans for our summer of 2016 began last October with applications, interviews, grant forms, webinars, essay questions, and a lot of check writing for program deposits. 

Then Malaysian Flight 17 was shot down and suicide bombers attacked a train station in Turkey.

In November, Paris suffered a massive attack and chaos ensued.

Over the holidays people asked, "Are you sure you want to let your kids travel with all that's going on in the world?"

We continued with our planning. My son applied for his visa, the scholarship form was finalized, and we went to the bank to set up teen checking accounts and debit cards.


HugonjulianIn January, the mass shooting in San Bernardino made it abundantly clear that no safe havens were left in today's world.

In spring, the bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station shook me to the core. 

With tears streaming down my face, I made plane reservations for the boys anyway. 

We picked out adapters, journals, good walking shoes and continued to check things off our lists.

We didn't avoid the news. Together we watched the coverage of Orlando. 

We said "I love you" a lot. In fact, the act of saying "I love you" began to feel like our five seconds of safe haven. We said it before bed, getting out of the car for school, getting dropped at soccer practice, before meals, and basically all the time. When we weren't together, we texted it. "I love you" became our daily armor to protect us from whatever unimaginable tragedy was going to strike next. 

The police shootings in Dallas and the Bastille Day attack in Nice followed. It was clear the world had gone utterly mad. 

We discussed these events. We mourned the dead. And we kept saying  "I love you."

On Friday we packed the suitcases, hockey gear, and  went shopping for travel snacks. 

When we deposited checks from grandma and grandpa at the boys' bank, an employee said, "I would never let my child go to Europe or Germany or any of those places."  Um, honey, oh...forget it.


IMG_3008I got defensive, "What should we do? Stay home for the rest of our lives? My child could get hit by a car tomorrow right outside our front door." We live in a cul-de-sac and that would never happen, but she didn't know that.

"Well," she said, "I don't think you should go lookin' for trouble." 

"I promise you, bank-teller-lady, no one here is lookin' for trouble. Let me guess, you spend your time on your Cheeto-stained couch watching reality TV repeats: shows of other people doing stuff that they already did."

Ok, I didn't actually say that out loud. I just said it in my head, but it was still quite satisfying.

The insinuation that I was careless with my children's lives stung. And it stung hard.

Do we have to stop wandering? Do we just put our heads down and try to get by? Do we have to give up our dreams? I bet that woman has never tried ceviche, rolled the dice in Vegas, or stood in a city center with a map and a thirst for knowledge. 

That woman didn't realize she's the one who is really in danger. 

As soon as we stop learning, we begin to die.

 

 

 

 

 


Finding Connection in an Unimaginable World

I've witnessed some incredible Heathrow Moments in my life. They occur when I'm alone in an airport, waiting for a flight. Most often I'm surrounded by crumpled napkins, a slice of pizza and a glossy magazine filled with shock and awe: celebs wearing no make up.

And then it happens.

I look up and spot someone running with flailing arms and a beaming smile toward an arriving passenger. As I watch the two greet, hug, and laugh, the positive energy from their reunion has a ripple effect, as if love is contagious. 

Those are Heathrow Moments.

If you've seen the holiday movie Love Actually, you may understand why. In the movie's opening scene, loved ones greet one another with hugs, kisses, and laughter at the arrivals gate of London's Heathrow Airport. Hugh Grant narrates:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around. 

Some things are better seen for oneself. Here's the one minute clip:

 

 

 

This week I experienced my own perfect Heathrow Moment. It wasn't glamorous like in the movies. It was rainy. It was cold. Moreover, I was at Midway in Chicago, not exactly Heathrow.

I waited, and I waited. I paced, unable to stand still. My 15 year-old son, away at school since August 31, was headed home for Thanksgiving break. I'd been counting the days until his return.

When I spotted him at the back of the barrage of arriving passengers, I lost all composure. I was no longer the cool, blend-in-to-the-crowd, casual mom. I jumped up and down. My eyebrows went through the roof, and according to my younger sons, I made embarrassing pointing gestures. Although surrounded by just a few people, I waved frantically as if I might get lost in a sea of travelers, worried he might never find me. My whole body trembled and tears came to my eyes. In that moment, I became completely oblivious to everything in the world. 

This particular moment was larger than a Thanksgiving homecoming. Over the last few weeks, the world has suffered countless losses as a result of terrorist attacks and madmen with guns. In a flash, loved ones have met violent deaths. The stuff we think will never happen to us, has happened to them. Those families will never be the same. As a result, I found myself uttering unimaginable phrases to my children: 

"If you can't get to an exit, play dead."

"If you see something, say something."

"Stay away from the windows."

"If you can run, try to run in a zig zag, you'll be harder to hit."

"Only show your American passport when necessary, otherwise keep it hidden in your pocket."

"Say you're Canadian."

Although I was uttering unimaginable phrases, my son was flying out of New York's LaGuardia airport. I knew in my heart these were no longer unimaginable scenarios, flights of fancy, or the result of an overactive imagination. 

It sounds trite, but it's still true that we just don't know how much time we have on this earth. Thanksgiving could not have come at a better time. The deaths of so many innocent people remind us of the fragility of our own lives. So many flowers offered. So many tears shed. So many stories shared. So many hugs given.

Augie and mom at midwayThus, I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency to be with all three of my children. I raced to Midway Airport. I paced through the multiple delays. And as my oldest came through the arrivals gate at 12:30 am, I needed to touch him. I needed to look him in the eye and know he was okay. I needed us to be together. We had a group hug on the spot.

This year, Thanksgiving wasn't about the food. It wasn't about the football. (As a Packer fan, I've just committed sacrilege.) Thanksgiving was about the hugs. It was about the exchange of positive energy, the connection, the unspoken message: hey, you mean a lot to me.  I have hugged almost everyone I've seen over the last ten days. In these tragic times, I feel an overwhelming need to connect with others. Even the football fans felt it. You can't tell me your eyes were dry as Brett Favre and Bart Starr hugged. Generations across the nation connected in that moment.

The holiday is over. My son has returned to school. The week wasn't perfect-- it was gray, the Packers lost, none of my pants fit, and the 24 hour news cycle continues to jar me. However, the hugs continue to fuel me and make everything okay for now.

Get out the Kleenex, watch the final one-minute clip, and give a hug. 

  

 

 

Sending you peace and love through the holiday season!


Even Goo-Be-Gone Can't Destroy This Bond: Happy Mother's Day!

Mom and Mrs. BeasleyMy mother and I were born opposites. She's a Felix and I'm an Oscar. She's OCD. I'm ADD. Her passport is filed under "P" and mine...well, mine is around here somewhere.

Growing up, I'd purposely do the opposite of what Mom suggested. If she said, "Boy Liesl, your natural hair color is so pretty," I'd dye it darker and darker. If Mom said, "You know, Liesl, you so look nice with long hair,"  I'd cut it short. And then even shorter. I went way too far with the asymmetrical cut in the 80's.  

When Mom would mention, "Skirts are so flattering," I'd wear the Guess jeans with pockets up and down each leg. I could fit 9 beers in those jeans. And when Mom said, "Liesl, if you'd wear a bit of a heel, it'll give you a nice, long, slimming leg,"  I'd put on my coveted hiking boots with the bright red laces. 

As the female Felix Unger, she speaks a language that is foreign to me. Recently smiling, she said the words, "Just for fun, why don't you and I wash all the crystal in the dining room." I have no idea what that sentence means.  

Hiking bootsAlthough I give her a hard time, Mom has been quite a role model for being organized and keeping a clean house. Every piece of paper brought into her home is filed within a minimum of 90 seconds. She regularly bleaches the cleaning rags. She's on her 17th label maker. The last one died while labeling the light bulb cabinet shelves. It made a fizzing sound and broke into seven pieces just as she was starting on the 30-70-100 watt three-ways. 

I didn't inherit that clean gene.  

When Mother visited me in San Francisco, she asked where I kept the scissors in my apartment.

Without blinking I said in a tone, like duh, "Under the sofa." 

"How can you possibly be my daughter?" she said. "Most people keep a scissors in the kitchen or maybe in an office or laundry room."

"Yup, but I keep mine right under the couch. That way you don't even have to get up."

On the same visit, I accidentally dropped a bag of flour on the carpet. 

"No problem," said Mom. "Just get the vacuum. It'll take two minutes to clean up."

"Right...the vacuum cleaner," I said casually.

Mom, Liesl and boysPanicked, I scoured four closets until I found the damn thing. Out of breath, I plugged the machine into the walI. Like a hawk, Mom watched my every move as if she doubted my vacuuming prowess. I nonchalantly kicked my foot around the sides and corners of the thing with no luck. Then I patted my hands along the handle but nothing happened. I unzipped and then rezipped the bag part. I unplugged and replugged the machine.


About to pull out her hair and transform into Mr. Clean right before my very eyes, Mother Unger exclaimed,
"Oh my God! You don't know how to turn on your vacuum cleaner, do you, Liesl Margaret?"

"Yeah, um...well, no. I usually just get out a lint roller."

But at 27 when my boyfriend dumped me while the rest of my friends were tying the knot like a row of dominoes, I called my mom.

When I woke up July 21, 2004 and needed help with my drinking problem, I called my mom.

When I knew my spirit was dying and it was time to file for divorce, I called Mom. 

Gaga Augie meSo although I give my mom a tough time for being the clean freak she is, I'm also very grateful. I've come to her with plenty of messes and she's always helped me put the pieces of my life back together. She doesn't shy away from the debris of a storm. She's like a human SOS pad. Trust me, she will view that as a compliment.

It took me almost 40 years, but these days I listen to my mom. My hair is long. I wear heels and a skirt every chance I get. My scissors are stored safely in a kitchen drawer. It's a messy drawer, but it's progress, not perfection, right?

My mom and I look like an odd couple on the surface. She never has a hair out of place. I'm usually covered in dog hair. She plans ahead. I know I am typing this sentence at this very moment. She's 5'2", barely 100 pounds and always has my back. I'm 5'6" and weigh dis-girl-don't-shop-petite-section and lean on her heavily. Yep, an odd couple connected by the most amazing bond there is: unconditional love. Even Goo-Be-Gone can't destroy that shit.**

Not so long ago, when I became a single mother, who'd been out of the workforce for 15 years, I called my mom.  

She said, "You have a gift. Keep writing. Follow your dream. Oh, and here are some extra vacuum cleaner bags."  

Thank you, Mom. I love you! Happy Mother's Day! 

 

**Mom, sorry I swore in the Mother's Day post. I don't know where I learned such language!

 

 

 




I'm Performing Live to Benefit Lakeland College and Area Youth

I'm excited to announce I'll be performing May 16, 2015 at the Lakeland College Movers & Shakers Gala. This year's gala will feature three stages to accommodate an exciting and diverse group of area performers including a solo pianist, live bands, speed painting, dance crews, drum line, a comedy singing duo and me. 

11149275_883369031705416_2862106551784751528_nWhat type of exciting performance can you expect from me? Hold on to your hats, because this is gonna blow you away. I'm not going to juggle. I won't be throwing hatchets. I'm not going to consume Thin Mints until I burst. 

I'm going to stand in one place and read out loud. Yep, I can read stuff. So take that. 

Sounds easy enough, right? But in reality, and just because I feel the need to quote Run DMC, it's not that easy. Actually, "It's Tricky."

I hope the heel on my shoe won't break like it did at my grandma's funeral and force me to do that funny tip-toe-my-heel-broke-walk.

I hope I won't leave a roller in my hair like I did during an interview with the San Francisco School of Design while explaining I'm a detail-oriented person.

 

I hope Kanye West doesn't come bounding onto the stage and steal the mic away. 

And I hope there are the appropriate number of fans blowing to give me Beyonce hair.

However most of all, during my reading, I hope the audience will spew their wine across the table, have tears streaming down their faces, and leak a little pee as a result of their laughter.

I've chosen my favorite humor piece, fine-tuned it to death and even added a couple visual aids which the audience will see from two giant screens. 

Here's a two minute sneak peek. Although this still shot does not give off a humor vibe, this is funny. Trust me:

 

 

Festival Foods will sponsor my Live Literature performance. In fact, Festival Foods has paired with Lakeland College and will award a $5,000 scholarship to a student from my alma mater, Sheboygan North High School. If the student decides to attend Lakeland College, he or she will receive $10,000. The scholarship winner will be announced that evening. 

Proceeds from this year's gala will benefit Lakeland College and Sheboygan County high school student scholarships. 

Selfie
If you live in the area and want to support local education, visit the Movers & Shakers Gala website for more details about tickets.

Did I mention the event is also a contest? For $20, you can buy a vote (or many, many votes) for me and my self-esteem. Well, actually you'd be donating money toward the scholarship of a North High student and Lakeland College. But my self-esteem could use a boost with a big win.

You can purchase votes online right now or at the gala. In other words, with just a few clicks on your device, you can help raise money for education, feed my ego and you don't even have to put on pants. We all win!


A Good Dog Is Better Than A Bad Date


Ben near bath

It's a bad sign when I'm on a date and I miss my dog.  If I look forward to drooly, droopy jowls, rather than Mr. Comb-over's kiss, it's time to call a cab. Don't get me wrong, I love men. It's just that in a lot of cases, I love my dog more.

This wasn't always the situation. I was a confirmed cat person for years. However, heading for divorce and in need of some serious extra credit to get into Catholic Heaven, I promised my sons they could have a dog. After researching breeds with the shortest life span, 6-8 years max. (I had no intention of living with another mistake for 15 years), they decided on a St. Bernard. In January 2009, we brought home Big Ben.

Boys and big ben on porchWe went through the typical puppy years. He ate pencils, rolling pins, and a table or two. He broke through the same screen door weekly. In six months he gained 106 pounds. He learned to jump out the car window. I chased him through intersections, a golf course, school parking lots, tennis courts, and soccer camp. He became so strong, instead of walking the dog, the boys quickly learned to body surf. Realizing he was too big for the boys to handle, by default, Big Ben became my dog. 

After nine months I'd had enough. I was depressed about the state of my marriage, the kids sensed the tension, and drool was everywhere. It hung from lamp shades, chandeliers, drapery rods and most often, unknowingly, from the back of my head. At one time I owned 17 lint rollers. I called rescue shelters to take him. But each shelter Ben and me in carencouraged me to work with him to properly bond. Eventually he obeyed a couple commands: sit and... Well, ok, maybe he just obeyed one command. But when the boys went back to school that fall, Big Ben and I clicked and became inseparable. 

Sure, he has annoying habits, like drinking out of toilets, snoring louder than a freight train, producing poop larger than sandcastles, and consuming nine cups of food plus five hot dogs a day. He hides his treats all over the house, like a squirrel preparing for winter.  I find string cheese under drapes, hot dogs in sofa cushions, and once I found a three-day-old piece of pizza behind my pillow.

But he loves me. Unconditionally.

He lets me talk for hours, never interrupts, and five minutes later, still gets excited at the sound of my voice. He sticks to his word. He never says he's going to clean the garage and then doesn't do it.  He never commits to cutting the lawn and then watches a ball game instead. And he certainly knows when to keep his mouth shut. If my jeans are a little tight or dinner is a bit late, he never voices his disdain. We don't argue about politics, religion, or who drank the last Diet Coke.

Big Ben on my lapMy divorce required so much change. The kids needed my attention to help work through their anger and anxiety. Not being part of a couple, the dynamics of many friendships changed. Saying goodbye to a beloved home was heartbreaking, and the fear of the unknown seemed to hover over our heads the entire first year. However, one thing never changed. My dog was always by my side. No matter my marital status, my mood, my bank account, my home, my tears, my laughter, my disastrous dates, and the many nights home alone when the boys are with their dad, Big Ben has been next to me.

I don't believe it's a coincidence my boys chose a St. Bernard. St. Bernards are said to instinctively anticipate avalanches and storms. They rescue people who are lost or stuck. Big Ben walked into a doozy when he came to our house. And he rescued me. He continues to remind me that loneliness is a choice. A full life takes many shapes and forms. The Joneses have theirs, and I have mine. The sky is the limit with a companion that provides unconditional love. 

Enjoy the video. And by the way, Big Ben insisted I remind all readers that the camera adds at least 10 pounds.  After viewing it, he said probably more like 15!