Another Voice: Freedom by Sallie Watson Williams

Note from Me: I love it when people want to guest blog. For one thing, it gives my readers a break from my listening to me… variety is good, right? But what I truly get excited about is the risk they are taking. I know that they are putting themselves out there in a way that I have found life-changing.

The other day my friend Sallie sent me an email with the below blog asking if she could guest blog on my account! “Are you kidding?,” I replied. “I’d be honored.” I recently met Sallie, and we are beginning a new friendship. We have lots in common. She actually worked with Daddy at the newspaper for many years, so we have many common friends. They were actually Daddy’s friends at one time, but I’m meeting them now in social situations, and they are becoming my friends. We also do the Jeff Galloway run/walk method and have been running together – although the heat is starting to give me pause a bit. We’ll have to work that out. And we both love yoga and hiking!

So, now you get to meet Sallie, too. Please give her a warm welcome to the blogging world by leaving her a comment! I’ll be sure to pass it on. 🙂

12027675_10153915962077770_6517084470891728629_n

Freedom

by Sallie Watson Williams

The past two years have brought unprecedented change in my life to include deaths of both parents, divorce from my spouse of 38 years, a new romance and remarriage, moving from Georgia to Louisiana, and leaving the company where I had worked for 28 years.   

I discovered yoga last summer during a transitional time living in Athens, GA with my 24-year-old daughter.  She had bought herself a condo to live in while she goes to law school at the University of Georgia and, in a role reversal, she became my landlady and I her tenant.  The yoga studio I joined was a 5-minute walk from the condo and going to classes became a highlight of my day.  On moving to Baton Rouge earlier this year, I became a student at Yoga Bliss on Highland Road and have continued my journey of yoga practice and healing. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 7.03.22 AM

Shannon, one of my teachers at Yoga Bliss has a custom of asking each student to choose a small rock from a bowl at the beginning of class.  Each rock has a word written on it that may be taken as an intention for the day’s yoga practice, and I’ve marveled at how the rock I choose so often has a message that represents what I need to focus on in a given moment.  In a class a few weeks ago, I chose a rock that said ‘forgiveness’ when that was a message I needed, another time, my rock said nourishment when I needed to work on replenishing my body with good food and rest, and on the day after running a half-marathon, followed by a drive home of several hundred miles, my rock suggested ‘gentleness’ which I interpreted as a nudge to go easy on myself in that day’s practice.

Today at yoga, the rock I chose said ‘freedom.’  I was tempted to put it back and draw another.  What could the word “freedom” mean to me?  Of all of the thoughts I’d been thinking and emotions I’d been feeling, freedom or a lack of it had not figured into the scheme of things.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 7.03.09 AM

But I kept the rock and during class reflected on what this message might mean.  I am now free from a marriage that hadn’t worked for many years, but I’m not free from the lack of closure with my ex husband —  someone with whom I shared a life for more than 38 years and with whom I have three grown children, nor am I free from feeling defensive around those who don’t understand why I left or those who judge me for leaving, or from judging myself.

I am free from a job that was difficult and often required long hours of work and travel, even though I sometimes miss it.  I am not free from an inner voice that asks me what I am going to do with my life now that am no longer defined by my job.  What is my next path?  Working in the same field?  Or in a new area?  Volunteering?  Becoming an entrepreneur? 

And what about money, another important resource in life.  I am fortunate to be free from pressing financial needs, having saved regularly over the course of my working life, and yet, without a regular paycheck arriving every two weeks, it’s now up to me to try to figure out how I to manage what I have to provide for my own future.

Several years ago I read a book called “The Paradox of Choice.”  The main message of the book is that we live in a world in which overabundance of choice creates paralysis and, ultimately, can lead to inaction or a shutting down.  Our brains are simply not wired to evaluate too many choices at once.  Here is one of the most famous examples from the book:

When researchers set up [in a gourmet food store] a display featuring a line of exotic, high-quality jams, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one condition of the study, 6 varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. In either case, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase. The large array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams on average. When it came to buying, however, a huge difference became evident. Thirty percent of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3 percent of those exposed to the large array of jams did so.

I can’t say that there is a solution to my dilemma right now —  freedom creating too many choices on so many fronts.  I have a few short term goals and activities – a friend from my old neighborhood coming to visit in a couple of weeks, plans to go on a bike ride across Georgia with my youngest son and a cousin, and some travel plans with my husband.  I understand that my challenge now is to remain open to seeking a new path while being discerning and thoughtful about moving into the next phase and resisting the temptation to commit to something new before I’m ready.  Maybe the rock I draw next time in Shannon’s yoga class will have the word “patience” written on it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 7.02.53 AM

Another Voice: The Spirit of New Orleans by Michael Weatherly Trentacosta

 

Me and Michael at his lasagne party last Christmas in NOLA

Me and Michael at his lasagne party last Christmas in NOLA

My friend Michael tried his hand at blogging this morning on Facebook. It was so good that I thought he should extend his platform. Down here in Louisiana and Mississippi, today is an infamous day. It the anniversary of a day when everything changed. It is one of those days that divides time forever. You know who you were and where you were pre-Katrina and how you were changed post-Katrina. For a long time, locals called this area Katrina-land because it was the thing that divided this place from the rest of the world.

 

Monument to the victims of Katrina in St. Bernard Parish

Monument to the victims of Katrina in St. Bernard Parish

By Michael Weatherly Trentacosta

It was 9 years ago this morning that the unspeakable happened across the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast. Being one of many across the world watching the events thereafter unfold on TV, I never really knew how closely it would affect me until just a few years later when I met Darren.

Watching from the comfort and safety of our homes afar, we saw some of the worst in people that day. We judged and made bold statements about what we would have done. We pointed fingers at what we, as outsiders playing Monday morning quarterback thought the people of New Orleans should have done. We forget that the city went through the hurricane itself fairly well considering its strength and size. It wasn’t until some were returning home after Katrina passed that all hell broke loose. Unfortunately many remember and focus on this part of the story, but there’s much more to it.

I have the privilege of knowing many of those people who are now my family and friends. The word resilient doesn’t even describe them. If giving up even crossed their minds, it was a fleeting thought at best. Together, they have rebuilt the city into a most magical place again, even among the reminders of that day.

Katrina also demonstrated the devotion to family and friends in New Orleans. They all long for the time, pre-Katrina, where Sunday family dinners happened every weekend, a baby sitter could be found for a night out without ever getting in a car in any one of at least 10 homes on your block, and the people of their neighborhoods were all part of the family, whether blood or not. They celebrated things big and small. It was about being together. Masses turned out for recitals, graduations, birthdays, and crawfish boils. They never felt alone…and they weren’t.

Family and friends are now scatted across the region. It’s certainly more difficult now, but the devotion to be there for even the smallest of life’s events still shines through. People will drive sometimes hours to participate in a child’s birthday party. Although it might not be as often as they would like, they continue to be there for each other. And if you ever were stranded on the side of the road, your phone is filled with countless numbers of people to call who would be there without question, no matter what they were doing or how far they had to come to reach you.

IMG_9504

For those of you who have visited, New Orleans captures you heart and soul. I firmly believe there’s no place like it on earth. It’s captivating, romantic, full of such great history, and home to the friendliest, most welcoming people I know. Strangers are always welcome….but be prepared, you’re considered family on your next visit.

Today we remember those that were lost. Families that were torn apart and had nothing left of their homes. Katrina was a devastating bitch. She was wicked. She took so much away from a people who are one of a kind.

A Lasagne Christmas Party Last Year

But today we also celebrate the people of a city who, through their tears and pain, would never give up. It wouldn’t crush them. They wouldn’t wallow in it. They rebuilt. They harnessed the spirit that has lived throughout the city for centuries prior to recapture the love and magic that is, and always has been, New Orleans.

So go for a visit…and soon. Whether you come for a few days or end up making a life there, the city becomes a piece of you. You will be better for having known New Orleans and its truly remarkable people.

Another Voice: Bisque, Baskets and Blogs

1925204_10152301534677770_7862254739136455786_n

My sister asked if she could blog about our family tradition of making crawfish bisque at Easter. Frankly, I thought this was tradition was from her husband’s Cajun family. I didn’t remember until this morning that this was our Fair family tradition. I remember every Easter going over to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house along with the Fuglers and the Bentons and hiding and hunting Easter eggs in the lilies that lined the circular drive in front of their house. I can see the old Live Oak trees clear as day with the Spanish Moss clinging loosely on their branches as we climbed over the roots to look for eggs. Those beautiful lilies would have been in full bloom as the bisque gravy bubbled in large black pots outside. I’m glad she was paying attention to what we ate for lunch those many Easter Sundays or I wouldn’t be eating bisque today. Enjoy my sister’s blog. Happy Easter, y’all!

By: Susan King Gremillion

Pics by: Laura King (2012 bisque-making) Click on the pics or hover over them to see the captions.

When I was a child, every year my entire extended family on my mama’s side would get together for Easter, and Grandma and Grandpa Fair would make crawfish bisque for everyone. Everyone in the family looked forward to that: deep brown gravy served over rice with crawfish heads stuffed with ground up crawfish tails. It was delicious. The kids had a great time; we would run and play and have fun while all of the adults slaved over the gravy. When it was declared ready, we would all rush over and fill our bowls with the bisque. Life simply did not get any better than that. My grandmother passed away when I was just twenty-four, but the bisque did not stop there. My grandfather, mother, and aunts kept the bisque tradition alive. However, a few years later, when Grandpa passed away, I knew the bisque tradition was in danger.

My husband, Gary, loved the tradition that my family had, and, being the cook of the family, he felt the tradition must go on. Just a few months after Grandpa’s passing, he called my mama and asked her if she would be offended if he began making bisque for the family. My mama quickly agreed, and a new tradition was born: Gary and I began making crawfish bisque for Easter. Over the years we have had to change the tradition a little. We no longer live in the Baton Rouge area, so the family has to travel to our house for Easter weekend. Of course, my family members like to go to their own churches on Easter Sunday, so we moved the bisque extravaganza to the day before Easter. Each year, my brother Terry, and his wife, Laura, and their family comes to spend a few days. Mama and Daddy also come early. Sammy and his family come on Saturday and spend the day. Sharon has always lived to far away to attend, but now that she’s back in Louisiana, we’re going to make sure she gets involved as well.

Everybody gets involved in stuffing the heads.

Everybody gets involved in stuffing the heads.

On Good Friday, Mama, Laura, and I get busy stuffing heads for the Saturday feast. Gary is in charge of the gravy part of the bisque, so he makes the gravy while we work at the dining room table stuffing heads. Although the conversation is not in French, as tradition would have it, we still laugh and have a good time preparing the heads. In the old days, a crawfish bisque took three days to prepare: On Good Friday, families got together for a crawfish boil. Saturday was spent chopping the crawfish tails, the onions, celery, bell peppers, and all the good stuff that goes into the gravy with the leftover crawfish tails, as well as cleaning the crawfish heads. Easter Sunday, it all came together, and the bisque was enjoyed by the family. We have a much easier job now. We buy bags of Louisiana crawfish tails (Please note: LOUISIANA tails are a must; the Chinese version is much less desirable.), run them through the food processor along with all the seasonings, and stuff the heads. The heads, which used to be cleaned by my grandparents by hand, are now processed by inmates at the prison where my husband works. You can also buy cleaned heads at some south Louisiana seafood stores. At any rate, the job is minuscule compared to what it used to be. What used to take three days can now be done in three hours, and it is just as delicious.

Saturday morning everyone arrives, and we do all of the things that all families do on Easter: we sit around and laugh and talk and catch up, the children hide and look for eggs, and then lunch is served. At this time of year, I think of my grandparents daily, and Easter is my favorite holiday because of them. People outside of south Louisiana may not understand our peculiar eating habits, but anyone who has ever tasted the dark rich goodness of a bowl of crawfish bisque knows that we have what others can only dream about. I think my Grandma and Grandpa look down from Heaven every Easter weekend and smile. I know they would be proud that we carried on their tradition. And I hope that when I’m gone, someone in the family will say, “Let’s keep the tradition going. We can do that.”

Another Voice: THE JOYS AND CHALLENGES OF PRACTICING LAW IN THE LP (Livingston Parish)

I love to have guest bloggers. I wrote about my hometown the other day, and I heard such wonderful stories from my readers that I asked a few of them if they’d like to guest blog. Robbie Harrison, one of my childhood pals, took me up on the offer. Thanks, Robbie, for sharing your little slice of life. Enjoy!

Robbie at the Watson Gumbo Cookoff in January...sampling the cuisine!!

Robbie at the Watson Gumbo Cookoff in January…sampling the cuisine!!

I didn’t always want to be a lawyer.  When I was younger, like most boys, I wanted to be a police officer, a fireman or a solider, at various times.  As I grew into adolescence, I thought I might want to be a doctor or a veterinarian.  When I was in high school and figured out what he really did for a living, I thought I wanted to be a sports journalist like Mr. Sam King. I mean, what could be better than getting paid to go to a ball game, especially when the trip and the ticket were on somebody else’s dime, right?

I am not really sure what drew me to a career in law.  Even when I was in high school, I didn’t even know any lawyers, and there sure weren’t any in Watson.  But, as it turns out, my alma mater, Live Oak High, has turned out some great people, some of whom have become good lawyers. The first one I know of is not an alumnus, but a former teacher/principal, Judge William Dawkins.  Judge Dawkins was the principal at Live Oak when my Daddy graduated in 1942.  Like Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, he left his school job, was commissioned as an officer in the Army and served for 3 years in combat overseas.  When he came home, Mr. Dawkins used his GI Bill to go to law school, became an attorney and was later a district judge.  Others from Live Oak who have chosen the same path I did include people like Tom Jones (‘69), Shelby Easterly (‘69), Bill Justice (‘78), Tom Peak (‘77), Chris Strobel (‘80) and Mike Bouleware (‘81).

Not sure if he's singing or talking, but i know people have to be having a ball! Robbie is always the entertainer...always has been.

Not sure if he’s singing or talking, but i know people have to be having a ball! Robbie is always the entertainer…always has been.

What separates me from those fellow Eagles and colleagues is that after law school and a few years practicing in Baton Rouge, I decided that my destiny was to come home and practice law in Watson LA.  Pretty quickly, I found out that there was a lot about practicing law that they didn’t teach you in law school, and even more about practicing in a small town, whether that is Cut Off, Chauvin, Crowville, or Watson.  One thing I soon found out was that my chosen career had many elements in common with my previous career possibilities.  Like Mr. Sam, I do a lot of writing. Like a fireman, I fight fires every day. Like a police officer, I encourage people to obey the law. And, like a veterinarian, it seems like I spend a lot of time dealing with one particular end of numerous horses (my horses tend to come in the form of certain clients, other lawyers and some judges, but I digress).

I guess the idyllic portrait of a small town Southern lawyer is Atticus Finch. In fact, I often tell people – when they ask what kind of lawyer I am – if they have seen or read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I am Atticus Finch. There are definitely some neat things about practicing law in your hometown.  Your clients are usually your friends, folks you have known most of your life.  This can be both good and bad at times. In a small town, you can’t avoid your clients. If you neglect to return their phone calls, you will inevitably run into them at church….or the grocery store….or the gas station….. or the other locations where “life” takes place.

Another thing that bothers me is when people know me but I don’t know them. I will admit that even as gregarious a person as I am, I am really bad about remembering names and faces.  Over the years I have figured out a hierarchy. If I run into someone who calls me Robert or Mr. Harrison, it is someone I know professionally.  If they call me Bob, they are trying to sell me something. But, if they call me Robbie, this is someone I am supposed to know. I have discovered that it is very disconcerting when someone calls you by your childhood pet name, and you have no idea who they are.

 

Fees are approached differently in small towns. Small town lawyers represent real people. While big city lawyers may be used to representing clients like banks, insurance companies and corporations who plan for legal expenses and are used to paying them, such is not the case in a small town.  Most of my clients find themselves in an unfamiliar situation when they need to hire an attorney. They usually didn’t anticipate needing a lawyer, and while they may have saved to pay their property taxes, their insurance or even for a new roof on the house, it never entered their mind to save up for the day they need a lawyer. It often makes setting and collecting fees a little challenging. I have to say that most of my clients are very good about paying their bill, albeit maybe not as promptly as I would like.  And, while I hate to burst anybody’s bubble, I don’t get paid in chickens or eggs.  Atticus getting paid by Mr. Cunningham in hickory nuts and firewood paints a bucolic picture, but it just ain’t gonna happen in real life.

Having said that, I have had many clients who have showered me with gratuities, or as we say in Louisiana – lagniappe.  I guess if I was a cab driver or a waiter at Arnaud’s they would be classified as tips, but I prefer to count them as gifts. I have received some wonderful Christmas baked goods, a kicking brandy fruitcake, plenty of homegrown tomatoes, boiled peanuts, mustard greens and an antique Victrola cabinet (sans Victrola), a porcelain statue of the angel Michael (The Defender) and numerous other goodies. Never in lieu of a fee, but as a way to say thank you.  If you doubt this, you should know that as I was contemplating writing this, one of my oldest and most faithful clients stopped by my office and left three and a half dozen fresh yard eggs as way to say thank you for helping her recently disabled husband with some free advice. (Sometimes the largesse spills over to my staff; she brought 2 ½ dozen for me and a dozen for my paralegal, Terri). I doubt many big firm lawyers have ever been the recipient of homemade pralines or fresh eggs.

Lagniappe!!

Lagniappe!!

Another thing that differs is that big city lawyers representing the powers that be are generally part of a team.  Their clients may have many lawyers, along with accountants, tax experts, media consultants, jury consultants and experts of every shape and form. My clients usually have a team that consists of one…..me. So, you have to get used to wearing many hats and filling many roles.  I quickly discovered that many times my clients come to me not because they need legal advice, but because they just need advice in general.  I am not sure why they choose me for this. Maybe it’s because they think they have a legal issue. Maybe it’s because they see me as a well-educated resource.  Maybe it’s because they think I am a person they can talk to in confidence. But for whatever reason, when you are a hometown lawyer, you’d better be prepared to hold forth on many varied subjects.  Oftentimes, the advice I give is not particularly legal advice, but just life advice.  It is very satisfying when people come to you thinking they are at the end of their rope, and after you give them some advice they find out that, not only is there a solution, there is also hope.  Funny how sometimes a little simple advice can make people think you have changed their lives.

 

One experience that I have had on several occasions is helping out clients who can’t read. If you’ve ever seen the movie Doc Hollywood, with Michael J. Fox, you will remember the scene where he is reading their mail to a patient and her husband.  Believe it or not, that has happened to ole Robbie on more than one occasion.  The first time was with an elderly client. He couldn’t read, but could tell when he got something that looked “official” in the mail. He showed up at my office one day with an official looking missive from the Social Security Administration. He asked me to read it for him. Thinking he wanted my opinion, I began to read it silently, when he looked at me and said “No. Read it TO me.” Turns out he had a neighbor who used to read for him, but the neighbor died and so, for some reason, I became the designated reader.  Not exactly high powered legal work, but you try to help everybody you can.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had chosen that career in law enforcement.  Especially now that I am in my 50’s and would have about 30 years in that line of work.  The irony is not lost on me that my friends who started out in law enforcement at the same time I would have are now either retired or about to retire while I, on the other hand, am still showing up for work every day.  But, such is life.

This could go on and on, but I will close by saying that I have found my career path to be very satisfying.  I know all the lawyer jokes. I also know that lawyers rank in popularity with used car salesmen and proctologists.  I think it is sad that 90% of lawyers seem to give the rest of us a bad name. But, the interesting thing is that while most people have a very dim view of lawyers, they usually think that THEIR lawyer is a pretty good guy, whom they genuinely trust.  I have been fortunate to have many of those clients over the years.  I am not a genius and I am no Clarence Darrow or Johnny Cochran. I am a pretty good lawyer, who has had the privilege of making a positive difference in the lives of regular people by providing them with legal counsel and advocacy, while guiding them through life’s challenges.  I haven’t gotten rich doing it, but I have made a good living and, occasionally I take home some fresh tomatoes or mustard greens. All in all, it’s not been a bad choice.

Another Voice: Born in the Heart

Sasha in Moscow, December 2003

Sasha in Moscow, December 2003

This is Laura, Sharon’s sister-in-law.  My husband and I adopted our two children from Russia in December, 2003.  I wanted to share some of our experiences because of the recent, and hopefully very short-lived, policy closing Russian adoptions to Americans.  Many of you reading this blog may not know about the Dima bill (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/russia-vladimir-putin-adoptions-bill_n_2374291.html) , or maybe you’re wondering why it is such a big deal.  Families made by adoption are just as real as families made by biology.  And the tragedy is that children are denied a family because of this spiteful political decision.

The process of international adoption begins with many, many forms and a mountain of paperwork to complete.  Financial information, tax returns, medical information, marriage license, birth certificates, a social worker completes a home study.  Applications to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service), fingerprinting with the FBI, background checks must be done.  And once everything is completed, each piece of paper has to be notarized, and then specially authenticated and sealed by the State office.  This authentication is called an “apostille” and it costs between $10 and $25 per seal.  The irony of the amount of time, expense and effort that goes into the process to “prove” yourself to be a fit parent when others can just have a baby was not lost on us.  I vividly remember months and months of effort to gather all the required documents.  I brought the pristine file of papers to the State office to be apostilled, and found a sweet woman who was eating cheese puffs at her desk.  I almost couldn’t bring myself to give her the file.  I couldn’t risk an orange smudge!  All that hard work!  She smiled and said she would have the forms completed within 2 hours.  I held my breath, and left her office.  And when I returned, my still-pristine documents were waiting for me, each one enclosed by an official form, and each embossed with a gold seal.  They were perfect!

An example of an apostille

An example of an apostille

Once the documents were all apostilled, they were sent off to be translated into Russian, and submitted to the Russian regional court.  So then we wait.  Adoption has been described as “pregnancy without a due date.”  Once everything was submitted, there was nothing to do but wait for them to contact you.  Fortunately, we received a letter from our region within a few months telling us that we were welcome to come and “pick out” our children.  This was great news, but how exactly does one pick out a child?

We booked our flight, packed, and brought toys for the children.  Excitement turned to panic in the airport as we waited to board our flight.  What were we doing?  Flying halfway around the world to a country where we couldn’t read or speak the language??  The panic subsided as I began to trust in what we spent over a year preparing for.  And the discoveries of traveling in an exotic country were priceless: On Russian airlines, every meal comes with smoked salmon, and they allow smoking in a compartment at the back of the plane!  The way to say “I don’t understand” in Russia sounds approximately like “Ya nee pah nee my you”.  This phrase came in handy when we pretended not to understand that we had to pay an overweight baggage fee.  The frustrated lady who could not speak English finally just waved us on.  The taxi drivers in our region could not understand my attempts at pronouncing the name of the hotel (and told me: “Ya nee pah nee my you”, ha ha!), but I was able to write down the name of the hotel in Russian, and they got it.

They have the same face! :)

They have the same face! 🙂

Soon after we arrived in our region, we went to the children’s home, which is the name of the orphanage for children from age 4 to about 10.  We met the orphanage director, and she brought about 15 children into the room and gave us a chance to interact with them.  We brought plastic Mardi gras beads and doubloons and passed them out to all the children.  One boy dropped his doubloon, and another boy with a crossed eye picked it up and gave it back to him.  How sweet!  That same boy with the crossed eye was asked to sing, and he sang a Russian song that made our adoption attorney cry.  Our hearts melted.  We asked about him.  Was he available?

Many Russian children are placed in orphanages when a parent/family cannot afford to keep them.  Often, the parent does not relinquish the child, maybe in the hopes that they will be able to take the child back when their situation has improved.  However, children that are not relinquished cannot be adopted.  Available children in orphanages are placed into a database, and for two months can only be adopted by Russians.  After that two-month period, the children are then available to be adopted internationally.  Our cross-eyed boy was available, and we started the paperwork to petition to adopt him.  The workers at the orphanage said that my husband and our son “had the same face” because they looked so much alike!

We next went to the baby’s home, which is the orphanage for newborn children to age 3.  We met many beautiful children again, and got to hold and cuddle with so many.  I tried to be as objective as possible, but just didn’t know how!  I had expected that we would adopt two boys, since there are more boys available.  However, I distinctly remember when they brought in a little girl.  All of a sudden, I just knew.  I reached out to hold my daughter.  It was meant to be.

The bonding process had begun, but we had to wait another 4 months before we were able to return to Russia to go to court to petition to adopt our children.  It was supposed to be shorter, but they discovered our son’s picture had not been posted on the Russian database, so we had to wait longer.  During that waiting, I had a dream that we were in Russia at the orphanage, and there was a party with many people.  I took my daughter and hid with her in a closet so no one would find her before I could bring her home.  I was so terrified of losing her!  And I worried that our son, who was older, didn’t understand where we were and why we weren’t coming back for him.  My heart breaks when I think of the families that were in the process of adopting children and now have that process terminated.  How can you leave your child/ren behind?

It was love at first sight!

It was love at first sight!

Fortunately, in our situation, our adoption was approved by the Russian court, and we were able to bring our children home.  We traveled halfway around the world to find them, but we knew them as soon as we saw them.  They were born in our hearts, and I am grateful for the miracles that took place for us to have the privilege and responsibility of being their parents.

Girl Talk: Jessica’s Letter to Her Midlife Self

Last week, I wrote a letter to my 25 year old self with the promise that my 25 year old friend Jessica was going to write a letter to her 50 year old self. I’m going to let her letter speak for itself. I am personally moved to tears at this moment thinking of what dreams my 25 year old self had for me, realized and unrealized. Enjoy! And, to access her blog and keep up with her, find her at runmem.wordpress.com.

Dearest Jessica,

If you are reading this, congratulations!   You have made it to “mid-life.”  Your 25 year-old self is very curious about what your life is like as she sits here in a coffee shop in Austin, Texas with the path ahead of her completely open.  The possibilities and uncertainty are exhilarating and terrifying.  These past three months we have never felt so alone, confused, free or lost in our short life.  Don’t forget these days, they are shaping the person you are right now, and they were tough for you.  Fun, but tough (remember that when you encounter girls in their mid-twenties.  You may be looking at them thinking you know how to do it, but try to remember how confused and isolated by possibility you felt at this time in your life).  Give them a smile or words of encouragement because they are looking at you to show them they can make it.  And not only make it to 50 but thrive.

Some of Jessica’s “midlife” friends…me and Linda

I hope you’ve learned how to chop an onion.

I’m sure you’re possibly feeling old and maybe even a little senile but stop that.  You’ve had 25 additional years of life, a privilege denied to many.  I imagine the past 25 years have had some incredible celebrations and accomplishments.  Perhaps you’ve completed the goals I have for you at this moment in our life – to run a half-marathon in every state (we’re sittin’ pretty at 9 states right now), to write a book (not sure about what yet, but you’ve recently had a pretty fantastic love story you’d like to share) and to own your own business (preferably some sort of fitness facility – currently we’re exploring options).  If you have, I’m so proud of you and know that the discipline and hard work I’m developing right now are key to that success.   Additionally, I hope if you’ve completed those three goals, you’ve set new ones.  Never stop growing, learning, creating, exploring or moving.  Continue running around the world since you’ve conquered the country.  Open another location of your business.  Write a sequel.  I believe, and refuse to be told that it’s only because I’m naive and young, that we can do anything in this life, and we will do great things together.

You’re never too old to call mama, swing on a swingset.  Or go dancing.

But also, I know there’s probably a chance you got lost along the way.  Life happens and these next 25 years will be tough.  Chances are you’ve lost momsie or popsicle.  If you haven’t, call them today.  Call them now.  Maybe you injured yourself and had to give up running.  Maybe you had to fight through cancer and your business dreams were put on hold.  Maybe you moved away from Austin.  And moved again.  You always had sort of a wanderlusting spirit.  There’s a chance we never settled down long enough to start that business.  Maybe your prince charming never showed up to help you finish the story.  You are strong though, and a fighter.  Don’t give up, and remember, you’re the boss.

You’re never too young to start a savings account.

Or maybe you lassoed a cowboy and he talked you into having children.  Don’t lose your dreams in them.  If you did get married, go give your husband a big kiss – he’s a brave man for wanting to share your life with you – it’s a big one.  But he’s also lucky to have you and I hope you don’t settle for anything less than what you learned about love this past summer from the man you’ll never forget (and who knows, maybe it’s him).  Just remember, you believe in a great love story.  And you are the author.

Music moves you.

But enough about him, we are working hard now to be content with us – a battle that I’m certain will follow and haunt us through the next 25 years.  I’m sure 50 comes with its own set of self-doubt, beauty issues and comparison traps.  Embrace your gray.  Some of the most beautiful women in your young life have long, silver hair.  Keep getting your nails done.  We never were big on makeup, don’t start now – your smile is free and easy to put on.  Keep buying sexy underwear.  Even if there’s no one in your life to appreciate it but you.  It’s amazing the confidence that comes from matching black lace under jeans and a tee shirt.

Never stop learning.  Your girlfriends have always been more important to you than the boys.  Maybe there’s a special boy who has your heart now but don’t ever forget your girlfriends.  I hope, like your mother and several mentors before you, you make time to reunite with just the girls every year or two.  In some place exotic – taking time to do silly girly things like braid each others hair, talk about your husbands, boyfriends and lovers, dreams and fears and struggles, painting nails and eating chocolate along the way.

Don’t forget you like to climb to the tops of things (literally and metaphorically) – the view is always worth the 558 or 931 steps.

Jessica’s Memphis battalion

I’m an old soul so I’m fairly certain you and I will get along just fine.  At this young age I’ve already made friends with several women who have served as role models to demonstrate that it’s not a boring life just because you hit 5-0.  Remember these relationships – you have many excellent female role models in your life – your mama, the entrepreneurs you met in your 20s, and brilliantly fearless friends.  You can travel, you can love – yourself and your life and all those in it.  Release the fear.

Have you been to Spain yet?

If you’re feeling lost, come back to the free-spirited girl that’s writing you this letter.  Don’t let the world harden you.  Step away from the technology that I’m sadly sure is even more a part of daily routine.  Write a letter.  Set a coffee date with a friend.  Remember that we know the best path for ourself; trust it.  Remember that our family (friends included) is the most important thing in this life.  And remember to love yourself.  I am certain the next 25 years will be ripe with successes and failures.  Disappointments and big surprises.  Adventures and pleasures in the simple everyday life.  Find a porch swing, put your cowgirl boots on, ask someone to dance and kick some ass.

But no matter what, I know you’ve spread your love and grace to many in the past 25 years, and I hope the same for the next 25.  I’m looking forward to creating you.  And when in doubt, remember what Daddy (and Nike for that matter) said when he was 57 – “Just do it”.

Love,

Jess

Another Voice: Yellowstone, Pt. 3-Practicing These Principles In All My Affairs

Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing.
Albert Schweitzer
Courage to Change, Dec. 9, p.344

Manual for living

If I were to have a tombstone, that is the quote I’d want on it. It has been my mantra for, oh I don’t know, 15-20 years. Through my time in the rooms of recovery, I’ve realized how many examples have influenced me, good, bad and somewhere in between.

The folks to whom I’ve been most attracted are those who live principled lives…not perfect, but principled. Sharon has been writing about the Principles of AA; I want to talk about the principles that have become mine through the study and practice of the Twelve Steps, Traditions, and Concepts. But beyond having principles, it’s living them.

Mine include faith, trust, honesty, open mindedness, willingness, humility, awareness, acceptance, action, gratitude, attitude, and service. By keeping those front and center, my life is much more manageable. I’m grateful that I had these to guide me as I navigated the challenges Yellowstone presented.

Peace

I had faith that my Higher Power would be with me through the entire journey. I trusted that I had sufficient program to face the challenges put before me, so long as I used the tools. I tried to be honest in my dealings and open minded as challenges presented themselves. I prayed to be aware of my defects and assets, to accept what was presented, and to act when I thought it appropriate. By having an attitude of gratitude, I was better able to keep people, events and things in proper perspective.

Was I always centered and serene? Hell no! But neither did I go flying around the room backward. I took my inventory; I called my sponsor and recovery friends; I read our literature; I prayed and meditated; I tried to keep the focus on me and not on others.

Calm

Acting on principle is sorta like praying for me. It becomes a more conscious choice for me in stressful or unfamiliar situations. That held true in Yellowstone. When I was presented the opportunity to work at Old Faithful, when I was learning my job, when I was interrogated about the questionable actions of a fellow employee and friend, when my roommate was struggling to hang onto her job, when I was interviewed for a more demanding and higher paying position, when I was required to work in unfamiliar areas, when I got a new roommate for the last two weeks I was there, when I was dealing with a health concern, when I was met with financial shortfalls, each of these gave me the chance to act on my principles…not my inclinations.

For me, the nicest thing about being principled is that my internal life is serene. Now, that doesn’t mean that I never am anxious, make mistakes, choose badly, or hurt someone. It does mean, however, that I know I can recover from such missteps, let go, and move on. What a gift!

Serenity

Another Voice: Yellowstone, Pt. 2-Blessings

Wyoming thru my windshield

So, if my summer experience at Yellowstone was so challenging, just why exactly do I want to return? Simple…all the blessings I received.

They started with my 1650-mile drive out there. I love getting behind the wheel of my car and striking out on a trip. This one featured amazing countryside, and how could I have not felt blessed when I was able to stay with family and friends, enjoying great company AND free lodging?

Heritage Park
Junction City, KS

Typically, however, my trips don’t include dipsy-dos through interstate mediuns, as this one did on I-70 in Junction City, Kansas. Not only was a high-speed crash avoided, neither I nor my car suffered any damage. I also got to see a lovely, quaint small town as my brand-new GPS directed me to the nearest Firestone so I could make certain my 100,000 mile Focus was indeed okay. (I’d resisted buying a GPS prior to this trip. Glad I listened to that little voice urging me to get one.). Oh, and the fellow who started the whole thing because he didn’t notice me passing him at 75 mph as he yielded for merging traffic into my lane? He actually pulled onto the shoulder and waited to see if I was okay. What a thoughtful, kind gesture, and it greatly eased my aftershock.

Now, about the amazing scenery…wow.

Catching wind

From the windmills in Kansas, to the Rockies in Colorado, to the red rocks of Wyoming, to the vistas of the Gallatin National Forest, to the magnificence of the Grand Tetons, and to the geysers, terraces, canyons, rivers, meadows, hot springs, mud pots, valleys, caldera, waterfalls, lakes, and mountain ranges of Yellowstone, the variety and beauty of terrain and geology provided unceasing daily blessings. These were enhanced as the the vibrant green of summer changed to the subtle bronze, burgundy, straw and mocha of autumn.

Firehole River, Sept. 2012

The cloud formations, sunrises, sunsets, moon and stars were glorious. One of my more unique experiences was during the Perseid meteor shower when several of us were stretched out on the benches at Old Faithful listening to the geyser erupt as we gazed at the stars. Even more memorable was an exquisite double rainbow I witnessed as Old Faithful erupted. And then there was my awe while driving early the morning of August 31, watching both the blue moon set in front of me and the first blush of color from the rising sun in my rearview mirror. Wow, wow, and wow!

Double parked

And then there are the critters! Though I didn’t see lions or tigers, I did spot a grizzly (bear, not NBA player), as well as coyote, moose, elk, deer, bison, bald eagle, osprey, heron, pelican, swan, big horn sheep, pronghorn sheep, badger, ground squirrels, butterflies, lizards and snakes. Hearing the coyotes howl at night was haunting, and having bison wander pretty much anywhere they wanted was unexpected. I wish I could post the video I took of a large herd of bison fording the Lamar River, but a picture will have to suffice. It was straight out of a John Wayne movie.

Home on the range

Chief Joseph

Speaking of history (Old westerns are history, right?), I love both history and science, and Yellowstone is all about history and science. Thanks to nightly ranger talks, I learned about the discovery of what was to become the Park, the saga of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians, how Park management has evolved over its 140-year history, the role the railroads played in its development, how tourism in the Park has changed over time, what makes Yellowstone’s geology so unique, and the intricacies of its ecology.

Summer home

Being able to work in the Old Faithful area was also wonderful. It meant that I lived and worked in the most visited area of the Park where I was never bored. I had a multitude of geysers, hot springs, trails, and educational opportunities to explore. Given that I was initially assigned to another location, I realize how blessed I was by the convoluted turn of events that coalesced into my working at the perfect spot for me.

Business dinner

I was also blessed by my work colleagues, the guests I served, and the folks with whom I lived and played. I was fascinated by our differing backgrounds and reasons for being in Yellowstone. Despite my fear of being judged and looking stupid, pretty much everyone with whom I dealt was kind, supportive, patient and respectful. Plus, we shared lots of lots of laughs, good times, and adventures.

Sisters

Without a doubt, my most precious blessings were the visits that I had from friends and family. The most unexpected was discovering that a friend from decades past has a second home not far from the Park. How heart warming it was to reconnect and visit with her! Even better, though, was having my sister visit for a week. Remembering her time there and having her show me her favorite places was priceless.

Of course I want to return to Yellowstone! Though next summer won’t be a repeat of this one, I trust it will be as special in its own right…and also filled with many blessings.

Warning!

P.S. Shoot, I almost forgot one. While traveling I-70 through Kansas on my way home, I was pulled over by a local yokel cop (what is it about me in Kansas?) for doing 10 over and driving in the left lane. BUT, he gave me only a warning. Woohoo!!

Another Voice: Yellowstone, Pt. 1-My Summer Adventure

Forward:  KJ here. You know those times when you’re wondering why in the world you agreed to do something? That would be now for me. Despite a decades-long career as a business writer, I’m terrified by having said “yes” when Sharon asked me to write for her blog while she’s off having a blast in Costa Rica and collecting more fabulous adventures for this blog. What was I thinking??? But, here goes. Sharon will be back no later than next Monday, Nov. 19.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
Abraham Maslow

Grand Prismatic Spring

“Was it wonderful?” or something along those lines is typically how folks ask about my four months working in Yellowstone National Park.

“Yes,” I reply with a big smile, when I choose not to be forthcoming, but the real answer is, “Sorta….”

The idea for my summer adventure was planted 15 years ago when my sister and I visited Yellowstone for a couple of days. When we realized working there was a possibility, we hatched a plan to try and do that once we retired. She was the trailblazer (isn’t that the older sister’s job??), and I finally followed in her footsteps this year. It really was wonderful, but it was also challenging, discomfiting, awkward, lonely, scary, and painful.

My sister’s pic

You see, two of my biggest fears are being judged and looking stupid. So what possessed me to go to an unfamiliar place and take a job unlike any I’ve ever held, where I knew absolutely no one? Well, it is Yellowstone, after all, which is an amazing, beautiful, endlessly fascinating natural wonder. But beyond the pull of the Park, I had a desire to do something I thought would be fun and outside my box. After all, my sister not only survived it, she thrived. I thought I just might, too. Besides I figured, it wouldn’t kill me, and I could leave if I decided being there wasn’t the right thing for me. You know, it was a growth opportunity….

Old Faithful Lodge where I worked

My job was Guest Services Agent, a.k.a. front desk clerk. Countless times I doubted that I’d ever be good at it. For the first 6 weeks, all I felt was stupid as I struggled to learn the computer system, familiarized myself with the Park’s features, trails, and activities, handled money, and helped guests. Most all of it was on-the-job learning because I received only 4 days of formal training.

My side

In addition to the challenges of the job, I was living dormitory style among complete strangers. Adjusting myself to three others (a roommate and two suitemates) while being clear and kind about my boundaries took work, especially after living alone for 9 years. Oh, and did I mention I’m an introvert who loves her alone time and her privacy?? In other words, I spent a good deal of time nowhere near my comfort zone.

On the way to physical therapy

Finally, financial constraints, work schedule, and an unexpected health issue put constraints on many of the things I wanted to experience. I couldn’t afford to explore the Park and surrounding areas, my always changing work schedule made finding a hiking partner difficult (one generally doesn’t hike alone at Yellowstone), and my health problem required my driving 90 minutes to physical therapy weekly and two hours to doctor’s appointments. Doesn’t sound like the makings of a fun summer does it?

Yet, when I’m asked, “Will you return?” my honest answer is, “Yes.” The insights and reminders I gained about myself, my feeling of accomplishment, a job that I grew to love, the fun I had, and living in Yellowstone for 4 months, comprise one of the high points of my life. If you have something you’ve thought about attempting for a while and you’ve reached the point where you can do it, have at it. I hope it will mean as much to you as my Yellowstone adventure has meant to me.

Beehive Geyser

Get in shape…Jessica’s workout for making your backside your best side.

RUNMEM

I’ve been noticing a familiar pain in my ass (and that’s literal, not metaphorical) reappearing every now and then.  Last time it was hangin’ around I referred to it as the PITA.  It hangs around mostly in my right glute but occasionally transforms into a tugging sensation and pain in my low back.  If I catch it early (which I hope I have), I can incorporate a few stretching and strength moves to keep it calm.  No one likes a PITA, especially an angry one.

Last night in my free weekly core class at the Texas Running Company, I had a few students who also completed the IBM 10k on Sunday.  With recovery for legs in mind, and treatment for the PITA, I took out most of the harder full body cardio moves and one of the rounds of lunges.  Instead we focused more on our actual abs and the…

View original post 180 more words