Sundays in Saugatuck: Listening to Dragonfly

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I thought I might head out for a hike today, but, alas, it is raining. So, for the third week in a row, I headed up to Saugatuck for my seat at Uncommon Coffee Roasters. The cushy chairs were waiting for me. I plopped my stuff down and ordered my mocha in a real coffee mug. Let the new Sunday tradition begin.

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Ashok looks cute but had to wait in the car anyway.

The dragonfly card popped up in my spread of my Medicine Cards today. As usual, dragonfly delivered a message that directly applied to my world. I actually called my friend Jessica this morning and spoke almost the exact words in the reading. Native Americans say that dragonfly was once a dragon, and he flew around transforming things with his fiery breath. One day Coyote played a trick on him and transformed him into a dragonfly. Dragon ended up losing his power because he allowed someone else to change him.

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After our run yesterday, Ashok rolled in the tiny bit of snow that was available.

The reading tells me that I am holding on to some illusion that is restricting my actions. I’ve been struggling with my people-pleasing tendencies lately, and that’s what prompted my call to Jessica this morning. Trying to twist myself into something or somebody that other people will like is not working for me. And, honestly, if they don’t like me, they don’t like me. In this particular situation, the change expected of me is not behavioral but personal. I am who I am with my own set of unique gifts and faults. And I honestly think if I could change, they still wouldn’t like me anyway. It’s about them. It’s not about me.

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Oddly enough, I have on my dragonfly earrings today. “Misery is a prime clue that you lost your will and personal validity when you bought into someone else’s idea of who or what you should be,” says dragonfly. “Who am I then?” I ask dragonfly, knowing the answer somewhere deep in my soul. I spent so many years of my life following someone else’s rules that misery was my constant state of being. But the soul never gives up trying to breathe. I can stuff it down as far as I want, but the soul never dies. It wants to BE who it is … no matter how long it takes.

I know I am still evolving. I know I am not perfect. I know that I continue to work on my personal challenges, and I see progress slowly but surely. I also know that I am talented. I am funny. I am courageous. My friends say that my special gift is helping others see how wonderful they really are. I actually sort of like that person that can help others love themselves. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

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The holidays are upon us. I’m excited about spending some time in Chicago and plans with friends. I’m looking for a 5k to run in December to cap off my successful running season. It’s been years since I’ve been able to run uninjured. Jessica has been coaching me since July, and I’ve been running a 5K every month. Yesterday Ashok and I ran a 5-miler in South Haven, and it felt great – albeit cold. I could run the Speedo 5k in Chicago or the Whoville 5k in Grand Rapids or a New Year’s Eve run. Hmmm … they all sound kind of fun. I’m just very grateful to be running. Along with all the other stuff that my souls longs to be, I suppose it likes to run.   Not sure about the bikini in December though… 

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Finding Laughter in the Darkness

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I was searching for new podcasts a couple of weeks ago. I wanted something that was not political, informative and thought-provoking. I listen to one called Women on the Road about women who live in campers and travel all the time. One of my favorites is How I Built This about entrepreneurs who made it really big. They have featured the builders of Eileen Fisher, Five Guys and Starbucks. I thought humor might be a good addition to my library, and I found one called The Hilarious World of Depression. Hmmmmm… really? Hilarious? Not my experience of depression, for sure.

I had some windshield time yesterday, so I plugged in and listened to a couple of episodes. So far, they are interviewing comedians who struggle with depression. They are somewhat funny, but the focus is their journey with depression. A friend of mine asked if that seemed odd that comedians would have depression, but, as a sufferer of depression, it makes perfect sense to me. Who can articulate the wildly insane world of mental illness better than someone who writes or performs? And since depression separates us from reality, we see all of its quirks and ironies.

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Depression is more of a numbness for me. Sometimes I feel sad, but mostly I just feel down and hopeless. I describe it as feeling like I’m in a box or as if I’m a small child hiding in a corner. There is a heaviness in my heart that I can only describe as weighted weariness. Moving around feels monumental. I watch the world disconnectedly as if reality is a movie where I didn’t get a part. The hardest part is feeling disconnected …. disconnected from my emotions, my relationships and from my hopes and dreams. The landscape is a movie screen. And it’s not even a really good movie. Is this all there is? 

Listening to these comedians talk about their darkest days and their journey with depression has been very comforting in an odd sort of way. People tell me that I often describe what they are going through in my blog, and it helps them to hear it described in prose. Sometimes – they say – it gives them words to describe their feelings. That’s exactly how I feel listening to this podcast. Even people who are famous and successful and wildly funny have periods where they sink into the dark hole of depression. Often, their inner world is at its darkest when they are at the peak of their success.

So, I just thought I’d pass this on. If you suffer from depression, it could be a warm blanket on a dark day. If you live with someone who suffers from depression, it will most certainly provide some insight on why they can’t “snap out of it” or use positive thinking to shift their mood. Most of all, I hope it will provide the perspective that depression doesn’t limit you unless you don’t get help. There is help available, and there is success and laughter and hope after – and even during – depression.

 

The Indiscriminate Taskmaster

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This morning I am enjoying downtown St. Joe in its post-summer quietness with a mocha (decaf), the book Quiet Your Mind by John Selby and my sweet Ashok. A chipmunk just raced across the road which perked her up as I dove into Shelby’s thoughts on how judgement impacts others and, more specifically, our own minds.

The first premise he asserts is that we all judge. We see a dark alley, and we judge that it is not safe. We see our unclean house, and our critical minds asserts that we are messy. A friend says that they are $10K in debt on their credit card as they charge up a new dress, and we think to ourselves that they need to be more financially savvy. And we tell a grieving friend that they need to trust God. Judgements keep us safe, destroy our peace of mind and confidence and ruin relationships. I first need to accept that I judge and stop judging myself about that.

I have been judged harshly by others about my lifestyle. People have judged me and condemned me for my divorces. Some people even judge me for feeling and expressing my opinions. In a really odd turn of events, others judge me for working on my problems. It is painful to be judged. And, lately, as I’ve been sinking into my meditation practice, I have become aware of how much I judge.

Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Experienced meditators say there is no way to do that. Our brain thinks. That’s what it does. Our body breathes. We can’t stop it from breathing either. The goal of meditation is to ground yourself and just notice what goes on in your brain without following the thoughts down the rabbit hole. I’m going to follow them down the rabbit hole inevitably when one interests me, and then I judge myself for doing it. I breathe, and I judge myself for trying to control the breath instead of just watching it flow. “STOP doing that, I tell myself,” as the meditation guide says to be gentle with yourself and don’t judge yourself for going down the rabbit hole.

My mind is a never-ending stream of thoughts and judgements and fears that are at once profound and a meaningless waste of time. One of my yoga teachers said that the mind that tells us to eat the apple pie is the same mind that berates us after we do. We are not our thoughts, and our thoughts are not excellent guides. I would love to study more about what creates our thoughts, and maybe that is something I will research later. Meditation sometimes relaxes me, but it is sometimes extremely frustrating. Following my thoughts can keep me constantly contradicted.

My thoughts are often the reflection of criticisms I’ve received in the past. It’s as if the very words that cut me to the bone get stuck in a recording that plays itself back to me throughout my day.  I feel confident that I was productive and creative, and I hear a disapproving parent telling me that “every time you think you screw up.” I feel healthy after a great run, and a long-ago passer-by says “hey fat-ass!” Luckily, therapy and healthy friends have recorded complimentary messages that counteract my everyday failures as well. When my house is a mess, I hear a good friend’s comment that “your house is your home. You can keep it how you like it.” When I snap off at a colleague, I hear a therapist’s message “No one is perfect. That’s why we have apologies.” The brain, it seems, is an indiscriminate recorder that plays its messages with no particular motive. In fact, sometimes I get two or three contradictory messages at once that can paralyze and confuse me

I’m playing with not reacting to my thoughts in meditation, and I’m finding that I’m playing with not reacting to my thoughts in real life. I’m becoming more aware of the content of my thoughts and my gut reaction to them. No wonder I was being jerked around so much by the thoughts in my head. Without awareness, they are a brutal taskmaster.

I’m Not Weird… Just Highly Sensitive

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I always knew I was sensitive. But I was surrounded by people who thought it was a fatal flaw. Toughen up…. don’t be so sensitive … you need to learn to cope with life … you are weak … insults around my sensitivity engulfed me. As I tried to process things like anger, sarcasm, violent movies and interpersonal drama, I struggled immensely.

I became depressed for the first time in my teens. All I wanted to do was hang out in my room, paint my nails and listen to my record player. Something was wrong with me, I told myself. How will I ever cope with my life? Why did God make me like this? Didn’t he know how hard this would be to live like this? I knew I couldn’t stop the “incoming” that was pushing my buttons everyday.

I eventually found alcohol and marijuana and started self-medicating. Of course that didn’t help either, but it helped me check out from the pressure of my overwhelming sensitivity to the world and its impact on my psyche. When I got sober in my mid-twenties, I found myself back in a world where I felt assaulted continuously. I really didn’t know how I would manage. It was just hard to be alive.

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I don’t remember when I found the book The Highly Sensitive PersonI’m pretty sure a therapist recommended it to me. I finally recognized myself, and there was nothing wrong with me. I was just sensitive to my environment. Anger overwhelmed me. My feelings drowned me. I needed lots of downtime to decompress from what others might describe as day-to-day drama. And the author offered tools for self-care and living a normal life.

I don’t know about other countries, but our culture doesn’t accept sensitive people as an asset. If we aren’t tough and in your face, we are considered weak. If I am empathetic to others, I’m a snowflake. I had a coworker tell me once that he couldn’t even have a conversation with me because I didn’t watch TV or violent movies. I feel out of step with society at times because of the way I have to “lock down” the intrusions upon my world. In order for me to show up at work in a demanding job, take care of the many tasks that single people have to handle and manage the many personal relationships that an extrovert craves, I have to be really clear about my needs. I don’t function well when I’m overwhelmed. And I know my limits.

I think I’m a good writer because I’m sensitive. I notice little things that others don’t see. I find the words that describe the smallest details that make life special. I’m a good teacher because I sense when others don’t understand. I’m a good strategist because I see connections everywhere. I anticipate problems at work way before anyone else can see them because I’m always asking questions and trying to understand the needs of others. My affinity for being immersed in my inner life makes me unique … not weird. 

If you think you might be a highly sensitive person, here are some resources for you. If you love someone who is a highly sensitive person, take a look at this material. Understand that there is nothing wrong with them, and they don’t have to “toughen up”. They just need to learn how to arrange their world so that they feel safe contributing. Our world needs more sensitive people. But we are often hiding under mushrooms. Make it safe for us to shine.

Resources for highly sensitive people can be found on this website. There’s even a quiz you can take. If you answer yes to 14 items on the quiz, you are highly sensitive. I had 23! And some areas have Meetup groups where you can meet others like you!

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Seeing Others as We Are: Projection

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There have been people in my life who offer me feedback and I think, “Who are they talking about?” I get a confused feeling in my gut that tells me that something is wrong. I’ve received critical feedback that is dead on, and it feels differently in my gut. I may not like it, but I know it’s truth.

This feeling in my gut when I hear feedback that doesn’t even sound like me triggers all my codependency urges. This experience is old. It goes back to a time when my motives and my very being were run through a filter that distorted who I was. People who have those filters – psychology calls it projecting – are generally unaware but believe vehemently that what they see in the other person is truth. In fact they are looking at a mirror image of themselves.

I’ve spent way too many hours of my time in these discussions where I try to explain myself or point out the facts in my life that do not support that view. But because they have to believe it to support their own denial, They are invested more in defending their perspective than in the health of the relationship. I usually begin the task I describe as “trying to nail jello to a tree”. It never works. I get exhausted, and the relationship crumbles due to the very personal nature of the conflict.

Projection is so hard to combat because the person projecting really believes that what they are seeing is true. And I know I’ve projected things on to people. It’s sort of a normal human thing, but it becomes even more distorted and dangerous to relationships when people are not self-aware of their own shortcomings. I’m certainly not an expert in this as I’m not a psychologist but I have become more aware of  its impact on my life as I’ve worked through problems over the years. And I recognize it much more readily now.

This article explains projection in much more detail. It also brings up the very real possibility that because someone projects something onto us about their own disfunction many times, we start to believe that is who we are. Words become reality because our inner critic takes up the mantra. Years and years of hearing those words in our heads ends up creating the monster projected. Truth really doesn’t matter. Words do, in fact, kill.

What is the answer if you’ve been impacted by years and years of projection? Find out who you really are, and immerse yourself in that life. Question the criticism of people in your life instead of just believing it without evidence. Silence the voice in your head by paying more attention to the people who see the real you. Stop trying to argue with people who project on to you and realize they will never see you as a person. Get some psychological help or go to a support group so you hear alternative voices that can help you reframe reality. One day you will be able to confidently say, “That’s not even me they are talking about,” and you will truly recognize it.

In healing, you get to create the life you want instead of the one that is handed to you. There is no greater gift.

 

Randomness: Be Unforgettable

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They say that memories are burned into your brain in direct correlation with the intensity of the emotions you felt at the time. If an event happens that doesn’t affect you at all emotionally, there is little chance you will remember it in much detail. If you are abused or afraid or intensely angry or even joyful, you will remember every tiny detail. And in most cases, the emotion will bubble up or even sideline you with a similar intensity when you remember it later.

One of my favorite books is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. He says if you show a genuine interest in people by asking them questions about themselves and really listening, they will tell everyone they know what a great conversationalist you are. The words we speak don’t make the difference. It’s the way we make people feel that makes us memorable.

That knife cuts both ways, too. How do you want to be remembered? Who do you remember because of the way you made them feel?

 

Anger vs. Rage

“Anger is a healthy emotion,” said one of my best Christian counselors. “When you notice you are feeling angry, take a minute and evaluate who or what is hurting you.”

“What?” I asked. “You mean you don’t just squash whoever is standing in front of you?” I laughed at the absurdity of being able to sort out anger rationally. 

She explained that anger protects us. It tells us when we are unsafe emotionally or physically. It is our responsibility to set a boundary, get ourselves out of the situation or relationship or act on our behalf in some way. We can’t make the other person change, but we can protect ourselves in many other ways. But until we understand what really hurts or scares us, we can’t react effectively. 

Rage is pent-up, unexpressed, ancient anger that has turned into a dangerous cauldron of putrid vomit. Whoever is in its way gets splattered in vitriol that has nothing to do with them. Rage kills everything inside the person who chokes it down. While anger can inform you of what needs to change, rage has nothing to do with the present moment.

Summer’s Sensuous Kiss

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After an early dinner, I decided to take Ashok for a walk downtown. The muggy, rainy morning had transformed into a gorgeous sunny afternoon with just a hint of a breeze. And I had time to kill.

Bustling with summer vacationers and weekend visitors from Illinois, Saint Joe was dressed in its summer finest. With a stroke of luck, I found a a parking spot on Main Street, and we walked down by the bluff and headed to Silver Beach. If shoppers weren’t eating ice cream or shopping for Great Lakes souvenir wear, they were photographing children sitting on the painted fish that decorate every corner. With equal measure, children were laughing and playing or crying from sheer exhaustion after a long day in the sunshine. It is summertime in Michigan.

For months I’ve strolled the beaches and the streets with my dog. Parking was crazy easy to find, and it was rare to see people just hanging out on the benches in town. If you were downtown, you had a reason to be there. The snow and wind and bone-chilling temps of winter kept people inside drinking hot chocolate and visiting with friends. With spring’s approach, every flower burst into bloom, and the people started to come. Summer’s peak arrived Memorial Day weekend, and now I am grateful if I can find a parking spot.

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This morning’s farmer’s market was crowded. I bought fruits and vegetables for the week. As of five o’clock yesterday, I am on vacation. I packed road food purchased at the market. Smoked whitefish, creamy artisan cheese, local blueberries and peaches, homemade pesto and a boatload of just-picked veggies will satisfy my hunger on the long drive. While the crowds arrive here for their vacation, I will head north – as far north as I can drive.

But tonight we walked downtown and out on the jetty by the lighthouse. Tourists who left their dogs at home stopped to pet Ashok. The cutest curly-haired twin girls squealed with delight as they saw her, and hugged and petted her. One of them wouldn’t leave her side as we walked away, and her father finally had to go pick her up and put her on his shoulders. She burst into tears to see her go.

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It was warm tonight, but I didn’t even break into a sweat until I was headed back downtown. I thought about July in Louisiana as I walked down the jetty in the sunshine. It would’ve been brutal to walk around downtown Baton Rouge at 5 PM this time of year. The cabana on the beach had a sign out front that read “reserved”, and a couple stood inside getting their photos taken as they staged flowers for a sunset wedding. White sheers flapped in the breeze as the bride giggled and fell into her lover’s arms.

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I did the math as I was walking back downtown. It’s almost the first of August. In 6-8 weeks, our temps will start dropping a bit as we slowly start the descent into winter. It won’t be long until I need a jacket to walk to the beach. And in a snap, Lake Michigan will be frozen. Summer is fleeting in Michigan. While I love autumn’s crisp air and even crispier apples, it comes too quickly in a northern climate. Summer is more than precious to Michiganders. It is divine.

Today I took the perfect bite of a Michigan summer. Sweet, sweet blueberries and peaches tickling my tongue ….. a bustling downtown ringing in my ears ….. the sparkle and bubble of Lake Michigan and its fabulous boats in my sights …. a sunset wedding tugging at my heart …. it was all here today. As I passed the Silver Beach carousel, I heard the cackle of joyful children over the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. I giggled to myself. Christmas will be here in a minute.  I live here nowthis is home …. this beautiful place … where summer in its golden finery has at last stolen my heart.

 

 

 

Savoring My Life

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As my meditation journey continues, I’m shocked at how differently I’m experiencing the world around me. In fact, I should say that I’m actually experiencing the world around me. As mindful as I tried to be in the past, the meditation takes it to a whole new level.

I took an online course Friday night on how meditation changes the brain. A neuroscientist on Yoga International created this course that explained the parts of the brain, what they control and how meditation impacts them. It actually shrinks the size of the amygdala, the primary area that governs emotional reactions to danger. After being in an abusive relationship years ago, I learned that this almond-shaped brain part was responsible for my PTSD-like reactions. It was not only reacting to the moment but pulling up data about danger from my entire life. Meditation grows other parts of the brain, helps other areas improve their work and shrinks the fight-or-flight engines.

Joy is becoming more and more of a daily state. I’m still getting frustrated and angry and tired at times, but the level of intensity is much reduced. I’m also getting lots of insights on how to handle my emotions but also my work in a much more focused way. It’s hard to describe, but I feel really grounded and present. And I’m craving meditation time.

I just finished a course on the 10% Happier app using meditation to create emotional agility. The teacher, Oren Sofer, said that he likes to think that being agile with your emotions makes you the most powerful person in the room. I would have to agree. As a rule, humans either react to their emotions or repress them. Either way, the very important information they provide becomes useless or distorted just when you need them.

One of the meditations led me through an exercise where I brought up a very emotional situation in my mind. I felt the fear and anger rise in me as if the event was happening right before me all over again. He asked me to drop the story and just pay attention to what was going on in my body. I realized that the edges of the emotion felt somewhat jagged, and it sort of set up house around my chest and heart area. Then he asked me to go inside and get a sense of what I was really feeling. It was sort of amazing. I wasn’t feeling fear and anger so much as I was feeling unloveable and devalued. I WAS the little girl who was berated and ignored. I was at once sad, afraid and confused. The emotion was not only big but it was ancient. My reaction in that moment with a person I barely knew was the same emotion that I’ve known forever. It was familiar, huge and debilitating.

After sitting in that feeling and breathing into it, it began to change. And, all of a sudden, it disappeared. This took place in about 12 minutes. Oren says that when we actually pay attention to an emotion without judging it and reacting to it, it will do one of four things – increase, decrease, change or disappear. Apparently, emotion just want to be felt. It is our information center. It teaches us, and it reminds us of our needs.

This morning I made my coffee and was considering journaling while I drank it. But I realized that I wanted to just take in the moment with my coffee and my animals. Not only was I craving my morning caffeine, but I was craving the savoring of the moment. What I’m finding that as I practice meditation, I become more mindful of everything. I don’t worry so much about the future nor do I ruminate about my past. I am present. My senses are electrified. My appreciation of daily events is becoming awe. As with my coffee, I’m beginning to savor my life.

 

Celebrating the Decade of Me

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Today is a celebration.

Today is the 10 year anniversary of me learning to say “when” in a committed, pronounced, impactful way. I won’t get into the details since the story doesn’t matter,  but suffice it to say that what I did ushered in the best decade of my life. In fact, I’d say it’s the only decade where I learned to be Sharon, to stand up for myself and to differentiate my wants and needs from other people’s demands. In some ways it feels like it was a selfish decade, but a part of me says that doesn’t matter anyway. Learning to say no is a selfish act but one that ushers in great freedom and creativity. The energy I spent trying to be what another wanted is now directed toward what I want. And it feels very, very good.

 

So, I looked up my Shiatsu massage therapist from 15 years ago and booked a delicious session. Annemarie is amazing. Shiatsu is a type of massage that uses acupressure (similar in nature to acupuncture but without needles). When I was here before and struggling with depression, one session with Annemarie would shift me out of depression immediately. Now that I’m not plagued with depression, the session offered a lovely big hug that that told me I was loved unconditionally and inspired me to continue on a path that is uniquely mine.

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She recommended a visit to the Valparaiso Farmer’s Market and then suggested I try a unique coffee shop called Dagger Mountain. The coffee roastery is located in an industrial park. Thank goodness for GPS or I would have never found it. The cute little cozy shop is entered by walking through the open garage door. Inside it is just like the best little coffee shops I’ve ever visited.

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They are serious about their coffee. The single origin black coffee is served black only to showcase the flavor but they do have some espresso options. I opted for the Miel coffee drink which is espresso, steamed milk, honey and cinnamon. It is absolutely divine. I have finally – after being here just short of a year – found my coffee home. It’s just too bad it’s an hour away. But I can drive.

I lived in this area from 2003 – 2006. In fact, I worked part-time at a little sandwich shop not a mile away from Dagger Mountain for awhile. This is where I attended Purdue and earned my Masters degree. It is also the place where I got sober again after relapsing. Not unexpectedly, drinking didn’t improve my second marriage, but getting sober improved me. It was here that I began my journey to regain my strength and resolve to do what I needed to do to improve my life. Returning here today was a good idea.

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So, I’m celebrating. It’s a full moon this weekend. I feel amazing after my Shiatsu massage. I’m going to clean my house literally and do some smudging to clear my house energetically. I think this is a great time for me to make a choice for me again. I have a new decade beginning, and I’m excited about what it might bring. I wasn’t so sure about the beginning of this last decade on July 8, 2007, but I can see that we don’t always see the gifts clearly except in hindsight.

Where will I be on July 8, 2024? I can’t wait to find out!