Photo-A-Day: Courage

Photo-a-DaySometimes in the editing work I do, I have the chance to edit something that is rather interesting. Last week, I edited a document that defined “entrepreneur” as “someone with courage.” There was more to this definition, of course. But absent was our standard understanding of the word: one who starts her own business. I appreciated this novel approach to this concept. Someone with courage.

With its Latin root of “heart,” courage marries the physical/mental with the emotional/psychological. A courageous act is indeed brave; not all bravery is courageous. To put it another way, courage is an inspired action in the fact of daunting odds.

I’ve been thinking about how to use my heart to do things–challenging, difficult things–so that I am acting with courage and not letting doubt swallow me whole. And I keep coming back to boxing as a tool that just might help me be more courageous. For the past couple of months, I’ve been training with a boxing coach and I love it. After an hour of boxing, I feel so alive, so unbridled, so truly capable.

One day my trainer had me in plank. I forget how long he wanted me to hold it. A minute maybe? Possibly two? As I got myself in position, he crouched down next to me. “You know when you hold your breath under water,” he mused as my body braced for the longest minute of its life, “and there’s that voice in your head that tells you can’t hold it any longer? Well, that is just your anxiety talking. You can actually hold your breath a lot longer than you think.”

Why is he talking about being underwater? My shoulders, wrists, and tortured obliques did not see the connection.

His voice dropped. “You’re going to hear that voice now. Remember, it’s just anxiety. You can actually hold this much longer than your brain is telling you can.”

I want to add this to the definition of courage: a steadfast, heartfelt war against the pervasive anxiety that scampers through our minds. To wage this war, I think, is courageous.


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Photo-A-Day: Backlog

Photo-a-DayHello, friends! Once, again I am finding myself needing to apologize. Last week, I hurt myself rather severely. This is going to sound funny, but it’s not funny. On the 28th, I had such a fit of coughing that I wrenched the cartilage away from one of my ribs. Everything hurts. The left side of my torso feels like it’s on fire, as if I suffer a perpetual case of heartburn. Bending down, reaching up, pushing open doors, lying on my back–all these basic actions are excruciating. So, it’s been a bummer of a week. Fortunately, I started feeling a lot better yesterday. The sensation of heartburn still lingers, though.

To make up for my absence, I’m offering you a bit of a backlog of photos–all taken from my phone, which doesn’t have such a hot camera. This first one was from last night. You locals will recognize it as Cincinnati’s iconic Music Hall, which borders the newly renovated Washington Park. I was at a symphony concert last night at the park with some friends of mine. This was the inaugural concert for the CSO’s new conductor, and, as the local NPR radio ads attested, it was also a never-before-seen-anywhere-on-planet-Earth outdoor concert and light show.

And while the music, light show, and the company of my friends was all enjoyable, what I noticed most were the people. A crush of humanity of every side. Now, all these people are a great thing for Cincinnati. And a great thing for the symphony. All these people completely overwhelmed me and made me reflect on the book I’m reading now, Quiet by Susan Cain.

Cain’s book made a splash last year and put spotlight-averse introverts in the spotlight. I’m an introvert myself and have found this book to be very validating. At last night’s concert, I watched myself have a classic introvert reaction to all the stimulation. According to Cain (and my own life experiences back this up), introverts receive stimuli (sights, noises, smells, people, movement, etc) from their senses simultaneously and they process it very quickly. Which means, an introvert can go to, say, an outdoor concert and “get” it quickly. After 30 minutes or an hour, the introvert will feel like, “been there, done that, let’s go home.” It’s not about being antisocial or being a party pooper. It’s about how our brains work. We short circuit with all that stimulation, and we need some down time to recharge.

So, I was watching myself have that experience last night. Because I truly wanted to see the once-in-a-universe light show and spend time with my friends, I just focused on the music and the lights and tried to tune out everything else.

Photo-A-DayThis next photo is from an event I went to last weekend–before my rib injury. This event was more my style (interestingly, I was with the same friends)–low key, a handful of people, good beer. People talked about ideas instead of just chattering.

Photo-a-DayAnd, finally, to end this post, I’ll leave you with another photo. I’m sure you’ve missed seeing Scout and Pruf as much as you’ve missed reading my posts. Here, they are. My little termites, chewing away on their hunks of wood on a summer evening.

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Photo-a-Day: Intuition

Photo-a-DayI wrote yesterday about the double bind. Today, I’m writing about what gets us (me) out of the double bind: intuition.

This is a photo of a place I knew I intuitively needed to be. Months ago–before this space even looked this nice–I knew I needed to be here. I knew I wanted and needed to be a part of this space and what was happening here.

When I have an intuitive experience, it’s as if everything inside of me says, “YES.” It’s a cosmic hum, an expansive, a-temporal YES that seeps through me. It’s the experience of having something resonate. What is it like for you? Something kind of like that? Something different?

On the one hand, it’s very easy to trust this expansive, a-temporal YES. It’s very easy to recognize my intuition and to go with it. Trusting my inner wisdom feels safe. Noticing when something resonates with us just feels good!

On the other hand….what the hell are we supposed to do with our intuition? How do we take this “feeling” inside of us, this great cosmic hum, and do anything? How we do conduct our day-to-day affairs in light of what we intuitively “know”? If I “know,” I’m supposed to be in this space, then how do I earn the money to be in this space and make everything turn out all nice and tidy?

Well, that is certainly enough rhetorical questions for one evening.

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Photo-A-Day: Double Bind

Photo-a-DayI finally got it. Loud and clear. Not sure if you’re reading this (you know who you are, J), but I think I finally got it about the double bind.

In my professional life–where I do a lot coaching and facilitating–the metaphor of the rubber band has been invaluable in illustrating change. I frequently tell clients to “stretch the rubber band.” When you stretch a rubber band–stretch and stretch it–and then, gently, let it go, what happens? Does the rubber band conform to its old tight shape? No. True, it more or less goes back to an oval shape–we can still recognize it as a rubber band–but it’s a much more stretched out version of its old self. Recognizable, but with more give, more space, more options.

So it is with change. Sometimes, we really need to stretch and exaggerate a new way of doing something in order for the new behavior to stick–that is, in order for there to be room for the new behavior when we go back to our old way of being.

That’s one way of looking at a rubber band.

There’s another way, one that I’ve been stuck on. Sometimes we can get all tangled up with other peoples’ expectations (and our assumptions about their expectations) that we are pretty much bound and gagged when it comes to doing what’s important to us. My anxiety has been fueling me to jump and reach for every possible opportunity, ignoring the voice of my intuition, saying, “this isn’t the right opportunity.” Tonight, I took a step toward listening more to my intuition and trusting that the right opportunity will show up.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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Photo-A-Day: The Little Avocado that Could

Photo-A-DayAgain….another hiatus this weekend from blogging. Thanks for being patient! Really, it’s been too hot to blog, right? Fortunately, today, we had ample rain showers and a few thunderstorms here in Cincinnati. Everything cooled off a bit and my eyeballs got a break from the scorching sun. We are temperamental creatures, aren’t we? We complain all winter about the cold and the gray and then summer comes and we get so excited when the sun hides and the rain cool everything off. We have good company in the temperamental avocado tree.

Yes, I am trying to grow an avocado tree. It’s one of my many hair-brained schemes. The tree is a cold-hardy tree; still, southern Ohio is cold enough that I can’t plant it in the ground. So, my tree lives in a pot. I don’t really think it likes it there.

Today, the avocado got a treat: I set it outside in the rain. MMMMMmmmmmm. Can you tell what a happy little tree that is? Soaking up all that fresh, delicious rain water. I don’t know a whole lot about raising an avocado tree; what I do know is that the tree is susceptible to root rot. What that means is that it’s best to water an avocado once a month or so and really soak it good. Water it so that the water runs out the bottom of the pot and repeat that process 3 or 4 times. And then don’t touch it for a month. I figure today the rain water would be a welcome change from tap water and diluted kelp meal (our rain barrel is cracked; otherwise, I’d water from that).

Honestly, this is a finicky little tree. It consistently has new growth, so I guess that’s a good sign. We’ve had the tree almost 2 years and it hasn’t flowered yet (this particularly avocado is self-pollinating). It’s my understanding that fruit trees are hard–it takes about 4 years for them to gear up and start fruiting. I’m not worried yet. I just wish I knew what the avocado was thinking.

It’s come to this: I spend my days wondering what an avocado tree is thinking. Today, I’m thinking it’s happy.

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Photo-a-Day: Trust

Today the dogs went to the vePhoto-a-Dayt for their annual check-up. (Yes, I know, I didn’t post yesterday and here I am posting about the dogs AGAIN–it’s going to be a long, boring summer for those of you who follow this blog. Soon, you’ll be able to spot Scout and Pruf in a doggie line-up.) Prufrock is a champion. He’s very chill at the vet and lets them do what they need to do. Part of it is that he’s just old, part of it is that he’s just a really good dog, and part of it is that he’s super stoic. He does not let on if something is uncomfortable.

Scout, by contrast, never let a feeling go unexpressed. She’s very vocal and opinionated. Both of them are rescues, but Scout, being much younger than Pruf, is much closer to her experience of being abandoned and then rounded up by the local animal shelter. All this by way of saying, the vet is touch and go. Historically, going to the vet with Scouty has been a dicey situation. She cowers, she tongue flicks, she shakes, she releases her anal glands…once, she even snapped at the vet when he leaned over her to give her a treat. Her fear and anxiety go through the roof when strangers get in her face like that (the vet later acknowledged that he knew better than to do that with her).

We don’t know much about Scout’s story. She was found at about 18 months of age wandering the woods in rural southern Ohio. A local shelter picked her up, but they were going to have to put her down because they didn’t have room for her. The shelter staff called a rescue organization in Cincinnati to see if they wanted Scout, and they said yes. Soon, she was at an adoption fair at our local PetSmart with the unfortunate moniker Trixie. We saw her–and Lord know why–we feel in love.

Basically, she was an awful dog because of having been abandoned in the woods. She cowered when we got out the tin foil, she growled if we got to close, she suffered from what seemed like an incurable case of submissive urination (she’d get so scared when we came home from work that she would pee all over herself). She still hides when it thunders and is very scared of the iPod. But she’s much more comfortable with affection and she has even made some human friends aside from us.

Today at the vet was a miracle. Scout was almost happy to be there and watched with great interest as the vet checked Pruf’s heartbeat. When the vet tech, who is amazing, by the way, took Scout in the back to get weighed and have her temperature taken, I could hear her cooing to Scout, telling her what a good girl she was. When the tech returned with Scout, she confirmed that Scout had been really good and didn’t appear to be frightened.

Here’s the kicker: “She let me kiss her on the head.”

That’s what the vet tech said to me. Scout let the tech kiss her on top of the head. I was stunned. I told Scout what a very good girl she was, and she jumped up and hugged me, softly gnawing on my chin.

As we were paying and checking out of the vet’s office, that same tech and I were having a conversation about how much Scout has changed in the 3 years we’ve had her.

And she said this: “It’s amazing what they can do when they learn they can trust you. It’s really all about trust.”

Indeed it is. I’ve watched this creature move from being damaged by lack of trust in humans to thriving because of trusting humans.

It’s the same way with us. We get damaged or we thrive based on the presence of trust.


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Photo-A-Day: Meet Me at St. B

Photo-A-DayPerfect timing: this evening–when I took this photo of St. Boniface–the bells were ringing. It was 6pm (Scout’s supper time; she knows when she hears those bells that I better put food in her bowl). I wish this photo had sound to it so you could hearing the deep, majestic chimes.

St. Boniface is a beautiful old Catholic church (and school) in Cincinnati. It feels like an anchor here in my neighborhood. Perched on a hilly corner, it sits facing a semi-major street and offers shady sanctuary on a summer’s day. Earlier today, I walked the dogs to the coffee shop and as Pruf dragged his way back home, I kept saying to him, “Just make it to St. B, Pruf. We can rest there in the shade.” He made it, so we scampered up the hill and bathed in the shade of the old trees. Scout and I often rest here with Pruf during summer walks.

As an anchor and a landmark, St. Boniface also serves as a meeting place. The dogs and I like to walk with KZ and her dog Lucy. The text messages that arrange these dog-walking dates go something like this: “wanna walk today?” “sure meet me @ St b in 5.” As the dogs and I get closer and closer to the church, we start looking for KZ in her trademark ball cap and little Lucy smiling, wagging, and zig-zagging all over the place. Even on days when we don’t have a walk arranged, the dogs will walk more slowly here, looking around, waiting for KZ and Lucy to appear. They look up at me, as if to say, “why aren’t they here? We’re at St. B. Where are they?”

Since I only interact with the outside of this building, enjoying its shade or waiting to meet a friend, I forget that it’s an active parish and school with a vibrant internal life. Some Saturdays I’ll walk or bike by and see a woman in white, surrounded by women in pastels all lined up on the steps, posing for photos, and I’ll think, “Oh yeah, I guess it is a church and people get married there.” On Sundays, there’s a bit more traffic on the side street by St. B, and, of course, during the school year, playground sounds ricochet through the mid-morning and the buses and crossing guard materialize at 2pm. The building has a life, beyond my own uses of it.

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Photo-A-Day: Single for the Moment

Photo-A-DayMy partner/spouse is out of town for most of the summer finishing up her Master’s degree in English. I’m so proud of her, and I miss her a great deal.

One of the things I miss most is sharing a meal together. 5:30, 6 o’clock finds us both in the kitchen. I’m doing dishes and trying to clear things out of A’s way, and she’s getting started on supper. The dogs, of course, are always underfoot, waiting for a morsel of carrot to fall. It’s a dance the four of us do: dogs scuttling across the floor after fallen food, me and A stepping over them and turning and twisting past each other. Without fail, I try to put dishes away as she’s trying to get dishes out. But we do it this way every day.

As we’re bumping and bungling our way through the tight spaces of the kitchen, we’re talking. We’re talking about our days, our annoyances (always seem to be more of those), our triumphs.

To be fair, I completely miss A’s cooking. AND….I miss our time together in the kitchen. It’s hard to cook for one person and it’s just plain lonely. My meals are sad because I don’t feel like putting forth the effort for something elaborate. Why bother? It’s just me.

In a way, this summertime experience reminds me of being single–when I cooked for myself every night. Or just stretched out leftovers as long as possible. I was watching the onions saute tonight as I made another lackluster dinner for one, and I spied this lone little piece, off by itself. That’s me, I thought. Off by myself.

Fortunately, A comes home for a short visit this weekend, and she’s promised to make me several casseroles that I can freeze and defrost for the rest of her time in school. I’m grateful for that–and even more grateful that I’ll get to share some meals with her this weekend. I miss our routine.

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Photo-A-Day: Helpers

Photo-a-DayHello again after another hiatus! I’ve been some place much less interesting than Brazil and endured a travel delay on my way back. I’m home now and ready to get back in the swing of it.

Time for a photo of you-know-who: Scout and Prufrock, my two cattle dogs. Due to the highly uneventful nature of my life, I snap photos of the dogs and blog about them a lot. Good thing they’re cute.

And helpful, as you can see. Today, I spent an embarrassing amount of time dealing with the calf-high grass in the backyard. And by “embarrassing,” I mean about 3 hours. (Our yard is small.) First, I had to pick up all the poop, second, I had to weed the grass, third, weed-whack the grass and rake and repeat. Finally, it was time to mow! And mow and mow and mow.

My trusty companions pretty much did as pictured above. Pruf rested in the grass and stared at me while Scout darted between her under-the-porch hiding place and my face. She’d hide for a while then come bounding up to me, sticking her snout right in my face–nevermind what I was doing–and give me a big sniff followed by a stinky kiss. Then, it was back to her hiding place.

I enjoy their company so much that, honestly, it does feel like they are helping. They like to nibble on the grass, which actually is a huge help given how tall and unwieldy I’ve allowed the grass to get.

Yesterday was my turn to help someone. I helped a good friend pack up her house (she’s moving to NYC) and haul stuff off to Goodwill. I don’t usually think of myself as a particularly helpful person in a physical, manual sense (I’m much more helpful when it comes to being someone’s sounding board…or editor), so this was a welcomed change–to (actually) be helpful. I confess there was a reward in it for me: I got lots of fantastic free stuff. My friend’s truly grateful hug was perhaps reward enough. I’ll miss her!

Tomorrow’s challenge is to rectify the embarrassment known as the “front yard.” My helpers probably won’t be as present because the front yard invites a number of dangerous temptations–like chasing cars and cats, lunging at passing canines, and hunting down the mailman. They’ll probably just watch me from their perch on the couch.

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Photo-A-Day: Breaking Bread

Photo-A-DayAs you know I’ve been out of the country on a work trip–I was in Brazil. And this is what I have to show for my trip: a picture of a fondue restaurant. Chateau de Something-or-Another. I know, fondue in Brazil? Believe it.

(I did enjoy some more traditional Brazilian food like churrascaria. That’s a story from another time.)

After a long day of intense facilitating, my colleagues and I headed into town to check out this restaurant. It had come highly recommended by a local. Not only was the food amazing–there was a cheese course, a meat course, and a chocolate course–the camaraderie exceeded all expectations.

4 hours. That’s how long our dinner lasted. Granted, fondue requires a lot of focus and attention. One cannot mindlessly chat and eat when dealing with bubbling cheese and scalding oil or hot stones. While paying attention to our food, we paid attention to each other. How often do we do either in whirlwind, multi-tasking culture?

I value connecting with people, “breaking bread” as it were, and being mindful. Yet, even though I value these things I don’t always practice them very well. Sometimes I think that’s what being an adult is about–managing our inconsistencies, trying to match our values with our actions. Somehow, this seemed so much easier as a child. Now I know fondue can help me.

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