Monday, September 24, 2012

Love and Vitamins

It was the best ski day ever.

It definitely wasn’t the best day for my 3-year relationship, however. We were on a ski trip during his 11-year-old son’s spring break. My boyfriend had taken me along in spite of the fact that his son and I had a difficult time together. I was not used to children and all their demands. His son wasn’t used to the idea that I wasn’t his mom. It was a difficult time for all of us.

This doesn’t exactly sound like the set up for the “Best Ski Day Ever” does it? Well, it was, but not because of either of them. We had decided that we would ski separately that afternoon. I wasn’t happy about it and neither was he.

It was my first time at Copper Mountain. When I started out on my own, I didn’t know where I should ski that would fit my level of experience.

I was nervous because just a few months earlier at Breckinridge, I had ventured too far above the tree line with no way down except the black diamond runs. Peering down the sharp drop littered with igloo-sized moguls that day, I decided there was another way to go down…on my heiny. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to stop without a compound fracture if I stood up. I wasn’t anxious to find myself peering down another bone cruncher again.

So I joined the power lift line at the bottom of the main run by the restaurant. I knew enough about Copper to know that I wouldn’t have to make any big decisions before I got to the top of this lift and it would give me the ride up to plan my route.

A ski bum lift assistant asked me if I was single. My knee jerk reaction was to say “almost” but then I realized that he wasn’t asking about my relationship. I nodded.

He waved his ski pole above my head and shouted “single” in his booming voice. I was mortified. I wasn’t ashamed to be skiing alone but I didn’t necessarily want it broadcast. I hung my head in my exasperation. I heard someone answer “single.”

Great. I was still fuming about the morning’s events that had led to my lonely afternoon of skiing so I wasn’t excited to make polite conversation with my new lift buddy. I consoled myself with the fact that I could hide from the chit-chat behind my map.

My lift partner skied up beside me. I wish I could remember his real name. I can picture his face though. He was balding with wispy whitish gray hair on his temples. He had a grey and white mustache that was bushy and hid his upper lip at all times. He was two or three inches taller than me. He had blue-gray eyes with really large irises. His skin was crinkled in the pleasant way a person’s does when you know they have smiled a lot in the sunshine without sunscreen. He squinted when he talked like he was trying to squeeze the words out of his mind a little when he recounted a memory or tried to remember a date.

Let’s call him Dr. John.

Once Dr. John and I were situated and the lift got going, I unfolded my map and held it strategically in front of my grouchy face to discourage any small talk.

“Hi I’m Dr. John.” He said with his southern accent, smiling at my map. “What are you doing up on Copper all by your lonesome?”

The map was absolutely useless. I had myself a Chatty Kathy. I sighed and answered the question. I was vague. I asked him the same question about “being on his lonesome.” He was specific.

Dr. John was in Denver, Colorado for a medical convention but usually he lived in rural South Carolina. He was a family practice doctor.

When he said this, I pictured him with his well-worn black medical bag. I knew his walls of his aging office were covered in the yellowing photos of all the kids he delivered over the years, and still saw once a year if they were lucky more often than that if they were not. There is a ball cap on a filing cabinet signed by all the kids on the little league team that his practice sponsored. I saw the Elks Lodge pin in his desk drawer.

I have no idea if this was really how his practice looked. I guess for me, it fits the picture Hollywood has helped me create of what the country doctor in the rural south is like.

Dr. John and I got to know each other on the lift ride. Somewhere along the way I clarified my vague explanation about my situation. I can’t remember if I blurted it out in a big chunk or if after a series of strategic questions he pieced it together. I must have seemed a little emotional…and by “emotional” I mean crazy. However it happened, afterwards he invited me to ski with him that afternoon.

Now before anyone reading this starts jumping to conclusions, I should clarify that I was 26 at the time and he was clearly in his late 60s early 70s. And we weren’t in Newport Beach, so he wasn’t hunting for his fourth wife. Besides I already knew from our “getting to know you” conversation that he loved his wife of 40 something years.

Dr. John simply invited me to ski with him for the company. He wanted to help me ski better.

We started looking at the map and together we figured out a route that I could manage down from the lift we were on so we could go to another area that Dr. John knew would be good for me. I agreed but worried that Dr. John might be a bored hanging out with me on the easy runs. He only had a half-day to ski for goodness sake’s, I thought. Why waste it with a perfect stranger who wasn’t even as good a skier as he was?

But he didn’t seem to mind. He followed me down the easy runs. We went at my speed. I picked the route. I showed him the best I could do, speed, grace, turns, stopping, etc. He watched all of it and was pretty quiet for most of this run.

When we reached the bottom, he directed me over to a faster, wider lift that went higher up Copper Mountain. We easily glided up to the front of the line and I smiled to myself that neither of us was “single” anymore -- at least when it came to lift lines. He gave me a thorough coaching on my strengths and weaknesses on the next lift up.

The next few runs were like that. We would pick the route. I’d work on my turns and my weight shifting. He would follow me, watching my run and rate my progress on the way back up.

We skied this way for several hours until the sun waned behind our backs. The tips of the mountains had begun to crowd the sun’s bright face. The shadows of the aspen and evergreen stretched longer, purple and cold on the icy runs.

I was enjoying myself. I was smiling. I didn’t even mind that I had face-planted one of the last runs. One of the many things Dr. John taught me that day was that if you aren’t falling down, you aren’t trying very hard.

I had a certain amount of clarity too. On one of our trips up the mountain together I had told him that I had my doubts about my relationship. He looked over at me with his characteristic squint and smile and told me that he didn’t believe anyone could love another person unless they believed in Jesus Christ.

I knew right then that my boyfriend and I were doomed because neither of us spent a lot of time in devotion. Thankfully Dr. John wasn’t there to judge me. He was just coaching me, just like he had all day on my skiing.

Dr. John believed that you have to love yourself the way Jesus does so that you can accept the love of another. Then you have to love your mate the way Jesus loved you and show them you do by putting their needs and wishes above yours.

Clearly, when I think of it that way, my boyfriend and I really didn’t have a prayer…pun intended. He didn’t love himself and I didn’t put his needs above mine. And if you look at most failed relationships, it boils down to these two factors in some fashion.

Dr. John also told me that the best advice he could give me about my health is to take the cheapest multi-vitamin that I could find every single day for the rest of my life. It’s so basic. But not something I was doing at the time. It is now.

Dr. John and I parted ways as the last of the afternoon sun ducked down beneath the peaks at our backs. The runs were definitely more purple and cold than when we had first met that afternoon. My knee was throbbing slightly, but my heart was lighter. He was still smiling and squinting. He wished me well and I thanked him for everything effusively for the third time.

And he went on his way. Back to his wife and little league team …and church community apparently. He disappeared back into his life as quickly as he came to mine.

Dr. John made a huge impact on my life, almost by chance. Since I rarely ski these days, I remember what he said about love and vitamins the most. But even more importantly, Dr. John was so exceptionally giving to a perfect stranger. I think of him as an inspiration to be a better person when the opportunity presents itself.

I needed him that morning when I had ended up on that seat next to him at Copper Mountain that afternoon with the status of single. Since his coaching had so many repercussions in my life, I can’t help but wonder how he found me and took such an interest in me.

Pure chance? Maybe. Fate? Maybe. God. Who knows? But I broke up with my boyfriend right after we got back and met the man I will love for the rest of my life just a few weeks later on a blind date.

So whatever is responsible for the little southern doctor I met at Copper who fixed my skiing, got me to take my vitamins and helped me see the truth about my relationship, I am grateful. It was the best ski day ever.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Good Fortune

I am perplexed. I know I have read it right but I’m still not sure what it means. I want to ask a question, but I am not sure to whom. I read it again. It says:

Your present plans are going to succeed if you stick to them.

It’s my fortune from my PF Chang’s cookie. And I am just silly enough to be genuinely excited when I read it, but now I am negotiating terms.

Hmmm. Which plans? I have a lot of plans. Is it my plan to stay out until after the kids are put to bed so my day off will be complete? Or is it the plan to go get a cupcake as soon as this PF Chang’s dinner digests a little? I am virtually certain that both of those plans are going to succeed, and I didn’t need a slip of paper in a mediocre-tasting, painfully-crunchy cookie to tell me that.

Maybe it means that my plan to create one language that the whole world would learn from birth so we could all talk to each other without any misunderstandings will succeed. That plan, made in my bed late one night when I was in Kindergarten, has been sidelined for the past 35 years or so. But technically, it was one of my plans. That’s really good news for me though. I always imagined I would get the Nobel Prize for that one.

This opens a lot of possibilities.

I plan to stay skinny until the day I die. But if I am planning that, does that mean that I shouldn’t go get the cupcake? It doesn’t seem fair to kill one plan’s hope of fruition just to fulfill the other’s. Maybe I’ll just do a little extra time on the bike tomorrow instead so both my pretty plans can skip down the path of success together.

I have a plan to boost my freelance career to the point that I am able to work from home and have a career that interests and fulfills me. So far that plan has been stalling…but the cookie isn’t lying, right? That can’t be part of its moral compass. Cookies don’t even have a moral compass. Or a mouth.

I plan right now to write a blog entry that is pithy, philosophical and entertaining. Is it? One can’t always tell at this point in the process. Maybe after some re writes…

I plan to do a triathlon someday. I figure I am a great swimmer and that tends to be the hardest part for most people.  With that leg virtually licked, I figure the other parts can’t be that bad. I don’t train or even research how to train, but I know a couple of people that do triathlons. Training by proximity if you will. Does that mean that my plan to do a triathlon based on my ability to swim and knowing people who do them is going to succeed? Seems unlikely, but I refer to the aforementioned limitations for a cookie’s attempts at deceit so I wonder. This might have some legs.

My “present plans”…maybe this is the key. I have a couple of presents that I am intending to give to people. It could mean that they are going to like the presents. So that’s a load off. I was really worried that my habit of last minute online options emailed on the actual birthday to the party involved was going to be a problem. Err… I mean my habit of carefully shopping and selecting a gift that is designed for the person it is intended will not be a problem.

At one time I planned to never date and be a scientist and live with my mom and dad forever. Since I did date, got bored in real science class, and live about 1700 miles away from Mom and Dad’s, I think it’s safe to say that one doesn’t count as a “present plan.”

Maybe the key word here is "succeed”. There are varying levels of success. It really just depends on where you put the bar. Is success accomplishing the goal, or kicking the goal’s butt? If I were to say, finish a triathlon before they take down the finish line and the street sweepers come, is that success? Or is it only if I place in my age group?

I can answer that question, though. It would be the fact that I was able to get a sitter often enough so that I could train and even attend the event in the first place that would define success on that plan!

For those of you that know me, maybe the key words here are “if you stick to them”. Ahh. Tenacity. The elusive quality that abandoned me on my pursuit of acting fame. And again in the corporate ladder climb I started years later. Or has stymied me in my attempt to write a romance story in 12,000 words.  But even before these aborted efforts, this is the attribute that deserted me when I planned to learn sign language from a book.

But now that I know it will succeed as long as I stick to it, can I make new plans? I have a couple that I have been sitting on for a while. I could get to work on my car that runs on trash like the one at the end of Back To The Future. Or I could introduce a crippling virus to my new Mac so I can go back and get the 15 inch MacBook Pro I wish I had bought. Or maybe it isn’t too late to become a self-trained Olympic gymnast.

Now that I have a slip of paper that validates all of my plans, I feel kind of bad that I don’t have any really altruistic plans brewing. I could be planning to cure cancer. Or restore peace to the Middle East. Or get Ryan Seacrest to quit trying to be a serious journalist. But alas, my plans are mostly selfish.

Besides, you are supposed to say “in bed” after all your fortunes anyway. So my present plans will only succeed if I stick to them in bed. I guess I’d better write some of my plans out and slather them in glue and roll around on them in my California King. Or go home (after the kids are in bed of course) and start planning like a son of a gun tucked under the covers.

I wonder then, now that I know my present plans are going to succeed as long as I stick to them, will I finally stop driving myself so hard to be a success? Kick-back, if you will. Let success, glorious accolades and constant sycophantic praise come to me instead of running after it all the time.

Nah. I think I’ll always obsess about success. And who is to say that the waiter who fished this cookie out of the bag next to the credit card machine didn’t drop my real fortune cookie back in and bring me someone else’s?

Too bad. I really think I could be great at the uneven parallel bars.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


By Terri Lively

One of my jobs in my role as housewife is to manage stuff. My stuff, the kids’ stuff, my husband’s stuff, other people’s stuff, the school stuff, the house stuff, the stored stuff, the car stuff, and the baby’s stuff…you get the picture. Lots of stuff.

We file stuff. We store stuff. We eat stuff. We use stuff. We break stuff and then we buy stuff to replace it. And when it’s time to put it away, I get to decide where to stuff it.

We have a small house. We bought it right after we got married because all the wedding gift stuff  didn’t fit in our apartment.

When we bought it there were just the two of us and a cat. Then we added a dog. At that point, we fit in the house nicely, and had plenty of room for all of our stuff. Back then I had a guest room and an office. Two whole rooms that were barely used.  We basically just cleaned them from time to time. We also never used the guest bathroom. Instead of scouring it, I think my cleaning lady dusted it.

Over the years as we have added family members, we moved things around. First we lost the office to become the nursery. But we just moved the office into the guest room next door, creating what Designed to Sell calls a slash room: home office/guest room. But we soon lost the “/guest room” when it became simply my husband’s office, no /.

Then, with all three bedrooms full of stuff and purpose, we had a new family member coming and nowhere to put her. So we built a new room for her. Well, actually the new room was for my son and we moved her into the room that was his.

We were set for a couple of years until Gavin came along. Now the new room is both Brenton and Hayden’s room and their old room is Gavin’s. They all have a lot of stuff. And we had stuff there already. So I spent a week moving stuff around.

This is Stuff Shifting. When I am cranky about it, I use another s-word. This is family-friendly blog, however, so you’ll just have to use your imagination on that one.

We are approaching a point where we are looking at way too much stuff again. We were considering moving to a bigger house. But that meant packing up the stuff and moving it. Not. Going. To. Happen.

So instead, I did a purge. The only problem is I am usually the only one in the family on board with the purge. It’s not their fault. They just love their stuff.

I recall the moment when my two oldest children were standing in the driveway sobbing as the delivery men loaded the worn out washer and dryer on the truck to haul them to the dump. The hulking teamster tough-guys were visibly unsure of what to do when my kids’ tears started rolling. I assured the men that they should take the broken appliances. They did but I could tell they felt bad about it, making little kids cry. Hayden actually called out a tear-soaked “I love you” to the old Whirlpool pair as the truck drove them away.

Last week I decided to organize a couple of drawers in my son’s dresser that couldn’t close because we had so much stuff shoved in it. I found a few mismatched socks and a couple of pairs with holes in them. No reason to keep these…or so I thought.

My son set me straight. He cried actual tears, clutching the socks to his six-year-old breast, and accused me of trying to steal his “best socks” and throw them in the trash. I let him keep the socks.

A couple of days ago I sent some baby toys that no one plays with up to a friend who needed baby stuff. I was happy because I was able to free up space in the baby’s room for stuff moving over from the older kids room. I made a critical error in my disposal plan, however. I sent them up with my kids. And lo and behold, some of the stuff came back.  This is my least favorite kind of stuff: boomerang stuff.

This is why I sometimes do some purging when everyone else is gone. I play dumb when the kids are looking for stuff that I have passed on. “I don’t know…where did you have it last?”  I ask, avoiding eye contact and making a hasty exit.

My husband is determined to go on a long RV trip. I won’t go. I hate RVs. They are the opposite of vacation to me. When I leave, I want to leave as much as my stuff behind as possible, not drag it around with me in a huge, drive-thru wrecking, 2-lane highway clogging RV. I want to be footloose and fancy- free.

In an RV, you are neither footloose nor fancy-free. You not only have your stuff with you, but you also get to bring along all your shower water and bathroom sh…stuff, too. No thanks.

My daughter is the opposite of me. She loves her stuff. All her stuff. When she was just three, I learned how deep her attachment was to her stuff.

She had a clear plastic purse with some treasures in it that she lovingly gathered and placed there so she would always have them. In spite of the fact that the purse was clear, I didn’t know what she had in there really. But the purse was likely to go with us on errands, to Grammy’s, and even to the gym babysitting service.

Sadly, it was this last place that was the end of the purse. The clear plastic purse filled with my daughter’s treasures did not make it out of the kid’s club in her cute little chubby hands. When we realized that we didn’t have it, we went back in to retrieve it. But it was gone. Off to the home of some other mom who would have to deal with Hayden’s stuff.

Hayden was very upset, understandably. So in one of my rare attempts to be a nurturing mom I told her I was sorry and asked her what was in the purse. Thankfully I was facing away from her when my little magpie listed her losses.

“My rubber chicken, my piece of string” pause here for sob, “my broken button, my rocks.” the list went on and on. I was both driving and trying so hard not to laugh that I choked a little, and the coughing fit that ensued almost ran us off the road.

So as I look around at all the stuff that comes and goes here, I think, does any of this stuff really matter? What would I grab if there were a wild fire and I only had 15 minutes to grab what was important? Aside from my computer, phone, and iPad, I have a hard time coming up with much.

Well…the earthquake kit since all the paperwork is in there.…Oh, and the car keys because how will I drive away without those? And my jewelry because those pieces  literally are the family jewels.

Okay, okay, I guess I would grab some stuff but I don’t think I would be stuffing the car full or anything. Or would I? I am all non-materialistic here writing my blog, but I suspect I may be harboring a few rubber chickens of my own if push came to shove. What’s worse is that I’ll be all panicky about it because I didn’t have a plan and just start grabbing everything, ultimately forgetting what stuff was important in the first place.

Well, the good news is I don’t have to worry about something like that actually happening. I live in Southern California.

Monday, September 3, 2012


I have a lot to say most of the time. Even when I am being quiet, I am suppressing the urge to speak. This need to speak is vital to my being. To be heard is vital to my ego.

Unfortunately for me, the constant urge to contribute often comes from a mouth that lacks a proper filter. And it has gotten me into a pickle more than once. The consequences of not knowing when to be quiet have time and again sought to teach me the art of holding my tongue.

Over the years, my outspoken (loud) mouth and confrontational (rude) nature has pegged me by certain individuals as trouble. One time I was compared to a truck driver and told I talked like a Skank. Yes, that’s how you spell it. No squiggly line under it or anything. Or was it Hose-Beast? Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to…you get the point.

I was the one who mouthed off to a cranky mom in the middle of a slumber party and got most of the girls to pick up their sleeping bags and go to one of the other girl’s houses who lived one street over in the middle of the night. I scan my memory banks for justification on these actions but can’t remember much except that the mom was making us sleep on concrete floor of the uninsulated basement that had zero lighting and yelled at us because we weren’t asleep by ten.  She may not have had realistic expectations about a pre-teen sleep over, but also, I was a disrespectful and surly kid. 

But it isn’t that I was sassy to a grouchy mom that makes me cringe now. It was that I couldn’t even imagine how that girl felt when all the friends that she had invited over to her house for a slumber party to have fun and giggle together picked up our sleeping bags and left in the middle of the night. That is a real grimace inducing, toe-scruncher.

This same mouth took up a cause to single-handedly embarrass every member of my family with a dick joke at a family dinner. Not just my parents and brothers and sisters, but aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents … the whole shootin’ match. I was old enough to semi-understand why the joke was funny (the punch line is about a hard of hearing genie and a 13 inch pianist) but too old to be cute in the trashy kind of way it’s funny when a child says something they shouldn’t. The memory of the silence afterward still embarrasses me today.

I called my sister a nasty name once. She told on me. I got my mouth washed out with soap. Literally. But the Dove bar crammed down my throat didn’t solve the problem. I began a career of swearing alive and well to this day. There are times that my language was so bad that I had my peers say, “I don’t see a need to swear.” My wiseacre response was something to the effect of “then don’t.”

Come to think of it, the person that said that was a bit of a douche-bag. Also spelled right, by the way.

People have apologized to me when they accidentally swore around my kids. I laugh and tell them that my 2-year-old son was once muttering loudly upstairs G-- Dammit when he was frustrated about something, oblivious to the fact that these words were not appropriate to use since he heard them so often. I set him straight and tried to clean up my act after that, but I still let them fly sometimes. Usually when I am driving.  Or late. Or more specifically driving when I am late.

In college, I challenged a teacher about an inaccuracy in his syllabus. I was right, but also confrontational and rude. I am sure it gave him great pleasure to give me one of my only Cs in my college career. I went to his office to challenge the grade. Not surprisingly, he was confrontational and rude. The C stayed.

Later in my college career, my unfiltered mouth struck again. A teacher was presenting his published paper about Faust and how he was superior to Huckleberry Finn as a literary hero or something like that. I don’t remember the particulars. I do remember that I suggested there was a flaw with the premise that Huckleberry Finn was a hero from American literature. I argued that perhaps a better example might have been Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird.  After we had a show of hands, it was clear that the rest of the audience agreed. So he quit his presentation. I desperately hope that I made this argument after he finished presenting the paper. But I suspect I didn’t.

There are so many more examples of the situations that arise when one’s mouth lacks a proper filter that I couldn’t bear to add to this confession. I am starting to get depressed listing them all. I wish in so many ways that I had less to draw upon, that I had learned the lessons that embarrassment and consequence are meant to teach us earlier than post-college. If I had, I might have learned to nip it. Being unfiltered means you hurt a lot of feelings, make a lot of bad first impressions, lose friends, make enemies, and blow your college GPA.

You couldn’t have told me that, though. Back then the truth was, I liked being outspoken. I thought it made me a leader. I liked being the one who would tell the truth when no one else would. I wanted to be the hero who would slay the dragon of injustice with a fiery sword of words.

I always admired the people that could hold a room captive with their speeches. Like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” which still makes me cry. Or the speech my dad gave at my grandpas retirement dinner that was hilarious and had everyone laughing until they cried. I was in awe that people could have so much charisma to engross the attention of their audiences.

These orators could get people to laugh or cry by what they said. Even better, they could inspire them to greatness. I wanted to be that person. I wanted to be the one who could be counted on to lead a group to find the better in them selves.

I would bet, however, that MLK Jr. never hurt someone’s feelings about their age by joking that they might have been old enough to be part of the civil war. Like I did at a modeling shoot with a photographer. Who also happened to be black…and not very friendly after that comment.

That joke still wasn’t funny when I used it later with the creative director of the Nebraska Theatre Caravan. Needless to say when it was time to audition for the next tour, I didn’t get hired back. Did I mention that I regret how many times I had consequences try to teach me to tone it down, shut my pie hole, and be seen and not heard?

In my defense, I remember that one well enough to state that I thought using a war as ridiculously far back as the Civil War would make it absolutely clear that I was teasing. Instead, it was just absolutely clear that I was a Dunderhead.

After college GPA scores dropped and I suffered unemployment, I learned that I did not need to say everything I thought might get a laugh or correct every injustice. I also learned that if you sit back and let things settle there is almost always a good moment to bring something up more privately that allows the other person to accommodate your opinion or correction without losing pride. Plus you don’t have as many labels (Truck Driver, Skank, Hose-Beast, Dunderhead).

My life is much more pleasant as a result. I have more friends for one thing and not one of them has compared me to a Skank or Hose-Beast. I find that my opinions are still there and injustice still needs to be confronted, but not always by me. I have also learned to joke with people in a way that elevates not berates them. I also have learned to minimize exposure to people who bug me with their opinions so I won’t chime in with some unwanted repartee. Like, I suspect, many people probably did with me during my Big Mouth phase.

It’s okay to have opinions. It’s okay to want to be a great orator who inspires the masses. A leader knows when to express them and where. As an adult, I see that everything has pros and cons, bad situations always have at least two sides, and consequences can be swift and furious. I have a perspective as an adult that colors my choices differently then through the eyes of my younger, more-outspoken self. I may have finally grown a filter.

The need to be heard is still there. And do you know what people like me who need to speak and be heard end up doing with their time?

They blog.