Friday, December 20, 2013

The Formula For Happiness

Hint: It's not this complicated...
By Terri Lively

It seems that I have discovered the formula for happiness. It became apparent to me when I was composing an email to a former neighbor of mine.  I figured I would share it with all of you.

Dear XX,

You asked what the move has been like. But what can I say? Should I tell you that moving has felt like both a good and bad move depending on the day?

There are times when I wonder if we didn’t just make the worst move of our lives coming up here, especially when I hear a couple of neighbors discuss bow-hunting deer at my kid’s music assembly at school.

 Or when a mother tells me that my daughter can join the 4H and raise chickens (!) and I literally call on every acting skill I have ever learned not to show the look of incredulity in my eyes and the sinking feeling of dismay that just gripped my stomach.

Or of course the times when I drive 30+ minutes up to Target.  In fact, I usually just do without because seriously, who drives 30 minutes to get to Target?

And let’s not forget the times when they have western wear day at school and my kid has to go with a pink bandanna tied around her neck because that’s the only thing that even resembles “western wear” in my home.

And please don’t ask me where the Starbucks is because I will probably break down and cry when I explain that it’s 40 miles away because apparently the local coffee cartel doesn’t allow any corporate coffee here.

So would I say that we are strangers in a strange land? Yes. Undoubtedly.

But there are the good days too. Like when the clouds are low and stretched across the tops of the mountains like misty fingers, resembling earthen sentries for our town, standing guard over our valley and protecting the families and grapes that grow here.

Or when my husband and I walk, practically in a straight line, to the winery where we are members and get to go to the “wall of wine” resplendent with the best of the Valley’s offerings for tastings, half-pours or full pours, after which we walk back in a slightly less-straight line.

Or when the stars fill the sky at night in multitudes that I didn’t know were possible before I moved here so far from the blare of city lights.

Or when you experience the absolute terror and thrill of feeding an ostrich.

Or looking out the window while I am driving through country that most people have to come on vacation to see when I am simply on my way to the gym.

There are always pros and cons to everything. I guess the difference between being miserable or happy where you are is to celebrate the pros and learn to live with the cons.

So as an example, yes it’s a pain to have to plan a half-day trip just to go to Costco but it’s also nice to take in the central coast’s spectacular drive along the ocean on the way there, all grassy meadows that drop off into cliffs that descend in jagged dark stone down into the churning surf below.

Yes, driving through Solvang at 10 miles an hour pretty much any time of day, any time of the year really can cause me to pop a vein in my eye. But on the off chance that the vein holds, it does give me a chance to enjoy the quaint architecture of a town that looks like it belongs on a Christmas card.

While I am not a huge fan of Wranglers and boots on a man, I do like when he tips his cowboy (or should I say vaquero) hat toward me when he holds the door open as I pass.

So my move here is good and bad.  Like all things it has its plusses and minuses. But since life is balance sheet of plusses and minuses, the formula for happiness requires a focus on positives to balance the negatives. So is it perfect here? No. But are we happy? Absolutely.

Love to your family and Happy Holidays!

Your friend and neighbor,


P.S. Be sure stop by if you are coming by here. We would love to show you around, especially to feed the ostriches. Once you meet one up close and stare into its maniacal eyes, you’ll never feel bad when you hear that a restaurant serves them on a menu again.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I am a Chiefs Fan

By Terri Lively

I was driving to my new apartment in Huntington Beach, CA, just a California resident for two weeks. With white knuckles gripping my steering wheel, eyes wide with dismay and shock staring out my windshield toward the ocean, I listened to the news roll out from my dashboard. The Pacific was dark and rolling, grey-blue and stern as it crashed and retreated from the shore when I heard the announcer say: “Derrick Thomas, Future Hall of Fame Linebacker and Defensive End for the Kansas City Chiefs has died after complications suffered in a car accident.”

I am a Kansas City girl, the one that’s in Missouri not Kansas for those of you that don’t know the difference. In a town that has hardly any claim to fame besides its barbeque, Kansas City is a tough town to explain to other people. Especially once you leave and find out that most people think it’s in Kansas and that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz was from there (neither is true).  But it is my misunderstood hometown that I claim, even though I left it back in 2000.

No self-respecting Kansas City girl could be anything other than a Chief’s fan.  So to hear that Thomas had died was a serious blow. I had a morose cloud of grief in my heart for a few days, even though Thomas was not a friend of mine, or even someone I had ever met personally. He was our hometown hero, better than any other Linebacker before or since. His loss was devastating to our town and our team. The Chiefs have never been the same since his death. It seemed that their magic, the small town team that could, was lost on the icy freeway that fateful February.

Over the past decade or so here in the land of fruits and nuts, I have always claimed the Kansas City Chiefs. I believe to be a fan you have to love them even when they stink. And I doubt anyone can argue that for the past decade they have really stunk. In fact, when I tell people out here that I am a KC fan, I usually get looks of sympathy or incredulity. One person asked me if they were arena league.

To be fair to that dopey person, we don’t see a lot of Kansas City games out here. We see plenty of Cowboys’ games though, although why is still a mystery for me since they seem to be mediocre at best and that even that feels like a generous description of their organization. We also see a lot of Giants, Broncos, Chargers, and lately, Indianapolis. I guess that’s because of Andrew Luck and the Stanford connection to California.

Every once in a while the Chiefs would be on, usually playing the Raiders or Chargers. I would watch with hope in my heart, looking for signs of a team that I once knew in the 90s when a whole town would rally together to cheer on our boys in red even when it was 25 degrees below zero. (That’s right, weather wusses, below zero. I wore hunting clothes to that game that were so huge you couldn’t tell if I was a girl or boy and was still so cold that I lost the feeling in my toes briefly.) But I was always disappointed. The magic was gone.

So even though Kansas City was my team, I never really saw them play anymore. The majority of my knowledge of my hometown team came shouted by my husband through the bathroom door from the sports headlines or the score alerts scrolling along the bottom of the screen of another confounding Cowboy’s game.

But this year is different. Kansas City has magic again. They are undefeated. They lead the division. They have forced the ESPN and FOX sports analysts to look again and give them credit. In fact, I joked the other day on Facebook that I was concerned about the skies falling and the seas boiling because positive coverage of the Chiefs at a national level was surely a sign of the apocalypse.

The truth is, it’s not magic. It’s great coaching from a veteran coach who truly loves the game. It’s the heart of young players that are finally getting the chance to show what they can do in an organization that works with their strengths and has patience for their weaknesses. It’s a town that has had very little to cheer for in the past 13 years awakened once more to make Arrowhead the loudest stadium in the NFL.  It’s an underdog story that we all love, for an organization that had all but died with the loss of Thomas in February 2000. 

Tonight they face the Broncos, a bitter rivalry that has been very one-sided for over a decade now. The Broncos are excellent. Unlike the Chiefs who win on spectacular defense, they win with spectacular offense. Plus, let’s not forget the reason their offense is spectacular has just a little bit to do with the man that heads it up, a quarterback that has given everything he has to the NFL, including his neck, the formidable and lovable, Peyton Manning.  Even I, a life-long Broncos hater, have a hard time cheering against Manning.

So I will watch tonight –probably peeking out behind my hands on every snap -- hoping for victory for the boys in red.  Whatever the outcome, I will be proud of my team. For I am a Chiefs fan, a Kansas City girl, part of a world that believes that underdogs can win, even when facing incredible odds and superior talent. For we Chiefs fans know that winning is only part of the victory and never giving up on your team, even when they stink, makes winners of us all.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


By Terri Lively

As human beings we are constantly challenged by our lives. Problems are the one thing you can count on in your journey. The constant barrage can be exhausting and overwhelming at times.

Today I learned a little about life and its meaning in a task that challenged me more than it probably should have. I can’t say I have found the answer to life’s problems, but I certainly recognized some important tips for tackling them.

The Task:
 Untangling a three of Hayden’s necklaces that had twisted and tied themselves together in a series of formidable knots.

Here are 10 lessons I learned about life’s problems while unsnarling the necklaces:

She asked me to do this a couple of weeks ago. I said yes, but then put them up on the top of the dresser and ignored them.  I walked by them from time to time over these past two weeks recognizing that I needed to tackle that project, but quickly moved on to the other task on my to-do list that was more pressing. Today I saw them again but this time I decided I would tackle it, so I went to work.

Lesson #1: Don’t start until you are ready to face the challenge.

So I started trying to untangle them with my big meaty fingers. Not that my fingers are not any meatier than most women’s; I have average-sized fingers. But relative to the chains, they were gargantuan and no match for their slender, sinewy strands. So I got the orthodontic tweezers that were laying around my house, a by product of having a spouse who was “in the business.” I had a much easier time manipulating the knots after that.

Lesson #2: Recognize when you need better tools and make sure you get them in hand before you continue.

Now I had the right tools, but found that my aging eyes were having a difficult time discerning each of the strands in the light of my kitchen. It didn’t help that two of the strands were the exact same color with the exact same loop size. My frustration was mounting, as I was unable to see what I was doing. So I moved to my office where I have a lamp that can shine directly on the gnarly knots that I was trying to undo. After that, I had a much better idea, of which strand was which.

Lesson #3: It’s always better to have a good light to help you see things more clearly.

Now that I could see what I was doing, I really went to work. I started pulling on different ends and loosening and tightening knots to disentangle each of the chains from each other.  Unfortunately, when I would unloop one of the chains from one knot, another one would invariably tighten up, taking away all my “give” from the chain. So I would loosen the second knot to get my give back only to discover the first knot would then be too tight or that a third knot would be forming as a result of my work on the first two. I started to feel like I should give up because I was just making it more tangled instead of less. As a swear word was forming in my mind and racing to the tip of my tongue, I pictured the chains at the bottom of the trashcan and started formulating my apology to my little girl. But instead of moving forward with the swear word or the apology, I put down the tools and the chains and took a drink of coffee before continuing.

Lesson #4: When you are ready to give up, take a coffee break.

After a sip of coffee, I looked back down at my project determined to make it work this time. But before I started tugging and pulling at the knots, I decided that I ought to come up with system for disassembling these knots. I found each of the ends. I fanned them all out so I had an idea where each of them was. Then I chose one of the ends for my focus.

Lesson #5: You have to start somewhere, not everywhere at once.

Using that as my anchor, I worked my way through the first entanglement with that end until it was free and then moved on to the next. In doing so, some of the other ends got tangled again but I didn’t let that stop my progress on the end I had identified as my project.

Lesson #6: Sometimes when you solve one problem, some others get worse, but it’s important to stay focused on the one goal for now.

Eventually using this process, I was able to free one of the necklaces entirely. My feelings of success and satisfaction made me more determined to tackle the other two chains now.  Also, the knots were not as tight anymore. Plus, I had freed one of the chains that was the same color as another, so now I had an easier time separating the two remaining chains. Soon, I had all three chains free and clear.

Lesson#7: Take what you have learned from that process and apply it to the next problem and you are that much closer to solving all of the problems.

I was ready to celebrate my victory until…I saw that one of the chains still had numerous knots in its individual chain. While it was no longer knotted with another, it was still a mess and needed to be worked on some more. The swear word was back as was the temptation to pitch it. But this time, I did swear and I picked up the chain to toss it in the trash tucked under my desk.

Lesson #8: An individual’s problems can sometimes be the most frustrating ones.

I didn’t toss it. Instead, I closed my eyes and cleared my head. Then, I picked up my tools and went back to work, using the method I had developed on the bigger project. Before long, the chain was straight again. I was truly done and had three individual chains lined up on my desk to show for it.

Lesson #9: Don’t give up. Finishing completely is way more satisfying than giving up near the end.

My daughter just came in and I was rewarded with shining eyes of gratitude and a heart felt thank you. We picked a necklace for her to wear today; the teddy bear necklace with a turquoise stone that she is convinced is valuable (it isn’t).  As I was fastening it around her neck, I noticed that it had a tiny knot in it still. I sighed.

Lesson #10: Nothing is perfect.

Chances are that I will find myself facing these knots again. My daughter’s organization and necklace preservation skills are still just six-years-old.  I feel confident, however, that what I learned today will help me untangle them again with less frustration and time invested than today.

What the necklaces taught me was a way to cope with the problems life throws you. My hope is that these lessons will help me untangle the chains of my personal journey, with less swear words and more gratitude.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

PTSD: Post Traumatic Summer Disorder

By Terri Lively

It is with a generous amount of certainty that I predict I will suffer from PTSD, or Post Traumatic Summer Disorder, at the end of next month. I had no idea how difficult it would be to go from two kids in school 5 days a week to two kids in no school for 5 days a week. Now, I am acutely aware of how difficult that is.

It’s not that I don’t love my children. I do. More than I love anything on this earth. They are literally the only things I wouldn’t think twice about dying for and would take a kidney out myself in the bathtub if they needed it, with or without ice (for my chardonnay of course, I wouldn’t want it to get tepid while I sawed into my back…).

But that doesn’t mean that I want to spend every single second with them refereeing fights, settling property rights issues, doling out screen time that seems to go too quickly for all of us, and managing expectations on how many activities Mommy is going to plan for them in a given week.  In fact, just coming up with that list just now made me cranky and itchy for a calendar with big red Xs on it counting down the days until school starts again.

Here are just a few of the reasons that I am about to click on Amazon for a big white paper calendar and a red sharpie:

The Law of Beverage: I can be alone in a room for five minutes as long as I am holding a drink in my hand. The second I put down said drink onto the floor or ground outside, one of my three progeny will be present within 5 seconds with lumbering feet worthy of a Sasquatch to kick it over. Coffee on the carpet is one thing, but spilled Chardy is a crime punishable by blood curdling screech.  This same law applies to freshly painted toenails. My kids NEVER step on my actual toes (my proverbial toes are constantly trampled) unless I have applied a fresh coat of polish. Again this can occur in five seconds or less.

The Importance of Being Earnest:  I’m a talker. My husband is a talker.  My kids have inherited both of our love of the spoken word. My toddler adds his two cents too, but it’s in Chinese so we have to ignore it, since none of us was smart enough to become fluent. Among all of us, absolutely no one knows how to yield the “floor “ to another speaker as what we have to say is always of the utmost importance. Add to that that my actual floor is tile, which does zero to help in sound absorption. All of these factos results in a cacophony of voices, each raised to be heard over the others that could make the unflappable Ms. Brady scream at them to “Shut their Pie Holes!” Being just a hair short of her patience, and G rated language skills, I have been known to scream a few times myself.

Candyland Conundrum: Honestly, I have had a hard time with how to handle board games. On the one hand, I think kids need to learn that no one wins all the time and how to take it like a champion. But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s fair that when we are playing Candyland, they pull the gingerbread card when they are close to landing on King Candy. I have been known to hide the gingerbread card under the Candyland board so no one will have to go back to the beginning when they were about to win. I have also drawn the ice cream cone fairy card on one of my early turns and quickly put it back in the stack so one of my opponents will find it on their turn.  I suppose this is because they are little and they should experience the joy of winning. So then the part of me that thinks that my kids need to learn to lose graciously to be prepared for the constant competition of life that has its ups and downs for all of us, is frustrated by my softness.  Before I know it, a simple game of Candyland devolves into an internal parenting philosophical battle. Don’t even get me started on Chutes and Ladders…a game bent on dashing the hopes and dreams of every child with it’s capricious punishment for bad behavior based on a random roll of the dice.

Out of Order: Phyllis Diller said, ““Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” Diller, whom I just Googled, was a housewife and comedienne from Lima, OH (yes, the same town as Glee is set in) and is spot on with this comparison. In her honor and my attempt to maintain summer sanity, I have decided that I will only do periodic cleanings throughout the day. That means that only once the space between the sink and the coffee maker is stacked at least two high with plates, bowls, forks, knives, cups, and half-eaten snacks and meals will I load the dishwasher. Sweeping has been cut back to every other day and mopping eschewed for wet paper towel hand applied on the dirty spots. But I’m not fooling anyone, including myself, that I like my new state of housekeeping. I am anxious and judgmental of myself the entire time. And I only have three children. Diller had six! No wonder she had crazy hair (and eyes) on stage.

Floor Work: As part of my new regimen to do less cleaning during the summer, I mop less often but pick up and pitch the large pieces, like corn chips or Elmo stickers. Today as I was scouting the floor for highly visible mess I spotted a clump of mud. This was, no doubt, a product of my toddler’s recent mud pie fest outside. I bent down to get it and realized as I picked it up with my bare hand that I was half right; it was a product of my toddler. Shortly after my realization, my eldest yelled down from upstairs, “Mo-om! The baby had a blow out.” Needless to say, I am mopping today. Shortly after I go to the kitchen and pour a second glass of Chardy. And wash my hands thoroughly.

Gun Control: My eldest son, like most young boys, is obsessed with guns. This includes Nerf, Water, Pellet, laser, and sticks that loosely resemble guns. Earlier, he aimed one of the sticks-that-loosely-resemble types over my head, cocked it like a shotgun, and fired it at me. I was a bit disturbed both by his accurate pantomime and his choice of target. So I asked him, “Did you know that when you are practicing to shoot a gun you are practicing killing people? Do you want to kill people?” I was pretty proud of my liberal gun agenda masked as concern for his conscience. That was until I got his response, which was: “I practice shooting so I can defend myself.” I didn’t have any liberal gun control rhetoric comebacks for that one.

Wail Songs:  The kids had a sleepover at church the other day. My kids have had sleepovers before, so I was pretty sure they would be fine. All week they were both happy and chirpy about how much fun they were going to have at the sleepover and “wasn’t it going to be sooo cool?” So you can understand why when my five-almost-six-year-old daughter followed me out of the fellowship hall packed with moms and dads and campers and counselors with very fake and very loud wailing of “I want my mommy!” left me both dismayed and embarrassed.  It’s hard to get really excited about leaving your kid at the church sleepover when you feel like you are abusing your child to do so. Or since it was fake wailing (meaning no actual tears), look like you are abusing your child to do so.

My school district has mercifully only granted us 69 days of summer vacation this year. Thank goodness I don’t go to school in Danville (home of Phineas and Ferb) where they apparently get 104 days. So thanks to a traditional schedule I am roughly halfway there. So if I pick up those mud piles with gloves next time and don’t ask any sarcastic questions that I don’t have snappy comeback for when they answer me reasonably, I will make it to the other side with minimum effects of PTSD. With luck and a whole lot of summer camp, the kids might too.