Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for July, 2015

Cycles (No, Not That Kind)

Sometimes when I am having my cup of morning coffee and perusing the good old Facebook news feed, I come across something that sparks my mind — that says, “Right there! You have to write about that!”

Today, what caught my eye was an item announcing that the levels of the Great Lakes are rising! Rising so much that beaches and shorelines are eroding! Why, Lake Huron has risen something like 34 inches!

Water and waves and erosion, oh my!

Let’s see. It was just a little over 15 years ago that Tom and I were frequently visiting the Tawas City, MI, area and finding that lake levels were dropping quite drastically. We were seeing things along the shores of Lake Huron and Tawas Bay — old pilings and rocks and ships’ skeletons — that we’d not seen in several years of frequenting the area. One small inland lake nearby actually disappeared completely. If you followed the sign for “Lake Chappelle – Lakefront Lots!” you came to a large dry bowl at the end of the road. It didn’t even support lake-type weeds any more.

Panic gripped the populace. Tourism would be dead! Michigan’s economy would fail, because it relied so heavily on tourism!

At the time, I kept remembering articles I’d read in the not-too-distant past about increasingly high water levels in the Great Lakes causing shoreline and beach erosion. I recalled articles cautioning against building homes and cottages on the high bluffs overlooking parts of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron because erosion had caused some such structures to collapse.

So, a recap: According to NOAA data, around 1985, high water levels and lake shore erosion created big concerns; in the early 2000s, shrinking water levels were a problem such that we saw docks that extended over many yards of mud before reaching open water; and after 2013, the lake levels began rising again. If one looks at historical records, one sees a cycle, 15-20 years in length, of waxing and waning water levels in the Great Lakes and, to some extent, in inland lakes. By the way, that little lake that disappeared in the mid-1990s? It’s back, and someone made  a sizable financial haul selling those (finally) lakefront lots and building homes on them.

A cycle. Who knew? No matter what we humans do, the forces of nature will have their way. We humans strive for some kind of permanency and stability, we strive to control our habitat and surroundings so that we can assure our lasting comfort among them. And all the while, nature will have its way. The house on the bluff that cries out to be built in the days of low water levels will end up floating in the drink when the water levels rise again.

The moral of the story: If you live long enough, everything will change. Again.

Journey 4.0: Preparations

Yesterday I found myself shaking my head at the notion that July, 2015, is all but tucked away in the history books. And that got me shaking my head at myself. “Self,” I said, “you should be much more involved with making history — irreverently, joyfully, boisterously making history — than marveling at how quickly time flies when you are having fun.”

Then I remembered something I wrote awhile back about getting the word should out of my vocabulary, so I decided to just get busy doing it.

This business of the big late-summer trip has become something of a tradition. The first trip, in 2012, was an ambitious and audacious undertaking wherein I loaded myself, my little brown spotted puppy dog, and almost everything I owned — well, at least most of my clothing — into my new Chevy Equinox, dubbed Sophie; notified my family across the country that I was coming to stay; and took off for almost five weeks and 5,260 miles on the road. That’s almost a mile of miles, people! Miles squared, you might say. I had been a widow for just two months when I took off. That trip involved two journeys — one through the beautiful country we live in, the other through the twists and turns of early grieving. I survived both, and arrived home at the end marveling at the graciousness of all my family, who weren’t fazed at all by my announcement that I would be showing up to stay a few days with them. Without exception, they welcomed me and my dog, JD, cherished and comforted us, then sent us on our way with a bit more love to carry us.

If you do something twice, it’s a tradition, right? So the Journey in 2013 changed up just a little. My brother from Georgia hit the road with me, and along the way we deepened our brother-sister connection as we spent hours talking and hours being quiet together, and time sharing memories with our other brothers along the way. We played it by ear, finding a place to stay at the end of each day on the road, and I learned that sometimes journeys are better when they aren’t quite as thoroughly planned out.

By the time 2014 rolled around, I had made some pretty major lifestyle changes, and I changed up the Journey just a bit as well. This time, I was leaving from The Little House In The Woods By The Lake, so I chose a route through Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula and northern Minnesota, across North Dakota and Montana down into Wyoming. New sights, new wonders; a couple of very interesting (if somewhat eerie) hotel experiences, and an altogether different experience. By this time, I had some favorite spots to visit in Wyoming, and after enjoying them, I took a day to visit Yellowstone for the first time. The only thing you want after a visit to Yellowstone is … more Yellowstone. I left Wyoming via beautiful Wind River Canyon, and began thinking about my next trip before I hit the state line.

Almost as soon as I got home from Journey 2014, more changes began to roll. I moved back to Lansing and, a few months later, sold TLHITWBTL. All the way back in January, I began thinking about what this year’s trip out west might look like, and something inspired me to ask two of my grandsons if they wanted to go along. As it developed, the trip was only going to work for the youngest grandson, so we began to plan.

I’ve named the trip “Journey 4.0” because this fourth trek really is a whole new version. As the plan has grown and changed shape over the past several months, it has become a whole different kind of adventure. What’s different with Journey 4.0?

Well, the little brown spotted puppy dog is staying in Michigan. I’ve found a wonderful home boarding placement for him. He’s stayed there three times now, and each time he has settled in better and learned more about how to be a dog. So he’s going to spend the 2 weeks at Paws A Playin.

And the biggest change: Journey 4.0 is going to be a camping and hiking adventure as well as a road trip. That completely changes the process of preparing for the trip, but change is what it’s all about, right?

The plan has evolved from “Hey, Matt, what would you think about camping some of the time on the trip?” to a plan that involves more camping than hotels. Matt has greeted the idea with great enthusiasm. We are borrowing some camping gear, and I’ve made a few judicious purchases, including a 12-volt cooler, battery pump-inflatable air mattresses, and my very own Coleman sleeping bag. We plan to eat as much non-processed, whole food as we can. We plan to do as much hiking as we can manage. We plan to find safe camping sites, and we’ll simply stay in hotels when we can’t find camping accommodations.

I’m preparing myself by working on fitness and endurance, by reducing and possibly even eliminating the need for caffeine, and by planning a route through upper Michigan again which will let us begin the adventures the very first day.

The plan for the trip is fairly loose, but it includes spending a few days in Wyoming so that we can see, and hike around, some of my favorite places there — including Devil’s Tower, which I discovered two years ago; Shell Falls, which soothes my soul; and Devil’s Kitchen and the Dinosaur Track Site which are simply amazing places. Then Yellowstone, and then back across the state of Wyoming to do at least partial justice to Wind River Canyon. Finally, we hope to head further south and west to see the Grand Canyon, and from there to drive home. All that in 16 days! The trip home may be fairly intense — 1,895 miles, 28 hours. But it’s through some areas I’ve never seen. We just need to give ourselves 4 days to make the trip back. So, as counterintuitive as it may seem, I’m going to have to sit down with a calendar and do at least some minimal scheduling.

The only rules of the road: When we spot something we want to see or do, we stop and see or do it. If that means we don’t make every spot we originally planned, all that means is that we have a start on plans for Journey 5.0!

Let this, then, be the first entry in the journal for Journey 4.0 (2015).

On Things That Are Meant To Be, and Traps.

This happened.

Once upon a time, an ordinary woman and an ordinary man met, and in a flash they embarked on an extraordinary relationship. Their adventures spanned just over 21 years, and then he died. And she realized that their time together had changed her irrevocably and immeasurably, and that his death had changed things irretrievably.

That realization that nothing would ever be like it used to be took awhile to sink in, and to say that it was a most painful realization would be an understatement.

She knew that grief was going to take time, and she knew – even though she didn’t know how she knew it – that grieving was an individual and unpredictable process.

Along the way, she found that her willingness to embrace change became a way of coping and adjusting. In fact, she began to reach for change, for new experiences. For better or for worse, human nature tends to avoid change, so each change she reached for seemed to disguise itself as an ultimate goal – as “the way things will be from now on.”

She is me, and it has taken me awhile to sort out the experiences of the past three years and make some sense of them. And I find that it is difficult to write about these things without a sense that I am reaching for something I can’t quite identify. Perhaps that, too, is a part of this process.

Just a year after Tom died, I bought back the little house in the woods by the lake – fondly dubbed TLHITWBTL – and it felt like it was meant to be. When things fall into place so neatly, that’s what I think – it’s meant to be. I was going to have my house in Mason and my cottage up north. Living the dream.

Then as I spent more time at TLHITWBTL, I grew to love it more and more. Even as things broke and needed fixing, I simply regarded them as investments in a place I loved. By late fall, I knew I wanted to live there. It was a very simple thing to sell the house in Mason, downsize my clutch of possessions, pack up my life, and hire a mover.

I knew when I moved in that I would need a garage, so I reinvested the money from the sale of the Mason house to build one, and it was good.

I had adventures: I snowshoed, I hiked, I rowed on the lake and played golf in summer, I explored. I insulated and drywalled my garage, painted the exterior of my house, planted things, spread gravel to create a perfect driveway, and mowed my lawn; and it was good.

I could have spent the money on cruises and getaways and clothes and sparkly things. They would not have provided the kind of therapy that living amid the good memories, and accomplishing the crazy tasks I took on, provided for me.

Then one day I woke up and – I don’t know how else to describe it – I was done. Or maybe TLHITWBTL was done with me.

The solitude turned to isolation. As the autumn approached, I found myself dreading winter. I began to experience levels of anxiety I had never experienced before, especially as the afternoons wound down to evenings and darkness wrapped TLHITWBLT up tight.

One odd experience kept shoving its way into my consciousness. It was by no means a major factor, but it was a nagging little thing. One neighbor had found it necessary to share with me that I was the object of another neighbor’s fantasies, and I found both the fact and the sharing of it disturbing on some level. You see, the lifestyle at TLHITWBTL is long on solitude. For much of the time, the fantasizing neighbor and I would be the only humans within 100 yards. A nagging discomfort took root and would not be stilled.

I began to think about getting myself a little pied-a-terre in Lansing so that I could again spend time among family. Being a three-hour drive from everyone I really cared about was not working for me. When I came to Lansing for my younger daughter’s wedding in October, that sealed it, and I made appointments for a week later to begin looking.

The search was short. The first place I looked at was the right spot, and if I took it, the current tenant would be able to move to a 2-bedroom unit without paying a rent penalty. Everyone wins! And once again, when things work out so neatly, it feels like it is meant to be.

What a ride. I spent some money on basic furnishings with the idea that I would spend perhaps a third of my time here. I spent my first night here in mid-November, and when I went back to TLHITWBTL for a few days, I realized that I simply didn’t want to be there. And so the plan was hatched. I used my time up north to wrap things up, and by mid-December was I was a permanent resident of Lansing. (Really? Did I just say “permanent”?)

Several trips – a couple of overnighters and a couple of day trips – allowed me to swap out some furniture and get those things I really treasured moved to Lansing. Family members helped, giving their time and efforts without reservation. All this time, I was considering the place up north to be our future recreation spot – but I began to see that I no longer enjoyed being there and that the three-hour drive was not a great incentive to family members to go there either. THLITWBTL was in danger of becoming one of those places that gets used two or three times a year and sits alone the rest of the time. That didn’t seem like a good use of assets, and it didn’t seem like a good way to treat a little house with a big heart, so in April, I put the place on the market.

This is where things get interesting. Just 33 days after listing, I received an offer. I made a counter-offer, as one does, and the buyers accepted that first counter-offer! Another two months, with a few bumps along the way, and the sale was closed.

The best part? The buyer was the daughter of the man Tom had bought the house from back in 1993. This man had lost his wife to an aneurysm in January, 1993. TLHITWBTL was their retirement dream home, and when she died, he could no longer stand to spend a night there. Tom bought it, and we created a lot of wonderful memories there. Then after Tom’s cancer diagnosis, we decided the place would be better off with his sons; in 2013, a year after Tom died, it came back into my hands. When I put it on the market, a neighbor let the former owner’s daughter know, and she and her husband were in a position to buy it back. The closing was so emotional. She was overjoyed, and her husband and daughters were thrilled. The moment that really grabbed me? It was when we were leaving the building to get into our cars, and she told me that she and her sister had had so many good times at that house but had drifted apart after her father sold it, and she knew that having the house back in the family was going to draw them close again.

So here I am. All my family is within a couple of miles of me. I don’t own any real estate, and I’m pretty much a free spirit. And in the past three years, I’ve experienced – mostly as a willing participant – any number of changes that felt “meant to be” – that rang that “This is how it’s going to be from now on” bell.

“Meant to be” I get. Totally. But I have come to believe that “This is going it’s going to be from now on” is a trap.

Why a trap? Because along with everything else, this also happened: I found myself, as I progressed through all of these changes, questioning myself and even trying to explain – yes, justify – my decisions to myself, and worse, to others.

As I examined this rather alarming tendency, I began to realize that it was entirely based in fear. Yes, fear. Fear that I and others around me would judge me to be flighty and irresponsible and unable to stick with anything. Fear, especially, that I would forever flit from one meant-to-be, this-is-it-forever life situation to another, only to find that that wasn’t it after all. Fear that I would somehow constantly seek, and never quite find, that one thing, that only thing, that was going to make me happy.

What??! I wasn’t happy??!

What a question. What a trap. What a beastly way to surround myself with doubt, fear, and festering discontent.

Nothing is forever. I should have picked up on that when Tom died. After all, we were going to be forever, and then one day there was no “us.” Just me.

The secret is, I don’t need “forever.” The change, the huge, irrevocable, irretrievable change that began when Tom died, was not an event, not a moment. It is a process, a continuum, a journey. It needs no explanation and does not brook excuses for its existence. The flow of change is as inexorable as the flow of water over a brink that creates a spectacular waterfall. It is as small as the drip-drip-drip of water that eventually wears a hollow in a rock, and it is as huge as the flood that smashes earthen levees in a hurricane.

Change does not require justification; it requires only to be embraced and surrendered to. Change does not require explanation, which means looking back; it requires a sense of adventure, which looks only forward.

I have, for years, taught that the way to deal with change is to own it, and to focus one’s energy on those things over which one has control. As life flows around and through me, I realize that my attitudes and reactions really are the only things I control. Let me focus on the future, with an attitude of anticipation, and let me react with “Wow! What a ride!” whenever life steers me toward a new “meant-to-be.”

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