Blog Post

Painting Toward Grace

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I've written about my friend, fellow brain cancer survivor, and watercolor classmate, Michael Orchowski, in a previous post, but I'm going to do it again.  I want you to have an opportunity to participate in the remarkable journey of one of the most fascinating people I've ever met.  Are you reading this, Barbara Walters?

The Dream Foundation is collaborating with Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and 33 Jewels at El Paseo to present an exhibition of Michael's work, "Painting Toward Grace", on Thursday, December 1, 5-8pm, at 33 Jewels gallery in downtown Santa Barbara as part of 1st Thursday

From the event flyer:

"Michael's art is rich with imagery, with each of his paintings detailing his journey through and beyond illness.  Michael hopes that others will benefit from his experience, and enjoy this exhibition of his work...

"In the advanced stages of ALS, Michael's wish is to have an exhibition of his work "which would expose many others to my joie de vivre in spite of this strong infirmity." Paralyzed on his right side, and only able to use his non-dominant left hand, he strives to express himself in "joyful colors, with my right brain and my left hand.  The colors which I applied in the various paintings are happy and express my positive outlook towards life."

Nearly every painting Michael has painted in class will be on display and for sale, so there should be a lot of opportunities to obtain some one-of-a-kind holiday gifts!  Michael and his equally inspiring wife, Doedy, are generously donating the proceeds from the event to be divided equally between the Dream Foundation and the CCSB Wellness Programs, to increase awareness for both organizations.

Michael is a bright, shining light with an infectious smile, and an inspiration to everyone he meets.  But don't just take it from me - I've asked my classmates to contribute their thoughts on our friend Michael, too:

  • "What a pleasure it is being a painting comrade with Michael. He is an inspiration of love and hope and an artist to boot! His paintings exude joy and life filled with color and brush strokes that define his unique style, absolute "Michaelness". His art is a true expression of his life, his heart and his story, which is compelling and reaches out and touches the viewer. I'm glad that he found his brush." - Libby Whaley
  • "Michael is the kind of philosopher we need quoted in textbooks.  Upbeat, courageous, memorable, he smiles at himself and the capriciousness of life.  Michael has a droll sense of humor, and a gentle, loving and sensitive heart.  He’s a one-of-a-kind artist, and an inspiring member of our art class.  He’s a hero!" - Laurette Valentine
  • "Michael's art has always expressed to me his love of life in the face of challenges and pain. His good humor and whimsy belies strength founded in humility and kindness." - Michael Taylor
  • "When I first met Michael I felt an immediate bond with him. I know he felt it, too. It was only after my initial meeting and conversations with him that I was able to step back and appreciate his art. What a treat that was! He can somehow capture what is going on in his body with paint and paper in the most amazing way. His paintings are expressive, organic and extremely captivating. He is a remarkable person in many, many ways and an artist in the BEST sense. I am proud to know him." - Karen Westheimer
  • "I'm the girl that sat next to you most of the time at class. Your work there has been an authentic journey towards Heaven.  Your graceful attitude has inspired many a great deal. I looked forward for Mondays to come. I have enjoyed the comments, the interaction and the encouragement with you. I hope to see you at your coming exhibit. You leave behind you a work of love that I personally appreciate. Your presence will be real to me in my future work, and I hope will reflect what friendship and support can bring to a searching world for true goodness. Your positiveness gave me hope and then some.  Ma el salama, my dear friend......" - Natalie Khoury
  • "Watching Michael paint is an education in itself. Every brush stroke is loaded with meaning and is an integral part of the whole painting. In this way, each of us adds an integral part to the lives of those around us. Michael has shown us by example that, no matter what challenge arises, there is a way to express yourself and create beauty in your very own, wonderful style. Thank you, Michael, for blessing us with so many magical paintings--you can always tell an Orchowski!" - Tessa Flanagan
  • "Michael is our Archangel." - Rick Stich, Instructor
  • "The kindest blue eyes. Big blue and filled with love. His art is an extension of his love and the way he lives. Each piece is filled with bright colors, abstract, yes but his message is clear, live each moment in joy and hope. I love you Michael...you know that." - Charlene Hovey

Please join Michael's friends and help Michael fulfill his dream on this very special night.

  • Location: 33 JEWELS AT EL PASEO, 814 State Street, 805-957-9100
  • Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
  • Time: 5:00 - 8:00pm
  • Bonus: Wine and refreshments will be served.

The Artist and His Wife

One Year Ago

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A couple of years ago, I started carrying a notebook with me everywhere I went.  I mean everywhere - doctor's appointments, grocery stores, to the kitchen for every meal, next to my computer, next to my bed at night.  In my purse or in my hand in between. If I could have a holster made for it, I would.  It started out as a necessity - all of the medicine made me forgetful, so I'd make lists.  And lists and lists...I wrote down everything, there for a while, because I could remember anything without it!

Then it was a way of keeping myself sane, writing down thoughts and feelings to get them out of my head, so they'd stop spinning around in there and driving me nuts.  I suppose that's sort of a necessity, too.  Then it just became a habit to have it with me, and I'd get sort of lost without it.  I'd panic when I couldn't find it, tearing the house apart, only to discover that I had just left it in my bag by the front door!

I write something in it every day to keep track of things: ups and downs, highs and lows. I tell people this all the time - write something in a journal every day, to keep a record of where you're at, whether battling cancer, or just life in general.  I may not feeling like writing an elaborate account of each day, but I make myself write a sentence or two in my notebook every night before I turn out the light.  My bedtime ritual has turned thoughts into stories and sentences into a record of events in my personal journey.  

As I finished my journal entry last night, I realized I was at the last page.  I had no idea when I'd started, so I flipped to the front, and whoa:  November 3, 2010.  A year's worth of journaling in one book, how cool is that?  What was I doing a year ago, anyway?

I started reading and ah, yes, the crying.  Lots of crying.   I was pre-bankruptcy and the phone was ringing off the hook with angry creditors.  Boyfriend and I still had no income or work and bills needed to be paid.  How much longer would our landlord put up with us?  Not to mention I still had a good sized brain-tumor. I had scribbled on one of the pages, "When was all this positive thinking going to kick in and turn things around?"

Then December came and things started to break loose.  My December 2nd MRI was a pretty sweet Christmas gift.  A few weeks later we finally got the web contract we'd been vying for for over a year.  We caught up on our rent.  We paid our bills.  Then Christmas and the silly stresses that tend to go with it.  I was happy and grateful that I could afford gifts and cards for those I loved, but didn't realize I wasn't up for the full-time "job" that the holidays really are and I was still exhausted two weeks a month with chemo!   Hmmm... something to do better this year...

I kept going, so many ideas, stories, and lessons I may not have remembered without my little spiral-bound companion and trustworthy mechanical pencil!

When Boyfriend came to bed, I was still riveted.  "This is the best book I've ever read!"  

"What is it?"

"My journal."

He smiled, "It's a good story, isn't it?"

I'd better keep writing to see how it ends.

Ready for Writing

That's Crap

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Stevie taught me something about being present when I was out visiting him at the farm today.  I gave him a bath, and we went out to find some grass for him while I toweled him dry.  After my towels were mostly wet, and my horse was mostly dry, I sat down on the lawn to watch him happily munching on green grass.  As I sat back against a tree, I thought maybe I'd check my email, now that I had a moment, so I pulled my phone out of my pocket.  

As soon as I held it up and looked down at the screen, the contented crunching stopped.  I looked up to see my horse frozen in place, his eyes empty, staring straight ahead.  Definitely an expression of resigned sadness.

"You okay, buddy?  What's wrong, Steve?"  I stood up, went over to him.  The phone was back in my pocket.  I put my hand on his neck and he didn't move.  Where was my horse with the big personality?

Then I heard him, "You came all the way out here to stare at your phone?  Really?  Because that's crap, if you ask me."  And as if to emphasize his point, he crapped, right there on the lawn.

Oops.  Sorry, man.  You are so right.

Next time the phone stays in the car, my attention on my horse, and my mind in the moment.

The Gift of Being Present

Wellness At The Cancer Center Of Santa Barbara

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Cancer's a weird thing.  For all the pain and distress it brings, I've found that it can bring equal amounts of opportunity, hope, and enlightenment for everyone affected.  The avenue to health through cancer can be eye-openingly positive with the right kind of support.  And my Yellow-Brick Road to this conclusion went directly through the front doors at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.  As I've told so many people, "Santa Barbara is the place to have cancer, if you must, because of the Cancer Center."

The staff and doctors at CCSB took me in for treatment before I was qualified for any financial assistance, because I needed treatment "now, not whenever the state figures out that you qualify."  The caring staff felt like a family by the end of my seven weeks of radiation.  I was actually sad it was over, because I wouldn't get see them every day!

In addition to offering outstanding medical care, cutting-edge technology, and an ultra-caring staff; CCSB provides a vast array of classes, therapies, and counseling - all free of charge to patients through their CCSB Wellness Programs.  I've been taking watercolor and yoga classes, receiving Healing Touch Therapy, and attending support groups at the CCSB Wellness Center for almost a year now.  Their Wellness Programs perfectly complement the outstanding medical care provided by top-notch physicans with opportunities to heal mind and spirit while the physical body battles cancer.  I can't say enough to express my gratitude for CCSB's emphasis on healing the Whole Person through Whole Wellness.

Through my activities at CCSB I'm learning new skills, keeping myself sane and happy, getting the help and support I need, and meeting lots of interesting new friends.  There are a lot of amazing people with whom I may have never come into contact if it weren't for the common thread of cancer and the CCSB.  I've met so many people through the CCSB's Wellness Programs: fellow cancer survivors and warriors, amazing staff, volunteers, teachers, and family members of my cancer peers.  

One of my new friends is a fellow brain cancer survivor and watercolor student, Michael Orchowski.  He is an inspiration: a bright, shining light to everyone he meets, and I'm super-lucky to get to spend time with him every Monday in art class.  

Here's his remarkable story: Following brain cancer surgery, Michael embraced painting classes offered by the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. Losing strength and control on his right arm and hand, Michael learned to be left-handed.  Inspired by his beloved Corgi dog, he began using his left hand to paint particular images and colors without making conscious decisions of what he was painting. Michael's cancer is no longer active thanks to the skills of surgeons and the wonderful medical and spiritual support of many medical staff, friends and family and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. 

Michael donates most of his paintings to CCSB, and they've taken five of his doggie paintings and printed them on notecards to sell in 5-card assortment packs for $10 (All 5 cheerful images, shown above, right!).  I've bought a pack, my parents have bought a pack, and I'm suggesting that if you like these cards, you do, too.  Your purchase will help a tremendous organization continue to help people like me, when they need it the most.  The cards will brighten the day of whoever receives them.  Just like the smile of my friend Michael brightens everybody's day and lights up every room he enters.

Your $10 donation is tax-deductible and (much-needed) proceeds will be donated to the valuable Wellness Programs at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. To learn more, please email the Wellness Center Coordinator, or call (805) 898-2204.  Please tell them that Lisa Tomlin sent you. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Michael O's Corgi Notecards

With A Little Help From My Friends

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Okay, I'll admit it.  In between thankfully longer and longer stretches of positivity, I still have plenty of bouts of uncertainty.  So I keep a log of some of the best advice I receive from so many of the amazing people in my life, and check in with it when I need a boost.  Here are some of the gems I've collected so far:

On getting back to life:
Don't BE the disease.  Get back to life.  Get back to living.
Got it.

On going back to work:
Don't worry about going back to work just yet.  You've still got 11 rounds of chemo, and I don't think you could work full-time until that's over.  Just concentrate on staying well.
Check.

On money:
You will always have what you need, when you need it.
Okay...

On stress:
Cut yourself some slack - we've had a really hard couple of years.
Right.
It'll get better.
Thanks, Dad.

On what to do next:
You've been blessed with the opportunity to figure out what you really want in life.  Take it!
Yessir!
Now's the time to learn something new.  Take some classes, maybe go back to school.
Doing it!
Maybe you should write a book.
Been thinking about that, actually...

On my horse career:
You've got this crazy ability to read horses.  Use it!
Working on it!
Why aren't you teaching riding lessons?  You need to be teaching riding lessons!
Yes ma'am!

On spirituality:
When you remember who you are, and I remember who I am, we remember: We are ONE.
YES!

On blogging:
You might run out of stuff to write about on that blog of yours.
Never!

Life After?

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I started this blog with the intention of sharing fun things that I was learning and doing, along with a little insight into "Life after Divorce" and my subsequent Relocation to California.  I wanted to send a message of hope to women going through similar circumstances, maybe wondering what do do next after such a Major Life Event.  Because maybe they had friends who chose the "other half" of the relationship, as I did.  Maybe they had family members who were confused and hurt after someone they considered to be a member of their family was suddenly extracted from their lives.  Maybe they were feeling guilty that despite all of their best intentions, they just couldn't make it work.  Or maybe they were the half of the couple left standing there, wondering, "Wait, what just happened?"  I wanted to reassure fellow divorced gals that they'd get through it and be happy again.  Because I was living proof of Life After Divorce.  Right?

Then, a couple of months into blogging, I suddenly had a lot more to write about.  A lot more to learn.  A lot more to share.  Suddenly, I needed reassuring that it was all going to be okay, that I would get through it, and be happy again.  I wondered, "What does Life After Brain Cancer feel like?"  I had already survived the Big D and Leaving Friends and Family in search of A New Start in California, so I was sure there must be life on the other side of a silly old brain tumor!  Right?

The last couple of years have certainly presented a series of hurdles, from further divorce drama to crappy cancer to the latest blow: bankruptcy.  Jeez, what's next, Universe?  When could I get on with it, already?

But I was starting to notice a trend: Stuff just keeps happening!  One obstacle after another, then another?  Get to "the other side" of one hurdle and there's something else waiting?  Wait a minute - that can't be right!  Could it?

So it struck me that maybe I had it backwards:  You don't get through Stuff to get to Life, but Stuff is what makes Life.  Maybe instead of looking at it as a series of hurdles to overcome, why not think of it as all just ONE CRAZY EXPERIENCE.  Sort of a winding, connect-the-dots path, leading me from one (sometimes BIG) experience to the next; ultimitely writing the story of my life, creating the ever-evolving, new-and-improved, latest version of ME.  Right!

So I hate to break it to everybody, but Stuff is part of Life, and Life, well, it just continues.  As people have begun to ask me, "How's Life After Cancer?" and "How does it feel to be Cancer-Free?", I get a little weirded out.  I mean, the "After" implies something is Over.  Done.  The End.  But Cancer is a chapter of the story of my life and the story continues.  It's a part of who I am, a dot on my winding path,  and will never be something that never happened.

Life after Divorce?  Life after Cancer?  Life after Bankruptcy?  There is always life after anything and everything.  Because as it turns out, it's all LIFE, and it's up to us to choose how to LIVE it.  I choose to live in humility, health, and HAPPINESS.  With a side of rainbows and a chocolate-covered cherry on top!

On A Path

Both Sides of the Truly Story

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This weekend marks the "Birthday" of our fabulous feline friend, Truly.  Behold, the story of that day:

It was the Saturday before Mother's Day, 2009.  I'd been home from the hospital about a week since my brain cancer diagnosis.

There was no adjustment period, it was as though someone had flipped a switch; priorities instantly rearranged themselves.  It was Time To Take Care of Myself and it was a full-time position.  For Boyfriend, too.

Which is what we were doing that lovely spring morning: Boyfriend and I were sitting on the deck drinking our morning tea, enjoying the scenery, sunshine and fresh air.  We noticed a tabby cat come around the neighbor's house, stalking a bird.  I reached for my camera, but the sudden movement took the cat's attention away from her prey for a moment.   She looked back to the bird, but it was gone.  As was my photo-op.  Suddenly the cat's eyes lit up, and she bounded over to us, jumping right up on the deck to introduce herself. 

Hi! I'm your new cat!

"Well, hello, little one," said Boyfriend, and we reached down to stroke her her tiger-striped coat.  She purred with enthusiasm as she rubbed against our legs and jumped up on our laps.  I'd never met a cat so instantly sweet and friendly.  "I wonder who she belongs to...," I thought aloud.

Why, you, of course!  Silly humans!

As we continued our introductions, we couldn't help but notice how bony her little body was under her soft fur.  We hadn't seen her around before - could she be a stray?  Left to fend for herself in the woods? "Where do you live, little one?" questioned Boyfriend.

Right here - I'm home!

It was already warm and the weather had been hot all week, so I fetched the little cat a bowl of water, which she proceeded to lap up.  Just as we were considering breaking open a can of chicken for her, something caught her eye and she leapt off the deck...

...and we turned just in time to watch her skillfully catching and downing a lizard!  Nothing finicky about this feline, I thought, and what a hunter!  She was clearly in need of groceries, so back in the house I went to get some chicken...

Humans are so easy to train!

We had been talking about getting a cat, but that was BBT - Before Brain Tumor.  The whole world was different now.  Everything was different.  Nothing mattered, but suddenly everything did.  Up was down.  Black was white.  Needless to say, taking on any uneccessary responsibility, such as choosing and caring for a new pet, had been removed from the New To-Do List.  We didn't have time for any more responsibility...

You're not getting it...

But the Universe had another plan, and the cat chose us.  Here was this spunky, sweet, starving, little bundle of love in need of a home.  Literally falling into our laps!  But why us?  

Because you need me!

Just when we were contemplating where to keep our little friend safe while we made sure she wasn't one of the neighbors', she jumped off of our laps and trotted to the back door.  She stood up and pawed at the door, right underneath the handle.  After the latched door didn't budge, she sat down, facing it, and turned her little face to look back over her shoulder at us.  Her perplexed expression seemed to ask, "Um, should we go inside?"

Humans can be a little slow to get the message, even the smart ones!

Suddenly we were struck by the blatant fact before us; here was a fur-covered, bursting-with-love, cat-shaped friend, staring up at us, with nowhere else to go.   We needed her as much as she seemed to need us, and what were we waiting for, anyway?  So inside we all went, a happy family of three ever since.

We named her Truly because we believe there are truly no accidents.  That she was truly meant to be our cat, and that she truly appeared at exactly the right time: Just when we needed an on-call nurse, healer, and furry friend.  And if the timing of her appearance in our lives weren't enough, it didn't take us long to determine she knew better than us what we needed; whether it be cuddling, warmth, love, someone to talk to, distraction from work or pain, or comic relief!

Don't forget about all the mice I catch...

Oh, right, and she's a terrific mouser - a real pro.

Thank you.

Thank YOU, Truly.

Note:  We live off of Paradise Road, in the National Forest above Santa Barbara.  None of our neighbors had ever seen her before, so we gather that she may have been dropped off to fend for herself in the wild.  We have a lot of wildlife here, including raccoons, fox, wild pigs, mountain lions, bobcats, and wild turkeys.  Truly sits on our screen porch and watches the turkeys go by nearly every day, but shows no desire to go after them.  And she is completely disinterested in going outside.  Happy to have her "wild" days behind her, she is a very contented housecat and feline healer!

It was the Saturday before Mother's Day, 2009.  I'd been home from the hospital following my brain cancer diagnosis about a week.

 There was no adjustment period, it was as though someone had flipped a switch; priorities instantly rearranged themselves.  It

was Time To Take Care of Myself and it was a full-time position.  For Boyfriend, too.  

Which is what we were doing that lovely spring morning: Boyfriend and I were sitting on the deck drinking our morning tea, enjoying scenery and the fresh air.  We noticed a tabby cat come around the neighbor's house, stalking a bird.  I reached for my camera, but the sudden movement took the cat's attention away from her prey for a moment.   She looked back to the bird, but it was gone.  As was my photo-op.  Suddenly the cat's eyes lit up, and she bounded over to us, jumping right up on the deck to introduce herself.  

Hi! I'm your new cat!

"Well, hello, little one," said Boyfriend, and we reached down to stroke her her tiger-striped coat.  She purred with enthusiasm

as she rubbed against our legs and jumped up on our laps.  We'd never met a cat so instantly friendly, we began to wonder who she

belonged to...  

Why, you, of course!  Silly humans!

As we continued our introductions, we couldn't help but notice how bony her little body was under her soft fur.  We hadn't seen

her around before - could she be a stray?  Left to fend for herself in the woods?  

I'm here for you! I won't be much trouble, I promise!

It was already warm and the weather had been hot all week, so I fetched the little cat a bowl of water, which she proceeded to

lap up.  Just as we were considering breaking open a can of chicken for her, something caught her eye and she leapt off the deck.

 We turned just in time to watch her skillfully catching and downing a lizard!  Nothing finicky about this feline, I thought, and

what a hunter!  She was clearly in need of groceries, so back in the house I went to get some chicken... Humans are so easy to train!

We had been talking about getting a cat, but that was BBT - Before Brain Tumor.  The whole world was different now.  Everything

was different.  Nothing mattered, but suddenly everything did.  Up was down.  Black was white.  Needless to say, taking on any

uneccessary responsibility, such as choosing and caring for a new pet, had been removed from the New To-Do List.  

Not so fast!

But the Universe had another plan, and cat chose us.  What's that, you say?  You're too busy taking care of yourself to help anybody else?  We had taken it off the table, but here was this spunky, sweet, starving, little cat in need of a home.  Literally falling into our laps!  Why us?  

Because you need me!

Just when we were contemplating where to keep our little friend safe while we made sure she wasn't one of the neighbors', she jumped off of our laps and trotted to the back door.  She stood up and pawed at the door, right underneath the handle.  After the latched door didn't budge, she sat down, facing it, and turned her to look over her shoulder at us.  Her perplexed expression seemed to ask, "Um, should we go inside?"

Humans can be a little slow to get the message, even the smart ones!

Suddenly we were struck by the blatant fact before us; here was a fur-covered, bursting-with-love, cat-shape staring up at us,

with nowhere else to go.   We needed her as much as she seemed to need us, and what were we waiting for, anyway?  So we all went

inside, a happy family of three ever since.

We named her Truly because we believe there are truly no accidents.  That she was truly meant to be our cat.  And she truly

appeared at exactly the right time: Just when we needed an on-call nurse, healer, and furry friend.  She has a sense for what we

need when we need it whether it be cuddling, warmth, love, someone to talk to, meditation, grounding, distraction from work or

pain, or comic relief!

Don't forget about all the mice I catch...

Oh, right, and she's a terrific mouser - a real pro.

Thank you.

Note:  We live off of Paradise Road, in the National Forest above Santa Barbara.  None of our neighbors had ever seen her before,

so we gather that she may have been dropped off to fend for herself in the wild.  We have a lot of wildlife here, including

raccoons, fox, wild pigs, mountain lions, bobcats, and wild turkeys.  Truly sits on our screen porch and watches the turkeys go

by nearly every day, but shows no desire to go after them.  And she is completely disinterested in going outside.  Happy to have

her "wild" days behind her, she is a very contented housecat and feline healer!

Happiness is a Cat with a Sense of Humor

Spring It On!

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I find it perfectly appropriate that Santa Barbara seems to be having the most cleansing powerwash of a Super Rainstorm today on the first day of Spring 2011.  Seeing as how there's not much to do outside today, I'll sit inside, cozied up to the fire in my little cabin in the woods, listen to the rain on the roof (in the bucket under the skylight, too) and reflect on the messages of the changing season and cleansing rain.

Such a magnificent metaphor, Spring is, with the cleaning, renewal, rebirth, spring showers nourishing new growth, and fresh starts.  I've been having a similar experience within myself, as persistent positivity continues to pay off in the way of increased opportunities thus far in 2011.

I'm preparing for my own rebirth of sorts as I approach my "cancer-versary".  April marks two years since my brain cancer diagnosis, and while I continue monthly chemo as a precautionary measure, that nasty old tuber thankfully remains missing, nowhere to be found, in any of my scans since the December 2, 2010 MRI that had us all asking, "Where'd it go?"  Best day ever...

So even though the posting has been light here on Girlbert.com, it simply means that I've had other things to do beside dwelling on that silly old tumor that isn't there!  I'm finding myself getting wrapped up in other activities, you know, the stuff of life?  Finding myself less hindered by health concerns (and the nasty anxiety that comes with them), I'm getting a fresh start with a new version of normal.  Opportunities abound in 2011!  It goes something like this...

I'm learning new things: taking watercolor and yoga classes at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.  So important to keep my brain taking in new information, my mind happy, and my body active; as I continue on my healing journey.

I'm getting back on the horse: riding, teaching, and training. Very important that a horse girl have horses to ride, pamper, and learn from.  Many opportunities to do just that have recently presented themselves, making me think I could find work doing what I love, just as soon as I'm ready!

I'm gaining control over my financial situation: tackling my ongoing credit issues and thinking about what kind of work I can do that will supplement our income.

I'm going places: I'm looking forward to my first trip abroad this week - I'll be traveling to England with my Mom to visit my brother for the next two weeks!  I'm flying to Chicago first, then Mom and I leave the next day for London.  A couple of days there with my bro and then we're taking the train to Paris for the weekend!  The second weekend we'll get to see Stonehenge, which has long been on my "Must See Before I Die" list!  I'm bursting with excitement about getting spend time my parents and brother, but I'm over-the-top-busting-at-the-seams-giddy about seeing England and Paris!  Lifetime opportunity courtesy of my amazing parents.  Love you guys!

I'm making more time for social activities:  Boyfriend and I are making a point to take ourselves out for "Date Nights" after two years of putting "Us" on the backburner for my physical health.  I'm making new friends through all of my classes, support groups and horse activities; and reconnecting with old friends, too.  Interacting with people and putting myself out there as a soon-to-be-employable horse girl again has been good for my mind and spirit!

I'm happy:  I see everything I've overcome in the last couple of years and I'm smiling.  A lot.  I'm letting the creative, interested, smart, curious horsegirl out to play!  And she's having fun, even in the rain!

I'm grateful: I acknowledge all of the help and support I've received in the last couple of years, and I'm humbled by all the love and kindness that continues to flow in from friends, family, and even strangers.  Virtual hugs!

So - the messages of spring are reccurring, universal, and blatantly obvious.  My brain tumor is gone, then my car breaks.  My car is fixed, turned out not to be a big deal, but I have to file for bankruptcy.  But that's life - your very own version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through a series of ups and downs, with the point being there is an up to every down.   Realizing that is the biggest hurdle of all, so once you're there, the rest is easier and the lessons, clearer.

So weather the storm, because there's always something good on the other side.  Waiting out the rain, no matter how torrential, is the only way to get to the rainbows, the flowers, the sparkling trees, green grass, and singing birds.  And the storm passes more quickly if you learn to smile, laugh, and dance in the rain!

Welcome, Spring.  Thanks for another great year.

Over the Rainbow

Practice Makes Positive

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The last couple of weeks have been tough.  Busy, busy, busy - like a hamster on a wheel.  Going nowhere - really fast.  Working all the time, feeling like I'll never catch up, and it was really getting me down.  Last month I got this tremendously great news about my health, but I've been catching myself in the throes of negativity more often than I'd like to admit.  I was certainly off-track of my normally positive outlook.  How do you practice what you preach, Girlbert?  The answer wasn't coming as quickly as I would have liked, so I wrote this little reminder for myself.  Maybe it'll be helpful for some of you, too. 

  Here some of the tricks I use to stay on track in the practice of a happy, healthy life:

  • I meditate.  Every day - even if it's just for a few minutes.  I try to stop and focus on my breathing: Inhale...Exhale.  So simple, and does wonders for my stress level!
  • I journal.  I never know when I'll need to jot something down, so I keep a small notebook with me.  I tell people that good or bad, it's better to get it out of your head and on paper than let it take over your mind.  Then you can look at it on page and determine if it's worth more of your energy.
  • I stop what I'm doing when I'm hungry and make food for myself.  I make a point to consciously feed my body healthy food.
  • I get outside and enjoy nature.  I appreciate all of the earth's creatures and taking the time to admire them renews my sense of wonder and humility.
  • Find the humor and laugh!  There's something funny in every situation (I promise!), and if you can do that, you'll get through anything.
  • I cry if I need to, then pick myself up and move on.  But most importantly, don't bottle it up - let it OUT!  It's okay to be angry/sad/whatever, as long as you address it and move on.
  • I make time for the things I love to do.  It's important to have a hobby or creative outlet.  I started taking a watercolor class through the Cancer Center this fall, and I'm having a blast learning how to paint!  Learning something new is so good for your mind, and being an art student reminds me that we're all students in the lesson that is life!  I've also recently begun to take more time for my horse and my horse friends and that's been good for my spirit and to reconnect with the horse girl inside me.  Reminds me that I'm still a horse girl, just waiting to get back in the saddle.
  • I exercise.  Okay, not every day, but I try to do something to get my blood pumping at least every other day.  Then I yoga or do some pilates at home on days in between.  I admit I'm not a big fan of exercising for exercising's sake, but I've seen the results of with vs. without:  My blood counts (taken every week) are more stable, my mood is better, and I definitely have more energy with exercise.  (Don't they have some research to prove that, somewhere, too?)  Not to mention I look better with a little muscle on, and who doesn't like to look good?  A shaman once told me, "if you look good, you feel good."
  • I love to read, so I turn to the following authors when I need inspiration and support: I have to give credit to Shirley MacLaine for getting me started on my spiritual journey, so I consider anything of hers worth reading, but probably start with Out on a LimbLouise Hay has written numerous inspirational books on self-healing and cured her own cancer.  Deepak Chopra's Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is simple, yet eye-openingly profound.  I go back to Richard Bach's Illusions, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Running From Safety again and again for inspiration.  Not a big reader?  I've come across several thought-provoking documentaries over the last couple of years, too: Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Cancer, Temple Grandin, and What The Bleep Do They Know? are a few of the most memorable.
  • I keep a record of inspiring or thought-provoking quotations to refer to when I need a quick pick-me-up.  When I come across an inspirational phrase, I write it down in a notebook.  Here are a few:

"Whether you think you can or you can't; you are right."  Henry Ford

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."  Emerson

"Make every day the best day of the year."  Emerson

"Whether it is life or a horse that throws you, get right back on."  Author Unknown

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." Confucius

"Some succeed because they are destined to; others because they are determined to."  Author Unknown

"Do unto others because they ARE us."  Shirley MacLaine

"The only journey worth taking is the one through oneself."  Yeats

"Argue for you limitations, and sure enough, they're yours."  Richard Bach

"An uninvestigated life is not worth living."  Socrates

I stole some of the quotations above from Gayle Lampe's book, Riding For Success.  Gayle was my amazing professor and riding instructor at William Woods University.  Lucky for me, she's a dear friend as well.

And I have to give credit to so many healers, friends (animals, too!), shamans, energy workers, family members, doctors, holistic practitioners, and some people I've never even met; for inspiring me to be better, learn more, and HEAL.  So put yourself out there - you never know who you'll meet, what you'll learn, or what you'll get back.   Know that your energy, love, and support will be returned, times ten!

You'd better believe it.

Practice Positivity!

Decorating, His Way

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Him:  Wait, what are you doing?

Me:  I'm straightening the ribbon, so it lays flat against the tree.  I like it that way.

Him:  But I don't like it like that.  I had crinkled it on purpose - she's more sparkly that way!

Me:  Oh.   Sparkly it is, then!

 

 

 

 

 

Decorated, Now Where are the Wrapping Elves?
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