Non-Toxic Positivity and Maintaining Community

One of the things that has been making life easier for me the past few months has been keeping in touch with people I care about. I’ve been writing letters back and forth to my unofficial daughter-in-law, Rollie, which has been a great way to talk about things we don’t put on social media. I’ve been writing lots of letters (for me) to other people, too, just to remind them that I care and value my relationship with them.

Letters of love. Photo by @Stoyanovska via Twenty20

One funny thing that’s resulted from the letter writing is that I get a lot of return phone calls rather than letters. I know I can count on my stepmom to call after a letter arrives, for example. That’s fine, too. I really am AWFUL about making phone calls (probably wore out my ear as a teenager), so people need to call ME. I will talk once people call! (That also explains why I blog a lot and post so much on social media; my preferred communication mode is writing.)

Trying Something New

Last night, I was reading my current book (oh boy, another book report to come) and I started thinking about how I’d just love to hear from more people in my life. Well, I thought, maybe I should do something to make that happen that could get people talking, and maybe even help them feel better.

So, I just posted a simple question on Facebook:

“Have you done anything fun today?”

The idea was to help people remember that most days have a little bit of fun in them. That’s the non-toxic positivity part. Also, I wanted to let them feel encouraged by reading what others are doing. That’s the community building part.

Did It Work?

Yes, and it has been so much fun to read about everyone else’s fun! I’ve gotten to read about gardening, walking dogs, trips to get supplies (exciting right now), talking to family members, creating art and craft projects, and installing an alternator in a car TWICE. People have been interacting with each other, too, which is an added bonus.

Just going on an errand and seeing different scenery is fun these days! Photo by @laurienblomphotography via Twenty20

Of course, no one has a fun day every day. I was gratified to learn that a few of my Facebook friends were brave enough to admit that they didn’t really have any fun yesterday. Some of us are having some hard days right now, and sometimes it’s just hard to find ANY fun in your day. That is just fine with me. I’ve had a couple of days like that myself. If I had fun, I didn’t see it, because the other stuff overwhelmed it. My intent wasn’t to pressure people to have fun, just to encourage friends to relish and share any fun they did have.

What I hope for all of us is that we still keep plugging away and do our best to see even the little things that are fun, like seeing a rare bird at your feeder, soaking in a bathtub, or spending a few minutes relaxing in a hammock during a busy day.

Moving Forward

Look, I realize that those of us who are able to find fun in this time of huge unemployment, concern about health and safety, and frustration at our in abilities to do what we want to when we want to are privileged. I feel extra privileged, because I still have work and a supportive community.

Ideas! We need them. How can we reach out?

Our privilege and ability to find fun in our lives provides an opportunity, though. What can we do to make the lives of people who are truly struggling right now a little better? Can it be fun and rewarding? I think so.

  • Even small things like the letters I’m writing can let people know someone cares. Letters don’t have to be long. Or you can send a personal email. Those are rare these days, too.
  • Those of you making masks can find fun in the creativity in your fabrics and help people who desperately need personal protection equipment.
  • I heard of someone who got a surprise grocery delivery. Putting one of those together for someone you know who’s having financial trouble could be a lot of fun.
  • Parents of young children are a group who are struggling. Wouldn’t it be fun to volunteer to read to kids, work on a project with them, teach a new skill, or otherwise occupy them and give their worn-out parents a little break. There’s a lot you can do on video!

That’s just a few ideas. Do you have more? I can share them with others here and on Facebook. By choosing to do things that are both fun to us AND help bring some positive energy to others, we can build our communities and help each other navigate the world we find ourselves in today.

Make that “us.” Photo by @pamelasphotopoetry via Twenty20

Pandemic Pouting

Honestly and truly, I have been doing my best to be a good citizen (or sheep, depending on who’s perspective you’re taking) about this whole COVID-19 issue. I really haven’t gone anywhere other than back and forth from the ranch to the office, I’ve Zoomed with people I want to talk to, I’ve dutifully sat on the porch and enjoyed nature…all that stuff. And I’m truly grateful for the family and friends who care for us all.

Yes, I still have the dogs.

Still, it’s okay to mourn things you’ve lost, even if you know it’s for the best. Here’s a great blog post by Rev. Joanna Crawford that hits home. She concludes:

You can’t logic away feelings, nor should you. We have to just live with complexity. Relief that the government is doing the right thing to protect lives. And sadness for the loss of the ordinary dumb things that before we could just take for granted.

You Can Be Sad With Decisions You Agree With, Boots and Blessings, April 20, 2020

So right this minute I want to declare to the world that I’m really, really sad to see more and more of my favorite Austin restaurants closing forever. Sure, it’s all for the best that we can’t eat out (and in my case can’t even be in Austin), but damn, I will miss the Threadgills Old Number One where so many of my friends have played, the Magnolia Cafe in the beautiful (but expensive) location, etc. I’m very sad for all the people who worked there, their suppliers, and the people who owned the place.

I still have sunsets, even ones with ominous clouds.

I’m sad that oil futures went negative. Income from wells was the source of income that let Lee retire to focus on doing good in the community. Everything’s closing down. Whether I agree or not that fossil fuels are great, I know many people who earn their livings in that business, and who will not be bringing home paychecks for their families. (I am relieved that our nephew, Chris, has many skills that are useful outside of oil fields and can start his business renovating old houses soon.)

Nature is still everywhere, even in our dirty little pond, which is full of tadpoles and bugs.

I’m pissed off that because people are unable to pay their rents (Lee’s second source of income), we’ve had to lay off Mandi (who is fine; she’ll make more on unemployment than we pay her, and we do plan to bring her back). Laying off your friend is never the highlight of one’s day. Speaking of layoffs, I’m also pissed that my boss in Austin, you know, the best boss I ever had, got laid off, leaving a big hole in my team.

Did I mention I still have dogs?

And darn it, I miss seeing my friends and my family. I miss Anita and Declan and Rollie and my Austin neighbors and coworkers. I miss my Cameron friends and my sister.

While we’re at it, I want to GO SOMEWHERE. ANYWHERE. I think I’m gonna get in my car and just drive down dirt roads for a while, just to see some other scenery than FM 485 and Travis Avenue in Cameron.

And I have the Hermits’ Rest. And the porches. And Kathleen, heading to the porch.

Yeppers, I still have many wonderful small things to be grateful for, and I am glad I am able to keep myself relatively safe (many don’t have that chance; have you read about how the Navajo Nation is overwhelmed by the virus?). But:

It is absolutely okay to mourn the many small things you’ve lost.

I’m not gonna dwell on this stuff. Just putting it out there to help me let it go, take a deep breath and get back to that one step at a time thing. Hoping the same for you.

Calgon, Where Are You? Can We Transcend This Madness?

Today’s will be a short blog, if you can imagine that. Things have sort of taken a downward turn in my non-pandemic life, so I will need to deal with that. I have lots of support, and I was really moved yesterday when the support I needed came from so many parts of my life, and there’s where the UU Lent word for the day, transcend, comes in.

I realized that I have support that transcends all boundaries, if I only remember it’s out there and reach out. Those 128 likes and 93 commenters include people I’ve known since I was a child, people I’ve never met, elders, youth, people I disagree and agree with, and people from:

  • Family
  • High school
  • College
  • Grad school
  • My first job outside school
  • All my previous and current jobs: Akibia, Dell, Planview
  • Friends from when my kids were in school
  • La Leche League
  • Unitarian Universalists
  • FortuneBuilder friends (real estate)
  • Master Naturalists
  • Email lists founded long before Facebook
  • Knitters and crocheters
  • Musicians
  • Community theater
  • Neighbors from Austin, Round Rock, and Cameron

I am sure we all have a varied network, even when we feel alone. I am imagining them lifting me up in support, so that I can transcend these mundane roadblocks, personal issues, and unwise decisions made that we have no control over. Community support is vital right now.

The earth abides. The harvest goes on. Nature transcends human problems.
Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away. I put this t-shirt on this morning, and it turned out to be quite appropriate. (It’s a Slaid Cleaves album title.)

I know blog readers are also here to support me. And we are here to support each other. I’ve been sending out so much empathy to people I know who have lost loved ones during this time when we can’t gather together. I’ve been sending strength to those of us for whom this new world is scary and brings out their anxieties and depression. I’m sending calm out to all the people I know who are trying to work and school their worried children. And of course, super duper vibes are going out to people who can’t work right now and need to keep their lives together.

This too, shall pass (I think that’s the message my t-shirt is trying to convey).

Let’s all send out what love and light we have to spare, while taking in what others are sending us. Maybe that will keep us all able to move forward.

Contemplating the meaning of life and transcendence on a Maundy Thursday.

Thank you all. Supportive messages for me and all the rest of us blog readers and their circles are welcome.

Who’s Your Community?

I love that people send me pictures of my favorite flowers for my birthday. That’s enough to make the day cheerful!

What a coincidence that the UU Lent word for today is community, when it’s the day every year that I’m reminded of how far my extended community goes and how close my intimate community is. As much as people complain about Facebook, it’s great for reminding you that people are thinking of you, so Facebook birthdays are always fun.

Community is something I think about a lot, because as the years go by, I’ve come to realize that so much of what I do is to try to create community. I crave being part of a group of people who care for each other and support each other. Perhaps most of us do (with my spouse as an exception, maybe).

These pansies came from a member of my caring LLL sub-community/

At last, after making a lot of attempts at joining communities and trying to become a part of them, I’ve come to realize that it works way better when communities join YOU. I often mistook being part of an organization or other group of people formed because of a shared mission or passion as being part of a community. Sometimes it is, but sometimes you can mistake people working together as people who care about each other. I found this out the hard way with La Leche League, my old church, my knitting group, and others. I did make good friends doing this work, but the community of caring wasn’t really there after all, or if it was, I wasn’t in it. Too much struggle for power and in-group formation.

My birthday morning greeted me with sun rising above fog in good old NorthCat Villas in Austin.

To me, a real community consists of a group of people who all are equal and accept each other as they are, warts and all, and work together for the benefit of all. So, my old groups had sub-communities, for sure, and I truly appreciate them and the friendships they created that have lasted many years.

The feet of my community in Austin. We had a rather amusing meeting about people taking up too many parking spaces in our cul-de-sac.

Now I really do feel part of a community in both of the places where I live. I feel safe and cared for in my little Austin cul-de-sac (warts and all, oh yes), and I certainly feel that way among the community that’s building up around me in Cameron. No wonder I am happier and more at “home” than I’ve ever been in my life.

Where do you seek community?

If You Need Help

Here in Blogland, one of my friends has had an upsetting experience. She has a frequent commenter who leaves unusual comments, which she always reads and accepts. We all know some “nonstandard” people we care for deeply, or are nonstandard people who are glad people care for us. And we are all challenged by life from time to time, if not often.

This morning’s fog has been with me all day.

Today, out of the blue, the frequent commenter on my friend’s blog posted that they were going to commit suicide. Wow, that cry for help went to someone who didn’t know who or where it originated. What to do?

My fellow blogger is pretty smart, and she also contacted WordPress for advice. Then, she gave the commenter the number for the national suicide hotline and the URL to hotlines outside the US:

 1-800-273-8255
and
http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

important!

All of us fans of the blog also reached out to let the commenter know that we do care. I think we have all been touched by suicide and feel empathy and love for people in crisis. We all hope this blog reader has found help.

I hope the fog has cleared for the person who reached out.

These are hard times for many of us. But we need each other. If you need help, use these resources, reach out to a real-life friend by phone, text, or in person, and remember you are valuable, just as you are.

Little Yellow Puffs of Cheer

Thanks, Folks

Here’s what I have for my supportive friends, readers, and even critics: Love.

I got great comfort from all the people who came up to me in person or wrote on Facebook to say “Wow” about my post from yesterday. I’m really grateful to the original author of the explanation of political liberalism in the US, Lori Gallagher Witt, who wrote it a couple of years ago. It just struck a nerve in me yesterday. I just want to be clear that the part at the bottom of my post was not written by me. And no, it was not written to convey any implication that if you have different beliefs from mine, you are a bad person. If it made you feel that way, examine your belief system.

Welcome Rain

You can’t keep a happy person down, though, and yesterday brought me many reminders that all is not gloom and doom. The best thing was that we finally got a GOOD rain, after many days of fog, drizzle, and damp. I can’t wait to see how the tanks/ponds at the ranch are looking.

Our bird tree now is full of Valentine hearts, which brightened up the rainy day!

Yellow Puffs

And during a long day at work, filled with meetings, brainstorming, and thinking, I looked out the window. I had to mute my microphone and tell Craig, sitting next to me, to look out. There, in the bare cedar elm trees, was a flock of goldfinches. It’s not a huge surprise, given that this is the time of year we see them in Cameron, and I happen to know the area where I work is right on a migration path. But still.

Thanks, Jason, for the happy, if wet, birds!

Those yellow males and their flitting green-gray female companions literally brought puffs of sunshine to a rainy, rainy day. We watched them jumping around and fluffing their feathers for a long time (though I did go back to concentrating on my call). I looked a lot in iNaturalist for what exactly these could be, and I think it’s lesser goldfinches, due to the amount of black on the males. I’ll upload a photo and see.

Jen wondered if they could be yellow-bellied siskins, but they live mostly in South America. Goldfinches are siskins, also.

I’m sharing my coworker Jason’s photos, since his came out better than mine. That courtyard is just a whirlwind of bird action!

Ending on a Good Note

Last night we were the hosts of the neighborhood book club, in which we discussed Ragtime. It was great to see the neighbors who weren’t sick or out of town (about half of them). We’re all different, of course, but so supportive of each other’s ups and downs.

Vlassic had been cuddling with Ruth, but when the camera showed up, he had to show us his little tooth.

In addition to the book, we talked about how being “old” just creeps up on us, then suddenly doctors are taking your age into account before procedures, you’re needing to get things replaced or lifted. Everyone was in agreement that they weren’t old in their heads!

To me, community is what will hold me together during the hard times we’re experiencing. That’s probably what held our ancestors together for tens of thousands of years, too. Our neighborhood never wants anyone to move, even though we know some of us must. It feels good to feel a part of something warm and loving.

Bright Beginnings

And get this! Today dawned bright and beautiful. It was as nice to see the sun this morning as it was to welcome the rain yesterday. It’s all got its place. As I left to take Vlassic on his morning walk, I was enthralled by shining droplets of water on the “cedar” trees by the deck.

Beauty in the dreaded ashe juniper!

I hope you enjoy my pictures. Of course, by the time I got out the phone to take them, the sun had moved. But, it was still a shiny greeting for the day.

The view from the Bobcat Lair deck is always nice.

Go thank a member of YOUR community for keeping you sane!

Whirlwind of Winning

No doubt I’ve mentioned at some point on this here blog that winning and losing aren’t really important to my goals (which may surprise anyone who ever played board games with me in my past). But nonetheless, I declare today a win all around (other than my exercise routine, which has suffered due to too much sitting and chatting). And it’s all thanks to all my friends and contacts in little old Cameron, Texas.

First

Snazzy stripey.

I got to sleep in and then had a fine time getting beautiful new navy and sparkle nails. I wanted something wintry, and you know, dark blue matches every outfit I have, since I usually have on blue jeans. Still not sure why I like fun nails so much, but I just do.

It’s one of my girly things, I guess. That and all those rings, huh?

Second

We’re thinking the vultures were looking over at the Hermit Haus, thinking how dead its rentals were.

After lunch, Mandi and I stopped by the Central Avenue Bistro again, because Mandi craved their Caesar salad so much. I had a light soup, which was good, but not as spectacular as the white chicken chili yesterday, which was loaded with chicken. Anyway, that’s beside the point. The winning came when we followed up on yesterday’s conversation with my friend Jenecia, who said her husband really wanted to come see the Hermit Haus to potentially rent it. OH BOY.

With all the stuff going on with Hearts Homes and Hands, we’d had to let publicizing the Hermit Haus as an event venue slide, so all we have is a couple of board meetings and the Master Naturalist class going on. We really want to make enough money to cover the building’s expenses.

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Book Review: Going Tiny

I am sharing a book review I wrote for Hermit Haus Redevelopment, because I think some of my readers here would also enjoy it.

The little book I read is called Going Tiny: Failure + Opportunity in the Future of Affordable Housing  It’s written by a guy named Davis Richardson, who is apparently the age of my youngest son. But, he’s more ambitious or more lucky. Anyway, his age is a real advantage in this book, and his perspective is just what I needed as I looked for books that gave honest assessments of how tiny homes REALLY would work in communities.

I don’t usually write the same thing in my work and personal blog. This time, yes. Why not?

I really enjoyed this charming and idea-packed little book!

If you are a professional book person, you have to ignore some of the obvious signs of self publishing, like random blank spreads in the middle of chapters, and headings even on the first blank page. I also get a little irritated trying to make out the legends on his illustrations, which are in his charming but hard-to-read handwriting. Really, though, you should focus on Richardson’s words, instead, which are written in a colloquial Millennial style that I enjoyed.

Richardson is an architecture student who decided to build a tiny house on a whim, and learned a lot of lessons about building them and (more important to me) what you can DO with them the hard way, by his own experience. Lucky for us Hermits, he did all his learning in Austin, so the examples he gives actually apply to us. What a handy coincidence!

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How Do You Form and Maintain Community?

Monday evening we expanded our usual guest list to include some new people, in honor of Labor Day. We invited our cabin tenant, Tyler, along with his wife, Yanelly, who just moved to town. We also invited our new friends, Kayla and Matt, who recently bought a house from us and now live next to Martha and Mike.

And if you’re in the community, you have to hang out with Fiona (that’s Matt and Kayla)

We realized that we’ve been busy creating a community ever since we started coming to the ranch. We’re so grateful to Sara and Ralph for letting us buy our little slice of heaven and start down the road to making a life in Milam County. And now we’re helping bring in more folks, like my sister, Mandi and family, Mike and Martha, Kathleen, and Kayla and Matt!

You do have to cook a LOT of burgers for a community cookout, says Mike.

Forming a community

Pretty much everyone who’s become part of my social circle in Milam County has been because I volunteered to do something. That may explain why I’m such a “joiner,” as Sensei Larry, who taught my sons karate, has been saying for 20 years or so.

Continue reading “How Do You Form and Maintain Community?”

Life Is Complicated: Fiber Arts Department

I can see why so many people I know are staying away from online communities, even though they provide such great ways to stay in touch, make new friends, and feel less isolated. It just seems IMPOSSIBLE to create a community where people treat each other with respect and dignity. Name calling and blaming seem to be the rule rather than the exception in today’s society in this country.

Case in point

I’m a member of a fiber arts community called Ravelry, which was founded in 2007. Back when I spent much of my time knitting, teaching knitting, and designing patterns, this was like a second home to me. I’m sure many of you readers feel the same, since I have so many knitting friends (before Ravelry we had some wonderful email lists, and some grumpy ones).

That’s right, I showed up early.

I’ve been very proud of the founders and their team, who have truly created a wonderful resource for fiber artists, and have continued to add features and branch out. It’s like Facebook, but with a focus…and generally with more kindness.

Continue reading “Life Is Complicated: Fiber Arts Department”