Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘What’s important’ Category

Crash-Course in Positive Thinking

In Positive thinking, What's important on April 3, 2011 at 8:34 am

I thought it was the end of the world, or almost. I was driving to an interview for work and heard a clanking sound, followed by a couple of loud thumps under the hood of my car. It’s not my car, I thought. It must be some muffler-lacking car behind me.

The clanking got louder, and I stopped, having to admit I had a problem. I pretended I knew what I was doing and opened the hood. I noticed the windshield wiper fluid was low and that the coolant was full.

I had two miles to go to my interview or five back to the office. I chose the interview with an 83-year-old business owner. He had me drive my car a quarter-block and said it sounded like the transmission.

I wanted to cry but called a tow truck and a couple of auto shops to try to get my car in the next day.

At home that night, I called my mother. I told her I couldn’t afford to shell out more money on my almost 10-year-old car and would walk everywhere. Forget cars. Having one wouldn’t be worth $3,000, I figured.

Sleeping on it, I realized I didn’t want to give up my dependence on my car, both physically to get me to places, but also emotionally. I didn’t want to go back to my college student days where my transportation was my bike and my feet.

I got a call from the mechanic in the morning. He said three of the four engine mounts were cracked or broken, causing my engine to shake. The cost was $240. I hung up, feeling silly. I had overreacted, imagining the worst-case scenario when I could have waited to see what happened, and then reacted.

My challenge next week is to have all positive thoughts, even when I normally take comfort in being negative.

A Novel Finish

In Watch stopping, What's important, Writing, Writing group on February 27, 2011 at 8:49 am

I skipped last week’s blogging session to work on my novel. I have a tendency to focus in when I am near the end of a project, wanting just to get it finished.

On Tuesday (2/22), I got off at 4 p.m. and went to the Mandolin Café, one of my regular writing spots. I ordered my usual, a large caramel latte, and started writing. I had expected that I would finish my novel in another couple of weeks, but as I was listening to local musician Tim Byrnes sing and play the guitar, I felt extra inspired. I figured out the ending and that writing anymore would have been over writing.

I saw a couple of my friends ordering coffee and told them, “I just finished my novel two minutes ago.” They hugged and congratulated me. I stepped outside and called my parents, members of my writers group and some of my friends.

Back inside the coffee shop, I ordered a sandwich. Alex Zoll, shop owner, pointed at the clock, 6:45 p.m. The grill had been shut off for the 7 p.m. closing time. I looked at my watch, and it said 6:02 p.m. Alex said my watch must have stopped right when I finished my novel because he had heard me talking to the couple at five after.

It’s a neat coincidence if anything, but whatever it is, I feel encouraged that I’m not totally off track with my goal to become a novelist.

As for my challenge to do something that reminded me of my youth, I took Zoey to a neighborhood park and swung on the swings with her on my lap. She leaned against me as we swung back and her ears flopped back and forth. I liked how the air felt and the feel of my legs pumping me back to a time when playing was my norm.

I wasn’t brave enough to try the slides. I figured someone would think I was weird doing that without a child along, even if I had my four-legged, furry one.

The Dog Commitment

In Best Friends, Lonely Girl, Responsibility, Separation Anxiety, What's important on February 6, 2011 at 10:38 am

I didn’t do a challenge this week. Of course I have an excuse. My dad arrived Friday night for a weekend visit, so I can’t just leave him to go to a nightclub. That wouldn’t be very nice to do to company.

My dad had originally planned to come to pick up my dog and keep her for two weeks, so I could work every night on my novel, but our schedules won’t allow it to happen. I’m near the finish line with my rough draft and want to dedicate a block of time to it. I can’t just ignore my dog and, for that reason, have to juggle her with work, writing, errands and anything else I do.

After talking with my brother, my dad decided to still come, because they have a couple of fix-up projects they need to do.

What I’m not telling my dad is that I’m glad Zoey is staying after my bout of separation anxiety. I love waking up in the morning to her doggie kisses and the furious wags of her tail when I come home from work. I’d miss our walks, her following me around the house and the way she cuddles smack against we when I read or we sleep.

I know, I know. I’m lonely girl with dog, who, without my planning, has become my best friend. I never believed that cliché until I saw the communication that starts between you and your dog. The looks she gives you, mostly a matter of a slight movement of her eyes, and her body language, the various barks and the way she wiggles, rolls and runs, all of it letting me know what she wants or believes I should understand about her.

I can’t look in her eyes without realizing that I am responsible for this creature and that I need to be there for her. I bought her in a pet store, but what I took home was an eager ever-ready bundle of love that needs my time, attention, dedication, love and encouragement. Otherwise, I’d be better off with a pet rock.

Where’s the “Merry Christmas”?

In Christmas meaning, Holidays, What's important, Writing group on December 26, 2010 at 9:30 am

At my last writer’s group meeting, we talked about our Christmas traditions. Most of them involve opening stockings Christmas Eve and presents Christmas Day and preparing a traditional meal of ham, turkey and, in one woman’s case, seafood pasta.

At my mom’s house, those traditions have been dropped little by little. First went the Christmas tree, because removing it and the ornaments, and then putting them away, takes a lot of energy. My mom, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a cane to get around, tires easily, so she opted for a one-foot tree instead.

Next went the decorations and the tree with miniature ornaments.

This year, we lost the stockings because my brother had plans with his girlfriend on Christmas Eve.

But these changes haven’t fazed me. They reflect my mom’s exhaustion from M.S., along with the altering of family dynamics from a divorce and my brother and I growing up and not having children of our own, at least not yet, to carry on the traditions.

No matter, I love the atmosphere surrounding Christmas. There are Christmas trees on display in stores and the red and green decor. There are Christmas songs instead of top 40. And there are houses and shopping centers glittering with lights, adding joy to the shortening days.

What I don’t like is losing the phrase “Merry Christmas” from holiday cards and interpersonal greetings. Instead, it’s “Happy holidays,” but there’s a holiday practically every month, so which holiday is the happy one?

I understand why my family has to let some traditions go, but I don’t understand why we, as a nation, have to remove the word Christmas from Christmas. We’ve taken political correctness too far, so that even though a sampling from a writer’s group has similar traditions, we can’t say the “Merry Christmas” that reflects those traditions, because we might offend someone.

It’s like words are the wrapping paper that hide so much anger and bitterness, but why so much hostility over words? Can’t words just have their intended meanings without having to be erased, removed and rewritten, so that what is real becomes whitewashed into blandness? The Christmas lights in my town are white holiday lights that don’t offend other religions from the red and green. At least the stores keep the trees up and the Christmas music, even if it’s all for profit.

Trying Out Lap Dogs

In Coffee shops, Lap Dog, Seeking pets, What's important on December 12, 2010 at 8:15 pm

I had a bad day at work earlier this week. The hours were long, and I was tired. I came home very grumpy until I opened the door.

Zoey, who was taking a nap in her doggie bed, whipped her tail back and forth and looked at me with shiny, eager eyes. I kneeled down and petted her, kissing her head and talking nonsense to her, asking about her day and if she had been a good dog.

I felt my body relax and my bad mood no longer seemed important. This furry creature could care less about what went on in the work world. She was living in the moment, and being with her, I began to do the same.

I grabbed her harness and leash, and we went for a walk. I took her with me to get coffee at a local coffee shop that allows pets, and she sat on my lap as I read. I could feel her relax into me, even though she wanted to run around, sniff out the smells and seek out pets from the customers. I think she figured she needed to stay with me, obeying my silent command to be a lap dog.

I tried again on Thursday to take her with me to another coffee shop that allows pets. She wasn’t having any lap dog stuff and kept jumping off our chair. She wanted to greet the customers, and a few walked over to say how cute she was and to pet her. She probably knew I didn’t need her comfort, having just had a good day.

The Shyness Factor

In Finding friends, Fitting in, Shyness, What's important on November 28, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I have read several how-to books about overcoming shyness. I think the advice on how to start and maintain a conversation, as well as the various explanations of the possible causes of shyness, have been helpful.

What I don’t understand is why I take this beaten-dog approach to some of my conversations. I sometimes wonder: Did I reveal too much? Did I say the wrong thing? Does this person think I’m a bore?

All of this comes to mind because I felt insecure after a wine and appetizer get-together in late November with members of my writers group, which meets on a weekly basis to freewrite and critique each other’s work.

I remained quiet most of the evening, though I was eager to tell the story about my covering a lung cancer awareness event and crying halfway through it. I wanted to tell the story because the group members (there are six or so at each meeting) knew about my mother’s hospital emergency a month earlier.

One of the members brought up that she had wanted to go to the awareness event and missed it, and I said that I was there and then told my story (as described two blogs ago). And then I segued into how I feel left out with some women in another social circle.

I felt guilty – later – about bringing up my problems, particularly the telling of the second story when I was venting.

I figured the group members all thought I was a bore, and then I realized I was taking that beaten-dog approach. I talked. I said things. And, of course, it being me saying the things I said, those listening would think I was an outcast. Get out, I could hear them say. And then I realized, it’s me being insecure, walking on the self-created eggshells, wondering how I appear to the rest of the world when, really, it doesn’t matter what people think.

It’s my first step, or another actually, in letting go of my shyness label. I’ve carried it so long, it weighs me down, so that I have to duck my head whenever I fear I’ll be laughed at, picked on or ignored.

A “Moving” Experience

In Moving, My house, Not an easy task, What's important on October 31, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Two weeks ago, I moved out of my mother and brother’s house, where I’ve been renting a room the past two years, to an apartment in a small city to the south. I haven’t been blogging lately, because the only thing on my mind is unpacking. I can’t seem to function if my life is in boxes.

I approached unpacking like a system, this after moving a dozen times since college. I unpacked each room first and as I did so, planned ahead where I would put categories of items. To describe this process would be too much of a how-to article and make me sound a bit nerdy. I don’t want anyone to know the truth about how I like everything to be in its place.

That’s why these two weeks, I’ve been late, saying the wrong words and stopping mid-sentence and wondering, “What am I thinking about?”

Then there was the whole sentimental part of unpacking. I found items I forgot I had, as well as items that brought up memories. I did a little dance when I found this journal I thought I had lost during my last move. I paused over my photo albums, flipping through periods of my life, hastily to get on to more unpacking.

And then I got mad. The glass inserts for my coffee and end tables were totally shattered. The moving company I hired for my cross-country move two years ago was lousy, to say the least. I had most of my stuff in storage and have just discovered many problems with the movers I hired. They scratched several pieces of furniture, stained my white couch, cut my ottoman and smashed down boxes, but luckily the things inside were unharmed.

My emotional landscape from the move went from elation – I am living in a vaulted ceiling, many-windowed, all-new apartment with a view of downtown – to reminiscing to anger, but as my mother said, this, too, shall pass.

Missing Zoey

In Best Friends, Missing each other, Separations, Sleeping companions, What's important, Wrapped around Zoey's paw on September 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I don’t like that I have to leave my dog Zoey at my dad’s house, but after the fight with my mom, who I’m living with for the time being, I will have to do so (at least from Oct. 16, 2009 to October of this year, when I will be moving into my own apartment).

Zoey has been staying with me one out of every six weeks when my dad travels to Nebraska for treatment for his macular degeneration, as I’ve mentioned before. I visit my dad during one of the weekends in the interim if I can fit it with working every fifth weekend and whatever else comes up.

A few days before I pick her up, I talk about her more and get excited about spending time with my favorite girl. I love sleeping with her tight against my side and getting doggie kisses in the morning. We play after I get home from work and every once in awhile, she’ll accept being a lap dog for about five minutes while I read. But mostly, I sit on the floor to do bills or type on my laptop because she wants me at her level.

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a pushover, but at the same time, I’ve come to see Zoey as my best friend. I never feel lonely when I’m with her, but I will on occasion when she’s gone. Sure, I have friends, but they don’t want to play every day after work, now that we’re in our thirties. I miss how in elementary school, I could walk down the street, knock on my best friend’s door and ask, “Can you play?” Now, I have to call or Facebook, plus go through all these antics, just to plan a coffee outing. Life is so complicated being an adult. I miss the simplicity of childhood, and I love the straightforward relationship I have with my dog.

My sleep buddy

In First puppy, Kennel snubbing, What's important, Wrapped around Zoey's paw on June 20, 2010 at 8:10 pm

I went to a wedding the day I brought my new puppy Zoey home from a mall pet store. I couldn’t exactly put her on hold, nor did I want to take the chance that someone else might buy her. I loved carrying her through the mall, everyone turning their heads to see the tiny 2.8-pound dog in my arms.

When I got my 9-week puppy to the house, she explored, and then we played tug-of-war with her new rope toy and chase with her stuffed hedgehog and mini-tennis balls. I felt reluctant to leave Zoey on our first day together, but I didn’t want to cancel my plans and miss out on the fun, plus I wanted to keep my word and not cancel my “yes” RSVP.

My coworker and her sister picked me up at 4 p.m., so we could drive in one car to our friend Sarah’s wedding, where we ate, dance and partied until 1 p.m. I kept thinking about Zoey, hoping that she was doing okay, especially when she was in her kennel after my mom went to bed (I was living with her at the time after getting laid off, and though I was four months into my new job, I was worried about possible layoffs there).

I got home at 2 p.m. I showed off Zoey to my coworker and her sister, said my “thank you’s” and got ready for bed, then took Zoey out for potty time. She took 20 minutes, but I had a coat over my pj’s on that February night, so I didn’t mind waiting (I would later whenever it rained or I was really tired).

Back in the house, I kissed Zoey on the top of her head and gave her a hug. I put her to bed in her kennel, but she made this pitiful crying, whining and “I’m so abused” sound that I couldn’t take it anymore after about an hour of trying to ignore her. I turned on the light, took Zoey out of her kennel and warned her that this was the only night we would share a bed.

Zoey, however, wanted her way, and I’m a pushover. Her sad sounds got to me the next night and the third night, and that was it. She’s my sleep buddy and my best friend. She’s got me wrapped around her paw, and she knows it.