Monthly Archives: May 2016

Life In Overdrive (Part Three Of A Three-Part Series This Week)

If you haven’t read the first or second post of this series, scroll down and read those in order beforehand so this one will make sense to you.


I woke up on the fourth morning of my little “me retreat” feeling very refreshed. I showered, then made my way down to breakfast where I shared a table with some new-found friends from my painting workshop. After we ate, we walked together across the property, over the bridge, and into the dome tent once again.

I made my way over to my station, stopping in front of that blank piece of paper I had put up the evening before. I was feeling safe, happy, and protected, so that was going to be what fueled my new painting. I started with mountains, then created a stream which carved through the base of those mountains with no plan of it having a real ending. I changed my mind and decided to have it end as a pond down alongside a cabin. As I started to add the cabin, I thought “This is the house that Anne built.” Odd thought, but okay. I filled the mountains and areas around it with redwood trees, then stood back to get a good view of what I had just made. The mountains felt like my protection and all the trees represented the people in my life who are there with me, and for me. The “house that Anne built” really felt like it was the life I had created for myself and what I put around it felt very satisfying. I added cattails and flowers in and around the pond, with green grass and pink, purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers carefully filling in the vacant space throughout the rest of the painting. I finished it off with a walking path up to the door; a door I could open and invite people in if I chose to do so. I completed the finishing touches later that afternoon, taking it off the wall to set with my other paintings after it had dried.

We weren’t going to be painting that evening and on Friday, we only had the morning  session and then our weeklong workshop would be over. Since it was my last night there, I grabbed a cup of tea after dinner and made my way down to watch the sunset in the same spot I viewed it from on my first night in this place. I thought back on my week there and the emotional journey I had taken myself on and was really proud I’d chosen to make the most of it, even when it wasn’t always easy. As the sun dipped further into the ocean, I noticed a baby whale jump in the water while its mother swam alongside it. (The jumping happened several times which I tried to capture in a photo, but never did. I did capture a really pretty sunset though, so I made it the header photo at the top of my blog). Several guests had also spotted the whales so we stood together, watching them as they made their way up the coastline toward the setting sun.

Friday morning after breakfast, I packed up my belongings and put them in my car so I could head home as soon as our final painting session was done. I knew the drive would be long because I’d be approaching Los Angeles during rush hour, so I wanted to get on the road without delay. I turned my room key in to the office, then walked alone across the property and through the garden, going over that bridge one final time. As I made my way into the dome tent and up to the blank paper at my station for one last painting, I felt happy and at peace, so I painted this tiny island in the Caribbean Wil and I have been to a few times. It’s simple and beautiful, and on every visit, I’d cannonball off the side of the little boat we’d chartered to get there, swim to shore, and do cartwheels on the beach. The sky and the water are both a blue like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else. I added palm trees on the island, and a single wooden boat, anchored in the water near the shore, which turned out really well because I had finally figured out perspective.

At the end of the workshop, I collected my paintings and walked alone to my car. I set them down carefully in back then hopped in front to drive off the property, and down the winding highway toward home. I spent a lot of time on that drive thinking about the relationships in my past that had negatively affected me so much, most of them causing sadness and resentment that I’d held onto long after those relationships had come to an end. Looking back, they were all with people who had many of their own issues that had nothing to do with me at all. I felt, in a way, that I had stepped into their emotional splash zone and absorbed the aftermath. I had never dried off, allowing myself to leave their burden behind me. Over time, that’s a lot to carry, and I didn’t need to do that anymore.

In the years since removing those toxic relationships from my life, I have chosen to focus my energy in people who are positive and uplifting, who constantly make me want to be a better person, and not allow myself to get close to anyone who brings me down or affects me in any negative way. I have always had a lot of empathy for humans (almost to a fault) for as long as I can remember, so this wasn’t easy. We can’t always cut out people we would otherwise not have in our lives. Sometimes we’re exposed to these types of people in the workplace, in our own extended family, and for some, in public social media platforms we choose to be on. But when I think of these people having their own issues that have nothing to do with me, I feel a lot better knowing I can choose not to absorb what they may throw my way. I am not responsible for their feelings, only for my own. Doing this workshop gave me a way to express myself and provided inspiration for other ways I can do this at home in my daily life. I no longer feel like I’m on lockdown or trapped by those feelings. I finally feel free.


Life In Overdrive (Part Two of a Three-Part Series This Week)

If you haven’t read the first post about this, scroll down to that post and read it first so this one will make sense to you.


Monday morning, I woke to the sounds of birds chirping in the bushes outside my room and the dull roar of waves crashing along the cliffside below. I looked at the schedule for this painting workshop I signed up for and it was 10am to noon, 4pm to 6pm and 8 to 10pm every day. “Yipes” I thought. This was going to be more intense than I expected but I guess they need that much time if they’re teaching two dozen people how to paint. I showered and made my way down to breakfast, choosing to sit back at the wooden countertop and bench that looked over the ocean to avoid potential awkward conversation with others.

As I walked through the property and up to a bridge that goes over a stream to connect the two sides of land, it felt, I don’t know, kind of symbolic to cross a bridge to a side where you get to experience a new part of you. I immediately shook my head and planned to never say that out loud because it sounded like “hippie talk” and that wasn’t me. I joined the others in a large dome tent near the cliffside where we were protected from the cold and damp, but could hear the waves crashing outside. I was excited and a little nervous as I walked in, grabbed a stool, and sat in a circle with the others who were also here to learn this skill.

As one of our instructors started talking, I realized this wasn’t a class where we were going to learn techniques on how to paint. “WHAT did I get myself into?” I said to myself again, trying not to giggle. The instruction was to paint what you feel. “Wait. How do I paint what I feel when I don’t know how to paint?” I thought. There were several tubs of water color on tables behind our painting area, which were individual spots with poster-sized paper taped up to the inside walls of the dome tent. We each had several size paint brushes at our station but the paint was on the tables behind it so you could walk away from your painting and think about what you were doing. Seeing it from afar may change how you feel and physically removing yourself from standing right in front of it helps with those feelings.

Let me get this straight. No instruction, paint what you feel. Uh…got it.

I decided to paint my favorite tropical vacation spot Wil and I go to every year because it makes me really happy. Happy is good! I started with the water, blending colors together that I could see in my mind of that warm ocean I love to swim in and watch sunsets over. Blue is my favorite color so it made me really happy to start with that. I then (awkwardly) added some beach, some rocks, and some palm trees, laughing at my inability to draw or paint any perspective whatsoever. I decided to fill the sky with one of the beautiful, colorful sunsets I would see every evening when we are there. And that’s when I started to figure out why we were doing this the way we were doing it.

In my 17 years as a hairdresser, I only told a handful of my clients that I’m colorblind. I’m sure that’s a scary thing for your hairdresser who’s about to color your hair to say to you, but I only told those people because our conversation had somehow led to it. I was great at doing shades of blonde because I didn’t have a problem seeing that. But shades of red were very scary to me, so I stuck completely to the numbers on the color tubes and a chart from the manufacturer I was trained on in school. I could trust myself to do those colors correctly on paper but never by what I saw. Same with cool tone browns. They just looked green to me but that’s not what the client saw, and they were always very happy when I finished, so it was fine. Here, I’m about to paint a sunset, which has multiple colors and shades, by choosing base colors and mixing them together without a label. Scary.

I walked up to the table of paints and asked an instructor what one color was because it was a weird one I couldn’t see well. She said it was a burnt brick red. Awesome. I dipped my brush in it, and walked over and brushed it across my skyline. I stopped, horrified. It looked pink to me. Like, magenta pink. I asked the girl painting next to me what color it was and she said a dark brownish red. WHAT?! I stood there for several minutes, angry that I asked someone else to tell me what the color looked like. Then it hit me like a ton of (magenta) bricks that this was about trusting myself. Trusting that the colors I choose to make the beautiful sunset I see every time I’m there to be what I SEE, not what I think others see. Hello, first lesson in trust. I see what you did there. The finished result was a perfect sunset (in my eyes) and perfect blues in the ocean, silly looking palm trees, rocks, and a beach that kind of looked like something a fourth grader would paint, but that’s okay. The completed painting made me very happy because for the first time ever, I trusted myself to do what I wanted with color, and that felt pretty great.

We had a long break between our afternoon sessions, with lunch happening in the middle of it. I decided to take a detour and go on a little hike up the canyon along the stream the bridge crosses over. It was really pretty but I felt nervous being there alone with all the places you could lose your footing and fall. I cautiously made my way through for about 20 minutes and decided to go back for lunch. Not feeling very social, I ended up taking my meal to my room. I ate, napped, and went back to the painting workshop. This became my routine for three days. But each time I went back to paint, I was painting what began as some sort of landscape scenery that I would start without thinking, take a step back, and realize the things I was creating were symbols of things in my life. Water was always in the painting because it felt calm to me, and huge redwood trees would symbolize me and others I cared about; strong, solid, and able to withstand the fires that could and would sweep in. I stood back from one particular painting and just stared at it for several minutes. What I wanted to add was a volcano but it didn’t seem right surrounded by all the pretty trees and wildflowers I’d just created along a river. One instructor came over and stood next to me, both of us looking at my painting. She asked what I felt like adding to it and I said a volcano but it didn’t seem right. She said a volcano is a very powerful thing and I should add it if I feel like it. And then I became a crying mess. There have been relationships in my life that felt like a volcano; volatile, unpredictable, unsafe. Over time, I would physically be removed from them, thinking I was protecting myself. But standing there afraid to paint an angry, erupting mountain that I didn’t want anywhere near me and all that felt calm, I understood how being physically away from these people did not help me get past the feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and mistrust of those past relationships. I painted my volcano and everything around it became symbols of my feelings. UGH. I was an emotional mess as I finished this painting. I ate a very small lunch in my room, and then took a long nap. After that though, I began to feel a lot better than I had in days.

Since I was feeling better emotionally, I took more chances and parked myself in different areas during mealtimes. At each meal, I’d end up talking with someone new. Well, new to me anyway. Pretty much everyone I had encountered had been to Esalen before so I was the newbie. I heard really wonderful stories from men and women, most of them older than me and of course, more experienced at this place than me. I was beginning to see what I thought were a bunch of “hippies” were actually people a lot like me. People who wanted a break, wanted to learn something new about themselves which, it turns out, is what all of their workshops are about. They were all just people who had found a place where they could express themselves. It was like therapy but in nature, which was exactly why I had this strong sense of wanting to go there in the first place.

That afternoon and all the next day, I ended up painting a large sunflower. Again, I hadn’t set out to make this but when I stood in front of that blank piece of paper, that’s what I started to paint. I grabbed a wooden stool (and a palette of the paints I was using with my tiny brush) and spent hours working on it. It felt very meditative to me. When I was done, I stood back and looked at it. The whole thing looked very happy and peaceful to me. It felt really good that I created this thing that taught me about patience, about putting thought and care into something just for me and not worrying about perfection.

I looked back through all the paintings I had done over the week and saw it as a story of things in my life that made me the person I am today. Clearly, the person who hadn’t faced a lot of feelings I thought I had moved past, and that’s why I had been feeling unhappy and trapped for the past several months.

I cleaned up my supplies, walked out of the tent and over that bridge, and headed back to my room for one the most restful nights of sleep I’d had in months.



Life In Overdrive (Part One Of A Three-Part Series This Week)

DISCLAIMER: The posts I make this week are about my own experience. There have been a couple of times in my life where I have had a temporary bout of depression which has stemmed from a specific situation, and once I figured out a solution to why I’d been feeling the way I was feeling, I’ve been okay. If you have felt depressed for a long period of time and don’t know why, please talk to a doctor about it immediately.


Over the past eight months or so, I’ve had waves of feeling really good for weeks at a time and then a few days where I felt, I don’t know, kind of down on myself and unmotivated. Those days usually happened after having a day or two of feeling really anxious for no reason. It’s weird. Things are good in my life so what the hell was my problem? When I was feeling really good, I would go to my twice weekly Pilates sessions and come out feeling invigorated, and I would take walks alone or with friends a few mornings a week and feel energized for the rest of the day. And as recently as ten weeks ago, I was on a cruise in the Caribbean with friends and feeling happier than ever. But in the ten or so weeks since coming home from that cruise, the times where I felt down or unmotivated were for longer stretches than it had been in the months prior, and that really bothered me.

I’ve always been very in-tune with my body. I’ve known for a while now that my approach to middle-age has brought a fluctuation in my estrogen levels which can affect mood, and I can definitely tell when it dips and I feel off in the brain department, so I try to help it by getting regular exercise and being careful with what I eat so I don’t feel worse. But there was something more to this than just hormones. I knew I was feeling out of balance in doing something for myself, something that was inspiring or creative, but I wasn’t sure how, and honestly didn’t feel the motivation to get myself going on something just for me. There were so many other things in my life that needed my attention so doing anything significant for myself had stayed on the back burner for far too long. My son, Nolan, moved to Arizona in January and was home for a visit about six weeks ago, and we talked about how I’d been feeling. We both agreed it would be nice if I flew out to Phoenix so we could drive up to Sedona for the weekend since neither of us had been there. I thought a weekend of hiking in beautiful scenery would be a step in the right direction at getting me out of my funk and maybe inspiring me to figure out something creative I’d like to do for myself once I got home.

I scheduled my visit with him to be the same weekend Wil was going to speak at the Science and Engineering Fair in Washington D.C. since I would have just been home alone anyway. Two days before both of us were supposed to leave for our respective weekends away, our dog, Marlowe, tore her cruciate ligament and half her meniscus in her knee and required surgery. She would be at the vet two nights and then come home and require 24 hour care and supervision for the next eight weeks. EIGHT WEEKS. I texted Nolan from the vet office to tell him I couldn’t come to Arizona because of Marlowe’s situation, and then went to the store to load up on everything Marlowe and I would need for the next few days while Wil was out of town. I boarded our other dog, Seamus, because I knew I couldn’t manage caring for both of them on my own while Wil was away. I was about to be on lockdown in every sense of the word.

When Wil came home from D.C. and Seamus came home from boarding, it was really difficult to juggle taking care of all the animals. Marlowe was in pain and felt vulnerable so she did not want Seamus or any of the cats near her. We would rotate them from room to room so Marlowe could rest and feel safe, and I would sleep (and am still doing this) in our guest bedroom with Marlowe next to me on the bed with her leash around my arm so she doesn’t try to jump off during the night. After his D.C. trip, Wil had to immediately go into three weeks of TableTop production, so the pet juggle was on me at home. I love my pets to death but I was feeling more and more like I was trapped and unable to do a single thing for myself, especially since I had that Sedona trip to look forward to and had to cancel it. I ate the same things every day, had the pets needs handled, took care of things around the house, and was exhausted all the time. I did make sure to still do Pilates because I knew if I didn’t have at least one thing for myself, I would lose my mind, but even when I did that, it didn’t help me feel better mentally. Wil knew how hard it was for me to take care of all of this alone during the day and would try to help me in the evening but we weren’t spending any quality time together, really. We were both so tired at the end of the day that we would just watch TV and go to sleep early. The same thing happened every day for two weeks while he was in production and one evening, I completely lost it.

I knew how tough it was on Wil to have these long days prior to and during the filming of TableTop, so I hadn’t said anything to him about how I’d been feeling over the last two weeks and really, over the last few months where I’d been having these waves of feeling off. Doing another season of TableTop was a tough thing for him emotionally and I guess I felt like my own moments of unhappiness seemed trivial, so I hadn’t brought it up. Looking back on it now, I know that wasn’t a wise decision on my part because when he told me he had a day off and just wanted to have friends over to play board games all day for fun, I had a total meltdown. A complete, ugly cry meltdown as I was putting a load of laundry in the washer while he was telling me of his weekend plans, and he had no idea it was coming.

I mean, wow, was I a mess.

We ended up spending the next two hours talking about how I’d been feeling because he had no idea this was going on with me, which was completely my fault for deciding my feelings were a burden when he had his own stuff going on. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and had no idea how to feel any better about that. We both agreed I should talk to the therapist that has helped our family over the years and fortunately, I was able to get in to see her the following afternoon.

One thing I’d been thinking about for weeks was taking myself on a road trip and for whatever reason, I really wanted it to be along the coast in Northern California up to Big Sur. I’d been there once before and it’s beautiful. I have always felt a sense of calm and happiness when I’m near the ocean and I know that was a big part of why I felt so good when we were on that Caribbean cruise recently, but something about being along this rugged coastline with all the huge trees surrounding it felt, I don’t know, peaceful and healing to me. The therapist talked with me about this thing that happens with women around my age whose kids are out living their own lives. As a mom, it’s very common to put our own creative ways of expression on hold so we can care for our kids, and then after a while when they’re out on their own (in addition to this hormonal change that happens in our bodies) we feel this need to have something for ourselves, something creative and inspiring, and after all those years of either barely doing that for ourselves or not at all, it’s like we don’t know how to get that started again. Since I’d been feeling like I wanted or needed to be up in Big Sur, she suggested this place called Esalen for some quality “me” time.

I had no idea what Esalen was, but I did think it was unusual that this was the second time in a week someone I knew who I’d talked to about how I’d been feeling had suggested I go there. I was really worried it was some sort of religious thing because I’m not interested in that, but I went home and looked it up and it wasn’t a religious place at all. It was just this beautiful place that you can stay at to relax, take in the view, go on a hike, eat healthy food, take yoga or meditation classes if you want, or sit in the natural hot springs. And if you were feeling so inspired, there’s different workshops happening on weekends as well as during the week that you can participate in. I felt like I needed this time for myself as soon as possible and a weekend didn’t feel like enough time. I wanted a whole week, and I was surprised I was able to book it just six days before I wanted to go. I’d heard from both people who suggested this place to me that it books up so to schedule my stay a couple of months in advance, but I just figured I got lucky that space was available.

Since Wil was still working on TableTop for the week I wanted to go, I decided to board Marlowe at the doggie day care/boarding place we always take them to when we travel. They have experienced staff there who can provide for a dog requiring extra care and a quiet place to rest without other dogs around to disrupt. I felt sad at first for taking her there but I knew it was in my best interest to take a week for myself and she would be in good hands while I was away, so it would be okay. I packed a bag and headed out on Mother’s Day for my five and a half hour road trip, sunroof open and singing along with the radio the whole drive up. I’d never taken what was essentially a “me retreat” so I was excited and relieved knowing I had this time to just relax.

When I pulled into the driveway at Esalen, I was blown away by the breathtaking view. The trees on the cliffs overlooking the ocean below, an enormous garden full of vegetables and flowers, and quaint little buildings along the perimeter of the property that served as rooms for the guests. I pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the office to check in. I noticed a flyer on the counter about a painting workshop happening the whole week I was there so I asked if there was still room in it if I signed up. Again, a thing you usually have to book way in advance, but for whatever reason, there was a spot available if I wanted it. I’d always wanted to learn to paint, so I took the workshop schedule with me back to my room so I could think about it while I unpacked. After I put all of my things away, I grabbed the map of the property they gave me upon check-in and headed out to explore so I could familiarize myself with the surroundings. I checked it all out and then decided I had nothing but time while I was there, so I stopped back in the office and signed up for the painting workshop.

An hour and a half after I arrived, it was dinner time. All of the guests could get their buffet-style meal and sit anywhere they felt like, indoors or out. I decided to sit alone at what was basically a wooden countertop and bench that looked out over the ocean and I ate my food while being entertained by sea otters playing in the water below. But as other guests started filling in the seating around and behind me, I could hear their unusual conversations so I looked around to see who I’d be spending my week with. I felt oddly out of place as I realized I was surrounded by what appeared to be dozens and dozens of “hippies.” I felt so out of place that I quickly finished my meal, grabbed a cup of hot tea, and decided to stroll over to the edge of the property to watch the sunset. As I sat down on a rustic wooden lawn chair and looked out at the setting sun, there was something very familiar about this view, and that’s when I realized where I was. It’s the same place they filmed the final episode of Mad Men when Don Draper has a life meltdown and gets in his car and drives, eventually ending up at the edge of a cliff watching a sunset. The final scene shows him sitting cross-legged on a lawn surrounded by “hippies” as he meditates along with them.

After the sun went down and darkness filled the air around me, I headed back to my room. I felt a bit panicked at the idea of having committed to being there all week, but I decided I just needed to focus on myself and make the most of my experience there. I got up to my room, walked inside, shut the door, set the key down on the desk, and started laughing as I said out loud “WHAT did I just get myself into?!”




Ladies, It’s Time To Take Care Of You!

As women, we seem to have this unique gift of a multi-tasking brain. We can juggle our job, our family, and our home needs like nobody’s business. But the one thing so many of us put on the back burner is our own health. We power through when we have a cold or the flu, and we tend to ignore something that hurts or just doesn’t feel right because we feel like there isn’t time to slow down to take care of ourselves. What’s even worse is remembering annual wellness check-ups because if we’re feeling fine, we don’t think to do those things.

About 15 years ago, when I was in the thick of raising two very active kids and working long hours at my job, I decided to make May “me month” so I would remember to take care of myself, even if I was feeling healthy. I knew staying healthy was important for my family so making my health a priority became important to me. I would take the time to schedule an annual physical and a gynecologist visit, and eventually added getting a mammogram, as well as seeing a dermatologist for a full body mole check. As careful as I was about sunscreen by the time I was 30 years old, I wasn’t as careful as a teen or in my 20s, so those mole checks have been a necessary part of my adulthood to monitor anything new or suspicious on my skin.

It’s an unfortunate reality that not everyone has health insurance and for some, they do have health insurance but the deductible is so high they just avoid going to the doctor. I was in that same situation for a very long time so I can completely relate. If this is a concern for you, there are so many low-cost or free clinics you can go to for these wellness exams. I took advantage of these services as a single mom who couldn’t afford anything extra in life, and I’m really glad I did. And if you’re feeling like you need to talk to someone about your mental health and your health insurance doesn’t cover it, there are some wonderful free services available to assist you with that as well. A healthy brain is just as important as the rest of your body so if you’ve been putting off talking to a professional about it, now is the perfect time to do something about it.

If you haven’t already scheduled your annual wellness exams, please take the time to do so. This week, May 8-14, is National Women’s Health Week. It’s a reminder to take care of you because you are worth it. By making good choices with your diet, getting regular exercise and adding those annual exams to your routine, you are on the right path to a long and healthy life!