8 Ways To Find Comfort During Change

Surprise isn't always comfort
Life is changing again!

Life is filled with change. We all have to handle the fact that nothing remains the same. The truth is that change that happens to us (without our permission and often without warning) is hardest to survive. But even when we choose to embrace the transition, there are bumps in the road. Here are some thoughts about easing the transitions.

My life, by design, is filled with changes. We are seasonal workers, needing to move every six months or so, and never sure of what is on the horizon. We have chosen to live with fewer things and less regularity. Much of the time, I enjoy the newness and the uncertainty. However, the constant of change wears on me.

Here are ten strategies I have employed to smooth the way and cope with the anxieties that inevitably crop up.

1.  Hold on to something Familiar

Holding coffee mug helps change
Warmth helps with change

When we travel, we have a set of belongings that come with us. They have to fit in our two-door compact car, so we have to be picky about our choices. We love our down comforter, our electric toothbrush, comfortable shoes and a three-ring binder filled with my favorite recipes (yes, it is full of comfort food ideas!). In addition, we only bring one suitcase each of our favorite clothing and personal items. It turns out most people don’t really notice when you wear the same things all the time. The few things we bring are all “old friends.” Our continuing efforts to simplify pay off big time here.

2. Let go of Expectations.

I do research before we head out on our journey and automatically draw mental pictures of what the newest spot will be like. I have to be careful of these expectations. It turns out change is harder to handle when things are not going as I expected. We came up with a saying: “We are on Vacation!” because this reminds us that we have never been here before, that the road is unfamiliar and that is why we are doing this! It is time to be present to what is right in front of us and not what we left behind.

grumpy cat hates change
Change can make me grumpy

3. Ignore negative input.

There are many people who prefer to live in the same house and go to the same job. It is hard for those people to imagine that taking off in random directions could be fun or that change could lead to something better. Because of this, they feel obligated to tell me that what I am doing is a bad idea. It is tempting to listen to them, or even chime in. That’s when I do the next step.

 

4.  Make a List of why I am doing this crazy thing

I write down the reasons I am on the road (or whatever new vision I have created). This has come in useful in the past to get through classes, finish projects or stay in a job long enough to make it to the next step. Some people prefer to draw pictures, make collages, create vision boards or put up sticky notes on their mirrors. We all need reminders that what we are doing is important and why we want what we want. Every now and again I read my notes and ask myself, “Is this still true?  Do I still want this?”  It is okay if the answer is no, but almost always I am still inspired by my goals.

What if the change is not my choice? I focus on who I want to be (and WHY!) while the change is happening and write that down. After all, there are almost always good things that come out of change. We just need to find them.

5. Add structure

When I feel lost, I create to-do lists to get me moving. This for me adds structure, plus I get ridiculous satisfaction from crossing the tasks off. Yes, I am one of those that will add items I have already completed just so I can them off. Other ways to add structure can be making sure you eat at the same times, exercise every day, connect with family or whatever makes you feel more in control of the day in small ways.

change is not comfortable
What!? This isn’t what I asked for!

6. Know that not everything will turn out the way we wanted

The sad thing is challenges occur, even in an exciting, travel filled adventure life. Cars break down, I get tired of being so far from family, weather disrupts our plans, there are bad days at work, people disappoint me. In addition, there are moments I disappoint myself. I accept that those things are a fact of life on this planet and get over it. Eventually.

7. Practice Gratitude

Counting my blessings is a instant way for me to remember all the things going right. I know there are many people who advocate writing down at least three things you are thankful for every day. I am sure it is a good idea and I have seen studies that say that your mental and physical health measurably increase after doing this for several weeks in a row. But I resist this exercise, even though I am a writer in my heart.  Therefore, I prefer to be spontaneously grateful. I am thankful for rainbows, bird songs, cloud formations and hot and cold running water. As a result of noticing all of these, and more, I remember to acknowledge the gifts in my life.

 

Touch helps me cope with change
Keeping in Touch

8. Communicate with my anchor people

Finally, I have several people that I consider my anchors. They are family members and friends who love me. They remind me that I am on an adventure, not an endurance race. Touching base with them frequently helps keep me grounded.

 

“Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.”

Hugh Prather

Stuck at a Party? – 5 Sure-Fire Conversation Starters

conversation starters invitation
A moment of elation followed by fear

Every introvert dreads party invitations. We have visions of standing in a corner as we alternately hope that someone will talk to us and afraid they will. First of all, my big fear is that I don’t have good conversation starters. What will I talk about if someone comes up? While recently some “experts” have claimed that most introverts dislike idle chatter and crave deep topics, that is not me, at least at parties. I promise I will not be having significant discussions with people I barely know at a party.
However, I do accept that I need and want social connections, despite the emotional energy it requires. I have a trick, accept the invitation when it is offered from people I like, especially if the event is several days in the future.  I can do this, I think to myself as I agree to their offer. Naturally, I then worry and fret out loud until we arrive at the party, because I think I don’t want to go. Yes, I know it is always worth going. So, I just feel the worry and show up anyway.

Luckily, I have found that having a set of conversations starters in my back pocket can help me feel less stuck at the party. Here are some juicy questions that often lead to interesting exchanges so I can feel confident and will be entertained. (Yes, it is all about my comfort!)

5 sure-fire Conversation Starters

1. What was the last thing you checked off your bucket list?

This is a great way to get stories rolling. The anecdotes tend to be enjoyable because bucket list items usually have an element of adventure and almost always have some calamity attached to it. (I know. That shouldn’t be true but the challenges are what make the stories fun.)

2 What are you going to check off of your bucket list next?

conversation starters bucket list
My bucket list needs more ideas

I like this one because whether we call it a life list or a bucket list, we all have things we hope we get to do sooner or later. This is especially good in a group because one person’s idea will spark others. You may go home with new ideas to add to your own list. Bonus!

3. What is the most interesting job you ever had?

One of good things about this question is that it isn’t the usual “What do you do?” but still gives you an idea of their interests and skills. I would suggest having an example of your own in case it stumps your new friend. Sometimes we need time to remember that jobs can be interesting.

4. Do you have a favorite book (or movie)?

This lets them off the hook if they can’t think of one right away. It can also begin a dialogue. Many times it turns out we like the same ones and that leads to a connection. Once or twice I have met people who grew up where movies were not allowed or they never liked to read. Quick. Ask a different question.

5. Have you ever met anyone famous?

conversation starters hollywood
Hollywood is full of famous people

This often leads to convoluted tales of how they sat next to a movie star or how their parents bought Elvis Presley a drink (or whatever story they come up with). By the way, I would not suggest asking this if there is even a remote possibility that the other person IS famous.

A couple of other hints:

Be sure to add your own stories so it doesn’t become a one-way interrogation.

 When someone asks you a question, end your answer with “How about you?” Extra credit: If you are in a group, pick the one who hasn’t talked yet and ask them.

It is never a good idea to talk about politics and religion. After all, you won’t change their mind and they won’t change yours (no matter what they think). Come to think of it, current events right now are possible dynamite. Tread carefully.

– Join in when other brave souls use their conversation starters. There are lots of us out there and we need encouragement.

A final word: People are rooting for the conversation to be entertaining. You already are unique and remarkable. I promise it is worth the effort to engage with others.

conversation starters winne the pooh
I love Winnie the Pooh

 

You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” –A.A. Milne

Raptor Nest Search

My ranger/friend invited me to join in a raptor nest search. Of course I said yes. This meant that one day this past week, I had to actually get up and move at a much quicker pace than normal.  It was worth it.
raptor nest search red cliffs
Utah cliffs where bird like to nest
Our task: To monitor previously discovered nests in an area 2 hours north from where I live. A ranger from another park joined the party and the three of us went hunting. Our main goal was to scour the area looking for “whitewash”. This is a polite name for bird poop on the cliff walls. A lot of whitewash means there is probably a nest there, but there are tricky spots with less poop that they deemed were “perches” instead of probable nest sites. The actual nests are rare. In the 20 mile area we searched, we only found a couple dozen potential spots.  Luckily, we drove from one cliff area to another so I did not have to walk the whole twenty miles, but at each spot we did a lot of hiking.
While we did not see many birds, we did find a rabbit warren, a prairie dog town, paw prints from a large cat (young mountain lion? large bobcat?) and the remains of a trash pile near the remains of a long-gone house. Among the debris, we found a bunch of rusted tin cans. They had the old church key holes on either side of the top. I had to explain to the younger ranger that the weird holes meant that they were beer cans. We all learned something that day. (Okay, some knowledge will come in handier than others.)
We decided to head back but wanted to check out one last place. Lo and behold, one of the rangers spotted a huge nest on a cliff. Could it be a golden eagle’s home? Sure enough, he was perched on a nearby cliff!  Far enough away that I had to use binoculars to see him, he still looked regal up there, surveying the valley. He stayed there a long time, but we were patient. Suddenly,  the eagle swooped off his perch and flew! Circling the valley, he found his prey. We watched as he dove towards the ground with his talons out. He missed! (Aw. For once I was rooting for the predator.) Finding a spot to perch, he recovered a bit before soaring back up to his distant perch. Our raptor nest search had come to a rewarding close.
This raptor nest search program requires that the nesting areas remain secret to protect the wildlife.  My camera phone could not capture any of the action anyway. The eagle was too far away and difficult to photograph. Naturally I am now considering upgrading my equipment, but today I am still basking in the joy of watching the eagle in action. In a way, it was nice to just watch, knowing I could not take the ideal picture; I had permission to just enjoy the experience.
Raptor Nest Search Golden eagle
Golden Eagle Soars

Eagles: When they walk, they stumble. They are not what one would call graceful. They were not designed to walk. They fly. And when they fly, oh, how they fly, so free, so graceful. They see from the sky what we never see.Unknown

Sitting In A Sea Of Uncertainty

Doesn’t it feel like we are all sitting in a sea of uncertainty? The world is once again in the midst of major changes and that can be frightening. After all, we don’t know how this is going to turn out, do we? We human beings fear change, mostly because change does not come with a guarantee of a happy ending. We have only the hope that things will be better than they were before.

boat on a sea of uncertainty
Sailing on a sea of uncertainty

We have so many things in flux right now. Our new president has promised to make big changes and those decisions are rocking not just the United States but the globe. The climate is changing, whether or not it is accelerated by human beings, science assures us that weather patterns are different and the earth is not the same as it was before. Technology changes how we interact with one another. Some jobs no longer exist, while new ones are created. Changes in health care, freezes in federal hiring and the fact that we are older than we were yesterday bring a feeling of dread. How do we find a place of peace in this ever-shifting landscape?

As these big changes loom, I feel vulnerable. Most of us do.

Brene Brown, a noted author and research sociologist, has studied how we avoid being vulnerable. We all use four main techniques to help us cope with the fear of being vulnerable:

numb out the sea of uncertainty
Party Hardy
  • We numb it with alcohol, sugar, caffeine or adrenaline rushes.
  • We make the things we wish were an absolute truth (even when they are not) and state them as fact. We want others to agree with those ideas as truth, so that we can be right. I particularly see this in politics, religion and sports teams, but this happens in many areas of our lives.
  • We try to be perfect, and convince others that we have perfect lives. We hide our mistakes and imperfections from the world.
  • We pretend that what is happening doesn’t matter to us, that it is not our problem.

Yet each of these coping mechanisms comes with a high price. Numbing the bad feelings numbs the good ones of joy and delight. When we demand that others agree with us, we alienate those whose opinion we could value and become more and more close-minded as we insist on our view. Being perfect exhausts everyone, including the ones doing their best to appear “normal”.  And pretending the change isn’t happening only prolongs the agony. For change is inevitable.

sea of uncertainty in a kayak
Am I alone here?

So we all are living in this sea of uncertainty. We feel vulnerable and scared, even though some of the changes are what we had been hoping for. It feels like a struggle to find safety while being tossed about in my little kayak on the ocean.

 

So now what? I do not have any answers.

Trying to follow my own advice, I meditate, exercise, get enough sleep, reach out to loved ones and remember the good things I have in my life.

Still I have moments (days) of retreating into myself and wishing things would just stay the same.
These are turbulent times. Then that little voice inside me says, “Yes. As usual.”

Buddha laughs while in the sea of uncertainty
It will be all right

“Nothing is forever except change.”Buddha

Reconnecting To Joy – Sunshine

 

No sunshine, only fog
Foggy Day – No Sunshine in Sight

I grew up in Colorado, where we get over 300 days of sunshine a year. In my neighborhood, if it stayed cloudy for more than two days in a row, we all got grumpy. Due to a recent weather pattern in Utah, we have had two weeks of clouds, culminating in a long two days of fog. While it was beautiful in a misty way, I missed the sunshine. Imagine my delight to wake up to blue skies today! I went for a long walk this morning to bask the beauty. Although it was only 32 degrees out there, it felt warm. I know, it was probably all in my head, but it sure felt good.

 

Sun rising
The Morning Sun Rising into Blue Skies

Science has something to say about all of this. Did you know that sunshine can actually lower blood pressure? The light on our skin releases a pressure-reducing compound called nitric oxide. Some studies show that even a ten minute exposure to the sun can lower our blood pressure for up to two hours afterwards.

We can add to this the benefits of Vitamin D. Studies link this essential vitamin to better immune systems, stronger bones and even a lessening of depression. The best part is that the sun gives it to us for free. We just have to step outside. The lack of sunny days may be why some have the condition known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This is a fancy name for what our parents called it the “winter blues”. I must admit, when I don’t see the sun often enough, I get sad. Whether or not I suffer from a disorder, I welcome the sun when it returns.

Our place in Bridges
Safe and Sound In Our Home in Bridges

Being a mom and a responsible adult, I can’t talk about the sunshine without recommending the use of sunscreen.  I lost a friend to a melonoma when we were way too young. Having worked in a salon setting for years, I saw first hand the differences in protected skin and skin that worshipped the sun for too long. Sunscreen is important for so many reasons. So lather up before you go outside to embrace the warmth of the sun.

The sun lay like a friendly arm across her shoulder.”

Margorie Kinnan Rawlings

 

 

Reconnecting To Joy – Learning

Atlas
Joyous Learning – Maps!

Learning new things is both exciting and difficult. I love the process of following my curiousity into a new topic. Back in the day, I used encyclopedias and card catalogs to look for information. I loved sitting at those big tables at the library, reading and taking notes, absorbing the knowledge even if I didn’t know where it would lead. Of course, I did not like the tests at the end, those exams covering topics that the professors thought were important to learn. Still I enjoyed the process of devouring the information, even I resisted regurgitating it on demand.

Don’t you love the resources we have available today?  The internet offers amazing opportunities to pursue any interest, at a moment’s notice. Podcasts invite me to spend a pleasant hour (or two, or three) learning about topics I never knew I would like. TED talks open the doors to exciting “ideas worth talking about.” Online libraries bring almost every book I can imagine right into my computer. It sparks my desire to delve deep into topics that interest me. All of this wealth means I can talk about new ideas rather than the weather. Bonus!

Purple flame
Flames of Curiousity

Yes, we have to filter the information. Fake news and opinion pieces presented as facts can skew my views. I can lose myself in the information overload if I am not selective. But these days I have access to a buffet of knowledge, enough to satisfy my desire to educate myself on a cornucopia of subjects. Of course, now my learning has a different test. Can I use this information again? Where will this help me or the people in my life? Still, in most cases, there is no final exam. Now that is joy.

 

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi

Reconnecting To Joy – Cooking

Those of you who know me are stunned right now. Cooking? Gale? I don’t think so.

vegetables cooking
Cooking Means Vegetables

For years, my mom gave me cookbooks for Christmas, sometimes several different kinds all beautifully wrapped. She would watch me open them, her eyes excited and smiling, eager for me to be inspired and delighted. I would do my best to be appreciative but the truth is for me cooking was a chore, a necessity for life to work. Of course I thanked her and put them on the shelf, to be donated later to someone who would actually use them. When I was in my fifties, I finally confessed I didn’t like cooking (I know, it took me a long time to own up to it). She just smiled and said, “Well, someday you will grow into it.”

While I still don’t like cooking, I have made my peace with it.  I make menus, so I don’t have to think about what we should have for dinner. I like not dreaming up a meal when I am hungry and don’t want to wait an hour to eat. Menus also insure I have the right ingredients in the house. That is a big bonus. Slow cookers are my favorite appliance now, because my crockpot lets me walk into a house that smells like supper. I even like leftovers (I just heard a gasp from my family members). My lifetime of disdain over eating the same thing twice has changed. It turns out it is nice to get two meals out of one effort. Of course, I still prefer to wait a couple of days between those meals. Some things never change.

Herbs
I need herbs to cook too

All of this helps ease the angst in my life, which means there is room for joy to appear. Not only that, I have been enjoying the food more because there is so little stress getting it to the table. While I will never be Julia Child or Irma Rombauer, I do now see there is Joy in Cooking.

“Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread — there may be.”
David Grayson, ‘Adventures in Contentment’ (1907)

Bears Ears Flip Side

Bears Ears
Bears Ears

We have been living in southeastern Utah for 3 months now, in the shadow of Bears Ears.  This experience has had its ups and downs. In the middle of December, we moved from the nearest town to Natural Bridges National Monument, 45 minutes away from any services. We have some (slow) internet that we share with the 12 or so people who live here but no cell service at all. Well, that is not quite accurate. You can make calls (sometimes) if you stand near the repeater outside of the visitor center. Well, I can’t.  But some people have told me they can. Luckily, I can make phone calls from a wide spot in the road 3 miles towards town. It is an interesting situation.

What is even more interesting is that President Obama designated Bears Ears as a National Monument in December. Bears Ears includes the Natural Bridges National Monument as well as extensive existing National Forest and BLM lands.  The 1.36 million acre designation is bigger than the state of Rhode Island and is designed to protect the lands from development.

However, there is a strong resentment around here.  People feel the government is coming in and doing a land-grab without regard for the residents’ viewpoints. The local people have been against this idea for years. They have private land, plus they have used the area to sustain them with hunting and firewood gathering . The two town meetings that were held to gather opinions did not include National Park personnel, Native Americans who were not tribal leaders or much opportunity for disgruntled locals to speak.

The discontented people cite Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as an example of how their economy could suffer.  The towns around Grand Staircase-Escalante were declared an economic disaster area in 2015. Plus, the increased requirements to get permits have negatively affected the area. Permits are required to graze cattle, gather firewood and herbs, hold traditional ceremonies or use the land. All of these activities require fees. Those who live in Bears Ears can foresee this happening to them.

To add to the uncertainty, negative run-ins with national government agencies are the norm here.  Therefore, they do not trust that their concerns will be heard. The Utah government is doing what it can to change the decision. There have been protests and demonstrations but there is skepticism that the concerns will be addressed.

To add to my worries, there have been rumors of a takeover similar to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It is possible that this will happen here. We are packed and live out of our suitcases in anticipation of a quick getaway. While the actions of the state of Utah have banked those rumors, we are living on edge out here.

Yes, this beautiful land of ours needs to be protected for future generations. It is a privilege to live here in the middle of Bears Ears and to get to enjoy the beauty on a daily basis. But I now understand there is another side of the story.

 

Traveling Through Southeastern Utah

One of the best parts of our lives right now is the opportunity to travel to nearby lands.  This weekend we once again explored southward towards the Navajo Nation.

Muley Point Overlook
Muley Point

We drove out to Muley Point, a cliff overlooking the Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation.  The haze clouds the view but adds in beautiful layers. Naturally the view is much better in person but you can get the feeling of the expanse of the land and the canyonlands below.

Navajo Rug
Navajo Rug

On to the next spot: The northern part of the Navajo Nation.  We stopped at a trading post where we could have bought beautiful handmade Navajo rugs (starting at $250 for a small weaving and going way up from there).  The artists deserve the money, for the work is intricate.   The trading post had colored rug yarn for sale, bright and muted colors in bundles on the wall.

However, when we talked to some of the local people, they all said they rarely bought the yarn there. After all they had their own sheep so they would make their own when necessary.  They use every part of the sheep and consider the animals one of their most precious resources. The store also had feed, propane, farm supplies and remedies for curses.  Yes, curse remedies right there in the counter under the cash register.  I wanted to buy one but couldn’t think of any curses I needed to counteract.

Four Corners
Dave at Four Corners

We ended up at the Four Corners monument, the only place in the United States where four states meet.  Dave obligingly touched all four states for the photo. This spot is on Navajo lands, and usually there is a charge to visit, but they sponsored a foot race that day so the fee collectors were busy elsewhere that day. Four Corners has vendors there, with booths set up in each of the quadrants, so there is one set of stands in each state.  We bought some things in the Utah section but spoke to the artists in all four states. What an experience, to shop in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, all within walking distance.  A perfect way to travel, in my opinon.

Going on these trips reminds me why we are on the road.  Sometimes it gets difficult to be so far away from friends and family.  But then we get to visit places like this.  Truly amazing.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” Edward Abbey

Balance

Christmas

Christmas time is a wonderful time of year but I have a hard time keeping my balance.  This balancing act takes on many forms.

 
I must balance my budget with my desire to shower everyone I love with gifts. My mom was fortunate enough in her later years to have enough resources that she would shop all year for each of her family members.  She would arrive at the extended family holiday celebration with a VW Vanagon loaded with gifts.  It would take us a long time to unload the plethora of presents, crowding theVW Vanagonm under the tree and dwarfing the gifts already in place there.  I understand now how tempting it is to be generous and lavish everyone with physical evidence of love.  But I am lucky enough that I also got to experience the overwhelm that comes with this amount of generousity.  Over the past few years, we have moved to the other side of the pendulum and now give each other the gift of time, laughter and playing games. We extend our holidays by adding on a “game day” on the 26th, playing charades and board games until we have to drag ourselves home to rest our smile muscles. The connection with each other is the best gift of all.  Other families have traditions that allow one gift each, of giving to favorite charities, of white elephant exchanges or only buying for the kids. Perhaps we will move to the center and once again agree to buy presents.  But for now, this works for our family.  Still I fight the urge to “cheat” and buy out the store for each of my family members.

 

Speaking of cheating, I find it difficult to balance my choices around heathy eating during the holidays. My inner voice insists that because these special treats only come around once a year, it won’t hurt to indulge.  My weakness is eggnog.  Oh yes, and cookies.  Did I mention pumpkin pie?  Or red and green M&M’s?  I have been diligent about exercising every day for the past few weeks but I have to remind that little devil on my shoulder that exercise does not give me permission to cater to my every gastronomic whim.  (My main trick is to keep it out of my house.  I have not figured out how to resist at parties. Sigh)

Christmas Tree balanced
Christmas Tree

Even though I love decorating the house for the holidays, recent circumstances and the travels we are on have forced me to downsize. This pendulum swing has been difficult for me.  It would be nice to have a festive Christmas tree and boughs of holly on every wall but that is not possible for now. I struggle to keep myself from getting forlorn over the lack of adornment, although usually I am quite proud of my ability to simplify our lives.  In an attempt to help alleviate the melancholy, I have purchased a couple of things to add some festive color to our home.  More balancing.

 

Tree pose balance
Balance

Living in a new places has its challenges.  Every time we move, I have to find a way to handle our mail, search for internet connections, learn a new grocery store and remember where the bathroom is when I wake up in the middle of the night. This adventure we are on has also been interesting, exciting and wonderful.  I am more adaptable than I ever realized.  My connection with my husband is stronger than I ever knew it could be.  Remembering what I am grateful for helps even out the difficulties.  It helps me find my balance once again.