405 Steps

I’m in Washington, DC where I am visiting my dear and ailing mother-in-law MOTUS.

(Rob and I decided that a distinguished mother who lives near the White House, home to POTUS and FLOTUS, deserves an elevated status. So, we named her MOTUS and she loves it!)

MOTUS is now surrounded with the love and comfort and care of Capital Caring, an amazing team of Hospice professionals.

She and I both seem to feel happiest and most at peace when we sit quietly and simply hold hands.

Sometimes we’re silent and tears fall.  And, sometimes we reminisce about any number of things — her marvelous lamb stew, her “snazzy” red Saab, the students she loved teaching at Vassar, how at home she always felt during her many visits to Morocco.

Sad as it is for Rob and me to realize her days on earth are closing in, (which is true for all of us!) it is such an honor to walk these last steps with her.

And, what I want to share with you today is an awareness I had in the midst of my busy, go-go-go life and caring for a dying parent.

As you know, my 2012 theme is daily self-care.

(Total side-track here, but I just have to tell you this.  I love hearing your annual themes.  The most recent ones that came to my attention are Jenifer Madson’s  “Live, Love and Serve Like There’s No Tomorrow” and Laurie Forster’s “Go Where The Magic Happens.”  Great ones, Jen and Laurie! I would love to hear yours too,  just pop it into the comments section on the Debbie Phillips Blog)

Anyway, it’s been much more of a struggle to fit in at least 30 minutes of care for myself a day than I’d ever imagined.  And, with all that is going on, there is no better theme for me this year than self-care.

As part of holding myself accountable, I note in my journal every day what I do for self-care.  Now that I’m paying attention, I shudder to think how many days in the past I’ve not been mindful of  reducing my stress.

But that is changing this year as I focus on improving what is so vitally important to us all — time and care for ourselves!

“Stress has become the ‘bad boy’ of modern culture,” according to Maryanna Klatt, Ph.D.  an Associate Professor in the College of Medicine at Ohio State University.

“We need our stress response in order to respond to threats that are bad,” she says. “The problem is when that response is activated all the time.”

Yup.  I got it, Dr. Klatt.

So, I’ve found a de-stressor that not only helps me to create mindfulness, but has inspired me in other ways, too.

Close to our home in Naples, Florida is a boardwalk with a beam in the center that is probably 8 to 10 inches off the ground.   As part of my self-care, I often take a 40-60 minute walk and the boardwalk is part of the route.

Imagine a young gymnast (then add 40 years to her!) taking to the balance beam!

Just like life, in the 405 steps it takes to walk this balance beam, there always seems to be upsets, surprises, disappointments and occasionally … a triumph.

Sometimes a cart of golfers comes along and their distraction knocks me off the beam. Once a man blew me a kiss and made me smile. Some of the boards are narrow, slippery with moss, or rough.

And,  sometimes something magical happens…

The other day I waited to hop on the beam until I saw no one else coming or going on the boardwalk.

I had never walked the 405 steps without falling off at least twice.

I was determined this time and concentrated with all my might to stay on the beam.  More than once, I almost lost my footing.

But on this day, one foot in front of the other, I made all 405 steps!!

At step 405, I jumped off the beam and did the happy dance with Adele. (Well, Adele on my iPod!)

Through my earbuds, I was stunned to hear clapping and cheering.  I looked back to see four white-haired women, none younger than 80, doing their own happy dance and celebrating my accomplishment.

They shouted their praise: “you go, girl” … “great balance!” … “we were behind you all the way!!”

We were behind you all the way.

And, that’s what I think of all of us.

We are behind each other all the way.

So, you go, girl.  Have a great week and if you’ve set a theme for yourself this year, go live it likes there’s no tomorrow!


Facing a tough time?

What do you do when you are facing a crisis or major disruption in your life?   Do you retreat?  Plow forward?  Freeze in your tracks?

Before I found my stride, I reacted this past month with a bit of each.

As you know, Rob and I have been sorting out how to best care for and support his ailing mother (affectionately called MOTUS because she lives near the President in Washington, DC and we desperately needed a little humor!)

In one month, MOTUS transitioned from independent living in an assisted living apartment to 24/7 nursing home care and two hospital stays.  We want to be with her as much as possible and she needs us to.

Add to the mix, we are entrepreneurs with flexibility and freedom yet great responsibility and dedication to the people we serve, and we live hundreds of miles away from her.

In the end, one of the strategies above – retreat, plow ahead or freeze — is working best of all and I’d love to share with you which one and why.

But first …

I am writing to you from Naples, Florida.  More than a decade ago, Rob and I created a detailed vision for the lifestyle we wanted most.

In turning our vision into reality, we chose to live in our geographic homes — on Martha’s Vineyard for most of the year and Naples, Florida for the winter months.  So now is the time of the year when we make our “Great Migration” south.

Having grown up in snowy Ohio, I am still in awe that holiday decorations and palm trees co-exist!

Even though we have it down pretty well, our annual migration to Florida involves moving not only our car, clothes, and computers but our much-loved, 17-pound cat Wilber!

Wilber, tucked under the seat, has flown so often that he receives frequent flyer points as a card-carrying member of JetPaws!

So, as the situation and needs of MOTUS and the demands of our work and life and move to Florida collided, we set these goals and a strategy for best getting through this period in all our lives.

First, our goals for MOTUS:

1)   To feel and know she is loved

2)   Safe

3)   Comfortable

4)   Dignified

Then, for ourselves:

1)  Continuous forward motion

2) Increased self-care in this time of stress and crisis

That’s right, moving forward with our regular plans, even though they had to be changed frequently, has turned out to be our best strategy to help MOTUS and for us to feel a semblance of normalcy in the midst a difficult and often sad time.

Steady forward progress proved the wisest strategy for us even though flights, meetings and appointments have had to be cancelled and rescheduled.  Rob and I also took alternating turns in Washington caring for her and cleaning out her apartment so we saw less of each other.

Still, we are farther ahead and more at peace by proceeding as best as possible with our regular plans than if we would have retreated, frozen in our tracks or given up everything to tend to her this past month.

And, believe me, there have been moments when I felt frozen or thought I should stop everything and move to DC.

As of this moment, MOTUS is holding steady and is well cared for and loved in her nursing home community.

Rob and I are home together in Naples. Wilber is sunning himself on our screened-in porch, endearingly called “the catatarium.”

On a moment’s notice, we are prepared to return to Washington.

Our strategy has allowed us to have a stable base of operations with everything in place to take care of both her and us while we live through this temporary phase of her and our lives.

I hope if you are facing a similar situation or worse, you can take the time to find the strategy that will help you make it through.  And, that you have all the love and support you need.

Giving each other support is one of the reasons I started Women on Fire.  And, I am so deeply grateful for all the loving concern from so many of you in the past weeks!  Thank you.

Wishing you a wonderful week filled with lots of love,

What do you do when life goes bump?

There’s a funny little saying our beloved and hard-working assistant Blue announces when things get a little crazy and life whirls out of balance.

“It’s a little ‘kittywampus’ around here!” she’ll say, and I’ll laugh.

Our assistant Blue and her assistant Wilber keep ‘kittywampus’ under control in the office!

But if I ever needed strategies to cope with things going ‘kittywampus,’ this past week was rich with opportunities to practice my coping skills.

I know you’ve had those kinds of weeks (days, months, years?), too.  Maybe it’s happening for you right now.  Life is flowing along nicely and then bump, bump, bump.  (I swear it happens in threes…)

It started when I knew I had too much to do to fit into one week.  Writing deadlines. Calls. Interviews. Scheduling conflicts. Overdue work. Creative thinking time.  All of us here (Wilber included!) are working feverishly on the launch of a new,  top-secret project for you.

Add to it, this was my final week in Florida before the “great migration” home to Martha’s Vineyard.

Boxes to pack. Closets to clean. Clothes to organize. Cat to get ready. Cars to prep.  (How two people and one cat can accumulate practically a lifetime of stuff and books (even though we both have Kindles) in four and a half months is beyond me!

But I am not complaining and feel ever grateful to have designed our lifestyle to live in places we dearly love. I feel especially blessed to be in the warmth and sunshine of Naples when it is bitter cold and grey on the Vineyard.

Then in the midst of what was starting to feel chaotic, I received bone-chilling news that pushed me right to my edge.

Fierce, deadly tornadoes had struck Alabama.

Nearly my entire family lives in Huntsville and the weather radar showed they were in the direct path. (Thankfully, the televised images of the dreadful destruction had not yet made their way onto CNN.)

I made calls to every member of my family that went nowhere. Hours later, my mother was able to reach me and let me know all of our relatives were safe.

Shaken and surrounded by destruction, however, they would be without power for several days.

My mother had weathered her “scariest tornado ever” closeted alone with her kitty in the dark in her laundry room; her cell phone battery was two bars from dying and so it would be unlikely we’d talk until they had power again.

In an already too busy and now stressful week, I felt overwhelmed, frustrated and helpless.  There was nothing, short of dropping in by helicopter and scooping them up, that I could do for them.  I was edgy and cranky with my loving, supportive husband who, as usual, calmly rolled with it.

The crush of everything left me worried, frazzled and even feeling a bit hopeless at times.

In my more sane moments, I knew it was a week “gone kittywampus” and that I needed to reach into my toolkit, pull out my strategies and use them.

So, here’s what I did to keep myself from going completely over the edge:

  • Walked each day even though I didn’t feel like it (I took pictures of flowers along the way which brought me joy)
  • Listened to comedienne and Woman on Fire Janette Barber on Rosie Radio (made me laugh and feel better)

In the sunshine, walking and listening to Woman on Fire Janette Barber on the radio perked up my spirits.

  • Paid attention to my breathing (always works)
  • Sat in meditation a couple of times for a few minutes (helped to center me)
  • Reached out to a couple of Women on Fire I love and adore just because I missed them and I wanted to get outside of myself (reconnected me to my deep passion for our Women on Fire community)
  • Held my “fear” fingers (my index fingers which is a Jin Shin Jystu practice that relieves fear)
  • Bought two baby cupcakes at Whole Foods; woke up at 4:30AM to watch the Royal Wedding and ate “cake” for breakfast to celebrate (I felt re-engaged seeing the joy and exuberance of two people so obviously in love)
  • Immersed myself in a Watsu experience (thanks to Woman on Fire Ellen Wingard who introduced me to this stress-relieving treatment in a pool, I finally felt calm and relaxed; more on this amazing “massage-in-water” in a future Spark!)

Golden Door Spa Watsu Expert Tamara Caggiano melted away my stress as she worked on my pressure points while I floated in the water. A truly amazing experience!

By the end of the week, two more “strategies” turned my week of ‘kittywampus’ back into a more peaceful existence:

One:  A wonderful, romantic dinner at sunset on the beach with Rob. It is our annual ritual to say good-bye, share our favorite moments of the season, and to express our appreciation for our time in Florida.

Good-bye, Naples, Florida. Rob and I soaked in our annual ritual of a sunset dinner at the beach.

Two:  Woman on Fire Jamie Eslinger suggested that we toss coins into a fountain and make wishes.

Jamie, on the right, and me as I say goodbye to my ‘kittywampus’ of a week and wish for the recovery and healing of all those tragically affected by last week’s tornadoes. Oh, and I also wished for William and Kate to live happily ever after. I think they have a shot at it!

What is your wish for this next week?  Or, what do you do when things go ‘kittywampus’ in your world?  You are so welcome to share it in the comments section below.

As always, my wish for you is that you get to live the life of your dreams!

Until next week…from Martha’s Vineyard.