A Visit

The other day I stopped by a nursing home to visit a friend and former co-worker.  At first I didn’t recognize her, but once I saw the light in her eyes, I was like – Oh yes, there she is!

I must confess, I was taken back.  For this once vibrant, physically active and hard-working woman was sitting in a wheelchair now. Used to be she could spin circles around everyone.  Full of energy and getting things done.  And now…well…my heart welled up, and went out to her.   But I also felt so vulnerable. Could be any one of us in her shoes. It really could.  And I was reminded how fragile life is.  How things can change in a heart beat. No one is immune to that.  We pretend, though. Boy, do we pretend! We delude ourselves into thinking we’re invincible and thinking nothing can hurt us. This “thing”, whatever it may be – cannot and will not touch us.  But we are mortal beings.  And this “thing” does happen at one point or another.  Pain and suffering are an inevitable part of life.  Just as change is a part of life.

Sitting there, feeling at once so vulnerable and exposed, I was anxious. What to say and how to say it? Where do I start?  Was chiding myself, thinking, Lord knows I was in Human Services for years and had no trouble engaging the folks I worked with. What’s with this?  In the end, I decided I was fearful.  I didn’t want to do or say the wrong thing. The thing that might upset my friend or make her feel bad.  Why do we do that? For me it comes under the heading of “and first, do no harm”.  I wouldn’t ever want to do or say something that would hurt anyone.  I’ve been hurt before, so I know how it feels.

Now, once I sat down and said hello.  Once I got started, it was ok.  At first, I was very gentle and soft-spoken, taking a few moments to get re-acquainted and feeling things out. Then, before I knew it, the connection was made.  In full!  What I mean by that, is the we were fully engaged, talking back and forth and with each other.  Right there. IN the moment.  And something so beautiful happened!  After talking for a few minutes, we sat there.  The sun was cascading into the day room, filling it with light.  And we shared a period of  profound quiescence. It was soooul palpable!  The world stopped spinning on its axis. Time stood still. It was just  me and my friend. Right then, right there.  It was like no time had lapsed between our last connection.

It was one of those moments you want to last forever.  Now and then you’re granted these Divine gifts of moments expanding and time slowing.  There is this certain sound of silence. When people talk “by heart”.  When hearts burst wide open, and love and peace pour into that space in the in-between.

That’s how it was, the other day.  When I went for a visit . . . . with my friend.




Keys – Literal or Metaphor?

Church keys – unlocking the keys to my past…..

Growing up we spent a lot of time traveling through Norway in search of Dad’s heritage.  He was trying to collect genealogical information for his family tree.  Throughout the country, there are a number of churches, and they are the keepers of the family records.

Dad has always had a keen fascination for ornate wood carvings, because he’s a carver himself.  And at some of the old, old churches Dad would carefully inspect and talk to us about the history behind the carvings.  The church keys were just as interesting. To hold them in your hands….well…that was amazing.  They were immense, requiring both hands to turn them.  And the best part?  They worked!  They we older than dirt, but the keys worked!

In retrospect, traveling those many churches, watching Dad search his roots, turning those keys….were, in themselves, keys to helping me unlock my past.  Dad went to great lengths at times, searching church records, talking to ministers, local farmers and neighbors, trying to piece together his family tree.

This has really inspired me to keep on unlocking the many doors of my own past, my family history.

peace out

Annual Reflections for 2010

Every year I do some kind of an annual reflection. Hold onto your britches!  Here goes!

It’s been a particularly difficult and grueling year for us.  In many ways I’ve learned so much, and my soul has expanded beyond my imagination!  Just wanted to take a couple minutes and reflect with ya’ll on some of the highlights. Things I’ve learned. Things I’ve observed.  This is not in any particular order of importance, but more stream of consciousness and how it came down.

This year, I learned a lot about taking emotional and creative risk.  These two areas have brought me a lot of joy and paid off in huge spiritual dividends.  As a result, I’ve connected with a whole new host of friends and fed my soul.  There’s something about writing about a life event, sharing photos and artwork that connects us as human beings. That brings us into greater harmony one with another.  It’s really kinda scary to go “out there”, to bare all, as it were.  But once you find the right, fertile soil to plant your soul-seed, things start to POP!!  POP POP!! All. Over. The Place.

Another thing I’ve learned a little bit more about, I hope, is the art of listening.  I’m a type A personality, so this can be quite daunting for me.   I come from a looooong, storied line of jabber-jawwed gabbers.  It just runs in the family.  But thanks to Sheila and my friend Kris, I’ve been able to slow down, hush my racing (not racy!!) thoughts and mouth some.  Consequently, the active listening part has spiked up a wee notch.  It’ drives me crazy sometimes, but on the flip side of the coin, it’s been a lot of fun and warms my heart. Have to kinda fight the impulse to be in defensive mode preparing answers in your head and strategizing how to win an argument, as opposed to being in the moment with the one you’re  with, having a meaningful and authentic exchange of ideas. Learning those two are worlds apart and can make or break relationships in general. When a couple people tell me within a short period of time they think I have the attention span of a five-year-old, my intuition kinda kicks into emergency mode: BWoooUUP, BWoooUUP! May I have your attention please!!  You, there! Lissy! Now hear this! LOL. And it sends me into a free-falling nose dive of introspection and reflection.  When this was first brought to my attention, I thought, man!  It takes guts to be that direct and honest with someone, and those are the kinda friends and people I want to have in my life.  The very ones that will dare to ask me the hard questions. Very hard questions. The ones who will dare to challenge my thoughts and help me shed light on another perspective or angle on things that can open up a whole new world for me.  Me, short attention span?!  NEVAH hahahah!! Actually, the whole thing kinda rocked me, but in a good way, cuz nobody had really told me in as many words that I was all over the place.  This soul work stuff isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!

Another AMP’ed up bonus of me shooooshing, is that my ability to hear and understand lyrics to songs has had an explosive and profoundly beautiful impact on my life.  It’s like I’m finally starting to make the connection between the melody and the lyrics. Like hearing the lyrics for the first time ever in my life. Sounds crazy, I know, but for most of my life I’ve generally focused my attention on the melody, but there’s soooull, soooull much more!! Music is a glorious thing, isn’t it?!  Just glorious!

Suppose I should interject at this point, the other reason it’s been easier to devote attention to lyrics is I’ve been forcing myself to slow down. I get so impatient sometimes and have GRRRrrrr moments, because I have absolutely no patience to sit still and work out the details of things, but that’s where it’s at! It’s all in the details!  I find this to be especially true when I’m doing detailed doodles and artwork. With my Multiple Sclerosis, my hands tremor a lot, too, so when I chill out and relax when I’m drawing, things go a lot smoother, and I go straight into that happy, happy place of creative bliss. I floooooooowwww…. It’s all connected, you know? This year I spent a lot of time doodling and feeding my craving for drawing and sketch work.  When you start working on the edges and the details of things, you have no other choice but to slow down, focus your attention, and breathe as you put the strokes down on the paper.  Kind of a huuuuge AHA!! moment for me!  It’s provided a wonderful outlet for my passion for creative writing and other areas of self-expression as well.

Going with my stream of consciousness, I’m totally freakin’ LOL right now!  I feel myself running long, and the little voices in my head are telling me “You talk too much.  You talk too fast.”  Ha ha!  So true!!  I am working on brevity. Honest, I really am!!  Cutting myself some slack here, ok?   Something about crisp and concise language that makes it even more potent.  Reading it out loud when you edit is a total mind blower, and there’s a huuuge “ick” factor that goes with it. Makes it better, though, in the end….

The year has been a major disappointment health wise, and my Multiple Sclerosis has caused many setbacks and frustrations.  I have my moments and my pity parties, but – hey – don’t we all?  But somehow, I find a way to pick myself back up off the floor, face it, and move on.  This process is made so much easier by all of you, family and friends.  I tried applying for Social Security Disability and was denied the first time around.  Now I’m making a second attempt.  Hopefully things will get better.  I tried to apply for prescription assistance with COPAXONE, and that was a NO-GO and huge bummer!  But still, I keep pressing on.  It really makes me so mad that I don’t have medical benefits, and here in the United States, the system is not made for the people that need it the most.  It’s one of my soapbox issues.  I try not to let it niggle at me, but sometimes it does.  Anyone who has medical benefits should count it  the greatest blessing!  Here in the States it’s only for the employed in the rich.  Anyone else can pretty much kiss it goodbye.  Enough said. My cynical moment…..

Another thing that I’ve contemplated on and thought about a lot is friendship.  Some people find it too painful to be my friend, because of my Multiple Sclerosis. My disease scares them. They don’t know what to say.  They’re afraid they’re going to say the one thing that’s gonna snuff that hot ember in my soul, and break me, make the pain of my dis-ease more acute. I get that. Cuz I feel that way in situations, too.  It’s kind of a paradox.  I most definitely think it’s more difficult for those around me to manage it than for me.  It makes me sad, the fact that I’ve lost people whom I counted as friends, because of things I have no control over.  People don’t realize sometimes, that they don’t even have to say a word. Sometimes just sitting quietly can sooth a soul and make such a difference. And saying “MS” isn’t going to wreck me or break me in half.  It just is what it is. I so totally get the fear factor, though, but I want to tell you my truth. The flip side of the coin is that new friends have literally poured into my life by way of this wonderful virtual connection we share and made it even more special.

What I have learned is: there are friends, and there are acquaintances.  I’m starting to see the difference.  Some folks just want to have tangential contact with you.  Some are too busy to make the emotional investment in standing by you through the good, the bad and the ugly.  To me there’s a happy balance between the two.  Meaning, a friend indeed will be with you as much as they reasonably can through the good times and the bad.  They would give you the shirt off their back, and you could call them at four o’clock in the morning and they would take the call without hesitation or come to you at any hour, 24/7 if you had a serious emergency and you needed them. I can count those people in my life on one hand.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to surround myself with loving, positive, fun, and intelligent people who have a zest and passion for life. Since I’ve devoted more attention to that this year, I’ve found I’m much happier and feel more fulfilled.  There’s nothing like being around positive people! It’s just so good for everything, and we make good, good, good, good vibrations!!

At this point, I just want to throw in, that I’ve been more exposed to Buddhist teachings this year, and they really resonate for me. The practices are logical and make total sense to me. There’s nomenclature I can identify with, if that makes any sense at all. There’s balance. The concepts have helped me in my meditations, but they’ve also helped me in how I look at both my inner and outer worlds.  It’s like I have this brand new, fully loaded, tool box with practical tools for living. When I crank the tools, I’m learning how to look on people with more compassion and love.  Buddhism has helped me slow down and look at my own actions.  To see what I can do to be more compassionate towards others.  Once again, this is not easy for me cuz I have to have a case of the shoooooshies first.   And that sitting quietly thingy is so hard for me to do. Gradually….verrrry gradually, I’m learning to quiet my mind and face some of the awkward-looking-at-self silences of life.  For this part of my journey, I really want to thank my dear friend, Mark Wollard.

The other thing that I’ve had to really come to grips with this year is caregiving.  In life, we undergo many role reversals.  Sometimes we’re the student,  sometimes the student.  Sometimes we’re the child, sometimes the parent.  That can be really confusing.  Both my father and mother have been gravely ill at times over this last year. Cumulatively, I’ve spent more time in the ER in the last couple years than I have in my whole lifetime put together.  There’ve been moments when I thought I would lose both Daddy and Momma.  We’ve had some very close calls.  As their caregiver and healthcare surrogate, I’m doing things and experiencing things that I never thought I would or could do.  Sitting with my dad at a point in time when I thought he was on his deathbed, all alone was a most transforming experience, but also one of the most painful I’ve ever endured.  Thankfully he is still with us. It’s soooul hard letting go of your parents as they advance in years.  It’s especially difficult when dementia is involved.  That part of them that thinks and processes, that cognitive part of them deteriorates.  So what you do is, you try to enjoy every moment as if it’s your last, and you reminisce a lot.  You learn to honor and respect the life choices of those you love.  I just want to speak to honoring the choices for just a moment.  It’s such a struggle, as you go into the process of making funeral arrangements, discussing end-of-life issues, but you can come to terms with it.  It’s not an easy thing to agree to carrying out your family’s end-of-life wishes, their right to life, the right to decline food or medicine, or a do not resuscitate order.  But it is doable.  It is possible.  You have to face yourself, you have to discuss things that are not at all pretty, that are very frightening at times, but nevertheless necessary.  I know I’m not the same person I was a year ago, and I’m thankful for every single thing that’s come to me from it all. Something our elders can teach us so much of is their wisdom and how to live life to the max with lots of humor, dignity, poise and quiet grace. My parents are leaving us such a legacy of tradition, culture, music, art and literature!  That’s what I call “forever stuff”. You CAN take it with you!!

Ok, folks!  Peace Out


130 Words a Day?

Okay, so last year was probably one of my most prolific writing years ever.  I started doing some life story writing. I also did some writing exercises that proved very fruitful for me I’m writing my biography manuscript. My writing has lacked depth and detail. To remedy that, I needed to open my senses and focus on the ones I wasn’t really paying much attention to. Believe me, it has really paid off big time!

Today I saw a link on my Facebook page.  One of my friends, Susan, shared a link, and on that link there was a challenge to blog 130 words a day. I’m not a numbers person. What does 130 words of blogging actually look like? I’m about to find out. In fact I’m so close to reaching the 130 mark I’m about to jump with glee! In the end this was just a kind of stream of consciousness blog. It was like a dare.  When someone issues a writing challenge like that, I can’t just sit still and ignore it. I have to do something. Besides, I’d already decided that I was going to have some kind of a writing goal for 2011. This just might be the ticket!

Peace Out!


Writing Life Story, Timelines, Tapping Memory

The last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling with how to come up with a more cohesive plan to write my life memories and life story.  I haven’t had much formal training here in the United States as regards short story elements and creative writing.

It’s been very difficult for me to put on paper my thoughts and feelings about some of the experiences I had growing up.  I can write outlines, brainstorm ideas and flesh these out, but as I’ve reviewed these, I see there is so much more missing.  I need more meat on the bones so to speak!

I started looking for some free online classes for story writing and creative writing.  I came across a website for the Open Learning Space.  There is a lesson there entitled “Writing What You Know.”  Here’s the link if you want to check it out:    http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=2799

For years and years people have told me “Write what you know! Write what you know!”  After I plundered the information in this online class, I think I finally got it!  The key piece of information to flow from this series of lessons is the importance of detail in giving life to images using all your senses.  It’s really important to draw ideas from life experiences and to use every day experiences in generating stories and story ideas.  The main activity in this lesson, activity number 4, suggested an exercise involving using all of the senses.  This activity simply suggests you write down three things for each of the senses from one indoor location.  In other words, three sounds you hear, three textures you feel, three odors you smell, three flavors you taste, and three things you can see.

I’m staying at my mothers taking care of her right now, and I keep the master bedroom.  Sitting in the room, I started to record my observations.  As I started looking more closely at my surroundings and tuning in to my senses, I was both stunned and amazed at how little I had really been tuning in to my surroundings.  On completion of the exercise, reviewing what I gleaned and observed and sensed, I noticed that I spent the better portion of my energy focusing on more visual things to the utter exclusion of all the other senses.  I know that I do enjoy aroma and the sense of smell in a lot of areas. Even here, though, I was not even really focused on it.  I must confess this is the most shocking observation for me, because I do consider myself to be a sensual being.  In some ways, I’m not surprised, because we have become so desensitized to our surroundings these days. We get caught up in everyday activities and stresses of daily living and neglect to fortify and nourish our souls by feeding our senses and getting attuned.

I started reflecting on what I’d learned by simply noting these three items for each sense, and it really got my attention.  It was like a whole new world opened up to me. It helped me focus on every little detail involving my senses. It’s like looking through a whole new prism and seeing things in a totally different way.

I have Multiple Sclerosis, and at times my cognition is affected by the disease.  As I write story, it’s difficult for me to unlock memory and remember things of my past.  As I started doing this exercise, it started unlocking those old places.  Because the disease has touched the most delicate part of my being, my brain,  my thought process, my mind, I obviously have a fascination for cognition and memory.

After doing this exercise, I found some information about short story elements.  Setting, plot, conflict, character, point of view, and theme – these are what make  story.  I had never really studied the elements in more detail, at least not in English, for all my formal learning was in Norway growing up, and Norwegian sentence structure is different from the English language.

Using the keywords for each of the story elements, I looked at the some of the words I had brainstormed from the initial exercise with my senses.  Then I started drawing a basic story outline for a childhood experience I had in Norway.  I was reflecting on the time when we moved from Oslo to Blommenholm.  Creating a grid with columns for each story element and a place to take notes, I was quickly able to flesh out ideas for a story.  I was astounded at the speed with which I was able to do this.  It was much easier than I thought.

When you start looking into your past and record events of your past as they transpired, you start doing it in bits and pieces. Then you have to put it all together.  You have to make a conscious effort to sit down and think out the actual narrative of what took place and in what order.  I’m in note-taker, and when I write stories, I start off with just simple blurbs of information from brainstorming thoughts and ideas and word associations.

As I reflected on how I go about my writing, I realized I write step-by-step what took place and saw a timeline developing.  So then I started looking online for timeline formats.  Eventually, I decided to just set up a simple document in Word.  I set it up going decade by decade of my life.  I started off with important benchmarks of my life such as my date of birth, places I had lived, where I went to school and other major life events.  Then I started adding subcategories of seasons, hobbies and interests, games I played, toys I played with, activities I engaged in and places I had traveled to.  As I started reviewing the basic timeline, even more memories in more vivid detail started popping up out of nowhere.  It’s like having a major creative explosion with vivid scenes rising out of the dust!

You should try it sometime!

Peace out,


Discovering My Family History

For a couple of years now I’ve been getting more and more involved in researching and learning more about my family history.  This has led to making first contact with relatives I’ve never met face to face – yet.  But it’s also been a marvelous thing to discover more about where I came from and what makes me tick.  My root family names are Portelli / Natoli on my Dad’s side and Pollard / Steppe on my Mom’s side.  I’ve been working on a family tree and gleaning information from ancestry.com on line.  As a result, it’s sent me on information gathering sessions that literally took me around the glode.  Ancestry is fascinating, fun, wild and crazy.  It’s exhilirating putting the pieces together! It really is.  Just as an example, I’ve started using my facebook page to find relatives.  It’s astonishing how many connections you can make once you get going.  In the process of all of this, I decided to start recording my own story…memoir…whatever you want to call it…..  All my life my mother and other people have told me to write a book.  To put it down on paper.  “Lisa, tell your life story!”  they kept saying…over and over again.  Perhaps now I’ve silenced the inner critic(s) just long enough that I’m starting to do that.  In baby steps, ok?

A couple of months ago I started working on some stories about my Grandparents. Very poignant for me, cleansing and sweet.  More recently, I started “excavating” memories of life growing up in Norway, equally as poignant.  Living there has left an indelible impression on me and fueled my imagination and desire to write.  Spent a lot of winters reading all kinds of books and literature huddled up under my feather down, reading lamp or flashlight.  But I’ve also been stunned to silence by the majesty and beauty of this magnificent country.  You can’t stand on the banks of Sognefjorden and not be moved.  You can’t go outside on a crisp, cold winters night and gaze into the expanse of skies at the Northern Lights and walk away unchanged by that.

By uncovering my past and shedding light on it, I’m also on a “walk-about” discovering myself.  The whole process has been an awakening of my very soul, and I’d love for you to walk along with me as I uncover more of who I am and hope to become.