Why Gate Guard in Texas?

I’ve been drawn to the simple life as long as I can remember.

“In the popular mind, the phrase simple living has often been associated with self-denial… In reality the phrase can just as easily be associated not with what is lost, but with what is gained.” Frank Levering.

It’s not what I had to lose that got me here, it’s what I hoped I’d gain.

  • No yard work means I’m picking the wildflowers and weeds from beside the road and in fields.
  • No basement, attic or garage means I’m free to make organization under the RV into art form.
  • No critical or nosy neighbors means I can be pleasant to everyone at the gate because they are transients like me and we’re not placing expectations on each other.
  • No walls to paint or wallpaper to strip means I can focus on the symbolic and treasured art I’ve chosen to hang in the RV.
  • No evenings planning ‘fix-it’ lists because I can fix things quickly or I call someone to help us.
  • No snow to scoop or leaves to rake means I have joy in taking pictures of the seasonal changes.
  • No bushes to trim or gardens to weed means I have fun collecting bits of nature and putting them outside on the bench or picnic table.
  • No holidays to plan means that whenever I want I have time call my son and my mom and I have time to pray for them during their hectic seasons or their crises.
  • No large surfaces to clear means my stuff is right where it should be and easy to find.
  • No bookshelves, display cases or end tables means I can rotate all my precious things and focus on them.
  • No weekends spent housecleaning because it takes 15 minutes or less to completely vacuum and pick up.
  • No dust collecting for weeks in a spare room. Now it takes 5 minutes to dust the whole RV.
  • No storage sheds to rent and sort out means I give my extra things to people along the way.
  • Fewer chores means I have time for writing, reading and praying.
  • DVR and direct TV means I never watch TV by accident anymore. I have time to listen to the birds.
  • No big closets or cupboards means I know where everything goes and I have only what I need or love.

Not attending to what matters little so I can gain freedom to do what matters most.

Life Is Good: Simple words from Jake and Rocket

Simplify. I could fall back into that word like a child leaning into a hammock: Swinging and gliding gently to rest.

12 Things You Want In Life

I Like Change and I Change Likes. Do You?

Here’s a little exercise I designed to help you reflect on your life. The first person to try it wrote me and thanked me for giving her a much needed opportunity to focus on herself for a few minutes. Maybe you need a reason to do that as well.

What I What I Want In Life

  1. The chance to ___
  2. Time for ___
  3. To see ___
  4. To experience ___
  5. To talk to ___
  6. To listen to ___
  7. To sit ___
  8. To hear ___
  9. The freedom to ___
  10. The inspiration to ___
  11. Take occasional ___
  12. To frequently ___

What are the things you absolutely must have in this life in order to feel that you have lived the life you were meant to live?

I’ve had some interesting experiences with this. I emailed it to absolutely everyone that I thought might participate. Very few people actually did. From this I could only guess at the reasons. There are those that have already done something like this (ex: What Color Is Your Parachute) and don’t need to look at it again Some people don’t want to focus on what they have and don’t have in life. Some just don’t like to be analytical. Others are too busy living life to question it. A few might not want to face the answers. Others have a lot of reasons why they can’t live the life they always wanted.

“People either have results in their lives or the reasons why they don’t” from the business card of Bonnie Andrkopoulos as quoted in Living Simply.

I’ve always liked to ask myself, “How should my life be different?” I like change and I change likes. It works for me.

Take # 6. What I liked at 20 isn’t remotely what I like now. I would have said I like to listen to very loud Simon and Garfunkel, in my 30’s it was loud Billy Joel and so on. Now? Very loud bird songs and nature music, but only because I don’t hear as well anymore. Go figure.

Take # 5 Who do you like to talk to or who would you like to talk to? I would always have answered that with God. When I was very little, I played on a large moss-speckled rock in the woods just out of sight of my mom at the campsite in Northern Minnesota, south of Ely. God and I played house with pine cone food and leaves for dishes. My idea, I’m pretty sure, but He talked and I talked and it was great fun. Now I call it prayer.

So some answers change and some stay the same for me.

“Many of us go through life not clear about what we want but pretty sure this isn’t it.” Janet Hagberg and Richard Leider

You can answer this in the comment section here or email me privately. I’d love to hear from you. My email is listed in the About page. Let me know.

The Case for Change and Cheese Part 2

As far back as I can remember, I always embraced change. I read someplace that without change, creativity is snuffed. That might explain the surge of creativity or personal boost that people experience during a retreat or while surfing or mountain climbing.

Different Perspective

Makes sense. Debbie and I wrote most of our best material at any location away from the office. When we were at our desks, the expected things happened. Creativity dried up. One of our most popular classes Bullies, Backstabbers, Braggarts and Banshees was outlined at a buffet! (We called it the Royal Gorge) That spark of ideas ignited a 6 hour class that was fun to teach and easy to write. In fact, most of our communication classes were written on retreat at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey. We would go there twice a year: in the Spring for ministry to clean the Stone House and in the Fall to have a spiritual retreat and start the outlines for our next class. Even during the Spring over fumes of vinegar and dish soap, we would be bouncing new ideas around.

So geographical change can invigorate and inspire creativity. But, I’m convinced, can do so only if we embrace it. My mom said, “Every time I move I look for something that I just love about the new place, even if I didn’t want to leave the old one. Before long, I’m really happy in the new place.” I’ve tried to apply that to more than geographical changes.

I want to be sure you know that I don’t believe all change is good. We can agree on that. Also, too many changes leads to instability and lack of progress. I once worked at a job where the staff stayed the same but the job description was in constant flux. It not possible to grow strong or perform well with incessant change.

Starting back into the maze from Part 1, I didn’t identify with Hem and we aren’t supposed to really like his whiny self. I could better understand Haw. His reaction was slow, but gradually he realized that he didn’t want to keep repeating the same behaviors and getting the same results, so he had to look at other options in the same maze. I’ve had to ask myself, where can I find cheese, aside from the same old corner?

I’m convinced it’s one reason I love living in my RV. I get to experience change more often than when I lived in my little house in the city. I meet new friends, eat new foods, see new places and hear new thoughts and ways of speaking. Right now I’m in the deep south and being a Yankee English teacher, I have no idea how they understand each other. With the drawl, the consonants are softened and drawn out till I have to have them spell things!

So change has it’s challenges. But I respect Haw for searching elsewhere for his daily cheese intake.

So far we have Hem, who complains about the missing cheese, keeps repeating his same daily trek down the maze to the same empty corner day after day. And we have Haw, who eventually starts to explore the maze and look for new cheese in another corner.  He, by the way, is an incessant scribbler and vandalizes the walls of the maze with bits of wisdom. I want to buy him a notepad or get him a smart phone so he can keep his notes handy. So Haw learns gradually to try new things and finds new cheese.

In this parable of the moving cheese, I would like to make a case for the missing character, Hee. Instead of refusing to look elsewhere for cheese, like Hem or look for new cheese, like Haw, this new character (a girl!) could take a leadership role and develop her own line of cheese or even find a new diet instead of cheese!

Of course Hee will be criticized by Hem for not ‘sticking it out’ and might be called any number of things: rebel, starry-eyed dreamer, or a quitter. Hee will be told that if she wants real change, she should stay and fight for it. (Change within is understood to be better than change from without.) Doesn’t that sound like Hem? He would be angry and hurt and disillusioned with her. She will no doubt be unfriended by Hem.

Haw, on the other hand may be open-minded enough to want to stay in touch and will continue to be friends on Facebook. Eventually Haw may even want to sample the new cheese from Hee’s company. I could even imagine Haw might submit a resume to Hee at some point after he’s worked through his resentments from the past.

So we have Hem and Haw, in many ways typical Flighters: those who run from change or those who go along with it and adapt well but don’t strike out on their own. The remarkable difference in Hee comes from being an independent thinker, not a follower. She’s most likely a Fighter. That’s the character I could identify with. Sadly, she’s not in the original parable, but she’s in this story and she’s still a character. She’s me.

Hem and Haw about Change

Try this: Tell someone you’re going to change your life. What happens? Try it. Throw out a possible idea you’ve been mulling over and see what you get for a reaction.

No possible ideas? What?

If not, then the first part of this continuing blog post is for you. It seems that we fall into two camps regarding change: those who painfully crawl to it as a last resort and those who are drawn to it like flies to a picnic.

Do you remember the #1 best-selling book on change, Who Moved My Cheese?

One of the things I find interesting about the little book, is the symbolism about change. The cheese could stand for the good things in life, or could be basic survival. It could symbolize anything necessary for the good life.  Anyway, we need cheese.

If you have no ideas of any change you’d like to persue at any point in life, you would resemble one of the two main characters, Hem. Hem is stuck, majorly. He even argues against looking in other locations of the maze for his cheese or for new cheese. You see the problem.

No, I didn’t memorize the book, but I remember this much. Hem kept returning to the same spot in the maze looking for the cheese long after it was gone. Day after day Hem and Haw checked to see if it was there again. It never returned and I’m not sure what happened to the cheese but the point is what happened to Hem!

If you have no ideas of any change you’d like to pursue at any point in life, you would resemble one of the two main characters, Hem.

Interestingly, the reaction he gives to Haw’s suggestion that they explore their maze, is a full-out argument. Hence the suggestion to talk to someone close to you about a change.  Are you getting negative reactions? That may say more about them than you.

Following that trail, it may say more about them than about your idea of change. They may naturally be a Hem. Maybe you should talk to a Haw. Obviously the happy ending must involve Haw, the other character.

In case you didn’t notice I’ve not listed your possible reasons for avoiding change, other than negative reactions so why not tell me? I’m waiting for a day or two and then, being a Haw, I’m going to write about the plus side of change.

Why do people avoid change? You tell me. I don’t get it.

And The Winner Is…?

Debbie, I liked your previous post because it paints an interesting picture of a common struggle. Last night being the Academy Awards, I began thinking about the leading role in my own musical soundtrack to life.  I don’t happen to be a fan of the character Guilt, but if you take these sentences and insert the crowning performance of Fear, then I can identify!

Even sadder and more isolating than the loneliest number is the mental music we play when we lose ourselves in FEAR. FEAR is the indulgence of the unquiet mind. FEAR is the musical we can’t dance to.

I have only recently learned to avoid the opening nights of that little number. Life is so much better if I can stop the intro to the music of Fear and just pray about the topic that prompted the first few strains. Sometimes I’m powerless to take a negative thought captive. That’s when I ask for help, if I’m smart. Sometimes it’s prayer, sometimes it’s a call to someone else. Either way, it’s identification of the musical and choosing to listen to something else.

Yesterday I was scouting out a new oil site and was afraid I was going to get lost. That was a legitimate fear. I was 8 miles away from Nixon, Texas (no, not Richard, but John T, as in rancher and founder) and aside from mesquite and dusty roads, it was all desert-like wasteland. The more turns I made into the wasteland, the harder my heart pounded. It wasn’t hard to recognize the leading role in my imagination. It was Fear without costume or makeup!

The leading role of Fear is not always so rational and obvious. In fact, it’s the no-so-obvious cameo appearances that really ramp up the fear musical that plays in my head.

Like one this morning. I have Zune on my laptop so that I can transfer music and pictures from there to my new Sourround windows phone. Ever since I installed Zune, my picture program, Picasa, stopped working. I uninstalled and reinstalled Picasa, just now but to no avail.

I have a love-hate thing going with technology. I love it when it works, but it can tank my day when I don’t know how to fix problems. It’s fear that really causes my day to start going south. Okay and maybe a little frustrated anger. I wanted to post a picture of the area around Nixon for this piece, but no. Just for the illustration of how stark life becomes when Fear takes the lead, I’ll leave this blog without a picture.

I am sure that some of our readers would suggest other emotions that mark a downward descent in their day.  I would like to ask them.

So, all you Lurkers out there…who takes the leading role of your negative musical?

Guilt: The Musical

Do you remember the song One by Harry Nilsson? One made it to number five in 1969 when  Three Dog Night used it as the cover song on their debut album. I wasn’t quite a teenager yet but I remember the opening  line “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” It would be hard to forget since it’s repeated a zillion times in the chorus. The song struck a chord with people. People who felt alone or isolated or different, or who were terrified they might, at some point find themselves alone or isolated or different.

Sad song. Even sadder and more isolating than the loneliest number is the mental music we play when we lose ourselves in guilt. Guilt is the indulgence of the unquiet mind. Guilt is the musical you can’t dance to. Sometimes guilt self inflicted. Often times guilt is flung by those oh-so-not-subtle looks or throw away sentences. We know when we’re expected to feel guilty.

“When she can’t bring me to heal with scolding, she bends me to shape with guilt.” — Libba Bray (The Sweet Far Thing).

There are some who seem  immune to guilt. There’s the Frank Sinatra, I Did It My Way (with just a few regrets) group. These folks seem to have a natural immunity. Others hear a different type of music: repentance, redemption, amends, dancing music. But for many, the song they can’t get out of their heads is guilt.


1: the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly: guilty conduct

2: the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously

3: feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy: self-reproach

Guilt has a fan club. They seek out those with the proclivity for self-reproach. It makes their world go round. They are always busy watching, waiting, whispering, preying on perceived weaknesses; too shallow, or too mean to be reflective enough to experience what they so forcefully project.

Guilt is communicable. We catch it from our children, our parents, our neighbors, our friends, in churches, in grocery stores, in social action meetings. They inflict damage with the callousness of a virus, indiscriminately self-righteous.

Guilt, in varying degrees, comes naturally enough without the help of others. Most struggle with guilt: periodically or perpetually. Beyond real sin or mistakes, we’ve even invented new things to feel guilty about.  We’ve created a sub-category we call guilty pleasures.

“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.”
— Michael Pollan

Things we deem to be guilty pleasures include, but aren’t limited to: eating food that isn’t nutritious; reading books that aren’t found on the “100 novels you should read before entering college”/or Oprah’s Book Club list; “wasting” free time by doing anything “non-productive”; sleeping longer than the 7-8  if you’re an adult under the age of 75; watching television programs that aren’t on The History Channel or Discovery; listening to music that isn’t considered current, cutting edge or classical.

It isn’t enough to feel guilty about something bad or  just regrettable. We’ve learned to feel guilty about the innocuous, even the good.

When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, he certainly got at least a portion of his anti-utopia right:

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

Every moment spent wallowing in guilt is a moment of living, lost. Guilt is the loneliness number that you’ll ever do. Repent if  repentance is called for. Make amends if you’ve wronged another. It’s time to dance to your own soundtrack and let Guilt be the musical that plays to an empty house.

Planting Myself in a WalMart Planter

This is a developing situation… This is a developing situation… The words have been scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen for hours. I already knew that. I’m pretty sure everyone in Texas knows that. Everyone in the United States knows that. It’s been a developing situation for days.

Around here, night time temps are dipping into the mid-teens. It hasn’t been above freezing for 60 some hours. In southern Texas that has different ramifications that it would in say, Iowa or Minnesota, where 25 degrees can be considered nearly balmy for early February.

The RV furnace set at 60 for fear of running out of propane since we aren’t very portable right now. Henry isn’t finding his coat to be entirely sufficient. But overall, we’ve been coping pretty with the cold.

Here in Shiner, they’re breaking records. It’s only snowed 1 inch 18 times since 1885. Schools have gone from rolling brown-outs to closing all over southern Texas. Folks from all across the nation are wondering if they’ll be able to make it to Dallas to claim their $4500 scalped tickets for the Super Bowl on Sunday.

I have bowl issues of my own. Since I take the night shift, it’s been my job to make sure the water maintains it’s slow drip in the sink bowl. I felt heroic Tuesday night as I carefully monitored both sinks every 30 minutes. I slept peacefully Wednesday morning, confident the drip would keep on.

Heidi had already disconnected the outside hose to our water supply since we it would freeze right away. I’ve since learned that it’s amazing how quickly slowly dripping water can empty an entire RV reserve.

Doing my do diligence last night, I set aside my log sheet and knitting, I paused the DVR, unwound from the blanket and stopped dead in my track (it’s only one step from the chair to the sink). The kitchen faucet wasn’t dripping. My fear was confirmed when I couldn’t get any water from Bad, Bad Leroy Brown either. BBLB is the name of the bathroom sink. Heidi stuck a BAD label on it so I’d remember to quit brushing my teeth with the non-drinkable, bad tasting potable water. I named the sink Bad, Bad Leroy Brown because I now start humming the tune every time I get my tooth brush out.

I haven’t named any of the appliances yet, although Mr. Coffee, which came named, is next on my list of problematic necessities. My shift begins between 3-4 in the afternoon and goes until 5-6 in the morning. Coffee is my friend. Tonight when Mr Coffee began tripping breakers no matter where I plugged it in: on the counter where it belongs, out of place under the dinette etc… I eventually disconnected the bell and perked a pot outside while watching for monster trucks and white pickups through the icy window.

Now I re-heat it up a cup at a time in the microwave. Because the microwave is our most frequently depended upon appliance, I thought of naming it Bubba, after the rancher who owns this land. He seems like the rugged, reliable type. My hesitation was that when we had generator problems last month, ‘Bubba’ started losing time, and when we re-set the generator this month, ’Bubba’ began to gain about 15 minutes an hour, so now I’m thinking he may be more of a  White Rabbit than a Bubba.

Back to bowls: the real crisis that precipitated this post is the toilet bowl. Our automatic septic pump is no longer automated. Apparently there’s a bit of a dam somewhere in the sewer line so the restroom is now closed for thawing.

This discovery late today prompted a trip to Gonzalas to the nearest WalMart. Heidi suggested I buy a 5 gallon bucket. The only 5 gallon bucket I could find included the cement, so I wandered the isles. I knew the blue plastic pail for $1.50 couldn’t possibly handle the stress. The bait buckets had holes. The trash cans looked sturdy enough but the logistics were insurmountable.

The store was teaming with prestorm shoppers when I finally found my solution.

There was a fairly wide variety of acceptable planters.  I checked the bottom for weight restrictions but I guess they don’t sells planters that way, even though they do sometimes plant large patio trees in them. There was a warning label but I felt confident there was no danger of falling in.

I’ve accidentally done a number of things that drew quite a lot of embarrassing attention to myself (fallen off the stage, left the conference for the restroom with my mike still on etc…). But today, I was a woman with a mission. I was shameless.

As shoppers streamed by, I lined the most desirable planters up in a row and carefully sat in each pot until I found just the right one. I think this whole experience has given me greater self-confidence and has certainly added meaning to the saying: “Bloom Where You Are Planted”.

In the Express line, the clerk smiled at me and said:
“We’ve sold out of gloves and drinking water today, but you’re the first one to buy a pot.”
I briefly explained my predicament and told her that I thought there might be a run on planters, too, if the weather doesn‘t change soon.
She nodded.
“This surely is some crazy weather. We had to bring our chickens inside.”
“Oh gosh, how many chickens do you have?”
“Wow! That must be quite a cacophony!”
She handed me my pot.
“Sure is Sugar, especially with the 3 Chihuahuas.”

That added some perspective. I don’t have any water or bathroom facilities. I can’t shower or do dishes (the dirty dishes are in temporary storage in the shower) or keep the breakers from tripping. I don’t have much heat tonight and apparently even less pride, but I also don’t have 25 chickens and 3 Chihuahuas!