Presents

I kind of suck at living in the moment. I am much more talented at rerunning the past in my brain and worrying about the future. I realize it would be much healthier to live with the “what is” instead of trying to change the past or control the future, but I just don’t seem to have the skills.

The toxicity of my general approach hit me square in the face during my mother’s illness. I spent so much energy thinking about the “what ifs” in the past and the future, I pretty much went down for the ten-count on a regular basis. Getting up off the mat became more and more difficult as time went on. Not only was I giving myself an emotional concussion, I wasn’t doing my mother any favors either. It is hard to be present and attentive and loving for someone who only has the now when your heart is so unpracticed at living in the moment. I realized pretty quickly that the quagmire I created in my mind out of “if onlys” and “what will I dos” was nearly as debilitating as the actuality of the situation.

I knew I was making things more difficult for myself by dragging my feet through the past as I rushed to the future. I tried very hard to rewire my neurological synapses. I worked at concentrating on the present that was in front of me. Sometimes I was able to redirect my brain and keep it from straying into the unhealthy paths, but I usually failed. It isn’t any big surprise that I fared so poorly. Over fifty years of conditioned brain activity doesn’t change easily, even when one makes a concerted effort to learn a different way. After all, one does not go directly from Drivers’ Ed classes to whooshing around the track in the Indy 500. I was learning the most elementary lessons in the art of living in the present. Yet, I was challenging myself to do so in the most difficult situation of my life. The circumstances pretty much doomed me to failure. I decided to find other contexts in which I might practice my ability to live in the now.

As a result, I decided to make a deliberate effort to live in the present as I explored the idea of joining the Episcopal Church. I thought, if there ever was a situation suited to releasing control and luxuriating in the moment, surely it must be a spiritual journey. I gave myself the gift of not justifying or creating a situation but simply living one. I didn’t force myself to commit or engage. I didn’t obsess about saying or doing something wrong. I took advantage of learning opportunities that occurred organically, without trying to tick off boxes to complete an established process. I observed and learned at my own pace…. My pace and God’s pace for me, I suppose. The whole process was about pace in many ways. It was restful… and beautiful…. not to have to make things happen.

When the time came for the bishop to visit our parish and perform the ceremony to accept me into the Episcopal Church, I was out of town. I was fine with waiting. I felt very peaceful about the whole thing. I was perfectly okay with being received a year or more later the next time the bishop visited the parish, but our parish priest arranged for me to go to a service at the diocesan office. At first, I was a little wistful that I wasn’t going to celebrate the service with the members of the parish community I had come to know, but I firmly and gently redirected my brain to the peace of the present. I know there would have been certain blessings to have had the service with the parish community, but I experienced different blessings by going to the diocese office. My first friends in the church were also away the day of the bishop’s visit to the parish. Because of my delay, I was able to have them as sponsors to present me to the bishop at the diocesan office. We spent the day together and, through this shared experience, became friend-family for one another. I met the staff at the diocese office. They showed me the heart of the greater Episcopal Church beyond the doors of my parish.

Clearly, my decision to let things be and live in the moment as I explored my spiritual path reaped manifold benefits that I might not have appreciated had I not allowed myself to stay in the now. A success in living in the present. It was a small, safe success. But it was still a success and a success is a better foundation for future growth than failure.

The present is a present. Yes, it can be the type of present that you want to regift or return to the store. On the other hand, if we take the time to really appreciate it, the present can be a beautiful surprise we never knew we wanted until we live it.

Have you ever experienced a time when you encountered a special “present” because you were living in the moment that you might not have noticed had you been focusing on the past or the future? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

May you be gifted with a beautiful present today!

Terri/Dorry 😊

The Big Reveal

I’ve watched too many makeover shows on television. Between home renovation, fashion faux paus interventions, and Dr. Phil prestidigitation, I expect there to be some major overhaul after 30 to 60 minutes of sweat equity and personal introspection. I’m hoping that you are also primed for the startling “after” picture, because today I am presenting you with the Terri LaBonte Big Reveal.

The Terri LaBonte Big Reveal is that…. I am not really Terri LaBonte. Well, I kinda am. Let me explain.

My parents named me Dorothea Therese Goodness. That name sounds more like a pseudonym than Terri LaBonte, doesn’t it? My mother initially planned to name me Penny. She probably should have. Dorothea Therese was kind of a mouthful for such an itsy-bitsy baby. I can’t imagine my parents ever referring to me as “Dorothea.” It just seems absurd. That may be why they started calling me Tinker Bell. At any rate, before any rendition of the name Dorothea had time to stick, my brother was born. His name was Ernest Anthony Goodness. My grandmother took one look at him and declared, “he looks like an Irishman; you should have named him Timothy Patrick.” The family immediately started calling him “Timmy.”

This kind of solved the whole name thing for me. “Timmy and Terri” sounded so cute, my extended family decided to ignore my first name altogether and focus on the Therese part. I was Terri for several years as a little girl.

This was fine until I started school. When the teacher called roll on the first day and got to the end of the list without little Terri responding, she was flummoxed. Apparently, Dorothea Goodness was absent, but this random child Terri had shown up. Given that I didn’t know my own name, the teacher questioned my kindergarten readiness. When she called my mother in to discuss my apparent backwardness, my mother realized I could not continue to live a double life. She promptly returned home, taught me to answer when someone called me Dorothea, and sent me back to school the next day. To the outside world, I was Dorothea from that day forward.

The name Dorothea was still way too long for me. I was always an impatient kid, hurrying from one activity to another with no time to form eight whole letters each time I had to write my name. I shortened it to Dorry when I was about ten. I made peace with my non-Terri existence and enjoyed being Dorry through adulthood. I married and acquired the Curran family name. When I divorced, it seemed like too much trouble to change it back to my maiden name. Besides, when you change your name to Goodness, everyone notices and I was too ashamed of getting divorced to want to call attention to the fact.

When I started writing the blog, I debated what to do about my name. I legitimately wanted to retain some anonymity and privacy on the internet. I was cracking open my life on cyberspace. It seemed wise to erect some sort of security wall between me and random strangers who might decide to get a little too up close and personal. Also, I have to admit to some desire to stave off too much vulnerability. I was going to write about some pretty personal stuff and I wasn’t quite ready to completely own it by acknowledging it with my real name. I decided I wasn’t brave enough to use my real name and would use a “creative name.”

I resurrected Terri from my childhood name. LaBonte is the French version of “Goodness.” Family folklore says that my first ancestor to come to the United States was a French-speaking Swiss national who entered Ellis Island as Monsieur LaBonte. He left Ellis Island with the more “American” name of Mr. Goodness, courtesy of the good civil servants in charge of Immigration Inspection who did not speak French. I am not sure if this is true or not, but it makes a good legend.

You may wonder why I am disclosing all this now. I’m excited to tell you that my book, Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement will be released within the next couple of months. I decided to publish my book under my real name, Dorry Curran. I want all my dear cyberfriends to be able to find it, which would be difficult if you think Terri LaBonte is the author.

There are other reasons why I thought it was time to come out of the Terri LaBonte closet. I have been writing the blog under the name Terri LaBonte for over two years now. Soon after starting this project, I felt like it would have been better to use my “real” name right from the beginning. It was sometimes confusing when I had to explain who Terri LaBonte was when talking to potential readers who knew me by my real name. Besides, using the name Terri LaBonte felt sort of like using the cyberspace equivalent of a fake ID to buy beer. It had its advantages, but there was also a downside. Yes, it is wise to be cautious about giving too much identifying information on the internet. On the other hand, it felt sort of deceptive and cowardly to hide myself behind a fictitious name. I try to write from a place of courage and honesty. It felt incongruous to deny the value of my truth by denying the name of the person who wrote it.

I’ve thought about sharing this story with you before now. The thing was…. by the time I realized it would have been better to use my real name, I had become kind of attached to Terri LaBonte and didn’t want to give her up.

You see, my legal name may be Dorry Curran, but Terri LaBonte is still very much a part of who I am. In fact, I may be more Terri LaBonte than Dorry Curran at this point in my life. Some time ago, a reader commented that, even though he had known me for many years as Dorry Curran, he found it interesting that he had absolutely no trouble at all thinking of me as Terri LaBonte. Terri LaBonte has always lived inside my soul. She just didn’t get much playing time in my younger days. Maybe people around me recognized her more than I did.

Terri LaBonte is confident enough to dance to her own music throughout her own life, whether anyone is looking or not. Terri LaBonte is visionary enough to make a reality from the blueprint of a dream. Terri LaBonte is brave enough to create something wonderful.

Terri LaBonte is also generous of spirit. When it came time to publish the book, she abdicated authorship to Dorry Curran. After all, it was Dorry’s dream first.

Quick, somebody say something! Now that I’ve revealed this big secret, I find myself feeling extremely wobbly and nervous. My stomach is somersaulting its way all over my innards, like some sort of demented pinball. Please, leave a comment to help me put on the brakes before my ricocheting guts do internal damage!!!

Seriously, I hope no one feels deceived or misled. I humbly ask your forgiveness for any offense or discomfort I caused because of the “fake” name.

Please share your perspective by leaving a comment (please, please, pretty please!!!). In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful day!

Terri/Dorry (seriously, I don’t even know how to sign my name now…. Maybe Derri?) 🙂

The Scenic Route To Easter

Years ago, I used to give up chocolate for Lent. This year, Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as Valentine’s Day. I ask you: is it reasonable to not eat chocolate on Valentine’s Day? I am glad I reconsidered my approach to Lent a long time ago.

The idea behind Lent is to engage in some form of sacrifice to enrich our souls and deepen our faith. It is a time for us to spiritually prepare ourselves to better celebrate Easter. Lent reminds us of Jesus’ forty days of hardship and temptation in the desert when he strengthened himself for His mission.

Growing up as a Catholic, I tended to observe Lent in two ways. I gave up some pleasurable activity (like eating chocolate) for forty days and I did not eat meat on Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I’m not sure that either ritual had much of a positive impact on my spiritual development or my ability to joyfully commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter.

First of all, avoiding meat on Fridays is not that tough to do. Let’s see…. I can’t eat meat, but I can eat lobster, shrimp, grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetarian pizza, and peanut butter. That doesn’t seem all that sacrificial to me, unless I have to eat all those things at one sitting. That might be pretty penitential, but I don’t think anyone advocates stuffing the body with a feast of nonmeat products as a means of spiritual enrichment.

As far as giving up something goes, I do think there is some intrinsic value in sacrificing something we enjoy as a spiritual exercise to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to remember that the greatest gift is salvation. I do tend to feel, though, that a sacrifice is more meaningful if it also generates a positive impact. I don’t think giving up chocolate had any impact on me at all except possibly to make me a teensy bit cranky. Maybe my sacrifice would have been more meaningful if I had saved the money I didn’t spend on chocolate ice cream and donated it to a food bank or something. Instead, I am ashamed to admit that I just spent the money on vanilla instead. I never thought about the second piece of the Lenten observance equation. I understood the “I’m going to give up” part but never addressed the “so I can do X” part.

A friend of mine is doing something this Lent that I think perfectly illustrates the point. She decided to give up television for Lent. It wasn’t that she gave up TV simply to make herself suffer. In fact, she says she is actually enjoying the break from television. In deciding on her Lenten observance, she didn’t focus on what she was losing. She focused on what she was gaining. She gave up television to give herself the time to read and study and pray. She believes that, in this period of focus and reflection, God is teaching her all kinds of valuable lessons.

I have not always been great at following through on Lenten observances that require me to do something overt rather than simply stop doing something. Some years, I tell myself that I am going to read a spiritual book or go to additional worship services or step out of my own internal world and mend relationships with others. Then, suddenly, Holy Week is upon me and I have done nothing out of the ordinary. Some years, though, I have found rich and beautiful observances that I still remember with gratitude. Last year, I began reading the entirety of the New Testament in order. One year, I subscribed to a program of daily Lenten emails and worked on implementing their challenges in my everyday life. A few years back, I wrote a letter to a different person every day during Lent to thank him or her for the richness he or she brought to my life. All of these Lenten “penitential” activities brought me more joy than I can describe.

This year, I didn’t give up anything. I continue to walk my way through the Bible. Last Advent, I started in on the chapters of the Old Testament and I expect I will be at that for some time to come. I am also working through a book about developing a deeper relationship with Jesus and journaling about how I see the author’s message impacting my life experience. I also gave a presentation at a church women’s’ group.

I struggle with wanting to contribute whatever talents I have to support the church and nurture the people of God, yet I am not confident that I have the talents necessary. I am an extremely introverted, shy person. The idea of giving a presentation of any kind is daunting. When I was working, I did a lot of teaching and presentations. I was a popular speaker. People were kind to me. I enjoyed the activity, even though I was always very nervous beforehand. Soon after I finished a successful presentation, I was always consumed with the certainty that the success was a “one off” event that I would never be able to replicate in the future. In addition to my general insecurity about speaking to a group, I have only been to a few of these women’s group presentations in the past. I was not completely certain of what my audience would want or expect from me.

As the day of the presentation got closer, I felt the anxiety level in my gut increase. All the preparation I had done felt inadequate and I felt confused about how to proceed. I had several, ill-formed ideas for the general approach I could take to present the information I had gathered. In speaking to a friend, she suggested that I ask God how to proceed. We agreed that I should try to relax and let the Holy Spirit take over my anxiety about the presentation. I followed her advice and, of course, everything went fine.

I said that I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year. I guess I actually did. I gave up anxiety about the presentation. I gave up the feeling of stagnant comfort when I agreed to be the speaker for the women’s program rather than simply a member of the audience. I gave up a small amount of time and frenetic energy to focus on reflection each evening.

My experience this Lent has not been a journey through a desolate desert. Instead, Jesus has taken me on the scenic route to Easter and I am enjoying a beautiful view!

What do you think?  Do you give up anything for Lent or do anything special?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a meaningful day!

Terri 🙂

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT COMING NEXT WEEK!!!! PLEASE TUNE IN NEXT WEDNESDAY FOR SOME BIG NEWS!!!

Show Me The Way To Go Home

I recently returned from a trip back “home” to California. When I was leaving Florida, I felt a little trepidation because, on my last trip to California, I experienced a rather strange sensation of disorientation (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/08/a-weird-and-strange-sentimental-journey/). I wondered if my equilibrium would be similarly out of whack on this trip.

Because the main driver for this trip was to scatter my mother’s ashes at one of her favorite places, I guess I felt I was a little vulnerable to emotional earthquakes from the get-go. Scattering my mom’s ashes in my backyard in Florida was a pretty gutting experience for me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to scattering ashes while simultaneously feeling like I somehow fell down a rabbit hole into a home that used to be mine but no longer seemed familiar.

I need not have worried. The trip was good. I felt like the time I spent with my brother was valuable to both of us. Scattering my mother’s ashes did not result in a meltdown for either of us. I think we both took comfort from being together with our memories of our mother- memories that only the two of us could share in the same way. I think we both felt better afterwards. My brother texted me that he felt like she was home now. I delighted in the time I spent with my friends. I felt like I was actively participating in life and relationships, rather than just sitting still and letting things happen around me. I enjoyed the sensation. As I drove around Southern California, the territory felt familiar again. I did not sense the weird and strange, as I did a few months ago.

I wondered what was different. I am sure that my mother’s death and my adaptation to a different life without her had something to do with it. Still, I think the biggest difference is how I see my home in Florida now. It took me a long time to really kick into gear and feel truly connected to my new life in Florida. It was a process. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it or that I was unhappy. It was just that shifting gears is very difficult for me. I have an extremely slow emotional transmission.

The last time I was in California, I don’t think I was quite comfortable in the idea that Florida was my home. I didn’t yet feel settled and secure in the life I’ve built here. My life in Florida was starting to gel and become my new comfort zone, but things were still a bit wobbly. I think I could not feel truly confident that my new “home” life in Florida would still feel stable and sound when I returned if I allowed my heart to experience some of my old “home” life in California. I could only allow myself to experience the distorted shadow of what used to be so familiar. I was kind of like a polar bear trying to make her way across shaky ice. Instead of gracefully and confidently jumping from one ice float to another, I was trying to balance each of my four paws on different ice floats at the same time. It wasn’t working and I felt myself being pulled in numerous different, uncomfortable directions as the various ice floats diverged.

This time, I think I’d become more secure and embedded in the fabric of my “home” life in Florida. Because I have created a richer, more connected life for myself in Florida- a life that is growing and becoming more deeply rooted- I feel more comfortable enjoying and appreciating the “home” I left behind. Feeling more stable on my current block of ice, this polar bear is now more confident leaping her way to familiar and unfamiliar ice floats as she travels wherever life leads her.

Do you think it is easier to appreciate the past more when you are contented with your present life or when you hit a rough patch in the present?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Enjoy today, both at home and away!!!

Terri 🙂

If Life Is A Highway, Did I Take The Wrong Offramp Somewhere?

Do you ever look around you and wonder at how different your life is than what you thought it would be when you were younger? It happens to me all the time. For about the first thirty-five years of my life, the image I had in my head of what my life would look like at age 58 was nothing like what that life has turned out to be.

When I was in high school, I took a career aptitude test. The idea was that it would be helpful to us students to learn what professions would take advantage of our natural talents and inclinations before we went off to college to spend four years of our lives (and four years of our parents’ money) preparing for a career for which we were not at all suited. My aptitude test indicated that I should be a priest or marry one. Remember, this was in the seventies and the idea that a woman’s “career” should be to support and advance her husband’s career was still pretty prevalent. At any rate, since I was a Roman Catholic at the time, it didn’t seem that either option was going to work for me. Maybe if I had come to the Episcopal Church sooner, I would have joined the ranks of the clergy by now.

Since my career in the Church was doomed by convention and canon law, I considered other avenues. I kept coming back to the idea that I wanted to be a children’s librarian. I have always loved books. I spent many of my teenage hours volunteering at the local library. Some of those hours involved helping with story hours and summer reading programs for children. In fact, for the bicentennial year, I wrote and starred in a melodrama for our children’s program called Just A Minute, Man. It was so well-received, the county library officials asked us to do an encore performance. They even videotaped it for posterity. I am sure that old videotape is still packed away in some dusty box in the central library headquarters, if it hasn’t burst into flames some time in the last forty plus years. When I majored in English at college, I took a number of courses in children’s and adolescent literature. However, being a librarian requires an advanced degree. When I graduated from college with my Bachelor’s degree, I married almost immediately. My brand-new husband was a graduate student who required brand-new food every brand-new day. I had to get a brand-new job right away, so I pretty much took the first position offered to me.

As I look back on my career, I kind of giggle. I doubt anyone ever grew up aspiring to be a mid-level manager for a government agency. I certainly didn’t. Once I got caught in the revolving door of that government bureaucracy job, I pretty much relied on momentum to propel me on my career path. I never went back to school. The idea of taking a career U-turn seemed inconceivable to me. On the other hand, my career offered me a reasonable salary, the opportunity to do interesting, multi-faceted work that helped people, and the ability to grow my skill and talent. Perhaps most importantly, it offered me the chance to meet wonderful people without whom I can’t imagine my life today. I have several sisters of the soul who walk closely with me on my life’s path who I never would have met had I not taken that “first position offered to me.”

I also expected that I would stay happily married to the same man throughout my life. None of that really worked out. Not the happily part. Not the married part. Not the throughout my life part. When my husband left me after a little less than seven years of marriage, it was probably the best thing he ever did for me. It certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, however. My dreams of what “family” would look like in my life exploded. I got over the divorce years ago, but I’m not sure I ever really got over the beating my vision of my “family” identity took.

On the other hand, I think the experience of my marriage and divorce were fertilizer for my growth into a real, three-dimensional, actualized person. It made me stronger, smarter, more compassionate, and more sensitive. It helped me think about things in bigger, more complex canvasses. Max and I often talk about what would have happened if we had met each other earlier in our lives. The bottom line of all those conversations is that neither one of us were ready for the other until the time we met. I couldn’t be ready for the happiness he and I have shared without the heartbreak of my earlier relationships, including my marriage.

Part of the cracks in my perception of “family” was not just the dissolution of the marriage, but also the related issue of not having any children. When I was young, I always imagined myself as a mother. When I got divorced, making that vision a reality seemed much more challenging. Of course, I realize that getting divorced does not automatically shut down the dream of having children. One can remarry and have children. One can adopt children. One can try alternative processes like surrogate parenting or using a donor for the paternal half of the DNA. I just never made it happen. It isn’t that I ever really decided not to have children. Circumstances just never seemed right. A husband and future father of my children never materialized. I lived in Southern California in a tiny one-bedroom condominium, which I am guessing would not have been well-received by adoption agencies. I worked full time and made decent money, but would have struggled with paying for child care. Also, I always felt that, in a world where we could always have our druthers, a child should have a mom and a dad. Single parents can do an awesome job… some better than some dual parent families. However, to me, the best-case scenario, is to have two awesome parents sharing the burdens and joy of child-rearing. I guess in a way, I did decide to not have children by never arranging my life to have children. Still, if you had told the twenty-two-year-old me that I would not have children, I would have been dumbfounded…. And horrified.

Years later, part of me still feels regrets that the “mother” part of my vision of my future never happened. However, contrary to popular belief, I don’t really think most people can have it all. I am not sure I have it in me to be the mother I would want to be in the circumstances that I ended up facing. I could have been a parent. Without the support of a fully-contributing partner, however, I’m not sure I could do it well. It would have killed me to not do it well.

And there is another side to the coin. Without having children, Max and I can be our own children. We can be selfish with our time, energy, and money. I was able to retire at a fairly young age instead of working to pay college tuition. I have been able to enjoy life in ways that I could not have done if I was supporting children. I can support children’s charities with money that I would have spent raising my own kids.

Yes, my life is very different than what I imagined. On the other hand, it is a pretty good life. I’m not complaining.

What do you think is most surprising about the way your life has turned out? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

May all your surprises be good ones!

Terri 🙂

Roll Me In Rainbows And Call Me A Unicorn

When I was living in California, I used to go to a small café called Bagels & Brew a couple of times a week. It is still there. In fact, the owners have opened a couple of more stores in recent years. They have delectable bagels, made fresh daily. They have nearly every variety of bagel you can possibly imagine. They toast and warm and slather bagels just the way you crave them. They also have wonderful egg dishes, sandwiches, and salads. I understand from people who actually drink coffee-related beverages that they make a mean latte. All in all, the food is great. It is so great that I would eat there even if the environment was less than appetizing. I would sit on a broken chair, wipe crumbs off a dirty table, and endure surly service just short of getting slapped in the face to enjoy a crispy, savory double-toasted poppy bagel with butter.

The thing is I don’t have to endure any such shortcomings. If there is anything more satisfying than the bagels at Bagels & Brew, it is the atmosphere. The place is warm and welcoming and cozy. There is a busy-ness and a bustle that feels cheerful, but never manic or rushed. There are booths and tables inside, as well as outdoor seating. People from all walks of life, ages, and interests seem to congregate with a nosh and a drink. I’ve overheard business meetings, Bible study discussions, dates, and crucial conversations while chomping my bagel. The folks who work there are cheerful and seem to be genuinely enjoying their jobs.

In fact, the employees make Bagels & Brew the “Cheers” of baked goods. Not only does everybody know your name and they’re always glad you came, but they remember what you like to eat and punch it into the register as you enter the store. When I was living in California, I could count on someone saying, “Good morning, Terri! The usual?” In fact, even when I made my first trip back to California after moving, the employee at the counter greeted me by name and remembered my poppy bagel double-toasted with butter… despite the fact that it had been over a YEAR since I had last darkened their doorstep. There is something very comforting about starting your day with a cheerful greeting from someone who cares enough to remember who you are and what you order. Starting your day with a few tasty grams of carbohydrates doesn’t hurt, either!

On my most recent trip to California, I confess that no one in Bagels & Brew greeted me by name. Of course, I’d lost some weight and completely changed my hairstyle, so I wasn’t really playing fair. The bagels were still delicious. The environment was still cozy. The employees were still friendly. In fact, everything was just as I remembered it.

Except….

As I entered the café on Wednesday, I noticed a sign announcing the availability of unicorn bagels on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. UNICORN BAGELS!!??!!! What?!! Wow. Just wow. I was all over it. I knew there was no way I was leaving California without experiencing a unicorn bagel. I returned the next day, propelled by curiosity and craving for a fantastical, mythical breakfast. The unicorn bagel was AWESOME. If a bagel and a rainbow-hued tornado had a baby, the result would be a unicorn bagel. To the more prosaic, the unicorn bagel is essentially a plain bagel wrapped in twisting, vibrant strips of food-colored dough. The result is a swirling, rolling rainbow of blues and pinks and yellows and greens. I, not being the prosaic type, was enchanted.

I was so enchanted, I wanted to buy a unicorn bagel t-shirt. Unfortunately, the store did not have my size in stock. The manager offered to go home and print me one so I could pick it up later in the day or the next morning. Who does that? People who like you, I guess. I was back the next morning to claim my freshly-printed purple unicorn bagel shirt. It took me three trips (not that I’m objecting to three mornings of fresh bagels!) to Bagels & Brew, but I can now say I’ve eaten a unicorn bagel and have the t-shirt to prove it.

I am the first to admit that there are parts of my personality that are just weird and neurotic. I regularly spend a certain amount of effort trying to contain those parts of my personality to keep me from going down in a fiery crash of insanity. There is another part of my personality, though, that is also weird, but I like to think is rather is charming.

It is the part of me that stalks Tinkerbell.

It is the part of me that hangs stockings at Christmas (including one for myself), fills them, and then asserts vehemently that the contents come from Santa Claus.

It is the part of me that is tickled pink by feeding lemurs and giraffes.

It is the part of me that wears my Bagels & Brew t-shirt proudly proclaiming, “Roll me in rainbows and call me a unicorn!”

I hope I never outgrow whimsy!

What is your favorite place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. If anyone is interested in learning more about Bagels & Brew, you can check them out at www.bagelsandbrew.com.

Put Another Candle On The Blogday Cake

Everybody get ready to blow out some candles!  My blog is two years old.  I read somewhere that only about 5% of blogs remain active as long as two years, so I think this week calls for a celebration! Thanks to all of you for reading and encouraging me!  You are all awesome.

When I first started the blog, I asked some friends to help me publicize my efforts and build readership.  I explained that I read that a “successful” blog unassociated with some particular company or service has about 1,000 unique visitors per month, but that I could not imagine recruiting that many people to read my blog on a regular basis.  One of my friends, who used to be my boss and knows too well how obsessive I can be about metrics, asked me what I would do if I did not attract those 1,000 blog readers.  I don’t know if he was worried that I would take random people hostage and force them to read the blog at gunpoint or that I would simply take a long walk on a short pier.  Having gained some perspective in retirement about my need to succeed, I assured him that I intended to blog whether anyone read it or not.  I told him that Terri LaBonte would keep talking to the blogosphere until she had nothing left to say. After two years, I am still talking.

To my constant amazement, delight, and befuddlement, the blog has been attracting over 1,000 unique visitors per month on a pretty regular basis. So I guess I am not just talking to myself.  Many of you comment, either on the website or by sending me an email.  Your insights are so beautiful and valuable.  We have rich, respectful, and real discussions.  I think I am a better person (certainly, a healthier and less neurotic one) because I write the blog and because I read your perspectives.

I hope that we can continue on our journey together for a long time to come.  I hope I still have stuff to say and am not just rerunning old ideas.  Not that old ideas are always bad.  Didn’t someone say that there is nothing new under the sun?  All that will ever really be new is our way of looking at the world.  Thank you all for helping me to see the world in a new way.

So have a piece of virtual birthday cake.  Blow out some virtual candles.  Make a real wish.  Then make that wish come true!

 

What are your birthday wishes for our blogday?  What topics would you like to discuss?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  By the way, if you’d like another helping of Terri, I did another guest blog post at retirementandgoodliving.com.  You can visit at http://retirementandgoodliving.com/lessons-i-wish-i-never-had-to-learn/

I hope all your wishes come true today!

Terri 🙂

 

The Need To Succeed

I’ve written a book.  It has taken me over a year and a lot of work, but I’ve written a book. 

I’ve said I wanted to be a writer all my life, so this is a big deal.  I’ve sent this collection of my brain nuggets off on its first wave of agents in attempt to interest someone in representing me.  My research suggested a strategy of soliciting about ten prospective agents at a time, continuing with query letters to a new batch of people every four weeks or so.  The guru I consulted implied that it is not unusual for a new writer to receive 20-30 rejections from agents before receiving an offer of representation.  The responses to the first wave of queries are starting to flit into my email. I am well on my way to those 20-30 rejections.   

When I started work on the book, I told myself that I was doing it for fun. I told myself I was doing it for personal satisfaction. I told myself that I was just ticking off a box on my bucket list.  I told myself that I wouldn’t be disappointed if no one wanted to represent or publish it.  I told myself a lot of happy hoopla that people tell themselves when they are trying to force themselves to feel rationally. 

I think feeling rationally may be an oxymoron. 

At any rate, despite my best intentions, I do feel a little deflated as I collect my rejection replies.  It isn’t that I am completely demoralized or depressed or anything so dramatic.  I don’t even feel like I’ve given up yet (although maybe I should!)  Still, I have to admit to feeling a bit dispirited.  Maybe even vaguely ashamed.   

I think it has a lot to do with the ingrained “need to succeed” that drove my every action and emotion while I was working.  During my work life, so much of my worth seemed tied up with results and achievement.  It was easy to feel exposed and ashamed when something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, no matter how hard I tried for a good outcome.  It was as if any sub-wonderful result would mean that everyone would know I wasn’t as smart or talented or strong or whatever as I was supposed to be. I don’t think I’m the only one who carried that world view on her back.  I’ve heard many people voice similar weird concerns that everyone would “find out” they weren’t all they were cracked up to be.    

Now, with the book, I am wondering if I am voluntarily taking on this burden again. I remember that my stomach clenched when I hit the send button on the first query email.  I knew, going into this project, that it was very likely that I would not find an agent willing to represent me.  There are a lot of reasons why writers do not get representation contracts or publication deals.  I’ve read that only about 2% of writers who submit their work for consideration are successful in obtaining agents.  My writing may not be good enough to make it into the top 2%, which doesn’t make it bad.  My writing may be good enough, but my subject or format may not be commercial enough to interest agents and publishers.  My “platform” may not be strong enough to provide the credibility to convince publishers that I have sufficient built-in customers to reduce their risk.   All of these are possible, even probable, reasons why I may never attract an agent.  None of them should be shameworthy, however. 

If the rejections continue, more and more people in the literary world (people who I don’t even know, by the way) will discover I am less talented or less commercial or less savvy or less something.  I have to figure out a way to be okay with that, if I am going to play out the entire scenario.   

There are things I could do to shore up some of my “lesses” that would probably increase the likelihood of attracting an agent and publisher.   I could attend writers’ conferences.  I could pursue speaking engagements more aggressively.  I could figure out how to promote myself on social media. When I was working, I even had some experience and skills that would probably translate very well to this new challenge.  The thing is- I’m just not that into doing any of them. The idea of attending writers’ conferences has some appeal, but I’m sure I’d have to mix and mingle at the conferences for it to do much good and mixing and mingling holds no appeal whatsoever.  As an extreme introvert, it is difficult for me to even ask people to read my blog.  The idea of aggressively trying to put myself in the public eye makes me cringe.  I can challenge myself a little and I probably will try to expand my horizons a bit in the promotion arena, but I really don’t want to cause an earthquake in my comfort zone. As far as social media goes…. My idea of hell is dealing with technology.    

If I am not going to do much to reduce the likelihood of rejections, maybe I need to concentrate on what I’ve already accomplished to evaluate the outcome of my goal to be a writer.

·       I have grown personally and built myself a more satisfying retirement life through writing.

·       I have been writing a weekly blog for just about two years. 

·       I have more unique visitors to my blog each month than I ever thought possible.

·       I approach 30,000 hits on the blogsite each month.

·       I have wonderful, thoughtful readers who leave generous and supportive comments.

·       I have people contact me who say that something I’ve written has helped them.

·       I have written a book that pleases me. 

There isn’t anything wrong with having a need to succeed.  You just have to be discerning about how you define “succeed.” 

Do you feel the pressure of “the need to succeed?”  How do you define “succeed?”  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a successful day!

Terri 🙂

 

Where In The World Is Terri LaBonte?

This week, I am haunting one of my mother’s favorite places in the world and scattering her ashes.  I am visiting the spot where we released my father’s remains into the Universe over twenty years ago.  I am bonding with my brother in our grief over our mother’s death and our celebration of our connectedness.  I am taking shelter in the hearts of a couple long time forever friends. I am in California- the state where I grew into an adult and spent most of my life.

I reside in Florida now.  More importantly, I live in Florida now.  My life is there.  My sense of meaning and momentum and satisfaction is there.  I am happy in Florida and with the life I am constantly creating there.  Three years after my move from California (the land of no weather) to Florida (the land of wackadoodle weather), I can finally say unreservedly that relocating and reinventing myself was the absolute right decision for me.  Florida feels like Home.

Still, California still seems to occupy a small corner of the place in my heart called Home.  This week, I am living in that corner and it is very cozy here.

What do you think?  Can “Home” be more than one place?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a sweet day!

Terri 😊

Grace On Robinson Street

I became an Episcopalian this past week.  Officially.

Those of you who have been following along on the blog as I trip my way through retirement life know that, for some time, I have been examining my spiritual path.  For those of you who don’t know, you can visit http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/01/a-crisis-of-church/ if you care to learn the backstory.

At any rate, after living virtually all my life as an observant Roman Catholic, I decided to convert to the Episcopal Church.  It was not a haphazard decision.  I thought about it a great deal.  I spent about a year and a half exploring, praying, and experimenting.  I wasn’t exactly “all in” for awhile, but I was taking ever more deliberate steps towards intimacy with the Episcopal Church.  I even took Episcopalian lessons.  Last Thursday, my sponsors and I took a drive to Orlando to ask the bishop for acceptance of my commitment to the Episcopal Church.

When our parish priest told me that everything was arranged for my entry ceremony, I had a strangely nervous reaction.  I wanted to do this.  I truly had no doubts about doing it.  Still, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach that tend to migrate there when any major life event is looming.  In retrospect, it made sense.  At the time, though, I felt confused by my reaction.  Why would I be nervous?  What was going to happen that would make anything any different?  How was anything really going to change by my participating in this formal ceremony? I was baptized and confirmed many years ago, receiving the sacramental grace of the Lord.  I have always spent a lot of mental energy trying to broaden and deepen my faith, so it wasn’t like focusing on my spiritual journey was anything new.  As Max pointed out, I have been regularly attending Episcopal services, praying in common with my brothers and sisters, learning about the beliefs and structure of my new denomination, and contributing financially to the church for over a year.  I have even started to apply what skills and talents I have to service within an Episcopal context.  With all that, how could I not already be an Episcopalian?

Still. I have always been a compliant person and the ceremony is part of the process.  People I trust seemed to believe that the ceremony would be a blessing to me and to others.  While I wasn’t sure what to expect or what spiritual benefits I might experience, I wanted to open myself to whatever God had planned for me through the events on the day of the ceremony.  I was nervous, but also excited.

My sponsor friends and I arrived at the diocesan office early.  As soon as we walked in the door, staff members rushed to greet us.  Employees who were not even involved in the ceremony popped out of doorways and from behind desks to come welcome me.  They knew who I was without me even introducing myself.  They had been anticipating my arrival. They seemed genuinely joyful that I was there.  I am sure most of the joy came from what I represented- God working in the world and His people- but I truly felt that they also cherished and welcomed me personally.

The welcome reminded me of an experience I had years ago while I was working.  I had been selected as a front-line manager for a new organization within my agency.  I went to an orientation meeting with all 200 or so other newly-selected managers.  The senior leadership circulated around the huge auditorium, greeting people and welcoming us to the new organization.  There were hugs involved.  I had never seen anything like it.  It was obvious that this hospitality was a deliberate business decision, designed to make us feel comfortable and committed to our new mission.  It worked for me.  I was impressed that someone had been considerate enough to even think of it.  And it wasn’t that the welcomes and welcomers were insincere. They didn’t seem phony. They were perfectly nice.  I believe they were honestly happy to meet us and to be working with us. There was something just a little bit off, though.  They didn’t know us.

In contrast, my welcome at the diocesan office felt more robust and visceral.  There was genuine warmth and joy and connectedness.  No, the staff didn’t know my story- where I live, who I love, what I do with the hours of my day- but they recognized me for the most important part of myself, a fellow child of God.  Not only did they know me, I was family. I think the archdeacon who was explaining the ceremony to us said it the best.  We were discussing whether my sponsors should use my name when presenting me to the bishop or just the more generic liturgical “this person.”  I laughed when the archdeacon asked me if I cared and said that it didn’t matter to me because God knew who I was.  She replied, most vehemently, “You are a precious child of God and we are overjoyed to have you.”

The ceremony itself was beautiful.  There were two people coming for confirmation and me for acceptance into the Episcopal Church. We gathered in a small, intimate chapel and prayed for each other.  Some folks from the office joined us.  It felt like a small family reunion in a family where everybody likes each other.   Before the ceremony, the archdeacon asked us to share our stories with each other.  In just those few moments, we became connected because of what we were sharing.  I doubt I’ll ever see them again, but we are important to each other.

When the bishop called me, we clasped hands and he placed his other hand on my shoulder.  He looked into my eyes and spoke the words of the liturgy accepting me into fellowship.  I have never been very good at looking people in the eyes for more than a second or two unless I know them very well.  I get shy and embarrassed and tend to look away.  I had no trouble at all maintaining eye contact at my acceptance ceremony.  I listened to what the bishop said, but I felt the depth of the blessing through what his eyes conveyed.

After the ceremony was over, I reflected on whether or not the formal acceptance ceremony actually made anything “different” for me.  Did I suddenly become an Episcopalian by virtue of the ceremony?  The answer is probably “no.”  I have been becoming an Episcopalian for some time.  I absolutely did feel “different” afterwards, though.  This ceremony is not a Sacrament with a capital “S”, but, for me, the ceremony and the powerhouse of loving welcome I received from everyone certainly felt sacramental. Through this process, God did gently change my heart.  I felt my fear crumble, my love expand, and my sense of my own value blossom.  I know that being a child of God is a lifelong vocation.  I am sure I will continue to struggle with my demons, just like everyone, but God did strengthen me for the struggle in a very special way when the bishop accepted me into the Episcopal communion and His people blessed me with their love.

There was Grace that day.

Have you ever had an experience that ended up being more meaningful than you anticipated?  Tell us about it!  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Grace to you today and always!

Terri 🙂