True Happiness

When I am truly happy it’s a warmth that starts in my pelvis and spreads up through my sternum, but never reaches my heart.  My heart does not burst with cliche happiness.  It’s a much more primal emotion, and feels like someone has spread Bengay on my insides and slightly inflated me, but imagine the best possible feeling that could describe, not the torture version of inflated insides coated in Bengay.  Sometimes the happiness builds enough pressure that it seeps out my eyes.  I can describe this emotion today, because I am sitting here feeling it.

Why am I happy?  My life is filled with extraordinary people right now, and those people have caused a confluence of extraordinary experiences over the past two days.

Yesterday I planned a team outing for the amazing people I work with.  We were going out for a late lunch, partially to remember one of our colleagues who died a few years ago, and partially because we just needed to enjoy a good meal together away from the oppressive angst and uncertainty that currently permeates our workplace.  We also needed to celebrate.  An app 18 months in the making was finally approved by legal and went live on the Google Play store.  Funding that I have been fighting to get in the door for almost a year had arrived, and was enough to pay for two of us for a year.  If the looming budget cuts come, that money will save jobs.

Then my team turned the tables on me, morphing the lunch into a celebration of me, complete with a card, gifts, and a heartfelt gratitude for all I do for the team.  I was emotionally wrought and working off of four hours of sleep, so the fact that I did not break out in tears was a remarkable accomplishment.  Compounding the emotion was that because of Tuesday, I finally understood an additional facet of what I provide to the team.

Tuesday was my last Apocalyptic Fiction writing class, and while I never did accomplish my goal of being able to spell apocalyptic without the aid of spell check, I learned so much more.

  • I saw my own struggle in other’s writings, and through reviewing their work learned how I can improve.
  • I learned that I am terrible at identifying if a title is an apocalyptic novel or a death metal band.
  • While reading a book I despise I learned what I value as a reader and a writer
  • I learned that “bestseller” doesn’t mean “everyone likes this book.”  Related, I learned that I respect and value the opinion of people who like books I hate and people who hate books I like.
  • The utter terror I had sharing my work was replaced by the wonder of having people I trust not just enjoy my work, but provide thoughtful criticism on how to make that work better.  I also learned the value of giving and receiving feedback to and from other writers.
  • I learned that my love of maps can enhance my writing capabilities.  Sigh.  I love maps.
  • Through reading my classmates’ work I now understand why tension is important, what it means to have backstory delivered at the right time, how to convey information by both showing and telling, how to see the structure of a story though the mess of a draft, and why a story that has soul can pull readers in even in the early stages.

All of this was made possible, because our instructor Alexander Lumans built a supportive and encouraging environment where risks and experimentation were encouraged.  Couple that with a group of respectful, creative, engaged students and literal magic happened in our classroom for eight weeks.  Time stopped.  Worlds were built and dreams were formulated.  When there wasn’t magic, there was just great conversation.  We debated about the quality of the books we read and learned from our disagreements.  Beverage was not spewed out noses, but there was enough laughter to make that risk very real.

When the last class was over we spilled out of our couch and chair filled stuffy classroom into the real world and discovered that we liked each other as people too, not just writers.  The conversation flowed through writing, reading, television, videos, circuses, clowns, the cat in the hat, jobs, careers, and life’s injustices until the wee hours of the morning.

Walking to my car with one of my classmates I said, “I’m really glad that by the end Lumans became more than just our teacher.”  Those words came back to me at lunch on Wednesday.  I am wickedly horrible at self understanding, but a keen observer.  Often I have to see something in others before I can recognize it in myself.  Sitting at lunch I could understand how my team felt about me, and I could see ways I could make my work relationships richer through implementing what I appreciated from Lumans leadership in our class.

New friends?  A better understanding of how to improve my work relationships?  True excitement about my writing projects?  Hope of my new friends creating a writing group?  What an absolute gift the universe has given me this week in the form of two spectacular groups of people willing to open up and appreciate each other.  I’m filled with joy, trust and hope.  If that isn’t true happiness, I’m not sure what is.

Super Duper Excited about Healthy Snacks!

There’s a new vending machine at work named “Healthy Vend”.  It’s been there for almost a month now.  It accepts a wide variety of payment options: cash, coins, several credit cards and Apple Pay.  Everything in it is $1.00, so it’s a super convenient and inexpensive way to grab something when I forgot my lunch or need a quick snack to tide me over before dinner.

The best part is that the snacks are not only healthy, but they are also invisible!  Or maybe they just want to give health nuts the joy of buying something out of a vending machine, while not tempting them with the almonds, beef jerky, pretzels, or gluten free cookies that so often get dubbed “healthy” but really aren’t.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m going to.  I love me a healthy snack.  Maybe tomorrow…

A Sample of Historical Aftheads

The idea of afthead was one that wouldn’t let go of me.  It started goofing off at work, when someone wondered, “What’s that called, that back part of your head where men never go bald?”  An afthead of course!  We started looking and couldn’t find a reference to an afthead, other than an occasional discussion of putting toilets in the back of boats.  We searched domains and found that was available for a pittance.  The domain searcher said to me, “You’ve come up with an actual original idea!”

For a few months, heck probably years, that statement and the afthead idea drifted around in my head.  I looked up the domain.  Eventually I bought it, and did nothing with it.  It was interesting though.  I started noticing that I had a long standing penchant for aftheads.  There is something natural, unposed, and real about snapping a shot behind someone’s back.   It draws your attention to the scenery, to where the photograph-ee is looking, and it lets their personality shine through.

First there were a series of pictures from Italy featuring my husband’s aunt Bonnie.  She passed away almost five years ago, and she was my favorite traveling companion.  I love these pictures because they are are so her.  She loved to walk, and we walked everywhere together.  In the first image she’s climbing down to a city in Cinque Terra.  I love her wide-legged stance.  She was so strong and so curious about things.  She’s reading something, and she has her horribly embarrassing fanny pack on: so practical yet so ridiculous to her then 27 year old traveling partner.  If I’d captured her from the forehead side I would have seen a different Bonnie.  A posed Bonnie who didn’t really love having her picture taken; I love this image because it is really her.


This second picture is amazing too.  We were touring around Rome looking for the Forum and the Colosseum.  We were walking and walking with our maps and guidebooks.  Every ruin, every old looking building we’d say “Oh!  Here’s the Forum” but it wasn’t.  It was drizzling, and all the panhandlers who had tried to steal the fanny pack the day before were now selling umbrellas, and Bonnie bought one.  We marveled at the multi-talented homeless people of Rome and wondered if they sold umbrellas they had stolen the day before.  Finally we turned a corner and both said, “Oh!  This is the Forum”.  It was obvious.  Bonnie then became the methodical tourist.  She visited every ruin, would read about it, and study it.  I stood back and just took the whole thing in.  I didn’t need the same attention to detail; she’d tell me any of the really interesting parts.  This left me free to take sneaky pictures of her.  In this one she’s reading something, again.  I love the umbrella discarded for the reading material, and I love the emptiness of the Forum.  It was a mystery to us how anyone could be in Rome and not go out just because of a little rain.


Similarly, I found two sets of afthead images that featured my husband.  One set is from our wedding in Scotland, and the other is from our ten year anniversary trip last year.

This one is the day we were supposed to drive to Loch Ness, but we both woke up tired and not excited about spending another day driving.  Our bed and breakfast hosts suggested we visit the white sand beaches outside of Mallaig instead.  A genius idea.  Who knew Scotland had white sand beaches?  It was the perfect honeymoon location.  Rather than fight tourists and look for Nessie we took off our shoes and relaxed.  I also love this picture because we did a lot of hiking that trip, and I spent a lot of that time behind my new husband, unable to keep up with him and angry because he wouldn’t wait for me and angry at myself for wanting him to wait.  Ah the joys of new love.


This one brings back different memories.  I was crazy into triathlon when my husband and I got married, and I remember taking this so someday I could go back to this lake and start Ironman Scotland.  I marveled at the beautiful clear water and the perfect roads for cycling.  Now I look at this and marvel at how much hair my new husband had on his afthead.


Fast forward ten years and we are in Acadia, Maine for our anniversary.  Similar look and feel to our beloved Scotland isn’t it?  But with a six year old at home starting a new school we didn’t want to go so far away.  This first picture is from one of the hikes we did that we couldn’t have done with our daughter.  It was so fun to be grownups for eight whole days.  I’m happy to report that we didn’t have one fight this trip about who was walking in front, who was carrying the backpack or which one of us should wait for the other.   Ten years of progress.


This one is another “give up the plans for a more leisurely adventure.”  The plan was to go rent bikes and ride the carriage roads all over Acadia.  Instead we showered, went for a walk on the carriage path, drove up to watch the sunset from a mountain top, splurged on a dinner in Bar Harbor, and watched the stars from a trail-head.  That part of our relationship hasn’t changed.  We pack our vacations full of plans and dreams, knowing we’ll kick some ideas to the curb and actually have more impromptu fun than our plans would have yielded.


The rest is history.  Eventually I tied a blog to my domain and started writing in public.  Since then I’ve compiled tons of other afthead pictures, but that’s enough for tonight.  Oh, except that first one of Valentina, our resident cat in Lucca, Italy.  Oh how I love that brown, warm fuzzy afthead.

End of School – Pain or Pleasure AKA Introvert or Extrovert

In the Afthead house we are plowing through to the end of the school year.  Combined with Mother’s Day and little Afthead’s birthday, this time of year is non-stop parties, events and social obligations.  This past weekend’s schedule for my family was:

  • Friday – School, soccer game, family birthday party
  • Saturday – Soccer game, arts festival at school, performance of Frog and Toad at school, sleepover
  • Sunday – Soccer game, birthday party with 10 girls

Note that we only have one kid!  How is this schedule possible?  We made it, and Monday morning I dropped my exhausted daughter off at school and trudged back toward my car.  When I saw a mom who I knew had a soccer party for 15 boys Sunday night I was excited to commiserate.

I started the conversation, “I hear you had 15 boys on your trampoline last night.  You must be crazier than I am.  I only had 10 girls and a swing.”

She looked at me and said, “Oh, it was so amazing last night.  I looked at all those kids and all those families and just thought about how lucky I am.  The kids got along so well, and the families were so great.  I am just so grateful for this amazing school and these experiences we get to provide our kids.”

I think I may have managed a grunt in reply, which was way better than what I was screaming inside: “WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT LADY?!?  AREN’T YOU TIRED AND CRANKY AND OVERWHELMED FROM ALL THIS STUFF!?!”

On the drive to work I evaluated the situation and, before I felt too bad about my reaction, a light came on in my dazed attic.  I am an introvert.  When things get crazy I want to lock myself in with my family and hide from the world.  Sometimes it gets so bad that I don’t even want my family.  By Monday I did not want to make small talk with some almost friend about how lucky we are.  I wanted to hide, but her gushing made perfect sense.  She is an extrovert.  She was probably so energized by her weekend of soccer, festivals, performances and parties that she was ready to explode, but in a good way.  Not the way I was ready to explode.

I tested my theory at work.  Sure enough my mom friends who are extroverts thought my weekend sounded amazing and glorious.  My introvert friend said, “this time of year is just survival mode” and she is so right.  It makes me sad that I can’t revel in this situation.  I want to be able to find utter joy in the past weekend, but I can’t, and that’s okay.  I am so fortunate, but I am not lucky.  I could use a week between each one of the events so I could be present and recharged and delighted for every one of them.  This time of year the extroverts are lucky.  I am going to avoid them until school is over.

Rebranding a dreaded dinner

We have a favorite dinner at the Afthead house.  It’s called “a feast.”  How do you make such an amazing meal?  Let me tell you.  You take everything out of the refrigerator and put it on the counter.  Then you heat up the food that is still edible.  You add in some crackers, pepperoni, and cheese.  Then make quesadillas from the very last bit of cheese.  (Don’t grate your fingertips!) Here is our feast from tonight:

Then you make it really special.  You put a big beach towel down in front of the TV in the basement, or in the back yard, or some other non-traditional-dinner spot.  Tonight we watched hockey playoffs during our feast.

“Wait a second!” I hear you shouting.  “We have that same dinner.  It’s called leftovers and we serve it at the table with sides of complaining and whining.  You tricked us!”

“Cast off leftovers!  Let that dreaded word never cross your lips again!” I shout back.  Now, In a week, have your first feast.  Make it mostly loved food with a few leftovers thrown in.  Two weeks later put in a few more leftovers and a few less mini-corn dogs and potstickers.  (Randomness is crucial to a successful feast.  It should trascend rules of geography and cuisine.) Before you know it you’ll make entire meals out of food in your fridge, and let me tell you, magic will happen. Tonight I had mini-meatballs dipped in green chili which was a never before tried delicious combo.  This is no trick.  It’s a feast!

Mornings are Not My Thing

I am not a morning person. I have friends who are morning people and I have coworkers who proudly show up at the office every day at 6:00, or so they tell me. I have never witnessed them at this horrible time of day, because I am still sleeping, almost always.  Occasionally a friend can coerce me to meet her for a run at that time of day, and I am usually surprised about 6:15 that I am dressed and moving outside at a quicker than walking pace. Once I enjoyed such a run wearing two different running shoes.  Mornings are dark and shoes look similar before dawn breaks.  Lesson learned.

I harshly judge myself for my morning choices.  A litany of self reproach runs through my head each morning when I wake up realizing I have turned off my alarm in my sleep and once again it’s 7:30. “You’d be skinny if you got up earlier and worked out.” “Your book would be done if you’d just get up and write.” “Good people, smart people, worthwhile people are morning people and they probably delivered papers when they were kids and what did you do?  Oh sleep, just like you do now.  Loser.”  Being mean to yourself is not a great way to start your day, but five days out of seven it’s my first item of business.  Well second item, after turning off my alarm set for 6:00.  “Loser.”

This evening on the way home I finished listening too 10% Happier by Dan Harris.  I really liked that book.  I liked his message.  I have been enchanted by Buddhism for much of my life and the real world, scientific perspective he gave to meditation, mindfulness and that asshole in my head spoke to me.  He made me want to get up in the morning and meditate, but I’m trying to be realistic here.  Am I going to do that when running (which I love), writing (also love), and work (pays for my house) don’t provide enough motivation?  Will meditation just become one more thing I beat myself up about, or will meditation replace the loser-talk?  One way or another, the mean person in my head must be replaced by a better morning habit.  She’s annoying.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Two Right Feet.”