One foot forward – what a summer vacation can teach about determination

One Foot Forward - www.alliepottswrites.com #vacation #determination

Background image by rpertiet (The Stairs) via Wikimedia Commons

“Are you combing your hair with your toes?” is a question I never thought I would need to ask, but when your child is the human incarnate of a Gumby doll, I guess anything goes.

My youngest, LT, has hypermobility, a condition that allows him to perform fun party tricks like the one above, but at the same time made it difficult to build up the muscle definition needed to sit up, crawl, or walk. He spent almost a year of his life in physical therapy mastering skills which other kids picked up naturally at a half (or a third) of his age. At times it seemed he would never gain the knack, until one day the pieces fell into place, and he took his first step.

It is now time for him to take his next first step – into kindergarten.

To say that I am a wee bit nervous is an understatement. Thus far he has spent his entire life surrounded by those who have known him, his abilities, and his limitations from birth. But as of next week, he’ll be in a classroom of twelve to twenty children, each with unique talents and challenges of their own. Has he caught up to his peers? How will he cope? How will his teacher? We will soon find out.

As the last days of summer break wound down a group of us (eight adults, six children under the age of ten, and two dogs) decided to head to the Outer Banks, which is a series of naturally forming islands off the coast of North Carolina where pirates once sailed and wild horses still roam.

After two days of red flags, signifying a dangerous riptide in the water, we decided to take in the surrounding sights and made our way to the Currituck Beach Light.

Currituck Beach Light - www.alliepottswrites.com

Currituck Beach Light –
Just in case you wanted to know what 1,000,000 bricks look like

Currituck’s lighthouse is not the tallest lighthouse in North Carolina, at 198.5 ft (60.5 m) that distinction goes to the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, but it would do.

The sun beat down on us as we waited in line. Sweat formed as the staff advised it would be another twenty to thirty minutes wait before we could go inside. The kids scattered across the green while the adults held their places. I watched as my eldest and one of his cousins started playing tag. LT attempted to join in but he couldn’t compete with their speed and soon the game lost its appeal.

LT returned to my side and guzzled down the contents of my only remaining bottle of water already showing signs of tiring. I looked at the tower. 220 spiraling steps awaited us, constructed prior to any form of building safety code (or air conditioning). Some of our group discussed sitting this one out as the crowd waiting increased along with the temperature. I looked at LT. There was no way I would be able carry him to the top were he to slip or give up mid-climb.

The line moved. Our group was next. It was time to decide who was going and who was staying on the ground. LT didn’t hesitate to join his brother and cousins at the front of the line. His face was set. His decision was made. I guess mine was too.

The majority of our group disappeared up the stairs within seconds of our entry. I hung back ready to react as I could as my youngest grabbed the handrail and took that first step forward. I watched with laser focus as he took another. Then another. We reached the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs. Eight more flights to go. LT didn’t look back. We rounded the next. The inside of the tower narrowed.

Halfway up, another group appeared at the top of the next landing and began their descent. I made the mistake of glancing down. It was all too easy to imagine what might happen if LT were to slip now. Maybe it would be best for us to stop to wait with our backs against the wall while they squeezed past. I hesitated. LT did not. Instead, he kept climbing.

We met more and more people the higher we went and each time my stomach twisted along with my heart, but LT never looked back, never complained, never asked me to do the work for him, and never once stopped.

Currituck Beach Light - www.alliepottswrites.com

View from the top

Then we were at the top of the stairs and roughly 150 feet (45.72m) from the ground. A small doorway through the brick wall opened to an external landing, which circled the lighthouse and provided an unencumbered view of both the ocean and the sound separating the island from the mainland. But the most beautiful sight for me was the smile on LT’s face as he joined the rest of our family on the rail.

It was enough to make me forget we had to still go back down. Well … almost.

We reached the bottom with LT leading the line of children behind me. After exiting, I turned and looked up once more, amazed again at how far this one little guy had gone on his own and reminded once more of how much can be accomplished one determined step at a time.

How would he cope with this next stage in his life or any goal he sets his mind to for that matter? I had my answer. It was the same way any of us should – with one foot forward.

Other random facts

  • Built in 1875, Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of eight official lighthouses in the state of North Carolina, though there are more than twenty if you include replicas like the Roanoke Lighthouse and converted offshore rigs like the Frying Pan Shoals Light, which also serves as a bed and breakfast for a truly unique off-grid travel experience.
  • Also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic due to the number of shipwrecks, the sea bed around the Outer Banks can shift quite dramatically as evidenced by the sudden appearance of an entirely new island earlier this year.
  • The shifting sands and storm erosion also required the Cape Hatteras lighthouse to be moved 2900 feet from its original site in 1999, which was a feat of engineering and worth reading about.

 

 

 

 

Temptation makes victory taste ever more sweet

There they lay, within reach, and yet to do so was entirely forbidden. It would be so easy, I told myself. All I had to do was open up one of kiddo’s packaged snacks from the basket in the pantry and chew. All those delicious salty treats were mine for the taking. But I’d made a promise to myself to limit my carb intake, particularly over the next thirty days, as the scale had taken issue with my summer beach excesses.

“She’d started taking up a lot of bad habits”, I imagined its snide electronic voice justifying itself to my toothbrush and my towel as they discussed my morning routine. “You both just help her stay hygienic. I, however, am helping her make better lifestyle choices.” I am sure both towel and brush would roll their eyes if they had them, but that awful scale had a point. I had enjoyed my summer a wee bit too much and it was starting to show.

You know what the secret to weight loss is? Don’t eat much.” – Simon Cowell
(Gee thanks, Simon)

It came to a head one Tuesday evening. There, on the table, were all the fixings for tacos which had become our weekly staple since the Lego Movie first introduced the children to the concept of Taco Tuesday. A pair of tortillas waited for me to add lettuce, beef, and cheese, with a dollop of yogurt just as I had done the Tuesday before and the Tuesday before that.

“After today I am going to limit my sugar and bread for awhile,” I announced to the hubby. “At least for the next thirty days.” Lamont looked at his own plate and agreed to support me by doing the same. We both were in the mood to change up the dietary cycle. We wouldn’t cut it out altogether, we agreed, as that was next to impossible seeing as both ingredients were hidden in way too much. To avoid them altogether would involve *gasp* actually reading labels. But we would try not to intentionally consume either.

I’m not going to lie. It wasn’t easy. I’d gotten into a habit of having a bit of ice cream in the evening after tucking the boys in their beds. A reward for successfully surviving another day. Suddenly I was out my reward. The cravings started to chip away at my resolve.

“Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.” – Sam Levenson

Brilliantly (at least in our opinion), we decided to make our own dessert. We had plenty of plain greek yogurt in the fridge. Add a few berries and some honey and poof. Instant ice cream substitute. We even added a little cinnamon to give it a bit more pizzaz!

And other meal times took on a bit more excitement as we managed to break away from our weekly routine, replacing the stand-bys with things like zucchini pasta or eggs poached inside an avocado. This whole “sacrifice” wasn’t one.

Then my mom’s birthday came along with a visit by my sister. After a celebratory dinner, the smell of a fruit pie tempted my nose. A bit more of my resolve chipped away. But still, I remained strong, empowered by what I had accomplished before. There was nothing to this goal. Or so I thought until I entered the final days of my self-imposed thirty-day challenge.

Then the air began to change. Fall has arrived and with it will be the assault on my senses that is pumpkin spice. I do so love the smell of Fall. If you listen very carefully, you might yet hear the sound of my scale crying. If my resolve started out as a mighty oak tree, it is now only a splinter of its former self.

“What makes resisting temptation difficult for many people is they don’t want to discourage it completely.” Franklin P. Jones

A friend of mine suggested I read Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art in which the author theorizes that our brains are somehow wired to resist completing goals. While I haven’t yet read the book (though fully intend to) I can’t help thinking he might be on to something. I was so close to writing End of Book Two in this current draft, and yet my characters keep drawing out the action. No matter how much I wrote, there was still more to do. More to say.

It was so very tempting to simply type THE END before the story is ready and short circuit the process. And if I did? Would it really matter? This is not my final draft. I’ll be rewriting an editing next. I could grab those chips as well. One small bag on day 29 isn’t going to make a difference in the scheme of things. Who would know?

I would.

And so, while my resolve may only be a splinter, that splinter wedged itself deeply under my skin. I can’t ignore it. I can’t make a move without feeling its pain.

And so, I stood fast over these final few days. What’s a couple hundred more words compared to the many I’ve written thus far? Certainly not enough to lose heart now. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote until the words END OF BOOK TWO were no longer words in my head but words on a screen. Yes. You read that right. This draft is finished. Now on to round two.

I pull back from the pantry and fixed a salad instead. It might not taste quite as good to my sugar biased tastes, but victory continues to be more satisfying.


As a reminder, I will be on the air Friday, September 23rd at 6pm Eastern time. The link to follow is http://www.blogtalkradio.com/writestream/2016/09/23/the-speculative-fiction-cantina-with-madeleine-holly-rosing-and-allie-potts

Cause baby, there ain’t no mountain high enough

Earlier this year we introduced Her Royal Highness to water. Being that at least part of her noble ancestry can be traced to Labrador, she deemed that this introduction most pleasing (almost as pleasing as pillows, which she will tell you, remain at levels well beneath her station). Therefore, when we received an invitation to a friend’s house at a nearby lake she sent her acceptance post-haste.

Being the highly trained servants we are, we prepared her luggage, which included a bag filled with assorted balls designed to be retrieved from lakes or oceans. When we arrived at our destination, she eagerly inspected the property. She sniffed. It would do.

While the front yard is relatively flat, like many other houses on this particular lake, the house sits well above the water’s edge, the ground in the back, with its steep decline more cliff than yard. The land further dropped away under the water. Without a beach or even shallows, to speak of the owners expressed their concerns about playing games such as fetch from the home’s pier. “She won’t be able to get out on her own,” and “you will have to pull her out.”

Undeterred by troublesome things like risk, or topography, Her Royal Highness made her way to the bottom of the hill where she waited for we servants to attend her. Splash. Her Royal Highness leapt into the water and began paddling. She turned and looked at those of us standing on the platform. She swam. Then she was gone.

I scanned the area, spotting her moments later on the rocks at the lake’s edge. The only problem was the rocks weren’t anywhere near the access platform. Her Royal Highness pressed on. I watched, more than a little concerned, as she scaled the hill. Her claws digging into the mud. I wondered as she somehow fit her body between the dirt and a tree, giving herself more leverage. She reached the platform, but unfortunately, its wooden planks were still well above her head. The ground should have been too steep for her to use as an effective launch pad, but launch she did.

I’d gone to the platform intending to haul her up as our friends suggested. I hadn’t needed to. The concerns of man (or woman) had not registered in her ears. She crawled up on the platform. Dropping the ball, she wagged her tail and ran back toward the water leaving muddy paw prints in her path. “Yeah, I don’t think this is a good idea,” I told her as I picked up the ball. I tried to put it away. After that athletic displayed, she’d earned a rest.

She disagreed.

Splash. Once again she was in the water.

Over and over she repeated the process. Each time, I thought for sure she’d had enough and each time she proved me wrong. Soon she was finding another way to launch herself. Instead of scaling the hill, she found another rock at the bottom, positioned close to another edge of the pier and would jump from there. Sometimes she would miss. Sometimes she fell down. But she never stopped trying. There is no place for the word ‘can’t’ in Her Royal Highness’ kingdom.

“The man who begins to say it can’t be done is often interrupted by somebody else doing it.” – quote generally attributed to Confucius, George Bernard Shaw, or Elbert Hubbard

They say that people eventually resemble their pets, and with regards to Her Royal Highness, I find it no insult. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve all but written the words End of Book Two in my current draft in process. I’ve written before about how writing a novel is much like running a marathon and how impossible reaching the finish line can feel when you are at the base of a particularly big hill (or at a lull in the story’s progress). Today, I’ve written over 70,000 words (that’s equivalent to 280 book pages for my non-writer readers). And that’s just this last book. I’ve written approximately half a million words now when you look at all my publications.

Somedays the words came easily, but not every day. Somedays I had to jump from questionable surfaces, get my hands dirty, and scale seemingly impossible walls. I did this because I have a goal in mind and the confidence and determination to see it through. I am the only thing that can stop me. All that suggests otherwise is simply noise.

 

There are sharks in the water

One of the benefits of my day job is that I get exposed to any number of gadgets and electronics through customer interaction and trade journals. Last Fall, I came across a device (essentially a big magnet you strap onto your wrist or ankle) designed to repeal certain species of sharks, especially in shallow water. As I have no intention of going deep-sea cage diving with Great Whites (why does anyone do this?), I placed the device on my Christmas wish list as more of a joke than anything else. The hubby, however, obliged (this year give the gift of peace of mind) and the device joined our beach bag supplies.

Shark Attack Prevention Infographic

If you must swim in the ocean at least swim safely

I was enjoying my vacation when I heard the news about a shark attack off the coast of North Carolina – a few dozen miles away. This sort of headline alarms most people (myself included), but I must confess, this time, a part of me was somewhat relieved to hear it (although I do still feel terrible for the victim). Sharks terrify me (and yet I am obsessed with them). Acting and plot aside, Sharknado is my worst nightmare. I have to remind myself every time I visit the ocean how unlikely an attack is just to dabble my toes in the water (see infographic below). Therefore, because there had already been one attack, I convinced myself the laws of probability would protect me and my family for the balance of our trip. Confidence bolstered by statistics and ankle decorated by the newest (yet affordable) tech money could buy, I stunned my hubby by grabbing a boogie board to join the rest of the family in the waves.

On the way home, learned about the additional two separate nearby attacks. It would seem the laws of nature trump the laws of probability. The news made me glad that I had my ankle based backup plan, until I realized that the fact I didn’t demand my son (who hasn’t inherited my healthy fear of the ocean) wear it while swimming rather than me potentially cost me the mother of the year award (there’s always next year). I am now tempted to buy one for the whole family.

For the moment, I am fighting the urge. I remember that the summer of 2001 was dubbed the Summer of the Shark (I am a tad obsessed with my phobia) before the September 11th attacks gave us all something larger to fear. That year, just like this year, there were multiple attacks in a relatively short period of time in relatively similar locations, however, there weren’t really any more attacks than previous years with more sensational news stories like a presidential election or the Simpson murder trial. In fact, there proved to be fewer attacks in 2001 than there were in 2000.

The nightly news this week is beginning to sound much the same way. Thinking positively (which is what I try to do) this could mean that we are entering a slow news cycle. What a relief! After the last several months, a slow news cycle is good news indeed. With how the news has been lately, it is a wonder more people haven’t bunkered down in their homes and stocked up on years worth of canned foods and toilet paper. But while bad things can happen to even the best of us, life has to go on.

The beaches are still open. Yes, there are sharks in the water drawn to fear and or weakness, but just I am not going to allow my fear of these prehistoric killing machines keep me from enjoying future vacations, just as I do not allow the news to prevent me from enjoying my life.

Shark Attack Infographic

 

 

Consistency is more than a personal habit

SpaceCamp

Talk about getting hopes up. We weren’t allowed to even come close to a live launch pad. SpaceCamp Movie poster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to get to go to Space Camp, a summer camp option made even more exciting after seeing the movie, SpaceCamp. While neither of my ‘missions’ accidentally launched a rag-tag group of teenagers into outer space, the camp at least introduced me to several other nerds like minded individuals from across the country.

The internet wasn’t accessible to the masses for a few more years (yes, yes, I recognized that I just aged myself for my millennial audience.) We didn’t have unlimited nationwide calls or data either (It is a wonder I managed to graduate high school with such limitations). I wanted to stay in touch with my new-found friends which meant using old-fashioned pen and paper along with a roll of stamps (oh the horror!)

Some were better correspondents than others. Eventually the count of my pen pals dropped to one, but even though several weeks would pass in between letters, we were still writing each other two years later. Until one day the letters stopped arriving.

Considering the age difference, I’d like to think that she graduated and things like trading occasional hand written notes simply fell by the wayside as she took on more adult responsibilities (stamps can get expensive) or perhaps reading about the day-to-day happenings of a kid several states over gradually lost its appeal. Maybe my last letter caused some offense, or didn’t arrive at all. But on darker days I’ve wondered if something worse happened. My friend could have taken ill or been in an accident and I would have no way of knowing. (If you are reading this Tiff, please send me a note if only to say you are okay).

I am at the beach. The sun is shining. The waves are crashing, and it is now my son’s turn to enjoy his first summer break from school. I could have (should have) written something in advance or scheduled a guest author but I didn’t. Yes, I might be forgiven for missing a week. After all, everyone deserves a little vacation now and then, but I could no longer say that I was consistent.

Creative types will often scoff at consistency. Its inflexibility is counter to the process. Invention can’t be scheduled. Art can’t be forced. But writers want readers, artists want patrons, and business innovators want customers.

“People like consistency. Whether it’s a store or a restaurant, they want to come in and see what you are famous for.” – Millard Drexler

asilomar

asilomar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consistency then isn’t a simply a personal habit. It’s about more than just you, just like the ocean is made up of more than a few waves. I appreciate everyday that you stumbled across my writing and found it worth reading. Therefore I have no intention of damaging your trust or causing unnecessary worry over something so slight as working on my tan.

“The force of waves is in their perseverance.” – Gila Guri.