Archive for the ‘A-Z Challenge’ Category


The Chameleon’s Backbone is resting this week…in recovery mode from the A-Z Challenge.

Z: Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

(c) Walt Disney Music Company, 1945

That tune makes me feel so happy!  …like there’s a bluebird on my shoulder…

After reading my own post from yesterday, I decided that it’s time to take some immediate action to rise out of this midlife-induced mental fog that’s been clouding up my days.

I’m attacking this thing from both ends…from the inside out…and…from the outside in.

Let’s start with the outside.  We all need a little physical maintenance once in a while.  Lately, I haven’t recognized the person staring back at me in the mirror.  Her Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah was dull.  So, flipping though a magazine, this ad caught my eye…

Instruction to my hairdresser as I shoved the magazine page into her hand… “make me look like this.”     A few zip, zip, zips..and I have a new doo-dah!  Now, if I could only get her model body, too.  Gotta start somewhere!

On to the insides.  Now that I’m not spending every weekend at my parents’ house, I definitely need to re-connect with some people and talk about subjects unrelated to my mom and my job.  Tonight, I’m headed over to my sister’s house and we’re both going to hit the town for a little Zip-A-Dee-Ay.  Both of us need it!

What are you doing this weekend? 

And with that, my friends, this A-Z Challenge concludes.

X & Y: The Midlife Axis

My friends and I have been engaged in some chat about what I call the Midlife Axis. 

On the X axis (across the bottom) is your age. 

On the Y axis (down the side) is the level of investment you’ve put into whatever you’re doing with your life right now (a working professional, stay-at-home parent, student, retiree, etc.). 

 Think about your own Plot of Investment.  I plotted my investment (of time, energy, emotion, education, money, etc.) as a small business owner, assuming it was zero on the day I was born.  You can do the same for your own job, your role as a mom, dad, volunteer, superman or woman, or any other role.  Mine looks like this:

By mid-life, many of us  have invested a great deal into our jobs and other positions in life.  Because we’ve invested so much, we can become scared about making a major life change (a move, a career change, a divorce, etc.).  We’re afraid to start from the bottom again.

What we forget to consider, however, is the equally important Plot of Happiness.  Do another Plot, but change the Y axis to your overall level of happiness.  Mine looks like this, assuming I was off the chart baby-high at age 0.

Next, overlay the two Plots.

If you are smack-dab in the middle of this cart and your Happiness level is below your Investment level, you might be going through a midlife evaluation period.  I am.  It seems like I’ve put a lot of extra effort into my business lately, but my level of happy has taken a nose dive.

If you’re like me, you could be wondering if all the investment you’ve put into your life position so far as been worth the effort…wondering why…after all the hard work…your happiness level is not sky-high.  Some people never have these thoughts, but many of us do. 

We feel like we’ve flat-lined and don’t know quite what to do about it. 

I’m not going to make any specific suggestions on how to handle it, because I’m a far cry from Dr. Phil.  Changing paths may be right for you, while charging ahead on the current course might be right for someone else.  My point for now is that many of us get to this stage in life.  It’s common….it’s normal…and it frequently happens after age 40. 

Whether you take baby steps or one giant leap, it’s never too late to bring your life into X/Y Axis Balance.  If you feel out of balance, then this may a perfect time to re-evaluate….to take stock in your accomplishments…and to take charge of your future.  What makes you happy?  Are you investing enough in that?

What do your plots look like?  Do you have any advice for making major, midlife decisions?

Tomorrow ends the A-Z Challenge, so don’t miss the final post!

V & W: West Virginia

Shame on me for not posting on V-Day!  So, let’s double down with W. 

I say West Virginia, you say ___________________.

Go on….fill in the blank…the first thing that comes to your mind is ______(what)?

Did anyone think…hillbilly…coal miner…squirrel hunter…or another word that stereotypes West Virginians? 

If you did…you’re not alone.  Making generalizations about people based on where they live happens all the time.  I live in Pittsburgh so most people assume that I’m a beer-drinking Democrat who loves the Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you’re from West Virginia, most everyone in the States would generalize you as a hillbilly.  Why?  Because we open our local newspapers and read articles like these:


(note: I have paraphrased and omitted names and to protect the guilty)

Two West Virginia residents who were stopped with a back seat full of stolen beef jerky pleaded guilty on Tuesday to summary charges in district court.

Police stopped the 1992 Chevrolet Cavalier because the license plate was dangling.  It was then that “a large amount of boxed and packaged beef jerky was observed in plain view on the rear seat,” police said in a court affidavit.

The two men, who are cousins living in Milton, W.Va., appeared in court…

Police said the price of the salted beef was estimated at more than $200.  At the time of their arrest, the men told police they were headed to Pennsylvania, where a relatives’ car had broken down.  The cousins admitted to stealing the goods from various auto-parts stores and gas stations along the way, police said.

The pair “attempted to sell the items to various people to cover travel expenses and gas money.”   

The judge told them not to return to the area.  “No we, won’t.  Sorry your honor,” they said.

Can you even imagine the conversation that these two had when they were coming up with this idea? 

Hey, Bubba – we don’t have any gas money.

That’s okay, Billy Bob, I’ve got an idea.  Let’s steal beef jerky from gas stations and then sell them for 50 cents a piece at highway rest stops.  That should cover us. 

Hey you…wanna buy a Slim Jim?

How is your area stereotyped?  Are there any aspects of your own personality that meet the stereotype? 

On Friday, I’m doubling down with X and Y.  Saturday concludes the A-Z Challenge with a real zinger!

U: Udon Umpire..wanted

Do you argue?  Bicker?  Have hot debates at the family dinner table?

The weekend started off peacefully…

Then, the sugar rush set in after the Easter Bunny came and filled up baskets.  

There are no kids in my house, but yeah, the Bunny still drops by…

Then came the cooking…with more sugar.


With all that glucose pumping through everyone’s veins, the family dinner table was missing one person…an umpire. 

“Did you read Sheila’s e-mail…about her dinner out with Luke?” my mother-in-law asked.

Yeah, that was funny,” I replied, remembering the e-mail about Luke eating worms

“He’s really smart for a 6-year-old, but when he thought those bean sprouts were worms, Sheila must have died laughing.”


Me:  It wasn’t bean sprouts.  It was noodles.  He ordered Udon Noodles with Vegetables.

Her:  No, it was the bean sprouts,because she said that he said that the worms were crunchy.

Me: No, it was definitely the noodles.  Noodles are slimy like worms.

Them: Yeah, Tracy’s right.  Bean sprouts don’t even look like worms.

Her:  They most certainly do look like worms…little worms.

Me: You’re wrong.  Have you ever even SEEN an Udon Noodle?  Even adults would mistake those things for worms.

So it went.  My family sat around the Easter Sunday dinner table having a conversation, bickering match, argument, about bean sprouts vs. udon noodles and their likeness to worms.

Anyone know a good umpire family therapist?

How do you differentiate between a friendly debate and an argument?  Have you ever let a small disagreement escalate too far?

P.S.  I was wrong.  It was the bean sprouts.  A nice “Happy Easter” phone call to Sheila, with an “oh by the way, what did Luke mistake for worms?” allowed us to move on to the topic of dessert.  Caf.  Decaf.  Caf.  Decaf.  Caf!!!!

T: Taking Time for Tears

When I began this A-Z Challenge, my mom had just died.  I needed a distraction from the grief…and this challenge has been a good distracter.  I’ve been able to joke around here, let my mind wonder, and take a timeout.

When a tragedy hits your life, the how to deal with it part is up to you.  Everyone’s process is different and if anyone says they have a sure-fire way to get past the grief, I’d  have to disagree.  There’s no prescription.  There’s no timeline.

After the funeral was over, I didn’t want to think about what had just happened.  I kept my mind busy.  Blogging 6 days a week instead of 2 or 3 added that extra level of busy that I needed.  And then came yesterday…when I decided that I WAS ready to think about it, write about it…

…and to try and understand the one thing that has been haunting me these past 4 weeks.  THIS:

Akiane Kramarik: Infinite-Eye

Source: Akiane Kramarik

Allow me to rewind…to 4 weeks ago, today.

My dad phoned, saying that I needed to come home right away.  When I arrived, my mom was clearly dying, in a hospital bed, in the middle of our living room.  A priest was there giving Catholic Last Rights.  Also in the room were hospice  nurses, a social worker, and a few other people.  It was a chaotic scene.

A short while later, my mom was struggling for breath.  One of us grabbed her hand, started to cry hysterically, and yelled “Don’t go!  We need you here!  Don’t leave us!”

Her breathing calmed.  She opened her eyes wide, and stayed that way for 2 1/2 days, never closing them, rarely blinking. 

“What is she looking at?” we would ask.

“Oh, she’s probably not seeing anything; she might be blacked out.”

“But why doesn’t she close them for even a minute?  She’s been awake only 6-8 hours a day for the past year, and now she can’t sleep at all?  It doesn’t make any sense!”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” the nurse would say.  “It happens sometimes.” 

We’d repeat this conversation many times.  My sister, dad, and I would take turns sitting up with her over those 60+ hours, feeling guilty for sleeping when she was awake.

“I think she’s looking AT something,” I said.  “It doesn’t seem like she’s blacked out.  She looks mesmerized.  Dad…I think she’s seeing ….um…I think she’s seeing angles, or heaven, or whatever’s on the other side.”

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back [Book]“I don’t know,” he said.  “It could be anything.”

Cut back to yesterday, Good Friday.  Along with a condolence card, my friend Amy sent me the book “Heaven is for Real,” by Todd Burpo.  With Easter almost here, I decided to read it.

I won’t spoil the plot, but the book is about a little boy who swears that he died went to heaven for 3 minutes while in surgery.  He describes heaven, its colors, and certain set of eyes.  The book includes a black and white portrait of the person with the eyes. 

After reading the last page, I turned to the picture. 

I saw my mom looking back at me…the eyes were HER eyes…the eyes that she had during those last 2 1/2 days.  And that’s when I cried. 

As strange as it may seem, I believe that my suspicion was true.  She was looking at something so indescribably beautiful,that she never again wanted to be in the dark.  She was ready for the place where darkness never comes.

And there you have it.

Have a Blessed Easter, everyone.

S: 70’s Shag

Being Good Friday, I suspect that there will be a lot of serious topics discussed in blog land today.  So, I interrupt regularly scheduled programming to bring you a completely ridiculous topic for the letter S: SHAG.

If you were alive in the 1960s and 70s (or ever saw an Austin Powers movie) then you know there are two meanings of shag.  1) a style of carpet; and 2) S-E-X.  Let’s see, which shall we discuss today….


That non-manscaped body is frightening, so carpet, you win.  

While furniture shopping last week, I noticed that shag carpeting is making a come back.  Although the 70s did have an influence on my personality, the decade did not inspire me to decorate my house like Elvis’ jungle room.  If you’ve been to Graceland, then you know what I’m talking about.  The floor, and ceiling, are covered with green shag.

Jungle Room Photo Source

In the 70s, shag was out of sight, man.  My own bedroom was oh so shag-o-licious (still referring to the carpet here).  Pink shag, to be exact.

 Pink Shag Image Source

Unfortunately, the shag stayed in place when my brother  took over the room in the early 80s.  I think he was about 15 when he begged to be moved out of that pink room.  He said it was him or the shag…and my parents picked the shag.  If you’re doing the math, that carpet graced my childhood home for about 25 years. 

Who knew that it would be back in style come 2011?!

What trends are making a comeback that you swore would never again see the light of day?  Is there anything that you WISH would come back in style?

R: Trouble Remembering? Ruh Roh!

This morning,  I had a freak-out moment while procrastinating about getting ready for work. 

I’ve felt sluggish the past few weeks.  Mental fogginess has set in.  Also, I’ve been having trouble remembering things.  Ruh Roh…that indicates a problem.

(C) Hanna Barbera

There are a few things that I do ritually in the morning:

1.  drink a cup of coffee; and

2.  watch the morning news.

With a mug of coffee in hand and the national news on a commercial break, I flipped the channel…to an infomercial.  That was a smart move because everyone knows that infomercials are much more informative than regular commercials (cough).

The program fooled me at first because it was disguised as a talk show.  A smart-looking doctor sat on one side of the table.  A well-dressed host sat opposite.  They were talking about improving Mental Edge.  Hummm…that interested me.


The smart-looking doctor said that…by age 4o…up to 40% of brain power is lost.

I’m 40!  I’m having brain fog! Yesterday, I couldn’t remember someone’s name 2 minutes after they introduced themselves.  Last week, I forgot where I put my keys.  I haven’t been able to balance my bank account.  Aghh!  40% of my brain must be toast! 


Then…the well-dressed host introduced the star of the show… a miracle cure for mental clarity.  A bottle of pills for $19.99.  And, if I called right away, they’d double the deal.

So, the “doctor” told everyone watching channel 19 this morning that 40% of our brains were gone.  Why?  To scare people into calling the 1-800 number.  Please, don’t ever tell me that I only have half a brain…unless of course you know me…and believe it to be true.  😦

To help clear brain fog, increase oxygen flow in your body.  Take a walk or do some form of exercise.  Try it – I swear it helps.

What’s the status of your mental edge?  Do you have any advice for keeping it sharp?

Q: The Quintessential Quest for Quakers

The below picture is NOT of Quakers.  It’s of Amish.   Not the same, but Amish doesn’t start with Q and most Quakers can’t be picked out of a crowd based on their dress.  My bad.  Being original with Q was difficult! 


Here in Pennsylvania, there are many small towns and countryside communities that are populated by Amish.  Tourists and visitors seem to be fascinated by them…and I sort of am, too. 

As many of the comments on yesterday’s post confirmed, we’re living at a time when people are completely overwhelmed with choice.  Combine that with rapidly advancing technology that allows us to have this conversation via blog, yet never see our neighbors face-to-face, and life can seem to wiz by at noisy, swift, disconnected pace.

You might wonder…would a different, more simple lifestyle make me less stressed?… happier?…more appreciative?  Would it put my mind at peace?

The Amish represent simplicity and old-fashioned living.  Their communities are tight, with neighbor helping neighbor.  Family members share the same values, beliefs, and morals.  They don’t worry about the latest fashion trends, gas prices, or whether the Internet is down for maintenance.  Heck, they don’t even have to be concerned about gas prices.

If you’re looking for a simpler, less complicated life, there’s no need to trade in your car for a horse and buggy.  You don’t have to make our own clothes or milk your own cow.  Instead, simply take the time to question the pace of your life.  Is it too fast?   Are your days filled with meaning, or are they just consumed by a bunch of noise?

Is your life moving by at lightening speed?  What can you do to slow things down?

P: The Paralyzing Plethora Problem

I had a plethora of ideas for this post, inspired by the Letter P.  This presented a problem because I hate nothing more than to have too many choices.   

Important life decisions…no problem.  Confidence…yes…I have it.  But, if you really want to torture me, lay 1,000 different colors at my feet and ask me to pick a favorite.

Imagine you are on a reality show.  At the front door of a Super Wal-Mart, you are handed this note:

  • SITUATION:  Your regular shampoo has been discontinued.
  • TASK:  You must purchase a new bottle and use it every day for a month.
  • EVALUATION:  If your hair does not fall out, frizz out, or be mistaken for the hairdo of Donald Trump, you will score 1,00o points for your team.
  • TIME:  You have 15 minutes to complete a purchase.  The clock starts NOW.

Would you win the points?  Not me. 

I would stand in the aisle, completely paralyzed.  Aside from the billion other reasons why I don’t like superstores, there are too many things to pick from. I’d stand there all glassy-eyed, wondering “should I get this shampoo, or that one, or that one, or THAT one?”   I know I’d leave the store empty-handed…after spending a ridiculous amount of time reading labels and price tags and worrying about being mistaken for Donald Trump’s love child if my choice was WRONG!  

I don’t remember there being thousands of product brands to pick from when I was growing up.   Take shampoo.  I remember having Prell, Breck, Head and Shoulders, and Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific!  Maybe Trump uses that last one, although I never got close enough to take a whiff.  🙂

Are you a good, every-day decision-maker? Are there too many choices out there in the world?