There’s No Place Like Hotel

I spend a great deal of my life in hotels. I know that isn’t the norm, for most, but for me, it is. For now. During several months out of a year, I am in a hotel room four or five nights a week, three or four weeks out of a month. Whether you stay in a hotel one weekend a year, or more weeks per year than not, I’m sure you have certain minimum expectations that make the difference between a hotel stay being just right and being just wrong.

Consider that even in the most miserable locales in the U.S., a clean, decent, hotel costs you at least $100 per night, and in a “normal” locale, twice that. For a clean, decent, leased living space in Manhattan, roughly the same size as a hotel room (400 square feet), the rent, broken down into a rate per night is about $160. Ok, so by comparison, my 1,100 square foot, three bedroom two and a half bath, recently new construction, single family suburban dwelling with an attached, two-car garage and a neighborhood “clubhouse”, in Northern California is $47 per night. For perspective.

My point is, for what a hotel costs per night, your expectations should be pretty high. Perhaps I am quite choosy, but I am in need of a good, comfortable night’s sleep so I can function with wit, wisdom and humor for 8+ hours, standing on my feet, for my clients each day I’m away from the comforts of home.

My high expectations are as follow: clean, quiet, functional, complete, not stupid. Fair enough? I should think. How hard can it be to think like a guest and make a room clean, quiet, functional, complete and not stupid? If you’re responsible for “designing” a hotel room, try actually staying in a hotel room and trying to function as a normal human being the following day.

Lets’ discus clean first, shall we? My definition of clean includes 1) no one else’s hair on the sheets, pillows, bathroom floor or shower drain. 2) no mold or soap scum on the shower curtain 3) water dispensed from coffee maker = clear 4) glasses = no lipstick stains 5) no Febreeze odor masking something far worse 6) the ability to walk on the carpet barefoot, step into the shower, and not have black, foot-shaped stains where I stood on the shower floor 7) towels free of black greasy smudges, brown, nasty smudges, red, bio-scary smudges and dried, yellow, chunky, crusty matter (all of which occurred at “four-star” properties) 8) spotless tile and grout

Functionality includes 1) some kind of fold out rack for a suitcase 2) shower curtains that prevent water from spraying onto the floor 3) water faucets that actually project water into the sink basin and that aren’t designed to be so aesthetically modern in shape that they are functionally inept and when they are set to low, water flow will spill onto the counter top instead of into the sink 4) ironing boards that are full size, have a cover that won’t produce more wrinkles in my clothing while ironing than I am trying to remove 5) curtains or blinds that actually block out the obnoxious, glaring, fluorescent light placed so inconsiderately in front of the window to my room 6) wifi that actually reaches the internet 7) thermostats that actually allow you to control the environment in the room 8) adequate outlets for iPhone near the bedside table because I really don’t want to monkey with the stupid clock radio, I’d really rather rely on the steadfast and true alarm function that I know will go off in the morning 9) blow dryers not designed by bald men. This is a particular gripe of mine. Have you seen the itty, bitty blow dryers that are basically barely a bit more oblong than round? There is a purpose for the extended “nozzle” on a blow dryer, so the blowing end is at least a few inches away from the sucking end. Engineering gentlemen who designed the small, nearly round blow dryer obviously have never used a blow dryer, or were nearly bald when they tried. If your hair is more than an inch long, when using the “round” blow dryer, the sucking end sucks your hair into the dryer, through the fan and into the heating element. This results in the nasty smell of burning hair, a chunk of lost locks, and in many cases, a small fire inside the blow dryer, rendering said unit ruined. This has happened to me on more than one occasion in the past couple of months. I now carry a full-sized blow dryer in my checked bag, bringing the weight total to precisely 49.5 pounds (at 50 pounds I pay a penalty). 10) ironing boards that will actually collapse back down successfully, and preferably without a horrific noise likely to startle people in neighboring rooms 11) a clothing hook in the bathroom that doesn’t drop clothes onto the (wet/slimy/dirty/hairy) floor 12) a towel rack not IN the shower so when you grab the towel it isn’t as water logged as you are 13) electrical outlets that actually have electrical current, because dead cell phones don’t have functioning alarm clocks at 5:00 AM when you need them the most 14) thermostats that actually control the heating/cooling device 15) closets tall enough to accommodate trousers hung from the waistband and not folded in half, because I just ironed all my trousers for the week and I don’t want to fold them over a hanger and have creases at my knees 16) clothes hangers that actually fit on the rod and don’t have too small a hood for the diameter of the rod and fall to the closet floor at the slightest touch, both soiling and wrinkling your work wardrobe you just spent half an hour ironing 17) when you say “fitness center”, can you please mean a center for fitness and not the more literal application, by which I mean, if I stand in the “center” of the “fitness center” I can easily touch all four walls with an outstretched arm 18) windows that don’t produce more draft than the air conditioning

A “complete” hotel room experience would include such amenities as 1) one shampoo, one conditioner, not two conditioners that you don’t discover are two conditioners until you’ve entered the shower without a travel size shampoo 2) coffee for the coffee maker 3) cups for the coffee 4) room keys that actually open the door because nothing is worse after a fourteen hour travel day than schlepping your 49.5 pound suitcase, 42 pound backpack/computer case and 20+ pound “purse” all the way up several floors on the slowest elevator in the world only to find that not one, but both magnetic card keys don’t work. And the replacement keys provided upon a pitiful return trip downstairs also don’t work. 5) hardwire internet service when wifi is not offered … and an ethernet cable to go along with it, because I’m already packing so many cords and cables that my computer bag looks like an incendiary device in the security x-ray machine and one more cable/cord is more than I can possible deal with 6) functioning light bulbs 7) light bulbs that actually illuminate an area greater that four inches, because it isn’t really that easy to place the lamp ON the bed when I want enough light to read by 8) couches that aren’t upholstered concrete, because sometimes I think it would be nice to sit on something soft, besides the bed 9) a pen to write on the pad of paper next to the phone 10) a pad of paper to write on with the pen left by the phone 11) liquid shower gel that isn’t green and runny and doesn’t look like mouthwash because at 5:00 AM, if it’s green and runny, its mouthwash, and ingesting shower gel causes the runs 12) enough hangers for trousers for a work week, blouses for a work week, cardigans to match (perhaps two or three) and a coat 13) if a refrigerator, then a microwave. If a microwave, then a refrigerator, please, both, or neither 14) bar of soap for the shower AND a bar of soap for the sink, because getting into the shower and realizing there is not soap and having to step out onto the incredibly cold, extremely slippery tile floor to grab the bar of soap by the sink is a lawsuit just waiting to happen, for the cost of one more tiny bar of soap 15) an “ungoverned” thermostat, so if I wish to heat my room the more than 68 degrees, I can do so 16) an ATM in the lobby that actually functions and dispenses cash so tips can be paid to bellmen, doormen, housekeeping and valets 17) more than one tissue in the Kleenex box

“Not stupid” is probably too broad a category to cover in it’s entirety, but let’s make a couple of salient points here, shall we. 1) the vent in the bathroom should have a fan that vents to a duct that leads, eventually, outdoors, not into the adjacent room. I should never hear someone sneeze in the bathroom adjacent to mine, think it is someone within my room and politely bless said someone within my room for a sneeze they did not produce. Nor should I feel compelled to answer the query of the person in the adjacent bathroom because I heard their query as though they were in MY bathroom, and I know the answer 2) bathroom sink counter space > 2”, I can’t even fit a tube of mascara on a 2” wide shelf, let alone my makeup case 3) drawers and cupboards that open without being impeded by some immovable, fixed object, like a cabinet or wall 4) light switches that turn on or off lights, not alarm clocks or electrical outlets into which an iPhone with an alarm clock function may be plugged

And, finally, if you want my repeat business, which I will often have an opportunity for, try these “make my day” tactics; 1) a mint on my pillow is cliche, but so rare, that even if it is a stupid red and white peppermint candy, it will be happily received (not eaten, likely, but photographed and commented upon on facebook) 2) better than a mint on my pillow, a chocolate of fair quality (Ghirardehili or higher) will earn my undying appreciation 3) I am currently in a hotel that left me a whole bottle of decent wine, a “quality”, fresh-baked, local, red velvet cupcake, two wine glasses AND a bottle opener … instead of a stupid mint, I will return, even if I have to pay with my own money on a vacay 4) lots of big, and I mean LARGE, soft, and I mean LOFTY, fluffy, clean , fresh-smelling towels 5) a really high-quality “cheap” ball point pen that, when stolen, will write for years, reminding me of my pleasant stay every time it is written with (Ritz Carlton so far has the best pens … and the best soap, well, it is BVLGARI, so … 6) a personal note from housekeeping, preferably in understandable English and fair grammar, which guarantees that I will stop by the ATM AND get change so I can leave a cash tip 6) truly genuine, helpful, caring, reasonably intelligent front desk staff 7) a 24-hour market that stocks beer (other than Bud Light), splits of wine, tampons, Excedrin and Ben & Jerry’s 8) Starbucks on premise, adjacent, or within a door or two so I can get there without getting wet if there happens to be precipitation 8) passes to a quality, local, health club because you know your fitness center sucks and people want to work out, not struggle to sweat on ill-kept, low-end, malfunctioning cardio machines and mismatched free weights (as in no two weights of the same weight, because having a ten pound dumbbell in your right hand and two five pound dumbbells in your left hand is just awkward) 9) and, finally, a “final” bill, for the correct amount, to the correct party, under my door, before I depart for the airport at 3:00 AM

And, finally, if you want to make me smile, as a guest in your hotel, have some intelligent wit and humor and make some part of my stay truly unforgettable, in a good way.

IMG_7851

IMG_7836

A Massage to Forget

I do love an occasional massage, I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders and sometimes, getting the knots worked out, whether you realize they’re there or not, brings great relief.

When you favor the most popular massage therapist at a spa, it is not always easy to book last minute appointments with said therapist. My work schedule is both crazy and unpredictable. I travel a great deal and often don’t know what my calendar will be like two or three weeks in advance. Recently, I had a totally free day, a true rarity, and I thought, “hey, a massage might be nice”. I called the spa and asked if my usual therapist was available. Not for a month, and when the laughter subsided, I was offered an hour and a half appointment with a therapist who was “capable of performing a deep tissue massage”, the way I like it. Great! I booked a time slot and planned my evening around it.

When I showed up at the spa, I was checked in and sent to the waiting room with my little plastic cup of water. I flipped through a worn magazine while the image of the fire in the fireplace flickered on the television mounted on the wall. In the background was the strange, earthy music. Each time I heard footsteps come down the hall, I looked up, anticipating being greeted by the therapist who could give me a deep tissue massage that in any way compared to the one my usual therapist could provide.

After a few minutes, after a few other therapists came down the hall and summoned other clients, my therapist revealed himself. As I sat in anticipation, I heard footsteps approach, they were both gentle and mighty at the same time. In the hallway, filling nearly the entire frame, was a very, very large man of uncertain racial heritage. Black, Samoan, I;m not sure, not that it matters at all. But for those of us bothered with details and observant to the point of obsession, it is something I usually at least make a note of. With a kind, almost timid voice, that in no way matched his size or the sound of his footfalls, he called my name and introduced himself, Tristan. My first thought was, “Oh my God, I’m going to die.”

I followed him down the hallway to the room I was directed, and obediently disrobed to the degree I was comfortable with, as instructed, climbed onto the table, under the sheet. There I waited.Before long, after an extremely gentle knock on the door, my gentle giant of a therapist entered the room. Based on his voice, his walk, his demeanor, I would guess he was gay, not that that matters at all, again, I just make observations about people so when I write about them later, I can fully describe them, and for no other reason.

For a large man with a womanly voice, he certainly did not mince words. He was very direct, at times almost blunt. He asked, forthrightly, whether I liked to chat during my massage, or not. I really don’t like to chat, but I would never be so rude as to say so. I evaded, but hoped to give him the impression that I’d rather just answer questions as needed, and otherwise, sort of zone out. I have been known to fall asleep, just a little, during a massage. That is the point, I find them both relaxing and therapeutic.

And with that, I found myself flattened out beneath his massive hands. then his forearms. I felt like I was between pavement and a steam roller. Deep tissue massage was an understatement. When he asked if the pressure was too much, I was rendered completely unable to respond, for I could not draw in enough breath to force a sound from my mouth. For the next ninety minutes I underwent the most intense “deep tissue” massage I have ever experienced. I would venture to say this was more of a skeletal massage. Tristan commented a few times, unabashedly, that I was incredibly tense, in almost a critical way. I’m sorry, but if you knew for certain that you were about to be crushed under three hundred plus pounds of pressure would you not tense up just a little? I won’t say it was painful, but it most certainly crossed the barrier of pleasant into something more like torture.

Having my hands massaged is one of the highlights of the treatment. Upon massaging my lower right arm and hand, Tristan again broke the silence and asked, in an almost accusatory manner, if I had any behaviors that required repetitive motion of my right hand. My eyebrows shot up, for this could have the same implication for women as it could for men, if your mind works as mine does, anyway. I thought, quickly, and replied that I do text a lot. That satisfied him, or at least no further inquiry was made. Thankfully.

Having never actually been crushed beneath a freight train, I can only imagine what it would feel like. I’d have to say, what I experienced on the massage table that day had to come close. I have never had an elephant sit on my back while lying on a flat, unforgiving surface, again, I can only imagine, but I’m pretty sure it has to be comparable to what I experienced that day. Nor have I ever been run over by a stampede of wild water buffalo on the Serengeti, but if I had to describe it, it would come very close to what I experienced on that massage table that evening. I swear I felt my spine touch my belly button on more than one occasion! At the conclusion of the session, Tristan recommended I have a Swedish massage next time, as it is firm, but not a “deep tissue” massage. Note to self, if Tristan is the only therapist available, Swedish it will be!

For the next week, I limped around like I’d been hit by a bus. I felt like Wylie Coyote must have felt after all the torturous things the roadrunner put him through on those good, old-fashioned, Saturday morning cartoons; grand piano falling on him, a one ton weight dropped from atop a cliff. That is precisely what I felt like.

No doubt, he got all the knots and kinks and tension out of my shoulders and back, but I was certain I’d lost an entire dimension in the process, now being only two dimensional, rather than three.

Automatic Flush – The Death of Responsibility – Down the John

The evolution of the modern public restroom is causing me occasional confusion and frustration. Some public restrooms are completely automatic; toilet flushes, water turns on, and soap and paper towels dispense automatically. The totally carefree toilet experience. All you have to do is dangle the appropriate body part in the appropriate place, butt over toilet, hands under faucet, and remember to zip up when finished, the rest is handled. Or is it?

With the evolution of the totally automated public restroom has come our own regression. How many times have you walked into a public restroom stall with automatic flushing toilets to find someones duty unflushed? For me? Many, many times. Keep in mind, here, though, I travel a great deal of the time for work and pleasure. During the months of November and December this past year, I’m pretty sure I peed at O’Hare more than I did my own home. And many, many times, I found someone’s duty in the john when I opened the door to the stall, which, by the way, I find not only repulsive, but inexcusable.

Do we not look to make sure it went down before we zip up, unlatch and leave? I do. I would be mortified if someone saw me exit a stall, entered after me and saw my turd floating there! I stick around to see it go down, and if it doesn’t? Hello? There is ALWAYS a button you can push to trigger the desired flush action!

Does installing automatic flush toilets somehow negate our responsibility to see that it all disappears before we do? I think not. Has common courtesy go down the john? I think so! What, so if your turd doesn’t flush down automatically, as it should, do you just say to yourself “not my problem, flusher didn’t flush”? Our mothers always reminded us when we old enough to potty on on our ”now flush the toilet after your’e done.” That golden rule should apply regardless of the vintage of the toilet we’re dealing with! Be sure it all goes down! Just like Mom said!

With the advent of the automatically flushing toilet comes the death of responsibility in the public restroom? Shame on us. Our mothers would be disappointed. But then I picture, in my mind, how my own 89 year old mother might deal with a non-functioning automatic flush toilet. The chances of her finding the tiny flush button on her own are pretty remote. Bless her heart.

Now, I will admit, at times, facing a certain amount of confusion in these automated or partially automated bathrooms. In the end, no matter what kind of toilet I’m dealing with, I think I have always managed to leave the bathroom with the turd down, the zipper up, and my hands washed.

Some of the confusion I’ve encountered comes not from the totally automated public restroom experience, but the partially automated public bathroom experience. For example, the toilet flushes automatically, but the faucet doesn’t automatically turn on. You stand there waving your hands foolishly under the faucet, cursing, for a full five minutes, you even try the other faucets, then you spy the lever that manually turns the water on. You know, the lever just like your faucet at home that you can use without any trouble whatsoever. How about the faulty soap dispensers that shoot soap into your hand immediately after you rinsed the soap off your hands because you got a minuscule fraction of an inch too close to the sensor? I once encountered an automatic faucet with a faulty sensor. I eventually figured out, somehow, that if I swung my right leg back and forth vigorously, left to right, the water would turn on. So there I stood, swinging my right leg back and forth vigorously, left to right, while rinsing, soaping and rinsing again. Water everywhere.

Occasionally, I have troubles in old school, DIY bathrooms, especially after many trips through O’Hare, where they even have automatically self-replacing toilet seat covers!! If you’ve never seen a mechanized toilet seat cover replacer in action, you have not lived. I’ve stared at wonderment, pressing the button again and again … where does the old seat cover go? Where does the new seat cover come from? The unit seems so small to have both a supply and a waste receptacle. Are the old seat covers biodegradable? Because I just sent thirty unused ones off to the landfill. I worried for a bit, until I figured it all out, that perhaps the same seat cover was just cycling through. After such modern marvels, I have found myself in an old school, DIY type loo and I have done my number and waited for the automatic flush for a moment, then two and, bewildered, eventually realizing it was on old fashioned DIY model and I’d have to old school flush; lift foot, step on lever, turd be gone.

Are you a little scared of what spiffy, new public bathroom technology may be on the drawing board? We have automatically flushing toilets, self replacing toilet seat covers, automatic faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers or motion activated forced air hand dryers. Really, aren’t you a little scared of what might be next? What is left? A tampon plucker?

Imperfection

Life is imperfect. The sooner we all come to terms with that the happier we’ll all be. There is no such thing as perfection, in anything, including life. It is wholly unrealistic to expect to execute a single day to perfection, and most certainly not life as a whole.

When we are young, with our youthful optimism, we just know that our lives will go pretty much according to plan and will someday live up to that ideal of “perfection”. The finish line just keeps getting pushed out a little. And we keep racing towards it, our chests pushed out, just waiting to feel the finish line break across our breast and be the winner. As soon as we’re in middle school, life will become perfect. And it isn’t. But it will be once we get to high school. And it isn’t. For certain when we get to college. And it isn’t. Then once we graduate from college. The disillusionment and disappointment at each stage mounts. We are always so sure that life is going to get easier, yet with each milestone, the race seems to become longer, the finish line is further off, and we realize we are beginning to tire.

Depressed yet?

There is a way out, and I’m not talking suicide.

We need to find perfect imperfection. This will be a personal journey, no two people will travel the same path. Perfect imperfection is a state of mind where you come to peace with all the imperfections in your life, accept it, and live it. I’m not saying to settle and become complacent, to become a martyr, no, you need to find a balance and then strive to keep it. Imagine standing on one foot on an uneven surface. It takes some time to find your balance and hold it. Now imagine the surface shifts and moves without warning, what do you do to keep your balance? You may have to flail your arms, touch your other foot to the ground just long enough to stabilize so you can achieve your balance again. It takes a lot of core strength, which develops over time. Many fine muscles and ligaments in your legs will have to develop to be able to hold the position and adjust as needed. Of course, all of this takes time. And this is just like life, the perfectly imperfect life.

Trying to balance on one foot on a flat, perfectly motionless surface is difficult enough. As with life, it is difficult enough. What we consider stable may indeed shift. Perhaps frequently. We need to be strong at our core, flexible and able to adjust as the very things we stand on shift.

To achieve this metaphorical ability to balance on ever shifting, uneven footing, we need to develop our inner selves. We need to eliminate those things that will cause us to tip too far to one side or the other. We need to be lean and fit, in our being, to manage the fluctuations life is bound to bring.

If we can just step back from everything for a moment, maybe a for a little more than a moment, things may fall into clearer view. We need to find a way to be quiet in our very noisy worlds, to find a time and a place to be calm, regularly. In this quiet, we need to just sit and think, without an agenda, without a time limit, without a plan. Some people call it meditating. I find once you label it in such a manner, “I’m going to meditate now”, that it becomes completely impossible to sit still and be calm. Perhaps that’s just me. For some, sitting in quiet is difficult. I often find my most zen moments in motion; hiking or running. I can slip into the deepest of self when rhythmically breathing, climbing a steep trail, or putting some miles on my running shoes. In this routine of quiet, just sit peacefully and consider what’s really important right now. Put yourself in a place where possessions and ambitions and plans are absent, where you are alone with your breath and your pulse, which are really the only things you need at any one moment to survive, the barest minimum. Consider in this quiet; do I need money at this precise moment in time? No one is there with their hand out asking for money as you sit and breathe, it is not important now. Is the size of your house, the type of car you drive, the brand of watch you wear, where you shop for clothes, important in this moment of quiet. No. Once you strip yourself of all this clutter, you begin to discover the truest of self. Your core.

When all the clutter of the world falls away, and you have only your breath and your pulse, what else is truly important? What actually matters? Your family, perhaps. Your health. Your friends. These are what would be left if something were to happen that caused you to lose your house, your car, your watch and your fancy wardrobe. Write those few things down. That is what is really important now. And for these things, be grateful. And express your gratitude for them regularly, as part of your quiet routine.

Now that you have identified what is truly, truly important, now, and you have mentally and perhaps even emotionally disregarded all the other clutter of your life, even if only for a few moments a day, make yourself become comfortable with the fact that if everything else fell away, you would be fine. If you lost your house, your car, your watch, for designer, name brand clothes but you had your family, your health and your friends, your would still be rich, or you would be left with what you’ve already decided truly, truly matters now. And it is always now. This is a discipline, this is an acquired thought process, one that takes practice. There are those of us in society, more today probably than there have been since the Great Depression, that have lost everything and now realize, out of necessity, what in this imperfect life is actually perfect, what it is in life that is truly important, now.

This, like anything worthwhile, will take time. No sculptor ever took a slab of stone and chiseled a work of art in moments. So it will be with the practice of quietly coming to identify and appreciate those few things important in your life. A temple could never be built in a day, not in ancient times, and even in our technologically advanced society, perhaps because of our technological advancements, a temple still would take a great deal of time to construct. In building the temple of your beautifully imperfect life, expect to labor, expect to strain, expect to struggle. Build it one block, one stone, one board at a time. Focus on it only one brick at a time, only what you can accomplish in the now. In time, your life, beautifully imperfect, will take form and shape. It will first be just a cornerstone you can rest upon. In some time, it will be a small wall you can sit and rest against. Then a wall that provides some shelter from the wind. Eventually, with diligence and perseverance, you will have a sturdy shelter that will protect you from whatever storms life may offer. Those who master this will have a large, sturdy castle, greater than any home money could buy. And this should be our single ambition, to find bliss in our perfectly, imperfect lives.

Messing With My Chi

Have you ever awakened feeling great? Like everything was going to go according to plan? Well rested and ready to take on another day? That was how I felt this morning when I awoke. Good Chi.

I set out to do my day right! I showered, grabbed my journal and bounded downstairs for my usual healthy, light, well-balanced and nutritious breakfast. I swear I could just feel the sunshine and hear the birds singing outside. My scrambled egg was piping hot and smelled delicious. My oatmeal was perfectly cooked, not too done, not too soupy, not too cold, not too hot, a true Goldilocks moment.I opened up my journal, reached for my pen and was just ready to cheerfully write down my affirmations and the things I am most grateful for, certain that this would keep my “good Chi” going.

Then my son stomped into the kitchen. He wore a murderous expression and went about his morning routine with an air of so much grumpiness that my Chi just fizzled. Conversation ensued and basically, he was just pissed off about everything. It happens to all of us, when you wake up and think, “wow, this is all for shit”. I’ve had mornings like that, and recently, and I admit, I have to make a very concerted effort to talk myself out of those feelings on a fairly regular basis. No one’s life is exactly where we want it at any point in time, but if we make an effort to get a little closer each day, we can usually manage to keep those shit mornings to a minimum. For some of us, it takes some practice.

My son’s mood was so bad, that I had a really hard time focusing on the one word affirmations I wanted to write down. I had to keep cheating and looking back at yesterdays. My Chi was all messed up.

He went on and on about his woes, and I listened, but damn, I was trying to write down all the things I was grateful for, and I couldn’t concentrate. I had to keep cheating, I kept looking back to yesterday’s page to try to remember what I was grateful for yesterday! Certainly I’d still be grateful today for the things I was grateful for yesterday. My Chi was all messed up.

Your affirmations and the things you’re grateful for should just spill out when you focus on them, you should never have to cheat, maybe what I’m grateful for today IS different than yesterday. Maybe what I needed to affirm about myself today was different than yesterday. But I couldn’t focus, I just flipped the page and copied, flipped the page and copied, until today’s page was all filled up with yesterday’s words. My Chi was all messed up.

I glanced out the window and saw that it was gray and gloomy. Another chink in my Chi. I’m a sunshine kind of girl. Gray and dreary makes me gray and dreary. Sigh.

I tried not to let it all get to me, and as the day went on, I was able to put it all behind me and have a fairly successful and productive day. The sun never came out, in fact, it is raining, but I managed to remain sunny enough myself to keep positive.

I thought about my Chi, though. I use the word “Chi” to describe the positive energy flow that acts like a current and pulls me through each day in a manner I am at peace with. I know the actual definition of Chi may be somewhat different, having to do with energy flow as it relates to feng shui, but I like to think I’m in the process of “feng shui-ing” my mind, putting all the elements of thought and self-speak into the desired order so as to achieve positive energy in thought and intention. Does that make sense? Well, it does to me. And that’s what matters.

The thing that distresses me is just how easily my Chi is disrupted. I let the energy that other people put off totally affect me. I’m like a negative energy sponge. I try to battle back with my positive energy, but I feel like in so doing, I am giving away my positive energy and I end up empty.

The slightest thing can turn my Chi to shit. Grumpy people. Dishes in the sink when I come home. Mail on the table. A text or phone call from someone I don’t really want to hear from. Network news on the TV. People quoting network news like it’s the absolute authority, especially when they say “they said …” Little, itty bitty, stupid, insignificant things turn my Chi into shit. And I don’t know what to do about it. I’m not necessarily intolerant, better the dishes be in the sink than on the table, better the mail be on the table than in the sink! I think what it comes down to, for me, at least, is that I have been so completely out of control of so many very big things in my life the past several years that I seek to find peace and solace in the many little things I can control; the tidiness of my house, whether the television is on and what exactly is being viewed, my diet and fitness, etc. When someone invades that small part of the world I can control, I lose my Chi.

I am considering moving in with my mom in the next few months. She is old, she needs help. It will help me save some money, restore my retirement account, build a nest egg. For all practical purposes, it is the right thing to do. My Chi is withering just thinking about it. She is easily worried and frets openly about everything, mostly what “they” said on the news. And the network news is on at a decibel rating so high, I can hear what “they” are saying from the driveway when I get out of my car. The refrigerator and cupboards are full of food like products I wouldn’t even consider handling, let alone eating. There are piles of mail and newspapers and bits of paper with little notes on them on the counter, the table, the desk, the coffee table, and three of the four chairs around the kitchen table. I will be completely out of control of nearly every element of my environment I currently have a grasp on. What will I do without my Chi, for certainly it will die?

I suppose, to look on the bright side, which is a skill I have worked to develop to an art form over the past several years, I will have to learn to build my Chi in an environment that is not mine. I’ve had some practice here, as I do travel a lot for work and stay in hotel rooms, which are not technically “my” environment. But they are fairly benign environments, there is rarely a kitchen, and when there is, it is clean to begin with and I am in control of it until I leave. There is a television, but I am completely in control of it. There is no clutter around to disturb my Chi and I am alone in my hotel room, so the only grumpy people around would be me.

In an environment that has been my mom’s for over forty years, I will have zero control, so I will have to learn how to build up my positive inner energy through other means than keeping my environment exactly the way I like it. I could, I suppose, limit “my environment” to my room, like I did as a kid. That may be a solution, as long as I have noise cancellation headphones for the television downstairs!

I’m not sure of the solution here, but I suppose I shouldn’t worry about the future of my Chi, perhaps the change in environment won’t affect it like I think it will. I should be focussing on my Chi in the present. And right now, it is just fine. Like all things in life, like life itself, it’s all about the present. Live for now. One moment at a time.

Scarlett’s Letter 1/23/2013

I am feeling like I’m almost my old self again. Despite the fact that today marks one year ago, exactly, that my beloved dad passed away, I had a happy day. I felt calm and focused and I didn’t freak out or overreact about anything! Ta da! I started my day right, with a good, light, healthy breakfast, which I enjoyed while I journaled my affirmations and the things I am grateful for. That small task makes such a big difference. If you don’t take the time to jot down the things you affirm and the things for which you are grateful, you lose focus, direction and gain despair and cynicism. I swear it. I worked hard today, which I always do. I wrote a blog post so inspiring, I was inspired to do something worthy with the rest of my day! I went to the gym and worked out real hard, which felt ahhhhh-mazing! I came home, chatted with my mommy on the phone while I cooked myself some salmon from Alaska and some sautéed veggies. I do enjoy my own cooking when I’m not on the road, a real treat, not that I’m the best cook in the world, but I like what I make and its oh, so good for me! I capped the evening off with a nice phone call with my Sweetie, a glass of red wine, a hot shower and now some bluegrass music on Pandora and a book on my Kindle I’m anxious to finish. Not an extraordinary day, but the best kind of ordinary day! Sweet dreams await!

On Living

We are alive, but are we living? Rephrased, are you LIVING, or merely existing? Certainly, your heart is beating, but are you truly living? Is your life by design, or happenstance? Does your day consist of waking up, blah, blah, blah, go to sleep? Or do you live each day with intent, excitement, the pursuit of new experiences, the pursuit of personal growth? Do you want to be more, or just be? Do you live with intention? Do you take risks? Do you take chances? Or do you live inside the cocoon of a routine that is tried, true, safe and predictable? Predictable in that it will provide you the exact same result you’ve had every day leading up to today. Isn’t one the definitions of insanity “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” Or are you even expecting a different result? Do you truly want to exist in a lifestyle of complete safety and predictability? I suppose some do. Not me. I’d rather die. I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living. When was the last time you said to yourself “My God, I feel so alive!” For me, yesterday. And today isn’t over, I still have time to feel that way today.

We all know we are given the gift of 86,400 seconds each day, famous people say that in inspirational speeches, the lyrics of a popular song remind us of this fact on the radio. That’s it, though, 86,400 seconds each day. We are all vaguely aware that once a second passes, you never get it back, it is gone forever. Ponder that for a moment. Let it really sink in. With each second that passes, your life is one second shorter. The time you have to accomplish your goals, to achieve your dreams, to complete your bucket list, becomes a second less with each passing second. Tick, tick, tick. Have you taken a second to consider how many seconds a day you waste on useless things? I’ll let you define your own list of useless things.

My list of useless things includes many things people hold near and dear, like watching television for hours on end with no real plan. You know, sitting there with a remote control, cruising through hundreds of channels looking for something remotely interesting. I can’t stand that. I will occasionally plan on watching a particular program or event on television, but certainly not daily, or even weekly. The playoff games last weekend, there is one example, I planned to watch them, I did, the television hasn’t been turned on since. I will likely watch the SuperBowl. There are programs on television I enjoy, but I will never plan my life around the network schedule. I can catch it on Hulu or Netflix later, if I really, really want to, but I’m sure to be doing something else of value while the show is on. Slouching on the couch in a vegetative state is not something I’m willing to waste my ambulatory years on, thank you. I’ll plan for that when I’m on life support in a nursing home, having lived a full, exciting and adventurous life.

Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying “Do one thing every day that scares you”. Does breaking out of your cocoon of safe, predictable routine scare you? What if something unexpected happens? Well, yay! Whether the unexpected is good or bad, you’ll have grown and gained some courage from the experience, and fewer things will be scary from now on! Scary things are scary, why do them? If we don’t challenge ourselves, regularly, we fall into stagnate routines, we miss out on opportunities for learning, growth, adventure, excitement.

I had a job opportunity find me. I had a resume posted online, and though I wasn’t looking for a job actively, a recruiter found my resume and contacted me. The job he described involved significant domestic travel and public speaking. Both things scared me, I was a somewhat fearful flyer, and I hated standing in front of people and speaking. Out of economic enticement, I took a chance, figuring I’d stick it out for the three month probationary period, collect my pay along the way, and find something “safer”, more comfortable, more “my speed”, thereafter. That was five years ago.

Guess, what, the first few flights, I was nervous, but I got over it, and I have seen more of our country than most people I know. I have contacts and friends in every major city, I have seen famous attractions in person, not just on television. I have felt them, touched them, smelled them, tasted them, lived them. I will never forget them. I have enjoyed nearly every trip I’ve taken, because now I thirst for those experiences. People say to me “I don’t know how you can travel all the time like that.” And I reply, “I don’t know how you can stay in the same place all the time”.

The first time I had to speak in front of a group by myself, I was a bit shaky, but with time, I got the hang of it. Once I figured out that people looked to me for expertise and guidance, that they wanted to hear what I was telling them and that I could even make them laugh when I wanted to, I grew to love it. Talk about a self confidence boost! Two “things” that scared me became my passion and provide me an unbelievable amount of growth, experience and adventure. My life is forever changed in a very positive way. But I was scared. And I just did it. I overcame very quickly. Do not let fear limit you.

What do you want to do with your life? Really? Pretend you’re a little kid, again, and someone just asked you “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, what do you want to be? We don’t have to be satisfied with who we are, what we do, where we live, just because this is where we’ve wound up! Dream! Make a plan! Get moving! Seconds are slipping away! You truly can do anything you want, the only limitations are the ones you define for yourself. “Can’t” is a four letter word, so is “fear”, abolish them from your vocabulary.

Let’s try this; tell me what your day was like last Monday. Can you even remember it? How about three Saturdays ago? Is there anything momentous you remember in the past month? Past year? What was the last bucket list item you accomplished? Have you even attempted one? Wait, you haven’t even taken the time to make a bucket list? Too busy doing un-momentous things?

Try this out for size; take a few seconds RIGHT NOW and make a list of three things you want to do before you die. There. You have a bucket list. Add to it every time you think of something else. Now, pick one of the items you wrote down and do it. This week, this weekend. Do it. It will feel incredible. If your bucket list items require resources you don’t currently have, take one step towards obtaining one of the necessary items. Request the vacation time if time off is the issue. Open a savings account with $5 and set aside an amount each pay day until you have the money, if money is the issue. Commit. No excuses, the seconds are flying past! In the mean time, pick another bucket list item you CAN do right away, and do it. Now keep it up, for every item you complete, add one or two more. There is no such thing as a complete bucket list, keep at it.

How are you feeling about every second that slips away, now? Do you secretly mourn the time you wasted in the past? I do. I wish I could’ve banked it and saved it and could withdraw it for future use! I think life should be approached with a sense of urgency! I am often criticized for being too busy, never having any “free time”. What the hell is “free time”? To me, “free time” is the time I have to do something else I want to do! And I do! From the moment I wake up until I fall into bed at night, I am doing something worthwhile, constructive, amazing, fulfilling, rewarding, exciting, adventurous. Oh, sure, I do relax, but I relax with the people I want to relax with, doing something relaxing I want to do (a picnic, wine tasting, a leisurely meal, a nice walk, a hike, fishing, reading, writing, etc.).

You have the opportunity, every second, to redefine your life, to make it what you’ve always wanted. And ONLY YOU have that power. Your life is yours, it doesn’t belong to anyone else to shape, to dictate, to construct, control or live. Shed your cocoon, spread your wings. And live.

Can You Hear My Face

I tend to have a very expressive face, you can almost always tell what I’m thinking by the look on my face. I am painfully aware of this and do my best to keep an expressionless face if the situation calls for it. If someone says something I find especially funny, surprising or ironic, for example, I have a really hard time keeping my eyebrows planted and my mouth and eyes from opening into a wide smile. And I think I often fail. I’m sure my face must show signs of tensing or strain in attempting to suppress the natural expression. There are times when you just don’t want to make a face in response to something someone is saying, especially if it is a reaction they wouldn’t be appreciative of.

Now, on the telephone, I am far more likely to go ahead and make the face, no one can see me and it just feels right. I work on the phone a great deal. When I’m not training in person, I teach via the internet and conference call. I was on the phone, teaching, for eight hours yesterday, eight hours today and will be, again, for eight hours tomorrow. Have you every sat in on an eight hour web/conference call class on a topic as titillating at audit software? Welcome to my world. Somehow, I manage to keep my attendees mostly awake and somewhat engaged. In fact, I get pretty respectable feedback scores on my phone presentations.

I was asked once to provide some tips to another team on how I manage to keep folks awake and alert and engaged. I recommended, among other things, that they smile and use their hands to speak as they would in person. I also recommended that they get up early enough to shower, do their hair, makeup, dress decent, etc., as though they were teaching in person. I will often stand and move in the same manner as I would if I were teaching in person. I recommended using the same aspects a stand up comic might, for example, adding comedy (obvious, to most, lost on others), funny observations or analogies, then relating back to a funny point made earlier. Sometimes, tasteful self deprecating remarks bring some levity to an otherwise boring topic, I usually keep them to general remarks that might be made of anyone in our industry (accountants, auditors, etc.) All of this conveys a level of engagement and enthusiasm through the voice that is hard to create if you are sitting still, in your sweats, looking and feeling like shit, reading from a script. To hone presentation skills , even on the phone, I suggested occasionally photographing themselves or taking video of themselves to monitor the level of enthusiasm, smile, expression, etc.

Being so well practiced at being expressive on the phone, though, may be my undoing in other situations. When someone says something that I react to expressively, even though unseen, can it be detected? Can the party on the other end tell that I am reacting in some way? Perhaps in a manner that would be unkind? Can they discern how I’ve reacted? What I’m thinking? What I’m not saying? Can they hear my face? Oh dear. I don’t know.

Last night I was on the phone with my S.O. (significant other). I think I mentioned something about feeling chubby (after the holidays and all). He said I was a 10 1/2 compared to any girls in his town (ah, gosh). I mentioned that I’d seen lots of pretty girls when I visited, in a teasing manner, of course. He replied “Well, I haven’t met them yet!”

“Yet!?” That was my immediate reaction and unspoken reply. I bit my tongue and said nothing, but in that moment I wondered if he could detect my big smile and surprised look, my tongue nipped between my teeth. I was just dying to tease him about that response! Was the pause that ensued longer than it should be, shorter than it should be? Could he hear my face? I bit my tongue for a reason, even though I thought it was funny, over the phone, with three thousand miles between us, sometimes things like this can be misunderstood. I didn’t want to come off as the jealous type, so I restrained myself from saying “Yet?!” The response was so intense and so natural to me that refraining from saying anything nearly hurt me physically. I had to sit down from the exhaustion of it!

And so I am pondering the point. Can you hear my face? I begin to consider all the other expressions I make, silently, while on the phone with people. Can they be “heard”, or felt or in any other way detected or understood? Yikes.

I have faces for everything! I have my “I need to get off the phone but you won’t stop talking” face (eyes cast upwards, hand in an upturned claw, moving up and down impatiently). I have my “I’m not listening to this bullshit” face (shaking head slowly, lips pursed, eyes half shut). I have the “what you’re telling me is interesting to you, but …” face (head tilted heavily to one side, propped up, chin in hand, other hand on trackpad, boredom glazed eyes scrolling lazily over screens on various social media sites, the weather channel site, CalTrans traffic camera sites, YouTube videos of grass growing). I also have the “you are responding according to my plan” face (evil grin, nodding, squinty eyes). There is also my “I didn’t mean to say that” face (mouth in a tight “oh”, eyes wide, shoulders hunched, like I’m waiting for something to fall on my head). Of course, I have the “laughing at my own joke” face (head tilted back, big smile, eyes shut, hearty, but silent, laugh). There is also the “what you’re saying is a) shocking, b) appalling, c) gross, d) disgusting face” (mouth open laxly, brow lowered, one eye bigger than the other, nose possibly wrinkled. The typical expression for “I can’t believe this!” is both hands violently thrust outwards and downwards at an angle, palms up, mouth open, brow furrowed, head turned to the right and perhaps tilted slightly to the right, as well, depending on the severity of the disbelief). One of the faces I hate the most is the “You asked me ‘what’s wrong?’” face, (face scrunched up, mouth downturned, eyes squeezed shut, possibly tears, trying not to emit sound). May I suggest that you never ask me “what’s wrong?’” if you think I’m upset about something. I will cry, often unnecessarily, because often nothing is wrong, but that you think there is will trigger the response. Sigh. There is also the “busted” face, you know, when I’m on facebook, pretending to listen (see above for the “what you’re telling me is interesting to you, but …” face) and I am asked a question and I have no idea what you’ve been talking on and on about for the past thirty minutes (eyes wide, mouth closed tightly, brows up, complexion suddenly pale). And, of course, the “I think that’s hilarious but I’m not saying anything” face (big smile and surprised look, tongue nipped between my teeth).

I think I am going to have to find a way to get to the bottom of this. Perhaps I could devise some sort of clinical study. I could possibly enlist the assistance of a confidant, perhaps my daughter. I will call her and make faces while on the phone. I will ask her what my expression was, I will ask her “can you hear my face?”

Scarlett’s Letter 1/21/2013

I’m a creature of habit. I have good habits and bad habits. I have been making an effort to evolve deliberately into the person I’d like to be by replacing bad habits with good habits over the course of the past few years. In the process, I have become a more focused, thoughtful, discerning, compassionate, thin, healthy, happy person. 

My job requires a great deal of domestic travel, especially during the last half of each year. During the first half of each year, I have the opportunity to work from home, training clients online and working on projects. There is still some travel, but it is not nearly as frequent as later in the year. The pattern is thus; I focus on reinforcing my good habits and working diligently on my evolution during the first half of the year, and try like hell to keep it all together during the hectic, last half of the year. So far this year, with a very busy beginning of the year, college kids home from afar, a visit from my significant other, some work-related travel, I have not even begun to reinforce those good habits that got sidelined during “busy season” last year. I feel like the slippery slope into bad habits that started with busy season late last year has no end! 

I am still carting around ten pounds that snuck on as a result of having to eat in restaurants while traveling, and not having the time/facilities to work out the five or six days a week I like to. My attitude is still in “cynical mode” from the rigors of frequent air travel. I’m drinking more than I like to (two a night rather than one). And most importantly, I have not been starting my day with my reflections; meditation, affirmations, gratitude, what’s important now, etc. I “normally” meditate for a while in the morning, then write, with a pen and paper, in a journal, my daily affirmations, the things I am grateful for and what is important at this very moment. This practice keeps me focused, balanced and in touch with my purpose and my goals. The combination of healthy eating and regular exercise, including cardio, core strength, endurance and flexibility (yoga), with my routine of meditation and writing in my journal, make me a happy, well-balanced, focused person, capable of easily dealing with the daily ups and downs life throws at me, able to ward off stress and anxiety, able to sleep restfully, able to focus on the now rather than on the dwelling on the past and stressing about the future. 

Right now, I am so out of balance, every little thing throws me into a state of overreaction, anxiety and stress. I have no energy, my skin is dull and blemished and my size six jeans are feeling a bit snug. I even had a nightmare last night that I could barely peel my jeans off they were so tight! I don’t sleep as soundly as usual and I am in a constant state of emotional flux. I am restless and not unhappy, but certainly not as happy as I usually am. 

My bad habits are beginning to outweigh the good habits I so carefully developed. I’m in a vicious cycle; I have no energy because I haven’t been working out regularly, so I’m “too tired” to work out. I’m not working out so I’m not sleeping well, which makes me too tired to work out. I’m not working out so I’m not getting enough endorphins, I feel like boo boo, and so I overeat to try to make myself feel better. My self-esteem is diminishing because I look and feel icky and because I’m not getting my daily dose of endorphins, which makes me feel worse, so I overeat and drink an extra adult beverage to compensate. Ugh. You can see how quickly this can spin out of control.

It takes approximately twenty one days to create a habit, good or bad. So, to get back into my desired routine, I need to “force” myself to work out and eat right for twenty one days. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, but the key here is to never fall out of a routine, to never fall out of a good habit and into a bad one. And never, ever, ever fall into several interdependent bad habits. 

And when, exactly, can I reset my twenty one day habit clock? I traveled to Idaho last week, I’m home for a week, then I’m in New York City for a week. So, mid-February?

The bigger question here, I think, is whether my lifestyle is conducive to my overall life goals of being fit, healthy and happy? This is a really big, scary question, especially as it pertains to my career. Careers can’t be easily or quickly changed. I like what I do, I don’t like what it does to me. 

My job is exciting; I travel all over the U.S., meet new people, see new cities, see some of the same amazing cities over and over again. I get to eat at nice restaurants all the time. I don’t work in the same cubicle, in the same office with the same people every day. When I don’t travel, I work from home, if I’m teaching, or from anywhere, if I’m not. I sometimes work at the coffee shop, or from a restaurant, or from a friend or family members’ house. I have all kinds of flexibility. 

But with all that excitement and flexibility comes the difficulty with maintaining consistent eating and exercising habits. Time zone travel adds another tiresome factor. I have made an effort to work out while traveling with limited success, but availability of appropriate hotel fitness facilities, or a hotel room large enough for leaping about and making considerable noise, or the proximity of a gym to which I have a membership or can obtain a trial membership all complicate things. I spend more than eight hours with my clients when onsite, add to that the travel time to and from the client location and the hotel, time required to dine out (or cook in, if available), plus the time required to follow up on emails and phone calls received from other clients during the course of the day. When I am onsite, I am usually working 10 – 12 hours each day, not counting travel and dining. Travel days are usually long and begin with an alarm set at 2:30 or 3:00 AM, depending on the destination and the flight. This all sounds like justification for not working out on the road, but I challenge you to maintain a regular fitness schedule with this kind of work schedule. Let me know how it goes.

For now, I guess I’d better make good use of what time I do have for healthful habits. I am going to write in my journal, then head to the gym, eat a good dinner, go to bed, and repeat tomorrow. The true lesson here, for all of us, is that every day we practice our good habits is a step in the right direction, whether we have twenty one consecutive days to “reset out habit clock”, or not. Just writing off a whole month because it doesn’t look like time is on our side is where we really set ourselves up for failure and enduring misery. Do what you can, when you can and you will make progress, it may be slower than we’d like, but slow progress is way better than regression. When motivated, the mind can overcome almost anything. Mind over matter means I don’t get fatter.