Scarlett’s Letter – My Walk in the Desert

Today marks the end of Lent for those who observe this tradition. Whether religious, or not, this season of spring is a season of renewal, and an excellent opportunity to awaken and grow along with the buds and the blooms.

I started the Lenten season a bit unprepared, hastily deciding I’d walk in the desert by moderating some of my behaviors. I decided I’d “fast” by limiting myself to one square of dark chocolate a day, one tablespoon of butter per meal, and one adult beverage per day. I may have also mentioned something about sticking to a single serving size of peanut butter, as provided on the label, and not shopping for peanut butter based on the comparative generosity of the serving size on the label.

Forty days later, I stumble out of the desert, prepared to come clean on how my “fast” went. I rocked the butter “fast”! I went whole days without butter, and probably got close to using three to five tablespoons per week! I did have to make a couple of trips to the market for EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), though. Chocolate? I did alright, better, anyway. Of course, my interpretation of “one square” may have varied slightly based on just how generous the squares were for the different brands of chocolate I consume. I did very, very well with the peanut butter, too.

What does that leave? Adult beverages. Yes. Well. Let’s just say I kept staggering out of the desert and into an oasis where I would enjoy one or two extra adult beverages per night. Not every night, but several times. What can I say? I am a sinner. I repent. Not. At least I’m honest! After all, there was the vacation to Alaska, which accounted for many of the transgressions, about ten consecutive days worth, to be exact. The other fifteen or twenty transgressions, I have no excuse for. I’m just a bad seed.

The lesson I take away from this walk in the desert; we all have areas we hope we can improve ourselves. By setting goals and working towards them we almost always make some improvement, we learn a lot about ourselves, and we affect change. Failure is human. Failure to achieve a goal within a specific timeframe is not failure to achieve the goal. Some goals we set for ourselves may be too aggressive, the timing may not be right, or we may not be truly prepared to attempt that goal with fervor. That doesn’t mean we should give up entirely, simply adjust the timeframe or modify the goal and take it on in smaller bits.

Think of goals much like a football game. The coach calls for a play and communicates it to the quarterback. This becomes the quarterback’s “goal”, for sake of comparison. As the defense lines up, the quarterback may have to reevaluate his goal and adjust his plan. As the snap is made and the defensive and offensive players begin to move into position and adapt accordingly to the other players movements, the quarterback, again, may have to adjust his plan to achieve his goal, or adjust the goal entirely. Our goals are no different. Adjusting the plan or modifying the goal is not a failure. You still have a chance at making a touchdown, if not this play, then maybe at least you’ll gain some yardage! Keep playing!

While my walk in the desert, my fast, was triumphant with a few of my intentions, I know where I need to reflect and focus some additional energy. We all have similar intentions and encounter similar difficulties. It would be in our best interest to keep working at it, even though the fast may be officially over, we may have exited the desert into a lush garden, the goal still exists and still has validity. Keep walking.

Straight Up

Lose ten pounds instantly. I’m being straight up with you, you can look like you’ve lost ten pounds by doing one, simple little thing. Improve your posture.

Earn a million dollars instantly. I’m being straight up with you, here, too, you can feel like a million dollars by doing one, simple little thing. Improve your posture.

I was getting ready to go have lunch with my girlfriends today. I have known them most of my life, they’ve seen me through thick and thin, quite literally. I changed my clothes a few times, settling on a maxi skirt and a form-fitting tee shirt. As I turned and looked at myself in the mirror, I was a little dissatisfied. The past few weeks have been sort of tough on my diet and work out routine; vacation in Alaska, then my daughter visiting and our “Nor Cal Chicken and Waffles Tour”. I haven’t exercised in over three weeks, and I’ve been eating more and worse than I like to. It is beginning to show. As I regarded my reflection in the mirror, I could see that little bit of extra weight on my back, squeezing out ever so slightly over my bra, behind my armpits. I hate that! I stood up straight and drew my shoulders back and reevaluated my reflection. The little bulge was gone and my waist slimmed right before my eyes. What a difference! It was like losing ten pounds instantly.

I think I have good posture, I think I practice sitting and standing nice and straight, but now and then, when I see myself in a mirror, or reflected in a window, I notice that I am slouching and my tummy is sticking out. This seems to be what most of us do “naturally”. Slouch. And slump. It takes a concerted effort to maintain good posture. It takes practice.

I took ballet as a girl. One of my classmate’s moms had a ballet school. She lived around the corner from me, still does, as a matter of fact. All the girls in the neighborhood took ballet from her. Her ballet school was in an old Victorian house, downtown, and if I remember correctly, it was white with pink trim. I vividly remember the smell and can still hear the creak of the wooden floor. The bedrooms had all been converted into dance studios with barres along the wall and wall to wall mirrors on one side. Beginning lessons were upstairs and were taught by the oldest daughter or another long time dancer. We learned the basic positions and simple floor work. There were performances, now and again, and our parents would all come watch us dance. We’d have to buy certain color leotards and tights for the different numbers we were to perform. To this day, I still get a little rush of excitement when I go to a dance apparel store; Capezio, Danskin, all those wonderful things! I still have ballet shoes.

As you gained skill, you would move into more advanced classes. Everyone was thrilled when they finally got to go to class downstairs, in the living room, where my friend’s mom actually taught. I remember her as seeming strict, she was ballerina thin and had, I assume, very long graying hair, which she always wore in a bun, perhaps giving her that heir of strictness and severity. She may have carried a stick that she would tap out the beat with, on the wooden floor. Or this is an image from some distorted, post traumatic stress syndrome type dream I’ve had about her. Though, really, she is quite kind and nice and compassionate. I think she was just one of those grown ups you kind of feared when you’re a little kid. She would always harp on us to suck in our tummies, to stand up straight, and she would try to give us good reasons to do so. I remember her saying things like “hold in your tummies, you don’t want your husband to pick you up by  the waist some day and have it be all soft and mushy.”  Perhaps this is where some of my Cinderella-Like fantasies of love and marriage and men who like to dance come from! My husband never once tried to pick me up by the waist. Nor did he dance. I think I only had one boyfriend, ever, who really, truly loved to dance, and he came out of the closet some time later. A coincidence, I’m sure, but ironic, nonetheless.

What I really learned from my ballet teacher, though, was that we don’t naturally stand up straight, we don’t naturally hold in our tummies, it is learned. In years of fitness classes and training, I’ve heard the term “muscle memory” used. We have been told to vary our work outs so we “confuse” our muscles into working harder. Many athletes rely on muscle memory to perform feats, like the long jump and triple jump, or gymnastic maneuvers or diving. Practicing the same move over and over and over until the muscles remember it and do it “naturally”. Posture is the same, it relies on muscle memory, which we must practice over and over and over.

Another thing about good posture, it doesn’t just make you look like you lost ten pounds, instantly, it also makes you feel like a million dollars. When you sit up and stand up straight, you look and feel more confident, more alert, more engaged, more focussed. When you slouch and slump, you adopt that same attitude mentally; lazy, lethargic, limp, listless. As an example, when practicing active listening, which we should all do, you sit up straight and lean slightly towards the person you are listening to. This engages you with the speaker, you actually hear and remember better what is being said by physically altering your body position and language. To paraphrase; by sitting up straight, your are more engaged and focused and it actually has a positive impact on how much of the conversation you’ll remember. How can that not translate to everything? If you practice good posture, routinely,  you will be more engaged and focussed, in general. We’ve already established that you’ll look better. So, by practicing good posture, resulting in looking better and feeling better, our self-esteem and self-confidence rise, our mental attitude improves. What a deal!

Start paying attention to people you know. Observe people who tend towards depression. How is their posture? How many super happy, optimistic people have you met that are slumped and slouched? I can’t think of any. In my experience, posture is a visible indicator of mental attitude. The people I know with the most positive mental attitudes are also the people I can cite that have erect posture. The people I know who are, to be blunt, downers, I always remember as having poor posture. It’s like the difference between Eeyore and Tigger! If you’re a Winnie the Pooh fan. Am I right?

So, I’m telling you, straight up, the secret to looking ten pounds thinner and feeling like a million dollars begins with standing, straight up!

Get the Picture YouTube?

Found poetry. From Wikipedia: Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. A reading of the transcript provided by YouTube of “Wart the Flux YouTube?”.

Cannibal

I enjoy people.

Lately I seem to be in close proximity with a lot of people, a lot of people who are just, simply, afraid of people. This concerns me.

In a world where we toil to eke out a living, and really struggle to achieve great success, I have to ask, how can we expect to be successful if we fear people? Does not every successful, entrepreneurial venture, corporate climb, collaborative effort, benevolent charitable crusade, involve dealing with humans on a highly effective basis? And those rare exceptions, where socially awkward, or antisocial people did make it big, it was invariably because they surrounded themselves with a few trusted people who represented their ideas to the world they themselves were too afraid of.

I think back to when my children were small, a couple of decades ago, now. I encouraged them to be outgoing, to make friends, to meet people. I may even have “pushed” them just a little in this arena. I’d send them to different summer camps where they’d have to mingle with other kids they’d never met before, make friendships and acquaintances and rely on adult “strangers” for their needs. In some of their friendships and care situations, I often heard from other parents and caregivers, the term “stranger danger” used. I never really gave this too much thought, at the time, it seemed reasonable to teach children to be cautious. But now, as I look around and see so many fearful, socially awkward, anti-social and even agoraphobic people in this world, I understand the flaw in instilling in our children an innate fear of others. I think teaching caution is good, teaching fear is bad. “Stranger danger” – the word “danger” does illicit fear, rather than caution.

I agree, there are some dangers in this world. There are some bad people who seek to take advantage, or even harm, other people. But more harm is done by fearing all people for the few. The key to safety amongst the crowds is the power of observation. Always be aware of your surroundings, know who and what surrounds you, in every direction. I will walk the streets of San Francisco and New York, alone, at night, without fear. I am keenly aware, and appropriately cautious, I know my neighborhoods, I know my surroundings and I behave practically. I walk, head up, alert and focussed. I walk with a pleasant expression and make eye contact with everyone possible.

I have a B.S. in Criminal Justice. I studied bad people. I learned a lot in the course of my studies; first, I learned that I don’t want to be a cop, I don’t want to be an attorney, I don’t want to be a prison guard, I don’t want to be a forensic scientist. So I went back to school and studied accounting. What else did I learn? The power of observation and some useful facts. One fact; if you make eye contact with people, you are less likely to be victimized by any of the few “bad” people out there. Why? If they think for a moment you can identify them, they’ll choose the person who can’t, the person looking down, or away, or at their cell phone. Be alert, be aware, be safe, be unafraid.

I am shocked at how unobservant people tend to be. I am a keen observer, almost to a fault. But I am a writer and we are cannibals. We eat people, figuratively.

My daughter is an English major in college, and her creative writing book for the upcoming semester suggests, as a budding, young, writer, becoming a “cannibal”. Eat people up! When she told me about that, I realized, that’s what I’ve been doing for all these years! I just called it “people watching”. That’s why I like working in crowded public places. That’s why I love airports! When I look for a public place with free wi-fi, I select the one most likely to be loud and crowded, not the one most likely to be quiet and deserted. People fascinate me. I look at them, I study them, I talk with them, and, most importantly, I listen to them, I absorb them. I catalog them. I eat them. I devour them. Then I develop characters from them for stories. Or make examples out of them. I am a cannibal.

Upon making my acquaintance, many assume I am shy because I am, initially, quiet. I am quiet, initially, because I am figuring people out, observing, absorbing and listening. I am eating them up. But I am not shy. I can talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime about anything. I am a cannibal.

Don’t be afraid of strangers and “eat people”. My advice. Learn to go out into the world and talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime about anything and observe yourself grow in confidence and progress towards success. Not convinced? I have had several jobs during the twenty some years I’ve been in the accounting profession. All but one of those jobs were awarded to me because I knew someone, I had a personal connection, a contact, an acquaintance. I’m a name dropper. I’m a habitual networker. I eat lots of people.

Ironically, the only job I ever got that wasn’t as a direct result of networking, is the job I have now, which is, by far, one where people skills are the most necessary. I travel around the country to places I’ve never been before, meet with a group of highly skilled professionals I have never met before, and speak, standing in front of them for eight hours at a time. Fearless. And I eat them, too!

Another example. I am in love with a wonderful man, a very, very good, man. How did we meet? I was working in Fairbanks, Alaska, teaching a group of accountants how to use their new auditing software. Someone has to do it, that would be me. Upon hearing I was going to Fairbanks, many, I mean many, of my friends and acquaintances, mostly men, mostly on Facebook, warned me about “men in Fairbanks”. I was warned not to go out alone and all sorts of things. I have no idea what all the hysteria was about, I get that a lot, but it seemed especially bad on this particular trip. I was told that the male to female ratio was skewed and the men of Fairbanks were out, in force, after unsuspecting females. That most definitely was not my impression of Fairbanks, seemed a nice little town, quiet, lots of young families and couples. Of course, I went out by myself every night, I hiked by myself and went sight seeing by myself and out to eat by myself. No problem. On my last night in the area, I decided to go to a brewery that was reputed to have good beer and good food, two of my favorite things. The restaurant was very crowded and the hostess asked if I would mind sitting at the bar. I was happy to. As I sat at the bar, drinking my stout, eating my salmon, a man came up and sat down next to me. He was nice looking and he addressed me “you’re not from around here, are you?” Great line, right? We exchanged simple conversation, but, as usual, I was in keen observation mode. I noticed that everyone at the bar knew him, smiled at him, spoke with him, and held him in high regard. I established that he was either not a serial killer, or was a very crafty serial killer. Either way, I was impressed. He asked me if I’d like to go out on his “airboat” the next day and stop at a restaurant for lunch. This type of encounter has never, ever happened to me in my travels, before, or since. I have never, ever been asked out. I deliberated, but agreed. Best decision ever. We were friends for a couple of years, because I wasn’t looking for a man. We exchanged phone calls and texts intermittently. After he visited California, when the time was right, we became much more than friends. I took a chance on a stranger in a bar, in a “dangerous” town and found the love of my life.

The exceptions. The bad people. Yes, they exist. Yes, they could be anywhere. They could be anyone. They are as likely to be the next door neighbor in a small, quiet suburb as they are the odd looking stranger on the crowded city street. By sitting at home, sequestering ourselves safely away, not venturing out of our comfort zone, we are more their victim than if we met them face to face on the streets of some exciting city. Look what they’ve done to our life! They’ve limited us, they’ve made us afraid, they are subduing us and your ability to go out into the world, to meet interesting people, to see fascinating sights, to have unforgettable experiences, to make new, interesting friends, acquaintances, connections that may afford us growth, a strategic alliance for a new job or career. They may be hindering our success or our happiness.

Rape is a crime committed for the sake of power, not for sex. Rapists derive more pleasure from their ability to overpower, to subdue and to cause fear and helplessness in their victims than they do from the act of intercourse. Many rapists do not ejaculate during the act. They are satisfying their need for power by feeding off of their victims’ fear. This is true of many abhorrent, violent acts, including killing, the type committed by serial killers, random, without a connection to the victim. Like predatory animals, these rare and unusual criminals sense fear in their victims and derive pleasure from it. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Again, these people are as likely to be your neighbor in your safe, little community as they are different looking people in the heart of an urban metropolis.

I implore you, don’t be afraid. Don’t espouse your fears to others, for fear is frighteningly contagious. Don’t instill fear in children, they trust you to show them the ways of the world, show them a world of hope and brightness, not one of fear and darkness.. Your success, your happiness, and your quality of life depends on your ability to meet and interact with people, and not just people that meet your stereotype of “good people”. Discourage your fearful voice, develop an appreciation for differences in people, hone your skills of observation, become a cannibal, enjoy people, and find increased enjoyment in life as a result. Be a cannibal!

 

Think Outside the Box

I have always had a thing with boxes. I can’t explain. Bah. I lie. I can explain.

You know how kids are, they’ll play with the box, not the toy. That was me. I always loved boxes. Again, I lie. I loved the toys, too, I still do. But when I was a kid, I wanted it all, I played with the toy while sitting in the box. Now I just want the toys, preferably electronics, and I’m happy to discard the box. Once the warranty has run out.

As a young girl, by dad worked as a traveling salesman for a bicycle distributor. Later, he bought his own Schwinn bicycle shop. I always had a new, shiny bicycle. Or two. Schwinn used to make an enormous three-wheeled bicycle for adults, and it came mostly assembled, in a gigantic box that was occasionally printed on the outside to look like a log cabin! My dad would bring it home in the back of his Chevy El Camino, bring it inside, cut the windows out and cut the door so it would open and shut. It was amazing, and I remember having a couple of them during the course of my childhood, in my room. The ultimate indoor fort. One in particular, I remember, somehow, had pink shag carpet inside. Another of my earliest fond memories of the color pink. And of boxes.

I remember constructing other forts out of lesser boxes. Another glorious box fort comes to mind. I had boxes up against the wall by my desk and bed, which I had pushed away from the wall just enough that I could crawl around behind the furniture, beyond the boxes. Near the boxes, though, was a nightlight which illuminated the space. I had a red balloon in my fort, and if I had the balloon close enough to the nightlight, it created the most wonderful, pink glow. My second, very fond memory of the color pink. And of boxes.

I have moved a half dozen times in about as many years. My life is cursed with boxes and right now, having recently moved back in with my mom, I have piles of boxes in my bedroom, in my office and in the garage. If my mom would let me, I could easily arrange them into a fortress and live within the cardboard walls, defended against whatever or whoever may seek admission. There would be a password, guaranteed. I also have a ten foot by ten foot storage unit full of boxes of family heirlooms I need to contend with, you know, like Legos and Barbies and merit badges and prom gowns.

My box story isn’t pretty, but it has a happy ending. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve recently moved in with my elderly mom. I’m back in the house I grew up in. In fact, I am, at this moment, facing the corner of the room where the amazing log cabin fort bicycle box was, once upon a time. Now there is a short filing cabinet with a printer atop it. I kind of wish it was the fort. With pink shag carpet. I’d be in there, with my MacBook, typing happily away, sipping my Bitch Creek Extra Special Brown ale, listening to my most excellent music mix.

Without going into gory details, I have spent the last several years weeding through an unimaginable number of boxes, ending up with, for the most part, only what I absolutely need, love, and adore. Plus the Legos and Barbies, merit badges and prom gowns. This has been pared down from what once filled a house big enough for a family of four, a forty-acre back yard, a “shop”, almost as many square feet as the house, and another outbuilding full of nothing but saddles and related accouterments. And quite honestly, all were bursting at the seams and spilling into the forty-acre backyard. Five moves later, I have taken a pile of boxes that filled two ten by twenty foot storage units in addition to what items I appointed my living space with and pared it down to, well, what still looks like way too many boxes, because I really could build myself a fairly impressive cardboard castle.

I still have work to do, it’s kind of scary, the accumulation of a family of four over the course of time it takes children to grow to young adults. How much stuff do people really need? I’ll tell you. Not that much. My ultimate goal is for everything I own, love and desire, to fit into one small U-Haul that I can drive comfortably, all by myself. So I either need to get rid of some more stuff, or go to truck driving school.

To my credit, during this timeframe, I have also migrated from family car camping to backpacking. Ten years ago, when we went camping, it required an SUV and a utility trailer to haul all the crap we thought we needed out to the woods for a weekend. Our getaway weekends ended up being a bring-it-all with weekends. And I’ll give you one guess as to which family member packed it all, drove the damn SUV, towing the trailer, all the way out to the woods, unpacked it all, set up the house-sized tent, cooked and cleaned up all weekend, then reversed the whole process in time to get to work Monday morning. I was never so happy as when I donated all that camping crap to Goodwill! Backpacking is where it’s at, everything you need in a nice, small, confined space, with a zipper. Okay, so my first couple of treks, I might have had a forty-five pound pack, but I’m so over that!

With my busy travel season soon upon me, I am beginning to panic a bit about all these boxes. I’m afraid I may have to get a larger storage unit, move the boxes there and out of our way and deal with them like I did the last batch, one Honda Civic load at a time. This is an exhausting, but manageable method; drive the Civic to the storage unit, cram as many boxes into it as possible, drive them home, go through them, dividing everything into three piles, keep forever and ever, donate to charity, take to the dump. The three piles are assembled into boxes and distributed between the storage unit, Goodwill and the dump. This process can be repeated several times in a weekend. Last fall, I spent entire weekends doing this, for several months on end.

The somewhat frightening thing, though, is, as I sit in my mother’s house, the house I grew up in, the house she has lived in for nearly forty-six years, it occurs to me that the only reason my already pared down pile of belongings only seems overwhelming is because every closet, cupboard, drawer, cabinet and even the spaces under the beds and behind all the doors, in every room, are full of the accumulation of a family of three. There is no space for the few, select items I have chosen to keep. And, this, too, must be dealt with. Boxed. And dealt with. Probably by me.

My childhood affinity for boxes has ended up as a recurring nightmare of boxes, but, I am confident, in the end, I will be able to overcome the situation. How is this a happy ending? I find with each and every box of stuff I discard, I lighten my load, I become less encumbered, more free. It is so completely liberating, ridding oneself of the unnecessary stuff. This reached beyond boxes of belongings, I realize. I have trimmed my life of many unnecessary, hurtful, unhappy things. Clutter of life, be gone! I’ve lost weight, I’ve chosen to populate my life only with people who are positive, supportive and adoring. I realize I don’t need things to make me happy. Those things never made me happy, they were just proof that I had money with which to buy stuff. Just stuff, not happiness. Now I have genuine happiness and I only have a few more boxes of stuff to deal with. I can do it! I simply need to think outside the box.

Three Generations, One Roof, and a Bottle of Wine

I’ve moved in with my elderly mother. She has been living alone in the house I grew up in since my father passed early last year. Other than being on a first name basis with everyone at AllState and the local body shop, she has been faring pretty well. She is lonely, I am sure, but the three telephone calls a day following my dad’s death became one, then finally normalized to the one or two a week pattern we’ve had for the past thirty years.

Her health has been deteriorating, but I stubbornly contend this is as a result of years of abusive diet roller coaster rides, mostly free fall, and a largely sedentary lifestyle. She isn’t at death’s doorstep, by any means, but she is certainly dancing around on his front porch, at eighty nine years old with a list of serious ailments almost as long as her driving record.

I am quite certain she values her freedom and independence, as do I. As the only child, I really have no one to consult regarding those difficult decisions adult children have to make; requiring she give up driving, pursue or refuse life prolonging treatment, move into assisted living. My personal philosophy on all this is that it is her decision. I am not going to persuade or dissuade her in any way from what she wants. The consequences be what they may. I inherited my intense stubbornness from her and my thinking is that two intensely stubborn people trying out “out devil’s advocate” each other on topics of such magnitude is probably not in anyone’s best interest.

Don’t get me wrong, we have always “been close”. I like to think that my mom and I have always had the type of relationship most hope for. Until recently. Now, in my middle age, I recognize the relentless poking and prodding and antagonizing we inflict on each other. And when I really think back, it has always been this way. She has always poked, prodded, needled, and tried to provoke me, and my dad, too, into some type of reaction. Usually negative. Usually us lashing out or poking, prodding, needling and provocation in retaliation. I have almost always stood my ground if for no other reason than to be right. Not convincing her to my way of thinking, of course. But right, if only in my own mind. I have been trying to teach myself, lately, that sometimes, just letting it go and not reacting is actually “winning”. Not that it’s all about winning. But it is.

Enter into this idyllic scene, my daughter, visiting briefly from upstate New York. Now, my daughter and I are extremely close. We have an occasional moment, but for the most part, and I think she’d agree, we are more aligned on just about everything than my mom and I are. Fashion. Food. Fitness. Politics. Religion. Philosophy. Media preferences. Leisure time activities. Life.

My daughter has also inherited the stubbornness gene. There are now three strong willed, stubborn, and somewhat selfish and self-righteous women living under one roof for a full ten days. My daughter did not specifically come to visit me, or my mother, we are just providing free lodging and some transportation, which is fine and I fully understand. She came to attend an annual convention for a youth group she has been involved with for the past several years. She also hoped to catch up with friends she didn’t meet up with during her last visit during the holidays.

The day after her arrival, my daughter and I decided to strategically remove ourselves from the house to a local wifi hotspot to work, study, read, write, people watch, but most importantly,  in order to try to regain our sanity after an intense session of “here, eat this highly processed, genetically modified, fertilized, pesticide laced, food like substance that contains enriched flour, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated fat, and a list of chemical additives you can’t pronounce, that you used to eat and enjoy all the time, that I know you won’t eat but like to force on you anyway because I bought it on sale, with a coupon, because it is approaching the expiration date on the package even though I know you don’t generally eat food that is processed, poisoned, packaged and that have an expiration date.”

We three have our definite differences in philosophies on food and fitness. My daughter an I eat organic and work out religiously, believing that both will provide the strength, endurance and flexibility to ensure a long, active, healthful life and the independence and fortitude to enjoy it to the very last moment. My mom has always embraced technological advances in processed foods and believes exercising wears out your joints, causes arthritis and is a health risk. And she was a registered nurse, and against her wishes, neither of us are, which means the argument is over, in her eyes.

So, back to the point. We were a few blocks from our destination, a local tourist attraction/wifi hotspot, which, ironically, is an eclectic collection of food venues, though most likely more wholesome than what we were being “offered” at home. Pandora muted and my cell phone started vibrating and buzzing. The screen identified the caller as “Mommy and Daddy”. I answered and the shaky voice on the other end of the call was all I needed to hear to know we weren’t going to Oxbow Market. Mom had been to the lab for her routine blood work for one of her conditions I can never seem to remember. Anemia, but not quite leukemia. The results were alarming and the clinic wanted her to go to the emergency room immediately. We made a series of left hand turns to correct our direction in a small town that has a frustrating affinity for one way streets. We piled Mom into the car after she reapplied her lipstick and gathered her cosmetic case together. Pride in appearance is one thing the three of us do agree on.

She ended up spending the night in the emergency ward in order to receive a transfusion, three units, to elevate her hemoglobin count to normal. We stayed the whole day with her, the whole evening, and finally headed back to Napa with just enough time to swing by Whole Foods for some real food for dinner before they closed. However, much to our disappointment, the Napa Whole Foods closes a full hour earlier than the Whole Foods I recently moved away from. We made do with a frozen, organic pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s from the only grocery store we could find open at 9:13 PM. And some beer.

The next morning, we awoke with our day preplanned for us. Not working, for me, with deadlines looming. Not visiting friends, for my daughter, but going to the dreary hospital for however long before, hopefully, Mom was discharged. My daughter was upset to the point of tears, and wracked with guilt for her selfish thoughts. I was to the point of tears with resentment at this development and the toll it would take on my freedom, my ability to travel, which is required for my job and for my long distance relationship, my resentment for being the only child, and the guilt for these thoughts.

Mom was discharged and then nearly readmitted for the theatrics she employed over a leg cramp resulting from a diuretic she’d been administered. I tend to be extremely stoic and actually, quite intolerant of theatrics, performed by others. I think my daughter feels similarly. We were annoyed, and frustrated, not moved to compassion or sympathy. We three even have differing styles of manipulation. Sigh. Miraculously, we got her to the car and home. Then the long day of sitting home and doing nothing began. At least I could sort of work, between interruptions.

My daughter and I’d had hopes of trying out local yoga venues, the Dailey Bar Method in a neighboring town, the various health clubs in town, since none of the three I currently pay dues to are within a reasonable driving distance. All these plans were now sidelined. We haven’t worked out at all, which negatively impacts our mood. Tension rose further. I, thankfully, was able to rely on my son to stay with Mom over the weekend so my daughter and I could attend the youth group convention, from which my daughter was to  participate in a graduation ceremony, having reached the age of majority. This would be her only opportunity, ever, to receive this honor and the main reason she parted with a significant portion of her savings to fly to California.

We did make a trial attempt at short lived freedom later in the afternoon, with a trip to Whole Foods for some greens, some dark chocolate, some local beer and some wine. We found a wine from a neighboring county (ssshhhh) that was made from organic grapes. A Zinfandel. We were elated at our successful foray from the house, at our successful attempt to enter the doors of Whole Foods during their business hours, and at our purchase of real, recognizable foods. We returned home reinvigorated, rejuvenated and ravenous. I prepared a meal of udon noodles, homemade marinara sauce with ground moose meat my sweetie killed, processed and packaged himself, which I brought home in the checked bag a week earlier that I’d used to bring him California wine. Totally worth that extra twenty bucks for the second checked bag. With our “spaghetti” the three of us thoroughly enjoyed the organic wine. Over that bottle of wine, we got giggly, had good nourishment, good conversation and a good time. Differences of opinion, philosophies, preferences, lifestyles were all set aside and we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. We laughed, we smiled, we felt blessed to be three generations of fiercely strong, stubborn, opinionated, independent women, under one roof, sharing a bottle of wine.

Like a Boss

What is a boss? I always think of a boss as a leader, right? Or a manager. Someone in charge, someone making decisions and directing the actions of others. Someone who knows what the goals are and has a plan for achieving them. Someone qualified. With authority. Someone we respect. Someone we are supposed to obey.

There are good bosses and bad bosses, and I’m sure we’ve all had both in our work experience. What makes a boss a good boss? They lead with certainty but with patience. They are firm, but not harsh. They are clear, concise and reasonable. They clearly define expectations, boundaries, rewards and consequences. They are respected. They lead by example, they provide guidance, resources and encouragement.

Who is the boss? The boss of you? It should be you. You are “in charge” of everything you do or don’t do. So, what kind of boss are you? Are you a good boss? Do you know the goals? Do you have a plan for achieving them? Do you lead yourself with certainty and reasonableness? Do you have clearly defined expectations, boundaries, rewards and consequences for yourself? Do you seek out examples to lead yourself by? Do you have a resource for guidance and encouragement in your leadership role of yourself? This may, at first, sound a little absurd, but it is all quite necessary if we are to lead ourselves into evolving into the person we hope to become.

Whether we work or not, whether we are self employed or work for a company, large or small, someone is in charge of what we do, how we spend our time, and what we produce. There are all types of “bosses” in this world, in and out of the workplace.

Think of parenthood. Parents are “bosses” of their children, and boy oh boy, some are good, some are not, and the result is usually pretty evident.

My daughter was telling me a story about a poor parenting example she witnessed. She saw a toddler, probably about two years old, the child was whiny and fussy and eventually escalated into a full blown screaming tantrum. The mother was paying the child no attention whatsoever until the shrieking was well under way, then she sent the older sibling to the vending machine for a 20 ounce bottle of Dr. Pepper for the toddler. This pacified the child. This is horrifying on a couple of levels; one, no one should be drinking soda, in my opinion, it is merely type 2 diabetes in a can. Certainly, a two year old should not even know what a soda is, let alone “require” one for pacification. Secondly, the mother did not even attempt to communicate with the fussy toddler, to lead, direct or guide the child, she simply gave the child what it wanted without even a discussion.

I know, all children get fussy and whiny and will have screaming tantrums. Mine did, though rarely. I spent a great deal of time talking to my children, even well before they could speak. I always spoke to them with respect and treated them with dignity. I didn’t use baby talk, I didn’t “mince words”, I used the same calm, compassionate but firm tone, inflection and vocabulary I did with the people in the accounting department I managed. My children knew the expectations, the rewards and the consequences for their behaviors, and they always excelled at vocabulary in school!

I have had many bosses over the course of my career, many good, a few bad. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to perform satisfactorily for a “bad” boss, I’m sure you can agree. When expectations are incomplete, unstated or unclear, much time is wasted and there is a high degree of frustration on both sides of the equation. A boss with a volatile temperament makes for a very stressful work life. A boss who is apathetic and allows his entire department to underperform is, perhaps, even worse.

So, if you are your own boss, how are you doing?

Are you an apathetic boss? You want to lose weight, get fit, be happier, achieve certain personal, professional or educational goals. Do you have a plan you expect to follow? And do you hold yourself accountable for making progress towards those goals, according to the plan? Do you let yourself underperform, to the detriment of your goals, your desires, your dreams, your life?

Are you a volatile boss? Do you get mad at yourself for falling down on your goals? Self loathing is a terrible thing. Have you ever caught yourself saying “I hate myself?”

Are you a disorganized boss? Do you provide yourself with the goals, the plan, the guidance, the resources and the patience and counseling necessary to grow and achieve in the manner you hope for? Or do you just kind of plug along through life without direction?

Truthfully, not many of us are very good bosses of ourselves, or we’d all be trim, fit, happy and rich, right? Not many people really consider the necessity of being their own boss in just the matters of day to day life, but this is probably the one, single most important form of leadership we need as individuals. Without our own leadership, it is very difficult to grow and perform to the degree that other leaders in our lives expect.

Take note of people you may know that are successful at work or successful in other aspects of life; sports, hobbies, charitable ventures. They tend to have certain qualities that those who aren’t as successful lack. Self control, high self esteem, self direction, self discipline, confidence, organizational skills, time management skills, self-motivation. How many of these qualities include the word “self”? That means, quite simply, they are relying on their “self” to be the boss, to lead.

To be “like a boss” then, we need to develop those traits, characteristics and habits that allow us to become more in control of ourselves, to have a higher self-esteem, to be more self-directed, to have more confidence, better organizational skills and time management skills, to be more self-motivated.

Most of these traits, characteristics and habits begin with setting clearly expressed, measurable goals and an outline of a plan to move towards them. Most of theses traits and characteristics rely on replacing poor habits we may have with good habits we desire, and on being firm, clear and accountable for our own actions.

I have spent the last several years delving into my own “self-management style”, I have seen very satisfying change and growth and evolution. I often catch myself asking myself “how are you going to feel if you let yourself down?”. I’m not unreasonable, but I do truly feel bad about myself if I disappoint myself by doing or not doing something I expect of myself in order to accomplish my goals. But I don’t let a temporary setback completely derail me. If I disappoint myself by not working out one day, I don’t just stop working out, I pick up where I left off the next day. If I indulge in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on Tuesday, I don’t wait until the following Monday to “start my diet” all over again. The moment I set that spoon down, we’re back to eating healthy, wholesome and reasonably. I may give myself a pep talk, but I don’t beat myself up. I manage myself with compassion, but with firmness.

I don’t hate myself, ever, for disappointing setbacks. I love myself, always. I love myself enough to know that I deserve to be managed well. And, by loving myself, I am able to love those in my life genuinely and authentically. Self love is critical.

Many tend to think of loving oneself as vanity or conceit. Far from true. If you do not love yourself, you are setting a very bad example for those around you. If you do not love yourself, why should anyone else love you? Seems harsh when put to words, but think about it. You expect others to love you, but you don’t even afford yourself that respect. If you are self loathing, it is impossible for others to fill that void within you. You trudge through life with that void and it is perceptible to those around you. They may not be able to identify that you are self-loathing, just that you are not lovable. To be loved, you must be lovable. To be lovable, you must be loving, to yourself, firstly, else you don’t really know how to love others, to love at all.

Additionally, when you love yourself, you take care of yourself, you manage yourself. You don’t rely on others to do those jobs. This is a sign of respect and love for those around you. When you love yourself, you are naturally happier, again, to the pleasure of those near to you.

Where to begin? Start with a few goals and a whole bunch of self reflection on what changes you have to make to achieve those goals. Then begin to hold yourself accountable for progress. This isn’t something you do on January 1st then forget about, this should be something you discuss with yourself on a daily basis. That’s what a good boss does, makes the goals part of the daily agenda and part of the company culture, then provides loving guidance, direction and resources necessary to achieve those goals.

So, it’s time to get down to business. Like a boss.

Profess

I do not profess to be an expert on anything. As the comments and feedback trickle in on this recent adventure, mostly in Japanese, I feel the need to provide clarity. I am not an expert in anything. What I write are more musings, contemplation, ideas – not absolute rules, methods, facts, truths, because for each of us, these will differ. I have made enormous changes in my life, mostly for the positive, using the advice of those I have found wise, again, my personal belief, and I feel I benefited. I wish to share my observations, my personal wisdom in the hopes that it may appeal to and perhaps even benefit others.

On expertise; does someone who professes to be an expert on a topic really know everything there is to know about that topic? Certainly not. There is always more to know, more to learn, more to profess. At one point in history, it was professed that smoking cigarettes had health benefits. Now we know differently. Think of the technological advances made in the last one hundred years. The last fifty years. The last twenty years. The last ten years. The last two years. Always progress, always developments, always evolution. Our rate of progress increases exponentially with each passing day, week, month, year. Why do you think so many professions and certification programs require continued professional education? Because what we knew, as experts in a field, at the beginning of our careers, has evolved tremendously over the course of time, and as “experts” in that field, we need to know and apply those changes to what we do to be relevant, to be accurate, and in some cases, to be safe.

Again, what will “work” for some of us in self improvement, in personal development, will not work at all for others. And time is of the essence, as well. What worked well for me ten years ago does not now. Life is a journey, certainly we all realize that, and as we change, how we grow and learn, how we evolve, is bound to change, too. Or should. Using an analogy I employ in one of the classes I teach for work; you are making rice, you follow the instructions on the package, you get a certain result. You start adding a little more butter (always more butter), maybe a pinch of you favorite spice, you get a better result. And yet, the addition of your favorite spice may not appeal to others. Is life any different? Find your own spice.

I feel passionate about what I write. Of course, the level of passion is often impacted by the number of cups of coffee I’ve had, and the clarity of the delivery of my ideas, perhaps, by the size of the glass of wine! Regardless, there is always passion and I really want to share my ideas, my thoughts, my musings. Those who feel passionate about what they have learned, what they know, what they’ve observed often feel the need to profess that information to others. What they profess is nothing more than a collection of their thoughts, beliefs and observations, sometimes legitimized with corroborating evidence or opinions. In the end, it is still a collection of thoughts, beliefs and observations.

In college, all those years in college, what I learned more than anything else was, there are two sides to every opinion, to every theory, and the key to success is to be open to learning both sides, appreciating both sides, and then forming your own position based on your individual interpretation, knowledge and beliefs. What a professor professes is only what he or she currently holds valuable and true at that moment in time, based on the knowledge collected thus far. It is subject to change. As Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think”.

Additionally, how one professor delivers the content of the course will differ significantly from how another professor delivers the same content. And every student benefits from different delivery methods and certain teaching methods. So, in discussing life and personal growth and development, how one “expert” discusses the topic and presents their ideas, methods and opinions could differ considerably from how another “expert” professes their ideas, methods and opinions. No one is more correct than the other, only, perhaps, more appealing to you as an individual, at that particular point in time. Choose your favorite spice.

For these reasons, I keep my mind open to new ideas, new approaches, new methods and styles. I may profess my own interpretation of those ideas, approaches, methods and styles based on how I tailored them for my own adoption. It is up to you to decide what is of value and benefit to you, and what “professors” you prefer to have instruct you. At the end of the day, you will be your own professor, taking what you have learned and applying it in a manner that suits you. If you choose to share that with others, to profess, just know, your’s is not the only recipe for rice. Add your own spice.

What’s Your Perspective?

What do you see? How do you see it? And how do you react to what you see? Do you view the world from a narrow perspective, one governed by your beliefs, your own limited personal experiences? Or do you view the world without blinders? Without filters?

You may have seen horses, race horses or carriage horses, with blinders on. This is done to prevent the horse from seeing something that may startle it and cause it to spook and run away. The horse is being “protected” from sights it may not be accustomed to. Does this really provide safety and security to the horse, the rider, the passenger? Personally, having spent a lot of time around horses, I don’t think so. It is my belief that the horse, the rider, the passenger is far more safe if some time is spent desensitizing the horse to things it may be frightened of. How? By patiently and frequently exposing the horse to new sights, sounds, and stimuli while providing the horse with a sense of security through a calm voice, a patient hand and confident leadership (not force).

We are not much different. That which scares us is often because we know little about it, have little experience or exposure to it. We have been protected from these things, either by ourselves, or by how we were raised, or by who we spend time with. How tragic.

The world is so full of sensory input, of possibilities and experiences. It is so incredibly exciting! But so many of us miss so much. All of that input, those possibilities, those experiences bring us an opportunity to grow, to learn, to evolve. Sadly, if we slog through life with blinders on we deny ourselves of so much. So, spend some time patiently and frequently exposing yourself to new sights, sounds and stimuli, both ordinary and extraordinary.

Try this; find a place to sit, have a cup of coffee or a refreshing beverage in a public spot, take your blinders off and just look around. Look at people, notice what they wear, how they walk, how they speak, what they say and how they interact with people around them. Observe your surroundings, the colors, the shapes, the textures, patterns, lines. Take in the sights, the sounds. Try food you’ve never tried before. Involve all the senses. Keep your mind neutral, try not to make judgements. This is something that may take practice, but soon you may find yourself smiling at what you observe. We are surrounded by so much, big things, little things, that can make us joyous if we only pay attention.

I am currently sitting in a coffee shop in an airport. I arrived a couple of hours before my daughter’s flight was due to land so I could enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up on some work, away from the too familiar walls of my office. An airport employee just walked past with a box on a handcart, headed for the gift shop across the way. Sticking out of the box were a pair of golden mannequin legs, toes pointed upward. I laughed out loud, it brought me just a little bit of joy, the absurdity of what I observed. I can guarantee that no one else even saw this spectacle. I have opened myself up to these observations because I find humor in them, which makes me smile, and sometimes even laugh. Little bits of joy in an otherwise ordinary and mundane day. Embrace what you observe, but first, you have to observe, in real life, real time.

I just returned from vacation, earlier this morning, actually. My plane arrived at this very airport about twelve hours ago. I have since been home and have now returned to retrieve my daughter. My vacation was splendid and was spent pretty much just living from someone else’s perspective. I was in Alaska. Not on a cruise. Not on some organized tour with a planned itinerary, but visiting my very special man. I just occupied his life for a week, went to the grocery store, shoveled snow off the roof of the garage, went to his shop where he works, went out to lunch via snow machine rather than by road. He had an opportunity to pilot an oversize load of pipe to Prudhoe Bay, and while this is something he does frequently, to me, it was an opportunity for a new and thrilling experience. How many of you have been to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in late winter? Far above the Arctic Circle? Many have seen this on television, but have you felt the cold air in the morning? Heard the trucks pass by with their massive loads on the icy roadway? Stood waiting to get a hot cup of coffee behind a man who spends his day working in the oil fields? Slept in a “sleeper” in the back of a truck? Seen an Arctic fox running along the ice covered road? Listened to the banter of truckers on the radio while driving up and down the Dalton Highway? To many, this is everyday life, and what we do on a daily basis may be unusual, unique, and different. We all have a different perspective and, my point is, when given the chance to view one different than your own, jump at it. My life will forever be changed, even if only slightly, from having had that experience.

I could have turned down this opportunity. Two whole days of sitting in a noisy truck, enduring the discomfort, the cold, no hot shower, blow dryer, curling iron, make up, hot food, the time constraint, the possible danger. I chose otherwise and cherish the experience. I have stories to tell and while I sit at my computer reviewing training materials this week for the proper size font, grammar and formatting, while boring and tedious, I only have to reflect back to last week to know that my life is truly extraordinary. Because I choose to make it so. And I implore you to do the same.

My message here, in short, is to step out of your own perspective for a while and into others. See life from a new place, without blinders. Experience it fully, with every sense, absorb those experiences and let them alter your own perspective a little. Embrace change, challenge fear, be your own patient guide to new stimuli. Live life without blinders.