Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

To echo the lyrics of Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. How true this is.

Let me ask you this very logical question; what benefit does worry have? Worry has never, ever in the history of the world, in the history of mankind, changed anything. The act of worrying has never secured a positive outcome. Even if we worried about something, and things turned out to be alright, it was not the act of worrying that caused things to be okay. Worry solves nothing and serves no constructive purpose. Let’s look at worry in more depth.

Worry is a very strong emotion, an emotion with a great deal of negativity surrounding it. Worry, if you think about it, is your belief that something dreadful is going to happen. Am I right? You have a fair degree of certainty that something dreadful has happened, or is going to happen. Worry is stress of one of the worst degrees. Worry can cause intense anxiety, it can cause you to feel symptoms of physical ailments that don’t exist, it can cause you to lose sleep, lose focus and concentration on tasks at hand and to feel impatient and irritable. Worry is awful! I know, I’m a natural worrier. But, I make a concerted effort to overcome worry in a number of ways. I will share.

Let’s examine a couple more aspects of the negativity of worry and it’s impact on you and on others close to you. If you subscribe to the “law of attraction”, which I do, at least to some degree, then the act of worrying could actually attract the very thing you are worried about. That’s where those “I knew it” moments come from! You worry about something, it happens, and you exclaim, “I knew it!” Ever had an “I knew it” moment?

The law of attraction is based on a belief that we attract what we think through energy. Our thoughts are energetic and become manifestations when energy responds to like energy; positive to positive and negative to negative. With knowledge, practice and application, we do have some degree of control over our thoughts and their results. The law of attraction has been believed and employed by many, many wildly successful and influential people for centuries. Rhonda Byrne’s book “The Secret” is a guided reference to a vast collection of works of many authors and experts about the law of attraction. It is a fascinating read, and whether you buy into the philosophy, wholly or partially, I think there is definitely something to it and I apply a lot of the principles and concepts to my own life. I have had some pretty drastic results, not what I expected, initially, but what I really wanted, ultimately.

So, as worry goes, with the law of attraction; when we worry, we are focusing a great deal of very negative energy on a set of circumstances we don’t want to happen. According to the law of attraction, that in itself could cause that which we are worried about to manifest. I told you so!

Let’s examine another negative aspect of worry, aside from making you feel shitty and then making bad shit happen, worry is in the future. We are concentrating on something that hasn’t yet happened. To be truly happy in life, we need to live in the present; life and happiness are right now. When we focus on the future, we miss the moment, the only moment we truly have control over. Now. Living in the future causes people to suffer from anxiety. Living in the past or focusing on events or your past life, can cause depression. Living in the now, the present, the only moment in which you really ARE living is the one true, key to happiness. Eckhart Tolle illustrates this clearly and completely in his excellent book, “The Power of Now”. Another practical application of living in the present is the book “You Can Be Happy No Matter What” by Richard Carlson and Wayne Dyer.

Being humans, we have a tendency to worry. It is not as easy as it sounds to just flick a switch and stop worrying. Some of us worry far more than others. I’ve tended towards that end of the scale. After years of letting worry control my health, my attitude, and my lifestyle, I decided to find a way to end it. Because of worry, the related anxiety and stress, I have been a terrible insomniac for most of my life. Because of worry, and probably some dietary factors as well, I have suffered from heartburn and headaches and all sorts of annoyances. After reading several self-improvement books by authors like Brian Tracy and Anthony Robbins, after reading “The Secret” and “The Power of Now”, I have reshaped the way I think and the way I react to situations that would normally cause me to worry. It has completely changed my life. Every single aspect of my life. I no longer suffer from insomnia. I used to have to rely on medications to even fall asleep. I took more Tylenol PM than I care to admit, I swallowed the maximum does of Benadryl before bedtime in hopes of getting any sleep at all. I also relied heavily on Melatonin for relief from insomnia. Let’s forget for a moment the long-term health implications with a steady diet of Tylenol and Benadryl, how about the short term affects. Do you have any idea what its like to hold a full time job, raise two very socially active kids and a completely full volunteer life on a many, many years with only few hours of sleep each night and the groggy after affects of Tylenol PM, Benadryl and melatonin? Not easy. I once had a very wise healthy practitioner strongly advise me, after I told him of my need for sleep aids, that my long term health depended on me getting to the root of the problem, the cause of the insomnia, rather than trying to just treat the symptom with pollutants to my body (Tylenol PM, Benadryl and melatonin). I finally found the key, mostly locked in Jillian Michaels’ book “Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body!” If you could only read one book, that would be the one I’d recommend, believe it or not. Since reshaping my thought processes, deliberately listening to my “self-speak”, and banning worry from my mind, I sleep, unaided, without any kind of medication or supplement. I haven’t had heartburn in years and the headaches I used to have at least weekly, I have, maybe, once a year. I am far more energetic, active and far healthier than I have ever been in my life.

I am an honest soul. I do still worry, from time to time, and needlessly. It has accomplished nothing positive. The other day, I was worried about the love of my life. We live very far apart and survive between visits by texting and talking on the phone. Regularly. I’ve been clear, for my benefit and his, that I have no “expectation” that we text or talk throughout the day, at night, or even every day. We usually do, though, so that is the pattern. Over the weekend, we both had a busy day and we were both in geographical areas where texting was not real successful. That evening, I was home, waiting for some type of communication, because, again, that’s our pattern. Not an expectation, just a comfortable pattern. I went to bed, finally, without a hearing from him. I sent my usual, “good night, Love” text. At six the next morning, there was no reply. I seem to be especially susceptible to worry in the wee hours of the morning and so that evil emotion crept in. My thoughts centered around the fact that he lives alone, in a remote area, and does things like build garages, single handedly. Of course the story he’d recently shared with me of a friend finding three grizzly bears in his garage probably didn’t help matters much. Later that day, when we talked, and he was, obviously alright, I realized how pointless my worry was. Even if he had fallen off the roof while sweeping snow off of it, what good was my worrying from 3,000 miles away going to do? You see what I say? Worry solves nothing.

In fact, it kind of pisses me off when people worry needlessly about me. First, it is like a vote of no confidence. If you’re worried about me, then you must not think I’m capable of (fill in whatever I am doing that worries you). Second, from a law of attraction standpoint, please, please, please, do not attract any negative energy towards me with your senseless worry. I’m busy channeling all the positive energy I can and you and your crazy worry is deflecting part of it! Stop!

What is the progression of worry? Worry is a simple, negative emotion. You are fretting, for no fruitful purpose, over the possibility that something you don’t want to happen will happen. Worry is the seedling of fear. Worry, like a weed, will grow into fear, an even stronger negative emotion, drawing even more negative energy towards it. Fear, left unchecked, becomes paralysis, a paralyzing fear almost guarantees that something negative will indeed manifest, if not what your were initially worried about, probably something far worse.

I was married to a man who worried about many things, in fact, I would classify him as paranoid and his worry was for things way beyond his control. He was a man of many worries and no action. His worry completely controlled him. Every spare moment was spent on the Internet reading every bit of news about that which he worried, confirming, in his mind, that his worries were well founded. Yet his activity did nothing to actually negate this threat, he just fretted and made a lot of pointless noise about his fears. Through this preoccupation, he became extremely detached from his family and from his ability to earn a meaningful living. And addicted to the Internet. Soon, he became worried whether he’d be able to continue to pay the mortgages because he wasn’t earning the money he once did. His own business had languished and died, his relationship with me and his children had languished and died, and his attempt at his “dream” career in real estate finance died before it even had time to languish. His worries became fears, his fears became paralyzing. As a result, all the real estate was lost, his family was lost, his career was lost, as he looked on in complete and total paralysis, unable to tear his attention away from the screen of foreboding and doom.

If worry is a natural emotion for us, then, what are we to do? We need to listen to ourselves think, we need to identify our own worried thoughts and replace them with thoughts and words that are more positive. It takes a concerted effort, a diligent, concerted effort, to become well practiced at this. Obviously. I’ve been making a diligent, concerted effort and I still, occasionally succumb to worry. And I feel the fool for so doing.

What do we replace worry with? Hope comes to mind. Hope is a good word, a positive emotion. I often think of friends who have fought breast cancer when I think of hope, the pink ribbon, and “fighting for the cause”. Mother Teresa understood the law of attraction and has been quoted as saying, “I will never attend an anti-war rally. If you have a peace rally, invite me.” Fighting requires a great deal of negative energy, so fighting against war, Mother Teresa surmised, would actually attract more war. A pro-peace rally, though, would be applying positive energy to that which is desired, peace. It is as simple as rephrasing our intention. So, with Mother Teresa in mind, if you want to overcome the devastation and pain and loss of breast cancer, attend a pro-cure rally and don’t participate in any “cancer fighting” activities!

To me hope still contains some worry. Think of how the word “hope” is used in sentences. “I sure hope so”, “I hope for the best”, “my hopes and prayers are with you”. While these are positive, to me, they still suggest some doubt, some worry. Don’t lose hope, no, never, but consider an upgrade in emotion. Perhaps “faith”.

Faith is a stronger version of hope. I have faith that the good thing I want to happen will, and the bad thing I don’t want to happen, won’t. Faith is a positive emotion and entire religions have been built upon it, it is strong, I think sturdier than hope. But even faith has sort of a “we’ll wait and see” connotation to it. For as many that have faith in religion, there are those who don’t, and they don’t seem the least bit worried about their stance. I have met people with the strongest faith imaginable, and I have caught them in a moment of wondering. Faith is good, but faith waits to be seen.

If hope isn’t strong enough, and faith isn’t strong enough, what do we replace worry with? Certainty. Absolute, complete and total certainty. There is nothing more certain than certainty. When a worry creeps into your mind, bash it! Rephrase your worry, replace it by saying out loud, as many times as necessary, “I am certain that (state the desired result here). By banishing your worry and replacing it with certainty, you are sending such a positive bolt of energy out into the universe that good could only manifest from it. At the very least, you have waylaid your worry, you have stemmed the flow of negativity and your strength can only do good, for you and for those you care for. You are demonstrating confidence in those you care for by declaring your certainty in their endeavors, whatever they may be. By declaring what you wish for with certainty, you are increasing your own confidence, your own strength and whatever manifests, as a result, is surely something you desire. Perhaps not what you specifically intended, but I promise, something you desire.

I invite you to practice exchanging your worries for happiness; promote that which is positive, deny that which is negative, live only in the present, take good care of yourself and I guarantee, you’ll have no worries and you will have an abundance of happiness! I am certain!

Don’t worry, be happy!

Thanks for Noticing

It’s the little things. Can you remember the last time a stranger did something nice for you, or for someone else near you? Held a door open? Let you have the parking spot you both arrived at simultaneously? Let you exit a driveway onto a busy street? Stopped so you could cross a street or a parking lot? Gave you their shopping cart when they were finished? Picked up something you dropped? Handed you a plastic bag in the produce section as you stood waiting to be able to reach one? Let you merge in heavy traffic?

I’m sure we all do little things, now and then, just to be nice, either for strangers, or for people we know and love. I think this is a natural tendency of the human spirit. And we often do these little things without expectation of acknowledgement; we do them because it makes us feel good to do something nice for others. We also perform these tiny acts of kindness without expectation that others will, in turn, perform tiny acts of kindness. We may wish they would put the shopping cart in the cart corral instead of leaving it in the very middle of the last available parking spot in the lot, but that’s usually just frustration speaking.

Have you ever been in a “kindness war” with someone? I was with my son today, we went to a food truck festival and after stuffing ourselves with all kinds of delectables, headed to the AT&T phone store for the third time in as many weeks. Upon reaching the door, I could see a man and his son approaching the double doors from the other side, about to exit. My son grabbed the door on the right, I reached for the door on the left; we were both intent on holding the door open for the man and his son to exit. They in turn both reached, each for one of the doors, so we all four were grabbing and tugging and trying to hold the doors open for one another! Tiny acts of kindness gone crazy!

There are a lot of really nice people out there, trying to make a positive difference in the world, one tiny act at a time. I’m one of them. I may curse at and verbally reprimand everyone on the road, pretty much all the time, from the cocooned privacy of my car, a weakness of mine, but I let people merge when they need to merge, I let people exit from driveways into crowded streets, and I will sometimes let someone else have a parking place if we’ve arrived at one at the same time; but here, its all about the blinker. I don’t always receive similar treatment from other drivers, but I always acknowledge it with a wave and a smile when I do. I hope this makes up for my recent discovery, one I made after driving in New Jersey and New York a bit over the past few years; the horn. I have discovered the horn on my car and have become quite fond of it. I use it like punctuation with the litany of obscenities I am uttering at other drivers, as I smile and wave and allow them to merge. I’m sure they just think I’m singing along with my Pandora station. Again, I’m admitting a weakness here, perhaps an area requiring some effort, some evolution. But, the tiny acts of kindness, I hope, keep me in a more positive karma position than negative, at least on the roadway.

Everywhere else, being everywhere outside of my car, I find my thoughts and actions align. I am kind not just in deed, but also in thought. I’m being nice and being nice, no cursing, no obscenities, no honking.

I was at Target the other day. I’m at Target almost every day. It just happens. Lucky for me, Whole Foods and Target are in the same parking lot in the town I’ve just moved to, and one block from my gym! So, I was in Target, I did a good deed, first, by dropping off an old cell phone, some ink cartridges and some plastic shopping bags in the recycle bins they have at the front of the store. I dropped my wine bottle corks off at the recycle bin in Whole Foods. Earth! Be happy! After dropping my discards into each of the appropriate receptacles, I went about picking up the one or two items I needed at Target, and the other five or six I didn’t have on my list. I had my few items in one of those hand baskets; I find I buy less than if I use a big, old cart. I can carry an impressive amount of weight, though, and can get about 25 plastic Target carrier bags worth of stuff into one of those baskets. I have been known, on occasion, after growing weary from carrying an overburdened basket, to just hoist it into a cart and continue shopping. I have also been known to place the overladen basket on the floor and scoot it along in the check out line with my feet, until I reach the conveyor and can unload it enough to lift it again. This particular day, my basket was pretty empty and I was swinging it along as I walked. As I approached an open check out stand, I saw a lady with quite a few items in a full size cart kind of speed up so as to arrive at the check out before me. If I’d been in my car I probably would’ve muttered something not very nice. I may even have honked, just to make sure I knew what she was up to. But, instead, I slowed my stride ever so slightly, letting her push her cart to the check out stand with some dignity, preventing her from having to actually break into a jog in order to beat me. I coolly arrived a second or two after her and unloaded my six or seven items onto the conveyor. The lady commented to the cashier, with a smile and a nod in my direction, “this nice lady let me go ahead of her even though she only had a few items in her basket.” Busted. No. Acknowledged! And for some reason, this totally made my day! Thanks for noticing! A tiny act of kindness acknowledged is a tiny act of kindness returned.

How Do You Do?

A greeting, a making of acquaintance. I am happy to meet you! How do you do is also a question I’d like to pose. How do you do?

My day is not quite complete unless I’ve made the acquaintance of someone I’ve never met before. I find this exciting, exhilarating and illuminating. People are so tremendously interesting, and from each and every meeting, often the first and last in one, I learn something valuable and hope I have left an impression, as well.

Today, I met lots of “new” people on a hike. Yesterday, I had a brief, but interesting conversation with the cashier at the grocery store, the day before, a very interesting man at a coffee shop. In the past three days, I have had casual conversations with at least a dozen people I’ve never met before. Sometimes, I think I am like the curious, friendly little puppy, panting and happily wagging my tail as I strain against my leash, eager to meet new people.

Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies "Meet-Up" group
Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies “Meet-Up” group

Why do I find people so fascinating? I like to find out what they do. Yes, I love to learn what people do for a living, but more interesting, what they do when they aren’t working. I find that many people live interesting lives, have hobbies and activities that I’ve always wanted to try, or to learn more about. Many people I meet are enthusiastic about their health, or their fitness, or their academic pursuits and I am thrilled to learn what they have to say. Almost always, we end up having a shared interest or shared topic and can chat for some time.

To say I have an energy, or enthusiasm, or confidence might be a little bit of an understatement. I really am eager to meet people and I think it shows when I walk into a room. I find that most the people I end up engaging with have a similar energy level, enthusiasm and confidence. If you believe in the law of attraction, I suppose this makes complete sense; like energies attract like energies. Or, perhaps my energy, enthusiasm and confidence make me a little more approachable than other folks.

I do try to be approachable. I make eye contact with people, and I guess I smile, whether I am aware of it, or not. A couple years ago I was at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, I was returning home after a long week away, waiting for my last of several flights. It was quite late at night and I was chatting on the phone with my son. People were milling around me as I sat near my departure gate. There were a few flights departing from a few gates clustered close together. After I concluded my call, I did my usual thing, I checked in on Facebook. After I got home, I received a comment on my check in from a man I’ve known since kindergarten and probably haven’t seen since high school. He obviously knew I’d been at LAX, but asked if I had been sitting at gate 81, wearing a black coat and a scarf. Yes, I had. He was standing right next to me, waiting to board another flight, and I was on the phone. He recognized me, I don’t remember seeing him, or didn’t recognize him, but he said I smiled at him. So, I guess I smile, randomly at people, if I am unable to strike up a conversation. I’m not really sure, but so it would seem. I am just grateful, for whatever reason, I have so many opportunities for making acquaintances.

About opportunities; they don’t just happen. No one is going to walk up to your front door and want to meet you, unless they’re selling something. In which case, I don’t generally answer the door. I know exactly what I want to buy, where I want to buy it, when I want to buy it, how much I want to spend on it and where I am going to put it. I don’t need anyone trying to mess up my very deliberate acquisition process. I’m going minimalist. Thank you. Back to opportunities; they are made, they don’t just happen. If you spend most of your leisure time in front of the television, you are not creating any opportunities. The dozen or so people I met in the past three days? I left my house and went out into the world and while I was interacting with society, I made the acquaintance of a bunch of really nice people.

How do you do; how do you create opportunities for meeting people? When I walked into the coffee shop a couple of days ago, I was there to work on a project for work between appointments. I take advantage of free Wi-Fi all the time, I love working from public places whenever I can. I ordered my half-caf and a banana and plunked my computer down at a table near an outlet, which happened to be adjacent to another table with an outlet where a nice looking man had plunked down his computer. I went about my tasks and before long, he struck up a conversation and we chatted, intermittently, for an hour. He was very interesting and found a lot of what I had to say interesting, as well. He left and went about his day, I left and went about mine. Simple as that. But in that meeting and the brief friendly conversation, I learned that he did many different, interesting things to make a living and had some spare time interests in common with me as well. I was smiling.

Today, I deliberately sought an opportunity to meet people. I belong to several “Meet-Up” groups (www.meetup.com). One of my favorites is a local group called “40 Something Women’s Group” and they do all sorts of fun things; dancing, movies, happy hours, brunches, wine tasting, hikes. All things I enjoy. Today, a hike. Of the ten or so ladies in attendance, I’d met two of them previously. During our lovely hike on this very warm, spring day, I enjoyed nature; the green hills, the wildflowers, the waterfalls, not so much the rattlesnake. More than nature, I enjoyed the many conversations I had with various ladies as we strolled along.

Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies "Meet-Up" group
Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies “Meet-Up” group

Of course, you get a bunch of 40 something ladies together, many divorced, and often the topic of meeting men comes up. Many of the ladies use online dating services, with limited success. A lot of energy goes into “meeting someone”. I don’t know, I’ve never tried. For me, it just happens, whether I’m ready, or not. I meet people all the time, one I met turned out to be someone I’d love to share my life with. I most certainly did not set out to find someone of a certain age, height, hair color, income level with specific spare time interests. I drank an oatmeal stout and ate ice cream at a bar, by myself, while traveling for work and I guess I was approachable. I must have smiled.

One of the ladies I chatted with today had a similar experience. She and I agreed that often times we meet someone compatible, someone terrific, someone we click with, when we aren’t trying, at all. We also agreed that rather than working on meeting someone, we put our time to better use working on ourselves. When we like ourselves and have become someone we would like to spend time with, often someone else comes around that feels the same way. I think this is where energy, enthusiasm and confidence come into play. I genuinely like myself, pretty much most of the time, and that translates into a confidence, approachability. And that also explains why I mostly meet people who are confident, energetic and enthusiastic, because they like themselves and are therefore, approachable, likeable. They smile.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with the lack of opportunity to meet people, that can be easily fixed. Find resources for meeting people, like Meet-Ups or other social groups; church, fitness, sports, activities, philanthropies, volunteering, and the list goes on. If you find, no matter how hard you try, you can’t find someone compatible to spend time with, whether friends or for dating or serious relationships, it’s possible you’re working too hard at it, and possibly, you’re working on the wrong person. Work on yourself and when you like what you’ve become, genuinely and completely, chances are, other people will feel the same way about you. Give yourself the opportunity and be approachable, and I’m pretty sure you’ll have more “how do you do’s”! Smile!

Sponge Worthy

I am a sponge. I thirst for knowledge. I thirst for information. At no point in my life will I assume that what I know is adequate. Knowledge evolves on a moment-by-moment basis. We are inches away from discoveries that will alter the world, that will alter our lives. I don’t know what these discoveries are, but as a species, we evolve constantly. As a member of this species, I think it is my responsibility to continue to soak up knowledge, to evolve.

There was a famous episode of Seinfeld where there was a shortage of contraceptive sponges on the market. In fact, they were off the market for many years, but, thankfully, have returned. In this famous episode, Elaine had to decide which men in her life, at the time, were “sponge worthy”. As a human sponge, soaking up knowledge, I have to decide what is sponge worthy because it is not possible to acquire all knowledge. I’ll admit, I am a little ambitious in my endeavors outside of work. There is just so much to learn, to know, to do, to experience, I am having sort of a hard time prioritizing them all. All of these things I want to learn, know, do and experience require soaking up some knowledge, some information. And so, I have about two hundred unread books on my Kindle on various topics of vital importance and I want to read them all NOW!

I have much that I consider “sponge worthy”. There is a lot out there that I consider unworthy. Like the food I put into my body, cleansers and products I use in my home, I am equally discerning about the information I’ll fuel my mind with, knowing that I cannot possibly soak it all up and wring out what I don’t find useful. When it comes to information, and information overload, all I can recommend is to know, and trust your source. I can’t tolerate quotes that begin with “they said …”. I don’t know who “they” are; I can’t even begin to discern their expertise, their trustworthiness as informants. I don’t know how “they” arrived at their conclusion. Who made the study? What information was gathered? How were the results tested, analyzed, what statistical methods were applied? Were the results audited independently? Who the fuck are “they”? Please don’t thrust a newspaper at me as “proof” against a belief of mine, and by all means, don’t read the newspaper article out loud to me. I will go ballistic! You’ll give me no choice but to ask how they arrived at their conclusion, who made the study? What information was gathered? How were the results tested, analyzed, what statistical methods were applied? Were the results audited independently? Who the fuck are “they”? One liner references to a study administered on a topic will never convince me of anything. Four or five books by respected authors citing relevant sources may. I’ll soak it all up and decide what to wring out. You can imagine how I must fare in front of the evening news on television! Let’s just say I don’t go there.

As a member of this quickly evolving world, again, I think it is vital that we soak up the information we consider sponge worthy. If not for the sake of knowledge and personal evolution, then for the sake of those around us, our friends, family and loved ones. We are never too old to learn, to make changes, to evolve. At what point in life does knowledge become irrelevant? The last split second before death. Up until that point, it still applies. I can hear an audible click, like a phone being hung up, so often, during conversations with people of all ages, but mostly my age, or older. I can almost see a little display on their forehead that says, “You have been muted for the comfort of the occupant”. They may as well clasp their hands over their ears and scream, “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” We have all become so closed-minded; we are unwilling to soak up any information that requires some application of thought. I am a Republican. Click. I voted for Obama. Click. I believe in abortion. Click. I support the second amendment. Click. Processed food is bad for you. Click. Our minds are not like a soda can, capable of holding only twelve ounces. Once filled, no more knowledge will fit. Really? Never can anyone, ever, say, “I know everything I need to know.” “No more knowledge necessary here, thank you.” Knowledge isn’t like Girl Scout cookies! You can’t turn it away because you don’t want any! We never reach an age where a new way to do something isn’t going to be beneficial. “I’ve made it this far on what I know”. Just making it just isn’t making it.

Admittedly, I can’t be swayed by a brief blurb on network television or in a newspaper, I believe with all my heart that we need to know both sides of every story, of every argument, before we can wring out the sponge. I studied crime and politics in college. Two separate fields of study, not one, though you have to wonder sometimes. In both these fields of study, it was impressed upon me to know all of the arguments, all of the supporting philosophies. I studied a lot of criminal and civil law, and I needed to be able to argue either side of the case. It is ingrained in me to learn and to know both sides of any argument, anything less than that is being uninformed, or worse yet, ill-informed. On a daily basis, with the barrage of popular media and it’s sensationalized delivery, where the reporters sound exactly like the guy advertising this weekend’s monster truck pull, it is nearly impossible to get both sides of any story. For this reason, if not for the assumed, panicked expression and monster truck announcer’s tone of voice, I don’t participate in popular news media. I am old enough to remember when a counter view was allowed to be expressed on television after the news or other similar programming. That’s when popular media was popular with me. That’s the last time the media was unbiased. Once the opportunity for a counter view was removed, popular media news became nothing more than propaganda. I’ll soak up current events in a number of places, contemplate both sides of the argument, and usually arrive at a pretty moderate conclusion. All by myself. Shut up monster truck announcer news guy, you have been muted for the comfort of the occupant. I’m going somewhere quiet, with my Kindle. You are so not sponge worthy.

Like the Vine

Consider the grapevine of the wine-producing sort. When you drive past a vineyard in a wine region, you usually notice the neat, straight rows. The vines are sometimes trellised so they stretch out along a wire, others are not, growing unsupported, depending on the variety. Vineyards always appear neat, tidy, geometrical, pristine. Sometimes you see many people in the vineyards tending to the care of the vines. It would seem that the vines needs are looked after in every respect; the soil, water, nutrients, there are fans and heaters and sprinklers and all sorts of things to keep the vines warm when it is too cold and cool when it is too warm. Many measures are taken, depending on the practices of each vintner, against pests, from tiny bugs, to birds, to deer, to passing, hungry motorists. They actually record the temperature in the different vineyards many times throughout each and every day to calculate out necessary information for optimal care of the vines. At first blush, it seems that vines are pampered much like star athletes. Some varieties of grapes come from vines that require many years of establishment before ever producing a single piece of fruit. Consider the investment involved.

I had the good fortune to take a walking tour through a vineyard this past weekend as part of a special “Earth Day” event. As we strolled along, viewing different “blocks” of vineyards, our tour guide described many of the different practices used in growing vines that produce wine grapes. I was at Hess Winery in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, a series of steep hills with harsher soil conditions and cooler weather conditions than other wine districts in this famous region. Because Mt. Veeder is cooler than other districts, and because the soil is composed mostly of limestone, with a thin layer of topsoil over it, the vines here are in a constant “struggle”. Only certain varieties can even endure this district’s climate. And this, it was explained to us, is good. Vines that struggle will produce better fruit than those that do not. Whether a vine has to struggle to derive nutrients from the soil or to overcome a streak of unusually warm weather, the results are usually for the better, ultimately. Struggle, to a degree, is good, if you’re a grapevine.

An Effort to Evolve

I began to contemplate this some after about my third tasting, of six, following the vineyard walk. I’m glad I decided to taste wine after the walk and not before! As I thought about the vines and their struggles, I translated that to people and their struggles. Are we not very similar to grapevines? People who struggle usually grow in ways that are both unexpected and beneficial, in the long run.

It is unreasonable to expect that every growing year, for a grapevine, will be perfect. There are likely to be conditions that will cause the vine to stress out a bit and to struggle. It could be a late season frost, or an early, warmer than usual spring, a cooler fall, a colder winter, too much rain, or too little rain. No two years are ever going to be exactly alike in any wine district, in any wine region. This explains the distinct differences in wines between regions and years, or vintages.

It is also unreasonable to expect that life is always going to be a cakewalk for us. We are all going to struggle with something at some point in time. If you haven’t, brace yourself. I know, I know, I know; I’m the “positive mental attitude” and “law of attraction” preacher. And I am here to tell you, that my life was as perfect as I could imagine and going my way, 100%, for a very long time. It was pretty easy to be positive. Occasionally, I would look over my shoulder, though, because I couldn’t believe how well things were going, for so long. Not perfect, of course, I was making compromises, but things were really, really good, overall. And, even while practicing and preaching PMA and the law of attraction and even visualization, my entire world collapsed. Talk about struggle.

For quite a while, as my world completely shattered all around me, only my immediate family and my closest, closest friends knew what was happening. For everyone else, it was business as usual. Yes, I was struggling, but because I was so positive, because I believed in the law of attraction, I knew I would grow tremendously from the struggles I endured. Only occasionally did my faith waiver, only rarely did I despair, and only in private, and only for a moment. Then I set myself straight, and just went on.

As more and more of my friends and acquaintances became aware of the turmoil that had occurred, the struggles endured, by me and my kids, teenagers at the time, the more often I heard “I don’t know how you just keep going”. I didn’t know how to NOT keep going. I was driven, my kids were driven. It was just a struggle and we were going to get through it. As more and more friends found out about our situation, and looked on in awe, I realized that we had become invincible because of our struggle. We had always been tough, stoic, strong, stubborn even, the three of us. What we endured in the past several years, to some, would be a nightmare beyond fathom. Ok, it was. We lost everything. But all the while, we went about our work, school, myriad volunteer activities, we never had an excuse, we never quit, we showed up for everything, worked hard, and we excelled at everything we endeavored, we smiled, joked, laughed, lived. And we grew; better, I think, than if everything had gone perfectly as they had all those years prior. My son became an Eagle Scout, my daughter held a state office in the California International Order of Rainbow for Girls and I took on a new job that required learning pubic speaking and also required an enormous amount of travel, two things I never considered an ability prior to this “struggle”.

Our story is not unique. I’m sure, in light of the past several years of economic turmoil, you can think of a family, perhaps displaced from their home or from their jobs, who through those struggles actually found a new lease on life. Perhaps a more suitable lifestyle, perhaps the rare chance to start over with a career, to finally do something they only ever dreamed of doing. The vine bore better fruit as a result of the struggle. Of course, there are those who just sat there in despair, being the victim, languishing and desperate. Those grapes became bitter fruit because they did not respond to the struggle in an appropriate fashion.

I guarantee that no successful person in the history of the world ever made it to success without some significant struggle along the way. It is not possible to truly succeed without having struggled. The greater the success, I promise, the greater the struggle.

Do not be afraid when you are met with a situation you must struggle against; health, money, relationships. Just remember the vines, growing on the steep, limestone hillside in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, remember that occasionally they struggle beyond just their difficult rooting in the rocky soil, in a climate cooler than the rest of the valley, where there is far less water. As a result, the fruit becomes sweeter, and the wine is divine! You will be, too. Learn to use struggle as a catalyst for growth and you will succeed, like the vine.

Welcome Home

Welcome home to your new and improved planet! Happy Earth Day! Your planet has been spruced up a little over the course of the day and the preceding weekend. Many volunteer groups around the globe have made gallant efforts to plant trees, pick up trash along trails and roadways, and to clean up creeks and streams where rubbish has been illegally dumped, among other things. The earth looks good today, far from perfect, but better.

I was running along a popular multi-use trail on Saturday, frequented by walkers, runners, cyclists, skaters, and horseback riders. On Saturday, there were numerous volunteers picking up bits of litter along the trail. It surprises me, really, that there was any litter to be picked up, because, for the most part, the users of the trail are sensitive to these issues and police their own litter fairly well. Somehow, though, the volunteers had bags full of bits of litter. As we passed them we thanked them, each and every one of them, for their contribution. I found a Snickers bar wrapper and picked it up, while running, and tossed in the trash when I passed a can. Grin.

On Sunday, I “celebrated” Earth Day by taking part in a vineyard walk at a local winery, The Hess Winery, in the Mt. Veeder wine district, one of five wine districts here. I live in Napa, right between the Carneros wine district and the Mt. Veeder wine district, to be exact. So there are lots of local wineries, but Hess Winery is probably the most local. As a crow flies, less than a couple miles from my house, perched on a steep hill that people around here call a mountain. Until recently, I’ve been living a bit closer to the Sierras, so I consider mountains far larger, but that’s aside from the point.

I grew up here, in this house, in this town, at the foot of this hill, er, mountain. Near the top of the mountain has been a winery for over a hundred years. It produced wine in the late 1800’s for many years, until prohibition. The owner was busted for bootlegging during that period and was forced to sell the winery, as a result. Wineries weren’t very salable during prohibition, as you can well understand. There was a group of folks that were able to produce wine, during prohibition, with impunity. The Catholics. So, a Catholic priest bought this winery for a hell of a price. Pardon the vernacular, I couldn’t resist.

You may recall Christian Brother’s wines. The name still exists, but the Christian Brothers themselves sold their winemaking interests, with the name, in the late 1970’s. Their history as winemakers, initially, was for sacramental wine. Later, they expanded and made wine to help fund their Catholic educational system, with many schools and universities throughout California. The winery on the mountain behind my house was called Mount LaSalle.

Mount LaSalle
Mount LaSalle

Mount LaSalle was, among other things, a school for priests, who were to be teachers at the Christian Brother’s schools and universities throughout the state. And every day, for my entire childhood, you could hear the chapel bell ring. For as long as I can remember, Brother Timothy was in charge up there. He passed away at the age of 94 in 2004. He lived a grand, long life. I’m thinking it had something to do with the red wine! I don’t think I ever met him, personally, but I knew of him. People still drop his name around here quite a bit. My dad had a bicycle store when I was a kid. One company, Campagnolo, that made very high end, precision derailleurs for bicycles also made a beautiful, large corkscrew. Back in the 1970’s, this thing retailed for over $100. My dad gave one to Brother Timothy. I’m not sure why. My dad was not a practicing Catholic. It must have had something to do with the wine. My dad was a practicing wine drinker. Brother Timothy wrote my dad a wonderful thank you note that I’d love to see right about now. Mom shredded it in a clutter busting frenzy about a month ago. She busted the wrong clutter. Damn. A missed opportunity.

Campagnolo BIG corkscrew
Campagnolo BIG corkscrew

I have other memories of this fantastic property that my Earth Day stroll brought back to vivid life. My dear, dear childhood friend lived at the top of a neighboring mountain, on Partrick Road. Our other dear friend lived not too far from the Christian Brother’s Mount LaSalle winery at the top of Redwood Road. The quickest way from the top of Partrick Road to the top of Redwood Road was by pony, at full gallop, right past the old cemetery where we used to ride at night to sit on the graves and tell spooky stories, right through the dense woods where, yes, redwood trees grow, right across several private parcels, right past the neat rows of vines, right past the Catholic boarding school for boys, and I swear to you, like a good Catholic, I didn’t know there was a boarding school for Catholic boys there, ever, until the tour yesterday. Talk about missed opportunities!

I was at a book launch party the evening before at an art gallery on the other side of town. There I had the chance to visit with many folks, some I knew, and some were new. One young man, I’ll rephrase that a little, one younger man than myself, the son of the neighbor who has lived next door for many, many years. I babysat him when he was in diapers. He is probably approaching forty now. I don’t think I’ve seen him since he needed his cloth diaper changed. And I’d never changed one before. Luckily, neither of us remembers the details of that event! We did chat a little and I mentioned the Earth Day Vineyard walk because I thought he and his wife might be interested. He shared his stories of riding his mountain bike through those very same woods. That winery, that property, has been a very large part of a lot of childhood memories around here! It was so awesome to be standing on the edge of those woods, by some of the very same vines, really, and listening to stories of the history of the Christian Brothers, of Mount LaSalle, of the vineyard, and of what’s become of it.

The Christian Brothers still own the property and operate a school for priests who will teach at the schools throughout the state. There is also a home for retired priests who have taught in the past. And some administrative offices, as well. The vineyards are still there, but have been leased by a Swiss business family, the Hess Family.

The Hess Winery grows all of their grapes sustainably. We toured several “blocks” and saw the different ways the grapes were trellised, pruned, plowed, or not, all in the best interest of the mountain, then in the best interest of the grapes. They respect the wildlife and let nature take care of her own. Yes, deer do eat the tender shoots on the vines, but the four breeding pairs of local mountain lions are left alone and, in turn, take care of the deer. The winery owns 1,000 acres on the mountain, in addition to what they lease, and only 340 of those acres are planted. The remainder of the land, steep and rugged canyon land, is managed for fire by goats. The goats are managed by flock guardian dogs, who keep the mountain lions on a strictly deer diet. It was a fascinating hour stroll through the vineyards around the Christian Brothers chapel.

I haven’t heard the bells ring since I’ve moved back. My mom hasn’t heard them for years, but probably wouldn’t. First, she is a bit hard of hearing these days, second, and possibly the cause of some of her hearing loss, the TV is usually on at full volume, and often, so is one of her four vacuums. Like now. I asked about the chapel bells, and yes, they are rung every Sunday, just before mass. Next Sunday, I plan to take my breakfast on the deck and listen for them.

It was heartwarming to have the unique opportunity to take this tour, as it is not offered regularly to the public. It was even more heartwarming to learn that this is one of several winemakers thinking of Earth first in their production, with their sustainable practices. The tastings I enjoyed after our stroll were fantastic, as was the modern art collection housed within the winery building. They now have a loyal customer in me.

That brings me to the point of my article. Once a year we celebrate Earth Day, but really, isn’t every day earth day? Only once a year we make an effort to pick up trash or haul rubbish out of a creek? This, I think, should be a constant practice. We have much to be grateful for, abundant resources and the beauty of nature. We should show our gratitude by doing, everyday, something, however small, something to help keep our planet more pristine and to conserve precious resources. There are so many ways we can incorporate something meaningful into our daily routine. Walk instead of drive, reduce, reuse, recycle. Look for companies that make sustainability a priority, support them, even if their products cost a few pennies more. The price, at a few pennies more, is far less than what the net effect of the impact of businesses not practicing sustainability will cause. A few pennies more now, or thousands and thousands, probably in tax dollars, for massive, corrective actions ordained by Congress in the future. This is as close to paying it forward as you can come as a consumer. Every little thing we can do does make an impact, however insignificant it may seem. I buy from companies who practice sustainability every opportunity I can. I vote with my pennies. I also like to pick up trash. Everywhere. Everyday. If I see something on the ground, I just pick it up and put it where it belongs. If everyone on the planet picked up one stray piece of trash every day, can you imagine the impact? I’ve been a Girl Scout leader and a Boy Scout leader for a decade and a half. Everywhere I took those kids, from kindergarten through high school and on into college, every outing, every meeting, we found some way to leave places better than we found them. That is the challenge for the generations that live on Earth today. We are going to have to find a way to leave things better than we found them, for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, their children, and their grandchildren. Let’s make everyday Earth Day! Let’s leave this place better than we found it, kids!

Magic

A little bit about the care and keeping of the human spirit. Yours to be precise.

Do you believe in magic? Did anything magical happen in your life today? Something breathtakingly magical? Your spirit believes in magic, even if your reason negates that belief. If you don’t believe in magic, you certainly won’t ever see magic. But your spirit does, and you shut it down. So, did you see anything magical today?

No? I beg to differ. There are many magical moments in our day, each and every day, and they burst like the little rainbow bubbles we used to blow as children. The delicate “pop”, the tiny splash of liquid if you were close enough to the bubble. Remember? And if you were oh so careful, you could catch a bubble on your finger, or even the tip of your nose, for just a second before it went “pop”, “splash” in the softest of whispers. Remember?

If you can’t recall one specific, magical, bubble bursting, moment today, I am going to have to assume you just aren’t paying attention, or perhaps you’re taking a lot of things for granted, or because you are denying the magic.

I see magic everywhere. But I look for it. I love it. I lust for it. If I don’t see any magic in a day, I’m not living right.

I was driving eastbound in Interstate 80 this morning, on my way to my running club in Sacramento. If anyone has driven Interstate 80 between the Bay Area and Sacramento, you know that, for much of the drive, it is straight and flat and not very stimulating, certainly not very magical. It was early, I left home at 5:40 this morning, so by the time I was nearing Davis, I could just see a smudge of gray, a fat line, like a pastel marker. The Sierras. The sky over the Sierras was lighter than the sky higher above the horizon, and becoming brighter by the second. Suddenly, like a child’s ball ablaze, the sun popped up over the mountain, its ascent into the sky so brilliant and so fast, a few moments later it was as if it bounced into the sky. All I could think was “wow, magic.” And yet, the sun rises absolutely, positively every day, without exception, predictable down to the second. But it is, and always will be magical when seen, with one’s own eyes, even on the dreariest of drives.

I spent my morning running down a paved bike trail, fourteen miles at about twelve minutes per mile, with a one minute walk break for every five minutes run. We run like soldiers, two abreast, matched by our common pace and our love of the sport. There is conversation, we are comfortable enough with the pace to be able to converse, in animated tones, with laughter. At the pace I run, as in, not all that fast, we are mostly women, so the conversation is mostly about children, recipes and aches and pains. We run together every week, year round. Sometimes it seems like the same conversations over and over. Perhaps they are. I listen more than I speak. I am sort or a free form chef, I don’t often use a recipe. My children are grown, but not old enough to have children of their own, so I have no adorable toddler happenings to share. I don’t have aches and pains, and frankly, I think if the others wouldn’t discuss their aches and pains for three continuous hours, they’d likely not have so many. I listen to others, make a stray comment here or there, but mostly, I look at my surroundings.

What a resource this community has with this very well developed, popular and yet very natural trail. It runs for miles and miles and miles, through the heart of a good-sized city, along the banks of a river. Trees shade the trail for much of the way and there is wildlife. This time of year, there are wildflowers along the edges, where we run, out of the way of the speeding cyclists. The flowers lean towards us and are graced with nervous butterflies who light for a moment, then are aloft, bounding on a breeze, only to light again on another flower. A delicacy on a delicacy, butterflies on wildflowers. All I can think is “magic!”

Our running club as 500 members, though never do we all attend every run. There are still many of us, every week, leaving tracks with our expensive, state of the art, highly engineered foot apparel. There are other runners, too, and walkers, friends in groups of twos and threes, families with young ones on foot or in strollers. Those of us on foot use the dirt shoulder; the paved section is for cyclists and the occasional skater. Yet with all the footprints in the dirt, I am still able to see, occasionally, animal tracks. There are squirrels and birds, lots of dogs, but coyotes, too. Raccoons, possum, and rabbits. If one is paying attention and knows anything about animal tracks, they will likely see something magical amidst all the people prints. One stray print in the dust, a subtle and somehow not over trodden reminder that we share, even in an urban river parkway, our world with magical, furry creatures, who like us, are just trying to find a way to feed themselves, their families, to find suitable housing, to make a living. And, hopefully, to find a little magic.

I ran fourteen miles today, beginning in the cool morning and ending the in the sweltering late morning. I met my son afterwards, a grown man. My eyes are brown, as are his father’s, apparently we both carry a recessive gene for blue eyes. My son has blue eyes, not usually a vivid blue, but mildly blue eyes. Every now and then, depending on what he is wearing, or his proximity to something a certain shade, his eyes become remarkably blue. Today, he stood with the bright, blue April sky behind him, the sun I watched bounce into the sky over the Sierras six hours earlier was now hot and high up in the unusually bright, clean sky. His eyes were the most magical blue ever, like the day he was born; they took my breath away as much today as they did that day. Never, in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d give birth to a blue-eyed child. My parents both had brown eyes, both have olive toned skin. I have cousins and aunts and uncles with blue eyes, but we are all dark. I remember one night, while pregnant with my son, I dreamt an outlandish dream. I dreamt that I gave birth to a boy and I thought for sure I was carrying a girl, we never know for certain without modern science. I didn’t’ t want to know in advance, that would’ve taken the magic of the moment away! That moment we see in every movie, read in every story, that magic moment when the doctor holds a tiny person up and says, “it’s a …” In my dream, it was a boy. A boy with golden hair and bright blue eyes. To me, this seemed so unlikely as to be absurd. I shared my wild dream with friends and family, laughing incredulously at the outcome, telling it over and over, the ending delivered almost like the punch line to a joke. The day he was born, the doctor held him up and said, “it’s a boy!” I saw a baby, still damp his hair looked dark. Later, as he lay next to me in his Lexan crib, peaking out from under his standard issue baby beanie was the most golden hair I’d ever seen, not blonde, but glistening gold, like the metallic embroidery floss you’d buy at the craft store, if you were into that sort of thing. Crafts, that is. I watched him; he stared at me and his eyes were the most intense blue I’d ever seen. He was really, a dream come true. Magic.

When my daughter was born twenty one months later, another tiny bundle of magic, she had the blackest hair I’d ever seen, far darker than mine, or her dad’s, or even my dad’s, which, if it wasn’t black, always appeared black because for my entire life he wore Brylcreem in his hair. Even on his deathbed, he asked me to go to the only store in town that still carried this now obscure product and buy a tube. The tube remains unopened, unused and unneeded. I wonder what color his hair truly was before it grayed, underneath that layer of gel. A month after my daughter was born, her hair fell out. Completely. How cruel for the girl baby to be bald and the little boy to have a full, thick head of golden hair. She was bald. Cruel. I know, first hand, because my mom used to have to tape bows to my bald head and dress me in outlandishly frilly clothes so people didn’t exclaim, “what a cute little boy!” My hair finally grew in dark brown, like mud, and curly. My daughter’s hair grew in platinum blonde and straight, like silk, and as she grew older, her hair turned into the most magical assortment of gold, honey brown and red, no two hairs are the same color. It is thick and luxurious like no other hair I’ve ever witnessed, with a spirit its own, the mane of a goddess. Every time the wind furls it or the sun reflects off of it, even after twenty years, it is breathtaking. Magic.

There is magic in our midst, magic that has been in existence for all of time, that marks the passing of each day and of the millennia. There is magic in the people you love, there is magic in unlikely places, magic even in the dirt, if you look. If you aren’t able to recount several instances of magic in any ordinary day, I implore you to stop. Stop moving so fast, stop focusing on the pain of the past, the fear of the future. Magic is now and now is only ever an instant. If you aren’t living in the present, the magic in a moment has come and gone right in your midst and you have missed it. You past is only painful because it isn’t punctuated with the magic you failed to notice. Your future is only scary because you haven’t the faith in the magic of the present to assure you beauty in life. Magic is subtle, usually, not like the wave of a wand, the swish of a cape, the flash of a flame before the appearance of a dove. The sky reflecting in someone’s eyes, the wind furling through someone’s hair, a flower, a bee, a butterfly, a tree. There is a word that rhymes with magic; tragic. To miss the magic hidden in the present is tragic. Learn to live your life in the now, in the present and discover the magic, however subtle, however grand, in your midst. Today. Everyday.

Slavery

slav·er·y  

1. The state of one bound in servitude as the property of a slaveholder or household.

2.

a. The practice of owning slaves.

b. A mode of production in which slaves constitute the principal work force.

3. The condition of being subject or addicted to a specified influence.

4. A condition of hard work and subjection

 

Slavery. I’m against it on every level. I am a proponent of personal freedom, independence and autonomy. My very strong beliefs go well beyond just the exploitation of individuals for the benefit or gain of another.

I am also opposed to enslavement by possessions or by lifestyle. I realize it is not possible to be completely free of your possessions, or of your lifestyle, but you are in control your level of enslavement to those things. And a lifestyle that may seem enslaving to one is an expression of freedom to others. To try to explain:

I have worked full time, or nearly full time, for most of my professional life, spanning over twenty-five years. My work hours ranged from thirty hours a week, in the good old days, to upwards of sixty or seventy hours a week in many years, some quite recent, like most of last year, and probably the remainder of this year. When evening rolls around and I finally turn my back on my work for the night, or when the weekend comes along and I have the opportunity to be home, rather than travelling to or from home for work, the very last thing I want to do is housework and yard work. I do thrive in a clean, neat, tidy, organized home and loathe and despise an unkempt yard. How to manage? One must be both clever and extremely well organized.

There was a time when my children were small and my husband and I were both working hard building our young careers. We cherished our “free time” with our children on evenings and weekends. The house was getting messier than I liked, the yard was overgrown, and tensions were high. During a “discussion” of the state of things, sort of a “state of the household” speech, by yours truly, my husband declared that he would “take care” of the yard and I should take care of the house. He hired a gardener. Never one to be outdone, I hired a housekeeper. Our weekends were ours, and the house and yard were always neat as a pin. This peaceful balance and accord lasted for several years.

I know this isn’t always possible. For instance, it is not a possibility for me now, as income, while more plentiful, my expenses are far, far greater. A college education for two grown children is not cheap and my disposable income has been disposed of for a very long time into the future. So, how to manage both my time and my home? Simply by making the appropriate choices based on my resources and my preferred lifestyle.

First, my preferred lifestyle; I want to be free when I’m not working. I want to go places, visit with friends, dine out, wine taste, travel, run, hike, work out at the gym, etc. I do not want to clean house or do yard work. I do want my house to be spotless and ready for friends to drop by at a moment’s notice. Yes. I want it all. And I’ve got it ALL figured out. Normally. Up until recently, I have chosen to live in places where the yard maintenance has been included with the rent or payment. As far as the inside of my home, I like a more minimalist lifestyle, no clutter, a place for everything and everything in its place. I have given away and sold most of the things I no longer need, want or use. I am vigilant in identifying things that are eligible for purging. I make frequent trips to Goodwill and to the dump. I clean my bathroom and kitchen after every use, vacuum now and then, and have a strict no knick-knack policy. I don’t mind running a dust rag over a nice, sleek surface. I do mind having to dust little bits and things, removing them, replacing them, and having to dust underlying surface in the few brief moments it is exposed.

To further my blissful, stress-less home environment, I don’t even bring junk mail into my house; I enroll in paperless statements and billing and shred anything that HAS to come in paper as soon as I’ve scanned it. Stephen Covey in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggests that you only ever touch a piece of paper one time. That is my goal, if I have to touch it at all.

I am reading an awesome book right now that I highly, highly recommend for anyone trying to live a more organized, less cluttered, life; “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. Everything the author says resounds with me. I have accomplished much of what she recommends in advance of reading the book, but, of course, could evolve a little more in my efforts to be freer.

So, if I already have a plan, I already have it ALL figure out, what could my dilemma possibly be? I’ve moved in with Mom. She is in complete, total and bonded slavery to her house and her yard. She always has been. Whether by choice or out of duty, I don’t know. She does seem to derive some kind of twisted pleasure from vacuuming for hours on end. And she should really consider wearing a tool belt from which she could hang her Windex and 409 bottles and holster her roll of paper towels. True, I did move in to “help” her, but I don’t remember signing any kind of agreement that said I would be available to clean house and do yard work, to her standards, which, by the way, are impossible to meet and even harder sustain.  Her “system” is impossible for anyone, an able bodied person, but especially for a frail, octogenarian. It is absurdity.

Let’s start with the yards. Front and back. Both really large. Mostly lawn. She has a gardener, now, finally, that comes once a week and mows, blows and goes. For any extra fee he will trim fussy hedges, forming them into right angles unnatural to any growing thing in nature, he’ll prune trees into unrecognizable stumps and things like that. The yards, front and back, both look good. Good enough for company. In fact, her yards look like something straight out of Sunset Magazine from the 1960’s, and therein lies the problem. Her yards, while they do have automatic sprinklers, they harken back to who knows when and are wholly inadequate. She lives in a city with outrageous water rates, and has landscaping that requires “hand” watering several times a week. Which she does with a cane in one hand, the hose in the other. Windex and paper towels close by, I’m certain. She has all kinds of planters and areas that require constant and diligent weeding. This is not the type of yard someone who travels 70% of the time (me) can even begin to maintain, even with a gardener.

The house has always appeared very neat. To guests. When guests are not scheduled to arrive, the house is under constant attack from paper and organizational systems that have never been completely thought through or fully implemented. Things have places but aren’t always in their places, or the proper place for a thing has been forgotten because it is infrequently accessed. Every closet, drawer and cupboard is packed full of items that never get used, but for some reason get kept. Then I move in, and even with my pared down pile of possessions, they look overwhelming piled in the middle of the garage and in the middle of my rooms. I have been provided one very small closet, mostly, and two partial shelves in a cupboard in the garage with the warning that rat turds have been spotted in the vicinity. I keep my food with the rats and have hung clothes in the closet. Everything else remains in boxes. There is a dresser in my bedroom I could put clothes in, but the drawers are completely full of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day since I vacated the drawers thirty some years ago to go to college.

The house is large, for its era. It was built in 1967 and is probably upwards of fifteen hundred square feet. It is a split-level, so two partial flights of stairs, one seven steps, one eight steps. I count steps. This I learned during my wayward teenage years, trying to sneak in and out after curfew without being detected, interrogated and grounded. The front room is Mom’s “formal living room” with a “formal dining room” adjacent to it. We have never been allowed to set foot in there. Ever. Unless there is company. Then we pretend like we use it all the time. She actually takes one of her four vacuums and “lays the nap down” on the carpet, so if anyone does set foot in the living room or dining room, there is, literally, a trail. There are shelves in the living room and a library table, a coffee table and three end tables, all with decorations on them that require dusting. The rooms do look nice, in the way a furniture catalog does, but they are just big, uninviting, uncomfortable and useless spaces that require way too much effort to maintain. I’m thinking warm, wood floors, large comfy couches and chairs, a coffee table with an interesting book, a picture and a flower.

The guest bathroom is also “my” bathroom. It is always appointed for guests, in that, there are towels on the towel rack that are not to be used or touched, and like the couch and chairs in the “formal living room” are dreadful to touch or use, anyway. Very uninviting, very firm, very uncomfortable.  In addition to the fussy, stiff towels I don’t dare touch, there is a basket that occupies one corner of the bathtub. It is lined with a crisp, eyelet napkin or handkerchief or some fussy bit. Inside the lined basket there used to reside little bottles of shampoo and lotions my parents schlepped home from all three vacations they took in their lifetime. Now those pretty little bottles are aged and yellow, and to them have been added the little squeeze packets of free shit that comes in the mail, and weird stuff that was brought home from the hospital after each and every one of my father’s numerous admissions in the latter years. There is also an odd, gold encrusted bottle full of water with bright green food coloring added to it stationed in the other corner. And a candle perched on the ledge, even though we aren’t to ever burn candles. My mom believes that all candles are made of intuitive napalm that will explode into gelatinous flame the instant we turn away for a moment and will take the house down in a furious infrerno. Hey, at least we wouldn’t have to clean! We just buy candles for the edge of the bathtub and the back of the toilet, I guess, to look like a “normal” house on the cover of Martha Stewart Living. All of these oddities require being moved and replaced every time I shower. The shower is tiled, the original, from 1967. It is in fairly good shape considering I used the shower daily as a teenager and didn’t follow the rules. The rules; you have to first squeegee the shower immediately after use, then towel it down. And, truthfully, I am fine with it. I admit, though, just toweling it down is fine, I’ve been doing this for years and I never, ever, ever have to clean my shower or bathtub! It’s the odd decorative inhabitants of the shower, I guess, that I am objecting to.

All three bedrooms have lovely hard wood floors that have been all covered up with the most hideous floor coverings money can buy. Rugs. Strange area rugs that require care and vacuuming. As do the floors underneath. Twice the work. There are shelves of every shape and size, desks and dressers, all burdened with an army of odd little knick knacks that sort of make the house look like the Goodwill store, or Dollar Tree. There are strange little plaques “decorating” the walls that must have been crafty little gifts from well meaning and not terribly talented friends that remind us that we are “special” and such. All of these artifacts require dusting, individually. They need to be removed from their station to dust beneath them all, and then they have to be replaced. Dusting, alone, must take eons.

Windows; there are lots of windows. I think windows are great! I love natural light. Mom has a compulsion with windows that I fail to understand. I know windows need to be washed, inside and out. I think once a quarter is about right. She has washed them, inside and out, three times this week, because company is coming two weeks from today. I’m quite certain the “smudges” she sees are where the glass has been worn thin from the years of exuberant window washing. I’m quite certain of this fact, I really don’t remember being able to hear everything going on outside from inside, while growing up in the house. I think the glass windowpanes are actually thinner! I can hear everything! Well, perhaps the forty six year old windows just need to be replaced, but that’s a subject for another time.

I decided to flee today; the Windex fumes and the relentless roar of one of the vacuums were not conducive to working, even with the door shut. There must be some expectation of shared enslavement to this inefficient lifestyle and compulsive Sunset magazine cover status. I did not agree to this. I am happy to clean up the kitchen to a sparkling shine every time I use it. I am delighted to clean up my bathroom, all the way down to replacing the fussy little basket, the grotesque green liquid filled bottle and the decorative napalm candle after my shower. I will vacuum on occasion, sooner if I notice a rat turd, which, thankfully, I haven’t. I think the Windex fumes probably killed them. I will dust sleek surfaces I am in control of. I do not have clutter to chase, as long as I have dresser drawers and a closet floor for my clothes and shoes, that currently reside in boxes I have to stack and restack to access the contents of. I will even wash windows, inside and out, once a quarter, with non-toxic and Earth friendly products.

So, I moved in to help, and here I sit at the Oxbow Public Market, across town, I’ve finished my work and have chosen to write from here, too, rather than return home. So what happens when Mom can no longer care for the house to her liking, be that next week or in another decade? If we keep it, it will become mine. I’m about ready to call the realtor now! But, if it were my house, or I were placed in charge of the house, I would break the chains of enslavement. Beginning outdoors, assuming I didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to replace the lawns with an attractive, low maintenance, drought tolerant yard, I’d at least re-do the sprinklers. I’d replace the planters requiring weeding with low maintenance patios that could be populated with chairs and a container garden, maybe, with easy to care for and very hardy plants. Maybe a fire pit and a water feature. The rest would be left to nature, as there is a creek full of oak tress that offers a lovely, serene and natural backdrop. I would leave the leaves on the ground, rather than pay someone to make them go away, so they would provide a natural mulch in that area, preventing the growth of weeds and nourishing the soil, keeping it moist without as much water. The hedges and fussy trees would be replaced with things that didn’t require constant pruning into weird, contrived and unnatural shapes for growing things. When have you ever seen a shrub with right angles in nature, let alone an entire fifty-foot row of them?

Indoors. I would rent a dumpster and conduct a knick-knack holocaust. I would have the industrial shredding company pull up their largest truck and haul away every scrap of paper. Every closet, drawer and cupboard would be completely emptied and only those items that have been used in the past year would be replaced into them, and then, only after very careful consideration. It if isn’t loved, it isn’t kept. We owe no duty or obligation to any inanimate object occupying a space in our home.

Sounds great! I’d like to do that now! But it is my mom’s home, her pride and joy, and I think a very real reason she is still ambulatory, I think it provides her a sense of purpose. So, out of respect for her, I don’t want to force any issues. Tensions are rising, though; an air of martyrdom has developed relating to her “having to clean the house”. The house is as clean as it’s going to get for the impending company. We just need to stuff all the shopping lists, catalogs, and scraps of newspapers into one of the drawers, cupboards or closets. The carpet couldn’t be much cleaner, the windows most definitely are not capable of becoming any cleaner. I could offer to mop the floors, I have no problem with that. But, I really, really doubt that my mom’s twin sister and her husband, who are failing in sight, are going to notice that the floors aren’t waxed. Personally, I think it’s borderline criminal to wax floors when ninety-year-old people are going to be walking on them!

So, with that, I suppose I’d better head home and get to mopping. It’s Friday night and I’ve been working hard all week. I’m ready to relax with a glass of wine and a good book before getting a good night’s rest before a very long training run very early tomorrow. Is it bad I have plans other than vacuuming, mopping, dusting and washing windows tomorrow? The dirt, real or imagined, will wait. I’m no slave.

 

 

 

Itsy Bitsy Spider

I have moderate beliefs when it comes to nature and animals and our place in the economy of nature. I think we should be respectful of animals, not use them for experimentation or exploitation. I eat meat and I will wear fur, under certain conditions. I believe in our place, as a species, in the “circle of life” and in the animal kingdom. I think it is not just okay to hunt, fish and trap, but that it’s important that we hunt, fish and trap to carry out our role in managing populations of wild animals for their benefit and ours. Overpopulation in animals causes animals to die far worse deaths from starvation and disease than a carefully placed bullet ever will. We should only hunt, fish or trap what we can personally use and in as humane a manner as possible. I abhor poaching and hunting solely for the bragging rights of killing a specimen of some certain species, to have “been there and done that” and so we can put its stuffed carcass in a room of our house. We are, as humans, after all, natural predators. We were designed, as indicated by our evolution, our teeth, our digestive systems, etc., to be omnivores. But, like bears, who are omnivores, with the exception of the polar bear, we are built to hunt. Our eyes give us away. Predators have eyes on the front of their face with keen vision primarily to the front. Prey animals have eyes positioned on the side of their face, with a much wider range of view, so they can see us coming. My point; I believe in killing things to eat, and, if necessary, in self-defense.

Let’s talk about self-defense. I had a harrowing experience today, a couple, actually. I am not one of those girls who shriek and scream at the sight of bug or spider. Nor am I one of those girls that has to have a man come squish the bug or spider. I am perfectly capable of squishing bugs and spiders all by myself. Really big bugs and spiders require the use of a shoe, the bigger and hairier the bug or spider, the taller the wedge on the shoe, for added distance and a better WHAM factor. Small bugs and spiders, I have been known, on occasion, to squish with my bare hands. Then wash, them, of course.

I do not mind spiders, or bugs, in their world. They are not welcome in mine. To define “my world”; it is where I am and the area surrounding or enclosing me. So, my house. My tent, if I am camping. My sleeping bag if I am camping without a tent. Bugs, spiders, and, well, reptiles, and bears, simply do not belong in any of these areas. Off limits. My world.
I remember when I was a Cub Scout den mother a very long time ago. My Cub Scout has long since become an Eagle Scout and will soon be in his first super-senior year of college. The Cub Scouts were meeting at my house and one of the other moms had arrived to retrieve her child. You would think she would’ve been one of those “scared of spiders” type; frosted, tinted, coiffed hair, lots and lots of makeup, even by my standards, miniskirts year round and not really miniskirt ready thighs, peep toe shoes, always pedicured toes and fake nails, yet she didn’t have a dime to keep her car running or to buy adequate outdoor gear for her kids. My hair and nails were always a mess, but we had awesome outdoor gear! I digress. There was a spider. She commented in a matter of fact tone of voice and I swooped in for the kill. She was appalled at my action. “Why didn’t you just put it outside? You didn’t have to kill it!”

True. I didn’t have to kill it. But that’s what I’d always seen done, since I was a little kid. Everyone around me always killed spiders that dared to enter their home. And some outdoors, too. For a while thereafter, if I saw a spider in the house, I’d look at it for a moment and consider the situation. But then my daughter usually came along and demanded it be dead, and I’d kill it so she could sleep in her bed and not mine. She really hated spiders. Still does.

Sometime thereafter, a friend and her husband came over for a visit. We sat on the front porch and enjoyed a nice, balmy evening chat with some desserts. I’d met her husband before, but I didn’t know him well. I knew he didn’t work much, was sort of underemployed, but I never really knew the story, if there was one. That night I learned that he had been bitten in the finger by a brown recluse spider. He ended up hospitalized and it was quite an ordeal. As a result of this spider attack, he had permanent nerve damage in his hand, limiting his sense of feeling and his ability to perform many jobs. From that point on, spiders in my house were doomed to a swift and certain death. I was not even going to go get my field guide to spiders to try to identify it first, just WHAM! Dead.

This morning, I made my way to the bathroom to take my shower, a morning ritual that I find both tedious and rejuvenating. Perched on the wall above the bathroom mirror was a grayish brown spider of average size, like I’d imagine Charlotte from E. B. White’s children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web”, one of my all-time favorite books. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Wells read that book to us, a chapter each day after lunch. Well, for this particular Charlotte-like spider, I’d probably choose a shoe with a two inch wedge heel as my assassin’s tool. I didn’t kill it, though. I let it live. I considered moving it outside, like the Cub Scout’s mom suggested, and I have an excellent method for so doing. You need two items to safely remove a spider to the outdoors; a glass and a piece of paper. This works especially well if the spider is on the ceiling. You quickly place the glass over the spider, to clarify, the opening of the glass over the spider, you don’t squish the spider with the bottom of the glass. Got it? When spiders startle, they drop. With the glass over them, they drop off the wall and into the glass. Now you slide the paper between the wall and the glass so it acts as a lid. I usually place an additional barrier over the paper once I’ve removed it from the wall, depending on the hee-bee-jee-bee factor of the spider. The trick is getting the spider out of the glass once outdoors. They don’t always fling well. And the direction of the wind can be problematic. I have flung and flung and flung and still had a spider in my glass. If you ever drive by my house and see a glass on the lawn, be careful, there may be a spider inside. I’m not one to usually leave barware on my lawn, otherwise!

I took my shower with the spider on the wall just outside the curtain. I did make several glances overhead to be sure the spider wasn’t headed my way, but he, or she, never materialized. When I got out of the shower, the spider was gone. Just gone. And believe you me, I did a thorough search!

Now, to add to the drama a little; there has been a daddy long legs spider in the corner over the doorway in this same bathroom for a couple of days. I don’t kill daddy long legs unless they get in my hair. Yes. This has happened. I don’t know the scientific validity of this fact, but once upon a time, the woman that owned the daycare center my children went to for many years told me, or us, that daddy long legs spiders can’t bite you because they have a tiny, tiny, tiny mouth. They just hunt other spiders. So, I try to leave daddy long leg spiders alone and let them do their thing, then I don’t have spider guts all over the bottom of my shoes and I can pretend to be all “kinder and gentler”. Upon the disappearance of the brownish gray Charlotte spider, I had to wonder if the daddy long legs was well fed this morning.

I walked out of the bathroom to get my hair dryer, and upon my return, another spider. This one was outside the bathroom right over the door. It was one of those hairy little black ones with a red but and white polka dots on its legs. One of those freaky kind that seem to be watching you, sizing you up, and actually moves to face you as you pass by, or under it. I found myself crouching to the far side of the doorway and very quickly leaping back into the bathroom. I just knew THIS spider was going to drop or leap or jump on me! When I exited the bathroom, I did so in the same manner. The spider was still there and actually stood up on its back legs and waved its tiny little front legs at me. Ugh! This is not the type of spider you move outdoors with a glass and a piece of paper or smash with a shoe. They jump! This is one where, if I were in the right part of the house, my son’s preferred method of spider killing seems more suitable; knock it to the floor and ignite the bug spray with a lighter as you spray it. Like a bug spray fire bomb. Very dangerous. Do not try this at home. I grounded him for that. Even though he was 21 years old at the time. But it did kill the spider quite dead.

Itsy bitsy spider with a bad attitude!
Itsy bitsy spider with a bad attitude!

When I came back to the bathroom to curl my hair, the spider was gone. Or was he? Nope, he wasn’t, and I saw him. Sneaky little bastard, he DID drop. He was on the floor waiting to leap onto my bare feet as I passed. I leaped into the bathroom and kept a nervous eye on the floor behind me as I curled my hair. When I left the bathroom, again, he was still there, waving at me. Ugh. If the carpet weren’t white and he wasn’t likely to jump four feet straight up into the air, I’d smash him with something. But, clever bastard, was kind of in a corner, making aim and accuracy with a big, clunky wedge-heeled shoe kind of tricky.

I came back to the bathroom and he’d made a very rapid advance for such a tiny spider! He was now all the way across the bathroom and up on the wall, next to the mirror and over the toilet. If he walked, and that is a great big IF, it would be, like, miles in spider distance, from where I last saw him. I think he jumped. Or flew! I left the bathroom, not out of fear, I’m a pretty brave girl, I forgot something. Really, I did. When I came back, two seconds later, the spider was gone! Or was he? Nope! I found him! Ensnared in Mr. Daddy Long Leg’s web, clear across the bathroom!

So, nature took care of me today. And I didn’t have to kill anything. Why the change of heart? Why so kind and gentle with three spiders in “my world”? This all following an article I read in the local newspaper that my mom left on the kitchen table for me. This Saturday evening I’m planning on going to a book release party. A neighbor lady is an author and has just published a collection of short stories. I’ve never met her before, nor have I read any of her materials. The article in the newspaper was about this author, Jean Ryan, and described some of her stories from her book, “Survival Skills”. She is an animal activist and a nature lover and writes a lot about experiences people have in personal growth and their relationship with nature. Sounds really cool, very interesting, I’m looking forward to it. One of the stories mentioned though, was about a woman who was at home, alone, waiting for her husband to return. He was some emergency service provider and there was a hurricane, or something like that. In his absence, though, the woman in the story performed her own rescue, that of a spider from the sink drain. And I’m meeting this author? A spider activist? Me, the spider assassin? Because I will be face to face and eye to eye with this spider-activist/author, who wrote this compassionate essay about an arachnid, I was compelled to spare the lives of not one, not two, but three arachnids in one tiny bathroom in one short morning. I set aside my natural support and belief in killing, in self-defense, when necessary, to save face when meeting this author. Or, at least, that was my intent. Until I returned to the bathroom this afternoon.

Nature took care of me today!
Nature took care of me today!

I looked. I had to look. I just knew I’d see a fat, happy, satiated daddy long legs in his web, up in the corner, over the door. Nope. Not there. For some reason, my eyes were drawn to the floor. There he was. Dead. His long legs all curled up. I could almost hear the scary movie soundtrack begin as I turned, ever so slowly, scanning the walls, the ceiling. And there it was! The little, black, hairy bastard spider. In my shower! I could hear him laughing, manically, I swear it! I grabbed my mother’s favorite spider assassination tool, an old wooden yardstick with the faded, stenciled name of a long defunct hardware store still visible on it. I tried to pin the spider in the corner with the yardstick, I knew I’d have to clean the guts off the ceiling. But he dropped before the stick was within two feet of him. Bastard. He fell adeptly, like a Marine paratrooper to the very corner of the tile where it would be very difficult to mash him with my weapon. I smacked the stick on the bathtub right next to him. He jumped a full foot up, then landed in the tub. I happened to have my gym shoes on, so I leapt, I mean I totally hurdled over the side of the tub. I missed landing on him by a fraction of an inch because he jumped again. Ah, but his spidey senses finally failed him. With a stomp, he was but a black spot on the bottom of the bathtub. Mission accomplished. I laughed, maniacally!

So, now, on Saturday, when I meet the spider activist/author, it will be with a bit of guilt. I killed a spider, in cold blood. It was in self-defense, clearly, but a spider did die. Two. Three, maybe. Perhaps if I’d killed the hairy bastard first, the others would still be alive. But, in the end, I am going to sleep better tonight knowing that there are no bugs in my realm!

Two Plus Three

This simple equation is the formula for peace and prosperity. Perhaps not on a global scale, but definitely in “our world”, the realm of our family, friends, home and even, perhaps, our workplace. This simple equation can erase the ugliest of insults, blame and hurt if it is used as quickly as possible and with genuine sincerity.

I have known, and used this equation many, many times before and have restored peace and goodwill almost without exception. My reluctance to use it quickly today derailed every hope, plan and ambition I had for the day. My day was nearly lost, as a result of my stubborn reluctance to employ this equation.

On not utilizing this equation at the earliest opportunity, I found myself on the wrong side of much of the advice I give. I stayed in my sweat pants for most of the day; I neglected to eat my healthful morning snack and my lunch. I brooded and moped. I did, somehow, manage to get some projects for work finished up, but not without distraction and a dismal attitude. I didn’t make it to the gym, as I had intended.

As the day wore on, I was more and more consumed with ill feelings, I actually wondered if, perhaps, I were coming down with something. I caught myself thinking less than uplifting thoughts, my “self speak” was quite negative. I wasn’t able to compose a thought for an article or for another personal project I’ve been looking forward to working on. I felt unqualified to broach any subject of self-motivation, evolution, or, well, anything. I considered, even, going back to bed. All because I didn’t put two and three together earlier.

I wasn’t being stubborn, actually, I was acting out of regret, shame and remorse. Small words can do great harm, especially when two little numbers aren’t quickly added up to remedy the situation. I know, in my heart, that words, once spoken, can never be erased. Be very careful in what you say to anyone, but especially to those you honor and cherish.

Out of momentary anger and frustration I think I believed the hurtful words I said, when I said them. But with my pitiful day of reflection, I decided I really didn’t. I was wrong. Humans are wrong, often. Best to own up to it, perform a simple equation, and put it all behind us. Two plus three is greater than it’s sum times itself, exponentially.

The success of the simple equation, two plus three, does rely on the addition of another three. Without the other three, the original equation is zero; nothing. Both two plus three, and then the addition of three, while simple arithmetic, can be very, very difficult for some. Impossible even. I’ve known many people in my life who were completely and totally incapable of three, even after I gave them my most heartfelt two plus three.

The two? Not math, but English. Two little words. “I’m sorry.”

The three? Again, words, “I love you.”

The corresponding three to be given in reply? “I forgive you.”

There. The formula for world peace.