Happy Place

I have been so grumpy lately. Me, the person who preaches “positive mental attitude” and always being “in charge of your own feelings”. Hey, at least I’m honest! No amount of wine seems to help. Truth? It just makes me grumpier when morning rolls around. And I’ve fallen into that vicious cycle of “one more glass of wine” in the evening, which then results in “one more cup of coffee” in the morning. I’ve switched to half-caf in an effort to regain control, as of yesterday, and I was nearly homicidal. Today I made it a little less half and a little more caf and so far no one has cowered when I’ve tried to “explain or clarify” something.

I know I’ve mentioned in previous articles, but I have moved five times in as many years. Maybe more. I may have lost count. I’ve packed and unpacked the same boxes several times and they all, finally, fell apart. Now I have $300 worth of nice, sturdy boxes, piled four high in my room, my office, and in the garage. Partly due to my independence, my freedom and my autonomy, all of which I cherish and nurture, I am the “floating family member”, moving in to assist with rent when my son’s roommates moved on to other schools, and now, moving in with Mom to help her keep up with the house I grew up in. Can you imagine the culture shock moving from a house with a twenty-something and friends to a house with someone on the far side of octogenarian? My life has gone from trips to the gym and the pub in the same evening to a brisk ten minute escorted walk down the toothpaste aisle at Target. I know that moving in to help my son, and then my mom, is the right thing to do, given my flexibility and adaptability, but geez. I also preach that “change is good”. Well, then, I should be in excellent fricking shape! Change is all I’ve had! Constant upheaval, a complete change of locale, having to find my “vibe”, places to shop, to work out, to hang out, and the constant packing and unpacking, temporarily take their toll on my usually sunny disposition.

The move in with Mom has been much harder than I anticipated. We are both very strong willed, opinionated women with slightly, or not so slightly, different outlooks on life. True, and she realizes it, the circumstances have provided quite a bit of good blog fodder. And made me really, really out of sorts. I feel like I am reeling to regain my balance, teetering, not sure if I’m going to land on my ass, on my face, or on my feet.

The recent relocation has been the most difficult. I love Sacramento. I miss Sacramento. I know it may seem like a weird place to love and to miss, but I do. It is a “just right” town. I left Napa for Sacramento thirty some years ago, for a reason. Sacramento is just big enough without being too big. There is plenty of really decent shopping, lots of nice new developments, a great restaurant scene, lots and lots and lots of outdoor recreation possibilities and a decent wine region an hour in any direction. On a clear day there’s a view of the Sierras to the east and the coastal range to the west. How cool is that? Okay, so you can count the number of clear days per year on your fingers and toes, but they are that amazing. And really, the three or four months of hundred degree temperatures aren’t really that bad.

Moving back to Napa is hard. I know, I know. Everyone I meet is so jealous, “you live in Napa?” Um. Yah. No big. True, there are better than stellar wineries within an hour and the restaurant scene is world class. So, too, are the prices. Shopping? Nothing. You either have to go to San Francisco, an hour and some, or, Sacramento, an hour and some. My gyms, all three, “national chains”, don’t have facilities here, causing me to have to pay to end my contracts early and find a local, “single location” gym. I know. First world problems. I’m a spoiled rotten bitch.

Work has had me a bit out of sorts, too. I’ve been dreading the go-go busy travel season, which begins, um, Monday and ends, maybe, in December. It has been our “slow season”, meaning we’ve been working from home re-writing our class materials. It has been nice working from home, I guess, though I don’t really feel quite at home, living out of boxes and all. And the work, re-writing materials? Mind numbing doesn’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering involved. So, beginning next week, I guess I’ll just unpack my boxes into my suitcases and, well, see ya. My life becomes a travelling road show. Ironically, my first two weeks of travel are to Sacramento! I’m making a list of restaurants and shopping and work-outs and hikes and visits and …

Today, however, marked a change. Maybe even a paradigm shift, a much needed paradigm shift. First of all, I worked with a client on the phone and web, providing eight hours of software training. I dreaded getting up at 5:00 AM to call in on time, but once I was online and talking and joking and providing a valued service to these happy and appreciative people, it kind of rekindled what it is about my job I love. The people. Bonus, not monetary, no, but a figurative bonus. Beginning that early, I got to end my workday early, and begin “my day” while it was still bright and sunny outside! The veil of grumpiness budged, ever so slightly.

I went on a mission last week to try to figure out which of the three local gyms I am going to sign my paychecks over to. I toured them all and was given a couple free passes to each. It’s kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, Scarlett and the three gyms.

The first one was nice, clean, had a decent offering of classes, including Zumba and yoga and spinning. But, the equipment wasn’t all that and it was affiliated with the local hospital, which, when approaching the age of fifty, is not something I really wanted to think about. I mean, most gyms have defibrillator devices posted on the wall, here and there, but I don’t think they actually ever get used. This gym had, like, crash carts, and the staff all wore surgical scrubs and stethoscopes and it was a little too close to the emergency room for my comfort.

The second gym was in the “supposed-to-be-trendy” downtown Napa area. Downtown Napa is about four blocks long and two blocks wide and consists of nice restaurants that open for a few months, then close, leaving the investors in ruin, a few short-lived tasting rooms, and a couple of really scary and totally desperate shopping venues aimed at, well, my mother. There are a ton of vacancies, and in an effort to keep up appearances for the tourists, the windows are full of displays of local artists. It all looks quite nice, but is an illusion. There, in the midst of all this “splendor”, a gym, that used to be a Woolworths, complete with a breakfast counter serving, somehow, greasy pancakes, for most of my childhood. As I toured the gym with the overmedicated customer service representative who reminded me of Joan Cusack, in character as an overmedicated, struggling not to be middle-aged woman, all I could smell was an overwhelming deodorizer-slash-air-freshener, with underlying tones of musty sweat and somehow greasy pancakes. To top this delight to my overactive olfactory senses, they were missing a crucial piece of equipment, the stair climber. I refuse to even use my free passes there, even they smell like strong air deodorizer, musty sweat and greasy pancakes. It is hard to hold your breath and pant at the same time.

The third gym is what I would call a “glitz palace”. A showcase. It is modern, bright, light and vibrant. Appointed with expensive tile half way up all the walls and nice, expensive, shock absorbent flooring. There are windows everywhere, and beautiful, clean, state of the art equipment in several locations throughout, each with a different view. So I can work out and overlook the pool one day, the basketball court another and the free weight room another. I love a workout with a view! All this and only thirty dollars more per month than the other two gyms. But, it was extremely well ventilated, had free Wi-Fi and two stair climbers. The class offering was decent and the clientele did not look like they’d be in need of resuscitation any time soon. I used my second and final free pass today. After an hour of intense cardio and a good day of working with actual people, my foul temper was, yes, almost as sunny and warm as the weather outside.

Exercising is very important, not only for my long-term health, my ability to fit into my nice jeans I rewarded myself with over a year ago for reaching my weight loss goal, to my energy and my productivity, but, probably most importantly, to my disposition. My mom isn’t in tune with this, yet. But K-man, my good, good man from the far, far north, he knows. He can tell within the first two words of a conversation with me whether I’ve managed to exercise that day, or not. If I am sad, or mad, or out of sorts, he will often say something like “why don’t you go for a run, or go to the gym, you know you’ll feel better.” He is right, always. I do feel better.

Tomorrow, my last day for mind-numbing project work. Ugh. I will drink my half CAF and fuss with headers and footers and pagination, page breaks and font size, consistent indentations for bullet lists and things that are not at all natural for an accountant to be doing. But with mind numbing project work and no scheduled class to teach, I will have the freedom and flexibility to go to the “glitz palace” gym and tithe a portion of my earnings and partake in a much needed attitude adjustment. I have found my new happy place!

I’m an Evolutionist

Healthy Living

Are you an “evolutionist”? I am. In many respects. Do you think Steve Jobs was ever satisfied with what he produced? Do you think the engineers at Boeing ever stop designing airplanes that will be safer? Do you think a heart surgeon performing open-heart surgery ever says “this is how I learned to do this in medical school twenty years ago, I’m sure it’s good enough”? I certainly hope not! And yet what those people do, what those companies produce are always being improved on. Their knowledge, technologies, their processes, all evolve. An iPhone from the fist release is nothing compared to what is available today. What was the best thing in the market one, five, ten, fifty years ago is inferior in nearly every respect today.

Continued professional education is required for many fields because of ever changing information and developments. Information and knowledge evolve, as a result, professions evolve. How we treat people in the medical field has evolved tremendously over the years. What used to be the best available, has improved tremendously as our knowledge has evolved. There is always room for improvement. This is true for every industry, every field of study, every field of science.

This applies to what we know about nutrition and exercise, about lifestyle and our environment. Advances in knowledge are made daily that can enhance our health, our productivity, our longevity and our quality of life. Don’t settle for what worked ten years ago. It may have been the best we knew then, but what we’ve learned has evolved. In speaking with people about my philosophies surrounding diet, exercise and the use of organic and natural products in my environment, I am often met with resistance because this is all based on information that has been recently gathered and is still being analyzed and developed. Again, what had evolved ten years ago in nutrition we have found to be not very good at all, and actually, quite harmful. This field of study has evolved tremendously over time. One hundred years ago, people, for the most part, ate what they grew. There was very little use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. During the past century, we have taken our knowledge and developed a vast array of chemical compounds that kill pests that plague our food supply and that will allow us to produce large quantities of food in non-native areas across, non-native climates and for unnatural growing seasons. What we are learning now is that those chemical compounds are actually altering our hormonal balance. We have, in striving to produce larger quantities of high quality food, poisoned ourselves. What evolved in chemical enhancement of our food supply has evolved into chemically poisoning our food supply.

My mom was a registered nurse and studied for her vocation in the 1940’s. She firmly believes that exercising “overuses” our joints and causes damage. Her arthritic knees provide tangible proof, in her eyes. My mom never exercised regularly, in my eyes. She walked while working, and occasionally she walked for “fitness”. On rare occasions she would submit to a fad exercise program for about a week. This being the “exercise” that destroyed her joints. She could be right, but I am putting my stock in the vast amount of contemporary information that supports building strength and flexibility by routine, vigorous activity, building core strength and weight bearing exercises. At the age of 49, my knees are perfectly pain free and strong. I am a marathon runner, a field of exercise plagued with knee injuries, and I say “injuries”. Marathon runners don’t have bad knees because they are marathon runners, they frequently have injured knees because they have trained inappropriately or because they have over trained, done more than their bodies were prepared for. Any form of exercise will be prone to injury if done improperly or in excess of what the body is ready to handle. Every joint needs to be protected by a network of strong muscles and connective tissue around it. Failing to appropriately build and train those supporting muscles will make you more prone to joint pain and injury. This based on the evolution of study in the sports medicine field.

Just think of what all has developed since the 1940’s, in all fields of study, in all fields of science. We’ve put a man on the moon since then. I’m pretty sure what we’ve learned about nutrition and exercise has improved, and what was believed to be the best information then is no longer very relevant, now.

In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, it became very popular to package simple to prepare mixes for cakes, main courses and side dishes. Think Rice a Roni, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Duncan Hines cake mixes, Betty Crocker’s vast array of products, Hamburger Helper. This practice has continued and now we can buy just about anything powdered, frozen, boxed, or canned. It’s a heat and eat world. And all of this has altered our food supply, how we prepare and ingest food, and even the family dynamic of mealtime. We have evolved into families that no longer visit in the kitchen while whole foods are turned into a delicious and nutritious meal. We have evolved into families who eat on demand, often solitarily, or “together” in front of television. This all thanks to the science and developments of their time, improving on what was the best science, technology and information available. In my opinion, these ready-to-heat-and-eat foods, now, are irrelevant. Our knowledge has evolved. The additives and preservatives and processes required to make something that will move from market to TV tray with minimal effort on the consumer’s part doesn’t just remove the effort from preparing food, but also the nutritional value of the food, the knowledge of the content of the food from the consumer, and the social family aspect in preparing and eating a meal from raw ingredients. You are eating food that is more chemical than food, and more processed than many complex machines we produce. It is depriving you of your health, and is impacting your quality of life. This all is based on what we have learned more recently, on recent evolution in studies of health, disease and nutrition. In food, and in many things, our knowledge has evolved and we’ve found that simpler is better. Simple, wholesome food with simple, wholesome ingredients provide better nutrition. Our bodies will never evolve to be able to know exactly how to metabolize or understand, all the pre-packaged, chemically enhanced, genetically modified, over-processed non-foods on the market shelves.

This simplicity also translates to other areas, other products, that we use a great deal of and, as a result, can actually be quite harmful to our health, to our hormonal and metabolic balance. Hormonal and metabolic balance is responsible for how fat we become and for how diseased we become. There is a whole field of science and research in this area that isn’t really making the over-sensationalized, contrived, mainstream, media news. Our knowledge has evolved, but we just don’t know it yet because the message hasn’t arrived in the popular media.

Household cleansers are one of the biggest offenders. At this moment, my mom is spraying, indoors and out, every window in the house with a commonly produced commercial window cleaner, now chemically reformulated to not cause streaks. I just pleaded with her to allow me to use vinegar on the windows in my office and my bedroom, even if it provides a less than streak free result. Reluctantly, she agreed, giving me that wide-eyed look that translates into “my daughter is some kind of hippy freak.” Because this chemical window cleaning cocktail is available on every market shelf means it must be the smartest, mostly highly evolved thing available. Yet, after a recent hospitalization for a chronic and life threatening anemic condition, she asked her doctor if the condition was genetic. The doctor replied, no, it is most likely environmental, the result of exposure to properties in the environment that caused her body to no longer produce enough red blood cells. Like maybe decades of overuse of a common chemical window cleaning cocktail? Just a thought. She uses this stuff everywhere, all the time. She sprays it on every surface food comes in contact with, the countertops, the stovetop, the vinyl tablecloth. It is used so often it never gets put away. At any time of the day or night, I guarantee you will find the window cleaner and a wad of saturated paper towels on the counter.

I just cooked my lunch, a nice yummy burrito. I walked down to the garage where I keep my old-fashioned iron skillet, toted it upstairs and placed in on the stove next to my mom’s non-stick pan. I could feel the questioning look from across the kitchen. I just really, really don’t want to use anything chemically coated to apply heat to my food. Is that unreasonable? The fact that you are hard pressed to find any other kind of cookware on the shelves at Target doesn’t make it safe to use. My mom’s response to my action was to tell me I should read Nora Ephron’s essay about her love and affection for non-stick cookware. I love Nora Ephron. I will miss Nora Ephron. She was a delightfully gifted and talented writer. To be kind of a bitch, but hopefully to kind of make my point, I couldn’t help but ask my mom how Nora Ephron died, tragically, at such a young age, way before her time. Ah. Cancer. Right. No proof that it was her affinity to non-stick cookware. No proof that it wasn’t. Recent information, our evolution in knowledge, seems to indicate that non-stick coatings may be linked to cancer. The advice the popular media is willing to share is that non-stick cookware should no longer be used if the coating is scratched in any way. Um, I’ll stick with my cast iron skillet over non-stick cookware, no pun intended.

I guess my point, here, is, that as we evolve in our knowledge, advance in the many fields of study and science, as information is gathered and analyzed, we should consider that knowledge that evolved a year, five years, ten years, fifty years ago, may not be reliable, or safe, anymore. And even if our knowledge and studies and science move us in a direction that seems to be the opposite from the technological advances of yore, it is based on the best information we have, on where we have evolved. For the sake of health, of longevity and of quality of life, I am always going to seek out, discern and apply the most recent information to my lifestyle. I am, after all, an evolutionist.

Powerful

Powerful! Look at the word – powerful. It is full of power. Are you? Empower yourself. Be full of power!

Don’t let anyone “make you” feel something.

My kids “make me” feel tired
My mom “makes me” feel guilty
My husband “makes me” frustrated
My boyfriend “makes me” happy
My life “makes me” sad

Whether a good feeling or a bad feeling, they are your feelings and no one else is actually capable of “making you” feel anything. You are completely in charge of your feelings and how the actions or words of others cause you to react. Realize that and half the battle is won. I’m never going to say it’s easy, I struggle with this issue constantly and have to consciously listen to how I talk to myself and correct my thoughts, and words, to reflect the truth. The truth is, for all of us, we, alone, have to power to choose to be tired, or not, to be guilty, or not, to be frustrated, or not, to be happy, or not, to be hurt, or not. Attributing someone else with the responsibility of inflicting those feelings onto us is depriving us of the power to take control and ownership of those feelings and change them. For the better.

It is human nature to react to the actions and words of those around us, to let those words and actions define our moods, our responses, our feelings. To make matters worse, the closer someone is to you, the more reactive you tend to be to their words or actions So much of our lives is impacted by our moods and our feelings, that by letting others “make” us feel or react as a result gives the other person complete power over us. We lose ourselves in not being in control of our feelings.

When we allow someone else to dictate our feelings by reacting to their words or actions, intentional or not, it is often said, “we let someone get our goat”. This is an old saying that I recently heard the explanation for. Whether urban legend, or not, the explanation I heard is as follows: racehorses, being very high strung and excitable, often have companion animals to keep them calm. This is particularly beneficial before a big race. Often, a suitable companion animal for a horse is a goat. Before a race, some less than savory racehorse owners would steal their closest competitor’s horse’s goat, hoping the horse would be so out of sorts at the loss of his or her companion, they would be unable to perform well in the race. That being the story, don’t ever let anyone get your goat. Whether intentional, or not, if the words or actions of someone close to you has you reacting, stop. You are in charge of your reactions and of your feelings. Take control. Do something positive, whether in your head, or physically, and maintain control over your feelings.

To do this, we really have to pay attention to the conversation that goes on in our heads. This is extremely beneficial in many areas we may be seeking to evolve in. But if you want a more cheerful, sunny, happy outlook on life, take control of your feelings and of your reactions. Listen to your internal conversation and correct yourself when you hear “so and so makes me feel so …” This will take significant practice, the sooner you begin, the better. Be diligent. As soon as you begin to gain mastery of this, you’ll find your general outlook and attitude are vastly improved.

Shit gets serious, though. The control we allow people to exert over us goes way beyond just the feelings and reactions we have to their words and behavior. This goes beyond feeling grumpy because your significant other left the toilet seat up. In a lot of relationships, especially family relationships; parents, children, siblings, spouses, one party exerts power over the other willfully and knowingly by prompting a predictable, desired reaction. Manipulation. In other extremes, one party exerts their control over the other party through deliberate and malicious acts of violence, abuse, whether verbal or physical, and neglect. Humans are far more savage than we give them credit for. Out of fear of greater harm, out of fear of abandonment or loneliness, or for lack of knowing what else to do, we often allow this to continue until we become unrecognizable as our former selves. Or worse. But, we need to know, we have the ability, at any point in time, always, and without question, to regain control. We are powerful. All of us. And equally.

I have a friend I’ve known since high school, so, for over three decades. She was beautiful, vibrant, popular, and usually the life of the party. She had a joie de vie I always admired. She was daring and wicked and fun. She was a couple of years older than me and I always looked up to her as someone I’d like to be more like, though my tendency was to be a bit quieter, I was, at that point in my life, never really the life of the party. I was at the party, no doubt, but never the life of the party. She had a string of men after high school, but one, in particular, she seemed to always come back to. He was loud, phony, but somehow destined for fairly good things. They eventually married and started a family. From the outside, they seemed a magazine cover sort of family; incredibly good-looking and quite successful. She was progressing well in her own career even without having gone to college. His career was solid and he made good money. As the years passed, though, she changed. Her self-confidence deteriorated. Her health was deteriorating. Her vibrancy and joie de vie were completely gone. He was abusive. He never laid a hand on her, his weapon of choice were words. He told her, daily, that she was ugly, that she was stupid, that she was worthless. Years of this and she believed every word. She couldn’t hold a job, and though she still had school-aged children, she turned to drinking. First it was just in the evenings after the children were tucked in. Then she began to sneak drinks earlier in the day. Before long she was drinking straight vodka beginning in the morning, just after dropping the kids off at school. Her alcoholism progressed to the point where she was hospitalized, near death. She recovered, thankfully, and her doctors told her that her liver was so damaged that a single drink could kill her. By this point in time, she was separated from her husband and battling for custody of her children. She was still lost, though, as an individual, and she did drink again. She was admitted to a rehabilitation program and made a long, grueling recovery, only to drink again. She is still alive, and is now sober, but only because of the incredible support her family is providing her. She is now divorced and her children are in the custody of other family members. Every day is a battle to regain her health, her strength, her self-respect, and her integrity. Her friends and family always fear she will relapse. She struggles to find the most basic of employment, and then to keep it. She still has many ongoing, chronic and incurable health issues. All because of the words of someone who vowed to love, honor and cherish her. Hateful, mean and untrue words. Sadly, and very hard to say, it is all her fault. She had no reason to believe those words, to let them destroy her, except that no one has ever taught us that we are in complete control of our own feelings, our own reactions, that we actually have all the power we need to prevent someone from hurting us and destroying our lives. Until now. I’m telling you, if no one else has, you are in control of your own feelings and your own reactions. Be strong, brandish your power. You have the power. You are your own superhero! Save yourself!

I have another friend, from college. And, thankfully, this is a far less tragic story. But, still, tragic, in an unsettling way. We were extremely close for a period of time. Again, she was fun and outgoing. I’m, to this day, not really sure if she was my sidekick, or if I was hers. It may have depended on the party, but we were at them all. I actually think I corrupted her and, despite what she’d lead you to believe, she was never quite as deviant as I. We parted ways at some point late in college, just weird personality differences girls have as we mature. Years later, though, we reconnected through an online high school forum. My mom had kept me filled in with her marriage and other newsworthy items in the newspaper, as had mutual friends. Not so very long ago, a few years now, I had the opportunity to work near where she was living at the time. We agreed to meet. After work, I made my way to her house for dinner. She always planned to marry for money, and had managed to follow through with her plan. In spite of her college education, she did not work, except for charitable causes, which I respect. And don’t. But that’s my issue. She, well I guess, technically, her husband, had a nice home in a very nice area. When I arrived, I was given the tour and she and I visited, joking and laughing and carrying on, just like old times. It was wonderful. The doorknob turned and the front door opened, there stood the husband; a tall distinguished, sneering, sort of aloof, arrogant man. I am incapable of hiding any thoughts, so I’m sure I had a raised eyebrow and a look of disgust on my face, but we were introduced and I made nice. We had stimulating conversation throughout hors d’oeuvers, once he found out I worked in a professional field. She said barely a word, “more peas?”, was about the extent of it. It was as if she’d been exorcised the moment that doorknob turned. After dinner, she and I were allowed to leave together, without an escort, for dessert, and she returned to her “normal” self, save for a moment of stress over the ten dollars dessert was going to cost. I offered to pay, to avoid any issue at home, but she refused.

A few months later, we met again. We were, by coincidence, going to be attending the same sports event. As soon as we met, we fell into familiar banter, antics and conversation. We were talking and laughing and considering plans for after the event. Then it happened. Her phone went off, she quickly answered, and her face went robotic. When she got off the phone she said “he” wanted to go to, and she name-dropped some very famous and expensive restaurant, for lunch. She turned and walked away without even looking back. My friend was a slave. She sold herself for status and a country club membership. Not much more than a bearer of children, children who would be properly educated at the best schools money could buy, coached in the appropriate sports, and even their college admissions essays would be the product of high priced, consultative services. She kept house, or hired the proper housekeepers, and she kept appearances. She paid to learn to cook and had dinner on the table the second the doorknob turned. The exorcism was complete. And tragic. To be exorcised of your very self, your soul, your being, your freedom, independence, autonomy, is a fate nearly as bad as verbal abuse. This, I am quite certain, is an incomplete story, there will be a manifestation, not to be a witch foretelling of evil, but I am fairly certain that something unsavory will manifest on one side of that relationship, or the other. And happiness and joy and self-fulfillment will not be the manifestation of which I speak.

I have told the story of my friend that suffered physical abuse at the hands of her husband. I have also told of her eventual and brave escape from that marriage. That she saw her power, reclaimed her power and wielded her power. She fled, leaving everything but her children behind. They lived in shelters for abused women for a time, until something better could be provided through assistance she researched, through assistance and support from her family and from her friends. She made it out alive, with her self-respect and her kids. She found her way to self-sufficiency, to independence, to success. Her abuser rots one imprisonment after another. And though this story, at first, seems a happy ending, it does not yet end. She now battles for her life from another abuser, cancer. And though she is certain, as am I, as are all of her supporters, that she will again prevail, because she is powerful, this does mark a setback. I can’t help but believe, cancer as mysterious as it is to us all, still, that years of abuse, of denying her own power over her own life, of relinquishing that power to a coward of a man, could possibly have had some contribution to her eventual weakness to disease. It is believed by many smarter than I, that a life of stress is a major contributor to an increased risk of cancer. Is not suffering, physically, painfully, at the hands of someone who vowed to love, honor and cherish you, stress? Is not thinking you are powerless against not only the attacks, but also the attacker, stress? Isn’t attempting to contribute to the household income and raising the children in as normal an environment, though actually a warzone, stress? She found the power once, she is finding the power again. An aggressive and seemingly unstoppable cancer has, at this point, halted in its tracks. She has the power. She always had the power. So do you. Use it now. Whether your attacker is a person you are committed to, or a disease that eats you alive, find your power, wield it, and regain your self.

My story is vanilla ice cream and rainbows by comparison, but I do have a story. Mine is a story neglect, abandonment, really, and worse of all, of loss of self. Eventually, a story of finding power. A story of regaining power, and then self. Mine is a story that does not present itself well in this article, in detail, the details I will save for a better time. But I am currently trying to put to a fair and legal death a long, miserable and terribly lonely marriage. It is possible to be abandoned by someone who is still physically present, and it is no less painful, it is perhaps even more painful and cruel, than someone who actually, physically leaves. My marriage was to a man of addictions; before we met, the typical addictions of foolish and misguided youth, then as an adult, and in my presence, food, television, the internet. Benign though they may sound, they are as self-destructive, if not more so, than any other addiction. A relationship that began with hope and promise and the poison of expectations, it was loveless almost from the start. Oh, the words were spoken, ad nauseum, but words are empty when actions don’t follow. After years of cohabitation, marriage was agreed upon like an informal business dealing. There was no proposal, to speak of, more of a summit meeting around a wobbly, oversized and hideously ugly dining table. And me a hopeless romantic, a believer in one true love, in enduring passion and joy. The wedding night was one of me pleading for consummation from an unwilling, unenthusiastic, and un-enamored groom, and this set the tone for the next twenty some years. We were not lovers, nor husband and wife, as much we were really just “business partners” of a sense, and, eventually, sort of a real estate investment trust. For as long as we both could argue our stake in the business end of the bargain, and the real estate continued to stair step up to the ultimate conquest, a forty-acre ranch home, I managed to endure the unimaginable loneliness, the loss of self, of self-respect, and self-esteem. I was second to whatever fifty channels of cable television had to offer, to news talk radio, and to the Drudge Report on the Internet, then to an ill-fated, impotent and flaccid “day-trading” scheme that he could never actually consummate. Again. And still. I compromised my career, working only part time, in order to raise our children, acting as both mother and father for most of their youth. I was the only female Boy Scout leader in a Catholic troop, for Christ’s sake! He was a reluctant participant in their upbringing and employed yelling, criticism and hurtful name-calling as strategies to exert his dominance, to demand respect, as “father and husband”. Respect, always, is earned, not assumed, and never required. Mostly, he sat in his chair, eyes glued to one screen or another, yelling obscenities or cruel names at us if we dared demand his attention for a moment. When the economic crisis unfolded, and truths were withheld that resulted in the eventual loss of everything we owned, I bowed out. I found the power to bow out. And the moment I set myself free, finally, I found myself, a strong, independent, self-sufficient, driven and powerful woman. The power had been there, growing, all the while. In earning my half of everything we’d built, and lost. In raising the kids as both mother and father, in fulfilling their promise of college with not a dime to my name and no assets to leverage, in enduring the slander and outlandish accusations of a man who cannot understand being left, not because of another man, but because he is not worthy of my love. I found within myself a power so indescribably pure, so indescribably potent, that I know, without a doubt in my mind, I can do anything. I have overcome my challenges; I have rebuilt my life and have since found that one, true, pure and enduring love, passion and joy. The power continues to build and I want to use it to help those, who feel powerless, to become powerful. To find their own power from within. To evolve.

I am not alone in the possession of this super-power. It lives within all of us. Sadly, in the trial that life can be, we let it sink deep within us, and it is often near extinguishment, buried in our bowels. Let whatever trials or triumphs life affords you, ignite that power. Nurture that power and let it possess you, do not let anyone exorcise it from you, it is yours, alone. Use it to find your voice, to find your destiny, to find your peace and solace in this challenging world. Your power will help you evolve into the whole and deserving person you are, capable of anything you desire. You are all power-ful. Take it, it’s yours.

Just Go!

My sanity may be questionable. I got up at 4:45 AM this morning, got dressed, jumped in my car and drove 80 miles to run eight fast miles with my running club. My running club is awesome and there isn’t anything quite like it in my new locale, so I commute Saturday mornings to run. At 5:30 on a Saturday morning, in the spring, there is virtually no traffic between the north San Francisco bay area where I live and Sacramento, where I run. Wintertime is another story, with snowboarders and skiers all heading towards the Sierras, but though there are many of them, they tend to be very efficient drivers. Today? It was a breeze! A nice consistent speed between ten and fifteen miles in excess of the speed limit. My highway motto is “I just want to do 72”, sort of a variation of Sammy Hagar’s “I can’t drive 55”.

After my run, and three delicious street tacos for lunch, I headed back home. Westbound. Late morning. Things were looking really good, we were all doing about 72 miles per hour, or so. I’m just happy. Blissful, even. Full of endorphins from my run, sunroof slanted, music on and I am singing at the top of my lungs. I do love to drive when thing are going my way! Then, it happened. Brake lights. We all came to an abrupt halt, then crept along for a bit, and then we were all back up to speed. Then brake lights, an abrupt halt, creeping, then back up to speed. This cycle was repeated for most of the 80-mile drive. I was still singing at the top of my lungs, but there were explicatives being mixed in here and there. I just wanted to go! There was no good reason for the slowing, no wrecks or stalled cars, no cops, no cows on the highway, nothing that could explain the behavior of the traffic. At least the last time I made the same drive westward and we all came to a screeching halt it was for a good, well, actually, an awful reason. A truck driver choked on something he was eating, blacked out and took out a BMW, killing the occupants, and mangled a couple of other cars. All lanes of the highway, in both directions, were closed. It took me two hours to go ten miles to the detour, where we were rerouted around the charred remains of the big rig and the BMW. It was gruesome, but a really valid reason for halted traffic on an interstate. I get a little claustrophobic when stuck in lanes and lanes of traffic for hours on end. Just a little cray cray. I just want to go!

Yes, I am one of those people you see in the rear view mirror gesturing, urgently, but politely (I don’t use the one finger salute, ever, I have a story about that, for another day). I really just want to go! I like moving forward quickly and efficiently. I will gladly pull to a lane to the right to let a faster car pass, and I appreciate the same courtesy from other drivers in my way. My ideal day driving is one where I can, like a bicyclist, maintain my cadence, or speed, unimpeded. I just want to go!

My habits and preferences driving are very much indicative of my general attitude in life. I just want to go! I am a very high energy, highly motivated individual and anything that slows or impedes progress will make me a little cray cray. This applies to all things, great and small. Fixing dinner to career paths. Doing dishes to training for a marathon. If you’ve read any of my material, you already know my philosophy on wasted or squandered time; it is a crime and a sin, in my eyes.

Everything I approach in life is with a “let’s do this!” kind of attitude. As an example, when I started the job I currently have, training accountants how to use specialized software to help them organize their workpapers and financial data, I was expected to learn to teach the “core” group of classes our team teaches. Our team teaches a total of about thirty different sessions, the core consists of maybe six or eight classes. Every time an opportunity came up to learn a new session, or when a brand new session was added to our curriculum, I would request to be one of the instructors. I would tell my manager, in these exact words “bring it”. Of the thirty classes we teach, I am the only person on our team that can competently perform twenty-nine of them, and if I had to teach the thirtieth one, I could be ready to do it by the end of this week. That may explain a little bit about my nature. I just want to go!

I just started running about a year ago. At the beginning of 2012, I was contemplating the feeling of freedom. I was emerging from a time in my life where I felt imprisoned by certain circumstances and I wanted to do things that would make me feel free until I was physically able to free myself of those binding, imprisoning circumstances. I thought about being a kid, I always remember the feeling of freedom as a child, at recess, running around the playground. Remember, as a kid, you ran everywhere. Ok, I did. Truthfully, I usually galloped; I was one of those horse crazy girls. Three things came to mind that I felt represented a similar feeling of freedom, and, ironically, there were all three things I felt I really sucked at. Dancing. Singing. Running. And those became my goals for 2012.

I took some salsa, tango and merengue dance classes. I became proficient enough to really enjoy it! I couldn’t find any singing lessons that were affordable that would work well with my work travel schedule, so I bought a DVD/CD series on learning to sing and, admittedly, I still suck, but I’m still trying. Running. I joined a running club on the recommendation of a good friend. I hadn’t run since junior high, that I can remember, anyway. Parts of high school and college are a little blurry, but if I ran, I don’t think it was far, or very pretty. The first day with the running club we were asked to run a mile to see what pace group we’d fit into. I’d been doing a lot of cardio at the gym, but I decided I’d take it a little easy. I didn’t want to be placed in a pace group that would kill me mile two! I ran the mile, without walking once, and finished at just about the time I figured I would. I was placed into a pace group and the following week I ran with them. It was excruciating! We run on a very busy multi-use trail; cyclists, runners, walkers, strollers, dogs, horses. The cyclists are murderous, rogue gangs of high-speed killers when you are a person jogging along on the shoulder! Terrifying! Since there are so many folks using the trail, we run two abreast in groups numbering anywhere from eight to maybe twenty, depending on attendance. We look very much like soldiers in a running exercise, minus carrying rifles. Our pace is monitored using expensive, sophisticated GPS watches. I could’ve walked faster. We weren’t running, I would call it more of a shuffling. But we only ran a few miles and the prospect of piling more miles on intimidated me a bit, so I stuck with the group for a few more weeks. Nope. I just wanted to go! I was getting kind of cray cray shuffling along with theses folks. I promoted myself another thirty seconds. Then another. I jumped to a whole different color group and finished the training season a full minute faster per mile than I’d been placed. But we were still shuffling. I competed in my first half marathon a few months later and ran the entire 13.1 miles a full one and a half minutes faster than the pace I had been training at. This season, I’m running with that pace group and have sights on jumping another color group for next season. I just want to go! Farther, and faster! You see how I am?

So how does my need to just go apply to my evolution? Simple, I am driven in all I endeavor to do. Not by money, not for prizes, not for notoriety. Just for the sense that I am improving myself in ways I consider meaningful. My free time is scarce, so I try to take on only those endeavors I think will provide me the best avenue for growth, for learning, for development, for improvement. Evolution. I just want to go. What could this possibly have to do with you? With your evolution? How am I trying to inspire you by telling you that slow drivers and shuffling runners make me cray cray?

I guess my point here is, with time being of limited supply, and more in this world to accomplish, to try, to learn, to experience than we can even list in a lifetime, let alone do, we really need to focus on what endeavors are meaningful to us, personally, and then just go. Any time you allow to go fallow, time that is idle or wasted, squandered, is time that could be used in an effort to evolve. Any effort we make to evolve into a stronger, happier, more balanced person is worthwhile. The trick is deciding which avenue to take when there are so many. Which interstate, which pathway will open up before us and let us just go?

Good Enough

Why settle for good enough? If Thomas Edison had said “good enough” on the first several hundred attempts to develop an electrical filament for the light bulb, we may still be in the dark! Do you think researchers today, on the brink of a breakthrough for a cure for cancer are going to give up and say “it isn’t quite there, but it’s good enough”? Do you think Leonardo DaVinci slapped paint on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel one day and said “good enough”?

Do you approach life with a “good enough” attitude?

I spent a very large portion of my adult (married) life driving cars that just ran “good enough”. And sometimes they didn’t quite run good enough. Or at all. My AAA card got more use than my Target Red Card (which I use almost daily to save 5% on my purchases). At one point, all ten cars were rendered motionless by mechanical ailments stemming from an attitude of “good enough”. I guess we’d run out of hangers, baling twine and duct tape. My husband had worked as an auto mechanic before college and vowed he’d always maintain our fleet of cars so we wouldn’t have to rely on costly mechanics or auto repair facilities. I guess you get what you pay for, unless you use the Target Red Card, in which case you get 5% more than what you paid for! My husband lives a life of “good enough”, which really means it was ALL good enough until it wasn’t good at all, at which point, it was kept anyway because, someday, if we had the time and money, we may be able to make it good enough, again. But that never actually happened, because things were always good enough that we didn’t really need to make good use of time to find a way to make enough good money, once the previous career(s) weren’t good enough. I left him, and all the cars, and all the other broken things, including our broken relationship. It just wasn’t good enough.

In our current job market, where good jobs are hard to find, and as hard to keep, do you think “good enough” is going to cut it? Absolutely not. So why should “good enough” be good enough in any other aspect of your life?

Let’s take this to the big picture. Is your life good enough? I hope not! And I don’t mean that quite like it sounds in the literal sense! I’m not saying I hope your life is shit. What I AM saying is that I hope you aren’t settling for good enough because that’s where you are and you don’t see the point in wanting more. If we have a roof over our head, frozen pizza in the freezer, batteries in the remote and premium cable, then life is good enough. Sigh. Ok, maybe add a Target Red Card so you can save 5% on the pizza and the batteries. And on underwear when yours is no longer good enough.

Me? Life is fantastic! But never quite good enough. I have a very, very long list of things I want that my Target Red Card won’t buy. These things are called experiences. Life experiences. Some experiences I can easily do, daily. I can always go outside and marvel at nature! The warm California sunshine and light breeze today. A sprinkle of Texas rain last week. The stinging, cold of an Alaskan winter day last month. Twenty hours of Alaskan daylight next month. I am not wealthy to afford all this; I just rearrange my priorities so the money I do make, which, by the way, isn’t quite good enough, allows me to afford some awesome life experiences.

Some experiences I have on my list are going to require a bit more work to, well, experience. I would like to travel Europe, parts of Asia, parts of Africa and South America. I’d like to see the rest of the United States, because, even with my travels for work, there is much I haven’t seen. I want to learn to white water kayak, I want to learn to snowboard better, I want to climb some mountains, and I want to backpack the Pacific Coast Trail. I guess you might say this is part of my bucket list. Just part. Because my bucket list just isn’t good enough. It needs work.

My “not good enough” attitude crosses into other areas of my life. For my age, I am pretty darned fit. But even that isn’t good enough. I can always be a little more fit. I am pretty darned healthy, but I could always find more ways to live a healthful life. I have a good career, I make enough money, and I’m fairly well respected professionally. Why, just moments ago, I received an email from a client that said, “I think that you were wonderful, thank you.” If I had done just a “good enough” job in our consulting session do you think I would have received that level of compliment and gratitude? I always look for ways to try harder, to learn more, to give more. At work. At home. In my relationships with my family, my friends, my love.

My knowledge is never “good enough”. There is so much to know, to learn. I want to learn to be a sommelier. I want to learn to cook better. I want to learn to take better photographs. I want to learn to sing. I want to learn to dance better. I want to learn a half dozen foreign languages. I want to be able to identify flowers and trees. What I know just isn’t good enough.

When will anything be good enough? The correct answer, in my opinion, is never. Once things are good enough, we’ve become complacent. Grab your Target Red Card and stock up on the hangers, bailing twine and duct tape; it’s going to be a slippery ride into misery. Me? I’m going to grab my Target Red Card and stock up on a new scarf, some rockin’ new sunglasses and cute tote bag, because the ones I have just aren’t good enough, for my next life experience!

The Beautiful People

I don’t know who they are, exactly. I do know that I am not one of them, or at least that’s what I’ve been told many, many times in my life. They get things and I don’t. Somehow they are more deserving than me, or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe many, many times in my life. I envision Jennifer Aniston, who is indeed beautiful, but I don’t think any more deserving than, say, me. Or you.

In the naiveté of childhood I would say, “Mommy, I’d like a house like that some day,” or “I want to live in Paris some day”, and often these musings were met with the same response, “that’s for the beautiful people.” Was my mom calling me ugly? Or just undeserving? Was she being pragmatic, or instilling in me limiting beliefs? Both. I’m sure her intent was to soothe me, to reassure me, that a good enough life was good enough. A modest cookie cutter house in a curb and gutter neighborhood, a reliable, economical car, a job as a nurse and a husband not from divorced parents who watches TV at night and mows the lawn on the weekend. Those seemed to be her very practical hopes and dreams for me. Her expectations, even, as I spent much of my life enduring “should” storms. I should study this, I should say that, I should buy this kind of house, that kind of car, etc. Of course, none of it was what I wanted, but I’m wondering if what I wanted was the opposite of what she expected, just out of my own stubborn rebellion. Could be.

The beautiful people, I gather, are people who are wealthy, have multiple homes, travel extravagantly, drive exotic cars, dine outrageously and live luxuriously. The beautiful people can afford all the shoes they want! They can afford all the Louboutin’s they want! Beautiful people only hang out with other beautiful people. If I had to guess. And I can’t be part of the club, according to my mom. Ever. I’m just NOT one of the beautiful people.

But, in my stubborn rebellion, I refuse to believe that. I AM in the same club as the beautiful people, I have a lot in common with them! We are like THIS! I have 206 bones in my body. So do the beautiful people. I inhale and my body uses some of the oxygen in the air and when I exhale I breathe out carbon dioxide. So do the beautiful people. If I drink too much wine I get weird. So do the beautiful people. If I wear new shoes and walk a lot, I get blisters. So do the beautiful people. I require a bit of sleep every night. So do the beautiful people. If I cut myself I bleed. So do the beautiful people. I am a human being, capable of endless possibilities and limited only by my beliefs. So are the beautiful people.

I hope I raised my own children to believe they are the beautiful people, capable of anything they set their minds to, empowered, unlimited. I know my parents had all the best intentions in the world in raising me, and, truthfully, I am grateful for them. With the exception of being automatically disqualified from the beautiful people club. Because now, at this advanced stage in life, I still want to be part of the club, and I have to battle those limiting beliefs that I am just not one of them, that I am somehow different or less deserving. But you know what? I don’t have a modest cookie cutter house in a curb and gutter neighborhood, a reliable, economical car, a job as a nurse and a husband not from divorced parents who watches TV at night and mows the lawn on the weekend. I lied. I do have a reliable, economical car, but I desperately want to trade it in on something a little flashier. My point is, I have rebelled against every other expectation, so why not the expectation that I’m not one of the beautiful people?

Limiting beliefs compromise our potential. They prevent us not only from achieving our potential, but from even recognizing the potential of or our potential. Most of us never come close to what we are truly capable of learning, doing, sharing. Just think, for a moment; if we were all limitless, do you think we’d still be struggling with a cure for cancer? For AIDS? Do you think our economy would be a shambles? Our political system devoid of true and worthy leaders? If we all reached a quarter of our potential, the world would be unrecognizable, I’m sure, from what we see today. And yet, only the bravest and most motivated of us will spend the better part of our lives trying to crawl out from under our learned or, often, self-imposed, limitations, leaving very little time left in life to accomplish great things. The single best thing we can do to turn the Titanic around is to teach our young people that they are unlimited. There are, indeed, many beautiful people out there who came from very limited situations, never claimed those limits as their own, and became those beautiful people.

I know I am going to battle against any and every limitation, learned, or self-imposed, in order to achieve something worthwhile and meaningful in this world. It’s more than a material conquest to me, oh no, I desperately want to make a difference! And the difference I’d like to make is to help people identify and discard their limitations and become beautiful people along with me. You, me, and Jen Aniston. Beautiful people.

Great Expectations

What Do You Expect?

What is an expectation?

ex·pec·ta·tion
/ˌekspekˈtāSHən/

Noun

A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

Let’s talk about that second line, there, a belief that someone will or should achieve something. Let me ask you this; how easy is it to change? What’s the biggest thing you’d like to change about yourself? Are you done, yet? Have you even started? Not that easy, is it? Now what if someone strongly believed you should change in that way? What if they believed that you would, or should, achieve those changes? And what if you didn’t? Do you think the fact that you didn’t quite fulfill their desire, confirm their strong belief, would cause disappointment, even if only a little? Would prolonged disappointment on their part, perhaps, cause a strain in your relationship? Yes, it would, and the more time that passes that you don’t confirm their strong belief, the more likely that disappointment will mount. The relationship deteriorates over time as a result. Yet we all have expectations of others in our relationships. It is absolutely natural.

Expectation is a relationship disease, like a cancer, eating away at it, undermining its health and vigor, zapping its strength and cutting short its longevity. The only person than can change you, is you. You, plain and simple, have to want to change. Then you must apply a significant amount of energy to that desire. And only you can do that. Period. You can’t change anyone else, and they can’t make you change either. Expecting another to change, trying to convince them to change, pleading, offering ultimatums or threats, are the surest way to put a once vibrant, healthy relationship to a slow and miserable death.

This reaches far beyond romantic relationships and invades relationships with friends and with family members. Expectation causes disappointment, anger, resentment and eventually bitterness, in any relationship. The “expector” is disappointed, angry, resentful and bitter for being let down, the “expectee” for the lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the “expector”. Even if we have expectations of someone with the best of intentions, “I think you should lose weight because I care for you.” Or, “I think you should spend less money so you can save for retirement.” When those types of expectations are placed on us, even though well intended, what is the immediate reaction of the “expectee”? Not change, at least not long term. The “expectee” may make an initial effort, but if they are not embracing the change wholeheartedly, if the desire to change does not come from within, the behavior will continue, the expector will be disappointed, and the expectee feels all that much more awful, first of all for letting the “expector” down and for “failing” or for letting themselves down. Often times, this undermines the self-esteem and self-confidence of the “expectee”, which, with many behaviors, just causes them to increase or worsen, or for new behaviors to manifest.

I once knew a married couple and from the outside looking in, I thought they had the perfect relationship. I remember talking to the wife about it and she told me that a couple of times a year, or when there was a change in family dynamic (a new kid, a new job, etc.), they’d sit down and discuss their expectations of each other. I thought this was brilliant. I attempted to employ this in my own, already unhappy marriage, and the expectation that my husband would even sit down and have a meaningful conversation with me wasn’t even met. Long story short, my marriage ended, neither of us ever lived up to any of each other’s expectations. And the happily married couple are now bitterly divorced. The wife was, for lack of a better term, a bit more assertive than her husband. Over time, he pretty much self-destructed. His life is in shambles and she is happily remarried.

Surely relationships must have some level of expectation in order to survive. Is it wrong to expect your spouse won’t cheat, will honor your wedding vows? The difference here is that vows are a mutual agreement, entered into by both parties, willingly. An expectation is one sided. Therein lies the crucial difference. Expectations often follow the word “should”. Listen to your thoughts, your words; how often are you thinking or saying, “should” as it relates to other people in your life? That is a one-sided desire, your desire, for someone else to change or conform, often against his or her will or desire. Expectations in a relationship, being one-sided in nature, are a highway to frustration and disappointment. Yours and theirs.

We usually begin a relationship managing to overlook all those things we think the other party should or should not do. We are open, accepting and tolerant. That is the key; openness, acceptance and tolerance. As time passes, unless we are conscious of own behavior, the “shoulds” begin to creep into our thoughts and into our speech. We need to learn to identify this tendency and to foster that loving openness, acceptance, and tolerance. We need to affirm in our relationship the characteristics of the other person that drew us together and accept the characteristics that we might otherwise expect to change. Quite simply said, much harder done, we need to replace expect with accept.

One of the best books I have ever read on all matters of relationships is The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. This book eloquently and logically explains how poisonous expectations can be to a relationship and how to replace expectations with invitations. I’ve read this book and I’ve re-read this book. And I recommend this book unequivocally. It should be required reading for anyone that ever has to relate in any way to another person! I am inviting you to read this book; I am not expecting you to read it. I’ll accept your decision, either way. Just sayin’.

Victim

We are all victims, if not right now, at some point in our lives. Our survival depends on what we do about being victimized.

By survival, I mean our ability, as individuals, to live a life of endless hope and opportunity, to seek fulfillment. A life without limitations where all things are possible. For, without hope, opportunity, and fulfillment, we are limited to a life barely worth living, to merely existing.

Often, I hear people discuss how they were victimized. They lament the situation, retell the story, and, sadly, offer it as an excuse for some limiting behavior. To me, this is more tragic than whatever they suffered when they were victimized.

I firmly believe, and I have said many times before, we are only limited by ourselves. Overcoming our limitations offers us the opportunities life has to offer us. Living with our self-imposed limitations imprisons us from a life we were meant to have.

If we are all victims, why do some of us succumb to victimization more than others? I think many people truly don’t realize that they, alone, hold the power to overcome.

It is your choice, and that’s all there is to it.

If you are in a situation where you continue to be victimized, get out. There is always a way, and, again, only you are in control of whether you stay in that situation, or not. I have a friend, who after many years of abuse at the hands of her husband, after years and years of encouragement from her friends and family, left. She took her kids and went to a shelter, pressed charges, testified against the man she took vows with, and built herself a new life. She left the home she and her husband had built, she left a life with mutual friends, a neighborhood where her children had a school and friends. And she started over. It was hard, admittedly, it took courage, bravery, strength. There were tears, there was guilt, initially. And then, there was freedom, freedom from abuse, from pain, from shame, from fear, from victimization.

To this day, she never uses her past abuse, her past victimization as an excuse for anything. Nor do her children. She took advantage of work training programs that were available to her, she relied on the encouragement of her family and friends, she accepted charity when offered. Now she has a great, steady job with good benefits and retirement. Her children have grown into strong, well-adjusted, independent people. She recently bought her own home and has a long term relationship with a wonderful man who treats her like a goddess. This was all by choice. Hers. Alone. She took control, she walked away and took control of her life, of herself. Her abuser is powerless against her. He is broken. She is whole.

Whether you were a victim of abuse, neglect, or even bullying, as a child, as a spouse or in a close relationship, at work, or at the hands of a complete stranger, whether you were a victim of a violent crime, psychological abuse or identity theft, as a victim, you have been deprived of control over some situation. You remain a victim for as long as you allow yourself to be ashamed, afraid, hurt, scared or angry. Notice the words “allow yourself”. You are in control, you only need to realize it, then exert it.

Again, we have all been victimized in some way, at some point in our lives, and in being victimized, someone has exerted their power and control over us. Don’t you dare let them keep it. Notice the words “let them”. It is your choice. Take control, take back that control. By taking measures to overcome the abuse, violence, neglect, mistreatment, or the situation you were taken advantage in, you regain the power. Your power. And that is your first step to becoming whole, to being healed. To being limitless.

By playing the victim, by coveting your victimization, focussing on it, retelling it, you are first of all, constantly reliving it. You are never free of it and, you are allowing that person to maintain power and control over you. Many forms of victimization are demonstrations of power, and only you can revoke that power from them by reclaiming it for yourself. Then you can draw on that power, your power, to heal yourself.

We all have tremendous capability for strength, courage, bravery and healing, whether physical, emotional or psychological. The key to recovery is within you, find a way to tap into that strength, courage, bravery and healing power. Empower yourself, whether you do so by educating yourself, finding a support group, a therapist, or a sympathetic friend that encourages your reclamation of power.

But you have to make the decision and follow through. This is the hardest step, but once you walk out that door with your suitcase, once you turn your back, pick yourself up, brush yourself off and take that first step, the battle is won. You’ll find, once you take that first step, there’s a world ready to greet you, to help you, just ask. You need only take the first step, and your power is restored and it can be put to use fitting the pieces back together, the way they belong.

If you choose to hang on to your victimization, you are really only victimizing yourself. We are capable of overcoming, of moving beyond. To choose otherwise is just that, to choose. Why would you choose to be a victim at your own hands?

Don’t Poke the Bear

Why is it so important to always be right? Why is it so important to have the last word? Why is it so important that everyone agree with you, your philosophy, your religion, your politics, your lifestyle, your fashion, your, well, you name it? Or with mine? I’m not innocent here, either.

True, as a blogger about lifestyle and self-improvement and health, I could fall under this umbrella. I do give advice, unsolicited advice. But I don’t think I’d argue with anyone that what I believe is the only solution, unless I’m feeling defensive. And I find, lately, I’m on the defensive quite a bit. True, I am a sensitive soul, but when attacked, or picked at, I will defend myself, my beliefs, and my right to have my opinion and to follow my beliefs. Don’t poke the bear.

My favorite animal is Ursus Americanus, the black bear, which may or may not actually be black. The black bear is shy, very smart, and can smell food for miles. Just like me. Their sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhound’s, 2,100 times better than a human’s. They are omnivores, consuming a mostly vegetarian diet. They do eat meat, but they don’t often kill, but rather, will scavenge what another predator left behind. In other words, if you cook a steak for them, they love it, otherwise, a salad will do. They tend to be peaceful creatures, they just want food, and otherwise, seek to avoid any kind of encounter and especially seek to avoid conflict. When provoked, or if they feel their young are endangered, or if you have a candy bar in your sleeping bag, they can, and will shred you to pieces. I identify with this species on many levels. So don’t poke the bear.

There are only a few people in this world that can illicit a defensive reaction from me, and they tend to be the people I am the closest to. But not my kids. Either we three are on exactly the same wavelength, or perhaps it’s just that I’ve done an exceptional job raising them. They’ve got it all pretty right, and if ever we differ, they don’t pick, poke, prod or attack me, or try to convince me to conform to their way of thinking. The cubs and I get along.

I like to get along with people, peacefully, respectfully and companionably. If we have a difference of opinion, I respect that. I’ll listen to your opinion, maybe, maybe, I’ll offer you mine, and let’s just leave it at that. I have been known to change my philosophy, my opinion, but it has always, always, always been my choice, based on facts I have gathered myself, and after much thought and reflection. No one has ever, ever, ever been successful in changing my opinion by shouting, pounding their fists, quoting statistics or surveys, by quoting the ever ubiquitous “they”, by interrupting me, by talking over me, by humiliating me, belittling me or criticizing me or my beliefs. In fact, people with those tendencies are usually on my “seek to avoid” list, and for those who I can’t avoid, I will do one of two things; shut down or lash out. It’s the lashing out I am here to discuss. My advice? Don’t poke the bear.

I will say that I was raised to never discuss money, politics or religion, and it’s a lie. I think it is good manners to avoid those topics, always, but especially at the dinner table, at parties or social occasions or celebrations. And I do. Let’s talk about food, or wine, celebrities, travel or fashion instead. Please? If you must debate or discuss money, politics or religion, save it for smaller, consensual, groups, over a beer, a glass of wine, bourbon or brandy, perhaps with a cigar. Retire to a smaller group and have at, but to drag those topics into the main theater of a gathering is just not okay. Emily Post, I’m sure, would agree, and, at the very least, most of the guests would really, really appreciate it. Take it outside, gloves off, and go for it. Poke the bear away from the party, preferably outdoors, or in another room.

I was married to a man who was very politically outspoken. He had a twin brother who was equally politically outspoken. The funny thing, though, is that they were polar opposites on all things political, social, and economic. They were raised by each other, or by wolves, but in either case, they were never exposed to Emily Post, manners, or etiquette. They both believed that the louder you were the more correct your point of view was. Extra points for interrupting and talking over the other. Needless to say, family gatherings were a nightmare. The more genteel of us would try to convince them to not talk about politics during these gatherings, and that rarely lasted long enough for the first drink to kick in.

This not so refined manner of communication carried into all things family, the louder you were, the righter you were, and I fully participated in this chaos. The bear had been poked beyond recognition. This was a major contributor to the first three words of the previous paragraph, mostly the second word. In my current relationship, we have nearly opposite lifestyles, a few differences in philosophy, an occasional difference of opinion, yet we manage to be very agreeable and always respectful. He was raised to never raise his voice in conversation, no matter how adversarial. So refreshingly civilized. If you want people to really listen to you, try whispering, or speaking in a calm, even, tone of voice, they’ll have shut up for a minute and lean in and listen, actively.

In my current relationship, we have a rule, to always love and respect each other. No matter what. What does it say about where we both have been in the past that we had to make this rule, write it down, and occasionally repeat it, not out of necessity, but more as a comfort to each other?

On poking the bear; I’m sure we all handle this a bit differently. Personally, I’ll shut down first, especially if I’m in a group where my soft voice is not likely to be heard, or acknowledged. If I can’t get a word in edgewise, I just give up. I just get quiet and look for a way to retreat. And make notes for a blog post later. If I can’t retreat and the poking continues, or if I am in a comfortable environment where I get poked at all the time, I will defend myself, usually by prefacing every response with “No! …”. The literal translation would be “please respect me for who I am, for my individual thoughts and beliefs. Please try, for a moment, to be open minded, tolerant, accepting, and please pretend to be intelligent enough to realize that there may be more than one opinion, more than one correct answer.” Another literal translation might be “IT”S NOT A DIET! THIS IS HOW I ALWAYS EAT! YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IT!” Oh, sorry, lost my head for a moment. The bear was being poked.

I begin my day, nearly everyday, by writing in my journal. First I write down my affirmations, then I write down all that I am grateful for. This daily exercise puts me in a great frame of mind to survive the day, to make progress, to evolve a little bit more in some meaningful, and hopefully measurable, way. A few of the things I always express gratitude for are my parents, my kids, my friends and my man. At the top of the list of my affirmations are that I am a good daughter, a good mother, a good friend and a good mate. Ten minutes later, an hour later, a day, week or month later, I am face to face, with all of those parties. The bear is sometimes poked and all those good intentions, all the affirmations, all the gratitude, is momentarily lost. “No! …” And in the ensuing moments, guilt.

How to proceed when “No! …” doesn’t work? I wish I knew. But really, in the grand scheme of things, especially where family, friends or intimates are concerned, how important is it to be right, to be heard, to be convincing? The likelihood of changing anyone’s mind on any topic, let alone deep seated beliefs such as money, religion or politics, are extremely remote. Isn’t it far more important to preserve the mutual affection and respect between you than to convince them to vote one way or the other? To behave one way or another? To worship one way or another? Life is made up of relationships. The goal is to have a life made up of good relationships. Relationships between unique individuals with a unique code of conduct, set of values, intrinsic beliefs. To truly love someone, either friend, family or intimate, is to respect them for their uniqueness, for their individuality, for their values and intrinsic beliefs. You can’t change anyone, but yourself, and truly, you’ll only create an adversary by trying.

So please, don’t poke the bear.

Hit the Deck

Five second rule?
Five second rule?

Do you believe in the five second rule? You know, you drop something edible on the ground and you have five seconds to pick it up and eat it before it becomes contaminated. Honestly, I never heard of the five second rule until I was an adult, and I’m really not sure what to think of it, logically. Or scientifically.

What are the implications? Germs are slow? Or that there is some kind of temporary force field around the food that lasts five seconds, then dirt, germs, debris, or other matter can adhere to the food? I don’t know, like I said, logically, and scientifically, I don’t think it makes much sense.

That being said, I do often believe in the five second rule, if for no other reason, it is so much easier to state “five second rule” as you stoop down to pick up a dropped morsel of food than it is to try to explain your actions long hand. It is universal, everyone knows what you mean and what action you are about to take. I also frequently employ the five second rule. Does that mean I am a clutz and drop my food often? Or that while I espouse the virtues of wholesome food and only putting pure things into my body, I am somewhat hypocritical in consuming fallen and possibly tainted food? Truthfully, I am not a germaphobe, in most situations. At least in dry conditions. My germaphobia kicks in in damp, moist, steamy conditions or when there are puddles of water from natural or unnatural sources. I actually like to think I embrace germs, I am a germ advocate. I don’t use hand sanitizers or anti-microbial hand soap, dish soap, surface cleaners or things of that ilk. Pretty much, I am against the use of those types of products not because I like germs, but because I fear the evolution of “super germs”, resistant to all germ-fighting solutions. And, I further believe, that by being exposed to common germs on a regular basis, that I am building up a natural tolerance to them, and in fact, decreasing the likelihood that those germs can make me sick. I don’t know. I’m a blogger, and an accountant, and a fool, and I have no scientific basis for any of this. But, it seems to work for me, for whatever reason.

For those of us, the many of us, who believe in and employ the five second rule, this brings me to it’s practical application and a wee bit of confusion surrounding it. In that five seconds, as the food hits the ground, it seems we all apply some sort of very complex, very personal and inconsistent risk analysis to the situation, weighing the conditions, the variables, the economic value of the food, the environmental conditions, factors and other elements, a cost/benefit analysis and decide whether we will retrieve and eat the food, retrieve and discard the food, or, in the worst of conditions, leave the food where it is, deciding it is just too far gone to even touch with bare hands. And for the latter, I have seen said food picked up, but only with the aid of a paper napkin, tissue or some other protective barrier, before being discarded. I wish I knew which germs we were so fearsome as all that!

While pondering all of this over a cup of coffee this morning, after dropping a square of chocolate on the floor, snatching it up and popping it into my mouth as my mother looked on in disgust and horror, I thought I’d share my own internal code of conduct for the five second rule. Here goes.

The five second rule, when will I DO IT?

I will do it in the dirt. I like dirt, I think it’s great. If food is dropped in the dirt, unless there is mud or dust clinging to it, I have no problem ingesting that food. I can think of only one time I didn’t do it in the dirt. I was backpacking in New Mexico with a group of seven or eight Venture Scouts, boys and girls, all between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years old. There was only one other adult along on the trek. It was our third day, or so, on a ten-day trek. We’d had a really, really rough day. One of the kids had sustained a concussion at the rock climbing camp, the symptoms of which did not manifest until we were a few hard miles into our day, on our way to our next camp. We had ten miles or so ahead of us when she could go no further, and we decided it was easier to go forward, than back, to get help and evacuate her. This required carrying her in a two-man carry down a single track trail into a steep canyon to a service road. Once at the service road, my daughter, my son and a couple of other kids were sent down the steep service road, at a run, a couple of miles to the highway, with full backpacks, just in case, where they flagged down a passing vehicle for help. Two youths went back to base camp in the vehicle, and my daughter and son ran back up the steep road, with full packs, to where we waited. Camp staff came in a vehicle and retrieved our fallen hiker and, in order to “officially complete our trek”, we were told to keep hiking. By now it was nearly evening and we still had several miles to go. We were hungry, had limited food and now, limited water. We hiked and hiked and hiked, into the darkness and into the middle of the night. A few miles from our destination, morale was very low and exhaustion and low blood sugar were setting in. I did my best to keep the group moving and upbeat by playing word games and singing songs as we hiked. I was down to my last trail snack, a package of two Nutter Butter cookies. My daughter was near delirium, and tears, with hunger and exhaustion, so I decided to share with her. As I handed her one of the last two Nutter Butters, she dropped it onto the dusty trail. And with that dropped cookie, her spirit, her willingness to go on, also plopped into the dust. I used my headlamp to try to find the cookie, and couldn’t. I gave her mine and with a little more determination, we made it to the next staffed camp. So, only under extraordinary circumstances, and poor visibility, will I leave food in the dirt, at least out in the woods.

My willingness to do it in the dirt will vary depending on the nature of the dirt. My backyard, sure, unless I suspect someone has fertilized recently, naturally or unnaturally. At a public park, I am perhaps, less likely to devour the fallen food, depending on my assessment of the foot traffic, and by which species the foot traffic was generated. Rats, no. Dogs, probably not. Deer, bear, raccoons, perhaps. I have no justification for this whatsoever, and the decision is made without conscious contemplation and in mere seconds.

I’ll do it on the kitchen floor. Usually. Again, unless there is water or visible dirt on the floor, or unusual foot traffic, like at a party. Or, worst of all, if the floor is sticky. But normally, I will eat food that has fallen on the kitchen floor. This morning, I did. I ate the piece of chocolate that fell to the floor. Now, on retrospect, I’m not sure that was the best idea, as it was my mother’s kitchen floor, which means it was spotless, but only because she uses every commercial, chemical cleaning product the grocery store has available in her constant war on dirt. I probably ingested chemically tainted organic, fair-trade chocolate. Blech!

Believe it or not, I won’t always do it on the kitchen countertop or table. What danger here? Purses. I know that germs can’t survive long on dry surfaces, at least that’s what I’ve been led to understand. And the likelihood of germs being picked up on the bottom of a purse that has been set in a less than hygienic resting place, which, if you think about it, is just about anywhere a purse might be set, and then surviving on the bottom of the purse for some period of time, only to jump off the purse, or crawl, I guess, depending on the athletic capability of the germ, onto the kitchen counter where the purse has been subsequently deposited, and then leap, or climb, or scramble, onto my piece of food, that has fallen to the counter is, at best, extremely remote. But still, if there is a purse, or there has been a purse, on the counter or table, the fallen food is, in an instant, deemed inedible.

But, I will do it on the bathroom floor. If it’s mine. And depending on the proximity of the dropped delectable, to the toilet. The proximity to the toilet also has a variable. If it is near the front of the toilet and there have been no male visitors since the last mopping, the food is okay. If the food falls near the rear of the toilet, where it is difficult to reach for a thorough cleaning and where the hair and dust tends to accumulate, not a chance. Again, if any water is present, anywhere, on the bathroom floor, the food becomes unsalvageable, all other factors negated.

I won’t do it on the floor in a restaurant, even though I know that floor probably gets cleaned more often than the floors in my own home. Additionally, I won’t FORK on the floor in a restaurant, but I’ll probably napkin. Allow me to explain, and I think this is quite common per my observations; if a fork falls to the floor in a restaurant, there is usually a hasty request for a new fork and we usually won’t even dare pick up the fallen fork for some unstated fear of dirt, germs, or contaminants. But, oddly enough, if a napkin falls to the floor in a restaurant, many people, myself included, will pick it up and continue to use it. Is there some property fabric has that repels the germs and dirt we fear, that stainless steel utensils do not? Just curious.

I won’t usually do it on the street, but I might do it on the sidewalk, if it is dry and the foot traffic seems to be generated by bright, happy, clean looking people. If food falls onto a sidewalk in an area populated with foot traffic of the down-trodden, dirty or unhappy looking people, I am not even considering picking up the food for consumption. In whatever risk matrix my mind employs, the germs differ between these two groups of people.

I might do it on the couch, but believe it or not, I have some friends with couches I won’t do it on, and that I even hesitate to sit on. Some couches are that disgusting, and if I do sit on them, I find that I wish to remove my clothes directly to the washing machine upon my return home. But, I will do it on most couches, especially if the food is greasy or in a sauce or may, in some way, stain the fabric, I will pop that food into my mouth so quickly, for the sake of stain avoidance, you won’t even see my hand move.

I may do it on hotel floors, which is funny, because there are very few hotel floors I consider sanitary enough to walk on in my bare feet. Have you ever walked barefoot in a hotel room, only to find when you shower you are standing in a pool of visibly dirty water? Yes, hotel floors are often that dirty. I always carry, and wear, my fuzzy, leopard print slippers with me. But, fallen food, depending on the general and overall “hee-bee-gee-bee factor” of the hotel, I will often go ahead and ingest. The “hee-bee-gee-bee factor” is a complex measure of a hotel property based on many variables including; the city it is situated in, the curb overall appeal of the hotel, the age, make and model of the cars parked in the lot, the friendliness, helpfulness and cleanliness of the front desk staff, whether overly powerful air fresheners are being used in the lobby, or in the guest rooms, the use of natural and artificial lighting, the color of the decor, accents and upholstery, whether the property is a smoking or non-smoking property, and of course, the quality and age of the appointments in the guest rooms themselves, including, but not limited to, the size, scent and fluffiness of the towels, the brand-name of the complimentary shampoo, conditioner and lotion and the number of well lit mirrors in the room, and whether any of them are full length mirrors. All of this is considered in that critical five seconds between the food hitting the floor and the action ultimately taken with that bit of food.

The food itself also plays into the assessment of risk when it hits the deck. Cooked food is less likely to be consumed after it has fallen, while raw food, especially if it is going to undergo any type of cooking, is much more likely to be rescued and used. This, I think, is far more logical, because the application of heat, I think, will kill any athletic germs that may now be clinging to the scrap of food, wickedly laughing at the prospect of making us ill. Also, chocolate, and other “high value” foods, are more likely to be resurrected than, say, a shred of cabbage, steak over a piece of hot dog, etc. Am I right?

I’m really not sure what it says about us, the folks who live by the five second rule. And I’m not sure how to even begin deciphering all the different, personal applications of the five second rule. I only know that when food hits the deck, wherever, whenever, some of us will pick it up and eat it, and others won’t. I am considering writing up a proposal for grant money to fund a comprehensive study of this phenomenon! I will have to interview many people, observe many people, and painstakingly document my findings. So, do me a favor, the next time you have a food mishap, consider the actions that follow in that critical five seconds before you decide to eat it, or leave it. If your food hits the deck, will you do it?