Well Balanced Diet

I am a proponent of healthy eating, yes. I eat mostly organic food, when possible, and as clean as possible when organic isn’t an option. I love food, and eat very, very well. I am careful to include the appropriate amounts of lean protein, whole grains and fresh veggies and fruit in my diet. And, in my opinion, a balanced diet also needs to take into consideration what we drink; I like to make sure I have one glass of wine for every beer I consume, just to be well balanced!

I am also very diligent about balancing my nutritional intake with my physical activity. I don’t count calories in and out, like I used to when I was trying to lose a ton of weight, but I have a rough idea of what goes in and what is expended, and it seems to be working, for the most part, I’ve maintained my weight for about three years, with about a seven pound swing through my busy travel/eat in restaurants every meal time of year (nine months) and my work from home, eat nutritious, home cooked meals time of year (three months).

But, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about food, or beverage or exercise, right now. I want to talk about “balance.” And, no, I don’t want to talk about living a balanced life, I’ve talked about that a couple of times before. I want to talk about “balance”, you know, like not falling down!

Gravity is real, undeniably, unarguably real. Some of us have a run in with the law, the law of gravity, more often than others. As we age, sadly, it is gravity and our deteriorating balance that can get us into pretty deep doo doo.

My grandfather lived to be 100 years old. He was in excellent health at 100 years old, and, in fact, still lived on his own in his house and even mowed his own lawn with a push mower, you know, the kind without the motor. Every day, he’d walk a few blocks from his house to the nursing home to have lunch, not with his friends, as they were all long gone, but with his friends’ kids, who were now residents and in need of assisted living. It was on one of these lunchtime jaunts that Grandpa got into trouble with the law, the law of gravity. He fell, broke his hip, went to the hospital and died of pneumonia in short order. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure he’d still be kicking about.

I listened to a great audiobook recently, and have shared it before, “Younger Next Year (for Women): Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Hendry S. Lodge, M.D. With a title like that, how can you resist, right? The book is funny and loaded with great advice and information. This book also addresses the importance of maintaining strength, and thereby, improving your balance, rather than allowing it to deteriorate with the rest of our bodies as we age, or “decay”, as Chris says throughout the volume. As we age, it is falling that is most likely to put an abrupt end to our ambulatory days, if not our life. I don’t know about you, but that’s not in my script, if I have anything to do with writing it!

I am often surprised at how few people I meet that have really good balance. I don’t mean people who don’t work out at all, either, all sorts of people. I am in a running club and I run with folks who regularly compete in 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons and even ultra-marathons. After our workouts, we dutifully stretch. One stretch we do, of course, is the hamstring stretch, where you stand on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and grab your foot. These fit, runner people are hopping all over the place, falling, leaning on each other and against trees, struggling to stay on the right side of the law. Fit, strong, healthy people totally unable to balance on one foot for thirty seconds. Lawbreakers!

Try this; stand up, move away from anything you can hold on to like a wall, a chair, a table, the couch, a loved one, the dog. Now stand on one foot. How long can you do this? How long does it take before you have to set your foot back down, or grab onto something I told you not to stand next to?

Balance is strength. Good balance requires good core strength and it also requires the use of all sorts of tiny little muscles and ligaments in the lower leg and feet. Try this! Stand up, (yes, again), bend over so your hands are as close to your feet, or the floor, as possible. If you can, grab one ankle with one or both hands, now lift the other foot off the ground and balance. Can you feel all the little, minute adjustments your standing leg is going through to try to keep you from losing your balance? So, to improve balance, to avoid getting into trouble with the law, just strengthen all those little muscles and ligaments, oh, and your core, too!

Personally, I find yoga to be extremely beneficial in developing core strength and in fine-tuning all those little muscles and in perfecting your balance. Ballet is good, too, or gymnastics, tumbling or calisthenics. I like yoga because I get to work on my mind a bit, at the same time. Yoga is a practice. So is balance. Balance takes practice and I combine my balancing practice with my mindfulness practice with my yoga practice. It’s the most productive hour I can squeeze into a day!

But, still, I practice balance even more. I have always been a law-abiding citizen, except for highway speed limits, but I consider that sport, not deviance, a game of cat and mouse, predator and prey; I’m the mouse, the CHP are cats, and I’ve been winning for the last thirty years. Knock on wood. Anyway. Practice. There are so many opportunities for practicing balance that you can incorporate into daily life; no gym membership, no expensive workout equipment, no gimmicky gizmos as seen on TV. Consider the following.

I am avid about dental hygiene. I like to brush my teeth. My childhood orthodontist would be so proud of me now! I was driving through the middle of Indiana some time last year. There isn’t much to see. Grass. Highway. Trees. Grass. Highway. Trees. And billboards. One billboard I passed presented a big, happy, cheesy smiling face and a caption that read, “Brush for two minutes, twice daily.” It struck me that someone, somewhere, paid money to advertise what we should’ve all known, and been doing, since we were two years old. But, whatever. Later that night, as I brushed my teeth for the third time that day, I thought about “two minutes”. I got my iPhone out, opened up the clock app, and set the timer for a minute. As I brushed the teeth on the right side of my mouth, I stood in tree pose (stand on one foot, bend the suspended leg at the knee and rest the foot either just above or below the knee. And hold). I brushed and balanced and brushed and balanced. When the timer went off, I set it for another minute and did the other side, teeth and tree pose. I do this every time I brush my teeth, now.

I ran six miles today. I ran eight miles a couple of days ago. I like to run. Every time my demons start to catch up with me, I go out and run, it keeps them at a distance for a while. It works, I swear by it. I plan my run so I after I complete the planned mileage, I have another half mile or so to walk back to where I’ve parked, that’s my cool down. Then I stretch when I get to my car. I have been running in a suburban neighborhood area, near a park, quite routinely. The other day, after my eight-mile run, I felt so fantastic! The weather was perfect, it was a Saturday morning, so the whole world smelled like pancakes and bacon, and every friendly fitness fiend was out and about, all calling “hello!” and exchanging other kind remarks. I finished my eight miles and as I walked the last half mile, I found myself walking on the curb. I walked the curb, you know, the narrow strip of elevated concrete between the landscaping and the gutter and roadway? It’s like a balance beam, but not so scary high off the ground. I walked a half a mile, on the curb, without losing my balance. After running eight miles. I did it again, today. When was the last time you  “walked a curb”? I walk every curb I come close to; in parking lots, even carrying groceries, even carrying my half-caf, soy latte that cost five bucks, I walk curbs in neighborhoods and in the city, but only if I’m not going to get hit by a bus or a garbage truck!

A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!
A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!

Being well balanced just requires a regular diet of, well, balancing. Find fun ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Do the dishes standing on one leg! If you have to stand in line at Target or the grocery check out, or at the bank, if you’re app resistant and still actually go to the bank, stand on one foot. You don’t have to be real obvious about it, you don’t have to do a hamstring stretch or an arabesque or anything, unless you like to draw attention to yourself. Just lift one foot casually off the floor and rest it atop your other foot. Then switch.

I know, this all sounds pretty loopy, but, seriously, I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get into trouble with the law. Try to stick to a “well-balanced diet” and maybe when you’re 100 years old, you can walk the curb all the way to the old folks home to visit your friends’ kids for lunch!

 

 

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter February 20, 2014

Life is like a hamburger.

An Effort to Evolve

When I was a wee little girl, the only “fast food”, chain, burger place around was McDonalds. We lived in Oakland, California. My mom would take me to McDonalds for a treat and I’d have the audacity to order my hamburger “plain, with nothing on it”. No mustard, no ketchup, no pickles. Nothing. There were always questions, and my mom, my dear, dear mom, who has always been so worried about what other people thought, was absolutely mortified by my unusual request. There were usually some clarifying questions as to what I “really wanted”, and, to be sure, I wanted a hamburger, plain, nothing on it. Some time later, I’d receive my burger and we always, always, always had to check it before we left. More than once we left McDonalds, returned to the car and drove away before I discovered mustard, or catsup or pickles. Icky.

If the burger was, indeed, to order, I’d peel the patty off the bun and eat it, then throw away the buns. This was long, long, long before the Atkins or Paleo or gluten free or low carb craze, or my current preference, “no enriched flour” (as in white, bleached and fortified).

As I grew older and, myself, became somewhat concerned with what others thought of me, I modified my eating habits. I ate the bun. But it was still a hamburger, plain, nothing on it. This continued into high school. We were living in Napa and McDonalds was still pretty much the only game we played. There was a Foster’s Freeze, a Wendy’s, a Nation’s Giant Burger and a Dairy Queen, but my family seemed to be McDonald’s people. Heaven help me. In high school, Burger King came to town and I was so excited! Hold the pickles! Hold the lettuce! Special orders don’t upset us! Remember the jingle? I was a convert, plus one of my best friends worked there. Why would we ever go to McDonalds? Special orders kind of freaked them out.

I was a Whopper fan clear through college and I even matured a little in my order; hamburger, just lettuce and tomato. They’d smile and prepare my burger fresh and hot, right off the flame broiler. I’d still have to check it before leaving the parking lot, just in case there might be condiments where there shouldn’t be.

A few years later, well, after college, I was working full time as an accountant. My lunch hours were often devoted to what could only be classified as “cardio, flash mob, mall shopping”, on a miniature scale. A few of us ladies would pile in someone’s car, drive twenty minutes to the mall, park, shop, purchase, drive back towards the office, grab something from the Taco Bell drive thru, and be back at our desks on time, both fashionable and fed. One day, however, the folks in the car wanted to go to McDonalds instead. We were in the drive thru and really cutting it close, time-wise. I ordered a Quarter Pounder with just lettuce and tomato. There was a long pause from the order taker, some discussion with someone in the background, a manager perhaps, and we were told to pull up and park off to the side. Someone would bring the order out when my special order was ready. We should’ve gone to Taco Bell. Or Burger King. We were fashionably late that day.

I still love hamburgers. I will, if I must, eat them with condiments, but, if I have the opportunity to order my own, it will most def be condiment free. I just don’t like slimy burgers. I can’t help it. I like what I like, and that’s my point.

An Effort to Evolve

Now burgers are the big thing! We’ve still got the “fast food” versions; McDonalds, Burger King, though they flame broil a bunch of burgers, put them in a warming drawer and nuke them when you order. Hey, Burger King, want to avoid another bankruptcy? I have a solution! We, here, in California, and in a few other western states, have In N Out, which is my personal “fast food” fave. There are a whole slew of newbies, not quite “fast food”, but, fast enough; Habit, Smashburger, Shakeshack, Five Guys, just to name a few, and they have really interesting burgers, like Smashburger’s 940 calorie NorCal with brie cheese, applewood smoked bacon, sliced balsamic marinated tomatoes and grilled onions, and worth every calorie, every so often.

An Effort to Evolve

My point. We all like burgers and we all like them unique! Maybe I started it all, maybe not, but these days, like people, no two burgers are likely to be alike. Remember the Nora Ephron movie, “When Harry Met Sally”? And Sally always ordered everything off the menu, modified, with very specific detail? We are all Sally, now, we almost all special order our burger. And, if we don’t, by golly, if we make our own burger, I’m just guessing here, based on my own experience, we’re getting more creative. Are we? I am. Why have a hunk of ground cow on a bleached flour bun with slimy condiments and nutritionless iceberg lettuce and a waxy, store bought tomato? Ugh. Hell no! The burger has every right to be a high art form! So do our lives.

An Effort to Evolve

We can create any kind of burger we want. We can create any kind of life we want. Now you see where I’m going with all this. There may have been an era when the all American ideal was to live in a cookie cutter house, and Mom stayed home and raised the kids while Dad went to work. There were two kids, two cars in the driveway, a cat and a dog, maybe a goldfish, and a perfectly manicured lawn. That was America, at least according to the syndicated sitcoms we watched on TV, that’s what we were led to believe was the “norm”. McDonalds hamburger.

An Effort to Evolve

There is so much more to life; places to visit, different places to live, travel, culture, careers, adventure, sports, the arts. There is so much to see and so much to do, we can’t possibly eat all the hamburgers. We have to choose. My point is, make it a really good burger, don’t settle for what they’re willing to pull from the warming drawer, nuke and pass through drive through window. Build a better burger, Sally!

We have choices, right down to the burger itself. Will it be ground beef, bison, turkey, chicken, moose, salmon, vegetables, or maybe just a portabella mushroom cap? Then, toppings! Wow! Where do I even begin with toppings! There are more varieties of cheeses at the Whole Foods cheese counter than burgers I will eat in the rest of my life, I am certain! And greens? I would never, ever, ever, in a million years consider putting iceberg lettuce on my burger, voluntarily, given all the other choices out there! Have you cruised the condiment aisle, lately, assuming you’re into slimy stuff on your burgers? There are whole arrays of mayos and mustards and catsups, some spicy, some mild, some made with beer, wine, wasabi! I’ve actually taken to, occasionally, adding a really creative condiment to my burger. Though, in my heart of hearts, I prefer mashed avocado to any kind of condiment! Then, the “bread” choices, if you still eat bread! I often have my burger in a leaf of butter lettuce, though I am quite fond of “sprouted grain” buns, these days.

An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve

Life offers the same dizzying array of choices. Truly. More. On any given day, on any given evening, there are so many activities and events available just in our communities and most of us are largely unaware. There are events and activities to suit anyone’s liking; fine arts, performing arts, community groups, hiking, walking, cycling, fishing, movies. Why are we settling for TV? Like McDonalds, we’re kind of missing out. No, I know, there’s nothing wrong with TV and a Big Mac, now and then, but a steady diet of either, or both, is nothing less than tragic.

Beyond our communities, the big bright world. We’re a part of it! There is so much to see, to do, to experience! But, like our choice in burgers, we just need to think about what we really want and then, build it! Do you want a life of travel and adventure? Well? Get started! Do you to live in the country? By the sea? In a different state? Nothing is beyond our means, only beyond the current amount of creativity and effort we are applying. We are capable of making any kind of burger we desire, and, we are also capable of building the life we desire, too. True, it may take a little longer and a few more resources to travel the world, if that’s your desire, but it can be done with effort and the passion to follow your desire and your dreams. Thirty years ago you could never go to a burger joint and get hooked up with a burger with bacon, brie, grilled onions and balsamic marinated tomatoes. Someone dreamed it up and made it happen. So, your life, dream it up and make it happen. Hold the mustard.

Everything BUT mustard!
Everything BUT mustard!

Unattached

Troubles, troubles, troubles. You know the song. How about the troubles you have that you didn’t know you had until you learned something new? Ever have those types of troubles?

I have troubles with attachments.

All kinds of attachments. There are attachments on my Dyson vacuum I struggle with every once in a great while, when I decide the dust bunnies are planning an attack and a preemptive strike is in order. I also struggle with GoPro attachments. I need to devote a whole day to GoPro attachment mastery. I have recently had some troubles with attachments to emails and text messages being too large. I created a full-scale cinematic production/Valentine’s Day greeting for my Sweetie, only to have to cut it by about 92.7% to a size that could be attached and sent from iMovie to my Gmail account so I could then attach it to a text for quick, same-day, delivery. Sigh. I think it ended up being three frames. Oh well. I’m ready for next Valentine’s Day, the full movie is done and can be burned to DVD and delivered with the card. Ssshhh.

Lately, though, it seems I’m quite attached and I shouldn’t be. Which is news to me. But I’m learning. And, eventually, I think I shall learn to be unattached. Or is it detached? Oh dear. I need clarification.

So the attachment I am having the most trouble with, is trouble I never knew I had before, and I’ve got it bad. Over the past month or so, I have been learning more about mindfulness, meditation and “simply being”. I am not a total stranger to the idea, it has been on my “intend to master” list for quite some time. Now that I have amassed a sizable Kindle library on the topic, downloaded several albums from iTunes, audiobooks from Audible and apps from the App Store, I’m fast becoming a) invested in the subject, b) broke c) overcommitted to reading, listening and learning and d) unable to find time to meditate or “simply be”, as one app instructs. And since becoming so aware of my breath through all of this instruction, I’m kind of dizzy, light-headed and a bit bloated.

No, this is not totally new, this mindfulness and meditation thing, though I’ve sucked at it for as long as I can remember. In yoga, we often begin and/or end the class with some guided meditation in corpse pose. I can do corpse pose. No problem. But the mind is whirring, I fear, audibly. I’m afraid it can be heard churning and humming over the lovely chanting, flutey, water torture music playing in the background during yoga class. With a great deal of effort, I have been able to improve with this some, lately. My favorite yoga instructor guides us through the meditation, telling us to just let thoughts that spring up, go. Just let them go. He says it’s okay to have thoughts, as long as you “don’t chase them down the rabbit hole”. I think it was inappropriate at the time, but I LOL’d. I tend to think visually, often, so the picture was kind of funny. Sorry. I don’t know what goes on in most folk’s heads, I always assumed they were like mine. Now I’m not so sure. Now, I imagine theirs with little fluffy thought clouds drifting around a serene space, one drifting past, then another a full moment later. In my head, it’s like the shooting gallery at the carnival; picture hundreds of really fast little metal rabbit targets, with goofy faces painted on them, and I’d have to say they’re pink, just to add to the absurdity. And I’m trying to shoot them, rapid fire, with a poorly maintained plinker, chained to the bench with a chain just a little too short for an accurate shot. The pink rabbit targets easily dodge my shots, as they scamper back and forth along the little track, before disappearing down the “rabbit hole”. My shooter keeps jamming and misfiring and I manage to hit one out of every hundred or so. Ladies and gentlemen, my mind, lots and lots of rabbits down the hole. Every thought I have is fully explored, in depth, categorized, classified, an action plan drafted, indexed, cross-referenced and color-coded, highlightered … highlighted … highlit, (which is it?!), with charts and graphs, and a bibliography, with web links. I think visually, in Excel spreadsheets, in my brain. With Google open.

I recently read a great book that my daughter, Daisy and her hubby, Sherwood, oh, and their cat, all gave me for Christmas. It was sort of the lid that loosened on this whole can of worms; “Zen and the Art of Running – The Path to Making Peace With Your Pace,” by Larry Shapiro, PhD. It was here I first learned, or perhaps “absorbed” the idea of “attaching” to thoughts. We are, instead, to observe our thoughts, separate ourselves from our thoughts. It all clicked, it did sound familiar, and I harkened back to an often read and re-read (Kindle) and listened and re-listened to (Audible), but apparently not fully absorbed, annul, by Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now” with his discussion of “ego” and “essence”.  I have a very ADHD ego and my essence is narcoleptic. But we’re working on it. We’re working on it? Great, now I have a multiple personality disorder, me, myself, my ego, my essence, and I.

The book that started it all. This time.
The book that started it all. This time.

I went to a crab feed the other night, at a “Portuguese Club”. I went with friends and between us all, including in-laws, cousins, and shirttail relatives, we, collectively are about 1/5th Portuguese. But the food was awesome and it was a fundraiser, so, yah. Anyway, my mind resembles a Portuguese crab feed; incredibly crowded, very loud, lots of food, there is music, dancing, probably too much wine, and not everyone is speaking the same language!

I am currently trying to muster my way through an interesting though terribly clinical read on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness”. I should have known, I don’t have pain, or illness, thankfully, and I don’t have what most people categorize as stress. It is a good book, but, as I said, very clinical. The dude is a doctor, a PhD, and treats some really unfortunate people and I think I’ve been told each and every one of their stories in the book. I’m not yet half way through the book. I’ve been browsing online for the “lite” version, or Cliff Notes. I ended up downloading a speed reading app from the App Store and have managed to improve my reading speed and comprehension significantly, but, still, I have 60% of this book left to read and I know, know, know, the bits that are going to be most beneficial to me lie ahead, not in what I’ve already laid to waste. I have two more of Jon’s books to read after this one. Maybe they are the “lite” version. We’ll see. There is very good information in Jon’s material. Like meditating, don’t attempt reading this stuff at bedtime. As Dr. Larry Shapiro (above) says about meditation, watch out for “sleeping hazards”.

So, through all of this, which sounds sort of fast, furious and dizzying, I am actually finding some mindfulness, some calm, some peace, intentionally, a time or two a day. I am gaining proficiency at “shooting the rabbits” before they “go down the rabbit hole”, and I find that some of my little anxieties and worries can be more easily reasoned with. It’s not that I have less little anxieties and worries, I am human, after all, but I can now identify them as rabbits and reason with them. Maybe threaten them, is more accurate. “Give up you wascally wabbit or I’ll bwast yuh!” and if that doesn’t work, I just pick up another book on meditation and mindfulness and my little anxieties and petty worries flee in terror!

No, in all seriousness, there is tremendous value in fostering mindfulness, in living in the present and in not attaching to every thought that enters our mind. Think of it like sorting through cranberries, or lentils. Yes, you’re supposed to do that, it says so on the package. Cranberries, or lentils, are like our thoughts. Many are good and should be observed, kept, acted on. Some are bad and should be culled and discarded. The bad ones are usually doubts, fears, insecurities, anxious thoughts, thoughts of the past that can’t be changed, worries about the future that is wholly unknown, unkind thoughts, angry and unforgiving thoughts. Toss ‘em, they don’t belong in our recipe. Keep the good berries, or lentils; the loving thoughts, the positive thoughts, the kind thoughts, the forgiving thoughts, thoughts about the moment, the present. In fact, if there were one thing we could all do to improve our health, wellness, well-being and even our relationships, I think it would be just that; foster mindfulness, live in the present and don’t attach to every thought that enters our mind. The fastest way to this ideal is through the practice of meditation.

Time to go to yoga. And shoot me some rabbits.

The Ultimate Love Affair

Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s talk about love! A very common topic for the day! Let’s talk about love affairs! Let’s talk about the ULTIMATE love affair!

An Effort to Evolve

What do we all want out of our love relationships, whether we have a love interest now, or are searching for one, or even if we’ve sort of given up? The ultimate love affair; what would it be like? Deep, lasting, secure, passionate, compassionate, considerate, kind, beautiful, romantic, thoughtful, nurturing, appreciative, loving, honest, and faithful. I could go on and on. I know, I know, it sounds like a Hallmark card, which is why I usually buy Papyrus cards, instead. Back to the question at hand, though; is a love affair like this possible? Can something like this be real? And forever? Yes. It can. Yes. It should be. Yes, it must be.

Next question; how?

First, let’s talk about your lover, the target of your cupid’s arrow. I’m not actually speaking of your significant other, your spouse, your lover, your life partner, though having a relationship with that person as described above is certainly our universal intent. The lover I am speaking of today, the party to your ultimate love affair is – you. I dedicate this day of love and lovers to you.

Most of us have been raised to believe that self-love is conceit, to put oneself before any other is selfish. This could not be further from the truth. It is sad that we are raised in this fashion, that society reinforces this standard. I can’t help but think that this philosophy contributes partially, if not primarily, to the number of unhappy people, to the annuls of the depressed, the clinically depressed and the millions of people on prescription drugs to “treat”, more like mask, something rooted in our misconception of self-worth.

If we are incapable of loving ourselves, how can we effectively love others? If we are incapable of loving ourselves, how can we expect others to find us lovable?

We must first learn to love ourselves, then we are in a position to love others and to receive the love of others. Loving ourselves is the foundation for all love we are to experience in our lives, both in giving and in receiving.

Most of us find ourselves in a position of caregiver at some point in our lives. We have a spouse or life partner whom we are to care for. We have a family to raise. We have friendships. We have parents who inevitably age. We must first care for ourselves in order to be able to most effectively care for others. If we don’t care for ourselves, we may not be able to provide appropriate or adequate care for those we love.  Do we know people, who, as parents, aren’t able, physically, to ride bikes with their kids because they’ve never cared for themselves, physically? Do we know people who are unable to show affection to their spouse because of unhealed wounds from childhood or from previous relationships that have been left unresolved, open and festering? There are millions of examples, I’m sure, and all cause unnecessary pain and suffering. Often they cause betrayal and the end of love.

As a party to a loving relationship with others, again with the list describing the ultimate love affair in mind, if we are not loving of ourselves, we are setting the example, the expectation, of how we are to be treated by those around us. If we are self-loathing in what we say and do, and in what we fail to say and fail to do, we are demonstrating our expectation of love from others. We’ve set the example, through the power of suggestion, actually, beyond mere suggestion, we’ve actually trained and conditioned the people around us to believe our self-loathing beliefs, words and actions. And we act surprised when people treat us poorly, when, in fact, we treat ourselves worse, habitually.

Changing our thoughts, our values, our ingrained belief system about self-love is not a huge undertaking. We do not need to re-engineer ourselves from the ground up. We just need to shift our focus a little, we just need to understand the hierarchy or love a little more. Then, with a little mindfulness and a little conditioning and a little fun, we can experience the ultimate love affair. Then the rest of the world will follow.

So, again; how?

Step one; listen to how you talk to yourself. Most of us spend a great deal of time in conversation with ourselves in the ultimate echo chamber, our heads. We ridicule, criticize and berate ourselves constantly in our thoughts. The remedy is simple. Stop. The methods for stopping self-destructive thoughts and chatter are numerous. I, personally, thrive on mindfulness through meditation, affirmations, gratitude, and “prayer”. There are books by the hundreds, explore a few and find one or two you find provide practical methods to relieve yourself of the constant barrage of self-criticism. One of my favorite books is Jillian Michaels “Unlimited“.

Step two; get physical. There is nothing better for the soul, for the self, than improving one’s general health and well being. If we care enough for ourselves, physically, we are better able to provide care to those around us; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Seeing your body change as you gain fitness, seeing your skin radiate and your smile appear more easily as a result of regular exercise is one of the best self-esteem boosts imaginable. Exercise, regular exercise, is fantastic not only for the body, but for the mind and the soul. You deserve that kind of attention. Again, the vehicles to fitness are more in number than the models of cars you’ll find at the auto mall. Test drive a few and find something that fits. The best book I’ve devoured this year, both in print and in audio, “Younger Next Year for Women“.

Step three; get a good ad campaign. Why do you buy the brands you buy? Cars, phones, shampoo, cereal, beer? Branding and strategic advertising and marketing, whether you like it or not, that’s the answer. Now, you need to sell yourself on, well, yourself. This is where you get to have some fun and maybe even get a little creative. Take some time each and every day to market to yourself what it is about yourself you find so amazing. Try to find something new every day. Find some way to collect all these “ads” together so you can review them periodically. This is where you can get creative. I’ve seen a few ideas, recently, being the beginning of a new year, that I thought were terrific. One was the “gratitude jar“. I like that. How about an “attitude jar”, too? Where you write down something you love about yourself on a slip of paper every day and put it in the jar. Read through them every month or so. Take a look at the “365 Grateful” and adapt that. Take a picture of yourself every day, throughout the year, and create an album of them. Another idea I stumbled across the other day was a video project by Brooks Wheelan, a one second video clip every day for a year, again, adapt this so you have a second (or two, or three, or five) long selfie everyday and compile them into a video monthly. Maybe even film yourself saying one of your affirmations out loud everyday! Or reading your “attitude jar” slip of paper out loud and dropping it into the jar! See? Creativity! Fun!

Step four; give it away. Volunteer. The more you donate the good things you have to offer, the more you receive in return. No one is exempt, here. We all have gifts, talents, time and other “free” stuff that others, less fortunate than we are, will appreciate and benefit from. Volunteering is nurturing for our souls and reinforces good feelings we have of ourselves. Making a difference, no matter how small, makes a big difference in how we value ourselves.

Step five; give it all away. De-clutter. We are not our stuff. We are prisoners to our stuff. Liberating ourselves from unnecessary clutter actually lifts our spirits measurably. We are literally and figuratively weighed down by the stuff we allow to accumulate around us at home, at work, in our cars, even when confined to garages, spare bedrooms, expensive storage units, or the trunk of the car. We should respect ourselves enough to live and work and drive in a clean, uncluttered space. Minimalism is maximizing joy and self-esteem. Check out some books on the topic, my favorite is “The Joy of Less – Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life“.

Step six; sex sells. If nothing I’ve said so far hasn’t made you fidget a bit, this one probably will. Let’s talk about building sexual confidence. Let’s talk about unleashing our inner Samantha Jones, or Don Draper. There is power in sexuality, in sensuality. There is confidence in power. Men and women, alike, appreciate a sexually confident partner. Confidence under the covers, or on the kitchen counter, or wherever, brings more enjoyment and excitement to sex, which usually increases the frequency of the act and, well, everyone is glowing happily, way more often. Gaining sexual confidence is the trick. Again, books? Maybe a class? Yes, there are classes. A sexologist? A few concepts; Know thyself, really. You need to know how it all works. Get comfortable. If you aren’t comfortable with the way you look you aren’t going to be confident. You don’t have to be a super model to be sexy. Sexy comes in all shapes and sizes. Again, it’s confidence and know-how. One way to gain more comfort with how you look, in “that” way is to, well, take it all in. Spend some “me time” in front of the mirror, regularly. Not once a year, more like once a day. Or, get out your camera and Include pictures of “yourself” in your pictures of yourself. This is all about you, all about all of you. If you can’t talk about sex with yourself, who can you talk about sex to? My favorite author on the topic is Veronica Monet who authors “Veronica Monet’s Sex Secrets of Escorts: Tips from a Pro“.

Step seven; social network. Be with people, they are like mirrors of yourself along your journey. We are social creatures, we are meant to be with others, to socialize and interact. People who are withdrawn from social interaction suffer far more physical, psychological and emotional maladies than those of us who are socially active. And in our social contact, again, be mindful of those thoughts. Judgmental thoughts of others, like judgmental thoughts of self, are poison and have a virtual life of their own. In mastering good thoughts of self, practice good thoughts of others and notice how many more smiles you are greeted by. The golden rule really is golden, even in our thoughts. Think of others as you’d like to be thought of. The golden rule works in reverse, too. When you think of yourself in a positive light, people will respond in kind, and when you treat yourself as well as you treat others, you’ll see a shift in your self-esteem and in how people react to you and treat you.  As your self-love develops and your self-confidence grows, you’ll notice that people react to you differently.

Step eight; spoiled rotten. When you’re in love you take great pleasure in spoiling your sweetheart. So, if you love yourself you should be spoiling yourself a little, too. We can all afford to be a little self-indulgent. Don’t go overboard, of course, but do make an effort to treat yourself on occasion. I have a membership with a national chain of massage spas. I pay a reduced, monthly fee and am entitled to a massage worth about twice the price I pay each and every month. There is evidence that massage and therapeutic touch are very beneficial in enhancing our well being. Consider an occasional facial or manicure and pedicure to boost your self-esteem, or perhaps a cute shirt to replace some less than attractive wardrobe piece you find yourself wearing a little too often. Shoes. Never underestimate the power of a cute, new pair of shoes. If you love desserts but are cutting back for health purposes, consider having one divine dessert a week as a treat, your just desserts! Think of positive ways to spoil yourself, and then do.

Step nine; don’t let yourself down. My kids used to tell me they absolutely hated letting me down in some way, it bothered them to no end if they thought I might be disappointed in them. I didn’t beat them or punish them or yell at them (much), but I had a way of looking when I was disappointed, sort of a sad look, and they sought to avoid it. The same is true when we let ourselves down in some way. Sure, life is filled with good intentions, but I find there is nothing so deflating as letting yourself down. Those days when I plan to work out, then wimp out instead, I’m disappointed in myself. I have a hard time feeling super good about myself if I’ve disappointed myself. For many of us, this is an every day occurrence on several levels. The first step is to get real. If we set goals and guidelines that are practical and manageable, we are more likely to succeed, and, feel good about ourselves. Our goals can build on earlier goals. It might be impractical to say “I’m not going to overeat ever again and I’m going to work out an hour every single day.” Day one comes and goes and we’ve failed at both and our self-esteem spirals further. And for each successive day that we overeat and don’t work out for a whole hour we become even more disappointed and self-critical. If we take baby steps, achieve some success and then plan a slightly bigger step a bit later on, we’ll bolster our self-esteem and make steady, measurable progress towards our ultimate desire. Get real. Make goals reasonable and achievable. Follow through. Hold yourself accountable. Live up to your own expectations. Make yourself proud. And if you do blow it, now and then, don’t beat yourself up. Pat yourself on your back, give yourself a little kind encouragement, and try, try again.

Step ten; go out on a limb. Insert adventure into your life, it builds confidence, it builds experiences, it enhances life. For some of us, adventure may be shopping at a new boutique instead of Wal Mart. For others, it may be walking in a park we haven’t visited before, or going to a coffee shop alone with a book and a tablet instead of drinking our coffee in front of the morning show at home. And, for some of us, adventure means travel or daring feats, traveling to India or skydiving, Germany or scuba lessons. The point is, we become more confident every time we do something that scares us a little. Eleanor once said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”

Step eleven; detox. Don’t hang around negative people. If there are people in your life that affirm your self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, they need to be made to disappear. Don’t hire a hit man, just clean house. Pull up the welcome mat when they’re in the neighborhood. We have the liberty of choosing who we spend time with, choose people who nurture your attempts to be happier. Occasionally, people who drag us down, or worse, pull us down, are inescapable; family members or spouses. Reason with them, if you can, distance yourself as much as possible if they can’t be reasoned with. You deserve to be treated with respect and love, by yourself and by every one you spend time with. You deserve to be around people who support and affirm your efforts and anyone else is just undermining your progress. Be harsh.

Step twelve; vigilance. Do this daily for the rest of your life and you will have a love affair that is deep, lasting, secure, passionate, compassionate, considerate, kind, beautiful, romantic, thoughtful, nurturing, appreciative, loving, honest, faithful. Forever. And when you love you, everyone else loves you, too. What’s not to love? Lovability begins with our ability to love ourselves. Show them the way.

P.S. The best relationship book I’ve ever read ten times is “The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships”, I highly recommend it, if you’re looking to enhance your experience beyond your love of self!

Love is Like the Stock Market

Love and the success of our relationships is just like the stock market. There are risks. There are rewards. And, without risk, there can be no reward. There is the potential for catastrophe if mismanaged. There is the potential for wealth, prosperity and security. The outcome is based mostly on what we know and how we apply that knowledge. There are always external factors that cause some uncertainty, doubt and risk, but, again, how the investment is managed on a regular basis mitigates much of this.

Investment. That is the key. Neither lasting love nor a rewarding portfolio will ever be possible unless we invest. And, like stocks, love never comes with guarantees. With wisdom, discernment and due care, though, investment in stocks and investment in a loving relationship is likely to perform well, over the long-term, providing us with all we hope to attain; wealth, prosperity and security. The longer we stay invested, the better the return, too!

We must take risks in love and in money to experience success. We either invest in a carefully selected portfolio, each stock selected based on the integrity of the company and the likelihood of growth, or we keep our money in a savings account at the bank, earning next to nothing in interest. Love is the same. We choose our love interest based on their integrity and the likelihood for growth, or we hide our love away in a low interest bearing account and wring our hands at our lack of fortune. We can either take the leap of faith and invest our hard earned dollars in the market, or stuff our money in our mattress for a lifetime and die alone and not very rich.

I don’t often quote anything from the Bible, but a parable comes to mind, from my childhood Sunday school days; the parable of the bags of gold (talents), from Matthew 25:14-30. In this lesson, a king, in preparation for a journey, entrusted three of his servants with his wealth divided into bags of gold, each a different amount based on the skills and abilities of the servant. In his absence, two of the servants invested their share of the king’s wealth wisely, worked hard and doubled the sum. For this they were rewarded, upon the king’s return, with additional wealth. The third servant buried the gold in the dirt, and the king punished him by taking his share of the gold and distributing it to the other two servants. In investing money, or investing in love, the same lesson applies; if we invest well and work hard, we will be rewarded with growth and wealth. If we bury our money or love “in the dirt”, not only will it not grow, we will likely lose that which we had to invest in as well.

I follow a popular author regarding investing and growing wealth by the name of Phil Town. I have seen him speak and I have read his books, admiring his straightforward and practical philosophy. In his book, “Rule #1”, he outlines his sensible approach to investing; never invest in a company, as in buy stock, if you wouldn’t want to own and run the company yourself. In other words, do you believe in what the company does? How they conduct their business; treat their employees, the environment, their political positions, etc. Phil suggests carefully researching the company you wish to invest in, if you would be happy to own the company based on their management, philosophy, how they conduct business and they are a sound investment, invest. If not, don’t.

Phil’s methodology applies to people we seek to have relationships with. If we are comfortable with how they manage themselves (integrity, honesty, fidelity), their philosophy is in alignment with ours or compliments ours, and they conduct their business well, they don’t take advantage of people, they are respectful, grateful, kind, loving, have a good work ethic, then they are probably worth the risk, worth investing in. If not, then don’t.

The initial investment is the first, big step, of course, but its what happens after the initial investment that will make or break the bank, again, in love and in money. Sure, once we invest, there may be moments of uncertainty and volatility, which is normal, in the market and in love. There may be lulls in the market, too, where nothing seems to move in any direction. We need to be aware of this, never should we ignore it, nor should we microscopically manage our “portfolio”. We should always keep in mind the points we considered when we made our initial investment and then monitor the trends for long-term growth. We once valued the basis for our decision, considered the points valid and of merit, are they still valid? If so, then hang on tight and ride out the uncertainty of the market. If not, consider adjusting your portfolio or liquidating the investment. Over the long term, even if there are momentary dips, the value of a carefully selected and scrupulously maintained portfolio will increase, providing that which we look for, growth, wealth and security.

How many little old ladies have you heard of who bought two shares of some solid blue chip stock sixty years ago that have amassed a small fortune from the meager investment? Who got in on Apple, Microsoft and Intel early and rode it out? Any complaints? Any regrets? I think not.

Is love somehow different? No, not really. The same basic principles apply. Invest. Assume some risk. Nurture. Reap growth, wealth and security for the long-term.

How is your portfolio performing? Are you invested for the long term?
How is your portfolio performing? Are you invested for the long term?

Like everything in life, there is balance. Moderation is key. Once the initial investment is made, again, either in money or in love, how we manage things thereafter will make the difference between catastrophe and loss or growth, wealth and security. Following are a couple of examples.

I once worked with a company that had a great 401(k) option comprised of several mutual funds of varying degrees of risk. We could determine how our investment and any matching monies were distributed between the funds we selected. We had the ability to manage the money between the funds, we could reset the percentage of each investment, which occurred each and every pay period, as often as we liked. The account manager would visit the company once a year and update us on the market, the funds, and provide some guidance with our investment “strategy”, and his favorite saying was “set it and forget it.” In other words, he recommended selecting funds based on what decade of life we were in, a “balanced” approach, slanted more aggressively for the younger folks and more conservatively for the older folks, and somewhere in between for the folks in between. The company I worked for was a high-tech start up company, focusing in surgical robotics. The company was made up of the best and brightest minds in business and the best and brightest minds in engineering. And a few other people, too. Over the months and years, three very different investment strategies evolved, and not as the fund manager suggested, basing level of risk on proximity to retirement. One group of people “set it and forgot it”, never reviewing performance or trends, and, as you might expect, when developments in the market occurred, they incurred more losses than they would have had they been a little more committed to paying attention. The second group shuffled their investments, the percentage of their withholding to each fund and every minute detail on almost a daily basis. They, too, lost more than they gained and drove themselves mad in the practice. The third group made their initial selections, reviewed performance quarterly or so, paid attention to the market and trends and made minor adjustments here and there. This third group saw much better growth over time than the other two.

In relationships, “setting it and forgetting it” will reap similar results to what I described above. Things change whether we are paying attention or not. While we shouldn’t overreact to every tiny little change, we need to be aware of the shift in trends in our relationships; jobs, kids, careers, health, wellness, lifestyle, just to name a few. If we fail to nurture the relationship, as with our portfolio, if we don’t revisit it, we are likely to suffer losses. Investments and love were never meant to be on autopilot. Likewise, we can’t just “dump a lump” into a ten-year “high yield” certificate of deposit and expect to retire in comfortably and securely, unless we’re starting with millions of dollars to invest. In a relationship, if you invest and ignore it for ten years, your “high yield” may not keep up with the rate of inflation or the changes in the economy of love. In love, like money, paying attention pays long-term profits.

On the other end of the spectrum; over-managing our investments, whether love or money, can have devastating results. In the company 401(k), the folks who constantly manipulated their investment strategy actually fared, long-term, worse than those who were of the “set it and forget it” ilk. By being reactive to every fractional fluctuation, to every tidbit of propaganda, hype and hysteria that some people call, “the news” and to every investing analyst’s utterance, there was never enough consistency with any one fund to reap any reward. At all. This is not much different than day trading. Yes, insane amounts of money can be made in day trading, but it is a lifestyle that many simply cannot sustain. My personal experience with day trading is a tale of catastrophic loss, and not just money. My husband decided to begin “day-trading”, which I also like to call “gambling”, when he abandoned his successful software consulting business after nearly twenty years, letting it wither and die rather than retool and market. He followed his passion, which I supported, into real estate finance, at precisely the wrong time of the century. Day trading with the equity in our homes became “our only hope”. And, it may have worked, had he the gumption, bravado and risk adversity for such a gamble. Five years later, the equity is gone, the savings is gone, the retirement nest egg is gone, the college fund for the kids is gone, the real estate is gone, and his family is gone. It wasn’t just his risk adversity that cost him, it was the level of devotion to his trading that cost him. He was unable, well, unwilling, to seek gainful employment that would “require” he work while the market was open. He was unwilling to contribute to the family in any way during the hours the market was open, like driving children to school, even when I was out of town for work. It was not a sustainable model even if he’d been able to press the button and make a trade.

One of the CPAs I worked with, a very wise man, one of the only people I know who aced the CPA exam, told me, time and again, based on his tax practice, never, ever, ever has anyone involved with day-trading been able to sustain their efforts successfully, for the long term. They either have to quit while they’re ahead, which, considering it has an appeal similar to gambling, is not likely, or they will eventually lose everything.

Okay, love is no different. If we invest all we’ve got and then micromanage every aspect of the relationship, wringing our hands at what’s at stake, analyzing and overanalyzing every little uptick or downturn in the chart, we will never be able to sustain the relationship to our liking and we will eventually lose everything. At some point, we will blow it and buy when we should sell, or sell when we should buy and we’ll completely blow everything we’ve got invested. We cannot change people, and we should never “invest” in a relationship if we expect the other party to change. We must “invest” because we think it is wise based on sound and solid grounds, not because we think we can make it work by tweaking every aspect of the relationship or the parties to the relationship, continually. Relationships and love, like investing in the market, should be nurtured. We should pay attention to our investments, add a little more to this “fund”, a little less to another “fund” based on careful consideration and feedback, and only as absolutely necessary.

In investing, we should always be reinvesting what is earned in the matter of interest and dividends, we should not frivolously spend our proceeds. We should also be investing additional amounts, on a regular basis, to be sure our portfolio grows to sustain us through hard times and to provide for us through our golden years. We’ll never have wealth and prosperity if we invest a hundred bucks once and never add another penny, no matter how long we ride the market. If we are able to set aside amounts at regular intervals to add to our nest egg, we will be able to accumulate a nice amount. Again, love is no different. The initial investment is important, yes, but reinvesting and making regular contributions will add exponentially to what is earned and to what is accrued.

The portfolio approach to love. We should “invest” in a relationship based on careful consideration and with any eye towards long-term growth. We should manage our investment by nurturing the relationship based on shifts, trends and feedback and much consideration and discernment. We should never just set aside our investment and assume, in neglect, it will accrue interest. The interest we accrue should be reinvested, not foolishly squandered. Like the companies we invest in, the stock we buy, the funds we participate in, with knowledge, maturity, wisdom and respect, our investment in love, in our relationships, will flourish and grow. We will find security and prosperity and a life of wealth, rich with love and joyful experiences. For the long term.

Scarlett’s Letter February 6, 2014

I had a glorious day today. Some people might say it’s raining today. I say it’s just another, beautiful, wonderful, miraculous day.

When I appeared in the dark, gloomy kitchen this morning, the vertical blinds were pulled as tight as possible over the sliding glass door to the deck, blocking the view and the light and the day. Mom was reading her newspaper in her velour bathrobe. I was in my running tights and windbreaker. I quickly prepared my breakfast, ate it heartily, gathered my running pack and keys and headed for the door. Mom looked at me like I was an alien life form. Going out in the rain. She asked if I was wearing something that would keep me from getting wet. I smiled. My jacket is Gore-Tex, yes, but it really doesn’t matter. As soon as I get home I’m going to voluntarily stand under falling water in the shower. And get wet.

“Can’t you see that it’s just raining?
There ain’t no need to go outside.”
― Jack Johnson

So I went for a run. In the rain. I ran eight miles, in the rain. It wasn’t raining hard, just a little, but the wet sidewalks and bike path were practically empty. Normally, when I run, mid-day, whether a weekday or a weekend day, I encounter dog walkers, runners, power-walkers, joggers, runners, amblers, stroller pushers, cyclists and pedestrians of all sorts. Today, I saw one other runner and two cyclists, one of whom was not at all happy to be cycling, I gathered it was not his preferred mode of transportation, particularly when water was falling from the sky.

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
― Dolly Parton

An Effort to Evolve

What a treat, a run in the rain. We’ve been begging for rain, this being the driest winter on record, to date. Ever. We should all be dancing and singing in the streets, faces upturned, letting the rain quench our collective thirst. As I ran past the vineyards, hundreds, literally hundreds of robins sang and flitted about from vine to vine. There are always birds, but in a light rain, especially after a long dry spell, the birds come out and rejoice. Their song is bright and cheerful, magical and miraculous. They bathe in the puddles, flapping their wings and tilting their heads back in glee. And I am the only sole who notices. How lucky am I? I’d be happy to share with more fair weather folks, if they’d be willing to step outside and join me.

“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.”
― Vladimir Nabokov

I almost felt guilty for having this joyful experience all to myself. Where was everyone? Were they huddled behind closed doors and clenched curtains? Fretting at the wetness of the day? I am alone here, is it because I am alone here? I don’t mind the rain. I don’t mind being out in the rain. I’ve backpacked in torrential rain and in thunderstorms with treacherous lightning. Happily. I love the mountains in the rain, I love the beach in the rain. I love seeing the drops disturb the surface of the water on a lake or a river. I like cities in the rain, all of the lights reflecting brilliantly off the thousands of wet surfaces. The sound of rain, the smell of rain, the cool feel of rain. Especially the cool feel of rain on my skin when I am warm from exertion, hiking or running. I love watching the clouds drift and float and shape shift. It is magic. I love that my hair curls and doesn’t frizz. I love the sound of rain falling on the roof, tapping against the window, during the night. I like the noise cars make swishing along on wet pavement. I love the sound of my running shoes rhythmically slap-slapping the wet street. It’s almost hypnotic. I love that I get to wear my shiny, new scarlet rain boots when I go run errands this evening. Rain. What’s not to love? So I have a romance with rain.

“I Love a Rainy Night”
― Eddie Rabbit

An Effort to Evolve

Shame on everyone, hunched in their houses, killing, murdering, this glorious day, wiling away the hours in front of television. Dismal. Morose. Lamenting the water falling from the sky, ruining their day. Shame. It was a perfect day. Even when I am forced to be indoors and it is raining, I spend time looking out, watching the rain. I’ll open a window a couple of inches and entice the fresh smell and the sweet sound inside, so I can almost pretend I am outside. I could watch rain out a window for hours. I find it soothing, calming, centering, cleansing.

“Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your best friend is an adventure.”
― Emily Wing Smith

Everything is enhanced when it rains. Food is never so comforting and nourishing and appreciated as when it is raining out. A glass of rich, red wine is never so enjoyable as when it is raining. Sitting on a porch in the countryside while rain falls just a few feet away, feeling the dewiness accumulate on your cheeks; pure heaven. Walking down a busy urban sidewalk, carefully managing your umbrella amidst a thousand other brightly colored umbrellas, looking into the crowded, cheerful, warm, shops and restaurants you pass. And when the rain subsides and the sun returns, everything is shiny and fresh, like a bright, new penny.

Really, so what’s on TV? The news, perhaps? Did they mention it was raining? No doubt.

“It’s all nonsense. It’s only nonsense. I’m not afraid of the rain. I am not afraid of the rain. Oh, oh, God, I wish I wasn’t.”
― Ernest Hemingway

An Effort to Evolve

And, how is rain much different than life? When life isn’t perfectly sunny, do we cower under the covers and wish it would get better? Sit, comatose, in front of some screen or another, watching other people actually live their lives. Or do we give thanks for the day and enjoy the gift that it is? Do we savor the gift of another day and experience it to our fullest, do we cherish the gift of another day and use it wisely to find a path to a sunnier day, a better self, a more fulfilling life?

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
― Maya Angelou

Much like the weather, life is never “perfect”. Sometimes it’s better than others. Weather is the first topic of almost any conversation. Followed by traffic. Then gossip. Small talk. We use weather as an excuse for so much, an ever-present excuse. And, when life is as imperfect as the weather, we have another ever-present excuse. If we wait until life is perfect, and the weather is perfect, to embark on our life journey, we’ll never get started and most certainly will never get where we hope to go.

“… millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
― Susan Ertz

We must find a way to enjoy our day, no matter the weather. Likewise, we must find a way to enjoy our life, each and everyday, whether it’s sunny times or stormy times. It’s still time and we only get so much of it. The way I see it, we have two choices; make our own sunshine or learn to sing in the rain.

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”
― Roger Miller

An Effort to Evolve

Scarlett’s Letter February 2, 2014

I wish we had tails.

I wish we had tails. Not tales, we all have those, but tails, you know, like other creatures do. How did we get left out of the tail thing? Were we too busy and self-absorbed the day God handed out tails to all the creatures he created? I don’t know, but I think we’re missing out. Did we once have tails and they evolved away for some reason?

I went for a walk with my friend the other day. Funny thing. We’ve known each other since kindergarten. We grew up together and have been friends ever since. We’ve gone our separate ways, moving to different cities, pursuing different interests, our careers, we’ve married, I’ve raised my family, she is raising hers. Through it all, we’ve been friends, sometimes seeing each other only once a year, sometimes almost daily. It just depends on life and where we each are at the moment. We grew up in the same neighborhood, just around the corner from each other. Through the bizarre twists and turns that life has brought us, we now both live in the houses we grew up in, just around the corner from each other.

When we were little kids, after school, we’d call each other up and ask to play. Funny thing. We still have the same phone numbers, indelibly etched in our brains. If I were to develop some horrible case of dementia or Alzheimer’s, I am certain, without any doubt, I’d remember her phone number. 555-9135. I wouldn’t know my name, what day it was or recognize the faces of my most cherished loved ones, but I would know her phone number. 555-9135. No one knows anyone’s phone numbers anymore, you just program them in and press a button, that is, if you were to ever even call someone.

If we were available to play, as in there was not a Girl Scout meeting, ballet, swim team, honor band, horseback riding or some other routine, after-school commitment, I’d walk or ride my Schwinn bike to her house or she’d walk or ride her Schwinn bike to mine. My dad sold Schwinn bikes. Every kid within a five-mile radius had a Schwinn bike, even though his bike shop was in a whole different town. Hers was green, you know, that seventies green. I had a different color bike every month because I was part of the bicycle dynasty.

When we were older, in junior high and high school, we’d “go for a walk” after dinner. It was just an excuse to get out of the house. I remember this being the opportunity to try to smoke cigarettes, which I never successfully developed into a habit. Thankfully. We’d gossip, complain about our parents, and we usually had some pet in tow, the premise for escaping the confines of home temporarily. We’d each walk towards each other’s house and meet in the middle, then proceed “around the block”, which really could be any number of blocks in the general vicinity of our neighborhood. There was no real set path, just a set meeting place; somewhere between her house and mine, depending on who escaped more quickly.

This is what we do now, forty-five years after making our first acquaintance. I don’t have a pet to take for a walk, presently, but she does, which is most handy, not that we need an excuse to get out of the house, really, but it does provide justification for momentarily abandoning that which must get done in a day’s time.

I was preparing for a ten-mile run, I had my running tights on, my Asics laced up, my hair in a ponytail. I was set to go, and that was really the only thing on my agenda for the day, a ten-mile run. I got a text message just as I was gathering my keys and my phone, “Feel like a walk around the block with Lucy and I?” Lucy is the pet in need of walking. So we agreed to meet in the middle, somewhere between her house and mine, depending on who escaped more quickly.

As I walked down the street and she walked up, and she came into view, I could see Lucy’s tail rhythmically swishing back and forth behind her in time with her cadence. When we were about six or seven houses apart, Lucy was let off leash and I called to her. Lucy ran towards me, flattened out, claws making a “scritching” noise against the sidewalk as she ran, full tilt. I bent over and greeted her enthusiastically as she met me, petting her and complimenting her on her recent visit to the doggie spa! I actually made quite a spectacle as a neighbor looked on and smiled. Lucy’s tail wagged furiously, you know, fur-iously! She was obviously happy to see me, and I was happy to see her, though I have no tail to wag. When my friend caught up, I commented, “I wish we had tails. Just think how cool it would be if we could tell what people were thinking and feeling by their tails.” My friend tilted her head and nodded in agreement in her special way, which she has done for as long as I’ve known her, “You’re right!”

Tail wagging furiously.
Tail wagging furiously.

You can tell how an animal is feeling, even predict likely behavior, by the manner of their tail. A dog wagging its tail is happy and is welcoming a greeting. A cat swishing its tail is best not approached. A horse, wringing its tail, too, is nervous, unhappy, irritated and best not approached or in need of a very expensive visit from the vet. Which is why I don’t currently own any horses, the prospect of very expensive vet bills finally overshadowed the joy of keeping beasts of burden as my own.

Humans are way more subtle in absence of a tail. We have no large appendage from our body, acting like a flag, to welcome or warn on comers with. We really have to be perceptive to figure out whether someone is welcoming and approachable or is best left alone. The best indicator we have is the expression on their face. So, what does your face generally say?

Approachable
Approachable

I hate to admit it, but my daughter and I both have what has been called “resting bitchface”.  Our ordinary expression when unmoved by happiness or sorrow, anger or joy, is one of sort of disaffection, disinterest, boredom and aloofness. If I had to describe it. And at the slightest irritation, annoyance or question, we have this “oh, please, are you serious?” kind of gaze. People always remark at how much we look alike, which I totally do not get, she has a round face, mine is oval. Her eyes are wider set than mine, she has a different nose, a totally different brow, chin and cheekbones. Her lips are different, heck, her teeth and ears are even different from mine. Yet, we do look astonishingly alike. It can only come down to our resting expression, our expressionless expression. We are both quite stoic, and I think that is probably a better description of our “plain” or expressionless expression than “resting bitchface”. But whatever. The point is, unless I make a concerted effort, I’m afraid I come off as unapproachable, which I most certainly am not. I feel and act like Lucy, my friend’s dog, on the inside, but my outward appearance suggests differently if I don’t monitor it. A tail would help. I’m pretty sure I’d be constantly wagging mine. How about you?

"Resting Bitchface"
“Resting Bitchface”

To appear friendly, open and approachable, absent a tail to wag, we have to have a pleasant and friendly, open and assuring expression. Always. I don’t mean we should walk around town with an ear-to-ear grin, teeth bared and eyes wide, we’d probably be detained in the county lockup for psychological evaluation. But we really should try to don a pleasant expression, much like we do a hoodie on a cool day. Think of the opportunities we may be missing if we’re walking around, without tails to wag, and an unfriendly expression on our face?

Approach with extreme caution.
Approach with extreme caution.

I’ve actually experimented with this phenomenon with my own Girl Scout troop. I divided the girls up into two teams at a local apple festival. One team was told to walk around the crowds with a surly expression and their arms crossed, defiantly, across their chests. The other team was told to walk around, smiling and making eye contact with everyone. We then compared notes. The friendly group of girls was met with pleasant greetings, smiles, warmth, and conversation. The surly girlies were avoided in every respect; their glances were avoided, no one spoke to them and mothers would even pull their small children closer to avoid any potential contamination. So, we are able to communicate visually in absence of a tail.

If we are able to alert other people to our generally approachability solely by the expression on our face, then that is something we should be paying very close attention to. I sincerely doubt, I sincerely hope that no one intends to walk around the planet and thwart positive human interaction. If that is the case, nothing I can say in two thousand words is going to rectify that. For the rest of us, who really intend to go about our lives pleasantly, we need to pay attention to our expression to make sure it conveys our demeanor accurately. I know, life is unfair, dogs don’t have to learn to wag their tails or make a conscious and deliberate effort to remember to do so, it just happens, naturally. With practice, though, we can come pretty close to having a pleasant outward expression naturally. I promise, it’s worth the effort.

Now, if you want to wag your tail, like Lucy and her canine brethren, I’m not going to stop you, and, in fact, I’m here to guarantee that you’ll get more attention than you can imagine if you do! Wag on!

 

 

Actually

Funny thing. When I was a little kid, a real little kid, like a toddler, I was very outgoing. Okay, I was precocious. As an only child, I had way more interaction with adults than with children, so I spoke, well, much like I do now. Often, in “conversations” with grown-ups, when asked a question, or a clarifying statement was made by the adult, I would preface my response with, “well, actually …” I always sought to be fully understood.

A few years later, some time during elementary school, I became more shy, especially around my peers, kids my own age, I didn’t have a lot of experience with them. This was something I struggled with until early adulthood. I came out of my shell when surrounded by close friends and only after I got to know people very well. This pattern is still present and natural for me, though I am much better at overriding my instinct to be quiet and just be the observer in conversations with more than one person. In my quieter days, I struggled with expressing myself fully. Participating in large, group conversations was a challenge because I was too polite to interject and because I’m so darned soft-spoken, when I did speak, I was rarely heard. When I was heard, I would say what I hoped to say quickly and let someone else reclaim the floor. Often, my thoughts were not fully expressed or understood. I always sought to be fully understood, “well, actually …” But, by that point, the conversation had rapidly moved into another topic and I just let it go.

My career has had a lot to do with my ability to establish my social confidence and outgoingness in group conversations. I have to connect, interact, lead, consult, teach and train groups of adults, both younger and older than I. They look to me for guidance and knowledge, though, in many cases, they are much farther along, professionally, than I. I simply know a certain methodology or software that they don’t, and in that arena, I am wise. I am the master. Often I am speaking for eight continuous hours. And for some of my courses, eight hours a day, for multiple days. I have to rely on jokes and stories and personal experiences to keep them engaged in the less than thrilling content of the class. This I have become very comfortable doing. Know one knows I am shy, but me. Often my class participants have questions or need clarification, sometimes I am even challenged. Always seeking to be fully understood, I patiently reiterate, reinforce and restate the point, “well, actually …” I have to be fully understood, it’s what they’re paying for.

Funny thing. When my kids were born, twenty some years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never speak to them in “baby talk”. We would speak to them in proper English and we would use the tone of voice and vocabulary we use in daily conversation with adults. Our belief was that our children would know how to converse and would have a solid foundation in vocabulary, diction and grammar and wouldn’t have to “unlearn” anything when they got to school. I still believe in this completely. The result? My children always sought to be fully understood, and, if they weren’t, they’d politely correct whomever they were speaking to, “Well, actually …”

This, apparently, is a lifelong pattern for me, that has now perpetuated to the next generation, and is likely to perpetuate again, to the next. We seek to be understood, clearly and completely.

In my recent exploration of books and materials on happiness, peace and relationships, I have come to the realization that being completely understood isn’t always the path we must take.  Usually, it is, but I think we may, at times, overdo it. I do believe that good communication in all of our relationships is paramount. It is important that open, free communication be the base upon which our close relationships are built. The foundation. But, in casual conversation, why is it so important to us that every last detail of every last story be absolutely correctly understood?

I find, in daily conversations with close friends, my Sweetie and my family members, if they state one thing in a manner that leads me to believe they’ve missed a detail or don’t completely understand what I’ve said, or meant, I am compelled, almost obsessively, to correct them. Their minor error in comprehension annoys and frustrates me, “well, actually …” I seek to be fully understood. Funny thing.

Does it really make that much difference if Mom calls my smartphone a “Facebook”? (link). “Well, actually, this is a smartphone (holding up phone) and Facebook is an application on the phone, along with many (hundreds of) others.” She has no idea what I’m saying and it does not matter. At all. The course of history will not be changed by her fully understanding these technologies. Does it really make that much of a difference if a friend thinks all accountants are automatically tax experts?  “Well, actually, I’m an auditor, I don’t ‘do’ tax.” Are meteors going to crash into Earth because they think I prepare tax forms for people when, in fact, I don’t even prepare my own tax return? No. Does it really matter if someone asks how my yoga class was when I was really at a spin class? “Well, actually, I was at spin, not yoga.” What difference does that make? The planet will not spin off its axis for the minor misunderstanding. I was at the gym. Good enough. The details are really not that important in many cases. Constantly correcting people, mid conversation, on unimportant details can really detract from the quality of the conversation. Our annoyance and frustration bleeds through, we seem picky, petty and perturbed. The petty annoyances and frustration we experience at the miniscule error of fact detracts from our peace and joy. Poor quality conversations detract from the peace and happiness of our relationships. It becomes strained. A struggle.

Then, there are the more philosophical conversations we have with people. These can become quite passionate, heated and adversarial if we insist on being fully understood. Funny thing. In conversations where opinions and philosophies are confused with fact, we don’t feel “fully understood” unless we “convert” others to our way of thinking. I was recently in a conversation with someone close to me, and, funny thing, I have forgotten the exact topic of the conversation, though it was “philosophical” in nature, and, throughout the conversation I was told, “passionately” that I was wrong. “You’re wrong!” “You’re wrong!” “You’re wrong!” I felt, strongly, that I was right. I had two choices, to yell back, “Well, actually …” and get nowhere in resolving our philosophical difference, or, just let it go. It’s a matter of opinion, there is no right, there is no wrong and no one is going to walk away feeling fully understood. We can just walk away, meaning move to another topic, with an appreciation for the other person’s philosophy, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. Sometimes, nodding in appreciation, even if misunderstood as nodding in agreement, is the only thing to do. Be the bigger person, use a smaller voice, move on to another topic. It doesn’t negate your belief at all. You’re still right, and so are they. It’s a “win/win”. Funny thing, dead horses cannot run no matter how hard you beat them.

There are people that spend the major portion of every day, of every conversation, trying to yell, scream, and bash people into adopting their philosophy, their beliefs. The man I was married to was just such a character. His Facebook wall, oh, wow, I just dated myself, I mean, his Facebook timeline is littered with political posts ranging from mildly humorous to hateful and venomous, bordering treasonous. Any topic raised will quickly turn to politics. Funny thing. His twin brother is as passionate, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. They will never convince each other to change their philosophies, but they’re likely to die of a stroke trying. Funny thing, louder isn’t “righter.” “Well, actually!!!!!”

Funny thing. There is right and wrong and there is no right or wrong. What I’m saying, just to be fully understood, is there is a difference between “knowing right from wrong” and “being right or wrong”.

“Knowing right from wrong” pertains to morals. Personally, I like to limit this to what I’d call “God’s laws.” Think Ten Commandments. We know it is wrong to kill another person unless in self-defense. We know it is wrong to steal. We know it is wrong to be unfaithful. These are absolutes. Right. Wrong. No question. “Knowing right from wrong” is for the “biggies”.

“Being right or wrong” addresses matters of opinion, philosophies and methodologies. And, unless you’re taking an exam on the material in a class, there is no right or wrong. We need to learn to express our opinion, listen to the other opinions, appreciate both positions and move on to the next topic. Politics, religion, science, sports teams, recipes, gay marriage, driving directions from one point to another, legalization of marijuana, global warming, fashion, or our thoughts on the Duck Dynasty debacle; there is no right or wrong and we don’t need to convince anyone else to our way of thinking in order to be fully understood on these types of topics or issues. Funny thing. Do you fully understand?

Well, actually …