Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:
Gratitude – I am grateful for the very special people in my life and for the cherished time I get to spend with them
Affirmation – I am kind
Attitude – My life sparkles
Activity – Window shopping
Nurture – Steam pedicure
Enrichment – “Friendship is gained by listening instead of talking”
And a lovely dinner with my man, his family and their family friend; a treat so delicious and rare, I did not think it appropriate to snap a picture; use your imagination!
Giving – I let several cars in front of me in traffic and pitched in on a lovely steam pedicure for a friend who is having surgery tomorrow
Connection – A great day with my love, his friends, and his family
Simplifying – I didn’t buy anything while window shopping, knowing my wallet is emptier than my closet
We wait all week for the weekend, whether our days off are the traditional Saturday and Sunday, or other days during the week. Sometimes the only thing that gets us through the week is the promise of those days off.
As our weekend arrives, there is great anticipation, a celebratory feeling as the final day of work draws to a close. Our weekend begins, sometimes, about half way through the final day of our week; productivity decreases, distraction increases, and we count down the hours, then the minutes until we are free.
By Sunday, we begin to gear up for another week of work ahead. Sometimes, a sense of finality, of, dare I say, dread, develops, no matter how much we love our jobs. The fun and frolicking and freedom give way to task and chore and preparation. The joy of the day off is, sometimes, seemingly mitigated by the fact that an alarm must be set for morning, adequate amounts of sleep planned for, and, often, chores completed for the week ahead; laundry, ironing, meals planned, shopping done, meals prepared ahead. Such as Sunday Sauce, a traditional Italian family custom (no, I’m not Italian, but I love the idea). The week’s meat scraps and leftovers are combined into a sauce pot with tomatoes and other sumptuous ingredients, and are simmered together to make a sauce that is used throughout the busy week ahead. Sunday Sauce is spooned over pasta, meat, and vegetables and makes meal preparation throughout the week faster and easier, but no less homemade or delicious. But, the making of Sunday Sauce is one of those tasks we do with the foreboding of the long week ahead drawing nearer and nearer.
Recently, I seem to be experiencing this phenomenon twice per week. I work a traditional work week, with Saturday and Sunday off. I often have some flexibility during the week and can shuffle some of my projects around to allow me some time to spend off with my guy, who works a non-traditional work week and usually has a couple of weekdays off. So, Sunday is my Sunday and, well, today is his Sunday, and feels a lot like my Sunday, too.
As our day elapsed into evening, the pallor of solemnity seemed to increase. As shirts were ironed and the NetFlix movie drew to a close, as morning alarms were set, I was sent home with a quick goodbye kiss. My weekend, and a long, holiday weekend, at that, technically, begins tomorrow afternoon as soon as I conclude with my client. But, my weekend is sort of “on my own”, as my sweetie works. Oh, I’ll fill every minute and I will enjoy it. But come time for his next, and only day off next week, I’m scheduled to work with a number clients, all day long.
Do you see what is happening here? I am living in the future. I’m thinking about tomorrow, I’m thinking about two and three days from now, I’m thinking about the middle of next week, and all rather negatively. This is our tendency, and really, our doom. The daily doom and gloom that we let seep into our lives revolves around living in the past, dwelling on the past, living in the future, focusing on the future.
It is now. It is a beautiful evening and I’m with one of my favorite people. Life is meant to be enjoyed, like a present. In the present.
Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:
Gratitude – I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have available to me
Affirmation – I am focused
Attitude – Joyful
Activity – Just a little strolling
Nurture – Hugs, kisses, hand-holding, loving, and snuggling
Enrichment – “Make sure you understand your beliefs”
Giving – only love and compliments
Connection – I spent the afternoon and evening with my sweet, wonderful, man
Simplifying – I bought a very small, zippered, cosmetic bag and filled it with absolute essentials for an overnight stay: two small toothbrushes, toothpaste, small container of floss, a couple of makeup wipes in a Ziploc, a sliver of face soap. The case slips into almost any purse I carry and negates the necessity to carry an overnight bag for those spontaneous outings and overnights that seem to manifest when I spend time with my sweetheart (that’s why the two toothbrushes)
TV Guide Lifestyle
Like most people, I am a creature of contradictions. Is it possible to love both routine and spontaneity? I believe so, because I do.
I would describe myself as a disciple of spontaneity before I’d say I was a proponent of strict routine. I think there are routines that are helpful, based on personal preferences, needs, and desires, but I truly believe that spontaneity is a component of a joyful lifestyle.
The household I grew up in, the three of us, me, Mom, and Dad, was very routinized. Everyone got up at exactly the same time every work/school day. Breakfast was almost always the same for every week day, for long periods of time. Lunch may have had slight variations, but always had the same components. Dinner was predictable, though delicious, based on the night of the week and which diet book Mom was following at the time (Scarsdale was her favorite, though I think there was a “Pritikin” in there, too). Dinner was always at precisely the same time every night, timed to quickly follow the very predictable time of arrival of my dad, from work, a quick cocktail, and his shower. After dinner, Dad stayed at the kitchen table, drank his wine, did his bookwork, and read Time magazine before heading to bed to repeat the process anew the next morning. Mom headed downstairs to the family room to watch the same sitcoms night after night, week after week, year after year, rotating new offerings into the rotation as other favorite shows stopped airing. I remember M*A*S*H*, and the Six Million Dollar Man, All in the Family, the Jeffersons, and One Day at a Time. It was a T.V. Guide lifestyle, and it was good.
Raising my own family, we were far more bohemian. While the children were young and I worked full-time, we did set aside some time for routine; homework and dinner together. For most of their childhood, there was no television programming. There was a T.V., but it was for watching videos together as a family.
We often opted to dine out rather than prepare meals at home. My husband’s work schedule varied and sometimes he even worked from home. When my kids entered grade school, I moved to a part-time position, which I clung to until they were nearly through high school and it became financially necessary for me to take a full time position. We had many, many, extracurricular activities that filled our afternoons and evenings. While those extracurricular activities were confined to meetings that fell on routine days of the week, the events and activities for each of the meetings themselves were always new, fun, and interesting, no two were ever exactly the same.
Now that the kids are grown and we’re all on our own, I’ve come to really crave spontaneity, but I do appreciate some sense of routine. My job, until recently, required a great deal of travel, I was never in the same place from one week to the next. Now, for the time being, I work exclusively from home, but have a varied and unpredictable schedule.
If I could design my life, I’d like my mornings free until about 10:00, that’s when I’m most creative. Then I’d like my late mornings free, until noon or so. That’s when I most like to work out. And that’s all the routine I crave. The rest of every part of every day would be reserved for spontaneity.
Spontaneity, I think, fosters a sense of youthfulness, an expression of freedom, and encourages living in the moment. These, I believe, are components of a joyful lifestyle. Living a routine, T.V. Guide lifestyle seems to be our nature, our inclination, the comfort zone. There are benefits to both routine and spontaneity; the challenge is finding the right recipe.
Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:
Gratitude – I am grateful for the creative streak I’ve been experiencing lately
Affirmation – I am courageous
Attitude – I am feeling confident, creative and optimistic. I feel like I’m ready to move forward with some long overdue changes in my life
Activity – Ran/Hiked/Hill drills – 5.21 miles and wee bit of weight training while on a conference calls
Nurture – I sat on the deck, in the sunshine, watching the birds and the bees and the wind in the trees, while eating my lunch
Enrichment – a quote “Wisdom is all about learning how to live a better life”
Giving – Other than donating my five cent “bring your own bag” refund to a local charity and letting two cars go ahead of me in the Whole Foods parking lot, I did nothing today to benefit humanity
Connection – Other than limited texting, blogging and social media, I connected with no one at all today.
Simplifying – I have one bag of clothing ready to go to charity, I did not drop it off as I’d hoped to today
Journaling – A little bit of a story to share with you today:
Adequate sleep is proven to be beneficial to our health, to our effectiveness, and to our sense of well-being. Sleep is underrated.
My problem with “getting enough” sleep is that it takes up so much super valuable time. I tend to awaken early because the world awakens early. I awaken as the sky lightens and the world begins to stir. I’m an early bird. I, however, get most of the things that are really important to me done after work, after my workout, after dinner. This is my time to enjoy music, a story or movie, write, read, or visit with loved ones. I’m a night owl. Sleep is overrated.
I didn’t get enough sleep last night. There were a number of contributors; too much coffee as I was captive in an online training session in Adobe Captivate8. Another contributor, yesterday was a “recovery” day after my ten-mile race Sunday, and my three consecutive hiking days Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So I got no exercise. Finally, for some reason, late at night, while watching a delightful movie, I decided a bowl of dark chocolate Coconut Bliss “ice cream” would be a good idea. Sugar and cocoa. I eat dark chocolate frequently, but usually quite early in the day. Sugar, I have practically eliminated from my diet. I could feel my heart race after the first bite!
I awoke at 4:30 AM and really didn’t get back to sleep until about ten minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 6:00. Being a disciple of putting time to good use, rather than toss and turn in frustration, I outlined a couple of article ideas, organized my lists in Evernote, and reorganized my Dropbox, then fell back to sleep. For ten minutes.
I’m filling up on coffee, again, today. Tired and more training.
I have a thought of an invention: a sleep compressor. If we can compress air, if we can pack all the nutrients good, clean food is supposed to supply us into a sticky, sugary, gelatinous ”gummy vitamin”, surely we can figure out how to compress sleep. Wouldn’t it be cool to get, say eight or nine hours of sleep in an hour or two, or maybe even eight or nine minutes?
I have plenty on my plate and have never been a student of physics. Or whatever. So, if you want to take my idea for my sleep compressor invention and run with it, great! Let me know when it’s all done and I’ll be first in line to buy it!
I’ve decided that letting your age define you is a sure way to limit your happiness.
I had a marvelous day not acting my age; I drove a little too fast, listened to loud music, hiked along the coast to a sketchy, steep, poison oak covered trail, down a cliff, to the beach, where a fresh water waterfall spilled into the ocean. Well, me and hundreds of other people. As I descended the steep, slippery trail down the cliff to the beach, I found myself behind a gentleman and, I assume, his wife, probably not too much older than me. There were two younger men with them I’d almost have to assume were their sons. The woman, with much trepidation and some assistance, made it down one section of the slipperier part of the trail and halted at the next, and the last steep portion, before the beach below. There, she gave up, stating she was too old to do stuff like this. I went ahead, when offered, but I showed her how I used my arms to lower myself down to the next level and assured her she could do it. I went on my way. Later, after a brief stroll along the surf, I noticed the woman, with her family, enjoying the beach and watching the water spill down from the cliff she’d descended, she was all smiles. What a pity it would have been to act the way you think you’re supposed to act at whatever chronological age you happen to be and miss out on a great experience.
After my hike, I drove home with the windows down and the sunroof open, a little too fast, and I listened to really loud music, and I felt the age I want to feel, and I felt alive.
Today was compelling testimony that frequent, vigorous exercise, good food, a leash on monkey mind, and social activity, or connection, fosters a feeling of well-being and happiness.
After a rewarding hike yesterday evening, I took off on a hot, mid-day, ten-mile hike “for lunch”. It feels so good to move and be outdoors. I love hiking with people, but I really thrive when hiking in solitude.
My hike was followed by a Meet-Up event with the women’s networking group I’ve been sporadically active with over the past couple of years. The group organizer planned an evening for a small group of women where she’d show us how to make Venezuelan arepas. I was the only member who showed up, but we had the loveliest of times preparing yummy food, drinking rum infused “batidos” and catching up on stories of adventure, travel, work, and all those things friends chat about.
I came home and felt accomplished, peaceful, content, and happy and watched a Netflix DVD, “Factory Girl”, which, though tragic, and dark, had no detrimental effect on my joy.
Falling asleep was harder than I expected, as I began to make plans for the next day, but, eventually, I succeeded.
I’ve had it! I feel like Jackie Chan in the Hanes “tagless” t-shirt ad jumping around trying to rid myself of the annoyance of tags in clothing. They are so annoying! Some itch, some scratch, some hurt. And for some fashionistas, myself included, the brand name means a lot to us, and there I stand, scissors in hand, deliberating, “pop some tags and have anonymous clothing or keep the highly sought after branding and be miserable?” If it’s Target brand, then, who cares? Snip.
Here I sit in my comfy sweats, my highly coveted “Ed Hardy’s” and the tag inside, in the back, is right at the top of my butt crack and it’s all scratchy. Do I cut the tag out? Or leave it and keep fiddling with it, which makes it look like I’m picking my seat an awful lot?
Have you noticed? There seem to be so many more tags than their used to be. There are labels for fabric content, in seventeen languages, and laundering instructions, in seventeen languages and weird hieroglyphics for the illiterate, I suppose. I don’t understand the pictures, so good luck with that. Then there is the size tag and the brand tag. I could probably buy a full size smaller in not for all the tags stuffed inside my clothing!
Cut it out. That’s what I do, if it bothers me, I cut it out. Poppin’ tags.
Do we really need labels? In clothing? On mattresses, couches, pillows, lamps. How about the sticky labels adhered to items you don’t want sticky stuff adhered to? Can’t “pop” those too well.
Labels are bad.
Labels are bad in another respect; the sticky, gummy, labels we apply to ourselves and the annoying, scratchy, itchy, labels we apply to others.
Many folks I know carefully classify people, with labels, like a scientist might a new species; genus, class, species, etc. They begin any account with the race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, socio-economic status, any and all diagnoses, height, weight, sexual orientation and/or marital status, of any person involved in the story. She was a large, poor, white woman, German, I think, about five feet tall and five feet wide. I think she’s Christian, probably voted for Bush, divorced.
We label the ones we love, repeatedly, and expect them to somehow overcome their shortcomings; my nephew is ADHD, on Ritalin, can’t focus, doesn’t do well in school.
We label ourselves; I’m overweight, Gluten intolerant, pre-diabetic.
We even classify ourselves by the prescriptions we take, there’s a weird kinship in pharmaceutical similarities.
When I’m speaking with a chronic labeler, telling a story, and I introduce a person to the story, I use their name, if I know it, or simply their gender. The listener is nearly aghast at the fact I’ve left out so many critical details. Often, they’ll ask me to further classify, or label, the person. I will often say, “Human, you know, a hominid”. I try to set a good example, there’s probably a label for that.
Enough! Enough. Don’t you see? Labels are limits. Labels are excuses. Labels stand between you and your goals, your happiness, your self-confidence. Labels inhibit, you, and those you label. Cut it out. Break free. Be free. Pop some tags!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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!”
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?
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?
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?
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!
Do you remember, as a kid, having to walk places? To school, to a friend’s house, to a playground? No matter how near or far, we always looked for a shortcut. More often than not, that shortcut was more trouble than it was worth.
There was a ravine in my backyard and a ranch behind it. I lived in a curb and gutter, cookie cutter house neighborhood. Still do, as a matter of fact. Many of my friends lived in the same neighborhood, some on the same creek. Other friends lived in other neighborhoods on the other side of the creek, beyond the ranch. There were many times we used the creek as a “shortcut” from one house to another, from one neighborhood to another and even to the elementary school. It was a “shortcut”. Not.
When we walked the creek one of several things were likely to happen, if not all of those several things; we ‘d get caught for trespassing and get yelled at, and, if we were caught on the rancher’s property, we might get shot at with rock salt from his pellet gun. We might get poison oak. Correction, other kids might get poison oak, I GOT poison oak. We might get scared by a snake, or by something else. I remember one time, finding a dead animal that had had its fur burned off. My friend told me “the devil” did that kind of stuff. I was terrified to go anywhere near there for years. It was possible we’d lose our footing on the steep banks and end up falling into the large masses of thorny blackberry bushes. By the time we were all about eleven years old, we figured out the sidewalk was a much better, far less risky and way more direct route to almost anywhere we wanted to go.
But, the lesson wasn’t complete.
As an adult, as a driver, I prefer to keep moving. I live in California, keeping moving is sometimes a tremendous challenge. I have been known to “shortcut” on surface streets to avoid traffic on the highway. I get to keep moving, but rarely, rarely, rarely, do I get to my destination any quicker than I would had I stuck it out on the highway. When I drive home from Sacramento to Napa, I take Highway 12 between Interstate 80 and Highway 29. Unless the traffic gods are smiling down on me in an unusual manner, I’m going to be moving much slower than I’d like on Highway 12 through “the canyon”. Wine country tourist traffic and lots of road construction lately just exacerbates the situation. A half-mile before the intersection of Highways 12 and 29 is a “shortcut”, North Kelly Rd. It sneaks around behind the business park and pops out onto Highway 29 a mile up. I always, always, always take this “shortcut”, thinking, as a “local”, no one knows about it. I’ve done this for over thirty years with the same result. I’m usually one of about five cars that sneak off to the right down this route. Nine times out of ten, I pop out onto Highway 29 a mile or so up, immediately behind the car I’d been behind through “the canyon” on Highway 12. But, still, I take my “shortcut.” My sanity may be questioned at this point.
There are other shortcuts we all favor. There are shortcuts for tasks at work, for losing weight, for cooking, for cleaning, for gaining wealth, and knowledge. Remember Cliff Notes? They never served me well. Ever. When will it occur to us all that shortcuts are never shortcuts, and usually result in taking more time and effort later on? Am I right?
Today I was working on a project for a client. It is a tedious, tiresome task and for some reason, I told my client I’d just “finish it up” for them rather than sending the project to them to complete at the end of our eight hour consulting session like I’m supposed to do. I figured it would take me an hour or two to finish, and, based on the number of emails and phone calls I’d had from them before the consulting session with questions that numbered far greater than any of my other clients, heck, more than all of my other clients, combined. I rationalized that it would ultimately take me less time to “just do it” than it would to have to walk them through it over the course of two weeks via hundreds of emails and conference calls.
I opened up the task at hand on my computer this morning knowing exactly what had to be done. I cringed at the tedium and tried to mastermind a “better way”. A shortcut. While I procrastinated, I mean, made my coffee, I had a fantastic idea! A shortcut! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I ran upstairs to my office, coffee sloshing in my travel coffee press slash mug I got for Christmas from my mom. I sat down at my desk and began my new, improved, better way, the shortcut to the long, tedious task before me. You know, the one I said would only take an hour or two. Two hours later, I wasn’t even a quarter of the way done. Fortunately, I was wise enough to only employ the “better way” on the first of four sections of the project.
On the second section, I reverted to the “old way”, the long route, and an hour later I was done with the second section. I procrastinated at the half way point, I mean, I went for a run over my lunch break, then ate lunch because I was ravenous, then took a shower because I smelled beastly, and dried and curled my hair, and carefully applied makeup, because I might go somewhere this afternoon if I ever get my work done, and finally, I sat down at my desk to finish up the task. Two hours later, I’d completed the last two sections. The shortcut in the morning ended up costing me over an hour of time I could have put to so much better use. The shortcut wasn’t a shortcut at all. This morning’s shortcut cost me in other ways. Because the first section, the one I “shortcut” took so awfully long, I ended up taking a break, needing a break, at the half way point. Perhaps if I’d just done it the way I knew would work, the way that has always worked, the way we teach other people to do the task, I’d have finished the whole project before lunch and could’ve used my afternoon for other, more important work. That more important work just got sloughed off onto tomorrow’s to-do list.
We just gotta realize that a shortcut, though it usually seems like a great idea, no matter what the task at hand may be, will almost always result in more time, more effort, and often, abandonment of the task, especially when we’re talking about fitness, wealth, weight loss, and health. You’re not likely to get poison oak, see a snake or fall into blackberry bushes, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to end up spending more time and more effort than you bargained for by trying to shortcut that which just takes time. Just keep to the highway.