Amazeballs

I believe in love. I believe in great love. I believe in amazeballs love.

I’ve been through periods of cynicism regarding love, and relationships, after a long, lifeless, loveless marriage, which, truthfully, is still in the death throes of divorce proceedings. Through a subsequent friendship, a long, flirtatious, friendship and much, much, convincing, not on my part, I found love again. The kind of love that overcame objections, a number of large obstacles; timing, money, distance, family, career, and so, was a great love.  It had amazeballs potential.

But now, even as that love withers and dies, trapped behind the very obstacles it once surpassed, I find myself only bitter in momentary fits. Only when alone, without music, and a project to occupy my mind. Across several thousand miles, I manage to feel the void, tangibly. I have  grown, matured, evolved. Maybe. Or I am delusional. Not. Perhaps I have overcome some personal obstacles and, now, find I still have faith and hope that love is pure, that it is possible and, maybe even, in the right conditions, lasting. And that love can be amazeballs.

Funny to come to the conclusion that love has the potential to last in the face of yet, another relationship, dying a young and tragic death. Perhaps it is in the autopsy, the forensic exhumation and dissection of that corpse that I discover my hope spring.

Obstacles.

Obstacles
Obstacles

I’m on a plane, now, near the back. I just made it. Moments ago, I was on another plane, near the back. As we landed in Minneapolis and started to deplane, I observed the obstacles ahead of me. My connecting flight to Chicago was already boarding. My flight to MSP landed in the far reaches of the C terminal, my flight to Chicago was departing from the G terminal. The Moment the chime sounded, everyone leapt to their feet and into the aisles of the aircraft, all anxious to deplane. Even the elderly woman who, earlier, required assistance just to stand, sprang to her feet with shocking agility, ahead of me. Not that I would push aside anyone, I just kind of thought she’d require assistance, a wheelchair, an attendant, maybe, to make her way to, and then up the jet bridge. As the passengers slowly, oh so slowly, gathered their belongings and filed towards the door, I, again, glanced at the time. The elderly woman was finally able to move forward and apparently, the energy she expended in jumping to her feet was all she had. She crept. Crept, crept towards the door. I am sympathetic, in the most anxious manner, but, still, sympathetic. Once, finally, at the door of the aircraft, more obstacles; a child seat in the midst of the path, the elderly woman stopped abruptly for the wheelchair that had been brought. Three attendants were assisting her, straddling the random child seat and wholly blocking the jet bridge. I went all “track and field” and hurdled the baby seat. And ran. Well, no, walked briskly.

Obstacles
Obstacles

I began my very long journey from arriving gate to departing gate. Sign after sign, moving walkway after moving walkway. Obstacle after obstacle. Passengers milling about, dazed, confused, drunk, I don’t know, but they were in my way! The moving walkways have a code, implied or expressed; stand to the right, walk to the left. Here, it is expressed, a sign hangs over each of the numerous, and I do mean numerous, moving walkways. The moving walkway itself is divided by a yellow line, not unlike a roadway, with “stand” and “walk” painted at intervals. The walkers, today, were leisurely strollers. First, could there be a “run” lane? And, second, what is the protocol for passing? Passing these obstacles. The only time I have ever missed a connecting flight, solely because of the distance between gates, was as this very airport. The only time, ever, in nearly seven years of frequent travel. I made it, of course, just as my boarding group was called, and, per my modus operandi, I was the first of my boarding group to board. I am skilled at this maneuver, not always proud of my tactics, but skilled, and somewhat insistent. More obstacles, overcome.

This not a smiley face, this is the MSP marathon I ran today. So many obstacles!
This not a smiley face, this is the MSP marathon I ran today. So many obstacles!

Obstacles. If only we were all masters, all so committed to overcoming them, littering our path with obstacles to whatever it is we’ve set our sights on, whatever it is we hope to achieve.

Obstacles kill love. Obstacles killed my own amazeballs potential love. Hey, don’t look at me, I was going all “track and field” on those obstacles, too! But obstacles, also, once made it great. So, per my examination, in my coroner’s report, I shall claim that obstacles were both the cause of death, and the cause of life, for this newly deceased love. I shall attempt to explain my hypothesis.

I believe that love, without challenges, without resistance, without obstacles, is doomed to a brief and fleeting existence. A flash in the pan. Not much more than an infatuation, requited, for a period. There is nothing to cause the love to grow, to overcome, it was created in perfection, in an idyllic setting, and had nowhere to go, nowhere to evolve, no reason to grow. Similar to the vineyards I live near that produce great wines; if the vines struggle, the fruit is superior. Weather, poor soil, other climatic hostilities, all cause the vine challenges and it’s these types of challenges that make the best fruit and therefore, the best wine. At the end of two years of severe drought, a devastating earthquake, a horrendous hail storm, the grapes just harvested this year are reported to be very, very good. In the face of adversity, growth and great success.

When Love is Greater than Obstacles, love can be AMAZEBALLS!
When Love is Greater than Obstacles, love can be AMAZEBALLS!

If obstacles can both cause love to flourish, and to die, then how does one survive when the other fails?

I believe it has to do with the ability of the lovers to take on the obstacles before them, between them. To adapt to change, to accept the circumstances before them, between them, and to persevere. Overcome. And bear amazeballs fruit. When love is put before the obstacle, ahead of the obstacle, as the reason to persevere, then, in that struggle, the climatic hostilities, the love struggles, flourishes, and then thrives. It amasses greater strength and resiliency, becomes hardier and far sweeter. It’s when the obstacles are put in front of the love, by one lover, the other, or both, as an obstacle to growth, an obstacle to perseverance, that love is blocked, like a dam in a stream, or a barricade in a road, blocking one lover from the other, cutting off the circulation, like a blockage in an artery. And then the death.

Why, then, does a couple, once capable of putting their love before the obstacles, then, change, and allow the very same obstacles to destroy the energy and hope in love they once shared? Why do people turn from challengers of obstacles to prisoners? Conquerors to victims? Trapped, helpless, hopeless, pathetic. This, I’m afraid, is the mystery I can’t yet solve. Why the change of heart? Like a man digging a tunnel to the richest vein of gold, and giving up an inch too soon. Maddening, tragic, incomprehensible. But, human, I suppose. Tragically, tragically human.

We were so close. It was right there. The richest vein of gold.

Diamonds from coal. It isn’t instant. It isn’t just a little while. But, wow, is it ever worth the wait!

The ability to tackle obstacles, really, is the key to all success, not just the success of love. No one ever achieved greatness with ease. Ever. Without exception. In every account of phenomenal success, the trail has been littered with obstacles, obstacles that were overcome, obstacles that others shrunk away from, cowered before, withered at the sight of. The great, the mighty, the successful, and the wise, challenge those obstacles with great effort, intensity and tenacity.

Every failure, large and small, is the result of an obstacle meeting an unwilling opponent. Without exception. Without exception.

Lottery winners, in more instances than not, end up worse off than before their great fortune. Fortune is only, truly, a fortune, I believe, when the result of toil, trial, tribulation and tragedy. Obstacles. A great many obstacles.

Seekers of amazeballs, lasting and lustrous love, those of us willing and able to tackle an Everest, a K2, a Mt. McKinley, to cross an ocean, a frozen tundra, a continent, Canada, a time zone, for the sake of the sweetest most divine fruit, how do we find one another? How do we identify each other? Is there a code word, a secret handshake? Or do we just continue to suffer with the weak, the meek and the timid of heart. Is that our challenge? And what fruit will be borne of it? Will we either find that other great conqueror, or become lonely, half crazed, prophetic, poets?

When Obstacles are Greater than Love, it dies
When Obstacles are Greater than Love, it dies

Are we, “adventurers in love”, then, if we are willing to challenge obstacles to sweeten the fruit? Are we more amenable to change, to challenge, to adversity, generally speaking, than those willing to let a great love die, repeatedly bashing it against the same little rock?  What sets us apart?

Am I alone in begging for change? I crave change? It is a fact that I sat on my “tuffet” the other night, meditating, or praying, some may say, for change. I prayed over and over and over, “change everything.” I guess I got what I asked for. And I can’t exactly go back and say, “no, wait, let me rephrase that! That’s not what I meant.” Ah, but, I shall be stronger, and wiser, and perhaps more successful for it, though. Perhaps? No, I am certain.

And as I shake my head in disbelief, fighting off those occasional fits of bitterness, and anger, loneliness, longing, and emptiness, I seek solace, solace in knowing that being dumped by someone so weakened by the passage of time, like I have an expiration date or something, and the perceived “insurmountability” of a few, wee, obstacles, obstacles I have been wailing at with pick, axe and shovel, and making huge progress towards obliterating, is probably a blessing. Such limitations may have prevented me adventures I crave, my wanderlust, compromised my passion to spread my wings, to experience, to see, to do, to be. To be in amazeballs love, someday!

Treadmills

I’m not one to succumb to fear, to even admit fear. I do have fears, plenty, but I seek to overcome them, to meet them, as a challenge, and annihilate them. I am far more afraid of dying in a recliner, clutching a remote, watching other people live fascinating lives on television than I am of ‘most anything else. I’m a doer, not a viewer.

An Effort to Evolve

Last year, I did admit to a fear; treadmills. Not treadmills themselves, but the act of running on a treadmill. I have completely obliterated that fear and can run quite effectively on treadmills now. And do, when I must. I will always prefer running outdoors, through the countryside, the suburbs, or bustling urban streets.

An Effort to Evolve

Then a video compilation of “treadmill fails” circulated around Facebook last week and I took pause, and reconsidered my former fear of treadmills. I shall remain steadfast in saying “I am not afraid of running on treadmills”, I do, however, have a healthy respect for them and I will exercise (no pun intended) due caution. In other words, you are not likely to see me on a treadmill a) in high heels b) on a pogo stick c) on a bicycle d) on a unicycle e) while roller blading f) on a skateboard g) on a stabilization ball, stabilization balls have no place on an unstable surface, that’s oxy-moronic (moronic being the key word there) and, finally, h) while someone else is monkeying with the speed setting.

An Effort to Evolve

Fair enough?

A fear of mine, though? Not making progress.

While reconsidering fear, and treadmills, my mind naturally wandered to how this applies to life. That’s just how I think. One of my “concerns”, or, fears, if you choose, is “the treadmill of progress”. Have you ever felt like you’ve done everything right? Set measurable goals, based on your roles in life and your core values? Made a daily, concerted effort towards that goal, day after day, week after week, month after month, and made no progress? No forward movement? The treadmill of progress; running, panting, sweating, still in the same place!

Have you ever noticed people at the gym who dutifully hop on the treadmill, poke a few buttons and stroll along for ten minutes, then head for the shower, and claim to have “worked out”? Versus those of us who ramp up the incline, the speed, and the duration, with every passing workout. You can hear me breathing across the gym when I’m on the treadmill. I kind of make a scene. Let’s not get started on a discussion about the step mill! I’m so sweaty I look like I’ve been swimming when I’m done! Though I am going nowhere, I am making progress.

An Effort to Evolve

But, again, when we’ve done everything right and we seem to be making no progress, we are expecting to be moving forward, but the scenery isn’t changing and we’re staying in one place, what’s gone wrong? We’re stuck on the treadmill of progress. What to do?

An Effort to Evolve

For consideration:

  1. Are we present? Are we remaining present in our work towards our goal, or are we anxiously focused on the future? Live in the present, in the moment and be grateful for what minute progress you made today. Don’t look at the whole fence when you’re painting, observe the stroke you make now and admire it. The fence will be finished soon enough.
  2. Are we grateful. We must express gratitude for what accomplishment we’ve made, for the attempt that’s been made, for the effort put forth. If we are ungrateful of our efforts, our progress will be lost in the bitterness. Praise yourself and your toils.
  3. Are we breaking the goal down into small enough steps? Have we sharpened our axe? As Abe Lincoln once (supposedly) said, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It’s a good quote, whether Abe said it, or not. There is some debate. Anyhow, we should be breaking each goal down to the level of what can be accomplished in a month, a week, today, and, finally, to “what could I do this very moment to further this goal?” We often bite off way more than we can chew. Take smaller bites.
  4. My n’er do well friend, Jardin, wrote an article earlier this week about making excuses, and making adjustments. Sometimes we need to look at the whole picture and figure out what we may be doing, or allowing, that is undermining our progress.
  5. Reconsider the goal. Is it still meaningful, is it still valuable to us? Or have we grown past the goal? Maybe the goal is no longer something we consider worthy, or necessary, and we’ve just been plugging away at it for so long, it has become a habit. A meaningless habit and a waste of precious time that could be better spent elsewhere. Not every goal we set is meant to be met, accomplished and kept. We should be reevaluating and reprioritizing our goals regularly. More frequently, if necessary!

An Effort to Evolve

So, by all means, keep running on the treadmill. But make sure you’re making progress, adjust the settings as necessary, exercise care, and, for heavens sake, don’t fall flat on your face!

Stuck

How many times have I suggested we all face our fears? How many times have I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt on fear? You’d probably think I’m some completely fearless, super brave, incredibly courageous soul. I’m not. I’m quite ordinary, in most respects, and fears are no different. I have a healthy amount of fear, and I do strive to face them head on. I used to be afraid to fly. Some time between childhood and motherhood, I became afraid to fly. I didn’t like being out of control, unable to take over, if necessary. I fly all the time now, without a fearful thought, or nary a concern or worry. I’m a bit afraid of heights, yet I rock climb, I cross streams, backpacking, on narrow log bridges, I’ve been skydiving, and love it.

I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.
I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.

I’m afraid of elevators. I mean, I ride them. All the time. I have to. Well, I don’t HAVE to, but I often work in very tall buildings in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. When I go to the gym and work out on the step mill, I briskly walk up 72 flights of stairs, at a steady cadence, without stopping. It takes me fifteen minutes. Then I proceed with forty-five more minutes of cardio, followed by weights or an hour and a half of yoga. But I’m really, really sweaty, after just the step mill. So, yes, I could walk to the top of the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center, but I’d be too gross and sweaty to make a good impression on my clients! So, I opt for the elevator.

I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.
I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.

Why do I fear elevators? Well, actually, I think they’re fun. I like the roller coaster dropping tummy feeling on a high-speed elevator, and, yes, if alone, I will jump when the elevator first moves. It’s not the elevator moving, it’s the potential for the elevator to stop moving. With me in it. Between floors. I’m afraid of being stuck in an elevator.

An Effort to Evolve

Upon entering an elevator, whether I’m at a hotel and only have three floors to travel and opted for the elevator only because I have two full suitcases, or because I’m all dressed up for work and have thirty floors to go in an office building, I always look at the inspection tag to see if the elevator has had its regular, required inspection. If it hasn’t, I fret. Just a little.

This past week, I stayed in a hotel with a lurchy, creaky, elevator, minus the required posted inspection tags altogether. I used it only twice; suitcases up day one and suitcases down for check out. I took the stairs the rest of the time. Three floors, no big. The office building I worked in this week had five floors, there are four elevators, complete with inspection tags, all in good order. I have worked in this office building a dozen times, weeks at a time, year after year. Up, down, up, down, up, down. The elevators lurch and creak and moan and smell kind of like hot lubricant of some sort, but the tags are up to date and everyone seems to rely on them. Except for Chuck. He takes the stairs. But that’s kind of just Chuck.

The other day, my last day with this client, this month, we were on our way to lunch. We had a very full afternoon ahead of us and were intent on getting back to work within an hour. A group of us waited for the elevator. I was headed to lunch with a manager and several of my students were headed to lunch together. So, there were probably six or seven of us in the elevator, in all. We lurched down a few floors, from the fifth to the second. Who takes an elevator DOWN one flight? The biggest, fattest, hairiest, sweatiest, most loud, obnoxious, boorish, attorney I’ve ever witnessed, that’s who. At the second floor, the doors part and here stands this rotund man in a suit, with a briefcase. The elevator was full. Full with just us, six or seven accountants. Well, auditors, actually. The good kind, not I.R.S. auditors. I scoot back and welcome the portly man in, saying something about “the more the merrier”. I’d just been teaching my class about risk assessment, so I cracked a joke, an “audit” joke, something about “what’s the risk?” At about that time, the doors clenched shut and the elevator did nothing. It didn’t lurch or groan or moan or smell, it just sat there. I could feel my eyes grow about six times their usual size. I’d jinxed the elevator. My mind was racing, so I’m not sure if the voice I heard was the voice of terror in my mind, or if one of my students said, “you jinxed it!”

The fat dude in the suit was way in my personal space, not that anyone had much personal space, but he was definitely way too close to me, with his back turned to me. All I could do was stare at the stubbly, gray hair growing down the nape of his neck and into the collar of his shirt. You know, the hair that most suit wearing men with short hair have shaved neatly? And I marveled, too, at the sheer amount of fabric that made up his suit. I was closest to the buttons, me and Goliath. We both took turns pressing all of them. We finally thought to use the phone in the little compartment of the elevator, beneath the button panel. I could open the little door, but I couldn’t reach the phone without bending over, which I couldn’t do because there was a man wall in my way, so the man wall clutched at the phone with his pudgy fist. Whoever answered that phone got an earful of belligerence and threats and cuss words. The building superintendent and a technician would be sent immediately, we were told.

An Effort to Evolve

Since the elevator hadn’t moved, we were still right at the second floor. We, the auditors, stood passively, quietly, shifting from foot to foot. The massive attorney fumed and shifted and swore. When we could hear voices on the other side of the door, the super and the tech, we assumed, the lawyer yelled obscenities at them and threatened them. I’m thinking; a) great, piss them off and we’ll never get out of here b) there is no fan running and no fresh air source, how much oxygen is this gas bag wasting being an ass hat? c) oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I’m a bit claustrophobic and I was starting to feel pretty panicky. I could just see me totally losing it. No, actually, I couldn’t envision that at all. I’m very stoic, I’d freak out on the inside, but look totally normal on the outside. I guess. I don’t know. I’ve never been stuck in an elevator before. I decide to practice my deep breathing, like when I meditate, to calm myself, to focus. I focus on my breath, quietly. It wasn’t like I was in the corner doing an ujjayi breath, or Lamaze panting, or anything like that. I just breathed real slow, real quiet and real deep and focused on that for a bit.

Minutes passed. Everyone was fixated on their respective phones, scrolling, texting, playing “Words with Friends”. I’d taken a picture and posted it to several social media sites. Just feet, I took a picture of a whole bunch of dress shoes atop a worn elevator carpet and captioned it “stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors”. I got no comments, ever. One of my students endeavored to find “elevator music” on his phone and settled for Miles Davis, which I was quite enjoying. But, with each passing minute, the zombie apocalypse version of Rush Limbaugh that stood in front of me would launch into another tirade of curse words, empty threats and large clouds of carbon dioxide.

Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.
Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.

More time passed. I was still focusing on my breathing and had begun to prioritize the afternoon agenda, deciding which topics could be omitted and not cause any of these up and coming auditors to neglect detecting fraud in some high profile audit. I began to panic again. So much responsibility, teaching auditors to audit. The future of the stock market, of capitalism itself, in my hands. One undetected fraudulent act, one missed material misstatement, because of a glossed over agenda item in an auditing CPE class and western civilization and the barely recovering economy, lost. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm. Sanity restored. Perspective regained.

The Incredible Hulk started yelling again. The building super and the tech hadn’t made any progress. They’ve called the “repair guy”, who is “on his way”. We know not from where. Hulk roars; more obscenities, more threats, less oxygen for us all. I’ve taken my winter coat off. I managed to slide my very heavy handbag down to the floor, careful that the gold tassel I so covet doesn’t get trod on by the Clydesdale man beast.

More minutes pass. It’s getting uncomfortably stuffy and hot. I began to worry about a) enough fresh air to sustain us all b) long term, if we are to be stuck in the elevator for weeks, let’s say, who’s going Donner party on whom? c) my hair is going to start frizzing out of control. We heard another voice join the chorus “on the other side”. The repairman. King Kong goes ape shit and actually says, first thing, without any information or indication, without any provocation, “are you fucking Union?” Great. We’re in here for life. One of my mild mannered students, a sweet Kosher kid, finally snaps and says, politely, articulately, “I really don’t think that’s helping.” I’m waiting for punches to be thrown, when, suddenly, the elevator doors begin to part. A hand from outside appears between them, then another, and then the doors are pulled apart. And we walked out, filed down the stairs one floor, out into the cool, fresh Long Island air, and over to Bobby’s Burger Palace for a quick lunch. We left rabid Shrek behind, yelling and cursing and threatening our saviors.

Bobby Flay's L.A. Burger at Bobby's Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)
Bobby Flay’s L.A. Burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)

Have you ever been overwhelmingly, hopelessly stuck in the elevator of life? Have you ever felt like your life isn’t moving in the direction you thought it would, isn’t moving at all? Do you ever panic or worry or fret, curse, yell or threaten, when things just aren’t progressing? Have you ever felt angry or stressed or sad, depressed, bitter, discouraged, at being stuck where you are? Just like being stuck in the elevator, being stuck in life is temporary, everything, after all, is temporary. Everything will pass, guaranteed. Just breathe deeply, be calm, regain your focus, get some clarity, persevere, and things will work out. If your goal is to go up, or down, in an elevator and the elevator breaks, you still, eventually, get where you intend to go. Or you die. Either way, the being stuck part ends. So, too, in life.

In that elevator, stuck at the second floor, when I felt my irrational panic begin to rise, I recalled lessons in meditation I’ve been practicing. I learned, again, in practicality, that I can control how I react, even if I can’t control the situation. This is something I knew, already, and practice, and preach. But to have it presented to me in a situation I have always feared, always dreaded, reinforced the lesson in such a tangible, tactile fashion, I shall never forget it.

After lunch, when we returned to the classroom, our tale was shared with those who took another elevator, or the stairs. One of the managers told a tale, of her husband, who’d been stuck in an elevator, in Rockefeller Center, when there was a power outage in New York City. They were between floors, in that elevator car, for over five hours. The rescue crew had to break through the wall to the elevator car to then pry the doors open. I listened, in awe, in horror, and my immediate thought was “I’d never survive!” Of course I would survive. Of course I would. I’d come out of it wiser and better able to cope. Or in a straight jacket. Nah.

When I think of the “unsurvivable” things I’ve not only lived through, but from which I’ve ended up growing, evolving, and drawing a great deal of strength from; the death of friends, of family members, the parting of ways of once best friends, divorce, foreclosure, losing the dream ranch, re-homing pets, re-homing rescued horses, low self-esteem, an unhealthy lifestyle. And no regrets, ever, without those “tragedies” and experiences, I wouldn’t be half the person I am now. I was stuck in those situations, in those patterns, in that lifestyle. And now I’m not. They were temporary. I breathed my way through, got clarity and focus and persevered. I’m sure you’ve been stuck in your own elevators in life, and you’ve made it through. What have you learned? That you’ll make it through, at the least. But, did you learn from it, too? Do you carry those lessons with you, to draw from in whatever temporary situation you’re in now, that you’ll face later?

Perhaps you’re stuck right now! Whether you’re stuck in an elevator, in line at Target, in traffic, or in a dead end job, a damaging relationship, an unfulfilling career, an unhealthy lifestyle, in indecision, in a state of depression, or in a world of self loathing and poor self esteem, know that all things are temporary, and with meditation, focus, clarity, time and perseverance, we will get unstuck. Keeping rational, and breathing through it, though, will allow us not just to triumph, but to also glean a life lesson we can remember and draw from, again, if, or more accurately, when, we get stuck next. Going up?

 

 

 

 

Set Yourself Free

Downsizing and a Digital Diet

If you haven’t tried it, there is something near euphoric about purging one’s life, home, surroundings of the unnecessary, of the accumulations of time. What do those collections represent? Scraps of papers, old magazines saved in their entirety for a single article, books read and reread, books never read, clothing long out of style that no longer fits, dusty, faded knick-knacks whose origin you only vaguely remember, or that you feel obligated to keep because they were a gift, worn out, yellowed and long obsolete electronics, empty flower vases for every florist delivery ever, cheerleading outfits and prom dresses from high school. I actually found snippets of my hair and my first tooth in my baby book which my mom purged from her collection into mine. How grotesque is that? Teeth and hair. What do these things do for us? I am very doubtful that at any point in the thirty years before the collection of those artifacts and the point in time when they were gifted to me that anyone ever had the insatiable urge to view my tiny tooth and locket of hair. Are they reminders of our past? Anchoring us to a time now gone, a time that, though remembered, and from which lessons still live within us, a time that does not serve us. Remember, the only time in which we can act, live, do, is the present. So, perhaps, in keeping tidbits of the past we are clinging to that past, fearful of letting go. Clinging to the past inhibits us, certainly, in our ability to move forward with ease, with efficiency, with grace, and with confidence.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve embraced the idea of minimalism, for several reasons. The first being necessity. I’ve moved five times in five years. Second, storage is expensive. Third, I find clutter maddening and suffocating. Fourth, I hate dusting. I will happily swipe a dust rag over a barren surface once a week or so, but when faced with moving and dusting objects to reveal the underlying surface so it can be made dust free, I quit. Fifth, I read a good book, which, yes, I am keeping and rereading. In Kindle form. Sixth, I just really want to lighten my load, for my own sanity, but also, living more minimally is more affordable, more enlightening, more inspiring, more efficient, more liberating, and better for the planet (I read that in the book).

I do still have bits of memorabilia here and there, and, likely some I can easily part with; the Eiffel Tower statue my parents brought me from their brief and singular trip to Paris thirty-five years ago, the boxes and boxes of grade school play programs and birthday party favors I haven’t looked at once since, and my kids are in college, marathon completion medals hanging awkwardly from my bulletin board, the beloved and beyond worn out, frayed, smelly, faded, torn tennies from Urban Outfitters, the hand held Sirius radio sitting on the floor of my office, nestled between the couch and a bookcase, made obsolete with Pandora and Spotify. The bookcase full of books on training horses and becoming a better rider. I no longer have horses, why do I have this library of books? Or the saddles in storage?

Other useless, and even detrimental, things we cling to; bad feelings from former relationships, guilt over actions or inactions from long, long ago, remorse for underachieving in youth, embarrassment for irresponsible behavior in the past. Spending too much money, not volunteering enough, neglecting healthy habits. How does clinging to any of this help us now? In the future? These feelings and behaviors were bad for us in the past, well, they’re worse for us now. Let’s forgive ourselves and others, the lessons have been learned. Move on, uncluttered and liberated. Don’t let the past poison the present. Don’t let the past foul up the future.

My particular clutter problem of late? Downsizing digitally. I fully embraced going digital; books, music, movies, photos. The result? Clogged computers and an array of external storage devices I never fully trust and that, well, require space, storage, and occasional dusting. I need my 40,000 songs on iTunes and my 40,000 digitized/digital photos. Or do I? Why do I need all those songs, stored, digitally, with Pandora, Spotify, or even the ability to store 25,000 of my songs in the iTunes cloud? Well, to update my iPod Classic 120 GB, of course, it isn’t wireless. But, wait some more? Why do I need the iPod Classic 120 GB iPod when my iPhone can store and play music and is connected to the cloud? Why are we so resistant to letting go of stuff?

Movies; once upon a time, we could not enter Target, or even the grocery store, without exiting a couple of DVDs richer. The result, a six foot tall armoire full of movies, and numerous, precariously stacked, auxiliary piles of movies on either side of it. In my various moves, I purged myself of all of the DVDs I didn’t absolutely love and that I had little or no desire to see again. I am left with, still, quite a number of DVDs and have, admittedly, even added a couple to the pile, just to round out my holdings, for example, the Nora Ephron collection, the Jane Austen collection. But, why? Why do I have a DVD of “Thirteen Going on Thirty?” I love the movie, it is therapy for me when I am feeling a little low, sort of like “Legally Blonde”, for whatever, tawdry reason, those movies just lift my spirits. And, they are available to stream from Netflix or iTunes, so why do I have them crammed in a drawer with dozens and dozens of other flicks that are surely available over the internet? Let’s take it a bit further, shall we? When was the last time I actually turned my television on and watched a movie? I am certain I have dusted my television three times since I last turned it on. I dust quarterly. And that’s an optimistic estimate. The question then arises; do I need those DVDs, do I need that television, do I need the large black coffee table with drawers on which the television rests? Probably no, no, and no. Yet, I cling to them. I have moved them several times and may move them again, unless I let go of the clutter and liberate myself.

An Effort to Evolve

Books, books, books. I am a voracious reader, often reading six or seven volumes simultaneously. There is much to know, much to learn, and much of it can be found in the thoughts gifted authors have taken the time and care to record, pen to page, so to speak, for the benefit of humanity. The knowledge of all time, recorded for us to read, absorb and apply. Once, my home was full of print and binding books. We’d build floor to ceiling shelves in every room to accommodate our vast collection. Those days are gone. I have three bookcases in my office, two with books, the third with journals, supplies and my teaching materials. The journals and teaching materials I am transitioning to digital format, I have been busy trying out different options; software and mobile apps, to replace binders and journals with pages of paper. The two bookcases of books, one of horse books, the other of reference books for hiking, camping and kayaking, business books, and what I call “coffee table books”, large, pretty books you think guests might enjoying thumbing through while you uncork and pour the wine. It’s kind of a silly notion, I guess, especially in my home, as I’ve always been a “kitchen” person; I entertain in my kitchen, guests visit with me there while I uncork and pour the wine, serve the cheese and fruit. The kitchen has always been the center of my home. Of course, I grew up in a house with a “formal living room”, which is only entered when guests arrive, but only after the wine and cheese and fruit is served and enjoyed in the kitchen, lest we spill or make crumbs in the large, sterile and unfriendly territory known as “the living room”. And of cooking; a secret obsession of mine is cookbooks. Here, though, I have purged and now have only the best of the best, the most legendary cooks, the most beautiful volumes, the classics of cookbooks, in one small bookcase in my bedroom. I read them for entertainment, and rarely for recipes. I shoot from the hip when I cook, though influences, I’m certain, are drawn from my many and frequent visits between the covers of those cookbooks I chose to keep.

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

I have gone digital with books, and often ponder what my collection of Kindle books would look like if they were made tangible and piled up on the floor, along a wall. I’d likely have to line the walls of most of the rooms of my house with shelves, again, to hold them and organize them and make them accessible. Ah, yes, I love my Kindle, and entire library that fits in my purse and can even be accessed, now, during take off and landing in flight. Gone are the days of the smug looking traveler with their print and binding book as the flight attendant reminds me to shut off my “e-reader”. Take that! Now I only need be in “airplane mode”, which, means, simply, I can’t buy a book during take off or landing, but as soon as we reach 10,000 feet, I can buy another book. Smug tangible book toting person, you have to wait until you get to a bookstore!

Photos, good lord, photos. I take so many pictures, for so many reasons; for aesthetic viewing pleasure, to record events, to communicate, for reference, to express myself on social media, for material for articles and videos. I just, finally, successfully, uploaded 48,000 photos to “Shoebox”, the new cloud photo app, and the only one that I’ve found that really, really, works! I have struggled with ALL of the others and have even resorted to buying my own cloud, and in every instance, my own cloud included, it has been a interminable and woefully unsuccessful chore to upload my entire and ever growing library of photos. I have a large external drive with a “manual” backup of my photo (and music) library, too. Just in case. And I’d still like to find a way to swiftly and painlessly back them all up to my personal cloud, too. But, for now, I am happy. The result of finally getting my entire photo library in the cloud? I was able to purge the photos from my MacBook, which, as evidenced by this writing, has freed up enough space and memory to perform tasks. MacBook had been rendered completely unusable by the burgeoning amounts of data crammed onto its hard drive. My MacBook, my PC, after their digital cleanse, are lean and mean, powerful and fast. Both were so clogged, programs struggled to open, the cooling fans whirred nonstop, even before I tapped a key, touched the touchpad or moved a mouse. It was like a logjam of data, blocking the flow of data and preventing me from putting my thoughts and ideas into expressions and words. My MacBook is a device on which I can, again, think, create, collaborate, and not just a sleek, $1,500 external hard drive. Now, it has been liberated, and, so, too, have I!

So am I really purging if I am just sending stuff off to the cloud? Burdening some remote storage unit in the sky with my digital excess? Perhaps not. There are, I’m sure, many songs, books, and photos that are repetitious, duplicated, or, more likely, will never be accessed again, like a locket of hair and a baby tooth. But, for now, they are out of my immediate space, allowing me to organize what’s left, liberating my thoughts and ideas, creating flow. There will, no doubt, come a time when I endeavor to purge some of my cloud data, too, because there are costs, already. Accessing large amounts of data, no matter where it is stored, is time consuming and cumbersome. Refining the collections will increase the efficiency of organizing and accessing it all. There are monetary costs of storing stuff in the cloud, too, of course, not too unlike the monthly fee the storage facility charges me to store those saddles and snowboards, bicycles and backpacking gear, though, so far, far less.

An Effort to Evolve

We must each contemplate the economics individually. While some folks close to me grapple with my “need” for all those photos, books, movies and songs, I don’t understand why they keep tools, nails, fittings, fasteners and screws by the thousands. We each assign value to what we feel we need and incur the cost of keeping it. I suppose the effort I’m trying to encourage, the evolution I’m trying to foster, is to take a step back and look at the clutter, both within and about. Let go of all that is truly unnecessary, liberate yourself from the burden, lighten your load and let the carefree feeling of lightness, of agility, of freedom inspire you in ways you may have never imagined! Whether limiting thoughts, guilt or regret, whether piles of unread magazines, obligatory trinkets, tattered remnants of paper kept in hopes of clinging to precious, past moments; let them go, free them, send them away, banish them from your environment, set yourself free!

 

My favorite resources for a less cluttered life:

 

Evernote

Shoebox

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life

Penultimate

Office 365

Adobe Creative Cloud

 

 

 

SMH

I have developed an unsavory habit and I’m here to own up to it, to acknowledge it and find a twelve-step program to end it.

I shake my head. SMH. A lot.

I shake my head at dumb drivers. I shake my head at slow walkers. I shake my head at loud talkers. I shake my head at bicyclists on the sidewalk. I shake my head at narrow-minded tirades. I shake my head at people who eat junk. I shake my head when people say things I don’t totally agree with and I think they aren’t looking. Sometimes I get caught, and when I do, I shake my head. At myself. For getting caught.

SMH at other drivers
SMH at other drivers

I shake my head so much I’m afraid I’m going to have overdeveloped neck muscles!

Facebook is intolerable anymore. I gave up television decades ago.

Don't get me started on talk radio!
Don’t get me started on talk radio!

I live by the adage “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”. Some people assume I’m shy. Some people. SMH.

There I go again.

Isn’t shaking my head an expression? Non-verbal disapproval or judgment for something said, not said, done or not done? I’d say so. Who am I to judge? We are all entitled to opinions, our unique way of doing things, and if I am polite enough to not criticize out loud, what is all the head shaking about? I am actually sitting here, shaking my head, at myself, as I write about this unsavory behavior of mine. Make it stop!

Maybe that guy is riding his bike on the sidewalk because a garbage truck hit him last time he rode his bike in the street and this is the first time back on his bicycle after months of recovery from his life-threatening injuries and the embarrassment of being hit by a garbage truck! And I shake my head. Probably not, but it’s possible, right? Maybe the loud talker and the dumb driver have a reason, a story, and I have no way of knowing why they are behaving in a manner I consider unsavory.

As for beliefs and opinions; I have my ways, my beliefs, my opinions, and I think they’re good. Other folks do things differently, have different beliefs, opinions, and behaviors, I respect that. I do. And since I respect those differences, why am I shaking my head all the time? It is not up to me to judge, to decide who is right and who is wrong. Maybe we are all right, maybe we are all wrong. Who’s really an expert in anything? Who’s really a judge or an authority to be trusted, wholly? I think we’re all naïve and foolish, we all have much to learn, we’re all just nymphs, neophytes, in the grand scheme. I like how we think we’re THE superior species on the planet. I have my doubts. SMH. That’s my opinion. BTW.

We all have our differences! That’s what makes people so incredibly interesting! We’re all different! If we were all the same, thought, acted, believed and behaved the same, well, I’m shaking my head at how incredibly horrible that would be!

I preach acceptance. I preach tolerance. I shake my head at intolerance, in fact. I, myself, crave acceptance, tolerance and even understanding. I don’t care if folks agree with me, I just want them to understand why I believe, act, do, as I do, accept it and tolerate it. So I don’t understand why I shake my head. I don’t accept it and I will no longer tolerate it. So there.

Since shaking my head has become an involuntary behavior, I am struggling with the means to a cure. If I dwell on it, I’m afraid I will appear stiff and robotic, daring not tilt my head, or turn to gain a better view. I’ll be walking around like a soldier, right face, left face, about turn, head straight, gaze forward at all times. I’ve thought of maybe wearing a hat with dingle balls hanging from the brim, like one of those Spanish dudes, and every time I shake my head, the dingle balls will swing in my view and I’ll know to stop! Or maybe a hat with a bell on it! You’re shaking your head, I know it!

An Effort to Evolve

Well, whatever the cure, I am from this moment on, making the effort to stop SMH, to practice acceptance and tolerance, and to strive for understanding, where possible, and to keep silent in word, and in deed, if I don’t!

 

Crossing a Line

We’ve crossed a line, many times, I’m certain. I’ve seen it. From both sides of the line.

I was on a lovely run the other day. It was warm, but not as hot as it had been the few days prior. There was a breeze, but not a gusty wind as in the past couple of days. It was just a perfect day for a run. The flower gardens are abloom in vibrant color and sweet fragrance. It was Saturday, late morning, so the smell of bacon and pancakes still wafted from homes along my route. I had bacon and pancakes for breakfast, too, a bit earlier, so I was a happy, happy girl who really needed to go out and run!

I ran my “usual” route, a six-mile rectangle through the northwest end of town, south for a bit, then eastward, north along a frontage road, then west along a rural, vineyard lined road and south, again, back to the park where my car awaits. I deliberately run this route in this particular direction because I save the best, the prettiest pert of the run for last. My reward. Though the prettiest part of the run, it is by far the most treacherous part of the run. There is a narrow shoulder, no sidewalk, and no bike lane marked. Cars travel fast. I use this road, myself, as a bypass for the slow, confused and sometimes intoxicated traffic cluster on the main thoroughfares in Napa. The tourist traffic consists of people looking for the next winery, the restaurant entrance or the hotel driveway, and most certainly not for runners, walkers, or cyclists. Marked bike lane or not.

Dazed, confused, lost, distracted, and preoccupied.

The part of my route that takes me along the frontage road, a road that parallels Highway 29, the main highway into the heart of Napa Valley winedom, is littered with hotels, tourist bus outfits and a few restaurants. There is a bike lane, but I usually break the rules and run on the sidewalk. I cross the line. There are rules for the road, for cars, cyclists, runners and amblers. Cars should stay on the road and not fade into the bike lane to cut corners or to “straighten out” their trajectory so as to not have to decelerate or apply the brakes. Bikes should be on the road, in the bike lane, or shoulder, if no bike lane is afforded, single file, headed in the same direction as the cars. Runners should be on the road, in the bike lane, single file, going the opposite direction of cars and bikes. Walkers should stick to the sidewalk, if there is one, or obey the rules of the runners. If everyone follows the rules of the road and kind of looks out for one another, no one gets hurt! Bueno!

Ah, but mutiny is afoot. The bikers want the whole road, the cars want the whole road, the walkers want the width of the sidewalk and/or bike lane and the runners just want to run, red lights and crosswalks be damned! Don’t make me pause my Garmin! Don’t make me have to explain my lousy mile time on “Map my Run” for mile four because I got caught by the “don’t walk” sign at three consecutive intersections. We are all crossing the line.

I’ll admit, even I cross the line on the frontage road, I run on the sidewalk. But, I exit the sidewalk for any other pedestrian I encounter, happily, for those who belong on the sidewalk, and with a great deal of discontent, eye rolling and huffing, when encountered by a bicycle on the sidewalk. I forgot to mention all the tourists with rental bikes and without a clue. Another wrinkle.

It’s funny how our attitude tends to change when we switch our mode of forward motion.

When I am driving, I am always mindful of those I share the road with, both those encased in a large metal and plastic pod, and those who are not. And I am more than a little irritated when I encounter pedestrians who’ve crossed the line; whether they are traveling two or three abreast or have tribed up and just commanded the entire vehicle lane. I can see their point, but I can’t help but feel a bit annoyed that they’ve crossed the line if there are adequate provisions, such as an ample shoulder or a well-marked bike lane. I’m not picking on cyclists, there are other offenders, but, frankly, not as often.

I was running a week or so ago and I observed a woman inline skating. I used to inline skate. I know where my inline skates are. I want to inline skate again. She breezed past me like I was standing still, gliding smoothly along in long, graceful strides. She was sharing the well-marked bike lane with me and passed very courteously. As we were both opposing oncoming cars, when the vehicle lane was clear, she’d cross the line and skate down the middle of the street, a few mere inches from the double yellow line. I understand her reasoning. If you’ve spent any time at all traveling on the side of the road, you know the roads are quite sloped towards the gutter to allow water to evacuate the road quickly. For runners, and skaters, too, I suppose, there is some uneven wear and tear on ligaments and such from always running on sloped surfaces. Another reason why I prefer sidewalks and the dirt shoulder along the vineyards. We all cross lines.

Another time, I was just approaching the park where I leave my car. I am a bit of an opportunist, and when the traffic permits, if I’m within a quarter mile of the park, which is on the opposite side of the street, I’ll cross early and walk “with” traffic. The shoulder is wide and I am certainly visible. On this particular day, as I walked towards the park, I could hear a car approaching from behind. Imagine my surprise when the car passed, well over the line and within a fraction of an inch of me. He crossed the line, but, so, too, had I. I was on the wrong side of the road. Sure, if he’d have slaughtered me, which at the rate of speed he was propelling down the road, I’d have been pulp, the law would’ve been on my side. A great deal of good that’d do me dead. Had I been on the correct side of the road, I would’ve seen him coming and would have stood a better chance of getting myself out of harm’s way. I no longer cross early, I stick to my side of the road and wait for traffic to clear before I cross. I won’t cross that line, again.

What’s necessary here, is to look out for oneself. Just because there are traffic laws to protect you, and general rules of the road, and common courtesies, does not guarantee your safety. Ultimately, it’s up to you to keep yourself safe and to decide if you are in danger and then react appropriately.

This goes beyond running, cycling, walking or even driving. This, I believe, applies to the world in general. Laws are passed by the hundreds, if not thousands, each and every day. Many are drafted and passed to “protect” us, from ourselves, from others. Supposedly. I’m not so sure. I have my theories on this, but that’s a topic for another day. My point is, unless the laws are 100% enforced, which, of course, is impossible, no matter how genius the law is, it amounts to words on a page and has no real ability to protect you. It is up to you, first and foremost.

This can be translated in any way you choose. If you think owning and knowing how to use a gun to protect yourself is a good idea, then do. If you think studying MMA is a good idea to protect yourself, then do. If you think hiding in your family room, cringing in your recliner, clutching your TV remote will keep you safe, that is your choice, I’ll disagree, with that one, however.

This can also be applied to general rules, laws, if you will, of humanity. People should treat people in a certain manner; with respect, without endangering others, without harming others, physically or emotionally. There is a certain “code of conduct” that elevates us to a higher life form, and much of that has to do with how we treat one another. Sadly, I think we all fail, from time to time, in one area or another. How often do we yell at our kids out of frustration, ridicule our mates for something they say or do, or don’t say or do? How often do we criticize people close to us for their behavior, their beliefs? How often do we label people in our lives, creating and affirming false limits? How frequently do we dislike or distrust people out of fear, or prejudice? How often do we not return a kindly smile or a well-meaning “hello”? How often do we go about our day, ignorant of the people we pass on the street, the people we ignore in our families, the friends we don’t make time to visit with? We are crossing a line. A line of civility, decency, respect, friendship, and love. This line is far more important than any line of reflective white paint on the roadway.

And what about the line we cross when we are unkind to ourselves? When we think or speak negatively about ourselves, create limits for ourselves, denigrate ourselves, underestimate ourselves, neglect ourselves, mistreat ourselves, physically or emotionally? This line is, I think, the most important of all. Having self-respect, self-love, a good self-image, to care for oneself, emotionally and physically is crucial, not just for our happiness, our ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way, but also for those around us who love us, care for us, and perhaps even depend on us. The lines we cross.

Start being mindful of all the lines we cross, on the road, and off, with others, with ourselves. We’ve crossed a line, but there may still be time to swerve back into our lane.

 

Scarlett’s Letter May 19, 2014 – Pop Some Tags

Pop Some Tags

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?

An Effort to Evolve

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.

An Effort to Evolve

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!

 

 

 

Eat That Frog. Just Do It.

I’ve been putting off writing this, or any article, all week. My creativity has been focused on other things and I just really haven’t felt the urge to write. Sue me. No, don’t. It’s not that I have nothing to say, I just haven’t felt like sitting down and putting it all into words. I decided I just had to “eat that frog”.  That’s right, eating the frog. The frog is the thing you don’t really want to do, but you should, or must, or ought to, or you really, really, deep down inside want to, you just haven’t focused any intent or energy to it, whatever “it” is. For me, this week, this article.

The concept of “eating the frog”; it’s horrible and slimy and gross, but if you just eat it first thing, it’s over with and the rest of the day is like cake! It becomes a mindset, a lifestyle, even.

Eating the frog is a lot like I eat my meals; I eat what I know is healthiest, and usually least tastiest thing on my plate first, like kale, then move to the next healthiest, like zucchini, and leave the least healthiest for last, like the meat, or the pasta, hoping I might be too full to eat it all. Hardly ever the case. I have the appetite of an elephant, I don’t know the meaning of the word “full”. In several respects; my calendar, my closet, my plate, my glass, my suitcase, my iPhone, my hard drive. I could go on. I shan’t.

I attend a local MeetUp group, WINN, Women in Napa Networking. We are “WINNers”. We have a monthly “Eat That Frog” gathering, at a local coffee shop and we talk about our “frogs”, our obstacles, our hold ups, and we share ideas for resolving our little issues. The next month, we report back on our progress. There’s some accountability, which helps, sort of like having your junior high peers jeering you into eating a frog!

Remember the Nike ad campaign “Just Do It”. Did you? Do you? So simple, how can you not just do it? Whatever it is. Doing it should never be that difficult. The key may be in breaking it down into manageable pieces and prioritizing them, perhaps the awfulest, the frogiest, first. Unless it were a really puny frog, it’d probably take more than one bite to eat it, right? Well, there you go! Take those insurmountable tasks or goals, and break them down into manageable pieces, bite by bite, the frog will be easier to eat.

How much do you enjoy the thing you really want to do when you know you have to follow up with all those things you really don’t want to do? Doesn’t it steal some of the joy? It does, and you know it. How many times have you put something off until it could be put off no more and you missed doing something amazing because you were stuck doing that dreaded thing? The dreaded thing that you should’ve done last night, last week, or last month, or last year.

I’ve been eating frogs for a while, now, and think I’ve got it down to an art form. Mostly. I usually have a frog or two on my plate, but I used to be knee deep in frogs.

What are your frogs? Mine? Usually returning the phone call I don’t have an answer for, the desired answer, or that I know is going to take three hours to conclude. Likewise with emails, returning emails without being able to totally thrill, excite and satisfy the recipient’s request, need, or desire. Another frog, rescheduling appointments! I don’t know why it’s a frog, but it is. Vacuuming is a frog, but dusting is the biggest, ugliest, wartiest frog ever. I’ll do dishes, wipe down the stovetop and scrub the sink after every meal. I’ll clean the shower after every use and keep my stuff organized and in its place. But dust? I’ve given up brick-a-brack and knick-knacks for the sheer joy of never having to move anything to dust. Dusting, for me, is best accomplished if I can sit my butt down on the dusty surface and kind of slide across from one end to the other. Then I just toss my jeans in the wash! Vacuuming? If I had my way, I’d have no carpet and just wear socks with a little lemon oil spritzed on, and dance, all over the house. Then, of course, I’d toss my socks in the wash. I rather like doing laundry. I even like to fold, hand and put laundry away. No frogs there! Mailing birthday cards, another frog. I love to buy cards, but I wait until the very last moment to write the sentiment inside. I have no problem addressing them, and even plastering a stamp on the envelope. It’s the act of mailing the card that presents a problem. I just buy a stack of funny cards, sign them all at once, seal them up and at a family or friend get together, everyone gets their card for the year. All at the same time. I bring extras, even, in case there are unexpected guests!

Eating frogs. An analogy. How about this? Would you rather brush your teeth for two full minutes, at least twice a day, floss every tooth once a day, and go to the dentist for a quick, painless cleaning twice a year, or spend many torturous hours over several days, weeks, months, even, and possibly thousands and thousands of dollars because you just couldn’t make yourself do the easy, little things? Tender little tree frogs or a big, bastard of a hairy toad? The choice is yours, my friend.

On a larger scale; what stands between you and, well, you? Are you all that? Are you really the total picture of who you thought you’d be? Or do you have a list? A bucket list? A to do list? Are these lists, in life, getting any shorter, is anything ever getting crossed off? Why not? Is there a frog, or perhaps a whole pond full of frogs, that need to be devoured?

No one is faultless here, I’ve my own list. Believe me, there are some pretty old, big, scary frogs in my pond. But every day, I at least poke at them a little. I’ve got my frog-gigging fork out and I’m taking aim, each and every day. Every now and then, I gig a frog, gulp it down and I start jabbing at the next one. I am sometimes chided for being a compulsive goal setter, for always trying to make progress, for never sitting still, for never just letting go. And to those who notice, I say “thank you, that’s the way I want it, now put the toaster away, we won’t need it again today and I don’t want to have to dust it next month.”

I think a lot of our frogs result from living “beyond our means”. I don’t mean that strictly monetarily, either. Time is money, money is time. I lie. Truthfully, I believe time is more valuable, more precious, than money, in the grand scheme of things. If we live in a home that’s larger than we need, and have more stuff than we require, and commit to more obligations than we can manage, and keep all the catalogs the postman delivers in case we might want to order more stuff we don’t require, pretty soon, we’re buried. In more ways than one. We don’t have the time to catch the frogs we need to eat because we’re over-committed and over-burdened. And the frogs can hide in all that stuff we don’t require! This, in my experience, closely resembles the contemporary, American, family life. I’ve been there. And everyone suffers as a result, whoever is involved; kids, husband, wife, the couple as a couple, the family as a family, friendships, extended family. Cut back, cut out, eat frogs and prosper.

If I had to recommend some resources here, and I’ll keep the list short and manageable, because I know you’ve got other frogs to eat, I’d have to say the three most valuable resources I’ve run across, thus far, would be:

  1. “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy
  2. “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay
  3. “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Well, it’s 10:36 PM and I really, really want to go to bed. My face is washed, moisturizer applied, teeth brushed, really, really, well, flossed, and my breath is all minty from mouthwash. Oh, but I have a load of wash that just finished up sitting like a big, soggy frog in the washing machine. I washed my favorite jeans, which I’d like to wear tomorrow. Unless I hang them up to dry tonight, they’ll still be wet in the morning and I won’t be able to wear them. There’s my frog. So, nom, nom, nom. Done. And good night.

See, laundry all hung up. Tonight's frog.
Article done AND laundry hung. Tonight’s frog.

Ribbit. Now go eat those frogs.

For the insanely curious, I actually found recipes for frogs, not that this is what this article is really about. I just HAD to know, and now, so do you!

Upside Down Pineapple – The Encore

Happy National Pineapple Upside Down Day!

There is a day, a national day of recognition, for upside down pineapples.
There is a day, a national day of recognition, for upside down pineapples.

You depraved souls! You know who you are!

I have written nearly three hundred articles over the past year and a half. Some have been funny, some have been serious, some have been touching, some have been a bit caustic. Some articles have been popular with my public, my readers, others have been completely ignored. But one article stands out from all the rest, combined. There is one article, over a year old, now, that is searched on, read, re-read, perhaps and, statistically is off the charts over all the rest.

Upside Down Pineapple.

I don’t think it was my best article, not my funniest, but it is, by miles, the most popular. How do I know? Like most bloggers, I pour over my stats. Regularly. I can see how many people, from which countries, are reading my stuff. I can see what tags are most fruitful and I can see what search terms people are using to find my blog. I pour over my stats about as much as some of you scour the internet for information on what an upside down pineapple in your grocery cart may mean to those in the know. “Upside down pineapple” has been my most fruitful post, ever, pardon the pun!

What does it mean? What does it mean if it's upside down in your grocery cart?
What does it mean? What does it mean if it’s upside down in your grocery cart?

People love to party, that’s all I’ve got to say! Oh, I know! I was shopping yesterday, with the rest of the country. I’d kind of forgotten the mania surrounding Easter. My kids are grown, they’ve moved far away. We don’t dye eggs and hide them in the yard after bedtime, or before sunrise, pretending to be some deranged, confused, and highly dexterous rabbit. I was giving more though to what time we should plan to be at the restaurant for brunch on Easter Sunday in order to avoid the “after church crowd”, at my elderly mother’s request. Apparently, she wants to celebrate Easter, but avoid the Christians. And now, I have to factor in the “after shopping with a pineapple upside down in the cart” crowd! Yikes!

We beat the Christians!
We beat the Christians!

Another thing I didn’t consider was my safety, shopping, yesterday. The parking lots were jammed, the stores all had crazy, long lines, except for the Verizon wireless store. And Ulta. Miracles do happen! No waiting at the Verizon wireless store, on a Saturday afternoon, after many have received their income tax refunds. I haven’t, I won’t be getting a refund this year, but I was still parting with dollars yesterday. After the Verizon wireless store, I went to Ulta because I was out of my favorite fragrance. Last time I ventured into Ulta on a Saturday, the line for the cash registers had forty people backed up past the fake eyelash display with the cardboard cutout of Katy Perry and deep into the mascara aisle, like the newest Disney themed ride attraction! Or a Harry Potter film on opening night! Yesterday, I was the only soul at Ulta.

So, where was everyone from the jammed parking lot? The egg aisle of Target. And there were no eggs to be had. Employees in red shirts were frantically searching the back catacombs of the store for a, hopefully, large, forgotten supply. Even outdated eggs would have sufficed, I’m guessing. Do people really eat all those eggs they hard boil and dye? For the sake of the ozone and the excessive emission of greenhouse gases, let’s hope not! “Honey, drive the Prius down to Target and get a few dozen eggs so we can hard boil them, dye them unnatural colors, hide them in the yard, find them again and then eat them all and fart a hole in the sky.” Maybe not. It must have been mayhem when only a carton or two of eggs remained in the cold case because there were a couple of cartons upended and broken on the floor. The two Target employees not manning the bank of cash registers in the front of the store or looking for more eggs in the back, were trying to mop up the messy egg goo from the floor. Somehow a large bag of flour was involved. All they needed was some shortening, sugar, and a pineapple …

After this scene, I dared not venture in to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, which are normally chaotic on Saturdays! Even though Whole Foods had their scheduled wine tasting, I could not be tempted into the doors do that store on this day. I feared not only the egg shoppers, but also the pineapple shoppers, scampering around the store, pineapple upside down in their cart, peering, hopefully, into the carts of all the other shoppers, practicing for the national holiday only a day away. National Pineapple Upside Down Day! I went home and scrounged for lunch fixings from my very empty fridge. And drank wine I had on hand. No eggs, no pineapple.

The other reason I didn’t grocery shop yesterday? I left my reusable, cloth, grocery bags at home, again. You just don’t go to Whole Foods, load up your cart and then choose between “paper or plastic”. Once in a great while, maybe, you make a small purchase sans environmentally friendly bagging options, but not a whole cartload! And not today, of all days, the eve of these two food centric nationally recognized holidays!

Happy Easter, too, by the way.
Happy Easter, too, by the way.

All I know, on this Spring day when most folks of the Christian faith will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, some of you, based on my stats, an alarming number of you, will be wandering, hopefully, through some grocery store, up one aisle, down the next, with a pineapple, upside down, in your cart, in “need” of something far more than milk and a loaf of bread, “celebrating” this national calendar day that probably has more to do with a style of cake than a style of life! But have at it! And I’ll go so far as to say, I’ll bet there are a few who will celebrate both occasions! I only hope you can find a grocery store open today!

Me, I’m skipping church, a tradition of mine for the past several years. I’ll pray at home. Then I’m headed to brunch. And maybe the grocery store, if I can find one open. I have a strange hankering to bake an unusual treat; pineapple upside down cake.

Delicious breakfast with Mom, and not many Christians, this morning at Napa Valley Biscuits.
Delicious breakfast with Mom, and not many Christians, this morning at Napa Valley Biscuits. Best chicken and waffles I’ve ever had, and I’ve had LOTS!

I’m Religious

Religion – a definition:

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

“Religious”, then, being the practice or adoption of a religion. Most church-going folk, then, are considered “religious” if only because of the fact they devote some portion of their time, usually on a weekend, to attend a church service. Whether church-going folk are actually practicing their religion is a whole other story. They could be, many do. Some don’t, and the only religion they practice is the exercise of going to church to be in the midst of those more technically religious than they are. Like the holiness, righteousness and salvation of the god-fearing will rub off on the non-god-fearing church attenders. There is a difference between being religious, then, and being virtuous and faithful to one’s chosen god. My point. But I digress a bit.

So, by the same standard, then, there are folks who don’t attend some church building on a routine basis who are religious in the god-fearing, worshipping, virtuous and faithful way. The act of routinely visiting some building with hundreds of other “believers” does not, then, make one saved. The non-church-going god worshippers are also religious in their belief and practices surrounding their chosen methods of worship of the god they have faith in.

In common, everyday, language, some people refer to a set of secular practices, performed regularly and with a certain amount of devotion as being “religious”. Even godless, non-church-going folk may do some activity “religiously”.  Pagans.

So, then, I contend that someone can be “religious” whether they go to church, or not, and whether they actually believe in and worship some god, or not. When we say we do something “religiously”, we mean that we believe in and practice in some way, something we feel strongly about. We are devoted. I know folks who are religious about watching certain television shows. I am acquainted with people who are religious about swearing and using profanity. I have friends who are religious about adopting stray cats. And, not unlike the god-worshipping devotees, the religious, though some of them may beg to differ, we are imperfect, always, in our practice. Whether god-fearing, church going, or not, we are all sinners, however “religious” we may be.

I am religious.

Non-secularly; I am a believer in and worshipper of some higher power. So I have a belief and a practice. Of sorts. I like to think I live a fairly virtuous life, and may even “qualify” by some standards for an “after-life” or “eternal salvation”. I won’t get into details beyond that. But, aside from worship, godly powers and eternal salvation, I am religious. I have many secular, pagan, beliefs and practices that I follow regularly, that I am devoted and faithful to.

I eat clean. I buy organic, sustainably grown, locally grown, fairly traded and humanely treated food. I buy food as close to its natural state as possible. I not only read ingredients, I try to figure out just how many processes an item of food has undergone before I put it in my basket. The fewer the better. I avoid additives and unnecessary processes, I avoid unnecessary packaging and other practices I feel are detrimental to the environment, my health, or the purity of the product. About this, I am religious. It is a belief and a practice that I embrace, daily, that I am devoted to and follow faithfully. But, I do sin. I am imperfect. Occasionally, I eat crap, a Double-Double at In-N-Out, just because, or I eat M&M’s on a long drive to keep awake and alive. In my travels, I often have to eat in restaurants where I can only hope the food is a fraction as wholesome, unprocessed and pure as I’d like. My sin, my imperfection, however, does not in any way negate my belief and my practice. I don’t just stop believing and practicing eating clean because I sin now and then, by choice or out of necessity.

I exercise. I believe in, and practice, vigorous exercise on a regular basis. Daily would be my preference. I run, I do cardio at the gym, I do strength training, I practice yoga, I attend spin class, and I lead an active lifestyle beyond just my exercise regime. I am religious about exercise. But I am imperfect. I am slender, but still carry extra weight in a few “trouble spots”. I lack the desired muscle tone in other places. And I sin. It is humanly impossible to work out absolutely everyday. And there are those days, too, where I just don’t wanna. My sin and imperfection as a religious exerciser does not mean I am any less a believer in the virtues of exercise in my life. That I sometimes just don’t want to exercise some day or another does not mean I have abandoned the practice. I am still religious about it.

I meditate. I am religious about it. I believe and practice meditation. Not nearly as much, or as regularly, as I’d like. It is a newer belief and practice and I am still trying to integrate it into my “daily routine”. Like clean eating and regular, vigorous, exercise, I believe that meditation offers many benefits for health and wellness and general happiness.

On another note, I’m pretty religious about craft beer, red wine, and ice cream, perhaps a little more religious in my practice than I should be. Hallelujah! Praise the lord! Amen! Pass the offering plate!

I read. I write. I pray. I work really, really, really, hard. I post lots of food pictures to Facebook. All things I am fanatically religious about. All that, and my “daily routine”. I am religious about my “daily routine”. I make lists to help me accomplish all that I hope to in my “daily routine”, but, without fail, the routine is never completed, on any, one, day. Ever. I am imperfect, a sinner. Do I give up on my “daily routine”? No. I believe in it and practice it and it will never be complete or perfect. But it is still good, and I still try. What I don’t accomplish one day, I may the next, and I am better for it, just like clean eating, regular, vigorous exercise and meditating.

My lunch. See?
My lunch. See?

My point. Whatever your religion, whatever you believe in and practice, you cannot, will not, no matter what, ever be perfect and sin-free. Don’t ever abandon your belief and practice of something you find worthwhile because you stray. Be religious and you shall find salvation!

Hallelujah! Amen!