For Me and For You

I ran a ten-mile race last weekend. I didn’t win the race, but I did win.

I’m reasonably new to running, I started running at the age of 48, just four years ago. I’ve run a few half-marathons and one full marathon, so far. I didn’t win any of them. I’m registered for a couple of half-marathons and four full marathons over the next year. I won’t win any of them. But I still win.

Scarlette Begonia

Why run in races if you’re never going to win?

Running, for me, fulfills a couple of very primal needs I discovered I have rather late in life; it makes me feel free and it fulfills my competitive spirit. If I’m not in it to win it, how does it fulfill my competitive spirit? I compete with myself, I strive for continual improvement.

Fitness is a lifestyle I believe in, it is a lifestyle I foster, it is a lifestyle I create for myself. Let me clarify fitness and what it means to me:

Fitness is a lifestyle that facilitates good health, well-being, continual self-improvement, self-confidence, and self-worth. Joy.

Fitness is not getting skinny enough to wear that dress to the high school reunion. Fitness is not losing weight to look good, to catch that guy, to attract that girl, to get the engagement ring, to fit into the wedding dress. Fitness is not bulking up enough to win a body-building competition. Fitness is not racing once to prove it can be done. Fitness is not about doing it for someone else.

Fitness, your health, your well-being, are only ever about you. It is a choice and one you choose because it brings you joy.

Scarlette Begonia

I run as part of my fitness-focused lifestyle. It is hard, but it brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. I race because it’s fun, I enjoy the fanfare, I enjoy the people, I enjoy having a measure of my personal improvement.

In this past weekend’s race, there were 540 finishers. I came in 309th. Clearly, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t even in the top 50%, but I’m still a winner. I finished. I ran ten miles. I did, however, run at a faster pace than any of my previous races, though this was the shortest race I ever ran.

I poured over the results, the results of others, knowing everyone runs, and races, for different reasons, for very personal and individual reasons. Some folks do run to compete, to win, to be the fastest. Others run for the sheer pleasure. Other folks run because they can. Sadly, some folks run to please someone else.

Scarlette Begonia

The fastest finishers, the winners of the race, the folks who took home the purse and the prizes, ran a full five minutes faster per mile than I. One such man was 72 years old. Winning. I reviewed the field of finishers near my finish time, I came in a couple of seconds behind a woman who was 74 years old.

Scarlette Begonia

I looked at the people who came in last, and these folks were, in my perception, the true winners of the race and should be awarded the highest purse, the biggest medal, and the most recognition. In the last ten finishers was a woman, 99 years old. Winning. Finisher 540 of 540; a woman of 83. Winning. How blessed to be of such good health at that age to complete a ten mile running race, and, judging from their pace, they were moving along fairly well. They eclipsed my rather ridiculous hiking pace. My rather ridiculous hiking pace elevates my heart rate to an aerobic level, it causes me to sweat profusely, it makes my muscles all wonderfully sore for the next couple of days. A 99 year old woman and an 83 year old woman and a smattering of other octogenarians maintained that pace for ten full miles. Think about it; many folks that age aren’t able to drive ten miles, or walk ten feet. When I grow up I want to be 99 years old and finish a ten mile running race! Run because you can.

Scarlette Begonia

I am speculating, but I’m pretty sure those elderly runners aren’t running that race for anyone but themselves. To live to be 99, or 83, is accomplishment in itself. To be able to run ten miles at that age obviates a commitment to fitness, a personal desire for a fit lifestyle. They aren’t running to get in shape to fit into that dress, to get the proposal, to find a date, to please someone else. They run because they can and because it is their choice, their lifestyle, and, I’m guessing it brings them an incredible amount of joy, confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.

And that, my friends, is truly winning.

I do it for me. Do it if you want, but do it for you.

Scarlette Begonia

Slippery Soles

I got my first pair of cowboy boots when I was about four years old. They were red, of course, and came with an outfit my mom ordered for me from the Sears and Roebuck catalog; a white skirt and vest with red stitching and fringe, a red cowgirl hat, and the boots. I think I probably wore the outfit to school just frequently enough to set me apart as “unusual”, in kindergarten. That stigma never wore off, completely, but did, eventually, become kind of cool.

My second pair of cowboy boots arrived for my eleventh birthday and were very basic tan leather with suede accents. My eleventh birthday was the birthday I was allowed to spend my entire savings on my own horse. I used my boots almost daily when I went riding, they are practical for that, they have those pointy toes so it’s easy to slip them into the stirrups, and so, if you fall off, your foot will also slip easily out of the stirrups. The fact that there is, traditionally, no tread on the bottom of cowboy boots is also by design, so, again, your feet will slip right out of the stirrups if something goes awry. You really don’t want your foot stuck in a stirrup if you should become somehow detached from the horse, which is alarmingly common. The heels on the boots prevent your foot from sliding clear through the stirrup, again, trapping you should you fall off your horse, causing you to be drug helplessly behind the horse, likely scaring the beast even more, causing it to run even further, faster. Cowboy boots are not only fashionable, but practical. If you’re riding a horse.

As an adult, my own kids about eleven years old, we bought horses. Several. Too many. But that’s another story. So, I bought cowboy boots, too, for all of us. It seemed the practical thing to do. The boots, not the horses.

As a girl, I boarded my horse at a ranch and the people who owned the ranch fed my horse every morning and every night. I just had to show up and ride. Easy peasy.

The first year or so we owned horses, as a family, we boarded our horses, and, again, they were fed by someone else, morning and night. But as our herd grew (out of control), it somehow became more practical to buy a ranch and spend the board money on the additional mortgage payment. This is what we did. Now, we were feeding our own horses, morning and night. That’s when I discovered how treacherous cowboy boots could be. Slippery soles, slippery hay, a slight grade, and a fate nearly as terrifying as having your foot stuck in a stirrup when you become detached from the horse while riding.

So, while cowboy boots are very safe, by design, in one respect, they are equally dangerous in another. We rode horses with cowboy boots and we fed the horses with hiking boots with a robust, sticky tread. Slippery soles and sticky tread, both valuable and practical tools, both, really, necessary.

Let’s consider other tools we employ, not to feed, or ride, horses, but in our never-ending quest for happiness; daily meditation and daily vigorous exercise. Like cowboy boots and hiking boots, both are extremely valuable tools, really, necessary tools, though seemingly opposite. One requires stillness, the other, movement. They both have their purpose, they both fulfill a need. Slippery soles and sticky tread. Stillness and movement. Choose wisely.

Notification! Important!

I think I’m gonna go cold turkey. I have an addiction, an unhealthy addiction. I’m Scarlette Begonia, and I’m addicted to notifications.

I ran a ten mile race today and fully, and rightfully, expected to experience an endorphin high for the rest of the day, or for at least a few hours. I was bummed. Completely bummed. I was bummed from the moment I finished the race until I had the sense to figure out what was going on. I was bummed because I sort of expected certain folks to respond to certain posts and certain text messages, and they didn’t. Never mind they have full and consuming lives of their own, but I had an expectation, an unfulfilled expectation.

There are two things wrong with this picture; expectations, one, and looking to external stimuli for validation, for happiness, for gratification. I wholly and completely realize this, and have, according to some, “preached” on this before.

Preacher, now disciple.

Lately, I find myself grasping my phone, checking every few minutes for notifications. I have notifications turned on for absolutely every app, social media, text messages, phone calls, “Map My Run”, and even “All Trails”.

I have even begun to “measure”, or try to quantify how much someone likes me, or loves me, by how quickly they respond to texts, or if, and how rapidly they “like” a picture, a comment, a check-in. And especially a new profile picture. This, my friends, is no way to live. This is not how friendships or relationships or love, or anything else, is measured. Ever.

Extremist that I am, I spent the afternoon on the deck, lounging in my cheap, faded, PVC Adirondack chair, contemplating all of this, and then, systematically turning off notification services for everything except phone calls. And even that I really wanted to turn off, because 99% of the time, I don’t want to talk to whomever is calling. But, as my mom is 91 years old and couldn’t text to save her life, and may require assistance when I am away, I left that one notification active.

This strategy, I’ll admit, failed miserably and instantly. I just picked up my phone and opened every app, one by one, to see if anyone was talking to me, validating me, “liking” me, loving me. Nope. More dismal despair and disappointment. My solution, and I’m only two hours in; I’ve set an alarm for every three or four hours, and, when it sounds, I am allowed to check my apps. Until then, the phone remains untouched, the only app open is Spotify. I do require a little external stimuli, and music seems benign. I’m hoping to wean my “app checking” down to three times a day. Eventually. Baby steps. It’s like heroine, I’ll require methadone, on a long-term, tapered schedule, before I am, at last, free from this monkey on by back.

In the hour and a half I’ve been abiding by this new plan, I’ve drafted three articles, I’ve observed fascinating nature in my own backyard, I’ve eaten a pizza, four samosas and had a couple of beers. I’ll get better, I am certain.

Why am I taking such extreme measures?

Our sense of worth, our value as a human being, the measure of how lovable, or likable we are, never, ever, ever, is dependent on what others think, of how others act, or even of how others regard us. We are our only judge, and to rely so completely on external stimuli for validation is in complete juxtaposition.

Our self-worth, our self-confidence, our value, only ever comes from within, and unless we’re going to sit there and like all our own social media posts, respond to all our own texts in precisely the manner, and period of time, we deem appropriate, we’ve set ourselves up for utter disappointment.

Expectations, generally, are the device of misery. By expecting certain behaviors or actions from anyone is the most expeditious route to disappointment ever. We are only, and with effort, in control of ourselves. We cannot control anyone else, in thought, action, or deed. To think we can coerce, beg, plead, ask, request anyone to change, or to behave according to our desire, is futile. Live your life and coexist with others.

You know that religious “coexist” bumper sticker you see on the back of every third Prius on the highway? Repurpose the message; live your own life, set and strive for your own expectations, and respect others for their efforts in setting and striving for their own expectations. If their self-expectations align well enough with yours, then, super. If not, let go, and find folks whose journey, and expectations, coexist more with yours.

So, yes, please, like my article. Follow me, like me on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, just know, I’ll be appreciative, but I may not realize your appreciation as instantly as you may expect!

To B or Not to B

Scarlette Begonia

When my children were in middle school and high school, we lived quite a ways out in the country. I was commuting into Sacramento, over an hour away, for work and then providing afternoon and evening transportation to various extracurricular activities for the kids. I drove in excess of 3,000 miles every month. I had this uncanny ability to arrive to pick my kids up, wherever they happened to be, at the precise moment I estimated. Whether inclement weather, road construction, unpredictable traffic conditions, mattered not, if I said I was going to be there at 3:02, I pulled up at exactly 3:02. It bordered on spooky.

I plan.

I have spent the past quarter decade in a career I sort of half-wittingly, and unwillingly, fell into. It was only ever to pay the bills, just until I figured out what I really wanted to do. And it still is. I’m an accountant. An auditor, more specifically. Not an I.R.S. auditor, I’m a financial statement auditor, the kind of auditor a company hires to come in and audit their financial statements for compliance with certain standards and expectations. I’m a friendly auditor. Or I was. Now I teach audit software skills. I teach audit methodology. I teach audit.

Auditors plan. Auditors plan like military strategists. Don’t think for a moment I’m joking. If you are ever involved in a financial statement audit, be aware of the fact that every number, every variance, every interview, every document examined, goes into developing the most strategic, most detailed, most well documented plan. Just be aware of the fact that if you offer the auditors a donut with chocolate sprinkles, it will probably trigger an action in the audit plan different than if you offered a donut with rainbow sprinkles, like perhaps assigning more experienced staff, or altering the nature, timing or extent of testing of a certain financial statement area. I’m kidding. But not. There are plans and they are detailed.

So, I plan.

My question, though, is whether for every plan, should there be a backup plan, a “plan B”?  You know, in case things don’t work out, there is a fall back plan. I’ve decided not.

Five years ago, I embarked on a quest to lose weight. I had recently left a long, fattening, and increasingly unhappy marriage. I traveled extensively for work, which meant eating in restaurants for every meal while away from home, not having a steady routine for sleep or exercise, and only being home a couple days a week, and so, celebrating, by eating out or indulging in “comfort food”. I looked to food for comfort, for solace, for celebration, for boredom. I wasn’t obese, but I was unhealthy, miserable, and uncomfortable.

I adopted a fitness guru, Jillian Michaels, and thought her books and materials were clear, practical, logical and would, more than any others I’d read in the past, be most likely to offer lasting, lifelong, life-changing, results. I ate more healthy selections both in restaurants and at home. I paid attention to portion size. I found a way to exercise every day. I adopted a mantra, “WWJD? What would Jillian do?” The sizes dropped, one after another. In the course of a year, I found myself swimming in my wardrobe four different times. I had to buy four completely new wardrobes in the course of a single year! It was awesome. I jettisoned every piece of ill-fitting clothing as it was replaced. I remember the shock and horror expressed by most of my friends and family. “Why would you get rid of the clothes that became too big? What if you gain the weight back again?”

I tried to reassure everyone, this thing I was doing wasn’t some “fad” diet, this was a lifestyle change. The weight was gone with my old behaviors. It had been a year. I was confident with my new self and had no intention of ever allowing myself to return to my old ways, or shape. I figured, by donating all my too large clothing to charity and not having them to slip back into if I slipped up, would put more impetus on watching my “p’s and q’s”. If my new jeans were beginning to feel a bit tight, it was an indication to take immediate action. Having a “plan B”, a whole wardrobe of roomier clothes, would make it easier to stray from the original plan. It was a plan for failure. It facilitated failure. It resigned to it, made failure an expectation, an eventuality. That was five years ago. I’m still the same, smaller, size, my weight and shape has fluctuated some, but very little. Not once, in five years, have I had to replace a single item in my wardrobe with a larger size. There are currently, out of two dozen pairs, only two pair of jeans in my closet that are a wee bit too tight and, so, my plan is to be a bit more careful with portion size and second portions of certain things I’ve been allowing, lately, like beer. And wine. I’m watching my “p’s and q’s”.

As an auditor, when we plan an engagement, as we gather evidence and information, if we discover a risk we hadn’t planned for earlier, we don’t have a “plan B” to revert to. We don’t abandon the original plan for some lesser plan. We edit the original plan to include steps to address the new risk. The rest of the original plan remains in place. We enhance the original plan, we shore it up, make it more robust. We simply adjust.

I believe this is how we should manage all the plans in our life; from career plans, to plans to improve relationships, to plans for activities or vacations, to plans to learn a foreign language, whatever the plan. Make a plan for exactly how you want things to go. Don’t have a plan for failure. If the original plan doesn’t work out 100%, and, truthfully, few do, simply adjust the plan, enhance the plan, make it more robust, shore it up.

Scarlette Begonia

I was on a vacation to the east coast lately, to visit my daughter and son-in-law, in upstate New York. When I began to plan my visit I told them I wanted to do two things, for certain, during my week there; I wanted to see the horses race at the Saratoga Racetrack and I wanted to summit Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York state. I was so certain about summiting Mt. Marcy, I’d actually drafted the witty social media posts I would make memorializing my accomplishment. It was all but in the books before I even boarded the plane. I planned for it. I packed my hiking boots, my hiking socks, my day pack and hydration system, my trusty water-wicking wool shirt, my emergency trail items; headlamp, knife, cord, multi-tool, etc. I brought with me everything I’d bring on a day hike up to the top of a far higher mountain, here, on the west coast. I’ve summited a few west coast mountains, some over twice as high as Mt. Marcy, in the past few weeks alone. I had a solid plan.

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

As the week in New York unfolded, my daughter and I fell into our usual pattern of behavior; do, see, eat, drink, repeat. We went to the horse races, we went to a polo match, we went shopping, we dined, we wined, we revisited our favorite spots in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she lives. We had so, so, so, so, much fun. The night before our planned trip up Mt. Marcy, we stayed out a bit later than we should have. As our plan to summit Mt. Marcy fell on the last day of my trip, before flying home, the week’s activities were taking a toll, I’m sure, on our physical, mental, and emotional ability to perform at our peak in such an endeavor. As we stayed out entirely too late the night before, and had put off accumulating and organizing all the necessary provisions for our planned task until the morning we were to depart, and, because my alarm went off only a couple of hours after managing to drop off to sleep on my somewhat less than perfect, though free, air mattress on the basement floor, we got off to a very late and groggy start. We’d planned to get gas the night before, while out, but neglected to do so as the evening wore on into late night.

Scarlette Begonia

Further, this plan, perhaps, not as solid or well-executed as most of our plans, failed to adequately research the drive time or to check the weather for the day in the vicinity of Mt. Marcy. You see, originally, our plan included my son-in-law who would have painstakingly organized all those last bits of details. He had to adjust himself out of the planned trip the day before the trip because of a sore knee. So those last details were kind of dangling and, truthfully, were kind of in the way of our plan to enjoy that last night in town.

Scarlette Begonia

We set out a full three hours later than planned. We detoured into town for gas and some additional snacks. We made our way to the interstate and headed north and drove and drove and drove, the navigator telling us the trip was a full hour or so more than we really imagined. Or had planned for. As we drew closer and closer and closer to Mt. Marcy, in the Adirondacks, in upstate New York, the sky grew darker, cloudier and more and more ominous. About three quarters of the way there, my daughter asked me if I’d brought my packable rain gear. Um. No. I’d meant to, I’d planned to, but in the last moments of packing, I’d forgotten. She had extra rain gear at home, but we hadn’t thought of the necessity for it, for both of us, until now.

Scarlette Begonia

She asked me what we should do, as in, should we devise a “plan B”, like hike somewhere else, less challenging, not as far away. I’d thought of this, too, but figured the time it would take to research another, lesser trip, would be better used in attempting the original trip. That was my plan, it was our plan. She’d hiked to the top of Mt. Marcy, ill-prepared, before, she knew the challenge, the trail, the conditions, and had tried to communicate them to me, but perhaps I didn’t listen as carefully as I should have, or I was cocky at my ability, emboldened by all my recent, successful, mountain ascents.

Scarlette Begonia

We passed through a couple of mountain towns in the last miles before reaching our trailhead at the Adirondack Loj. One town boasted a very popular appearing outdoor store. I considered detouring in to purchase some rain gear, but the parking lot was completely full, we were totally late, and I’d asked my daughter if there was a similar store on sight at the Loj. She said there was. We adjusted the plan accordingly; I’d just pick up a rain poncho at the Loj store and we’d be set, according to plan.

Scarlette Begonia

As for our timing; we knew the approximate mileage up to the summit, we knew when the sun was likely to set, and we knew our historical, average, hiking pace. It “mathed” out. Given the number of miles, even with the ascent, the hours of daylight available, and our hiking pace, we should be able to summit and return to the car by just about dark. Our original plan had included dinner back in town, but we were willing to adjust it for this.

Scarlette Begonia

We reached the Adirondack Loj. We committed to our revised plan by paying the ten bucks to park for the day. The sky was dark, cloudy, damp and ominous. It had rained off and on during the entire last hour of our drive. My daughter brought Aston, the pup, to accompany us, and was tending to his needs as I went shopping in the Loj shop. I looked like a California mountain summiteer; I wore running shorts and a tank top. I still had my flip flops on, with plans to switch to my full-on, lace up, ankle supporting, mountaineering boots. I’d been told the trail was more rugged than the west coast trails I was used to and had planned accordingly. Unless backpacking and bearing a significant amount of weight, I usually opt for old running shoes over full-on hiking boots when I hike. Running shoes were not part of today’s plan. But, entering the Loj store, I looked, admittedly, like a goofball. Everyone was bundled up in layers of technical clothing; pants, shirts, jackets, rain gear, gators, hats, ponchos, pack covers, the whole deal. I looked on every rack and every display in the shop. I squinted at the labels hung next to empty hooks on the displays, but, as I didn’t bring my glasses, couldn’t make out the letters for those missing items. I looked and looked and looked, all while trying to look casual and competent, I couldn’t find any rain gear. I finally asked, and was informed they’d recently sold out. Those blurry labels adjacent to those empty display hooks were, apparently, where rain ponchos would have hung.

I returned to the car we paid ten bucks to park for the day. I told my daughter the store had sold out of rain gear. We revisited “the plan”. I still was not ready to devise a “plan B”. We’d planned to hike Mt. Marcy, we were here, for better or worse, that was the plan. I was invested, we were invested, and that’s what I wanted to do. I said, “Let’s just go and revise the plan as needed.” I changed into my proper hiking pants, laced up my proper hiking boots over my proper hiking socks. I adjusted my trekking poles to the proper height and made sure my daypack included all of the proper things, with the one exception of rain gear. My daughter prepared herself, properly, as well. We made sure there was adequate water and provisions for us, and for the pooch. She’d planned carefully for his company by bringing a bungee-style leash that secured around her waist, as he was required to be leashed, and she’d need both hands free. The pooch, too, had made this hike before. I was in good company. It was part of my plan. The revised plan. We agreed on a “turnaround time”. If by 3:00 PM, we weren’t at the summit, we would turn around and head back for the car in order to make it before dark. We had headlamps and all that would be necessary to hike at night, but going downhill, in the rain, with the puppy dog, would be more challenging than just hiking in the dark. Our re-revised plan.

Scarlette Begonia

We set off. I observed the signs, the mileage to the summit, the trail, we were in good shape. It would be a long day, but a rewarding one. I’d decided to put my water-wicking wool pullover on to start with. It was raining. My daughter had her rain jacket on. We hiked and hiked and hiked. The trail was wide and soft and sloped upward gently. We met, and passed, all kinds of other hikers. We hiked and hiked and hiked. We conferred, a couple of times, at junctions, trail crossings and water crossings, and made decisions collaboratively. We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. It rained. It was warm, though, and I was very hot with my dampish, water-wicking wool pullover on. The clouds gave way, finally, to broken sunshine and we stowed our outer layers away in our packs for later use, potentially, or not.

Scarlette Begonia

We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. After one stream crossing, the trail took on a new form; boulders. It actually resembled a stream bed, complete with water trickling down the center, making the varying size and shape rocks, slick and slimy. The trail was well-marked with round, blue, trail markers fastened to trees. It was clear we were on the intended trail, though it resembled more a seasonal stream than a trail. The very sparsely spaced mileage markers added additional confusion; after hours and hours on the trail, we seemed to have only hiked a couple of miles. I didn’t let any of this discourage me, but the reality of reaching the summit before our turnaround time seemed less likely. But, still, here I was and with a goal in mind. Had I known the mileage markers were “as a crow flies”, and not in “trail” or “walking” miles, I’d have had better information to apply to the plan.

Scarlette Begonia

The trail became steeper, and rockier, and as morning passed into noon and beyond, there were more people heading back down the trail, from points beyond, like the summit, than there were heading up. I felt, at this point, I was amongst the fools, chasing a folly, of reaching the summit of this mountain while daylight was still available. And I felt like everyone passing us, in the opposite direction, silently agreed with my self-bestowed judgment of “fool”. While it wasn’t raining, there were still clouds, and through the dense tree line, and not really knowing the direction we were headed or the direction the trail would turn, it was difficult to gauge whether the clouds were gathering, or dispersing, would hinder us, or hide from us.

Scarlette Begonia

We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. The trail got steeper, and rockier, and more strenuous. The toll of too many nights without adequate or comfortable sleep, the overindulgence in food and drink, the reckless abandon of appropriate physical activity and pre-hike hydration practices were beginning to become evident in my energy level, or waning energy level, I should say. And I was hungry.

Scarlette Begonia

We’d made so much progress, thus far, and much like negotiating one’s way through traffic on a congested highway, you really hated to stop, for any reason, and get passed up by those you worked so hard to get around. We’d passed groups of hikers who sprayed DEET on themselves, while hiking, creating a cloud of DEET in their wake, which we couldn’t help but inhale as we went. The only thing worse than the smell of DEET is the taste of it! We’d managed to make our way around a couple from Canada who smoked cigarettes. While hiking. Spewing cigarette smoke for us to breathe until we maneuvered our way successfully around them. It was not a good strategy, presently, to stop for nourishment and let these unsavory, poorly behaved hikers regain their positions in front of us.

Scarlette Begonia

But, I was spent. I needed food. And, it was 2:30 PM, a half an hour from “turnaround” time. We hadn’t really verbalized this reality, but it was there, and it seemed, now, time to take a break and revisit “the plan”. We fed the pooch, munched on some of our own provisions, and deliberated for a good ten or fifteen minutes, how we might adjust the plan. It was absolutely clear we would not summit before 3:00 PM. Our choices seemed to be; shun our very prudent turnaround time and just go for it, or turn around and head back now before it started to rain, again, making our descent down the steep, slippery, rocky trail with the enthusiastic pooch pulling us (her) down the trail, or hiking on upwards, until our 3:00 PM turnaround time, likely not making much additional progress, only to have to then negotiate our way down that much more terrain. There was thunder rumbling in the distance. Our nature, my daughter, and me, would be to “just go for it”, so it was with uncharacteristic temperament that we decided not to forge on to the summit, but to just turn at this point and head back down. But, rather than abandon our plan, completely, and call this a failure, or defeat, we altered our plan.

Scarlette Begonia

A mile or so back, along the trail, at the last discouraging mile marker we passed, at a fork in the trail, there was an arrow pointing to “Indian Falls”. We revised our plan to hike to Indian Falls rather than to the top of Mt. Marcy. It was not a “plan B”, just a wise revision to the already partially completed, original plan. To mitigate any notion that we were, in any way, wimping out, we agreed, had we both had appropriate rain gear, and had not brought the sweet, adorable, rambunctious, pooch, we would have carried on, summited Mt. Marcy, and hiked, like triumphant bad asses, back to the car, in whatever conditions Mother Nature tossed our way; rain and dark and treacherous trail.

Scarlette Begonia

Thunder rumbled, again. We bundled up or snacks, donned our daypacks once more, and began the first steps downwards. The smoking couple met us, still heading upward, we conversed with them momentarily on the likely duration of the rest of the hike, both in time and distance, the likely conditions, the changeable weather, the treacherous descent in the dark. The man wore cotton jeans and a cotton Old Navy t-shirt, his daypack was awkward, askance on his frame, large and purple and looking like it came off the “back to school” aisle at WalMart. His female companion was overweight and wore a way too tight black, Lycra, yoga outfit like you’d see worn at a mall in New Jersey. Her carefully done hair and makeup also did not make her appear to be the more skilled outdoorsperson of the duo. He seemed to seriously take into consideration the challenge that lay before them should they continue on. She, however, as we headed on down the trail, was heard to all but beg him to get to the summit. I still wonder if they made it.

Scarlette Begonia

We slowly negotiated the slippery boulders down, steeply, to the fork in the trail, and took the trail off to Indian Falls. It was a short leg of trail that quickly cleared the trees, opening to a stream that ran across impressive slabs of rock, then tumbled downward, out of view. Across the falls, with canyons between, loomed Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York state. It loomed so large above us, compared to our present position. I craned upward and wondered just how many more miles, how many more hours, we’d have before us if we had chosen to persist. I’ve no doubt we could’ve done it, and would’ve had a lifetime of stories to share for the accomplishment, but, in this moment, on the sunny rock, next to the rushing stream and the cascading falls, I was completely happy, completely content, in our plan. Our revised plan.

Scarlette Begonia

Our trip was not a failure, it was a complete success. We had a wonderful time carrying out our plan, and, as wisdom and acquired knowledge and facts dictated, as they always do, an alteration to the original plan. I am so grateful we didn’t plan to have a plan to fall back on, had we decided not to carry on with our plan. “If we stay out late and wake up late, instead of going to Mt. Marcy, let’s just …” I loved Indian Falls and am so grateful I got to hike there and spend time eating pistachios and sharing a beer with my daughter and the pooch. It is a day I’ll not ever forget, and a “plan B” would have deprived me, us, of that experience, of that joy, and of the lessons we learned that will help us as we devise our plan for our next attempt at Mt. Marcy! Yes, we plan to return, and to summit, and to triumph, and, had we not carried out this revised plan, we wouldn’t have as much valuable information in masterminding our next plan!

Scarlette Begonia

That’s the plan.

Insecurity Blanket

I remember a time when all I wanted was to be secure. I wanted to be certain, to the degree possible, that everything would be perfect, now, and in the future. I remember wishing for security, hoping for security, praying for security, planning for security. I’d go so far as to wish on stars, to hold my breath while driving through tunnels, and beg the universe for security. Security was the word I used to describe my resistance to change, my fear of change. Oddly, though, I wanted some change, but only on my terms, according to my overall plan for lasting security; the bigger house, the acreage, the newer car, a bigger paycheck, better performing investments, more clothes, more shoes, a bigger boat, horses, more pets. Happiness. Security.

Scarlette Begonia

And I was a prisoner. I was a slave. And I was insecure in my quest, my driving desire, for security. Things went according to plan for so very long, but I wasn’t completely happy, and I didn’t feel secure. There was always a sense of unease, uncertainty, at times, feelings of dread and doom.

As the economy worsened several years ago, my empire fell. The worst I could imagine, happened. Everything was lost. Everything material I’d worked for, for my entire adulthood, lost. The real estate, the acreage, the pets, the horses, the boat, my security, and the means to a secure future. But, in that precise moment when I knew it was all gone, I experienced a sense of peace, of calm, of, dare I say, joy. The burden had been lifted, I was no longer a prisoner, I was no longer a slave. I was, for the first time in my life, free. The shackles of security fell to the ground and I ran. I ran, I danced, I sang, my quest for security replaced with a quest for growth, adventure, uncertainty, and joy.

Scarlette Begonia

Since that time, not even a decade later, I’ve left my marriage, I’ve lost a lover, I’ve lost family, I’ve lost friends, children have grown and moved far, far away. Loss is change, and change, is part of life. There is comfort in being comfortable with change, loss, and with insecurity. Life is tenuous, life is exciting, life is not meant to be secure.

Security meant comfort. Comfort meant complacency. Complacency meant a headlong spiral into disaster. Life, now, is moment to moment. Life now is edgy. Life now is adventure and risk. Life now is real. And blissfully insecure. I am happy, almost always.

Oh, sure, I still find myself fretting over potential loss, thinking about “what could go wrong”, what could change in a manner I’m not cool with. And it is only at these moments that unhappiness and discontent seep into my world.

Scarlette Begonia

There is something very liberating in losing all the stuff. I look now, with pity, at people burdened with “all the things”, and ever in anguish about not having more. I’ve found so much freedom and joy in being “stuffless”, I often go through my remaining belongings, pulling things off shelves, out of drawers, bundling them up, and sending them away to become other people’s stuff. The sense of relief, with each and every purge, is indescribable.

Yes, there are “things” I want. I want a stand up paddle board right now. Does my life, my happiness, my sense of success, of purpose, depend on it? No. I can rent one any time. And, sure, I’d love for my current relationship to endure, but this is never a certainty. Do I let the uncertainty of permanence poison the beauty and joy I have right now? God, I try not to, I’m wonderfully imperfect, but I try.

In security, we are hopeless. In insecurity, once we understand it and embrace it, we are free and joyful. Security is imperfect. Security is a myth. Insecurity is growth, it is reality, and insecurity, like many good things in life, requires practice and thought, to understand, to embrace. In a blanket of insecurity, we find ourselves, our true selves; our passion, our joy, life. In a blanket of insecurity, we learn to take risks, to accept the present moment, each as they come, with gratitude. We learn to forsake the past, gleaning only the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We learn not to fret about the future, what will come will be right, in that future moment. We are not in control, and we lose control in our attempt. In insecurity, we have the chance to learn to be youthful, adventurous, and joyful. We learn to actually live.

Scarlette Begonia

So, like a small child with a ratty, old, blanket, required for comfort, for sleep, for security, there comes a time where it must be tossed into the trash. It must be discarded. When we embrace insecurity, blanket ourselves, instead, with the joy and opportunity in insecurity, we learn to live and we find joy.

On Point

I grew up in a typical, suburban, curb and gutters neighborhood, in a cookie cutter house, with manicured lawn, in a small Northern California town. A couple of years ago, I moved back home. Same bedroom, same house, same street, same neighborhood, same town. Though much has changed. There are only a very small handful of “original neighbors”, those people who moved here when the houses were first built nearly fifty years ago. My mom is an original neighbor, now, so am I.

Scarlette Begonia

I took ballet lessons, like most young girls in my neighborhood, from the lady around the corner. An original neighbor, still in the original house. She was a bit strict, but she was passionate about ballet. Her strictness intimidated me some, but I respected her. I needed that strictness, I needed the structure and the discipline of ballet. I was chaos in pink tights and a black leotard, otherwise. She would pick us up from school in her big station wagon. I thought it was so cool to have a station wagon, she had five children, and a flat tummy, strong slender arms, and long, thin, legs. She wore her hair long, tied back in a ponytail, or up in a bun. She looked the part. I was an only child, so the dreamy thought of being part of her family, with so many brothers and sisters, was almost more than I could bear. And they all danced. In the station wagon, after school, every seat was filled with a tiny, young, dancer. After ballet lessons, she’d drive us all home, one by one, around the block, all the neighborhood children. There were other children who attended her ballet school, many other children. They came from other neighborhoods and went to different schools. Ballet school was one of the few places where I made friends with children from other schools and neighborhoods; ballet, Sunday school, honor band, and, in later years, at the stables where I kept my horse.

Scarlette Begonia

I have always been motivated, when interested, and a little bit competitive. I really wanted to move quickly from beginning ballet class, which was held in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the old, repurposed white and pink Victorian house, to the next level. Eventually, I’d be promoted to “the living room”, downstairs, where the real ballet dancers, the “big kids”, practiced, all I wanted in life was to go up “on toe” or “on point”. Being ready to wear toe shoes, that meant you were a “real” ballerina. You attended a different class and got to learn the things the ballerinas who danced in the Nutcracker performed. Once you were up “on point” you got to wear “toe shoes”, which required all kinds of special care and had ribbons that laced up your legs. Once you made it up “on point”, the next thing to aspire for, was to be chosen to be part of the “troupe”. Each summer the ballet troupe got to travel to a faraway place, like Japan, and perform.

Scarlette Begonia

That was all I wanted. No, it wasn’t. There was one thing I wanted slightly more; a horse. A horse of my own. When my eleventh birthday rolled around, I was, I felt confidently, close to going up “on point”. But, as I’d been begging for a horse for as long as I can remember, it may have, in fact, been the first phrase I constructed, “I want a horse”, when I was given the chance to empty my savings account and buy a horse, I jumped at the chance. The only caveat was, since I was purchasing the beast, but lived in a curb and gutters, cookie cutter, suburban, neighborhood, the horse would require boarding. Mom and Dad were going to pay for that. Which, as I was told, meant I could not also have ballet lessons. It was dance, or a horse. I traded in my ballet slippers for cowboy boots. And while I won’t say I ever regretted the decision, I did regret the situation, being made to choose.

In college, after selling my horse, I enrolled, again, in ballet, as a P.E. class, for college credit. It was fun, but I remember nothing about my instructor. He, or she, (I meant it, I don’t remember anything about the instructor) just kind of was there, fulfilling some sort of job description. I don’t remember any passion, or taking away any life lessons. Perhaps I was just beyond my impressionable stage.

To this day, I love dance, and I wish I were better at it. I will often seek out and participate in the new barre fitness classes, they are rooted in the concepts of ballet, but are more contemporary, so, it’s like ballet moves to Zumba loud music, and with instructors I doubt ever trained in ballet, classically speaking. Still a good workout, but no chance to go up “on point” or to perform in Japan.

The youngest of my ballet teacher’s five children was a couple of years younger than me. The next oldest child was in my class in school, from kindergarten clear through high school. Grown up and married and with two sons of her own, she ended up settling, teaching school, and raising her boys, not far from where I raised my family. We connected from time to time when our kids were very young, and met up at class reunions thereafter. Once Facebook became the platform for staying in touch, while she doesn’t have a profile, her husband, also a local boy, does. News is shared.

Scarlette Begonia

The next oldest child is only a year older than me. She, too, is on Facebook. The other two, a bit older, and, in fact, the next oldest, the second oldest of the five, was my first, beginning ballet teacher in the bedroom, upstairs in the repurposed, pink and white Victorian house, downtown.

Scarlette Begonia

I remember being very young, probably even before kindergarten, and the three youngest children would come over to play. While I don’t specifically remember, my mom often tells a tale of the youngest of the five, still in diapers, requiring some attendance with said diaper. We go back that far. He, too, is on Facebook.

Down the street from my ballet teacher lived a family with three kids, one boy a year older than me, a girl, a year behind me in school, and another boy, a couple of years younger than me. Grown now, of course, the youngest is on Facebook, and is, and has always been, best friends with my ballet teacher’s youngest son.

I have been, somewhat purposely, not paying Facebook all that much attention. I go on daily, dole out birthday wishes, quickly scroll through the New Feed, and, truthfully, kind of fed up with the same old, same old, I close out and turn my attention to other more interesting and entertaining social media platforms.

Scarlette Begonia

I recently noticed a few posts about the ballet school, still in the repurposed, white and pink, Victorian house, downtown; they have their own Facebook page, with I began following not too long ago. I often see posts from the two friends, my ballet teacher’s youngest son and the youngest boy from the family a bit further down the block, now, if not fifty years old, darned close. And, they remain close, living not far from one another, sharing activities, and Facebook posts. I enjoy their contributions to the social media platform, more than many. I also saw, fairly recently, a picture of my ballet teacher, her husband, and their two small dogs. All smiles and the picture of familiar vibrancy and joy, my ballet teacher, apparently, was in the hospital and the dogs were “snuck in” for a visit. She looked bright, happy, and, really, quite healthy, so I assumed it was something minor, nothing serious. I did, however, in the weeks that followed, notice old family photos being posted, and photos of her as a performer. Still, I thought little of it. She was several years younger than my own mother, only in her early eighties. The ballet school celebrated its fiftieth year this year, I related the photos to that, and perhaps that was their purpose.

Scarlette Begonia

After a week of self-absorption, with work, and my birthday, and sneaking away for an adventure in celebration of my own dance towards old age, I returned home, and to Facebook, and, partially out of boredom, caught up after checking all the likes and comments on my own, self-indulgent posts of my, recent, “me-centered” life, I scrolled through the News Feed, a little further than I have been, as of late. I was shocked, but not totally surprised, when I saw a post from the best friend, to the youngest son of my ballet teacher. It was lengthy. Lengthy posts are usually a rant, a tirade, or something like that, or, they are really important, meaningful, worthy. As it was authored by someone with a history of worthy posts, I deemed it important enough to stop scrolling and actually read.

She died.

The Facebook post was a lovely, heartfelt tribute to this woman who touched and shaped this man’s life, from the earliest of memory. I immediately clicked through to her youngest son’s profile and Timeline. There were many such posts, and more photos of my ballet teacher, throughout the years; dancing, performing, teaching, some more recently, at the ballet school, in celebration of the fifty years, with family, pictures spanning decades. A woman with five children she gave birth to, and a whole community of children, for generations, that she taught, helped raise.

Scarlette Begonia

I quickly drafted a tribute of my own, then wrote a second one to her daughter’s Timeline. In writing, I reflected and discovered, perhaps for the first time, that I too, was really shaped by the lessons offered by this teacher. That’s what teachers, good teachers, do; they offer lessons. As students, it is entirely up to us to accept them or reject them. A truly good teacher finds a way to deliver lessons in a more acceptable manner. That way, the only way, is through passion.

Scarlette Begonia

In my tributes, both, I told of how I only allowed a handful of people, in my young life, to actually teach me. The rest, I tolerated, and performed at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding the expectation, only for a few did I excel, only for a few did I feel like it mattered. Passion made that difference, perhaps flavored with kindness, sincerity, generosity, and compassion. I can count, on my fingers, the teachers that made that kind of impression, that kind of difference for me, throughout my life, to date. On one hand, I can count the teachers, from my youth, who I still quote often, their voices I hear as clearly as if still speaking, those who offered the lessons I allowed to shape me, to define me, to make me the person I am, and the person I still strive to become. The teachers in whose steps I sought to follow, still seek to follow; my first grade teacher, my third grade teacher, my Girl Scout leader, one of my 4-H leaders, and my ballet teacher. It is in their footsteps, whether in practical loafers, pretty pumps, hiking boots, cowboy boots, or point shoes, I aimed to follow, in raising my own family, in being a youth leader, that I still try to follow, in writing, and in sharing my little stories.

The unspoken lesson these great teachers taught me, I now recognize; it is about passion. A fulfilling and joyful life is based on finding our passion, living our passion, working our passion, and sharing our passion. Without passion as our purpose, we are merely performing at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding expectation. We are going through motions, but we aren’t dancing.

I faithfully follow a YouTube artist and vlogger, I am totally inspired by his talent, but more by his passion, and the example he sets in following his passion. He exudes it. He tells stories, and one in particular, of the person in his life he most admires; his nana. She was a dancer in New York City. She danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall during World War II, and she was absolutely passionate about dance. Her father died of cancer a month before her first Rockettes recital, this shaped her life, her purpose, and her passion. When she married and raised her family, she began to teach tap dancing lessons in the attic of her house. She had seventy students and taught six days a week. Every year, she would hold a recital and the proceeds were all donated to cancer research in honor of her father, in hopes that a cure will be found and there will be no more missed, first, recitals. Out of passion, she taught tap dance, in her attic, six days a week, for 45 years, until she was 92 years old. She taught until the day before she died. That is passion, “on point”.

Scarlette Begonia

The point, I think, is to listen to your heart, to find your passion, that which moves you, causes you to feel like dancing, and then to just keep dancing. In living your passion, you inspire others to seek out and live their passion, that one by one, example by example, we may all someday learn to be “on point”.

Independence Day

Happy fifth of July! Yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day. We drank, we ate, we wore red, white, and blue, perhaps we took in a parade, maybe we watched things explode in the sky, either in person or from the overstuffed comfort of our recliners. That’s what Independence Day is all about. Or is it? From the Facebook posts I perused, from the handful of usual and frequent posters amidst my hundreds of Facebook friends, they all seemed to echo the same exact message as Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to those who serve, past, present, and future. Very. But what, really, is Independence Day about?  
 I always thought Independence Day was a day to remember the Declaration of Independence, a document declaring our intent, as a colony, to, by whatever means necessary, secure our independence from the tyranny and taxation of England. Tyranny and taxation. Independence. Freedom from tyranny and taxation imposed on us without fair representation. Hot tub time machine Batman! Déjà vu! While a worthy topic, that isn’t what I’m discussing today. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to provoke a little thought. Let’s be more mindful of those days off from work, the no bills in the mailbox day, those days when mobile deposits don’t post to our bank account. Those days are each unique in their dedication and purpose. Oh dear, friends are going to say I rant.  Let’s talk about independence. In general. I feel, as a nation of people, we aren’t as independent as we once intended, as we once fought for. But, as a person, I feel fairly independent. Free. Sure I have responsibilities and obligations, we all do. The absence of responsibilities and obligations does not negate our freedom, our independence. In fact, the more independent we are, often, I think, the more relied upon we become by those near us who have not achieved, or who have lost, their independence.

  

 I was independent enough to choose, for the time being, to move back to my childhood home to assist my elderly, widowed mother. She is less independent than she once was. She depends on me to do certain things she isn’t able to do; drive her to out of town doctor appointments, fill her car with gas, deal with her cable television service provider every time an error message pops up, and sundry other things.

My mom always encouraged me to be independent, and I tried, and though it took a few hard life lessons to really sink in, at the tender age of (almost) fifty-two, I think I’ve almost got it. To my mom, being independent, in the vein she meant, was to, as a woman, especially, always be able to support myself with my own earnings, regardless of marital status or a spouse’s wealth or earning ability. I eventually got that. I’m an independent wage earner. And in the dissolution of my one and only marriage, ironically, the only point of contention is how much spousal support I’ll have to pay to my husband! And for what duration. I know, right?

I taught my own children to be independent, in the same respect my mom taught me. I think they got it before at a much younger age than I, their life hard lessons being entwined with mine. I also tried to instill in my children a facet of independence I hold valuable; the ability to go and do and experience, if necessary, alone. Independently.

This type of independence is something I developed a great value for by observing, among so many others, my own mother, in her lack of independence. I don’t fault her, or anyone, for this lacking, it simply saddens me. How many hundreds of times I witnessed my mom, friends, and acquaintances lament missing out on something important or exciting to them because no one would go with them. To miss out on experiences, events, adventure, pieces of life, because of a fear or trepidation of going and doing alone breaks my heart. For this reason, I tried to instill this type of independence in my children’s core values. I sent them to camp “alone”, without friends, and encouraged them to make new friends. This may seem like child abuse in today’s world, but I felt it was an important skill for them to master, and the earlier the better. Acting alone, independently, is a reality in life. We go to job interviews alone. We can’t bring a buddy along for moral support. The ability to walk singularly and confidently into a room with a stranger and come across as the best candidate is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Myself included.

I suffered from two things as a child on into my early adulthood; shyness and being an only child. I learned from both afflictions, and I overcame both. As a shy person, acting alone can be a challenge, but, as an only child, being alone is a reality. I learned, as a child, to work up the courage to call my friends on a rainy day to see if anyone could come over and play. If no one was available, I was left to play alone. From this I learned to enjoy my own company, to cherish some solitude, and to play four different players in a solo game of Monopoly. Right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot. Right hand was always banker.

  
I am an extremely active person, I like to go, I like to do. I like to experience. I don’t like to sit still long. I can’t stand the thought of life passing me by, of time slipping away, without some experience attached to it. Funny to live in the same neighborhood near some of the same folks I used to call up to come play Monopoly with me on a rainy Saturday. Now, like then, they are more often unavailable than not. Many of our interests differ, our stations in life are different, we all have many who depend on us, which means I either need to act alone or miss out. Missing out is not an option.  

I run alone, except on Saturdays, when I run with a running club. But I joined the running club alone, I didn’t require the security of a friend to join with me. I will happily go to art galleries, museums, parks, national monuments, wine tasting, parties, restaurants, outings, traveling, and to events, alone, if necessary. I hike alone as much as possible. I kayak alone, usually. I camp alone, occasionally, I have even backpacked alone. If I’d waited for someone to go with me, I’d still be waiting! And I’d have missed out on so much. What an indescribably sad thought!

  

Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone, not just running, hiking, and kayaking, but in my fierce independence. Especially for a girl. Yesterday, as I drove away from the house, kayak atop my car, still dripping from the day’s solo adventure, a neighbor from across the street, you know, the one who speaks to everyone, who lies in wait for someone to exit their house, their car, then chats for an awfully long time. I’m not proud to say I’ve mastered avoidance. Until now, with him practically stepping in front of my moving vehicle, waving at me to stop. I rolled down my window, turned down the Jeremy Loops song I had blaring and greeted him. A couple of week s ago, the UPS driver knocked on our door while I wasn’t home. Mom answered. He had a large parcel, a kayak, for the neighbor next door. Mom couldn’t accept it because she isn’t very mobile and would have a hard time a) delivering the kayak to the neighbor upon their return and b) walking next door to tell them they had a delivery awaiting their retrieval. We both assumed the kayak was for the man of the household, with whom I’ve swapped stories of hikes and backpacking treks. But, the neighbor from across the street now leaned in my window and told me the mother in law had bought a kayak and wanted to go on solo paddling excursions, but couldn’t figure out how to fix the kayak to the newly installed roof rack on her Prius. My heart warmed, a kindred spirit, older than I. I told the neighbor I’d be happy to offer my assistance, next we met out in the front yard. 

I value and cherish independence, as a nation of people, from tyranny and taxation without representation, as a wage earner, but most of all, as a student of happiness, a liver of life! My life, the way I want it, and my happiness, depend on it! Go. Do. Be. Don’t wait. Make your declaration. Make every day independence day.

Swimming Lessons – Part I

When I was a child, beginning at a very early age, I was enrolled, each and every summer in “Red Cross certified” swimming lessons. My mother was adamant about it, I remember well. I grew up in Napa, north of San Francisco forty or so miles. Perched on the northern most edge of the bay, summer mornings here are usually cold, gray, foggy and overcast. Did I mention cold? About noon, the sun manages to burn through the fog and it actually feels like summer should. I’ve been colder on summer mornings here than I have on winter nights on the east coast, or even the farthest northern reaches of Alaska. It’s a damp, penetrating cold, and there I was, a tiny, skinny, child, in a swim suit, tossed into a pool that couldn’t be heated enough to dispel the chill. Summer after summer, year after year, I learned to swim. I learned to float, I learned to kick, I learned to use my arms effectively. Most importantly, I learned to breathe.

Scarlette Begonia

And I swam. There was a neighborhood pool up the street. The adults on our block all pooled their money, no pun intended, and bought the lot up by the dead end. They formed an association, obtained financing, and built a fabulous pool, complete with a springy diving board. They sold memberships with a nominal monthly fee which paid off the loan, covered operation, maintenance and even provided for a lifeguard all summer long. The lifeguard taught swimming lessons in the morning, and kept us all supervised and out of our parents’ hair each and every afternoon. I swam. I swam every day, every summer.

With all those lessons, and all the swimming I did every summer, when I got to middle school and swimming was a P.E. class activity, I excelled. There were a few P.E. teachers at my middle school, Miss Harlow was my favorite, I thought she looked like Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, but more than that, Miss Harlow was always especially nice to me, she knew my name and encouraged me to learn gymnastics, modern dance and to run hurdles on the track. The other P.E. teachers didn’t even know I existed.

It was in the eighth grade that Qwen arrived, an immigrant from Vietnam. I remember my home room teacher wanted me to sit with Qwen and, I guess, tutor her, that she may learn English and History more quickly. I had no idea how to make that happen! Qwen was in my French class, too, and, again, I was put on task to help Qwen. So, when Miss Harlow asked me to teach Qwen to swim, I wasn’t too shocked, and, more than English, History, and French, I felt like I could actually teach her something! I taught Qwen to float, to kick, to use her arms effectively, and, most importantly, to breathe. The school pool was slightly deeper at one end than the other. We worked in the shallower end for a few days, Qwen was short, I was short and super skinny, the shallow end was appropriate, we could touch the bottom comfortably flat-footed. I remember that our goal was for Qwen to be able to swim across the width of the pool, then the length of the pool, meaning we’d have to traverse the deeper water, where neither of us would be able to touch the bottom of the pool with our tippy toes. Within a week or so, Qwen was swimming across the width of the pool in the shallower end quite confidently. Miss Harlow really wanted to see her progress to swimming the length of the pool. I remember taking Qwen to the deeper end of the pool and trying to explain to her that she didn’t have to do anything different, just swim, just like in the shallow end. We slid into the water and hung onto the ledge. We both set off across the pool, in the deep end. I swam next to Qwen, it just seemed the thing to do. We got about a quarter of the way across, well out of grasp of the ledge. Qwen stopped, for some reason, Qwen stopped. She tried to find the bottom of the pool with her foot and couldn’t. She went under, then flailed wildly, her outstretched hand landed on my shoulder and in a moment, she was climbing on me, trying to get out of the water. I couldn’t touch the bottom, and though short, Qwen was larger and stronger than me. I’d had “junior lifesaving”, I knew you were never to jump in to save a drowning person because they’d pull you under trying to get to the surface. But, here I was. The pool was crowded with other kids, and I don’t think our plight was evident to anyone who mattered. All I could think to do was to flip over on my back and float and hope Qwen would calm down enough to do the same. Still she flailed and pushed me under, trying to stay on the surface. What I ended up doing, was bouncing, going under, hitting the bottom of the pool, and pushing off up and towards the ledge. After what seemed an impossible period of time, I managed to get us both within reach of the ledge.

We all feel like we’re drowning, at some point in our lives. Some of us more frequently than others. Some of us actually do, the waves of life crash into us until we can no longer hold our head above the water, and we slip under. This can manifest in health, both physical and emotional, it can impact all facets of our lives; family, career, friendships, relationships, longevity and quality of life.

If we can apply to life the basics we learn in swimming lessons, we stand a much better chance of floating right through the unavoidable challenges we face. The basics:

  1. Get in the water.
  2. Stay calm. Don’t be afraid. Don’t panic.
  3. Float.
  4. Kick and paddle.
  5. Build confidence.
  6. Breathe.
  7. Be aware. Have respect.

You absolutely cannot learn how to swim until you get in the water. Life is no different. You absolutely cannot learn how to live until you get out there and experience life. Jump in, don’t sit on the edge in fear and watch everyone else from the safety of the shore. Life, like swimming is far more enjoyable for the participants than for the spectators. Life is not a spectator sport, get off the lounge chair and get in the water!

As with most experiences in life, especially new ones, fear can be debilitating. Fear limits us. Like learning to swim in deep water, where you cannot touch the bottom of the pool, life has its risks, uncertainties and perils. Often in life we don’t feel like we can “touch the bottom”, and here, as in swimming, remaining calm is absolutely imperative. Qwen had the skills to swim in the deeper water, but because she panicked, she lost confidence and became fearful.

Learning to float is probably the most important lesson for a beginning swimmer. When you discover you can’t touch the bottom of the pool, when you grow too tired to tread water or kick and paddle, knowing you can float on your back, calmly, atop the water, is a great comfort. I remember the lifeguard who taught me my very first swimming lessons telling me, as I attempted to swim clear across the pool, “if you get tired, flip over on your back and float”. In life, when things get overwhelming, you can take a break and just float for a few moments, until you regain some strength, some energy, some clarity, and continue. For some of us, this may just mean a quiet night at home, a good night’s sleep, meditation, exercise, listening to soothing music, or spending time with friends and family. Whatever it is we do to stop kicking and paddling, to stop treading water, we must do when the time calls for it.

To get anywhere in the water you’ve got to kick and paddle. In a large body of water there may be a current that carries you for a ways, but at some point, the current will cease, or will take you in a direction you do not wish to go. In a pool, without kicking and paddling, you just bob. Or you sink. Life, like swimming, requires forward motion, propulsion, effort, if we are to make any progress.

From the very first swim lesson until the day we master every stroke, we build confidence. Without confidence, in swimming, fear sets in, we either fail to try new strokes, new skills, out of fear, or we panic and try to find a way out of the water. Life, living life, necessitates confidence. It is confidence we rely on when we face a new day, get out of bed, leave the house, and all the very basic things we do. It, too, is confidence we require to learn, to grow, to achieve, and to prosper. Confidence is gained through experience, both in swimming and in life. Confidence is gained in overcoming fear, in calmly pressing on, and with more confidence gained with each lesson, with each new experience, we become masters.

Breathe. In swimming, in most sports, as in life, breathing is critical. How often do we see folks in the water, paddling and kicking, with their face out of the water? Sure, they are making progress, slowly, but it’s the swimmer who breathes rhythmically with his strokes that covers great distances with efficiency and grace. By breathing, in life, I’m not referring to the involuntary inhalations we make that sustain us physically. I’m talking about the deliberate practice of breathing, deeply, rhythmically, calming the mind and awakening the heart. Whether you call this meditation, or practice this walking, standing, sitting, lying down, or during physical exertion, breathing is probably the most basic and beneficial life skill we can adopt.

Swimming, like many active pursuits, requires awareness and respect. Water is dangerous, awareness and respect are necessary. Swimmers need to be aware and respectful of the water itself, the depth, the temperature, the current. Swimmers need to be aware and respectful of their abilities, of the dangers, and of the consequences. In life, too, we have to be aware and respectful of ourselves, of others in our lives, of those around us. We need to be aware and respectful of our surroundings, our physical being, even of the thoughts that cross our mind. Everything influences our well-being, whether it is external or internal. Bringing awareness to all that influences us and building respect for ourselves is second only to breathing.

With swimming lessons we learn to swim, but there really isn’t a “Red Cross certified” series of life lessons we can enroll in. Much of life is by trial and error, by observation, by following examples, or advice, or muddling through and just trying to figure it all out on our own. Like swimming, or other things we are taught, by breaking our activities down, thoughtfully, into “lessons”, or skills, we can achieve the same level of success. So, go on, get in the water, don’t be afraid, don’t panic, kick and paddle, float when you need to, build confidence, and most importantly, breathe, be aware and have respect. Whether you’re in the shallow part of the pool or swimming in the surf, the skills you master from these very basic lessons will ensure your safety and survival. So, too, in life. Dive in.

What’s the Difference?

I know. It’s been a while. Right?  I’ve been busy.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been sliding down a slippery slope of deteriorating self-respect and climbing the mountain of self-destructive behaviors. I’ve been having fun, and, at the same time, feeling like shit in every imaginable way.

An Effort to Evolve

I’ve been overindulging and, in the process, undermining everything I’ve worked for and everything I value and believe in, leaving me to question, all over again, my self-worth.

An Effort to Evolve

Why do I feel so out of sorts, why do I feel so negative, why am I having feelings of self-loathing? I catch myself, several times a day, at every turn, thinking, or saying out loud, “I really don’t care.” What’s the difference, anyway?

An Effort to Evolve

  Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic. Things aren’t that bad. I’m just heading down the wrong  path.

An Effort to Evolve

I went hiking a week or so ago with a friend I met in Alaska. She recently relocated to Northern California, a couple of hours away from where I live, and we’ve been trying to stay connected. She has similar interests in hiking and outdoor pursuits as I do. Other than my kids, there are only a handful of folks I know who are willing to hike as hard, as long, or as far as I. She is one in that very small handful. She is also twenty years younger than I. As I often say, “there just aren’t any young people my age.”

An Effort to Evolve

We hiked about twelve miles on a very narrow, single track trail, in the hills east of the town of Calistoga, overlooking the Napa Valley. We encountered four snakes in our travels. I was in the lead and, being a Northern California girl, I am well-schooled in keeping an eye on the trail immediately in front of me, watching the ground exactly where my foot is going to land.

An Effort to Evolve

There are no snakes in Alaska, and my hiking partner’s only experience with snakes, while hiking, was in Peru, where the snakes tend to be overhead, dangling from tree limbs. Snakes on the path that resemble sticks across the trail were a whole new experience for her. We were both glad I lead. Three of the four snakes I spotted, politely exited the trail as we approached. The first we encountered, though, stubbornly stretched across the trail, with a steep incline to our right, masked in poison oak, and a steep drop to our left, also festooned with poison oak. I tossed a couple of pebbles at the snake, but it didn’t take the hint. We considered climbing up and around, or scrambling down and around, enduring the wrath of the rash over the possibility of a snakebite.  Earlier in the week, on a solo hike, I encountered a snake that behaved in much the same manner. I ended up backing up a distance, sprinting and doing an Olympic long jump over the snake. Today’s trail really didn’t allow for such athletic feats. Ultimately, I found a stick nearby and gently lifted the snake off the trail, tossing the stick and the snake down into the ravine a few yards so we could safely pass.

An Effort to Evolve

Other than snakes, the only other trouble we encountered was losing the trail back to the car. After six hours and nearly ten miles of rugged trail, and having not eaten since breakfast, as late afternoon began to turn to evening, we found ourselves on a trail that just seemed to be heading in the wrong general direction. We retraced our steps a couple of times, tried to pick up an alternate trail, and reasoned that, perhaps, we were on the right path afterall, unfamiliar though it seemed. We’d encountered very few hikers during the course of our day, and none were about presently. As we retraced our steps a few times over, we remained calm, applied some reason, a bit of logic, and, surveyed the hills that rose around us several different times. There was a scar on a hill that appeared to either be the result of water runoff and erosion, or an unusually steep trail. We’d discounted the scarred patch of earth earlier, as it, too, seemed to head in a direction we weren’t entirely comfortable with, but, we decided to reconsider, as other options didn’t manifest. Upon reaching the scarred patch of earth, we could see it was littered with footprints, far more than the other trails we’d been picking up in our attempt to get back to the car. We followed the steep path up the hill, leaving, now, our own set of footprints, and, after cresting the hill found ourselves on the familiar, wide path leading directly back to the parking lot.

An Effort to Evolve

It was the wisdom we’d acquired through experience, and our ability to remain calm, apply reason, and logic, and our willingness to try several options, admit our error, and try more options, that ultimately led to our success. We tried different things and found the right path.

An Effort to Evolve

So, I recognize now, that I’m headed down the wrong path, metaphorically. The path is easy, like a straight, flat, paved sidewalk, but I know, it will lead to misery. I could stumble along, endlessly, effortlessly, still moving along, but really, just going through the motions. Or, I could stop, remain calm, apply some reason and logic, and change my course to reach greater heights, majestic views, journeying impressive distances and experiencing challenges, triumphs and adventures that few realize. This is the path I’ve always desired, this is the path I’ve travelled before. Before taking a wrong turn. I’m choosing the narrow, steep, serpent strewn trail less traveled, now, over the straight, paved, sidewalk. The adventure begins. The adventure continues. Today. If you want things to be different, then things have to be different.

That’s the difference.

I Wish

What do you wish for? If you knew you could make a wish, and it would come true, what would you wish for?

Do you hold your breath through when driving through tunnels and make a wish?

I wish ...
I wish …

 

If you see the first star in the sky in the evening, do you stop and make a wish?

When you see a dandelion gone to seed, do you pick it, blow the seeds into the wind, and make a wish?

I wish ...
I wish …

Do you pull apart the wishbone and hope for a wish?

I wish ...
I wish …

 

Do you make a wish before blowing out your birthday candles?

When a ladybug lands on you, do you make a wish and send her off in flight?

Do you compose a minute long wish at the sight of the same numerals aligned on a digital clock? 

Does the rare sight of a shooting star cause you to utter a quick and rare wish?

I wish ...
I wish …

 

Do you toss a penny into every wishing well and fountain whilst whispering a wish to yourself?

I wish ...
I wish …

I recently found out there are other things folks wish upon; a fallen eyelash, or a white horse. I’m sure there are, yet, more. When I think of all the missed wishes with fallen eyelashes! And with white horses! I used to wish for a white horse, then I had two white horses! Oh, the missed opportunity! Daily!

I wish ...
I wish …

Do you wish? Do you miss opportunities? Or do you even believe in wishes? 

Or do you even have a birthday cake with candles, notice tunnels you drive through, white horses, or dandelions. Do you ever look at the night sky long enough to see stars, let alone shooting stars? 

Anything is possible, and wishes do come true. Perhaps not directly from wishbones or fallen eyelashes. But a wish is a desire, and with the right frame of mind, work ethic and belief, many of our wishes are totally doable.

Wishes are dreams, desires, seeds for goals. Don’t ignore them, don’t miss a single opportunity to embrace every fallen eyelash, every white horse, every penny in a fountain, every tunnel, every first and falling star! Listen to your wishes, if they are good, and pure, you have the power to make them come true. Follow them, nurture them, and live them.

Let me make a wish, now; I wish you would all follow your wishes, and make them come true, just by following them.