A Long Talk with a Good Stranger

If you’ve read between the lines of my past couple of articles, you’ve probably gathered I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch. I’m broken hearted. At first, destroyed, then just devastated, now simply hurt. Notice I say that I hurt, not that “he hurt me”. It is how I am reacting to the situation, how I choose to react, there is no blame, just a feeling, and one that will pass, will heal. I’m doing much better, now. I didn’t cry once yesterday. Or so far, today. And before I go any further, let me be clear, what happened was destined to happen. I guess. It is what it is and I am fine. I still do, and always will, love and respect the man I lost. We have just taken things back to where we started from; friendship. Hurt and hate do not equate. And for this, I am incredibly grateful. I have nothing but good words and happy thoughts about all we shared and about the friendship that lies ahead. Cool. But it has been quiet, no talk, no exchange. In weeks, or has it only been a week? Seems an eternity.

When things get rough, though, I usually retreat a bit, meditate more, run more, sleep more, eat more conscientiously and drink less beer and more water. That things all unraveled during three consecutive weeks of intense travel and stressful work assignments prevented me from my self-prescribed therapy.  So, I unplugged. Traveling, I couldn’t eat as healthy as I should, run outdoors, sleep nearly enough, meditate quietly, or even think clearly, so retreating, unplugging, was my only recourse.

In unplugging, I did pry myself away from social media for a whole week, until I was certain I wouldn’t say something regrettable or publicize an invitation to my pity party, spurring a potential online flash mob of regret. I unplugged. I do this in times of hurt, I either unplug by removing myself from public view, or I unplug from you, if you happen to be the party I need to retreat from, for healing. Unplugging can be subtle, like just not being available, or more substantial; “unfriending” or maybe even “blocking” on social media, or removing conversations and contact information from my devices, not to be hurtful, but to be safe. I need time to reason and there is that period of unreasonableness where I may say something I don’t mean. I just unplug for a bit, regain perspective, and plug back in (unblock, refriend, restore contact information). It’s a “me problem”, and that’s how I deal.

In times of difficulty, we often seek solace in long conversations with good friends, our confidants, the people we trust will listen compassionately and advise with exactly what we want to hear! Or better, yet, sound advice. Cross country travel, long work hours and time zone differences hinder such luxuries. Fortunately, I was able to resort to an equally nourishing and enriching option, on more than one occasion; a long talk with a good stranger.

I am a frequent flier, and am, in fact, somewhere 30,000 feet over Middle America just now. I am, sometimes, a jaded, cynical, traveler. I expect everyone to know and adhere to the unwritten code of conduct aboard an airplane or seated in an airport bar; head down, gaze affixed on some device, or, eyes closed, feigning sleep, means “do not disturb”, and I hang this sign out more often than not. Being out of communication with friends, family, and the man I lost, caused me, perhaps, to lower that sign a little. Or maybe I looked ragged and torn and on the verge of something drastic and people sought to intervene. Whatever the cause, I’ve had some of the deepest, richest, most meaningful, soul-baring conversations I’ve ever had. And with complete strangers. And I haven’t just been on the telling side, I’ve listened, and advised, like the best of friends would. It has been so enriching, so nourishing. I’ve learned a lot, about myself, and others, too.

An Effort to Evolve

A U.S. Marine Corps reservist and young father headed to Chicago on a quick, connecting flight from Minneapolis, a quiet, well-spoken gentleman from Amsterdam at a sushi bar in O’Hare, we spoke of politics and religion, of culture and relationships, of career, and love, an angry, young, middle-eastern traveler and a compassionate, elderly Christian man, engrossed in nurturing and consoling conversation with each other, an exuberant, young Mormon man, just finishing his two-year mission and headed home, a woman near my age, and a kindred spirit, on a long, late, flight home, a unique and wonderful, very married man, brimming with intelligence and witty conversation, on a very long flight home, a recovering cashier at a dollar store, formerly a strong and independent business woman, who I knew was unique with her use of the word “antiquated” in an exchange with the customer before me, a brief and lively conversation with an distinguished older man in the Whole Foods beer aisle; everywhere I turn, another interesting person, another great conversation, a long, long talk with a good stranger.

Again, I’ll find myself, this week, three-thousand miles from home, alone in a hotel room, with only my thoughts, social media, an occasional text or Facebook notification, and the idea of an article to share, to prevent me from the full realization of my aloneness. During the day, with work and my clients and business lunches with familiar, client associates, I am fine. It is in the quiet nights in my room that I am reminded of my solitude and I can hardly wait for my next long, flight home or chance meeting in a restaurant, and, hopefully, a long talk with a good stranger.

 

Scarlett’s Letter December 26, 2013

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls ~ Mother Teresa

I have two very juxtaposed needs; a social circle and silence.

I am still trying to find a circle, or a few circles, a source, a place, or places, for socializing, as a middle-aged, solitary woman with a wildly fluctuating calendar of availability. I am not “single” and am a misfit in the “singles” crowds. I just want to establish a circle of interesting, non-threatening folks to hang out with a time or two a week, for coffee or wine tasting, a hike, a yoga class, or something like that. I don’t let the absence of such a circle deprive me of those joys, I am perfectly willing and able to go to coffee, wine tasting, a hike or a yoga class by myself, a solitary participant amidst a group of strangers, but I would prefer, on more occasions than not, to have a familiar face, or faces, to share with socially, on more than a casual, “hey, you on the yoga mat next to me, nice weather today, eh?” basis.

I’ve found one great, promising and very unlikely resource; grocery shopping. I am a “Whole Food-ee”, as you are probably aware. I am lucky enough, currently, to live in a town that has a Whole Foods Market ten minutes from my front door. Being situated in the Napa Valley, this market has a “tasting bar”. This, I’ve been aware of for some time and I have also been aware of the fact that they have a calendar of events; different featured wineries, breweries, and pairings, for a very nominal fee. As I shop for my local organic Greek yogurt, local, organic, free-range eggs, local organic produce and organic whole grains, crisscrossing my way back and forth across the aisles, I frequently pass the tasting bar, which is “corralled” off, dead center of the store, adjacent to the wine aisle, with a split rail fence and a gate complete with a rope latch, to keep the underage out, I suppose. Often, I see people sitting at the tasting bar and the few tables nearby, enjoying the featured selections, and I’ve thought, “I’ve got to take the time to do that some day.”

Making a plan.
Making a plan.

One afternoon, last week, with a little burst of fortitude, I reached for my MacBook and opened a couple of new tabs in my browser. I navigated to my gym’s class schedule from my bookmarked pages on one tab and to Whole Foods events calendar on the other. I grabbed my phone and opened up my personal calendar and scheduled out my fitness for the week, including runs, yoga classes, spin classes and cardio. Then, I found a few tasting events and scheduled those on my calendar, complete with a couple of carefully timed reminders. Later that day, right on schedule, I attended a caviar and sparkling wine tasting event at the “Whole Foods Corral”. I found a seat at the bar, a few minutes before the scheduled start time for the event, and enjoyed a fantastic Northern California brewery’s stout offering, just a small glass, for two dollars. There were a few folks at the bar and they struck up easy, casual conversation with me. They were “regulars”, I gathered, from their banter with the “bartender” and because they greeted, by name, nearly everyone that passed by the “corral”. From what I gathered, everyone there was sort of like me; not single, not content to sit home and rot in front of the television, and looking for a way to connect in the community and enjoy beer. And caviar. And sparkling wine. And then, maybe even do some grocery shopping. It was great. I’ve been to the German beer-tasting event, since, again, meeting some nice, non-threatening and immensely interesting people. Today, after my spin class at the gym, and a shower, of course, I’m going to go buy some yogurt and oatmeal and stop by for a wine tasting event, a winery I know, have visited, and am quite fond of, from the foothills of Amador County, southeast of Sacramento. I might be close to becoming a “regular” at the Whole Foods Corral.

At the "Whole Foods Corral"
At the “Whole Foods Corral”
North 101 Brewing - Naughty Aud Imperial Stout
North 101 Brewing – Naughty Aud Imperial Stout
Sparkling wine and caviar tasting at the grocery store.
Sparkling wine and caviar tasting at the grocery store.

The other craving I have; silence.

Likely more elusive than a platonic posse of pals to socialize with, a contiguous block of uninterrupted silence with which to read, think, meditate and write. I don’t consider this need to be one rooted in selfishness, though some may beg to differ. Fine, believe what you want, but, please, don’t approach me with your argument while I’m trying to read, think, meditate or write.

My basic need for a bit of uninterrupted silence, a couple of times a day, as I’ve mentioned a time, or two, or maybe a dozen or two times, before, is very hard to come by in my current living situation. One of the petty minor irritations Mom and I are trying to work through. Mom differs from me in that her most basic need seems to be one of filling every moment with noise, chatter, inquiry (often bordering on inquisition) and distraction. If I fall silent for any period of time, say, during breakfast, she will ask a rapid-fire succession of questions on a topic in, what seems to me, an attempt to extend the lifespan of said topic well beyond its natural and logical bounds. She will chatter incessantly, often using the newspaper as a catalyst, the result being a near constant barrage of completely unrelated factoids that, to me, require no response, or even acknowledgement. Mom seems to desire both, acknowledgement and response. I listen to her many stories of the past, of her acquaintances, and her (very) few social encounters of the week. She relates very detailed stories of the people in her life; doctors, nurses, hairdressers, and of the people in their lives that she has never met, but has only heard tale of. If Mom runs out of material, she will simply narrate everything she is doing, like a “blow-by-blow” account of wrapping up leftover cookies to freeze. If I am not in the room to chat with or chatter to, she will turn on the radio or the television to fill the void.

I love companionable silence; being able to sit, peacefully, with a friend, family member or loved one, after the conversation has been temporarily spent, and just enjoy their presence, their company, and pursuing those more personal, thoughtful endeavors; reading, thinking, meditating, writing.

I’m not sure where the middle ground is here, between my need for companionable silence and Mom’s desire for constant conversation. I think …

“Knock, knock, knock,” on my bedroom door, which I’ve closed to afford some kind of sound barrier from the television downstairs, the ringing telephone and the triple play of the message left; its Mom, of course, on the other side of the door, with a list of questions, a couple of stories and a detailed account of the upcoming hour of her life.

My train of thought has just derailed. I’ll end my musings for the day here.

Scarlett’s Letter August 17, 2013

Another trip to Sacramento.

I got up early and headed east on Interstate 80 to run with SacFit this morning. Except for the getting up at 4:30 AM, I really enjoy these mornings. I love driving on an empty highway, as fast as my little car will go, coffee cup in one hand, and my Pandora station du jour at an unsafe volume. Just as I get to the edge of Sacramento, the sun breaks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains further east and I am blinded. But, for the few moments before my vision is totally impaired by the brilliance of the sun, it is glorious. Perhaps I need to consider buying sunglasses with superior optic lenses. I’m fairly certain the pair I got at the gas station for twenty bucks isn’t really the optical quality I should be wearing for driving or sports or, at all. A point to consider.

These drives are so carefree, so exhilarating. Especially when there are no cops, and there generally aren’t, at this time of day. I like to go fast. I like to go fast and get away with it. I know I’m on borrowed time, I exceed the speed limit far more than I obey it, and I’m at least fifteen or twenty years, now, without a speeding ticket. But as I am sailing down the highway, feeling like prey that escaped the gaze of a predator, I round a corner and see a horrific accident. There are cops and emergency vehicles and I can’t help but think, no survivors in the wreckage. And I am sobered. Life can be led safely, life can be led carelessly, and either way, you could lose. It’s almost like a crapshoot every time you get in a car. Or Russian roulette. I reduce my speed and drive more cautiously. For about two miles.

Like last week, I arrived early enough to relax, think, write in my journal and eat my half of a peanut butter and honey sandwich before my run. We ran 9.5 miles today. The email said we’d be running 10.5 miles, after 8 miles last week. It seemed like a pretty big jump, but I’ve run twenty, so I don’t really care. Apparently, there was an error, so we got a reprieve of one whole mile. This is my third week with my new pace group, and I’ve been really pleased. The pace has been good and there have been no whiners and no mid-run potty breaks, water refills and all those little delays that annoy the hell out of me in “group” runs. I don’t like having to stop my watch mid run to accommodate the small bladders of others, both the anatomical and the hydration pack variety. You’re either prepared to run the distance, or you’re not. I am. Let’s do this. This week, quel domage. Tiny bladders of both varieties, and whiners, too. We are an 11:30 pace group, with our one minute walk break after each five minutes run, we should average between 11:45 and 12:15. We ran 13:20. Seriously.

As we neared the end of our 9.5 miles, I reached for my phone to stop my running apps and save the time and route information. There was an unexpected text message from a close friend. It seemed a little early in the morning for her to be texting, and that could mean only one thing. Bad news. We have one friend quite ill with brain cancer, and another who has been battling another type of cancer. With a little trepidation, I viewed the text message. It bore news, terrible news, the possibility of which hadn’t occurred to me in my wildest imagination. Her older sister had passed away the previous night. You know how that cold curtain falls over you when you hear news like that, like every drop of blood has been drained from your body. Your mind goes blank and your conscious mind feels like it has been shut in a box deep within your brain. Everything around you unfolds in slow motion. I could hear myself saying “Oh my God. Oh my God.”

This wasn’t totally unexpected, I suppose. She’d been battling alcoholism and related health issues for some time. But she was better. She’s been better. I thought she was okay. I thought she was going to be all right. Oh my God.

I did my stretching, dutifully, numbly, and headed toward my car. I saw a friend of mine, from high school, that lives in the greater Sacramento area now and runs with my running club, several pace groups ahead of me. We graduated the same year and we know all the same people. He knows my friend and her sister, so I shared the news with him and he was as shocked as I was. It was good to have someone nearby to share some thoughts and a few memories with. It helped immensely and I was able to go back to my car and reply to the text message with a  fair amount of composure.

Through it all, we agreed, life is so incredibly fragile. There are those who, like us, try to eat well, exercise and do everything we can to preserve health and secure a long, active life. And there are no guarantees for our efforts. There are others who, intentionally or not, destroy their bodies, their lives and even those who seek to end the life they’ve been given, intentionally. There are more who just take life for granted and let it slip mindlessly away. Squander it. Life is a mystery. Life is a gift. Every day we wake to see another day is something we should express gratitude for, something we should cherish. Every day we wake from sleep, we should seek to put the gift of another day to the best use possible. There are people whose lives are cut short that would love to have the time that another has so carelessly wasted. There are people battling terminal illnesses that would love to have the days that another person discarded in ending their life too soon.

I don’t think we are meant to understand. I think we are meant to take what we do know, that life is fragile, life is uncertain and that life is mysterious, and remember to honor the people in our lives that we love. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Talk with them. Show them affection. Express love. Each day we live is a gift, and each day those around us are there, too, is also a gift. Fleeting. Cherish those gifts.

Party Like an Eight Year Old

Do you remember Geoffrey the Giraffe? The Toys ‘R’ Us giraffe? Remember his song? “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid, blah dah blah dah blah”. I can totally relate.

When I was eight, I had it all figured out. I want to go back. I want to party like an eight year old.

Remember those birthday parties where you got to invite everyone you knew to come to your house that was decorated with whatever you were into that year, Barbie or My Little Pony or Power Rangers?! You got to eat cake, play games, eat ice cream and you got a gift, wrapped in wrapping paper, with a bow, and a card, from everyone who attended and sometimes, even, from people who didn’t. And you didn’t have to plan the party or clean up the mess, you got to show up, party, and then go play with all your loot, unsupervised, while the grown ups cleaned up the mess. And the grown ups footed the whole bill, too. Those were the days.

At Christmas time, you got a million gifts, wrapped in paper, with tape and bows and little nametags on them. And you got gifts from your parents, all your aunts and uncles and Santa Claus, too. You didn’t have to plan, or cook, or shop, or clean. You just showed up, partied, and someone else cleaned up the mess and footed the bill while you played with all your loot. Those were the days. I forget, now, why I wanted so desperately to grow up. It kind of sucks by comparison.

I’m kind of tired of how grown ups do this whole birthday and Christmas thing. A Facebook wall post ensures you haven’t been forgotten, thank you, Facebook, for reminding everyone, and still, you only get about 1/6 participation. I post birthday greetings on Facebook absolutely, positively every single day for absolutely everyone on my friends list, whether I know them, or not, and people call me crazy for doing so. Sorry. They’re “friends”, it says so on the list, so I wish them happy birthday because that’s what friends do. It takes like, five seconds, and, if you’re super worried about overcommitting yourself, there is actually an app that allows you to do them up to two weeks in advance, all at once, and it “delivers” your sentiment (or you can simply go with the default “Happy Birthday”) at the date and time you prefer. It defaults to 9:00 AM, your time zone, on the actual birthdate. Not hard. So?

If you’re super, duper special, as a grown up, you might get an old fashioned greeting card, in the mailbox, requiring postage and some display of thought, commitment and effort like; I went to the store, or happened to be at the store to buy milk, and remembered your birthday was, (pick one): a) last week, oops b) today, oops c) this year, some time, oops. I bought this card with a sentiment that someone else wrote, because (pick one): a) it made me think of you, b) it was the first card I laid hands on and I don’t think it was offensive, or c) actually, I had someone else pick it out so I have no idea what it says. Then, I laid down $5 for it, scrawled my name inside and put it in the envelope. If I was smart, I bought stamps while I was still at the grocery store, or else I had to show extreme effort and stand in line at the post office to buy a single stamp for this single card and have it sent to you. I got three, two mailed. Mom handed me hers.

I still buy and wrap real gifts for everyone special in my life. And at least one card, sometimes more than one, if I find more than one super appropriate card or several that make me laugh out loud in the Target card aisle. I’ve been known to give two or three cards. I even buy “the perfect” card, or cards, in advance and file them, by intended recipient, in my file cabinet. I plan all year long, I have lists, secret, password protected lists, on my iPhone, where I jot down gift ideas for family members as things are mentioned, or I notice something I think would be appreciated. And in my “contacts” section of my phone, I keep secret, detailed notes on my loved ones, like shirt size, shoe size, pant size, the ink cartridge their printer requires and their preferred Starbucks, In N Out, and deli sandwich orders. You don’t?

I take great pleasure in seeking out the gift, the perfect version of the perfect gift, and I buy it and wrap it up with real wrapping paper, you know, like with tape (that sticky stuff that comes in a roll) and the whole deal. I rarely use gift bags and tissue paper (not toilet paper, tissue paper), especially for Christmas, but depending on the size or shape of the gift, every now and then, a gift bag is the best solution. Then I present the present (or presents) to my loved ones and it makes them happy, but it makes me even happier. I love to give people gifts. I’m as excited as they are for it to be opened. There is nothing quite like witnessing an adult, totally jazzed to open a gift you’ve taken some time and effort to find, buy and wrap. I’m alone here, aren’t I? Apparently.

I even take an inordinate amount of delight in selecting the wrapping paper, and then choosing tissue paper, for inside the box, that matches, or is a cool contrast with, the wrapping paper. I also choose a matching bow or other embellishment, and all of this is done with attention to things like the recipient’s favorite color, or favorite cartoon character, or a design or pattern I think they’ll find pleasing or attractive. For Christmas, I buy new wrapping paper every single year. Usually. Last year was a departure, and, frankly, I found, as a result, the Christmas spirit was a bit subdued. Last time I do that.

On rare, and I mean rare, occasions, I buy people gift cards, but usually as a result of being asked directly for a gift card. For graduation gifts, though, I give cash, and that’s the only time ever. I got cash for my birthday. I spent it on gas, and a frozen pizza, and a six-pack of premium beer. I’ll never forget it.

How is it that this has become a lost art? Is it really that difficult? Do we need to consider offering this as a required class in high school, or something? Gift Giving 101. Fail.

People in my life wonder why I have sort of a shopping habit. Let me explain. I buy for myself what I want and I know no one is going to buy for me. They’re gifts, I guess. I just spread them out over the year to mitigate the economic impact. I think I’m fairly likable, so for everyone who likes me and didn’t buy me a gift, I’ve got you covered, I buy myself a few gifts for Christmas and a few for Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, and my Birthday. Did I miss a gift-buying season? I hope not, because I’m broke after my birthday, I bought myself a dress, and an awesome pair of shoes, and a couple of cute tee shirts and a skydiving trip, I had a hard time wrapping that one. It was a big birthday, I got carried away. Now I gotta save up before Christmas rolls around again.

If the current trend continues, I can foresee, in the not so distant future, people not knowing what to do with a box, wrapped in bright, cheerful paper. You’ll hand it to them and they’ll just give you a blank stare and, perhaps, say, “Wow, a pretty box. Cool.”

Did you ever give a baby or a toddler an awesome gift, in a box, all wrapped up? They tear the wrapping paper off the box, open the box, take the contents out, and climb into the box, gift totally overlooked, and they’re so totally enthused, you just let it go for a while. That’s what’s going to happen in the next decade, for all of us, if this alarming trend continues. “Wow, a cool box! I can use this, for something!”

We had a dog, once, who loved to open presents. Yes, guilty, I even bought the dogs birthday and Christmas presents. And wrapped them. They got a cupcake, too, and a bowl of ice cream. And so did the humans. Any excuse to party, I tell you, that’s what I’m all about. But this dog, Wylie, the Springer Spaniel, he loved to open gifts! He’d lie down on the kitchen floor and grasp the box between his front paws. Sometimes his butt was up in the air, tail wagging, other times he was flat on the floor, but the tail was still wagging. He’d tear the paper off the present with his teeth and paws, and then start working on the box. The other dog, a Beagle, Genevive, would get into the act, too, she wouldn’t initiate the gift opening frenzy, but she’d help once it was underway. It. Was. Awesome. Until I stayed up all night wrapping Christmas gifts and found them all unwrapped under the tree the next morning. We went back to the “Santa Claus plan” after that; all gifts stayed in their hiding places until early Christmas morning. Oops, spoiler alert.

So, I don’t know. I write a lot on things we can do to maintain our health, to prolong our youth, vigor and lust for life. What I really want to know is, how can I expand on this exponentially, so I can go back in time? I really want to party like an eight year old.

 

My birthday cards! :D
My birthday cards! 😀

Scarlett’s Letter July 13, 2013

My wonderful, perfect, fun, romantic vacation draws to a close, and with every passing second I try not to let the fact that I’m returning “home” dampen my mood. But it does. But I try not to let it show, and I’m not sure I pulled it off 100%. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not like I won’t be back, I will, I just don’t know when and my vacation time from work dwindles. With only half the year behind us and one week of vacation left, it is hard to figure out where to take that week. Next week would be grand, but then the next six months would be hard to endure. I try not to think about it.

We busied ourselves this morning, fishing. We revisited the stocked ponds along the Steese Highway. We were armed, we thought, with what no fish could resist; freshly gathered and dried salmon roe. I harvested it myself and it has been drying in the yard for the past few days, as the salmon strips dried in the smoker. We harvested a small alder tree from the yard, stripped the bark from it, chopped it up and used it to smoke the fish in the smoker. The roe just dried, slightly, on racks in the sunshine.

We visited the prettiest of the several ponds first and saw trout everywhere, jumping for insects, swimming past us in small schools, inches from our “irresistible” bait. I tried a lure, a spoon, a spinner, with and without bait. Stuck up fish. Stuck up hatchery born, commercially fed fish. They don’t even know what salmon roe is, apparently, nor that any normal, wild fish would attack it like Jaws a young, teen, swimmer at the beach. Eventually, we moved on to the next, less scenic, more successful pond, based on our earlier experience. Nothing. Nothing, but mosquitos. We gave up early and fast and returned home, with thoughts of, maybe, hitching up the airboat and going after the “sure to catch” grayling on the Chatanika. Once home, though, in the heat of the day, we decided not to. Not to do anything. And it was splendid, just some quality, quiet time. A siesta.

As evening approached, my plan was to take my man out for a nice dinner, my treat, in thanks and in appreciation for such a wonderful vacation. We called to make reservations as The Turtle Club in nearby Fox, and, thankfully, they had a couple of openings left, and one for precisely when we’d hoped for. We got all dressed up after washing the smell of mosquito dope and salmon roe off, and headed towards town. We had a lovely, lovely, large, large dinner, which, against my plan, ended up being his treat, for my upcoming birthday. My sweet man! We skipped dessert, on purpose.

Across the street, in Fox, is Silver Gulch Brewery, where we met nearly three years ago, and today is Beerfest, featuring tastings and a live polka band in the tent adjacent to the brewery. The parking lot was jammed full, so we parked across the street and skipped the fest and just went in for a quick visit with the “locals” at the bar and a beer (40 Below for me). We had an engagement for dessert, up the hill, and enjoyed filling our free time between dinner and dessert visiting and sipping.

We enjoyed dessert and wine with the neighbors up the road, as we always enjoy time with them. As they prepare to sell their home and move away and make a new life in the “lower forty-eight”, I struggle to face the fact I leave this “vacation world” tomorrow morning and return to my life, firmly rooted in the “lower forty-eight”. People come and go in life, not so much like a tide, but more like a river, there for a fleeting moment, in the grand scheme of things, then on with the current. When I think of the number of people I have had friendships with over the course of my, now, fifty years, the number, in total, is staggering. And, at moments like this, I want the river to freeze, like rivers do, here in Alaska. I will return, soon enough, but it will be different, not better or worse, necessarily, but different. In time, even a short period of time, there are changes, and we have to accept and adapt to those changes. Or be left behind, saddened and confused.

Living with my elderly mom, lonely since my dad passed, or longer, she fills quiet with one-sided conversation; mostly of “how things used to be, when times were better”. She mourns for the world today, not at all like the world she thrived in, a world that, to her, was simpler, slower, softer and more tangible. She just exists in this world, she doesn’t understand it, appreciate it, or participate in it, complicated, fast paced, unforgiving and digital. Today’s world is foreign and hostile, scary and unwelcome. Today’s world, that which Mom fears and discounts, I embrace and drink in. And with this lesson, vivid in my mind, I pray that I am always appreciative, accepting and a willing participant in the world, and as it evolves and changes. As the world evolves and changes, I hope, so, too, shall I. I don’t ever want to be sorrowful or bitter for a world that has changed in my midst, I don’t want to be left behind, saddened and confused. As I head home and my world at home and the world that I love, here, both are destined to change, I vow to boldly embrace those changes and adapt and be joyous for the new, exciting experiences ahead, the new people, with the hope that some people in my life remain steadfast, and with the hope that the people who do move on remain, somehow, close. And so, many smiles, chocolate mousse and more wine! Salut!

 

 

Salmon roe drying in the sun, excellent bait for most trout.
Salmon roe drying in the sun, excellent bait for most trout.
The prettier fishing pond, stocked with fish that don't know salmon roe is good bait!
The prettier fishing pond, stocked with fish that don’t know salmon roe is good bait!
Alder wood from the front yard was used to smoke the red salmon strips from our trip to Chitina earlier this week.
Alder wood from the front yard was used to smoke the red salmon strips from our trip to Chitina earlier this week.
Smoking the salmon strips over alder wood.
Smoking the salmon strips over alder wood.
An example of change; what is now Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, AK is on the site of the old Fox Roadhouse.
An example of change; what is now Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, AK is on the site of the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built "around" the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built “around” the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built "around" the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built “around” the old Fox Roadhouse.
Our friends' amazing chocolate mousse with a super "secret" ingredient!
Our friends’ amazing chocolate mousse with a super “secret” ingredient!

Scarlett’s Letter July 12, 2013

Today, near Fairbanks, the weather was perfect. Perfect! It was warm and sunny with no clouds in sight and no smoke from the nearby fires. And since we planned on a canoe trip down the Upper Chatanika River, perfect was just perfect!

We met the neighbor up the road with her kayak and the neighbor’s down in the valley with their two canoes. There were five of us in all, our friends, a mother/son team, with the son working on requirements for his Canoeing Boy Scout merit badge in their canoe, me and my man in the second, borrowed canoe, and our friend with her kayak. We were kindly chauffeured to our launch spot and set off, armed with snacks, sandwiches, the best gluten-free cookies ever, mosquito dope, fishing gear, extra clothes, various cameras, all with near dead batteries and a firearm. Just in case, a necessary precaution in, well, just about anywhere, outdoors, in Alaska.

I’ve been on this river a few times before, in an airboat, and I kind of had the gist of it, but, still, I will admit, I was a little nervous. I’ve been a passenger and in participated in no way in the navigation. I just hung on and smiled. I haven’t canoed in quite some time, and have usually canoed on a lake, or “flat water” as it is often called. Rivers can be tricky, and even rivers you are familiar with can change, literally, overnight. One new tree fall can make a lazy stretch a much more hazardous challenge. I remember one of the few times I did canoe on a river, the Russian River in Sonoma County (Northern California), back in college, in an aluminum canoe, we got sideways in the current and sort bend the canoe around a bridge pier. We straightened it out as best we could, and, believe it or not, no questions were asked when we returned it to the rental company. So. Yah. A tad nervous. I knew I was in good hands, with much experience, both with the river and with canoeing in general. So, I just paddled as instructed. And smiled.

Originally, this was going to be a “ladies” trip, but not all the ladies could attend, so we invited the guys. And as soon as we encountered our first tricky tree snag, which required some thought, planning, contemplation and strength, we were glad we had the men with us, for more than just their good looks and excellent company! There were a few passages we had to stop and walk and figure out whether to proceed by land or by “sea”. We fished along the way, catching an Artic Grayling with every few casts, most of which were released.

As we made our way down this scenic river, we passed an upended tree root in the middle of the river. Caught in the snag was a fishing rod, the first canoe spotted it and yelled back to our canoe to try to grab it. I was in the front, so as we sidled up along the snag, I grabbed the fishing pole. The top half detached from the bottom half, so I had half. My man grabbed the bottom half! And in the time it took to negotiate around the next few bends in the river, I had the twigs, dirt and other river matter removed from the reel, the rod reassemble almost correctly, and another functioning pole for us to use! Finders keepers!! The unofficial fishing derby competition intensified. And at the rate we were fishing, it was going to be a very long canoe trip!

We pulled the canoes and kayak ashore at one point and enjoyed the food we all brought, potluck style. I made a salmon spread, for the first time ever, with only a little supervision and guidance. I used one of the jars of salmon we canned just a couple of days earlier, added some salt and pepper and some mayo and sweet relish. It was really, really good, bones and skin and all! Now, I get it with the whole jarred salmon thing. I’d still prefer fresh, of course, or a frozen filet, but the jarred salmon has many, many options for deliciousness!

I’d brought my “helmet cam” and we fastened it to our canoe, turned it on, and anticipated the potential of eight hours of digital filming capacity! I also had my “still “camera with me, which has both still and video functionality, and I let our friend borrow it to take some pictures as “evidence”, if needed, for the canoeing merit badge. Sadly, though, and totally my oversight, the batteries died after a couple of shots. After our lunch on the rocky banks, we took again to the river. Our river. We were the only people on this part of the river, all day long, until we arrived at our destination. Bliss.

We paddled and fished, fished and paddled, trouble shooting “sweepers” (fallen trees or branches that, if passed under, could sweep you out of your canoe) and snags. We ported the canoes and kayak a time or two, the kayak being far more maneuverable than the canoes. At one point, focusing a bit more on fishing than paddling, the two of us fell a bit behind the other canoe and kayak. My man suggested we slow up and possibly walk around the fallen tree across that portion of the river. We watched as the other canoe headed through and they appeared to make it just fine. We paddled forward in pursuit. Then I noticed our friend in the kayak quickly beach her vessel and begin to run. I thought to myself, “she just went to ‘study nature’, as we used to call it in Girl Scouts”, so I couldn’t imagine she had to find another private spot behind a tree. As we drew closer, I saw the occupants of the other canoe, drenched, dragging their canoe towards the shore. The young man had firm grasp of one paddle and his mom was swiftly off and into the river after the other, which, thankfully, she retrieved, lest we have a canoe up the river without a paddle! Everything was soaked, but accounted for, except their fishing pole. Darn. You win some, you lose some. We’d won one, and now we’d lost one. We gave them our extra, our newly refurbished and almost as good as new, rod and reel. Fishing poles be dammed, thank goodness everyone was okay! And we set off. I decided, at this point, to tuck my helmet camera safely into a Ziploc buried deep into my daypack strapped securely to the canoe. I couldn’t wait to see the footage! Too bad the batteries were dead and there was nothing to view once I got home and tried to upload. Oh well. I was able to revive the other camera enough for a couple of photo op shots before the batteries decided they were, once again, dead. Or maybe just extremely sleepy.

The rest of the trip went without incident, a few fish caught, a couple released, a couple saved for later consumption. We reached our destination, the bridge crossing the Upper Chatanika at the Elliott Highway and called for our chauffeur. And with our thirty-three mile trek behind us, in five short hours, we made our way back home.

And, in reflection, all I can say is that I am so thankful; I am thankful for the unique opportunity to be able to share experiences like this with so many truly, wonderful people, in such a magical and beautiful place, with so much laughter and friendship, love and fun. I am thankful, most of all, that we all made the trip safely, of course, and look forward to many returns. I’m a lucky girl. Blessings counted!

 

Getting ready to go.
Getting ready to go.
Potluck lunch of the banks of the Upper Chatanika River
Potluck lunch of the banks of the Upper Chatanika River

An Effort to Evolve

 

 

Adventures with friends, can't beat it!
Adventures with friends, can’t beat it!

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 5, 2013

Today was sort of a low key, high-accomplishment day. We stuck close to home and had no real plan other than to pick away at stuff and see where the day took us.

One task that needed to be completed was the “chukar relocation project”. Chukars are a bird, a partridge, actually, and there were twenty of them in a cage next to the porch, growing bigger and more feathered by the day. Once big enough, they have a large pen behind the greenhouse where they will live out their days. Some will, well, become dinner, others will be “wintered over” and hopefully will breed enough to supply food, and possibly birds to sell, next year. Their pen was located near the porch, the garage and the front door in hopes that the birds would become accustomed to people and if not tame, at least calm. No such luck. Birdbrains.

The neighbors came up to assist in the effort. We figured this was going to be a big chore and we could use the help, all told, we were done in about fifteen minutes. The birds were caught in a dip net (used for fishing) and handed to us one at a time to be carried around the house and into the pen. In carrying them, the bird’s legs were held firmly between our fingers and the other hand was place on top, sort of like a running back carefully protecting the football while navigating towards the goal posts. One of us caught, two of us ran back and forth, the fourth managed the door to the pen. A couple of times, several birds were caught in the net and we just carried the net back to free the birds into the pen. And, yes, there was a mishap, and of course, it was me. If anyone was going to accidently free a bird it was bound to be me. My klutzitude is substantial, especially after having been carefully warned of the consequences. If you tell me “don’t let go no matter what”, I will let go. This, I cannot explain other than the powers of visualization and manifestation. As soon as you tell me not to let go and what will happen if I do, I visualize it and it manifests. Visualization and manifestation can be a very powerful and useful skill, or tool, to develop in life, but not when used involuntarily in visualizing that which you don’t want to happen. Welcome to my world. I’m working on it. So, yes, I let go of one of the birds, the very untamed and impossible to catch birds. I could feel the little bird legs slipping out from between my fingers. I was struggling to regain my grasp and the bird started flapping furiously before I could get my hand over his (or her) back. I am grateful for two things; my man is a very patient man and, the neighbor is a fast and agile man. The stray bird was caught and placed in the pen with the rest.

In Alaska, at least the Alaska I am witness to, there is an unspoken code; if someone helps you out with something, you reciprocate. I know this unspoken code exists elsewhere, in more rural communities certainly, but I think it is beginning to be less and less so in newer suburban neighborhoods where people often don’t even know their neighbors. The code may exist within families or groups of friends, but rarely with people who just happen to live near you. I have lived in newer suburban neighborhoods, for years at a time, where we knew no neighbors. People just came and went, managed their lives, and barely made eye contact. A pensive “hello” may be exchanged if people passed one another on a narrow sidewalk, sometimes, though, the greeting would go unanswered. This is not the case here.

So, after the chukar relocation project, we visited the neighbors and worked on “the bus” for a bit. “The bus” being an old school bus that is being converted into a recreational vehicle with a loo, complete with a shower, a kitchen and a rooftop bedroom and redwood deck. It has been fun to watch progress with each visit I make, and has now even made a successful voyage.

The natural progression of these neighborly exchanges is a shared meal at one place or the other. So, we hosted dinner; moose roast, salmon, salad, veggies, and fixings and trimmings galore. As is also our custom, we killed a few bottles of wine in the process, most were enjoyed after dinner while playing the worst (in a good, but oh so bad way) card game ever, “Cards Against Humanity”. We have played this before and I’m pretty certain another unwritten code is that when visiting Alaska, thou shalt bring the game.

My son told me about this game a few months ago. As my kids were growing up we often played “Apples to Apples”, a game of matching words and phrases into logical, or funny, or totally illogical and hilarious combinations, and then taking turns “judging” the combinations to determine the winner of each round. “Cards Against Humanity” is similar but extremely adult, and twisted, on many, many, many levels. If you have the opportunity to check out either of these games, considering the audience carefully, do so.

A day without a real plan, or direction, turned out to be a very full, very accomplished, very rewarding and very social day.

Chukars = birdbrains
Chukars = birdbrains

 

Be My Guest

Remember Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”? Remember the song “Be Our Guest?” How hospitable the candelabra and the teapot all were? Wouldn’t it be grand if people in our everyday encounters were as welcoming? When was the last time you set foot in a hotel or restaurant and the entire staff broke out into song and dance? Right? Me either.

Every day, we do business with any number of people, with any number of companies, and, if you think about it, they are all competing for our business, for our attention and for our money. How do you decide where to take your business? Yelp? OpenTable? Foursquare? UrbanSpoon? Food Spotting? Amazon? Or just word of mouth? There are almost as many forums for providing feedback on businesses as there are businesses. All that feedback matters. A lot.

My daughter and I used to frequent an awesome cupcake bakery in Folsom, California. They had normal size cupcakes and miniature cupcakes and ice cream from a local ice cream maker. The décor was awesome, as was the service, and the cupcakes were even better. I followed them on Facebook and on Foursquare and Yelp. Imagine my surprise when I was asked by the owner, on Facebook, to provide a good review on Yelp to counter a bad review they’d received. I did, I provided a glowing review, as did others, but in a matter of a month, they were out of business. Feedback matters a great deal, bad more than good, apparently.

I was in San Francisco earlier this week. I finished work just before 5:00 in the afternoon and was headed home thereafter. In an effort to avoid heavy commute traffic, and to have dinner at a decent hour, I decided to eat in The City before crossing the Bay Bridge and heading home. I’d walked past an attractively appointed Japanese restaurant a few times during my stay, and though I always walked past before the busier dinner hours, I never saw a patron in the restaurant. I’d been lugging my backpack several blocks, burdened with my course materials and my laptop, and my ridiculously large purse. Weary, when I reached the Japanese restaurant, I decided to take a rest and grab some sushi and a beer and then make my way back to the hotel to retrieve my car and my luggage and head home.

I entered the restaurant and there was one guy in the preparation area, visible through a pass-through in the wall. Another man sat on a stool behind the counter waiting, I guess, for unsuspecting patrons such as myself to wander in. Sort of like the spider for the fly caught in his web. He stood up and grunted for a greeting. I wasn’t provided with any type of menu or offered a seat. On the counter were plastic examples of their combo plates, so, feeling somewhat awkward and pressured, I quickly made a selection; a round, decorative tray with several pieces of mixed nigiri that almost looked appetizing. I ordered an Asahi to accompany my dinner choice, paid without thanks and had to request a receipt. I took a seat. There were many tables and booths to choose from, and I was the only customer, so there was no competition for seating. I took a big, roomy booth. About two seconds later, the man who took my VISA card from me, because they didn’t accept my preferred method of payment, American Express, unceremoniously plopped a plain white plate before me on the discomfortingly sticky surface of the table. On the plate were six very anemic looking pieces of nigiri; it was pretty hard to tell exactly what type of fish topped the not very well formed blobs of rice. My beer had not yet arrived, but before I could mention it the brusque man was back behind the counter and on the phone, in a raised tone of voice, with someone. Hopefully not a customer. I had to wait until he was finished stalking through the dining area, yelling at whoever was on the other end of the call, to try to attract his attention, and then ask, again, for my Asahi. Once I accomplished that, he brought me a Kirin. Whatever. I’d already finished all six, microscopic and not very tasty pieces of sushi. I quaffed the beer, quickly, as I took a closer look at my surroundings. Only after being treated like a nuisance rather than a customer did I notice the dirt on the edges of the table, the portions of the bench seat that were infrequently sat upon, on the shelves, the paper lanterns that hung over the tables, on the bottles used for decoration. Only after being treated like a nuisance rather than a valued customer did I notice the floor was covered with those no-slip area rugs you can buy at Costco to prevent people from slipping on wet floors, or to cover up something you didn’t want to be seen, I suppose, since there were about three dozen of them strewn around the restaurant in, I’m sure, a strategic manner. I didn’t really want to think about what they were covering up. After being treated like a bother rather than a valued customer, I left, thirty dollars poorer, still hungry, unhappy with my experience and feeling foolish for having made such a poor choice. I was, indeed, still hungry and would have spent more money for more food had I been treated hospitably. I ended up going to an Indian restaurant across the street from my hotel for a real meal. Though no cleaner, and certainly no better decorated, the service was stellar and the food even better. I go to San Francisco for work a few times a year, at least, and I will go out of my way to frequent the Indian restaurant again. And I will go out of my way to avoid the Japanese restaurant, at all costs, assuming they are still in business next time I return.

Have you ever noticed the number of company vehicles on the roads, emblazoned with logos and advertisements, phone numbers, websites and even “how am I driving” advisory information? How many of those vehicles are being operated by rude and careless drivers? After my trip to San Francisco, I had to head for Reno, Nevada for another couple of days of work. On my way through the Sacramento area, I was being relentlessly tailgated by a large, commercial van. The van was completely engulfed in company information as the driver barreled down on the rear bumper of my tiny, dwarfed Civic. The driver of this van, apparently, had no awareness of the fact that I make keen notes on rude drivers and the companies they work for, with the assistance of Siri. Not only will I refuse to do business with them, I will usually call the “how am I driving” advisory and report them. Additionally, I often call or email the company directly, request to speak with the owner or manager, and tell them that I will likely never do business with their company because of the behavior of one of their drivers. I do this for company cars that park askew, impeding access to an adjacent parking spot, or to my already parked car. People. Pay attention. You are representing the company whose vehicle you are driving and, yes, it does make quite an impression when you behave a) good or b) bad.

How hospitable are you? As a person, as a representative of the company you work for, whether your own, or someone else’s? Do you honestly think it doesn’t matter how you conduct yourself? I work for a company, and my performance, on a daily basis, is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, by every person I come in contact with. If my average score is less than 4.90 for any quarter, it impacts my pay negatively, by thousands of dollars. If my average score is less than 4.50, ever, for any period of time, that is grounds for dismissal. I believed in good customer service before being so incentivized. Now I’ll practically walk a tightrope while juggling swords and flaming spheres, to make sure my customers are completely happy with their experience. I am accountable for how I represent the company I work for, and I don’t even have a “how am I doing?” advisory number on my rear end!

For the past few years, before my dad passed away, my family frequented a Thai restaurant on Pearl Street in Napa, Mini Mango Thai Bistro. The food is outstanding, the service is even better. There is a man there, always there, who is extremely hospitable. I don’t know if he is an owner, or just an amazing waiter, but he is so gracious. He doesn’t quite break into song and dance when we arrive, but he recognizes us and always greets us warmly and inquires about other family members he has served with us in the past; children, cousins, friends. Shortly after my father passed away, my mother and I went for lunch, just the two of us. The kind man asked about my father. I told him he’d just passed away and I honestly thought he was going to cry. He apologized with such sincerity, I was so deeply touched. Our favorite dish is the Cha Cha Chicken, the spice is perfect, the chicken is tender, and the vegetables are as fresh as can be. My mom and I still go there, quite regularly. When we walk up, we are always greeted with a genuinely warm smile and a greeting “two Cha Cha Chickens?” We always insist on looking at the menu, and then place our usual order. When we pay and get up to leave, he will say, “see you next week”, though, sometimes we miss a week, or even two, his hospitality and stellar service, in addition to the outstanding food, bring us back on a regular basis. If we look in the fridge and see a less than exciting selection of food, you will find us at Mini Mango within the hour, thoroughly enjoying our Cha Cha Chicken, a Tsingtao and gracious hospitality.

In the world of business, every penny counts. Every business is clawing for the same dollars, for the same favorable recognition. As a businessperson, if you aren’t breaking your neck to provide excellent customer service, excellent hospitality, someone else will end up with your share of the dollars and the recognition. As individuals, really, it is no different. People in our lives are like patrons to a business, they can come, they can go, and how welcome we make them feel will make all the difference in the world. Think about it.

In friendships, I’m sure, you have some friends you are always eager to spend time with because they are fun, upbeat and outgoing, genuine, sincere and full of kind words for those they speak of. I’m sure, admit it, you have other friends that you spend time with, more out of duty. We all have those friends who are unhappy and spend most of the visit talking poorly of other people or complaining about their lives in any number of ways. We listen, sympathetically, because we are good friends, but, often, we leave our visit with them sort of downtrodden and exhausted. Friendship is a choice; I hate to say it’s like the popularity contests we so loathed in high school, but hello? They are. If two friends called you for a lunch date on the same day, and you had no flexibility, which are you more likely to spend your lunch with, the hospitable friend or the less than hospitable friend? Truth.

Consider hospitality in love relationships. When we are in love, in a relationship with someone and all is bliss and butterflies, we can’t imagine anything ever going wrong. Once we become more comfortable with each other and the shininess of the new relationship fades a little, our true colors begin to develop, like an image on film. Often, once the newness wears off, we begin to notice faults and behaviors that grate on us, and, eventually, the relationship falters and dies. It’s a pattern, sadly, and in some relationships it takes days, some it takes weeks, some months, others, years. How can a loving relationship ever endure the odds? I will never say this is simple, there is a lot of chemistry involved, but more than that, there is hospitality.

One of the best books I have ever, ever read in my whole entire life is “The Soulmate Experience” by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. In this must read edition, they very logically explain that there is nothing, nothing, nothing we can do to make someone love us, even for a moment, and most certainly not for any longer. Not for a day, not for a week, not for a month, not for a year, and most certainly, not forever. There are never guarantees in love. The best we can do, is be grateful for every moment the other person loves us and to treat them like a guest in our life. What a concept! My lover is simply a guest in my life, and if I make him feel welcome, loved, appreciated and show true, genuine hospitality, the odds are greater that he will want to stick around a little longer. It all boils down to that.

Woe be to the party to love that ensnares a suitor only to turn into a slovenly, controlling, jealous, bickering cellmate. Love, I guess, is not much difference than business, in that we are always in competition with other parties who may have a more attractive deal! Yikes! And I’m pretty certain there is not a “how am I loving” advisory number your lover can call and provide constructive feedback to. If you aren’t being a hospitable mate, you are at risk of losing that business to someone else.

I’m staying at the Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nevada, because it is proximate to where I am conducting training for my clients, otherwise, I’d not choose a casino hotel. Last night, just before midnight, the door to the room next door slammed. For the next hour and a half a screechy woman yelled, and screamed, ridiculed and belittled some poor soul named Eric, who tried to get a word in, in his own defense, between the high-pitched outbursts. I was more than just a little irritated, as this went on until well after 1:00 AM and my alarm was set for 6:00 AM, for work. I wasn’t sure what to do, call the front desk, pound on the locked door adjoining our rooms, slip a note under their door, call their room directly. I ended up turning up the white noise app on my iPhone to a volume level marked “deafening” and try to sleep, which, finally, I did. What I really, really wanted to do was to yell, as loud as I could, “Eric! Run for your life! Whatever you did or did not do, you deserve better treatment than that!”

I am a party to many failed relationships, so you may not totally trust me, here, but, in my more recent experiences, since applying my business ethics of quality customer service and dynamic hospitality, of thoughtful friendship, genuine companionship and an attitude of gratitude for the love I receive in return, I have to say, I am, at the very least, far more peaceful in my relationships. I am grateful for every moment, I am thankful for every minute my guest, whether my friend, my family member or my lover, wants to spend with me. These people are simply guests in my life, and if they choose to spend a short time with me, each and every moment will be thoughtful and real. If they decide to spend more time with me, I will not fail them by becoming complacent as their hostess with the simple passage of time. Every time a beloved friend, family member or my lover enters my door, or I enter theirs, I shall break into song, and dance, perhaps only figuratively, but I will make it clear that I am happy to have them as a guest in my life! I will be hospitable.

In business, in friendship, in love, won’t you … Be my guest?! Be my guest! Put my service to the test …

How Do You Do?

A greeting, a making of acquaintance. I am happy to meet you! How do you do is also a question I’d like to pose. How do you do?

My day is not quite complete unless I’ve made the acquaintance of someone I’ve never met before. I find this exciting, exhilarating and illuminating. People are so tremendously interesting, and from each and every meeting, often the first and last in one, I learn something valuable and hope I have left an impression, as well.

Today, I met lots of “new” people on a hike. Yesterday, I had a brief, but interesting conversation with the cashier at the grocery store, the day before, a very interesting man at a coffee shop. In the past three days, I have had casual conversations with at least a dozen people I’ve never met before. Sometimes, I think I am like the curious, friendly little puppy, panting and happily wagging my tail as I strain against my leash, eager to meet new people.

Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies "Meet-Up" group
Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies “Meet-Up” group

Why do I find people so fascinating? I like to find out what they do. Yes, I love to learn what people do for a living, but more interesting, what they do when they aren’t working. I find that many people live interesting lives, have hobbies and activities that I’ve always wanted to try, or to learn more about. Many people I meet are enthusiastic about their health, or their fitness, or their academic pursuits and I am thrilled to learn what they have to say. Almost always, we end up having a shared interest or shared topic and can chat for some time.

To say I have an energy, or enthusiasm, or confidence might be a little bit of an understatement. I really am eager to meet people and I think it shows when I walk into a room. I find that most the people I end up engaging with have a similar energy level, enthusiasm and confidence. If you believe in the law of attraction, I suppose this makes complete sense; like energies attract like energies. Or, perhaps my energy, enthusiasm and confidence make me a little more approachable than other folks.

I do try to be approachable. I make eye contact with people, and I guess I smile, whether I am aware of it, or not. A couple years ago I was at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, I was returning home after a long week away, waiting for my last of several flights. It was quite late at night and I was chatting on the phone with my son. People were milling around me as I sat near my departure gate. There were a few flights departing from a few gates clustered close together. After I concluded my call, I did my usual thing, I checked in on Facebook. After I got home, I received a comment on my check in from a man I’ve known since kindergarten and probably haven’t seen since high school. He obviously knew I’d been at LAX, but asked if I had been sitting at gate 81, wearing a black coat and a scarf. Yes, I had. He was standing right next to me, waiting to board another flight, and I was on the phone. He recognized me, I don’t remember seeing him, or didn’t recognize him, but he said I smiled at him. So, I guess I smile, randomly at people, if I am unable to strike up a conversation. I’m not really sure, but so it would seem. I am just grateful, for whatever reason, I have so many opportunities for making acquaintances.

About opportunities; they don’t just happen. No one is going to walk up to your front door and want to meet you, unless they’re selling something. In which case, I don’t generally answer the door. I know exactly what I want to buy, where I want to buy it, when I want to buy it, how much I want to spend on it and where I am going to put it. I don’t need anyone trying to mess up my very deliberate acquisition process. I’m going minimalist. Thank you. Back to opportunities; they are made, they don’t just happen. If you spend most of your leisure time in front of the television, you are not creating any opportunities. The dozen or so people I met in the past three days? I left my house and went out into the world and while I was interacting with society, I made the acquaintance of a bunch of really nice people.

How do you do; how do you create opportunities for meeting people? When I walked into the coffee shop a couple of days ago, I was there to work on a project for work between appointments. I take advantage of free Wi-Fi all the time, I love working from public places whenever I can. I ordered my half-caf and a banana and plunked my computer down at a table near an outlet, which happened to be adjacent to another table with an outlet where a nice looking man had plunked down his computer. I went about my tasks and before long, he struck up a conversation and we chatted, intermittently, for an hour. He was very interesting and found a lot of what I had to say interesting, as well. He left and went about his day, I left and went about mine. Simple as that. But in that meeting and the brief friendly conversation, I learned that he did many different, interesting things to make a living and had some spare time interests in common with me as well. I was smiling.

Today, I deliberately sought an opportunity to meet people. I belong to several “Meet-Up” groups (www.meetup.com). One of my favorites is a local group called “40 Something Women’s Group” and they do all sorts of fun things; dancing, movies, happy hours, brunches, wine tasting, hikes. All things I enjoy. Today, a hike. Of the ten or so ladies in attendance, I’d met two of them previously. During our lovely hike on this very warm, spring day, I enjoyed nature; the green hills, the wildflowers, the waterfalls, not so much the rattlesnake. More than nature, I enjoyed the many conversations I had with various ladies as we strolled along.

Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies "Meet-Up" group
Hidden Falls Hike with the ladies “Meet-Up” group

Of course, you get a bunch of 40 something ladies together, many divorced, and often the topic of meeting men comes up. Many of the ladies use online dating services, with limited success. A lot of energy goes into “meeting someone”. I don’t know, I’ve never tried. For me, it just happens, whether I’m ready, or not. I meet people all the time, one I met turned out to be someone I’d love to share my life with. I most certainly did not set out to find someone of a certain age, height, hair color, income level with specific spare time interests. I drank an oatmeal stout and ate ice cream at a bar, by myself, while traveling for work and I guess I was approachable. I must have smiled.

One of the ladies I chatted with today had a similar experience. She and I agreed that often times we meet someone compatible, someone terrific, someone we click with, when we aren’t trying, at all. We also agreed that rather than working on meeting someone, we put our time to better use working on ourselves. When we like ourselves and have become someone we would like to spend time with, often someone else comes around that feels the same way. I think this is where energy, enthusiasm and confidence come into play. I genuinely like myself, pretty much most of the time, and that translates into a confidence, approachability. And that also explains why I mostly meet people who are confident, energetic and enthusiastic, because they like themselves and are therefore, approachable, likeable. They smile.

If you find yourself dissatisfied with the lack of opportunity to meet people, that can be easily fixed. Find resources for meeting people, like Meet-Ups or other social groups; church, fitness, sports, activities, philanthropies, volunteering, and the list goes on. If you find, no matter how hard you try, you can’t find someone compatible to spend time with, whether friends or for dating or serious relationships, it’s possible you’re working too hard at it, and possibly, you’re working on the wrong person. Work on yourself and when you like what you’ve become, genuinely and completely, chances are, other people will feel the same way about you. Give yourself the opportunity and be approachable, and I’m pretty sure you’ll have more “how do you do’s”! Smile!