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”.

Happily Ever After

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

Isn’t that what we all want? Our “happily ever after”?

I had a wonderful, fun, over-indulgent, sunshiny, friend-filled, food and wine overdose week this past week while my Sweetie visited from far, far away. His plane just landed back home, seconds ago, three thousand miles away. As I lay in my lonely little bed earlier this morning, a little thought crept into my mind as I tried to meditate, it proclaimed, “all I want is my happily ever after.” Then, for emphasis, the pathetic little voice added, “now.”

Like all little thoughts that creep into my mind while I’m attempting to meditate, I dismissed it, but not without acknowledging it, so I could address it later. I am here to address that stray little thought. Now.

Just the other night at dinner with my friends and my Sweetie, we reminisced about afternoon syndicated television shows we all adored during our childhood. We all talked about TV after school, with Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched. The Friday night line up, of course, Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, and, then, Sunday, having to endure Lawrence Welk with the older family members in order to enjoy Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and, finally, the Disney movie. The Disney movie was like the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top of the ice cream sundae, making ordinary vanilla ice cream that “once a week” treat.

My kids were “raised on Disney”, too. We had a pile a mile high of all the Disney classics, and added to the pile every time the newest movie came to video. We watched them all, over and over and over and over again. What is it with Disney movies? Simple, it’s the “happily ever after.”

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

In every story, there is some sort of sadness or strife or discord and then, there is the “happily ever after” and the credits roll. Most of these stories are based on tales of yore, books and stories generations, if not centuries old, though the newer ones follow the same pattern, promising them success in the box office with the kids, and the adults, alike. We want to see that “happily ever after”, ever after. And even in our favorite childhood TV shows, the usually happy characters had some sort of chaos that made us laugh, and in the last moments of the episode, order was restored and things were just the way they were supposed to be, “happily ever after.”

“The happily ever after” is usually a kiss from a prince, a castle, a sunset in the Disney version. In our favorite weekly series, the characters were all together, right where they belonged, with a laugh, smiles, and hugs. The sadness and strife ended and there was bliss, the “happily ever after,” we all assume, begins. And that’s what we all want. And that’s what we all chase. And we are all missing the point.

There are no guarantees in life, except one; no one and no thing can ever bring you your “happily ever after.”

From the lighthouse - Point Reyes National Seashore
From the lighthouse – Point Reyes National Seashore

The real sadness and strife in life is that so many of us spend so much thought, time and energy trying to produce this “happily ever after”, others of us just sit and wait for it to arrive at the doorstep without putting any effort into it. We treat “happily ever after” like it’s going to be some cataclysmic event, like rounding a corner or clicking on a light switch, and BAM! From that point on, happy, ever after. We are under the sad impression that “happily ever after” happens to us and is external; a person, a thing, and worse, we think that person or thing will make us happy, ever after.

I have to think of my hero, here; Gilligan. In all those years, Gilligan and his pals never actually got their problem solved, their “strife and sadness” being the fact that they were stranded on some uncharted island in the middle of the ocean. The television show only existed as long as their “strife and sadness” continued. Their rescue, their “happily ever after”, would mean the series would end and the kids of the seventies would have to watch something else after school. Or invent video games to fill that time instead.

In spite of the fact that Gilligan and Skipper, the Howells, Ginger, the Professor, may he rest in peace, and Mary Ann, didn’t find their “happily ever after” at the end of each episode was okay. They were happy. They were happy for what they had, they were grateful. They used the resources they had and made a pretty sweet looking existence. I wanted to live in a grass hut, sleep in a hammock, cook over a fire, have daily adventures, go to the beach, fish and always have my friends around. That looked frickin’ awesome to me, on the other side of the TV screen. And just like Gilligan, our “happily ever after” is right where we are. We need only look around and be grateful for what we have.

Our “happily ever after” will never come as a result of meeting a terrific person, falling in love, getting the job, gaining career success, making millions of dollars, traveling around the world, driving a sports car, or buying the big house, it isn’t a pill the doctor prescribes or an intoxicating beverage from a bottle. Our “happily ever after” isn’t as a result of a thing, or a person. It can’t be bought or visited, it isn’t even tangible. Our “happily ever after” is something we are in possession of and is something we have power over. It is in our midst and in our grasp at all times, immediately and forever.

Our “happily ever after” comes from within, and, only we can make it happen. Disney movies follow the same storyline movie after movie, show after show, there are certain components and factors that make their success measurable at the box office and those same components and factors are applied to each story to thrill the audiences and give them a glimpse at a “happily ever after”. Our own, personal, real life, living color “happily ever after” also follows a familiar storyline and has consistent components and factors. And, just as with a full-featured, animated blockbuster success, producing our own, personal, “happily ever after” isn’t quite as easy as rounding a corner or flicking on a light switch. There’s a reason why Disney is more successful with their productions than others, they know the formula and the repeat it consistently.

So, what’s the formula? What’s the prescription for our own, personal, “happily ever after”?

  • Gratitude. Take time every day to remind yourself, in some way, of all you have and of what you are grateful for.
  • Now. Live in the present. The past and the future steal the only thing we really have in life, the present moment.
  • Self-esteem. Like yourself. You have to like yourself enough to make positive changes. You have to truly believe you deserve better before anything positive from within can happen.
  • Meditation. Quiet that noisy, whiny, needful voice in your head, separate yourself from it, and, in the process, discover your true self inside.
  • Cleansing. Get rid of all the clutter, the things that hold you back, drag you down and imprison you.  Too many possessions, too many commitments and too many toxic people. Clean house.
  • Purpose. Do something meaningful, every day. We have to have a reason to arise in the morning and something to feel satisfied about as we slip into sleep.
  • Passion. Do only what you love, for work and for play. There simply isn’t enough time for all the rest.

No, “happily ever after” isn’t easy, I never said it was, that’s why we all look to something external like the prince on the majestic steed to just whisk us away. Our “happily ever after” is more subtle, a little elusive and it takes practice, a lifetime of practice, in fact, we must practice forever after. But, every moment can be happier than the last with effort and practice, diligence and discernment.

And we can begin immediately. We don’t have to wait until the prince on the horse gallops up, we don’t have to wait until we find our way back to Earth again, we don’t have to wait until we figure out how to get rescued from the uncharted island. Like Gilligan, our daily happiness is all around us, we just need to identify the resources, like building a hut from grass and a hammock from old fishing nets and making cups from coconut halves. We have what it takes.

So, though I’m sad that Gilligan’s Island isn’t still on TV, I’m okay, I have the series on DVD. And, though my Sweetie isn’t here, now, I’m okay, because while I’m happy and oh, so grateful that he is part of my life, he isn’t what creates my “happily ever after”. I do.

An Effort to Evolve

A few resources for finding your “Happily Ever After”

http://vimeo.com/22100389

http://www.eckharttolle.com/

http://www.missminimalist.com/

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

Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now”

Jillian Michaels, “Unlimited, How to Live an Exceptional Life”

Let’s Get Cookin’

It’s that time of year, my favorite time of year. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. I agree. Presently, on a cool October morning, overcast, damp and chilly, I sit in a coffee shop in Downtown Napa, writing, sipping and getting things organized for the rest of the day and for the upcoming weekend. It is warm and cozy and smells divine in here. There is enough activity to be interesting, but not so noisy to be overwhelming.

Where I am enjoying my morning.
Where I am enjoying my morning.

On my list of things to do today is to dig up the pumpkin soup recipe I made, traditionally, for many years, before the kids went out trick or treating on Halloween. I always believed in family dinners and pulled them off on a regular basis, until both kids were in high school and we had multiple activities in multiple directions, every night of the week. So, even on Halloween, for many, many years, there was a family meal. We’d have my pumpkin soup and the kids would be off to trick or treat. I usually stayed home, dressed as Morticia from the Addams Family, answered the door and doled out candy. It was our tradition. My soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook. I have many, many cookbooks. I love cookbooks, really good, quality cookbooks by esteemed chefs. I like to browse through them, given the time, especially when preparing to entertain. I read them like novels and sometimes I will find myself amidst a pile of cookbooks and half an afternoon has vanished.

My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.
My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.

My pumpkin soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook, the one cookbook I always reach for first, my “go to” guide to all things kitchen. Fannie Farmer, revised by Marion Cunningham. There may be a newer version out there, mine is pretty faded, splotched and tattered from many years of use, but it is this book I love, no matter its antiquity.

My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.
My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.

My mom has her favorite cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens one. She gave me a copy, too, when I went off to college, I think, but I no longer have it. My man has his favorite cookbook, always on the windowsill, at the ready, “The Joy of Cooking”, his “go-to “guide, that, and anything that Jacques Pepin said, ever.  No complaints, no complaints, he is a master in the kitchen and never have I been disappointed.

An old standard.
An old standard.
My man's favorite go-to cookbook.
My man’s favorite go-to cookbook.

There is a “neighborhood” wine tasting party in his neighborhood in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I won’t be there to attend, but he’d mentioned maybe making pumpkin soup, so, I thought I’d send him my recipe, I mean Fannie’s recipe, or Marion’s. The recipe I’ve used many, many times. We’ll leave it at that. The recipe I use calls for canned pumpkin puree, which is fine and, even by my standards, can be obtained in a suitably organic, sustainable variety. Otherwise, I’m not much of one for canned food. I buy organic canned tomato sauce and fire roasted tomatoes from Whole Foods for a fast, weeknight spaghetti sauce, but, generally, I prefer fresh. I thought I’d look up pumpkin soup recipes on my favorite “go-to” online recipe resource, AllRecipes.com, and I found pages and pages and pages of pumpkin soup recipe. I only wanted one, one that used fresh pumpkin, as an alternative to my recipe and the canned pumpkin puree. Pages and pages and pages, and many of them with many reviews and many stars, which would be my obvious selection criteria. I mean, really, who would choose to use a recipe that had only a few stars, or none, and only a few reviews, or none? My point, exactly.

Too many pumpkin soup recipes!
Too many pumpkin soup recipes!

So, today, at some point, I am going to gather up two recipes for pumpkin soup, the one I’ve used with fantastic results for many, many years and another that I decide on from AllRecipes.com, I’m going to tuck them into a sweet, romantic card I’ll find, no doubt, at Target, fill it with mushy musings, and address it to my Sweetie, far, far away.

Recipes. It occurs to me that recipes are much like life. Think about it.

We are all trying to piece together a life for ourselves that ends up like a beautiful cake, the perfect crumb, texture, moistness, flavor, the loveliest icing, decoration, and garnish. There are as many lovely cake recipes as there are people on the planet, I’m nearly certain, if, ever, you could gather together every known cake recipe of all time. I mean, I have “The Cake Bible” and in my entire life I don’t think I could ever bake every recipe in that one book alone, though the idea intrigues me in a “Julie and Julia” kind of way. Food for thought, no pun intended, and you know, I am the Queen of Puns.

If I were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of my dreams and you were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of your dreams, I’m 99.9% certain we’d have different recipes and that our idea of the cake of our dreams would differ considerably as well. So it is with finding the recipe for our perfect life. We all have unique, individual ideas of what “our perfect life” would be, and even over time, our ideas are certain to change. Just like I may decide carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is my favorite, I may change my mind, at some point, and declare red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting my favorite. That’s okay, our goals, purpose and passions in life change like our preference for dessert, but, generally speaking, we have a few favorites we are always happy to see on the dessert menu!

If I were to make a carrot cake or a red velvet cake, again, there’d be countless recipes from which to choose, and each would be a different combination of different quantities of ingredients. Almost certainly, for carrot cake and for red velvet cake, there’d be common ingredients across a majority of the recipes; flour and sugar, for example. Again, so it is with building our perfect life, there are likely to be key ingredients we are going to want to include for best results.

So, if I wanted to piece together a perfect life, what would my recipe look like? That’s the first question, always, what kind of cake do I want? There are several ways to approach selecting a recipe, one is to consider the ingredients you already have on hand, the number of people you intend to feed, the cost, the nutritional value, another is to see a picture or read a recipe, and no matter the contents or cost, that’s what you want to bake!

With choosing the recipe for our perfect life, then, do we consider the ingredients we already have on hand? Or do we start from scratch using the pretty picture and yummy sounding recipe as inspiration? That, you must decide. Do the ingredients in your life, now, include things you want in your final recipe? Your home, your family, your career? Likely so. Or, are you in a place where you are gathering those ingredients up and don’t have them on hand, just yet? You see what I say?

There are going to be those secret ingredients, too, that all good cooks have, that ensure their success. A dear friend of mine, one I’ve known since kindergarten, is a well-known, successful pastry chef. She has always loved to cook and to bake, even as kids, she’d come over to my house after school, now and then, and we’d get out my Betty Crocker Cook Book for children and we’d whip up a batch of cookie dough. We’d practice our fractions and halve the recipe, or quarter it, and, once in a while, we’d even bake the cookie dough. Usually not. Anyway, she went on to enter the Napa Town and Country Fair cake decorating category every year beginning in high school, and she’d win. She decorated cakes for all us girls for birthdays and other occasions. She graduated to baking cakes, having attended a culinary program at a nearby community college, and, year after year, her cakes won at the local fair. She’d be asked to produce a recipe, which she had, in her mind and would have to transcribe it in written form to be published in The Napa Register. Every year she won, and every year, it was, essentially, the same cake recipe. Chocolate with a rich, chocolate filling and frosting. Her success was in the quality of her recipe, and she applied it consistently, and won. Consistently. She has since gone on to accomplish great things, I’ve seen her name listed in Gourmet Magazine a time or two, which considering the number of pastry chefs in Napa alone, is quite an accomplishment.

How it all started.
How it all started.

So, what’s your recipe? Mine includes the following ingredients:

Purpose

Passion

Values

Guiding principles

Roles

Goals

I decorate my cake with carefully selected ingredients, including:

Self esteem

Self-confidence

Self discipline

Inspiration

Motivation

Enthusiasm

Action

Every now and then, I have to adjust the ingredients a little, add a little more self-confidence and a little less action, or I may re-evaluate my roles and goals, but, in the end, the same key ingredients are always in my recipe. And that is my recipe for personal success, that’s how I piece together my perfect cake.

When you look at the ingredients list, though, each and every one of those ingredients are rare and somewhat elusive. Like making an exquisite cake, some of the ingredients may be very hard to find, very hard to come by. We often struggle with identifying our passion, but we must in order to find our purpose. We have to know our roles in order to be able to identify our goals. All of this takes time, a lot of discernment, constant consideration and occasional adjustment. Other ingredients will need to be continually replaced, refreshed. You’d never use old eggs or outdated cream in your cake recipe, would you? Likewise, my self-esteem, self-confidence, inspiration and enthusiasm need to be refreshed daily, for best results.

And your recipe may differ from mine in the source of your ingredients, though, in all likelihood, the same key ingredients will be there. You must have passion and purpose, you absolutely require values and guiding principles, and I can’t imagine a recipe not including roles and goals. None of these key ingredients are going to mix well and rise properly without self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, and inspiration. And it all requires action, like baking the ingredients, otherwise, you’ve just got batter!

As we become comfortable in the kitchen, the recipes we use regularly are rarely written down. I’m fairly certain that most of the meals we cook, nightly, week in and week out are not carefully measured and read out of a cook book. We know how much salt, pepper, and smoked paprika we like on our pork chops, we aren’t measuring an eighth of a teaspoon of each, precisely, based on the written recipe. And I’m sure we all use slightly different amounts of slightly different ingredients. The results are all good, I bet I’d like your pork chops nearly as much as mine. My point here, is that our daily recipes, our most successful and relied upon recipes, are from memory, are so familiar and reliable that they are comfortable to us, and we don’t have to labor over specific instruction to prepare them. And, our daily recipes that we are so comfortable with, that we rely on for sustenance, regularly, are completely individual and unique, as each of us are as humans. We are all masters in our own kitchens, we all have our unique masterpieces. My Sweetie and I both love to cook, when he cooks he does things his way and the result is fantastic. When I cook, I do things as I’ve always done, and the results are wonderful, if I do say so myself. We do things differently for different reasons, based on different resources and preferences, neither of us is more or less right, just unique, just individual preference, just habit.

So, whatever you come up with, ultimately, as your recipe for your perfect life may contain many of the same ingredients as mine, but as master of your own kitchen, you may use a whisk where I’d use a wooden spoon, you may use Canola oil where I’d use EVOO. The results of both will be extraordinary, guaranteed, but unique, I promise. Put your apron on, read a few cookbooks for inspiration, and get cooking. Life was never meant to be just batter, but better. You can have your cake and eat it, too!

Scarlett’s Letter August 19, 2013

Monday, again, already. How?

I actually didn’t drive to Sacramento today. And I had eggs for breakfast. Again. There are patterns in life. Some of them get old.

It was a completely ordinary, sort of mundane day. I worked. I ran errands. I talked on the phone with my Sweetie. I wrote. That’s about it. Except for the last two things, the pattern is getting old.

I noticed something yesterday and the “trend” continued today. Is it National No Blinker Week? Or what? Driving is sort of like being a Quarter Horse, cutting cattle, you have to have the innate ability to predict which direction the driver is going to go, you have to be able to read their subtle moves to have any hope of knowing whether they are going left, going right, changing lanes, or what. Do people realize that not using blinkers is potentially dangerous? And at the very least, rude? How much energy does it take to push down or pull up on a lever with your pinky finger? And then there’s the one driver making up for everyone else’s laziness; blinker on for thirty-seven miles. Sigh.

I do know it is National Potato Day. Did you know this? Who decides this stuff? Was there a potato parade somewhere that I missed? Or a potato festival? I didn’t celebrate National Potato Day, I ate no potatoes. None at all. It is also National Aviation Day and National Soft Serve Ice Cream Day! Woo Hoo! So, would I have spent my day better eating French Fries and soft serve at the airport? I’m marking my calendar, perhaps next year that’s what I’ll do. Life is just too short to let an excuse to celebrate pass us by! Embrace whatever celebration is at hand and party on! I wonder what tomorrow is?

Mom and I seem to have sort of an unspoken competition going; who can find the answer quicker. The answer to what? Anything. Dates. Places. Actors. Movies. Directions. Events, past, present and future. Another reason why breakfast goes way longer than it should. Mom uses her crossword dictionary, the Yellow Pages, bits of newspapers snipped out and paper clipped to her current calendar or stuck to the fridge with a magnet, those free maps you could (can?) get at the AAA office, and, of course, her calendars from all of time with tiny little notes in each square written in tiny cursive script. I use Google, IMBD, WikiPedia and WikiHow the most. I have a Garmin Nuvi for navigation, but will often MapQuest something to get basic distances and travel times. I’m claiming victory about 99.9999993% of the time, but I honestly think Mom would tell you she has the same success rate. We are both very stubborn in our ways, in case that hasn’t already been made evident. I am a lover of technology. Mom is not. Lord knows she’s tried, we’ve tried, we’ve all tried. My dad was adept enough and at the age of ninety-one, had a new Dell laptop, because his desktop computer actually wore out. Now I am in possession of his laptop, I think Mom wanted to bury it with him, and the warranty hadn’t even expired. Dad had a Facebook and managed their NetFlix account and all their online healthcare needs with Kaiser; prescriptions, appointments, and test results. My son tried to teach Mom how to use the computer. Once. It was a valiant attempt, to his credit. Let’s just say she drives her Accord a bit better than she drives the mouse. She, somehow, on her first attempt, selected every icon on the desktop and deposited them into the Recycle Bin. The Accord is, at least, insured.

Mom's Google.
Mom’s Google.
Even more of Mom's Google.
More of Mom’s Google.

This disdain of the modern goes well beyond seeking information. Mom waters the yard every day even though there are automatic sprinklers and irrigation in place. True, it may not be working quite as well as it should l, but she won’t pay the landscape maintenance guy to do a tune up on it. She never trusted it anyway. Instead, every day at some point, with her walking stick and outlandish, ginormous straw hat, her enormous black sunglasses, and, I think, my Dad’s jeans and red plaid shirt, she goes out, grabs the hose, and sprinkles everything.  I think it’s an unspoken competition they have; Mom and the automatic sprinklers. Mom thinks she’s winning.

To her credit, she has totally figured out the TV remotes. But, where there is passion, there is perseverance and, eventually, mastery. Of all the things for her to master, the one thing I cannot tolerate. TV. It isn’t TV that I hate, the device itself is quite useful for displaying real entertainment, it’s the mainstream programming I detest. The news in particular. And for as long as I can remember, she has been an absolute news junky. Every day she reads the news, listens to the news, watches the news multiple times a day, the local news, the national news, the world news, the inter-galactic news. I hate the news as much as she hates my “Facebook” (meaning my iPhone/iPad/MacBook/PC/Kindle). Everything electronic is a “Facebook”. I’ve tried to explain. It hurts. I’ve stopped.

Some of my "Facebooks".
Some of my “Facebooks”.

Ah, but she is out and about, in her insured Accord right now, running errands. The TV is off, the house is quiet, and I am so at peace, I can actually hear myself think. I am seriously considering running downstairs and putting dead batteries in the remote before she gets home. That should thwart her for a good hour or two!

Then I think I’ll have to have eggs for dinner. Again.

Scarlett’s Letter August 16, 2013

Have you ever noticed that everyone considers themselves navigational geniuses? Like talking about the weather, the local sports team or the biggest story on the news, people like to share their navigational wizardry. Why? I don’t know. People dictate directions, suggest routes, compare routes and alternate routes. I find this especially tiresome when I am driving in an area I know very well and my passenger insists on a route different than the one I prefer. I also find it a bit tedious when my passenger argues with my navigational gadget of choice, especially when I am trying to hear what my, usually more correct and more direct, navigational device of choice is saying. But worst of all, for whatever reason, is when the navigational wizard is my mother.

Mom and I went to Sacramento today to have lunch with my son and his good friend. My son is moving to Hawaii, with his friend, to go to school, for at least a semester, and if plans fall into place per design, or at least desire, a couple of years. Lunch was great. My day, leading up to lunch, well, you be the judge. It started with a bikini wax. Then an hour and a half car trip with Mom. Then a mammogram. Are we having fun yet?

Like I said, lunch was fantastic! And for me, by this point, well deserved. We went to one of our favorite places. To clarify; my kids and I love this place, Mom is a newbie. Cafeteria 15L in Midtown Sacramento. Their specialty, and the reason we selected this place for lunch today, chicken and waffles. I love chicken and waffles. My mom loves chicken and waffles. My son loves all the leftover chicken and waffles I’ve given him but has not actually ever ordered chicken and waffles for himself. So, that was the plan. Chicken and waffles all the way around. They even had a chicken and waffles face contest! Post your best “chicken and waffle” face and you could win FREE chicken and waffles for a whole year! I was so geared up for chicken and waffles! So, imagine our disappointment when we were told chicken and waffles weren’t served for lunch. They are served for breakfast, brunch on the weekends and dinner. Not lunch.

It was all about the chicken and waffles. But not for lunch.
It was all about the chicken and waffles. But not for lunch.

We scrambled quickly and all came up with alternate orders. Mom had fish and chips, my son had the pasta special, his friend the Cafeteria burger and I had an heirloom tomato and melon salad. And a side of sweet potato fries as an impulsive, mid lunch addition. Everyone’s meals were devoured and enjoyed. Cafeteria 15L is all about comfort food done with style. The atmosphere is comfortable and the design is noteworthy. It is quite fun to sit and really look at the lighting, the fixtures, the selections for décor. One phrase painted on the wall spurred a lively discussion about the generational preferences for the use of ellipses, for example … I’m a fan. My kids are not. Base on that discussion, I am plaguing my son with texts laced with ellipses, just to be a brat …

My daughter is an English major … she hates ellipses, too … wish she could’ve been here today.

My heirloom tomato and melon salad with a Rubicon Brewing Co. Monkey Knife Fight Ale. http://www.rubiconbrewing.com/beer-3/pub/
My heirloom tomato and melon salad with a Rubicon Brewing Co. Monkey Knife Fight Ale.
http://www.rubiconbrewing.com/beer-3/pub/
I recommend SPF 50 - Sweet Potato Fries, about fifty of them.
I recommend SPF 50 – Sweet Potato Fries, about fifty of them.

The dessert menu arrived. We didn’t really need it; dessert. Or the menu. For on the back of all the wait staffs’ shirts was a picture of the featured dessert and it was so over the top you just had to order it so you could take a picture of it and post it on Instagram to prove to everyone you know that you are “that cray cray”. Bacon waffle sundae. A waffle, vanilla ice cream, bacon, maple syrup and caramel sauce. Double decker. We ordered one with four spoons and somehow managed to clean the plate.

So good. So bad.
So good. So bad.

After lunch, we dropped the boys off at my son’s house and headed back towards Napa. If I had a dollar for every mile I have traveled between Napa and Sacramento over the last thirty some years, I’d be a very wealthy woman. I have completely worn out a 1966 Mustang, a 1992 Ford Bronco and three Honda Accords. I’m working on a Civic now. To say I am fairly well acquainted with the traffic patterns is a bit of an understatement. True, there can be daily anomalies, but there are also the daily patterns. Leaving town at 3:30 PM on a Friday afternoon, I really expected to hit quite a bit of traffic in a few key spots on the way home. Mom, in her navigational wizard’s hat, had some crazy alternate route in mind that would have taken a two-hour detour to even begin. I bit my tongue, clenched my jaw, wrapped my fingers tightly around the steering wheel and stayed my course. She fell asleep and we made it home without nary a slow down. It was miraculous! Both the absence of traffic and the sleeping wizard.

With my son’s move to Hawaii, he will not be needing a car. We are car people. My dad loved cars, my son’s dad loved cars (in his own neglectful way), I love cars, every boy I dated in high school and college loved cars, my mom loves cars, the man I love loves cars, my daughter loves cars, my son in law loves cars, our dogs all loved cars. My son loves cars, too. Any car he owns he will practically, if not literally, disassemble and reassemble the whole thing, cleaning each and every part and restoring it to its original condition. He uses only factory parts and fluids and does all his own maintenance and detailing. Tonight, he sold his car and is, for the first time since his sixteenth year, without a car. It was not nearly as traumatic as I thought it might be, I really thought it may be more like the amputation of a limb than a business transaction, but the whole deal went down and the car is presently being driven to Houston, Texas to a fellow Acura Legend fan. Per the Facebook account of the trek, so far they have only received one speeding ticket for 95 miles per hour.

A reflection of the Acura Legend in the Acura Legend door.
A reflection of the Acura Legend in the Acura Legend door.
The Acura Legend
The Acura Legend
The Acura Legend - A little restoration and repair under the hood.
The Acura Legend – A little restoration and repair under the hood.
The Acura Legend - A little interior work behind the dashboard.
The Acura Legend – A little interior work behind the dashboard.
The Acura Legend - Restored seat belt release button.
The Acura Legend – Restored seat belt release button.

I dated one young man after high school who had an amazing car, a 1940’s era Plymouth Coupe, in black, with a personalized license plate that said, simply, “A Shadow”. His father did hot rod and motorcycle customization, including chopping and channeling. Beautiful work. After a few years, about twenty speeding tickets, threatening and menacing letters from the DMV, and endless expense trying to keep an old car running and street legal, the car was sold. An ad was placed in the local paper that said, simply, “A Shadow has been sold.” I wondered if my son would somehow want to communicate to the world, the world who knows him by his car, especially, that the deed had been done. An ad in a newspaper worked well in the 1980’s. In 2013, it was a Facebook post. In both cases, the letting go of something valued, cherished and even a part of one’s identity, while sad, was, and is, the beginning of a new era. Sometimes we have to let go of something, even something we can’t imagine not keeping, not having, in order to take the next, important steps in life. This is, actually, part of life. Those willing to sever those ties that may be holding us back, or preventing us from growing, moving, leaving, changing, are the ones who will evolve according to their dreams, the goals and their passion.  Sometimes we have to let go of one dream to grasp the next.

A Shadow.
A Shadow.

Scarlett’s Letter August 15, 2013

I made it to an advanced yoga class this morning, it was exhilarating. I’ll be feeling it, for sure, for the next couple of days. Very worth the effort of getting up early, getting things together and heading out the door before work.

This evening was the “Dress to the Vines” event at Jessup Cellars Gallery. Mom and I got all gussied up and set out a bit on the early side. Mom stresses out a little about “traffic”. I find it amusing. At every stop light, if there are more than three cars, she exclaims “Here they all are!” I will sometimes alter my route for dense traffic, in a large city I am well acquainted with, where I know I can a) save significant time and/or b) I can keep moving. There is something about keeping moving, even if it adds a minute or two to the overall travel time, that I find preferable. In Napa? Traffic worth a detour? Joke.

So we arrived at the winery, which is twenty minutes from our house, oh, about an hour early. They closed two minutes before our arrival to prepare for the event, so we couldn’t even go in and have a glass of wine while we waited. It was hot out and even hotter in Mom’s “air conditioned” car. The A/C works on the passenger side, but not on the driver’s side. And she has leather seats. I needed another shower. I sweat more on the twenty minute drive to the winery than I did in an hour and a half of strenuous “advanced” yoga in a heated studio.

We sought respite with a cold beer in the bar of a popular Yountville restaurant across the street. Redd Wood. Mom has been wanting to try it, but after our visit, I’m not so sure. She thought it was ugly inside. I rather liked it, I thought the architecture, design and decor were pretty cool.  The menu looked great, too. She couldn’t understand the layout or why there were so many employees and no guests. It was 5:03 PM. The bartender said they were booked solid every night, beginning at about 7:00. I’m going back.

Salumi, cheese and wine before the event at Jessup Cellars.
Salumi, cheese and wine before the event at Jessup Cellars.

We ventured back across the street a few minutes before the event was scheduled to start. We were the first to arrive. By far. I felt a little awkward noshing on all the cheese and salumi before any other guests arrived. But we did. And had our first glass of wine. After our beer. We made conversation with all the winery and gallery folks we saw the day before, again, being made to feel very welcomed. The panelists were all there and one of the women looked very, very familiar. In a state with nearly forty million residents and God only knows how many tourists, this time of year, what are the chances?

People began to arrive and stood around chatting with one another with apparent familiarity. Mom wanted to sit, so they let her into the gallery a bit early to choose a seat. I mingled a little longer in the tasting room and then joined Mom in the gallery. The panelist speakers and the moderator were going over some last minute details. It was the moderator that looked familiar, she looked like the mothers of one of the Boy Scouts in a troop I helped lead in a Sacramento suburb several years ago. What are the chances? Finally, I could stand it no longer. Yup, it was her, Melissa Haines, a Wine Consultant based in Sacramento. What a small world.

Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art - Jessup Cellars Gallery
Wearable art – Jessup Cellars Gallery

The gallery had been transformed over night; new pieces had been brought in, featuring “wearable” art by Cynthia Carey, Rory Castillo, and Cari Borja. Tables had been set up with notes to review and three wine glasses for some pairings for each guest. Since the theme was fashion, there were a couple of models in gorgeous gowns designed by Colleen Quen of San Francisco, one in the color of champagne, the other in the color of a rich, red wine. The speakers on the panel were all women, Mary Olin, the Wine Fashionista from the Huffington Post, Kaye Cloutman, Editor in Chief of a GEV (Gastronomique en Vogue) magazine and Karri Grant, Consulting Fashion Stylist from Sacramento.  Personally, I loved the “Sacramento” influence here tonight. Way to represent! Sacramento is on the map, make no doubt.

Panelists for Defining Wine Country Fashion: The Who, How, When with Masters of Wine Fashion
Panelists for Defining Wine Country Fashion: The Who, How, When with Masters of Wine Fashion

An Effort to Evolve

Panelists Kaye Cloutman, Editor in Chief of a GEV (Gastronomique en Vogue) magazine and Karri Grant, Consulting Fashion Stylist from Sacramento.
Panelists Kaye Cloutman, Editor in Chief of a GEV (Gastronomique en Vogue) magazine and Karri Grant, Consulting Fashion Stylist from Sacramento.

The highlight of the panelist discussions, for me, was the wine and scent pairing conducted by Mary Orlin. Generally, fragrance and wine are mutually exclusive. Fragrances worn will influence the olfactory senses when tasting wines. So much so, that tasting room personnel are “forbidden” to wear fragrances while working. So to deliberately pair wine and fragrance was sort of a departure from tradition. We were given test strips with different fragrances created by Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio to pair with selected Jessup Cellars wines. There were two fragrances for each of the three wines, and they were selected specifically to enhance the unique characteristics and qualities of each wine. Rob Lloyd, the winemaker for Jessup Cellars was on hand to further narrate the pairings. Fascinating and delicious, in every respect. What a divine olfactory experience!

Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Strong fragrances and wine tasting do not mix. Notice, in most tasting rooms, the flowers are not fragrant, by design.
Strong fragrances and wine tasting do not mix. Notice, in most tasting rooms, the flowers are not fragrant, by design.
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post - Wine and Perfume Pairing
Mary Orlin, Wine Fashionista, Huffington Post – Wine and Perfume Pairing

What struck me the most, though, about the whole event, was the fact that the panelists, the moderator, the designer, the winemaker, the artists and the curator of the museum, are all self-defined people. Each very confident, each very powerful, and each a pioneer in their respective fields. They each transformed their passion into their livelihood, their career. They created their own niche, their own market, their own following because of their passion, their confidence and their willingness to step over boundaries and obstacles to make their way. They each evolved, with significant, individual effort, based on their passions, their goals, and their commitment to those passions and goals, into confident and fulfilled leaders within their fields. This epitomizes the possibility and opportunity each and every one of us have, if only we endeavor to focus on our passion, commit to our goals, and make the effort to evolve into who we deserve to be.

Numbers or Words

I have always sucked at math.

For as long as I can remember, I have sucked at math. I have always been sort of an over achiever and a wee bit competitive. And I have always loved school, the idea of school and of learning. I’d still be in school, if I could, but at some point I had to stop, and get a job, so my kids could go to school, and love it too.

I remember way back before kindergarten, driving by the school down the street and looking at the building with the weird curvy roof, the multipurpose room, and thinking, since it was the room at the far end, that must be where kindergarten was. All I wanted in the whole wide world was to be in kindergarten so I could learn to read. I was four years old. When I finally turned five, you remember, I’m sure, the eternity a year was when you were that age, I got to GO TO SCHOOL! I was only mildly disappointed that kindergarten wasn’t held in the big room on the far end with the curvy roof. Kindergarten totally rocked, except we didn’t get to read. First grade was way better because Mrs. Wells was our teacher and we got to learn to read! I remember learning to sound out the letters posted on the wall over the chalkboard. Game on! I was determined to finish the “Sullivan Reading Series” before anyone else at Browns Valley Elementary School, and I had until some time in second grade to do it. There were thirteen modules with stories about Sam and Ann and their cat Tab, how random is that?

I remember, by half way through first grade, I was way ahead of most of the other kids in the reading program, there were really only a couple of kids I was in competition with. Two girls and one boy. I was so going to finish the thirteenth module before the rest. Game on. I loved my first grade teacher and prospered under her compassionate instruction. I was definitely in the running entering second grade. My mom was one of those moms, much as I was, that requested one teacher over the other for her child’s special, accelerated, and extraordinary educational needs. And, being a woman of well chosen words, in both cases, always got what we asked for, the “best” teacher in that grade level. Unfortunately, the “best” second grade teacher at Browns Valley that year didn’t think I was the best student. Sad face.  For my super-human efforts in completing the Sullivan Reading program, I came in second, after the other girl, but before the boy. But, on the bright side, I was reading a few grade levels ahead of second grade.

Math, on the other hand, not so good. I got addition. I got subtraction. Multiplication and division were a bit harder, but with concerted effort, I memorized the tables sufficiently. Word problems were the devil. And anything that even resembled solving for “x’” was an automatic “huh?’ “X” was a letter, it belonged in words, and only a few words, at that, it had no place in arithmetic!

Junior high is a dark memory. Actually, academically, other than English, French, Physical Education and Band, I remember nothing; math and science, to be exact, were a black hole. By the time high school rolled around, and college was on the horizon, my parents employed mathematically gifted family acquaintances to try to nurture me through Algebra and Geometry. It was a dismal attempt. When I applied for college, way back when, for a “state” college, all you needed for “guaranteed” admission was a 3.25 GPA. I had all A’s in my English, foreign language, physical education, arts and other electives. My perfect 4.0 was lowered to 3.27 by my consistent underachievement in mathematics, but, nonetheless, I had a red carpet entry into college.

In college, I was only required to take one math class for my chosen field of study. I had to successfully pass college algebra. Somehow, I totally lucked out and got a coke fiend for a teacher. I showed up for the first day of class and , tweaking, with a mustached encrusted with white powder, he explained his grading scheme; hand in homework, pass the tests and pass the class. Done. I think I showed up two more times all semester, to hand in homework (and the answers were in the back of the book) and to take the tests. He managed to show up for a few classes, and I showed up for even fewer. I got a C, an A on the homework portion and a strong D- on the tests. But, I passed, and never had to worry about math again.

Flash forward ten years and I, miraculously, unwittingly, graduated from college, because, if I had anything to say about it, I’d still be there! “Here’s your degree, now get out!”

I got a bachelors degree in criminal justice, but life is weird and somehow, I’m an accountant, which, you would think is all math. Luckily for me, Excel does the math and I just learned how to build a really wicked formula!

I’ve been in the accounting profession for twenty some years, and it has been good to me. My goal in life, for whatever reason, is to reach six figures by the time I’m fifty. Abstract, I know, and, additionally, I am well aware that money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s just a competitive thing. I will be fifty in July, this year. If I add up my salary and potential bonuses, etc., I will fall shy of my goal. I’m looking for things to sell, up to, but not including, my body, in order to meet my goal. I am extremely goal oriented and this is killing me, for whatever reason. I thought about adding a PayPal button to this post, but didn’t. Ugh.

So, what do I really want to do when I “grow up”, which, really, according to my personal philosophy is NEVER? I want to write. All I have ever wanted to do is write. I was first published in the second grade. I wrote a whole, well worded paragraph on being Amish and it was published in the Browns Valley School annual essay publication. I still have it, in case you doubt me. But, when my GPA was suffering in junior high and I almost got dismissed from the GAT (gifted and talented) program, I wrote an awesome, extra credit project and it cured the problem. In high school, I was published not once, but twice, in the annual essay collection. When I’d been in college for nine years and was still trying to finish up my general education requirements, I wrote an awesome plea to the dean and got the final twenty one units of general eduction requirements waived. Other than writing legendary Christmas family newsletters the kind most folks cringe to receive, and rarely read, and the occasional letter, blogging has been my only literary outlet since college. Sad face.

A way with words is a gift, and if you have it, you can rule the world, unless you’re really, really good at math, then you can rule the universe. At least that’s what I believe, and that’s what I’ve taught my kids. My son was born speaking in four syllable words. My daughter is an English major and a grammar nazi, bar none. I’m a little embarrassed to let her read what I write! From day one, I spoke to them as if they were adults, I never spoke baby talk to them, I spared no five dollar words. In our home, the dictionary was on the pedestal, the Bible was on the shelf. Sorry, God, at least the good book was in the house. I’ll be writing an admission essay to heaven, if necessary, and Saint Peter will cave at my eloquently worded plea for entry.

So, while numbers are currently what pay my bills, I endeavor to swap them for words. I know that none of us will ever be truly fulfilled until we are doing, in life, what we are truly passionate about. I have passion and respect for the job I do now, for the products I support, for the people I work with, and for, and for the company I am employed by. But, when all is said and done, I want to make my living as a wordsmith, not as a bean counter. Writing, and helping people evolve towards their own fulfillment, is what I am most passionate about. The progression is slow, but eventual, if for no other reason, because I am determined. And because I have bills to pay. And I have two kids in college. And even if writing is what I end up doing for a living for the last moments of my life, when I am too old and decrepit to do what I do now, I will still have succeeded in my goal. Simply this, I choose words over numbers. Count on it!

Prepare to Die

Prepare to Die – this is a phrase you might hear in an action movie or an old western. So, what could you do? Run, fight, or submit.

I’ve got really bad news for you. You’re going to die. While true for all of us, when the doctor tells us those words and there is some immediacy associated with them, what do you do? Curl up in a corner, huddled under a blanket and wait for the grim reaper? Or grab a friend and start crossing off those things from your bucket list?

Guess what? You’re going to die. I don’t know when, you don’t know when, but you are. What are you doing about it? Run, fight, or submit.

I know people who have been preparing to die practically since birth. I remember in my thirties, working with a woman a few years younger than me, she was probably in her late twenties. We were talking about snowboarding and she said “oh, I”m too old to snowboard”. Huh? There’s an age limit? I was just learning to snowboard at the time, was I breaking some rule? The good news is, her whole attitude has changed and she is now, twenty years later, an avid scuba diver. And I haven’t tried THAT yet!

My point is; are your preparing to die or are you crossing things off your bucket list?

I was on the phone with my significant other last night, I was talking about the Insanity workout I’d done earlier in the day. He said “you’re not twenty two anymore, don’t overdo, don’t hurt yourself”. Oh, but he loves my strength, stamina and agility. I smiled, knowingly, and just let that comment slide. I feel twenty two. I feel better than I did at twenty two. As a matter of fact, on Facebook yesterday, Shawn T (of Insanity) talked about visiting Charlotte University and working with a bunch of young people, hoping he’d inspired them to adopt healthy habits for life. Then he posed a question, “are you more or less fit now than you were then?” For me? Pretty darned close. Yes!

I’m turing fifty in a few months. Many of my peers are acting way beyond their years, tottering around the grocery store. I just moved back to my home town, and as I walk through Target and Whole Foods, I feel like I’m peering into every face, “do I know you?” It’s kind of confusing. Some of us are young and spry, others, old and decrepit. Some of us are embracing life, squeezing every moment out of it, others are huddling under a blanket, waiting to die.

My grandfather lived to be over 100. Fifty is only half way there. I’m not even half way there, yet. I don’t need fifty whole years to get ready to die. I got me a whole bunch of living to do. Anyway, at 100, Grandpa lived alone in his house, my grandmother had passed some years before. He fixed his own meals, often bacon and eggs for breakfast. He mowed his own lawn. With a push mower, the non-motorized kind. At noon, he’d walk several blocks to the convalescent hospital to have lunch, not with his friends, for they had all passed. He had lunch with his friends’ children. That is so going to be me! At 100, I’m hoping to jog over to the convalescent home, and after preparing lunch of salmon, quinoa and kale for my friends’ kids, I’m going to teach a Zumba class to the residents. Watch me.

How do you go up the stairs? Many of my peers, at the tender age of fifty, grasp the railing and laboriously pull themselves up, grunting and groaning like it’s going to kill them. When was the last time you ran up the stairs two at a time? That’s my preferred method, as long as no one is in my way, panting and pulling themselves along, in which case, I just politely wait at the bottom of the staircase until the path is clear and bound up the stairs. Obnoxious. I know. But it feels good!

Remember as kids? If you were in a hurry, and sometimes even if you weren’t, you ran everywhere. When was the last time you ran anywhere because you were in a hurry, or because it just felt like the thing to do?

When was the last time you balanced on a curb in a parking lot like a balance beam in the gym? I do that all the time. It’s fun. Don’t judge. I’m the weirdo who runs from the parking lot to the store even though I’m not in a hurry, smiling, balancing on the curbs with my grocery bags on my way back out to the car and bounding up the stairs two at a time at every opportunity. Meanwhile, many of my peers are cruising the parking lot for the closest parking spot to the store door and looking for the elevator once inside.

I have long said, I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living. And so, I choose to live life to its absolute fullest at every opportunity. I am constantly looking for ways to improve myself, mentally, physically, intellectually, spiritually, so I can get the most out of every moment in life. This is a conquest, something I am driven to do and need like breath. Is there anything in your life that you are so passionate about? Passion is the essence of life. Without passion, we just exist. Without passion for life, we are just waiting to die.

Time is short, my friends. As I am perched at the top of this mountain, nearly fifty years behind me, and, God willing, at least another fifty before me, there is an interesting paradox. I can look back over the last fifty years and think, “wow, an eternity”, then with like the flick of a switch I think, “wow, that was quick”. I know as we age, time moves at what seems a faster rate. This terrifies me. I haven’t the time to be concerned with what people think of me as I bound up the stairs, run across the parking lot, balance on a curb, jump out of an airplane, board down a mountain, ride a galloping horse through a field, a mountain bike down a grade, a kayak through whitewater. I am doing what I know how to do and what I crave, I’m living. I am preparing to die by living life to its absolute fullest, every moment of every day, and with passion. Because when I do cross that magic threshold in the sky, I want to be satisfied with what I’ve done. I want to be nourished with my accomplishments, and I am hoping that through all of it, I am able to inspire others to live well and do well. With passion.

I am nowhere ready to throw in the towel. In fifty years I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to catch me and try to wrestle that towel out of my hand. And I may still win.