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.

Like the Vine

Consider the grapevine of the wine-producing sort. When you drive past a vineyard in a wine region, you usually notice the neat, straight rows. The vines are sometimes trellised so they stretch out along a wire, others are not, growing unsupported, depending on the variety. Vineyards always appear neat, tidy, geometrical, pristine. Sometimes you see many people in the vineyards tending to the care of the vines. It would seem that the vines needs are looked after in every respect; the soil, water, nutrients, there are fans and heaters and sprinklers and all sorts of things to keep the vines warm when it is too cold and cool when it is too warm. Many measures are taken, depending on the practices of each vintner, against pests, from tiny bugs, to birds, to deer, to passing, hungry motorists. They actually record the temperature in the different vineyards many times throughout each and every day to calculate out necessary information for optimal care of the vines. At first blush, it seems that vines are pampered much like star athletes. Some varieties of grapes come from vines that require many years of establishment before ever producing a single piece of fruit. Consider the investment involved.

I had the good fortune to take a walking tour through a vineyard this past weekend as part of a special “Earth Day” event. As we strolled along, viewing different “blocks” of vineyards, our tour guide described many of the different practices used in growing vines that produce wine grapes. I was at Hess Winery in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, a series of steep hills with harsher soil conditions and cooler weather conditions than other wine districts in this famous region. Because Mt. Veeder is cooler than other districts, and because the soil is composed mostly of limestone, with a thin layer of topsoil over it, the vines here are in a constant “struggle”. Only certain varieties can even endure this district’s climate. And this, it was explained to us, is good. Vines that struggle will produce better fruit than those that do not. Whether a vine has to struggle to derive nutrients from the soil or to overcome a streak of unusually warm weather, the results are usually for the better, ultimately. Struggle, to a degree, is good, if you’re a grapevine.

An Effort to Evolve

I began to contemplate this some after about my third tasting, of six, following the vineyard walk. I’m glad I decided to taste wine after the walk and not before! As I thought about the vines and their struggles, I translated that to people and their struggles. Are we not very similar to grapevines? People who struggle usually grow in ways that are both unexpected and beneficial, in the long run.

It is unreasonable to expect that every growing year, for a grapevine, will be perfect. There are likely to be conditions that will cause the vine to stress out a bit and to struggle. It could be a late season frost, or an early, warmer than usual spring, a cooler fall, a colder winter, too much rain, or too little rain. No two years are ever going to be exactly alike in any wine district, in any wine region. This explains the distinct differences in wines between regions and years, or vintages.

It is also unreasonable to expect that life is always going to be a cakewalk for us. We are all going to struggle with something at some point in time. If you haven’t, brace yourself. I know, I know, I know; I’m the “positive mental attitude” and “law of attraction” preacher. And I am here to tell you, that my life was as perfect as I could imagine and going my way, 100%, for a very long time. It was pretty easy to be positive. Occasionally, I would look over my shoulder, though, because I couldn’t believe how well things were going, for so long. Not perfect, of course, I was making compromises, but things were really, really good, overall. And, even while practicing and preaching PMA and the law of attraction and even visualization, my entire world collapsed. Talk about struggle.

For quite a while, as my world completely shattered all around me, only my immediate family and my closest, closest friends knew what was happening. For everyone else, it was business as usual. Yes, I was struggling, but because I was so positive, because I believed in the law of attraction, I knew I would grow tremendously from the struggles I endured. Only occasionally did my faith waiver, only rarely did I despair, and only in private, and only for a moment. Then I set myself straight, and just went on.

As more and more of my friends and acquaintances became aware of the turmoil that had occurred, the struggles endured, by me and my kids, teenagers at the time, the more often I heard “I don’t know how you just keep going”. I didn’t know how to NOT keep going. I was driven, my kids were driven. It was just a struggle and we were going to get through it. As more and more friends found out about our situation, and looked on in awe, I realized that we had become invincible because of our struggle. We had always been tough, stoic, strong, stubborn even, the three of us. What we endured in the past several years, to some, would be a nightmare beyond fathom. Ok, it was. We lost everything. But all the while, we went about our work, school, myriad volunteer activities, we never had an excuse, we never quit, we showed up for everything, worked hard, and we excelled at everything we endeavored, we smiled, joked, laughed, lived. And we grew; better, I think, than if everything had gone perfectly as they had all those years prior. My son became an Eagle Scout, my daughter held a state office in the California International Order of Rainbow for Girls and I took on a new job that required learning pubic speaking and also required an enormous amount of travel, two things I never considered an ability prior to this “struggle”.

Our story is not unique. I’m sure, in light of the past several years of economic turmoil, you can think of a family, perhaps displaced from their home or from their jobs, who through those struggles actually found a new lease on life. Perhaps a more suitable lifestyle, perhaps the rare chance to start over with a career, to finally do something they only ever dreamed of doing. The vine bore better fruit as a result of the struggle. Of course, there are those who just sat there in despair, being the victim, languishing and desperate. Those grapes became bitter fruit because they did not respond to the struggle in an appropriate fashion.

I guarantee that no successful person in the history of the world ever made it to success without some significant struggle along the way. It is not possible to truly succeed without having struggled. The greater the success, I promise, the greater the struggle.

Do not be afraid when you are met with a situation you must struggle against; health, money, relationships. Just remember the vines, growing on the steep, limestone hillside in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, remember that occasionally they struggle beyond just their difficult rooting in the rocky soil, in a climate cooler than the rest of the valley, where there is far less water. As a result, the fruit becomes sweeter, and the wine is divine! You will be, too. Learn to use struggle as a catalyst for growth and you will succeed, like the vine.

Scarlett’s Letter – My Walk in the Desert

Today marks the end of Lent for those who observe this tradition. Whether religious, or not, this season of spring is a season of renewal, and an excellent opportunity to awaken and grow along with the buds and the blooms.

I started the Lenten season a bit unprepared, hastily deciding I’d walk in the desert by moderating some of my behaviors. I decided I’d “fast” by limiting myself to one square of dark chocolate a day, one tablespoon of butter per meal, and one adult beverage per day. I may have also mentioned something about sticking to a single serving size of peanut butter, as provided on the label, and not shopping for peanut butter based on the comparative generosity of the serving size on the label.

Forty days later, I stumble out of the desert, prepared to come clean on how my “fast” went. I rocked the butter “fast”! I went whole days without butter, and probably got close to using three to five tablespoons per week! I did have to make a couple of trips to the market for EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), though. Chocolate? I did alright, better, anyway. Of course, my interpretation of “one square” may have varied slightly based on just how generous the squares were for the different brands of chocolate I consume. I did very, very well with the peanut butter, too.

What does that leave? Adult beverages. Yes. Well. Let’s just say I kept staggering out of the desert and into an oasis where I would enjoy one or two extra adult beverages per night. Not every night, but several times. What can I say? I am a sinner. I repent. Not. At least I’m honest! After all, there was the vacation to Alaska, which accounted for many of the transgressions, about ten consecutive days worth, to be exact. The other fifteen or twenty transgressions, I have no excuse for. I’m just a bad seed.

The lesson I take away from this walk in the desert; we all have areas we hope we can improve ourselves. By setting goals and working towards them we almost always make some improvement, we learn a lot about ourselves, and we affect change. Failure is human. Failure to achieve a goal within a specific timeframe is not failure to achieve the goal. Some goals we set for ourselves may be too aggressive, the timing may not be right, or we may not be truly prepared to attempt that goal with fervor. That doesn’t mean we should give up entirely, simply adjust the timeframe or modify the goal and take it on in smaller bits.

Think of goals much like a football game. The coach calls for a play and communicates it to the quarterback. This becomes the quarterback’s “goal”, for sake of comparison. As the defense lines up, the quarterback may have to reevaluate his goal and adjust his plan. As the snap is made and the defensive and offensive players begin to move into position and adapt accordingly to the other players movements, the quarterback, again, may have to adjust his plan to achieve his goal, or adjust the goal entirely. Our goals are no different. Adjusting the plan or modifying the goal is not a failure. You still have a chance at making a touchdown, if not this play, then maybe at least you’ll gain some yardage! Keep playing!

While my walk in the desert, my fast, was triumphant with a few of my intentions, I know where I need to reflect and focus some additional energy. We all have similar intentions and encounter similar difficulties. It would be in our best interest to keep working at it, even though the fast may be officially over, we may have exited the desert into a lush garden, the goal still exists and still has validity. Keep walking.