Don’t Be Such an Ass

I work with a man. He acts like an ass.

My co-worker is funny and witty and clever. He often says exactly what is on his mind, and, on occasion, he offends someone in so doing, but he isn’t unkind, on the contrary, he is actually quite nice. He just doesn’t know when not to say something. He often says far too much. On conference calls he will talk far too long, or ask too many questions, or in some other way make a brief meeting turn into something much more than brief. And he acts like an ass.

Scarlette Begonia

There are other people I am around, frequently, who act like an ass.

Sometimes, I even act like an ass, I really, really don’t want to, but it happens. I know better. We all know better.

The ass I refer to is Eeyore.

Like Eeyore, my co-worker dismisses his ideas as poor, he is rather self-deprecating, at times, and finishes almost every statement or question with something like, “I don’t know, it probably isn’t a very good idea”, the funny thing is, he even has the same tone of voice, the same manner of speaking. Like Eeyore, other asses I’m around often expect the worst to happen and just resign to it. Like Eeyore, some asses I know just assume others don’t accept or appreciate them, or their ideas. Like Eeyore, sometimes I assume the worst.

Scarlette Begonia

I’ve confronted some of these asses with their outlook, explained how, really, what you truly believe, what you think, and expect, will usually manifest, good or bad. It’s the old positive mental attitude thing. I’ve had an ass or two reply to me, saying something like, “it’s better to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when it turns out okay.” Cheery.

One ass in my life believed so completely that the worst would happen, that he became completely paralyzed by his fear, he became totally unable to act to prevent that which he feared most. And in his inability, his strong belief and overwhelming fear, his worst imaginable fears all came to pass. His negativity was reinforced, and has had a domino effect on his life. He lost everything. Action and a positive belief and confidence likely would have changed the course of things. At the very minimum, with a more positive and optimistic outlook, even if the worst does happen, we are better equipped to pick up the pieces and move on.

Scarlette Begonia

There will always be asses. We will, invariably, be an ass ourselves, at some point in time. Maybe at many points in time. All I know, I think being an ass, like Eeyore, seriously inhibits joy and happiness. As a student of happiness, I believe this and intend to strive not to be such an ass.

You Lie. Show Some Respect.

I ran a marathon today. I ran my first full marathon. I ran my first full marathon at the age of fifty years young. Twenty-six point two miles. Me.

If you told me five years ago that I’d run a marathon I might not have believed you. I doubt I would’ve said, “I can’t”, because I’d already been baptized in the PMA Kool-Aid, but I might have said, “I don’t run.” And then laughed at the mere suggestion of running a marathon.

My day started early. I stayed at a hotel not far from the start of the race. I selected the hotel because they’d arranged for a “shuttle” to the starting line so I wouldn’t have to hassle with driving and traffic and parking. With over 10,000 runners and the road closures that go along with conducting a marathon, you can imagine the nightmare driving oneself there might present. So, I left my hotel room, bundled up against the 18-degree temperature, and found out front, two school buses. Two school busses with snow on top. I mentioned it was cold, right? I boarded the bus, took a seat and that was the beginning of my education. I got schooled today.

Today, I got schooled.
Today, I got schooled.

As the bus began to fill, a woman asked to sit next to me. I moved my small mountain of gear aside and she sat. We began chatting and during the course of the bus trip figured out we both run at the same “tempered” pace, I admit, I’m not fast, but I’m effing tenacious.

We were allowed, it was, in fact, suggested, that we remain on the nice, heated bus, until we needed to use one of the hundreds of porta-potties, or the race was to start, whichever came first. It is every marathon runners dream, to be blunt, to drop a load, before the beginning of the race. There is nothing quite like running “in need”. We took turns watching each other’s gear while taking care of business. We agreed to try to run together and, after exiting the bus, dropped our extra gear, stuffed into clear bags that had been provided to us, with our bib number adhered to it. Bags were loaded onto trucks based on the numbers. My number was in the 2000’s and hers in the 4000’s, which were to be placed in separate trucks. In the crowd, after dumping our gear, we failed to find each other before the beginning of the race. I wondered for much of the race, how she was faring, this being her first full marathon, too, though a more seasoned runner, than me, and younger by at least fifteen years.

As I waited by the pace sign 5:10, I saw a familiar face hurrying through the crowd. Miles. A quick hug for encouragement and he was off to a far more ambitious pace banner. I hope to run that fast some day. As I waited, hoping my new friend would find me by the pace sign we both noted as the most practical for our start, I was met by a coach and a couple of members of my pace group from SacFit, my running club. They were running a click or two slower than the 5:10 banner I stood by, but I started the race with them, behind the 5:25 pace group. Nearly last, actually, of all the runners who started the race. The race started at 7:00. I take that back. The race started at 6:59:30 for handicapped participants and at 7:00 for the rest of us, with the elite runners at the head of the crowd, so they wouldn’t have to trip over those of us with a more “tempered” pace.

Handicapped runners? Yes. Quite a few. This I was aware of. Last year, in fact, I was at O’Hare waiting for a flight to Sacramento, exactly like yesterday. But last year, in the boarding area, was a blind man and his companion, on their way to run the California International Marathon, with the intent of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Again. So, yes, I knew there were visually impaired runners, I suppose, that constituting a “handicap”, the word being of use only to those less enlightened, if you ask me.

The start of the California International Marathon
The start of the California International Marathon

At 7:06:30, I crossed the start line. I ran with my coach and teammates as the course started out downhill. My “pace group” that we train at is 11:30, meaning we should run at a pace of a mile in eleven and a half minutes. We run five minutes and walk one minute, throughout, so, with walk breaks, our average pace should be around 11:45 to 11:50. We run slower. Which, I will admit, annoys me. Now, on my own, I run between 10:30 and 11:45, including walk breaks. My plan for this race, had I gone it alone, was to try to keep to an average of 11:45 to 12:00, just because of the distance. I’ve never run more than 22 miles before.

At the six mile mark, the coach excused herself to a porta-potty, and as I had a watch that was set to the same intervals as hers, I was “put in charge” of pacing the group. I sucked. We ran at 11:07 and missed the first walk break, but we really covered some ground. At mile eight, I excused myself for a porta-potty and the two remaining team members carried on. I never saw them again. Upon exiting the porta potty, I felt liberated, in more ways than one, and I set off at a comfortable clip. I ran and ran and ran. I felt really good, I was waving at the crowds of spectators, laughing at some of their signs, fist pumping as I passed bands, DJs and residents with tunes playing. I was having a ball! I think I stopped at another porta-potty, I may have over hydrated on the bus, I drained all but a swallow of 1.5 L Smart Water. Upon exiting the odiferous, plastic latrine, there was my coach. We ran together for a bit, she commenting on how we must have been running a bit faster after leaving her at the first bank of potties. I took credit for that, I am always accountable for my actions and inactions, always one to own up to my indiscretions. As soon as we reached the next bank of potties, she, again, broke away to tend to matters. We’d all be Olympians, I’m sure, if not for porta-potties. We’d run like hell if we didn’t have safe, remarkably clean and private stalls to stop at every time we got the whim! Put a big, single bank of porta potties fifty feet past the finish line and watch people run! So, again, I upped my pace and kept plugging away.

I adhered, mostly, to the run five/walk one schedule I’ve used in training. But, now, there were hills, lots of rolling hills. I decided to modify my approach slightly. There is nothing quite so maddening as to run up a hill only to have your watch inform you that you have a walk break at the crest, that lasts for most of the downhill, and, as you begin to run again, the landscape begins to rise again. So, I just sort of altered the pattern a little and walked up the hills and run downhill, letting gravity pull me down. My pace was all over the place between 10:09 and 12:00, the average being right around my comfort zone, 11:07.

Along the course, I saw a couple of familiar faces. A friend, her husband and their daughter. I first met them through Boy Scouting, then, again, in Rainbow Girls, then, again, in the running club. I don’t know why she wasn’t running, but, I got an excited greeting and it made me feel good. I may have had a small, brief pity party a time or two, leading up to the race, at the fact that I had no close friends or family anywhere along the way, and especially at the finish line, to cheer me on. Often, family members and friends will have signs specifically for their loved one and they’ll negotiate their way through road closures to meet them at points along the way, and, finally, at the finish line. My kids live thousands of miles away, as does my Sweetie. Mom, wisely, chooses not to drive as far as Sacramento, and my close friends mostly live in other towns and have very chaotic lives of their own. So, I thrive on reading the signs for the anonymous.

My favorites signs. One I saw several times that said something like, “Go! Random Stranger!” A young lady had an original sign that read, “Hurry! We’re Cold!” Another I LOL’d at, “Make this your bitch” and, not a block later, “It’s long and it’s hard, do it faster!” That one was my favorite. Go figure.

I ran and I ran and I ran. With walk breaks, of course. I ran through a community I used to live in. I ran past the school my kids went to elementary school at. I ran through the village I used to live in where the chickens roam free in the park and cross the street, using the crosswalks. I ran past the park where I used to take my kids to play on the walk home from school, on Fridays. I ran past the bakery we used to stop at first, to get a Danish cookie called a “Hindber Snitter”. I ran past the street I used to turn on to get to my house, the house I used to sleep in on this one Sunday a year when “the marathon” happened. I remember hearing the horns and the bells, the shouts of encouragement from the crowds lining the streets of the village a couple of blocks away, all from the stifling comfort of my house. I ran past the bike shop Santa bought all the bicycles at. Actually, I walked past the bike shop, at mile ten, because that was the steepest hill on the whole course. At mile eleven, I was running again and as I approached an intersection where some Scouter friends of mine live near, I wondered if they’d be out spectating, and sure enough, there they were! A quick hug, including the doggie, and I continued on my way. My friend, Sky, running with me for a short bit to chat, he even took in my next walk break before peeling off the rejoin his wife and doggie. Again, I felt loved!

I continued to run and a few miles on, the family I first saw had made their way down course and, again, I was greeted and cheered on. I ran and ran and ran. I was starting to feel my right Achilles tighten and hurt a bit. My left hip flexor was equally tight and was also beginning to hurt. I crossed the “half marathon” line and kept on going. Stopping here was not an option. I’ve run twenty-two miles and felt, at that point, I could do four more. I was doing this, pain or no pain.

It is at this point when running is much less a sport of physical conditioning and one of mental conditioning. I still felt good, and I just kept telling myself to “stick to the program”. Most of the hills were done with, so it was back to an almost mechanical pace and my run five/walk one intervals. I have always found comfort in rhythm, in cadence. When I backpack in steep mountainous terrain, especially with a pack overburdened with food and water at the beginning of a trek, I find rhythmic breathing to very helpful. And, while I enjoy running with a chatty group of folks, I find as much joy running alone, listening to the metronome like sound of my feet on the pavement. This is “time in my head”. I love that time, when I am physically exerting myself and my brain is just ON!! On with a capital “O”. Or, even, all caps, as I stated above. This is “me time” exponentially. At about mile sixteen, I pass a blind person running. It took me sixteen miles, folks, to pass a “handicapped” person.

I keep running. At mile eighteen, I am beginning to take two sports drinks at the rare aid stations that have any left. I am fatigued. My Achilles and my hip flexor are on fire, and, now, the “chip” that I had to zip tie to my shoe to record my times electronically as I run over sensors in mats at certain points throughout the course is beginning to cause pressure on the top of my left foot. Slowing from a run to a walk is excruciating and the only thing more painful is resuming running again a minute later. But, my mind is more conditioned than my body and I DO keep going. And going and going and going.

At mile eighteen something profound happens. I inch very slowly past a woman, older than me, with a prosthetic leg. And here is my lesson. Who “can’t” do what?

As ten thousand runners ran through Sacramento today, people on the sidelines would shout in encouragement. Often, the encouraging phrases were followed by something like, “I’m glad you’re running because I CAN’T!” Can you imagine what it would feel like to run past these folks, with a prosthetic leg and hear them say, “I can’t”? I’m sorry, I beg to differ. Anyone can, it’s a choice. True, it’s a choice with a great deal of commitment attached to it. But the key there is, it is a choice. People overcome incredible obstacles by choice, but more succumb to the least of obstacles and prop themselves up with the crutch of “I can’t.”

So, why lie? Please. Can we just be honest? How about if we just say, “I’m glad you’re running because I choose not to!” I like that better. Why? Because it’s honest. It’s the truth. “I can’t” is a lie. There was a runner today that was 84 years old. Correction, 84 years young. To be able to run 26.2 miles at the age of 84 is the result of a whole bunch of “I cans”. I know people, my age and younger, who say, with absolution, “I won’t live to be 80.” And, so, they won’t. Their choice.

Let’s talk about respect for a moment. To say, “I can’t” when we can, I think, is disrespectful to people who have greater challenges than we do, and do. The woman with a prosthetic leg who outran me for eighteen miles and chased me for the last eight, we should think of her the next time we catch ourselves saying, “I can’t” for any reason. Yes, we can, we choose not to, so let’s be honest AND respectful. Can you imagine for a moment, having lost your sight, or a leg, and overcoming those challenges to have someone without those challenges whine, “I caaaaannnnn’t”. I’d Kung Fu kick them with my prosthetic leg, and whack them over the head with my white cane, because I know I could!

After my life lesson at mile eighteen, I continued to run, perhaps a tad slower, perhaps with slightly exaggerated walk breaks, and, the whole while, mind was telling body, “shut up, I got this.”

My goal was to finish the California International Marathon, all 26.2 miles. My hope was to finish it within the six hours allowed. My dream was to finish before 5:30. I crossed the line at 5:15:20 and, to my delight, there was Miles cheering me on, a very good friend, indeed. Of course, two years ago, not being a runner, I made myself get up and get ready and drive around all kinds of traffic blocks to cheer Miles on in this crazy marathon at mile twenty, when most runners “bonk”. I cheered as he ran past, but he didn’t even know I was there until I told him later. That’s what friends do. But, it was at roughly that moment, as I waited for him to pass by, as I observed hundreds of ordinary people achieve something their minds told them to do, even if their bodies weren’t so sure, that I thought, maybe, I could do the same. A month later, I joined a running club, on Miles’ recommendation. And I never doubted for a moment, from that instant on that I was a “marathoner”. Today I proved it to anyone who doubted me, which most certainly did not include me.

The California International Marathon finish.
The California International Marathon finish.

I just perused the stats. I’m a stats addict. Any stat, I want to see it. Every coach I’ve had for the past two years finished the race behind me. I’m a wee bit competitive, I know, it’s about finishing the race, not beating people. Not beating your coaches. My point is, mind over matter. I suggested to myself I’d finish before 5:30 and I did, I did not know my coaches’ goals or hopes, I only knew mine. I might have suggested my goal, my hope, to myself repeatedly, I might have “envisioned” it a few (hundred) times, but you see? Mind over matter. I was in real physical pain. Now, a few hours later, after a shower and a rest, no pain. I also looked at the stats for my newfound friend from the bus; she quit at the halfway mark and my heart goes out to her. What happened?

For days, weeks, months, people have been asking me, “are you nervous?” Um, no. Why? The only thing I was nervous about was waking up with enough time to pack, eat breakfast, get ready, check out and cram my suitcases in the car before the bus arrived. That was my only stress factor, and it was a stupid one. I never doubted for a moment that I’d finish the race. I vacillated, a smidge, on my ability to run the time I hoped for, or, better yet, the one I dreamed of. Even though I flew in from New York yesterday and fly out, for the east coast, again, tomorrow, I knew with absolute certainly, I’d finish this race. Even though my workouts have been compromised by my travels recently, even though my nutrition has been completely derailed by having to eat in restaurants two meals a day, I knew, absolutely, without a doubt, I’d finish this race today, just like the lady with the prosthetic leg, the eighty-four year old marathon runner and the generous number of blind runners all knew, without a doubt, they would finish this race today. It’s what we tell ourselves we can do, without a doubt, that we do, with joy and ease and triumph. Because we can. Because we choose to.

Next time you choose to use that horrible four letter word, you know the one, not fuck, not shit, not damn, the four letter word that begins with a “c”, the next time you find your mouth opened, gaping wide, and your palette closing to form the ugliest of “k” sounds, the beginning of the most disgusting and sinful word ever, the word “can’t”, remember, first, it’s a lie and second, it’s disrespectful to those who are labeled as less able, but do.

I have to pee again.

Scarlett’s Letter November 16, 2013

A short letter, tonight, I promise.

It never ceases to amaze me, even after all the airline miles I’ve accumulated; I awoke this morning in New York and had lunch in California. And I was even in Texas for a bit, today, too.

And, since all I did was sit on an airplane for three hours, run through an airport and get on another airplane for four more hours, I had a little time to just sit and think.

I am completely exhausted. Totally. And, by telling myself I am completely exhausted, I am, now, in fact, completely exhausted, whether I actually was to begin with or not. That’s how it works, in case you were wondering.

I believe, 100%, totally, completely and without exception, we are what we say we are. If we say we are tired, we are going to feel tired. If we say we feel sick, we are going to feel sick. If we say we cant’ do something, we have no reason to even try.

Have you ever had someone say horrible things to you? Mean things, about you? You’re not smart enough. You’re not athletic enough. You’re not strong enough. You’re too slow, you’re too out of shape, you’re too old, you’re too young, you don’t have enough time, you don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough patience, you don’t have enough education, you’re dumb, you’re fat, you’re ugly. Ever? Has anyone close to you ever said anything to you that was anything other than positive, respectful and supportive? I’m sure. I’m sure, and more than you realize. So, do you believe them? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Don’t you ever talk to me that way!

But if there were someone in your life that you were extremely close to, trusted more than anyone else in the whole world and they told you any of those things I listed above once, would you consider the possibility that it were true? What if they said it to you over and over and over, day after day after day?  Do you think you’d eventually think they may be right? Would you eventually be convinced?

Did you ever fib, maybe just a little, as a kid? Perhaps in order to get out of something you knew you’d get in trouble for; breaking a vase or a window, trampling the new flowers in the flower bed, eating the last twelve Oreos? And did you ever continue to deny the incident vehemently and repeatedly, to the point where, eventually, you believed your own lie? It happens. Even to adults. We can convince ourselves of our own lies if we speak them often enough.

I know someone close to you that treats you badly, tells you horrible things about yourself, repeatedly, every single day. And you let them. And, you trust them, because they are closer to you than anyone you know. You believe them, without a doubt, you have been convinced, after years and years and years, a lifetime, of being told the same lies over and over and over.

That person is you.

We speak to ourselves in ways we’d likely never tolerate from others, no matter who they were to us. Think about it. How often do you tell yourself you can’t do something for one reason or another? How often do you look in a mirror, or at a photo of yourself and say something negative about your appearance? How often do you attempt something, make a little mistake and tell yourself you were right in knowing you couldn’t do it in the first place?

How do you suppose you’d feel about yourself if your parents or someone else equally close to you told you, on a daily basis, maybe even several times a day, that you were ugly, you had too strong of a chin, a fat belly, thin hair, an unsightly birthmark, hairy arms, that you were bowl legged, too tall, flat chested. Next time you walk past a mirror, catch what it is, exactly, you notice about yourself.

We are horrible to ourselves. Listen up! Listen to the things you say to yourself when you aren’t paying attention. I’m serious. Listen to your self speak, your self doubt. This is your self control, your negative self control. You control yourself by limiting yourself with every negative thing you think or say. You are standing between you and everything you need to reach your goals, your dreams and your potential. We truly are our own worst enemy. And, even worse, since we are so horrible to ourselves, often we allow those around us to act in kind. In fact, if we can’t treat ourselves with love and respect, doesn’t it seem a little unreasonable to expect others to rise above?

In fact, people will treat us in the manner they see us treat ourselves. We set the expectation, the precedent, with our own self-respect.

Let’s look at this from another angle. Do you know anyone who spends a great deal of time complaining about ailments, or being tired, or unhappy, broke, or how about people who respond, habitually, with “I can’t, because …”? Or all of the above? Do you like spending a lot of time with them? You know they are a lot more capable, well, smart, strong, healthy than they think they are and they just need to change their attitude and do it. You know it, in their case, but what about when you’re chatting with yourself. Well, pot, this is kettle, and you’re black.

Am I right?

What do we do about all this negativity? Stop it. Cold turkey.

Start making a concerted effort, listen to the voice in your head and how you speak to yourself. Make note of when you think or say things, to yourself, that are, in any way negative or derogatory. And correct it, right then and there. Whatever negative thing you catch yourself thinking or saying, correct it, out loud, if possible. This will take both practice and persistence, but it works. Begin to compliment yourself for the very things you used to criticize yourself for. Soon, you will find you feel more energetic, healthier, smarter, faster, stronger, more capable, more confident and, best of all, happier.

This practice, though, is much like building physical strength, endurance or stamina. You can’t just raise yourself off of the couch on January 1st and go run twenty miles if you’ve never run a significant distance before. You will have to work out, regularly. And, you’ll have to keep building those muscles, forever. Let’s say you work really hard, for several months, to be able to do 100 push ups. Once you achieve that goal, you can’t just stop doing push ups and continue to be able to do 100 push-ups. If you stop doing push ups regularly, you lose the ability to do so many. Developing a positive “self-speak” policy and a healthy self-confidence, like working out, requires regular practice to maintain. Daily, for the rest of your life.

Develop some kind of practice, or routine, that you can incorporate into your day to bolster a healthy conversational relationship with yourself. If you find you always criticize yourself when you catch your reflection in the mirror or when you see pictures of yourself, put up more mirrors and take more pictures. I’ve talked to you about “selfies” before! I believe in them! I always have!

Selfie 11/16/2013
A Selfie a Day –  11/16/2013

I also find a great benefit in journaling every morning and every night. It doesn’t take a great deal of time and it sets the tone for my day before it begins and puts everything in perspective, again, before it ends. I actually write down all the positive things I would like to tell myself in order to evolve into the person I intend to become; stronger, healthier, more grateful, more tolerant, more forgiving, etc. And, then, at night, I revisit each of those points, again, and write down all the things I am grateful for. It is a great meditative, centering exercise and takes no more than ten minutes, morning and night. These practices work for me, find what works for you. What can you do to make sure you’re treating yourself with the respect you deserve? So, do it.





Scarlett’s Letter August 7, 2013

Magic sprinkles and sparkles today!

We received a letter from the gas and electric company a month or so ago, stating that they were planning a power service outage in our neighborhood, today, for maintenance. I made special arrangements with my manager to be assigned to a “project” today, rather than a teaching session. My plan was to get up, get ready, and head to a coffee shop or other free power/free Wi-Fi venue to work. Then to a late afternoon doctors appointment.

So, according to plan, I was up, coffee made, hot shower done, curly hair clipped back. I didn’t want to risk having the power turned off mid blow-dry, straighten and curl, so I just went curly today. I bundled my stuff up and plugged in the vital electronics to charge until the big switch was turned off. Which never happened. Two hours after the planned shut down, lights were still burning bright and my electronics were fully charged. Mom was huddled in her room with a candle, reading a book, assuming the power had been shut off according to plan. She was pretty pissed to find out otherwise. She called the utility company and was informed that their plans changed and there would be no power outage. She was even more pissed. I had a plan, power on or power off, I carried on. I needed therapy, anyway. Therapy being time in my car at high speeds with music blaring. I headed east, to Sacramento.

I have to admit, I was having a bit of a pity party for the first, oh, three quarters of my drive. But then I talked some sense into myself. Why is it, even though we know better, we tend to lapse back into the thought pattern that things external to us are responsible for making us feel happy and fulfilled. I talked myself down off the ledge and am once again, feeling solidly grounded. The result, of course, being an article.

My doctor’s appointment went well. For being fifty and all. I haven’t had a real physical in about three years and boy, has my doctor aged! My cholesterol levels were off the chart. Are we surprised? But my overall cholesterol is only elevated because my HDL cholesterol, the good kind, is freakishly high. My LDL, bad cholesterol is normal. So, in all, even though the numbers look scary, it couldn’t be better. Considering I eat pretty, darned well, and in restaurants more often than not, I was told that “running was my salvation”. So, I’ll keep running.

I met my son and his friend for a pint, or two, afterwards at Capitol Beer and Tap Room in Sacramento who features a fantastic and revolving selection of awesome brews. And after a pint, or two, the logical progression is, of course, pizza at Hot City Pizza in Sacramento, also home to a fantastic, eclectic selection of beer. We had a nice visit, some interesting brews and a scrumptious pizza. My son is headed off to Hawaii, as in moving several thousand miles away, in another week or so. That means both of my kids will be a four or five hour plane ride away, in opposite directions. Good thing I have lots of frequent flier miles!

So, all in all, for a day that was supposed to be powerless, it turned out to be pretty powerful. And magical. And good.


Left Coast Una Mas Vienna Lager which won Best of Show at the California State Fair this year. Fantastic! At Capitol Beer and Tap Room in Sacramento
Left Coast Una Mas Vienna Lager which won Best of Show at the California State Fair this year. Fantastic! At Capitol Beer and Tap Room in Sacramento

We also tried the Stone Farking Wheaton Woot Stout. Again, fantastic, one of the best stouts I've had in a while.
We also tried the Stone Farking Wheaton Woot Stout. Again, fantastic, one of the best stouts I’ve had in a while.
The Bruery Tart of Darkness. It was sour, but good. I thought I might like it better on a salad.
The Bruery Tart of Darkness. It was sour, but good. I thought I might like it better on a salad.
The Bruery Bois was, again, fantastic, dark and sweet. You could taste the whiskey influence from the aging barrels. I thought it had a rich, maple syrup finish and would go very well on "drunk waffles".
The Bruery Bois was, again, fantastic, dark and sweet. You could taste the whiskey influence from the aging barrels. I thought it had a rich, maple syrup finish and would go very well on “drunk waffles”.
Best "dive" pizza place in East Sacramento, Hot City Pizza. Here, half Pepperoni Bliss and Spicy Veggie. Both excellent!
Best “dive” pizza place in East Sacramento, Hot City Pizza. Here, half Pepperoni Bliss and Spicy Veggie. Both excellent!
Hot City Pizza also has a fantastic selection of beer. My son and I are fans of the Knee Deep Brewing Company's Tanilla
Hot City Pizza also has a fantastic selection of beer. My son and I are fans of the Knee Deep Brewing Company’s Tanilla


What’s Right?

I have decided the just about the whole world needs an attitude adjustment, a positive attitude adjustment, and in an effort to make this happen I am striking the phrase “what’s wrong” from my repertoire of questions. We are so automatic to ask, “what’s wrong” of the people around us and then find ourselves captive to a one sided discussion of all in the world of that person that is wrong. While it is proper, polite and supportive to be sympathetic and to listen actively and offer the appropriate support or action, unless something truly catastrophic has happened, it is really a disservice to friends, family and loved ones to prompt such negative behavior patterns.

Those of us who believe and live under the comfort and practice of positive mental thought and attitude are well aware that when positive, life just goes more smoothly, and those occasional bumps are just pebbles in the path, not boulders blocking the road. We have learned, or are at least benefiting from the positive energy that our positive thoughts and attitude generate. With more practice, life evens out even more, and if troubles arise, we are in the right frame of mind to deal with them and move on to more positive matters.

For those who are not so positive, the focus on the negative, quite simply, through the negative energy of the negative thoughts, just creates more negativity. Negative energy is usually enhanced by severe emotions, making it all that much more powerful; stress, anxiety, worry, dissatisfaction, anger, frustration, hate. All of these are very intensified emotions and multiply the energy of the negative thought exponentially.

I know, in reality, it is very difficult to prompt people who are less than positive to only speak of what’s right in their lives. Usually, people who are less than positive have been that way for most, if not all of their lives. Changing those thought patterns and behaviors are difficult and can never be done externally. In other words, the change has to come from within. And, to make matters worse, the more negatively inclined rarely want to hear all your positive mental attitude stuff, they can barely tolerate your bright outlook and carefree life. They want you to come to the pity party. Don’t go there, you just make the negativism more powerful, you add additional energy to it. I do think we can live by example, by we, I mean those of us who are more positive in thought, in attitude and in nature. That’s the firs step.

Have you ever noticed when we have a less than perfect day, okay, a bad day, and we acknowledge it, it usually continues in that manner. You stub your toe getting out of bed, your trip over the cat, you spill your coffee on your work project, the traffic signals aren’t working, causing a major delay in your commute, you burn your lunch beyond recognition in the microwave, so you buy popcorn from the vending machine, and then burn that, too. The day seemed in a downward spiral from the moment you stubbed your toe. And with each “bad thing” that happened, you just rolled your eyes and added it all to your growing list of “what is wrong with this day”. We all do it. The trick is to stop after stubbing your toe! Once we acknowledge that as the “pattern for the day to come”, with negative energy, we have set ourselves up for the manifestation of more bad stuff, however insignificant alone, we are on a vigilant lookout for “bad things” to happen the rest of the day, and we’re going to go out of our way to only acknowledge “bad things”.

So, next time you stub your toe getting out of bed, stop, take a deep breath and just say “glad to get that out of the way, the rest of the day is going to be perfect!” Smile and acknowledge all the good things that happen the rest of the day, even if you do burn the popcorn in the microwave. We all do. It’s evil stuff, I’ve never seen microwave popcorn NOT burst into flame. Opt for the Red Vines from the vending machine, instead. No danger. It’s all good, then!

We know how to set ourselves up for a more positive day when it starts out with a stubbed toe. How can we possibly redirect those around us to a more positive outlook? As much as I’d like to walk up to people and way “what’s right?” I know it probably won’t be met with the reaction I’m hoping for. Perhaps it’s a little more like fishing, give them a little line, then reel them in. Kind of like redirecting undesirable behavior from a small child. If you know the person well, you may know a bit about their lives, their hobbies, their families, something they find pleasure or joy in. Just redirect. Pick a topic, a question, you know you’re likely to get a more positive response from. Ask about their kids, their cat, their dog, their beloved car, their favorite television show, ANYTHING you can think of that will likely elicit a positive response. Then take it from there. Make a mental note of which topics generated more positive conversation and revisit those topics every time you have conversation with that person.

Sadly, we are usually positive people in the midst of much misery, and moaning. It is very easy to be drug down into the dumps, too. Stay positive, stay strong, be the beacon and the catalyst for more positive topics, more positive conversations. It may seem like a lot of work, but, like all things, hard work pays off. Being positive in a vacuum is about as successful as lighting a candle in a vacuum. Remember the song from Sunday school? “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Let your light shine, seek opportunities for developing positive conversation with people who are less positive than you. Foster positive conversation, positive topics and, hopefully, soon, you won’t be trying to light your candle in a vacuum. That’s what’s right!

Might I Suggest

This is a phrase I use often to recommend a thought process or an action that I find useful or beneficial. There is a great deal of power in suggestion, you can convince others, and yourself, of many things. It is a tool, when used appropriately. Might I suggest you try it?

Today is my “travel” day. I worked in Baltimore this week and am in Denver, at the airport right now, waiting for my final flight home. I had an afternoon flight out of Baltimore, which gave me a free morning to explore Washington D.C., a city I’ve never had the opportunity to spend any free time in. I set my alarm for 4:00 AM this morning, I wanted to get an early start, avoid traffic into D.C., have time to see as much as possible and make my flight out of Baltimore. I managed to get to bed by about midnight, so I was a little short on sleep when the alarm on my iPhone awoke me. I showered, let my hair go crazy curly and selected an outfit, a pair of jeans and a tee shirt I bought a couple of years ago at Target. The tee shirt is one of my favorites, I wear it often and really don’t think about it, much. I just wear it. It fits in a cute manner and is comfortable and happened to be in my suitcase.

Washington D.C. was amazing! I am so glad I made the effort to see this city. I walked and walked and walked and saw most of the monuments and buildings of interest around Capitol Mall and the Federal Triangle. I’ll have to save the tours of the museums for another trip, or twelve. As I walked through the city, I was encountered by many people who all smiled at me. I’m a pretty smiley person, so this didn’t really seem so remarkable, except that a number of men also commented “beautiful”. So did one woman. Then it occurred to me, my tee shirt has big black letters that look like they’re painted onto the gray fabric:


Got it. But I don’t think people were just reading my shirt out loud, I was suggesting that I felt beautiful, perhaps. When you feel attractive, your attractiveness actually, visibly increases. And, besides, a few fellas said something like “your shirt sure doesn’t lie.” Aw, shucks. But, between the smiles, the positive comments, the sunshine and the beautiful city I got to experience, I did have a beautiful day. The message on the shirt was, perhaps, also a powerful suggestion for me, my attitude, my experience for the day.

I’m not necessarily suggesting you run out to Target and buy yourself a
FUL tee shirt. I am suggesting that you find ways to suggest to yourself, and those around you, that you are confident, that you like yourself and that you feel attractive. I think you’ll experience positive results almost immediately. You’ve seen those people, haven’t you? They are so attractive and charismatic, but when you really look closely, they are actually no more good looking than anyone else, it is all attitude, it is all suggested through their confidence and feeling of self-worth.

Before heading to the airport, after leaving Washington D.C., I grabbed lunch at a kabob place in Baltimore. It was excellent, if you’re ever in the area of the Baltimore Washington airport, and you like kabobs, might I suggest you try MaiWand Kabob! I had a little problem I needed to take care of before going through security; a partial bottle of wine. There was no way I could polish off the whole bottle last night, my suitcase already has an unopened bottle of wine in it that I’m bringing home (I always check my luggage) and my suitcase was already dangerously close to the fifty pound limit. I just needed to find time to enjoy a “glass” of wine between dropping off my rental car and going through security. So, at the kabob place, I secured a Coca Cola cup and filled it with ice water. Once I returned my car to the rental agency, I ducked into the restroom and dumped out the water and poured in the wine. I made sure no one saw me throw the empty wine bottle away. I can be pretty sneaky, like that. I put the plastic lid back on and stuck the straw in. Unless you were really close, you couldn’t really tell it was other than Coca Cola in the cup. The straw did have sort of a purple tint, but you’d have to be very, very close to notice it, and if anyone were THAT close, heck, they’d smell the wine. So, I enjoyed my wine during the bus ride to the terminal, while standing in line to check my bag and then took a seat on a bench until it was gone, then went through security, having nary a care for the long line and slow progress. By disguising my last bit of Hess Cabernet Sauvignon in a Coca Cola cup, I was simply “suggesting” to everyone in the vicinity that I was thirsty and sipping a soda. Right? So, perhaps, the power of suggestion can be somewhat dishonest, at times. Might I suggest you use the power of suggestion with discernment?

While I sat on the bench, near security, sipping my Coca Cabernet Cola Sauvignon, I was within earshot of three Southwest flight attendants, two ladies, one gentleman. In case you’ve never flown Southwest, the flight attendants are a breed apart from most flight attendants for other airlines, though United flight attendants are a close second, and not the recycled Continental ones, the actual United ones who worked for United before the merger. Southwest flight attendants are cheerful, funny, witty, happy, upbeat and really make the drudgery of air travel some measure better. Well, let me tell you, when they are not on duty, they are wholly different! My word! Apparently their chipper attitudes at 35,000 feet are a mere suggestion that they are cheerful, funny, witty, happy and upbeat because what I heard today really suggested they are not at all happy, with their jobs, with their co-workers, with their employer.

One woman said, “I hate everyone I have to work with, some more than others”, to which the man responded, “Oh, no, you have to just hate everyone equally.” They commiserated about company policies about socks, of all things, and the financial state of the airline, which I’ve always thought was one of the more sound airlines, until today. I was a bit shaken. I’m glad I had some wine before boarding the plane! And then, while we were waiting for everyone to board the plane, one of the flight attendants cracked the same joke a flight attendant on another flight earlier in the week made. OMG! This suggests that their material, their super funny, witty jokes, are unoriginal, scripted, perhaps. I don’t know. Here, the power of suggestion is used in disillusion. Anyone who has a job that they so clearly abhor is doing themselves a disservice in keeping it. We spend a considerable amount of our lives at toil, best be something we love or our chances for happiness are greatly diminished. As a customer, I too, am disillusioned. I know it’s important to perform your work with a good attitude, and I have suggested so on many occasion. But, when one discovers that the character of a company, as represented by its employees when they believe they are unheard, is in complete contradiction to everything you’ve been led to believe, it is a little disheartening.

I guess what I’m suggesting here, the moral of my article, because I always have one, is we should use the power of suggestion to improve our self-confidence, to improve our lives. By suggesting to ourselves, on a daily basis, that we are happy, healthy, confident and capable people, we will move towards becoming more happy, healthy, confident and capable. By affirming what we wish to be on a regular basis, and by monitoring and correcting limiting and self-destructive thoughts, we become able to adopt what we suggest as reality. Keeping in mind, that what we do for a living is very much a part of what will lead to our ultimate happiness, and to perhaps include in our suggestions to ourselves that we seek a vocation that will further our desire for happiness and fulfillment, rather than detract from it.

Limiting and self-destructive thought patterns sabotage every desire and every attempt at personal growth and happiness. Limiting and self-destructive thoughts are very powerful, sometimes latent, suggestions by a very trusted source, your own mind, that you are limited, that you’re not worthwhile or deserving of that you desire. Learning to identify and correct limiting and self-destructive thought patterns allow you to align the energy you have with the desires you hold. Once your power and your desires are united they become intent. Intent is extremely powerful, and necessary, in moving in the direction you wish to go. Intent is the power of suggestion driven by desire and agreement of deserving thoughts and attitudes.

Using the power of suggestion to positively affect our goals and desires is one of the most potent tools we have at our disposal. By developing this power we are just beginning to tap into your personal potential. Might I suggest you begin your journey towards fulfillment, towards that which you desire, might I suggest you begin your evolution into the person you wish to become by practicing the power of suggestion.

Losing It

Have you ever thought you’d just lose it? Patience? Sanity? Composure? The ability to just go on? Is this, really, not a part of our day, everyday? When you think about all that goes on in life, it’s a wonder any of us can hold it all together for any period of time. It lends a great deal of credence to the sheer will and determination of the human spirit.

Okay, so it’s Monday, and I’m travelling. The time is ripe for Scarlett to rant a little. But, as always, I have a moral.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to heaven when I finally leave this place, because I’m pretty sure I’ve already experienced hell. I have traveled on commercial airlines from the west coast to the east coast, from the east coast to the west coast, so many times, I cannot even begin to count, nearly a hundred thousand miles each year on one airline alone. There are more miles on other airlines, just to give you an idea.

Today, I headed from west to east, and was unable to secure an affordable ticket on my preferred airlines, which I hold a very high status with. I am treated quite well, I usually get a free first class upgrade, if not, at the very least, I get to select a premier seat with extra legroom, and I almost always get an aisle seat, which I prefer. My preferred airlines has major hubs in the center of the country, so no flight is ever more than three or four hours and I get to deplane, have a nice meal, stretch my legs, use a loo large enough to have at least some air circulation and that you can turn around in without acquiring bruises and abrasions, and all that good stuff. Then I get on another short flight and, voila, I’m there. My airlines has fairly decent, fairly nutritious meals, you can purchase for a fairly reasonable price, if you do happen to get stuck on a longer flight, and if you combine it with wine, there is a discount. Smile! Not the airline I flew today, their hubs are mostly in the west, or the south, or the southwest, so I flew an hour to Las Vegas, then forever to Baltimore, being offered only non-nutritious snacks along the way. No thank you, I’ll pass on the mixture of high-fructose corn syrup, enriched flour and hydrogenated oil-like substance in consumer-pleasing 100-calorie packets.

My new living arrangement and the distance I have to travel means I set my alarm for 1:30 AM this morning. No, I am not kidding, for a 6:00 AM flight I had to get up at 1:30 AM. No matter how I did the math, that’s how it worked out. And it just worked out, no surplus of time. To say I was a bit tired, even after two venti “Three-Region Blends” from Starbucks, one in the car, one at the gate, would be an understatement. I was asleep on the first flight before we pushed back from the gate. This is a skill I have nurtured and developed, sort of like suspended animation.

I developed my ability to sleep on demand out of utter will, pretty much, unless I am in my own bed and really NEED to sleep, then, for whatever reason, it eludes me. But, if I’m in a car or a plane or even a train, I can usually lapse into unconsciousness fairly easily. I developed this skill as a child quite deliberately. As a child, my dad drank, quite a bit sometimes, and then insisted on driving. My mom would state her fear, her concerns, but she never took a stand. I sensed the tension, the anxiety, and I knew enough to know the situation was dangerous and that I was powerless to do anything about it. My solution, my defense, was to lie down on the backseat and fall asleep. I figured if I were asleep, I wouldn’t see “it” coming, if I were asleep, I wouldn’t be cognizant of the moment of impact, or pain, or anything. I guess it worked.

Flying commercially is certainly not as dangerous as being a child in a car with a driver who has had one or two or a few too many. But, flying commercially, coach, I’m certain, is the hell I’ve been sentenced to as penance for the way I conduct myself on the highways of America, or for the bright, outward smile and the evil, dreadful thoughts that occasionally occupy my mind as I walk around the airport, or Wal Mart.

On my second flight, I slept off and on. I was awake far more than I would have preferred. Las Vegas to Baltimore is a pretty far piece, in one stretch. It’s a hell of a long time to be confined to a seat in extremely close proximity to anyone; it’s an unbearably long time to be confined to a small area with complete strangers! I was fortunate in my seat selection, I snagged one of the few remaining aisle seats and it was in an exit row, so I only had to share the row with one other person. She was quiet, of an average size, had bathed recently and had not recently ingested large amounts of curry, garlic or onion. Total win.

I was quite concerned about seating possibilities as I waited to board. There were many large passengers, and while I don’t normally have many prejudices, as an airline passenger, I admit, like TSA, I do some profiling of my own. I think it is wholly unfair to pay for a seat, including half of the armrest, and have the adjacent passenger oozing over the armrest and into my shoulder space. Worse, yet, is when the adjacent passenger is also protruding into my seat from under the armrest. There are body parts of strangers I’d prefer never to come into contact with; butt flab is high on that list. Clammy flesh is another. Equitably, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the airline to charge passengers with protruding body mass a pro-rated amount extra, say by the percentage of my allotted space they utilize, and then discounting my seat by that same amount. I’d be okay with the more rotund passenger just handing me a hundred dollar bill, which would appease me, unless it were an extraordinarily long flight, in which case, more would be appreciated. At what price do we value comfort? At what point do we lose it?

In the boarding area, there were also a number of visibly contagious people. If you are sick, you should stay home. Use your paid sick time for being sick and your paid vacation time for vacating. I am not fond of flying in a flying germ incubation capsule, where airborne infectants are recirculated throughout the entire cabin along with the smell of curry, garlic, onion and the nose hair curling odors of the unbathed. I take Echinacea on a regular basis, and I wash it down with Airborne, twice a day. I chant positive mantras about my health while flying. Until I fall asleep. I am usually able to ward off evil germs and remain healthy, I figure I’ve been exposed to just about everything and have developed quite an immune system. I do remember, though, sitting next to a woman on a very long flight that was excreting snot from every orifice. There were soiled tissues all over her tray, in her lap, on the armrest, I swear there was snot on the window next to which she sat. I leaned as far away as I possibly could, without encroaching on the occupant of the seat on the other side of me. At some point, I remember thinking “I am so getting sick”. I did. That slip in my positive thought process cost me dearly. Hence, the positive wellness mantra chant I do now. I’m sure I look severely emotionally disturbed as passengers pass, looking for a seat; I’m rocking back and forth, staring straight ahead, chanting, “I am well. I am well. I am well.” It works, on a couple of levels! I don’t get sick, and if there is going to be a vacant seat, usually, it’s next to me.

My other observation about the occupants of the boarding area yesterday; lots of crying babies and overburdened adult companions. Strollers, diaper bags, baby backpacks “I’m going to wear him onto the plane”, which, of course translates into “and then stand in the aisle for half an hour trying to wriggle free of the straps that entrap me while the line to board the plane stretches clear up the jet bridge and the spawn of the devil awakens from blissful slumber and becomes vociferously irate”. My daughter, who never cried or screamed as an infant, refers to airborne crying babies, fondly, as “screaming sacks of mucous”. I hope to have grandchildren some day, but that phrase does have me a little worried about the likelihood.

The worst passenger to spy in the boarding area, or, worse yet, approaching the (last remaining) vacant seat next to you, in coach, on a fully booked flight; an obese, un-bathed person with a screaming toddler strapped to their chest, numerous carry-on bags full of curdled baby formula, and, I’m sure, soiled diapers, and a Styrofoam container of Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indian food, just not the aftermath, in a confined area with re-circulated, stale air. I love Indian food. The rest, I tolerate, but only out of necessity. The combination of any more than one of these attributes is more than I can withstand. I could lose it.

Like I said, yesterday, my seat companion was none of the above. Score. But, it was still an epically long flight and my patience was being tested on that fact alone. There was, firstly, the yawning lady. She was seated in front of her husband, so she would stand up and turn to face the back of the plane. Me. She would make small, annoying conversation that older married couples seem to engage in, for whatever reason, sport, I think, from time to time. But mostly, she yawned. Open mouthed, gaping, noisy yawn. I deliberately chose not to go to dental school because I wasn’t fond of the idea of having to peer into someone’s mouth and see bits of chewed up food lodged in their teeth. And as she yawned she did her Ujjayi breath, the “ocean breath” exhalation technique used in yoga to dispel your body of impurities, but her impurities were aimed right towards me and I was not amused. God gave you two hands, one to hold onto the back of the seat to steady yourself on a moving aircraft, the other, to cover thy mouth with.

Then, there was turn around and stare guy, across the aisle, two rows up. Every time I looked up, his head was turned, he was craning his wrinkly, age-spotted neck, actually, to look directly at me. I gave him my special, wide-eyed “WHAT?!” stare a few times, with no effect. I even said “Hello?” once, still, no behavior modification. I went to the restroom at one point to make sure I didn’t have something unsightly on my face, that may clothes were all on (it was really early when I got dressed, perhaps I’d forgotten something). All appeared to be in order. Creeper.

Loud conversation lady was on the plane, too. She is almost always on the plane, talking in excessively loud tones about things she thinks makes her sound interesting. She speaks loud enough for everyone within ten seats to hear. I feel compelled to correct her in every way; her grammar, her flawed facts, her lack of logic, but, I bear it all in silence, focusing instead on what the people in front of me, and within my view are doing to entertain themselves. Do folks have any idea that everything they do is completely visible, and legible, from several rows back? There are e-readers, iPads and good, old-fashioned books. There was a nice looking young man, expensive inexpensive looking jeans, expensive inexpensive looking shoes, shoes, expensive inexpensive looking t-shirt, big fat wedding ring and, like me, two iPhones. I’d assume, like me, one for work, one for life. He was reading a James Patterson book at a furious rate. I glanced up, he’s on chapter two. I glance up again; he’s on chapter four, then seven, eight, fourteen. Perhaps he was just flipping pages, but he appeared to be reading each page fully.

There is always page flipping guy, and I figure he’s just excessively nervous about flying and flips rapidly through the free airline magazine to distract his thoughts of doom, flipping forwards, then backwards, cramming it back into the seat pocket and flipping frantically through the SkyMall. Then the menu. Then the emergency card, until he realizes what he’s reading. Then the fine print on the bottom of the barf bag. Then repeat.

Back to butt flab, not that I’m totally immune, I’ll admit, but my butt flab fits nicely, and comfortably, into a pair of size six jeans, sans muffin top. Do people seriously not pay attention to the comings and goings of other airline passengers? There are only so many johns, you can count them on one hand, meaning you can use the other hand to count the number of people heading up the aisle for an open john. The trick is to have fewer fingers occupied on the hand counting passengers than the hand used to count johns. Simple math, my friends, simple math. I seized an opportunity because I can hear the subtle shift in the engine RPM and feel the ever so slight, ever so gradual descent towards the runway begin, meaning, we have roughly forty minutes until we land and at about thirty minutes before landing, we are going to be ordered to our seats where we are to remain, strapped in. I get up and stroll to the back of the plane and right into the john the lady who boarded the plane with the “screaming sack of mucous” conveniently strapped to her chest, just vacated. She, thankfully, had done a decent job cleaning up after the exploded diaper mess, having used, if my olfactory senses are as keen as I think they are, cinnamon scented baby butt wipes. I did my job, not requiring any cinnamon scented baby butt wipes, and exited. To my disbelief, there are like twelve people, all profiled as “larger passengers”, doing a lurching sort of zombie walk up the aisle towards the single, empty john I just vacated. I had to pass each and every one of these folks in the narrow aisle, that I happen to know, is comfortably wide enough for someone who wears size six jeans. Anything greater than that requires “slalom hips” to negotiate lest you smack your saddlebags into the occupants of the aisle seats, much to their chagrin. I encounter a woman who is to be kind, nowhere near a size six. I contemplate, how, exactly, I am to negotiate my way past her. The only solution, I’m afraid, was to squeeze past, butt to butt. As I squeezed past, at one point, I was not so solidly wedged between one of her butt cheeks and the other, yes, I had slipped between the crack. OMG. Kill me. That is a level of intimacy that would embarrass me even with the one I am intimate with.

Six hours of all of this, and I am about to lose it. Not barf bag lose it. Not head exploding, making the eleven o’clock news, air marshals having to remove me physically from the airplane, emergency landing and blacklist kind of lose it. But closer to that than the barf bag version of losing it. It is a completely, totally, overwhelmingly helpless feeling, being stuck in a situation you can do nothing about and knowing you have five hours and fifty three minutes more to endure, strapped in a seat adjacent to people you’re certain should not be procreating, one hundred and seventy four of them.

Are there other situations in our life that leave us feeling similarly helpless and overwhelmed? Frustrations with situations we find ourselves in; empty marriages or relationships, dead-end jobs with thankless employers, failed diets, not enough time to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in any one day, standing in line for three hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles, being stuck in an elevator between floors? You know, that totally overwhelming, totally helpless situation. Of course, we all experience that feeling. How do you cope? How do you rectify this feeling?

Our natural state is one of happiness. That we aren’t often in this state is as a result of our ruling thought processes. In a world that seems to be one of fast paced, clambering for survival, fast paced struggling to move ahead and moving backwards, fast paced efforts for recognition, for accomplishment, for making the next milestone in an endless march of milestones leading to oblivion and never to freedom, there is an overwhelming sense of having lost it. Alas, there is a way out. Changing your ruling thought process.

Whether in the line at DMV, on a six-hour flight with the armpit of humanity, or in a dead end job, or a dead end relationship, you are still in control. You are in control of the single, most powerful tool in the world; your thoughts. Your thoughts rule your world, your thoughts are capable of changing your path of drudgery into a highway paved with gold. Like everything else, managing your ruling thoughts takes practice and skill. It’s just a matter of losing it, losing your negative, ruling thoughts.

You must first know the inclination of your regular thoughts, and this can only be done by carefully, and habitually listening to the thoughts that spill through your mind. It is amazing how many thoughts we have that slip past without recognition, without, well, thought. Start paying attention to the conversation in your head. Simply identify ruling thoughts that are contrary to what you desire, and correct them. It’s simply a matter of losing it, the thoughts that are contrary to what you desire.

I find it especially helpful to spend a few minutes, early in the day, maybe before even getting out of bed, “programming” my thoughts for the day. Meditation is one way to program your thoughts in a calm and deliberate fashion. While I find meditation helpful, I tend to have a wandering mind and spend more time trying to empty my mind of random, generic thoughts before I can fill it with deliberate and constructive, ruling thoughts. I find it a bit more constructive to write my desired “ruling thoughts” down, mechanically, with pencil and paper. Confirming your desired, ruling thoughts, also referred to as affirmations, can be highly effective, if done regularly and if done with conviction and intent. Again, this takes practice, like all habits, and replacing bad habits, with good, takes time, commitment, and perseverance. It really does just require losing it, the bad habit of detrimental ruling thoughts. Just lose it.

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.

Happy Place

I have been so grumpy lately. Me, the person who preaches “positive mental attitude” and always being “in charge of your own feelings”. Hey, at least I’m honest! No amount of wine seems to help. Truth? It just makes me grumpier when morning rolls around. And I’ve fallen into that vicious cycle of “one more glass of wine” in the evening, which then results in “one more cup of coffee” in the morning. I’ve switched to half-caf in an effort to regain control, as of yesterday, and I was nearly homicidal. Today I made it a little less half and a little more caf and so far no one has cowered when I’ve tried to “explain or clarify” something.

I know I’ve mentioned in previous articles, but I have moved five times in as many years. Maybe more. I may have lost count. I’ve packed and unpacked the same boxes several times and they all, finally, fell apart. Now I have $300 worth of nice, sturdy boxes, piled four high in my room, my office, and in the garage. Partly due to my independence, my freedom and my autonomy, all of which I cherish and nurture, I am the “floating family member”, moving in to assist with rent when my son’s roommates moved on to other schools, and now, moving in with Mom to help her keep up with the house I grew up in. Can you imagine the culture shock moving from a house with a twenty-something and friends to a house with someone on the far side of octogenarian? My life has gone from trips to the gym and the pub in the same evening to a brisk ten minute escorted walk down the toothpaste aisle at Target. I know that moving in to help my son, and then my mom, is the right thing to do, given my flexibility and adaptability, but geez. I also preach that “change is good”. Well, then, I should be in excellent fricking shape! Change is all I’ve had! Constant upheaval, a complete change of locale, having to find my “vibe”, places to shop, to work out, to hang out, and the constant packing and unpacking, temporarily take their toll on my usually sunny disposition.

The move in with Mom has been much harder than I anticipated. We are both very strong willed, opinionated women with slightly, or not so slightly, different outlooks on life. True, and she realizes it, the circumstances have provided quite a bit of good blog fodder. And made me really, really out of sorts. I feel like I am reeling to regain my balance, teetering, not sure if I’m going to land on my ass, on my face, or on my feet.

The recent relocation has been the most difficult. I love Sacramento. I miss Sacramento. I know it may seem like a weird place to love and to miss, but I do. It is a “just right” town. I left Napa for Sacramento thirty some years ago, for a reason. Sacramento is just big enough without being too big. There is plenty of really decent shopping, lots of nice new developments, a great restaurant scene, lots and lots and lots of outdoor recreation possibilities and a decent wine region an hour in any direction. On a clear day there’s a view of the Sierras to the east and the coastal range to the west. How cool is that? Okay, so you can count the number of clear days per year on your fingers and toes, but they are that amazing. And really, the three or four months of hundred degree temperatures aren’t really that bad.

Moving back to Napa is hard. I know, I know. Everyone I meet is so jealous, “you live in Napa?” Um. Yah. No big. True, there are better than stellar wineries within an hour and the restaurant scene is world class. So, too, are the prices. Shopping? Nothing. You either have to go to San Francisco, an hour and some, or, Sacramento, an hour and some. My gyms, all three, “national chains”, don’t have facilities here, causing me to have to pay to end my contracts early and find a local, “single location” gym. I know. First world problems. I’m a spoiled rotten bitch.

Work has had me a bit out of sorts, too. I’ve been dreading the go-go busy travel season, which begins, um, Monday and ends, maybe, in December. It has been our “slow season”, meaning we’ve been working from home re-writing our class materials. It has been nice working from home, I guess, though I don’t really feel quite at home, living out of boxes and all. And the work, re-writing materials? Mind numbing doesn’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering involved. So, beginning next week, I guess I’ll just unpack my boxes into my suitcases and, well, see ya. My life becomes a travelling road show. Ironically, my first two weeks of travel are to Sacramento! I’m making a list of restaurants and shopping and work-outs and hikes and visits and …

Today, however, marked a change. Maybe even a paradigm shift, a much needed paradigm shift. First of all, I worked with a client on the phone and web, providing eight hours of software training. I dreaded getting up at 5:00 AM to call in on time, but once I was online and talking and joking and providing a valued service to these happy and appreciative people, it kind of rekindled what it is about my job I love. The people. Bonus, not monetary, no, but a figurative bonus. Beginning that early, I got to end my workday early, and begin “my day” while it was still bright and sunny outside! The veil of grumpiness budged, ever so slightly.

I went on a mission last week to try to figure out which of the three local gyms I am going to sign my paychecks over to. I toured them all and was given a couple free passes to each. It’s kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, Scarlett and the three gyms.

The first one was nice, clean, had a decent offering of classes, including Zumba and yoga and spinning. But, the equipment wasn’t all that and it was affiliated with the local hospital, which, when approaching the age of fifty, is not something I really wanted to think about. I mean, most gyms have defibrillator devices posted on the wall, here and there, but I don’t think they actually ever get used. This gym had, like, crash carts, and the staff all wore surgical scrubs and stethoscopes and it was a little too close to the emergency room for my comfort.

The second gym was in the “supposed-to-be-trendy” downtown Napa area. Downtown Napa is about four blocks long and two blocks wide and consists of nice restaurants that open for a few months, then close, leaving the investors in ruin, a few short-lived tasting rooms, and a couple of really scary and totally desperate shopping venues aimed at, well, my mother. There are a ton of vacancies, and in an effort to keep up appearances for the tourists, the windows are full of displays of local artists. It all looks quite nice, but is an illusion. There, in the midst of all this “splendor”, a gym, that used to be a Woolworths, complete with a breakfast counter serving, somehow, greasy pancakes, for most of my childhood. As I toured the gym with the overmedicated customer service representative who reminded me of Joan Cusack, in character as an overmedicated, struggling not to be middle-aged woman, all I could smell was an overwhelming deodorizer-slash-air-freshener, with underlying tones of musty sweat and somehow greasy pancakes. To top this delight to my overactive olfactory senses, they were missing a crucial piece of equipment, the stair climber. I refuse to even use my free passes there, even they smell like strong air deodorizer, musty sweat and greasy pancakes. It is hard to hold your breath and pant at the same time.

The third gym is what I would call a “glitz palace”. A showcase. It is modern, bright, light and vibrant. Appointed with expensive tile half way up all the walls and nice, expensive, shock absorbent flooring. There are windows everywhere, and beautiful, clean, state of the art equipment in several locations throughout, each with a different view. So I can work out and overlook the pool one day, the basketball court another and the free weight room another. I love a workout with a view! All this and only thirty dollars more per month than the other two gyms. But, it was extremely well ventilated, had free Wi-Fi and two stair climbers. The class offering was decent and the clientele did not look like they’d be in need of resuscitation any time soon. I used my second and final free pass today. After an hour of intense cardio and a good day of working with actual people, my foul temper was, yes, almost as sunny and warm as the weather outside.

Exercising is very important, not only for my long-term health, my ability to fit into my nice jeans I rewarded myself with over a year ago for reaching my weight loss goal, to my energy and my productivity, but, probably most importantly, to my disposition. My mom isn’t in tune with this, yet. But K-man, my good, good man from the far, far north, he knows. He can tell within the first two words of a conversation with me whether I’ve managed to exercise that day, or not. If I am sad, or mad, or out of sorts, he will often say something like “why don’t you go for a run, or go to the gym, you know you’ll feel better.” He is right, always. I do feel better.

Tomorrow, my last day for mind-numbing project work. Ugh. I will drink my half CAF and fuss with headers and footers and pagination, page breaks and font size, consistent indentations for bullet lists and things that are not at all natural for an accountant to be doing. But with mind numbing project work and no scheduled class to teach, I will have the freedom and flexibility to go to the “glitz palace” gym and tithe a portion of my earnings and partake in a much needed attitude adjustment. I have found my new happy place!

Straight Up

Lose ten pounds instantly. I’m being straight up with you, you can look like you’ve lost ten pounds by doing one, simple little thing. Improve your posture.

Earn a million dollars instantly. I’m being straight up with you, here, too, you can feel like a million dollars by doing one, simple little thing. Improve your posture.

I was getting ready to go have lunch with my girlfriends today. I have known them most of my life, they’ve seen me through thick and thin, quite literally. I changed my clothes a few times, settling on a maxi skirt and a form-fitting tee shirt. As I turned and looked at myself in the mirror, I was a little dissatisfied. The past few weeks have been sort of tough on my diet and work out routine; vacation in Alaska, then my daughter visiting and our “Nor Cal Chicken and Waffles Tour”. I haven’t exercised in over three weeks, and I’ve been eating more and worse than I like to. It is beginning to show. As I regarded my reflection in the mirror, I could see that little bit of extra weight on my back, squeezing out ever so slightly over my bra, behind my armpits. I hate that! I stood up straight and drew my shoulders back and reevaluated my reflection. The little bulge was gone and my waist slimmed right before my eyes. What a difference! It was like losing ten pounds instantly.

I think I have good posture, I think I practice sitting and standing nice and straight, but now and then, when I see myself in a mirror, or reflected in a window, I notice that I am slouching and my tummy is sticking out. This seems to be what most of us do “naturally”. Slouch. And slump. It takes a concerted effort to maintain good posture. It takes practice.

I took ballet as a girl. One of my classmate’s moms had a ballet school. She lived around the corner from me, still does, as a matter of fact. All the girls in the neighborhood took ballet from her. Her ballet school was in an old Victorian house, downtown, and if I remember correctly, it was white with pink trim. I vividly remember the smell and can still hear the creak of the wooden floor. The bedrooms had all been converted into dance studios with barres along the wall and wall to wall mirrors on one side. Beginning lessons were upstairs and were taught by the oldest daughter or another long time dancer. We learned the basic positions and simple floor work. There were performances, now and again, and our parents would all come watch us dance. We’d have to buy certain color leotards and tights for the different numbers we were to perform. To this day, I still get a little rush of excitement when I go to a dance apparel store; Capezio, Danskin, all those wonderful things! I still have ballet shoes.

As you gained skill, you would move into more advanced classes. Everyone was thrilled when they finally got to go to class downstairs, in the living room, where my friend’s mom actually taught. I remember her as seeming strict, she was ballerina thin and had, I assume, very long graying hair, which she always wore in a bun, perhaps giving her that heir of strictness and severity. She may have carried a stick that she would tap out the beat with, on the wooden floor. Or this is an image from some distorted, post traumatic stress syndrome type dream I’ve had about her. Though, really, she is quite kind and nice and compassionate. I think she was just one of those grown ups you kind of feared when you’re a little kid. She would always harp on us to suck in our tummies, to stand up straight, and she would try to give us good reasons to do so. I remember her saying things like “hold in your tummies, you don’t want your husband to pick you up by  the waist some day and have it be all soft and mushy.”  Perhaps this is where some of my Cinderella-Like fantasies of love and marriage and men who like to dance come from! My husband never once tried to pick me up by the waist. Nor did he dance. I think I only had one boyfriend, ever, who really, truly loved to dance, and he came out of the closet some time later. A coincidence, I’m sure, but ironic, nonetheless.

What I really learned from my ballet teacher, though, was that we don’t naturally stand up straight, we don’t naturally hold in our tummies, it is learned. In years of fitness classes and training, I’ve heard the term “muscle memory” used. We have been told to vary our work outs so we “confuse” our muscles into working harder. Many athletes rely on muscle memory to perform feats, like the long jump and triple jump, or gymnastic maneuvers or diving. Practicing the same move over and over and over until the muscles remember it and do it “naturally”. Posture is the same, it relies on muscle memory, which we must practice over and over and over.

Another thing about good posture, it doesn’t just make you look like you lost ten pounds, instantly, it also makes you feel like a million dollars. When you sit up and stand up straight, you look and feel more confident, more alert, more engaged, more focussed. When you slouch and slump, you adopt that same attitude mentally; lazy, lethargic, limp, listless. As an example, when practicing active listening, which we should all do, you sit up straight and lean slightly towards the person you are listening to. This engages you with the speaker, you actually hear and remember better what is being said by physically altering your body position and language. To paraphrase; by sitting up straight, your are more engaged and focused and it actually has a positive impact on how much of the conversation you’ll remember. How can that not translate to everything? If you practice good posture, routinely,  you will be more engaged and focussed, in general. We’ve already established that you’ll look better. So, by practicing good posture, resulting in looking better and feeling better, our self-esteem and self-confidence rise, our mental attitude improves. What a deal!

Start paying attention to people you know. Observe people who tend towards depression. How is their posture? How many super happy, optimistic people have you met that are slumped and slouched? I can’t think of any. In my experience, posture is a visible indicator of mental attitude. The people I know with the most positive mental attitudes are also the people I can cite that have erect posture. The people I know who are, to be blunt, downers, I always remember as having poor posture. It’s like the difference between Eeyore and Tigger! If you’re a Winnie the Pooh fan. Am I right?

So, I’m telling you, straight up, the secret to looking ten pounds thinner and feeling like a million dollars begins with standing, straight up!