Treadmills

I’m not one to succumb to fear, to even admit fear. I do have fears, plenty, but I seek to overcome them, to meet them, as a challenge, and annihilate them. I am far more afraid of dying in a recliner, clutching a remote, watching other people live fascinating lives on television than I am of ‘most anything else. I’m a doer, not a viewer.

An Effort to Evolve

Last year, I did admit to a fear; treadmills. Not treadmills themselves, but the act of running on a treadmill. I have completely obliterated that fear and can run quite effectively on treadmills now. And do, when I must. I will always prefer running outdoors, through the countryside, the suburbs, or bustling urban streets.

An Effort to Evolve

Then a video compilation of “treadmill fails” circulated around Facebook last week and I took pause, and reconsidered my former fear of treadmills. I shall remain steadfast in saying “I am not afraid of running on treadmills”, I do, however, have a healthy respect for them and I will exercise (no pun intended) due caution. In other words, you are not likely to see me on a treadmill a) in high heels b) on a pogo stick c) on a bicycle d) on a unicycle e) while roller blading f) on a skateboard g) on a stabilization ball, stabilization balls have no place on an unstable surface, that’s oxy-moronic (moronic being the key word there) and, finally, h) while someone else is monkeying with the speed setting.

An Effort to Evolve

Fair enough?

A fear of mine, though? Not making progress.

While reconsidering fear, and treadmills, my mind naturally wandered to how this applies to life. That’s just how I think. One of my “concerns”, or, fears, if you choose, is “the treadmill of progress”. Have you ever felt like you’ve done everything right? Set measurable goals, based on your roles in life and your core values? Made a daily, concerted effort towards that goal, day after day, week after week, month after month, and made no progress? No forward movement? The treadmill of progress; running, panting, sweating, still in the same place!

Have you ever noticed people at the gym who dutifully hop on the treadmill, poke a few buttons and stroll along for ten minutes, then head for the shower, and claim to have “worked out”? Versus those of us who ramp up the incline, the speed, and the duration, with every passing workout. You can hear me breathing across the gym when I’m on the treadmill. I kind of make a scene. Let’s not get started on a discussion about the step mill! I’m so sweaty I look like I’ve been swimming when I’m done! Though I am going nowhere, I am making progress.

An Effort to Evolve

But, again, when we’ve done everything right and we seem to be making no progress, we are expecting to be moving forward, but the scenery isn’t changing and we’re staying in one place, what’s gone wrong? We’re stuck on the treadmill of progress. What to do?

An Effort to Evolve

For consideration:

  1. Are we present? Are we remaining present in our work towards our goal, or are we anxiously focused on the future? Live in the present, in the moment and be grateful for what minute progress you made today. Don’t look at the whole fence when you’re painting, observe the stroke you make now and admire it. The fence will be finished soon enough.
  2. Are we grateful. We must express gratitude for what accomplishment we’ve made, for the attempt that’s been made, for the effort put forth. If we are ungrateful of our efforts, our progress will be lost in the bitterness. Praise yourself and your toils.
  3. Are we breaking the goal down into small enough steps? Have we sharpened our axe? As Abe Lincoln once (supposedly) said, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It’s a good quote, whether Abe said it, or not. There is some debate. Anyhow, we should be breaking each goal down to the level of what can be accomplished in a month, a week, today, and, finally, to “what could I do this very moment to further this goal?” We often bite off way more than we can chew. Take smaller bites.
  4. My n’er do well friend, Jardin, wrote an article earlier this week about making excuses, and making adjustments. Sometimes we need to look at the whole picture and figure out what we may be doing, or allowing, that is undermining our progress.
  5. Reconsider the goal. Is it still meaningful, is it still valuable to us? Or have we grown past the goal? Maybe the goal is no longer something we consider worthy, or necessary, and we’ve just been plugging away at it for so long, it has become a habit. A meaningless habit and a waste of precious time that could be better spent elsewhere. Not every goal we set is meant to be met, accomplished and kept. We should be reevaluating and reprioritizing our goals regularly. More frequently, if necessary!

An Effort to Evolve

So, by all means, keep running on the treadmill. But make sure you’re making progress, adjust the settings as necessary, exercise care, and, for heavens sake, don’t fall flat on your face!

Let’s Get Cookin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it all started.
How it all started.

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

Purpose

Passion

Values

Guiding principles

Roles

Goals

I decorate my cake with carefully selected ingredients, including:

Self esteem

Self-confidence

Self discipline

Inspiration

Motivation

Enthusiasm

Action

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

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

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

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

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

Scarlett’s Letter September 6 – 8, 2013

My last three days in Alaska. Sad face.

Problem solving, or, perhaps trouble shooting would be a better label for what I’m about to share with you. As is customary when I travel to Alaska, I brought wine. We’d hoped to do a wine tasting for friends, but our unpredictable schedule with possible travel south to Valdez, the trip north to Coldfoot, the trip up and down the Salcha River, and the fateful non-trip gill netting on the Yukon, it was really hard to nail down a date and, commit, and get the word out. So, we drank the wine I brought in about three days. Bought more. Drank it. Bought more and drank it. We do love our wine. A match made in heaven. Two red wine lovers.

True to nature, at the mere hint of entertaining, as in a wine tasting party, I usually seek to acquire bits and pieces of pretty little things and nifty little objects that will make the soiree all that much more delightful for all involved. Usually, entertaining is a happy excuse to buy shit I want. On one of my guy’s visits to NorCal we were, you guessed it, wine tasting. We were at a winery in El Dorado County just outside of Placerville in the area known as Apple Hill, one of my favorite stomping grounds. One of the wineries we visited aerated their wine with a fantastic pewter toned horse head. The wine spilled out of the horse’s mouth. If only my horses had been capable of such wonders, I might have found a way afford them a bit longer! I have lusted after this delight ever since. I Googled it, of course, and found it online for twenty some dollars, but exercised great restraint at not ordering it immediately. On my recent trip to Trefethen, nearly a year after first spying the wine barfing horse head aerator/spout, it reared it’s lovely head once more. Under the influence of a generous and free tasting, only days before my trip to Alaska, I succumb to my inner shopaholic and bought my trophy horse head wine aerator/spout for twenty some bucks. All of these puns are intended, by the way.

I somehow found room to wedge my lovely horse head into my suitcase, but only because I was bringing enough wine to justify a dedicated and special “wine checking luggage box” (from V. Sattui Winery for ten dollars), and with that additional piece of checked luggage, an additional twenty dollars in luggage fees. I was a few miles short of status and free checked bags with Alaska Airlines at this point. I probably officially made status about the time my plane flew over Redding from its Sacramento departure point. Seriously, I was that close. Anyway. I arrived in Fairbanks with a big box of fantastic Napa Valley red wine and a horse head aerator/spout thing. And the fact that we didn’t end up having our wine-tasting party did not dampen my desire to use my little treasure every time a new bottle was opened, which, I’m not ashamed to say, may have been two or three times a day, depending on the day and whether a brewery visit had occurred.

At one point, in finishing one bottle and opening the next, in exuberance only I can manage at this task, I yanked the horse head from one bottle and went to place it within the next, only to find that the rubber sleeve had remained in the preceding bottle. Plan A; I tried to gingerly pry it out with my ever so slender pinky finger, and almost had it, but, sadly, lack the muscular strength in that tiny digit to extract the firmly fit bit of rubber from the neck of the bottle. I tried a few artificial implements and managed only to shove the rubber sleeve further down the neck of the wine bottle, now out of my slender pinky’s reach. One final attempt with one final implement and, plop. Into the empty bottle the rubber sleeve fell. We poured the next bottle without the glorious horsehead, like ordinary wine being poured from an ordinary bottle. May as well have been a bottle of Thunderbird from a brown paper sack as far as I was concerned.

The problem, now, was how to reunite the rubber sleeve with the horsehead spout. I devised a plan, in the morning, or some time during daylight when time permitted, I’d put the bottle with the rubber sleeve within into a paper bag, or two, take it out to the garage and smash it to bits with a hammer, freeing said rubber sleeve.

Plan B failed. Miserably. Wine bottles are a lot tougher than you think, which, when you consider that I often transport them in my suitcase with my beloved shoes and clothes, is probably a good thing. It’s not like I just toss them into my suitcase with my cherished wardrobe pieces, I do wrap them in bubble wrap, secured with some gaudy animal print duct tape, then place them each in a two-gallon Ziploc bag – just in case. In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had no mishaps. So, why was I so surprised that smacking a wine bottle with a hammer would only result in a cute “tink” sound and nothing more? Plan B was hatched, with the help of my clever man.

How wine flies.
How wine flies.

Plan C; trouble shooting. We’d just procured dinner from the chukar pen with the .22 rifle. I’m sure you’re connecting the dots now. We placed the wine bottle, within it’s bag, on a bank, and, as I have not yet had the guts to wield a firearm in front of my very adept hunter/boyfriend, because I have not shot at anything for some time and, truthfully, being right-handed and left-eyed, have always had a little trouble hitting my mark, I’m a bit shy about “the first time”. The third date has long since come and gone, and while I’m not at all shy about what is implied there, I am shy about shooting and missing. I’ll be going to target practice in the months to come, and perhaps therapy, to overcome this lack of faith I have in myself. Thankfully, my man does not even for a second suggest I wield a weapon and solve this little problem I created. Fire one. He hits the bottle, evidently, by the “BLAM, tink”, one followed so immediately after the other. I was a little worried about ricochet, so I squinted, and maybe even blinked. Like that would be a defense. We examined the bottle and there was just a little white mark where the bullet hit the glass and nothing more. Fire two. “BLAM, tink”.  Just a little scuff on the green glass. Fire three. “BLAM!” followed by the satisfying sound of shattering glass. Forensically, we decided the bullet traveled through the opening of the bottle, right down the neck, hitting the bottom of the bottle, blowing it apart. Inside, unharmed, the rubber sleeve. I cleaned up the bits of glass and tried to contain them in the shredded paper bag. Back in the house, after a bit of troubleshooting, the rubber sleeve and the horse head aerator/spout were reunited. In celebration, we opened a bottle of wine!

The lesson here, I suppose, is when we have a little problem, an issue a dilemma, sometimes our first, brilliant idea to solve it, may fall short. Even our second terrific idea may fail miserable. Sometimes, we just have to keep brainstorming, keep trying, until the problem is blasted to bits! I think more problems in life require multiple, creative attempts at resolving. If I had become discouraged by the first failure and the second failure, and then the first two shots, I may have given up and my long sought after trinket would have been a short lived frivolity. But, we just kept plugging away at our little problem, and now, each and every night, I have my lovely horse head wine aerator/spout thing to marvel at as beautiful red wine spills from the horse’s wide-opened mouth. And that is straight from the horse’s mouth!

We received a call about a trip to Prudhoe Bay. With my plane departing Sunday around noon, it would be a real tight schedule to make it back on time. Not that I really cared, I was just begging to miss my flight. But, as we just got back from Coldfoot, the thought of two more days in the truck was more than my guy was willing to subject me to. We turned it down. He was asked whether he’d be willing to go half way, to Coldfoot, if the permit could be obtained for that. We decided we could do that, if we left in the morning. We’d have ample time to get home so I could pack up my stuff and make it to the airport. Again, like I cared.

Oversize loads have to obtain permits and permitted loads have certain guidelines and requirements. Until some time in October, when traffic on the haul road lessens, oversize loads require the requisite number of pilot cars, based on size and weight, all the way to Prudhoe Bay. After October, the pilot car, or cars, don’t necessarily need to accompany certain loads beyond Coldfoot. We were hoping to get a special dispensation for this load only requiring a pilot car to Coldfoot, The request for special dispensation for this early September load was denied, so another pilot car who could go all the way to Prudhoe Bay had to be found. We had made our way to town and were at the ready. Because, at any moment, we thought we’d be headed to the yard to meet our load, we made a crazy, crisscross pattern across town and back to accomplish a task, wait for a call, accomplish another task, wait for a call. Like our errands, today, sometimes, in life, we have to take a crazy route to do what needs to be done. While efficiency is great, it isn’t always possible. What really matters, if the most direct route isn’t possible, is that we are making some sort of progress, always.

We didn’t go to Coldfoot, so we enjoyed the remainder of the day and evening together, just being together.

The morning of my departure was a bit hectic. There was so much we wanted to squeeze into the few hours we had. It was “Potato Fest” Day at the Cogan’s Homestead, meaning the potatoes were ready to be harvested and friends and family all gather together to accomplish this task and share in a potluck afterwards. This is something I have been wanting to experience for as long as I’ve known about it! Even if it was pouring rain, I’d have picked potatoes. But, since I had to board a plane and travel for many hours, being wet and muddy really wasn’t an option, even if time permitted. We also had a gift certificate for a free brunch at Pike’s Landing, right across from the airport. Could we do both in the time permitted? Not really. But we kind of did both. We stopped by and visited at the Homestead before everyone went out in the rain and dug for potatoes in the mud. Then we made our way to town for brunch, only to find as we got close to town and actually had cell service and I could check-in on my Alaska Airlines app on my phone, that my flight was delayed several hours. Oh well. We had a lovely morning. When I made it to the airport, with the assistance of a very helpful Alaska Airlines ticket agent, my flights were rearranged in order to guarantee a successful connection.

My flight home went smoothly, once we finally got underway. All my connections were made, flawlessly, and I enjoyed all the perks of my newly attained status with Alaska Airlines; earlier boarding, the option to select exit row and aisle seats the whole way home, on all three flights. I had engaging conversations with a group of folks that commute from far off places, and back, three weeks on, three weeks off, to work the oil fields near Prudhoe Bay, on the longest leg of my journey between Anchorage and Seattle. And I even got my first, free, first-class upgrade on the final leg of my flight! I almost felt like I was flying United! Until the meal arrived, then I knew, for certain, I was on an Alaska Airlines flight. I’m not saying the food is bad, this being my second first-class meal with Alaska, but it is rather pedestrian. By comparison. And for airline food. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. But it was free, so hey! All of this, I suppose, in some miniscule way, helped me ease my way from Alaska, being with my love and a lifestyle I love to being home, working with clients over the phone starting well before the crack of dawn, beginning tomorrow, and a lifestyle I am enjoying, or maybe something between tolerating and enjoying. I’m making the best of it. I’m enjoying being in Napa and visiting my beloved Sacramento from time to time. But, currently, truthfully, my lifestyle and my goals and values are not in total alignment. But, like freeing a rubber sleeve from its wine bottle dungeon and like crisscrossing town, accomplishing things piecemeal, waiting for plans to solidify, I am moving forward, towards a goal, one step at a time, whether the steps are all in the same direction or in the ideal sequence matters not, the goal is there and, daily, in some small way, I’m shooting for it. BLAM!

Scarlett’s Letter September 3 – 5, 2013

The days grow shorter here in Alaska. Oh, sure, there is still more daylight this time of year, this far north, compared to home. But, the days are indeed growing shorter. I can tell, if for no other reason, than my last week of vacation for the year seems to be flying past at an alarming rate. My last trip here was over two weeks long, and not long enough. With just over a week for this trip, I feel I have barely been here and I’m already preparing myself mentally for the trip home and the long duration without visiting, without Alaska, without my Sweetie.

Yesterday we wiled away the day running errands and attending to things before today’s “road trip”. The absolute highlight of the day yesterday was a long awaited and oft attempted tasting adventure at HooDoo Brewery in Fairbanks. This brewery has been around a few years and has been gaining experience, favor, followers and a crowd. We rolled up before they opened, again. We’ve done this before. We’ve rolled up on the day they were closed, we’ve rolled up before they’ve opened. We have never caught anyone home. On our first attempt yesterday, we were only a little early, so we found another quick errand to run and returned to find the “open” sign illuminated and the parking lot jammed. I was excited. Completely. It is safe to say that I love beer as much as wine and nearly as much as Oreos.

HooDoo offers a great sampler deal, with a generous pour of each of their brews. The darker the samples, the happier I became. Like all things I ingest, I begin with what I’m pretty sure will be my least favorite and work towards what I’m sure will be my favorite. I do this with food, I do this with wine, I do this with beer. Ironically, there is color-coding involved in each, pretty much, the darker, the better. I begin with a Pinot Noir and end with a Merlot. I begin with the vegetables and end with the steak. I begin with the IPA and end with the stout. The brews were all good, but the stout stole my heart. So then I had a whole pint.

Our road trip; a “pilot car” run from Fairbanks to Coldfoot. I’ll explain for those not in the know. I know few will ever admit to watching Ice Road Truckers. I don’t either. But, there are, indeed, truckers, not the ones on the show, mind you, but real truckers, who transport pipe, equipment and structures of various shapes and sizes, mostly huge, to the oil fields in and around Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. As the loads are all “oversized”, they require pilot “cars”, usually pick up trucks, with banners, a yellow flashing light, a flag for directing traffic and a driver who knows what he, or she, is doing. My man has been piloting trucks up the Dalton Highway for more of his life than not. In the million mile Ford, which, by the way, is legend on “the haul road”.

The purpose of the pilot cars is to guide the driver and the oversized load safely up the road, to communicate between the truck driver and the other pilot cars what’s ahead, what’s passing from behind. The pilot car drivers are also responsible for communicating, and at times, directing other drivers on the road to keep them safe and out of the path of the large load in corners and over bridges and other crossings. They act as a guide, as a facilitator.

In life, what pilots you safely through the turns and crossings you must navigate? Have you defined your mission, your purpose, your goals, your roles and your guiding principles? Like a pilot car driver and the trucker with the oversize load that trusts him, our roles, goals and guiding principles, based on our values, are what guide us through life, no matter what lies up ahead.

I’ve accompanied my man to Prudhoe Bay before, in early March, well before summer. The landscape was white, the road was ice and we saw an Artic fox, muskox, ptarmigan and the aurora borealis. It was a little chilly, sure, but nothing my guy’s big, warm parka and fifteen layers of my chic clothes from Uniqlo, H&M, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, Buckle, Love Culture and a pair of Ugg boots couldn’t ward off. It was awesome. I have pictures. Roughly one thousand.

I’ve wanted to return. I’d hoped to return, crossing Atigun Pass, in the summer, when the wildflowers were out. But there weren’t any trips when I was here during wildflower season. Another summer, perhaps. The flowers are amazing. This, I know, because last year, someone very special, stopped several times on his way home from Prudhoe Bay and picked wildflowers. For me. A week later, I received a surprise, an envelope with a cardboard card, cut out from a Honey Bunches of Oats cereal box, with dozens of different wildflowers carefully adhered to it. Sigh. I know, right? Even dried, the flowers were breathtaking and I really want to see them in living color.

I have also wanted to see the fall colors over the pass. In fall, the tundra looks like it has been set ablaze, changing from a million shades of lush green to yellow, gold, orange, red and burgundy. We didn’t score a trip all the way to Prudhoe until it was too late to go, but we did get the trip to Coldfoot, about half way up the “haul road” to Prudhoe. Coldfoot is south of Atigun Pass, but still, there was plenty of vibrant hued tundra to enjoy.

When piloting, and when a passenger in a pilot car, the trip up, the actual piloting, is very different than the trip back. All business on the way up. Of course. That’s what it’s all about, getting the truck and it’s shipment to it’s destination without delay, without danger and without disaster. This trip, unlike most, was with an “independent” trucker, an “owner/operator”. Most of the trips north my man makes are as a contractor with one of several companies that routinely move big stuff from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. So we were to meet a driver, headed to Fairbanks from Anchorage, hauling a Caterpillar D9, a large, correction, a very large tractor. The load was wide, fourteen feet wide, to be precise, and because of it’s width, would require two pilot cars to guide it safely to it’s destination a few miles north of Coldfoot. One pilot car would be in front, the other in back. I’m sure you’ve seen such things even in the part of the world you live in. On the Dalton Highway, it is more the norm than un-piloted loads. Passenger cars are both a rarity and a nuisance, as I surmise.

We’d hoped for an early start and even headed into Fairbanks at an impressively early hour. But, when noon came and went and we hadn’t heard from the driver, we called. He was still a few hours from Fairbanks and would need to shuffle the load and fuel up once he arrived. Our early morning departure was becoming a late afternoon and then a later afternoon departure. A trip to Coldfoot, about 250 miles from Fairbanks, if begun in the morning, depending on the load, could be delivered by afternoon and everyone could be home, in their own bed, in time to enjoy most of the following day. That was our hope. But, it was not to be.

We managed to fill our day in town getting stuff done. Thankfully, there was plenty of stuff to be done. Errands and such. We ate Philly Cheesesteaks and fries at the Food Factory, for lunch, because there aren’t any drive-thru’s on the haul road. You pack a sandwich or two and go. There is food in Prudhoe Bay, and truck stop food in Coldfoot. There is also truck stop food at Hilltop, about twenty miles past Fairbanks, sort of the last bastion of necessities before heading further north. How are Philly cheesesteaks different than truck stop food? Well, it’s more of a quality question, I suppose. Get your Philly cheesesteak in town, not a truck stop, while both are unhealthy, the truck stop variety is likely to take an additional year or two off your life, I’m pretty sure.

We met the driver and the second pilot car at about 5:45 PM. Well past morning, to say the least. The driver told the pilots that since he was an owner/operator and paid for his own brakes, we’d be taking the downhills slow. We already knew the uphills would be slow. We headed out just after “curfew”. Oversize loads are forbidden from traveling through Fairbanks during “commute” time, between 4:00 and 6:00 PM. I think their commute traffic is adorable, but, I guess I get it.

Our driver, which requires explaining, I suppose; when you are piloting some trucker up the haul road, as I gather, you sort of adopt him or her as yours for the duration. They become “my driver” or “our driver” depending on the number of pilot cars involved. Anyhoo. Our driver hadn’t eaten all day, so, we stopped at Hilltop for sustenance. This is a truck stop. Terrified of the exponential lethality of truck stop food, and, really, not all that hungry, I had a salad. My man had potato salad, ate half, and thrust the remainder in front of me. I ate it, taking my projected life expectancy down to 111. Ok, so I shoot high. Why not? Then if I die at 101 everyone will say I died an “untimely death”.

At 7:45 PM we depart Hilltop and begin our long, mostly uphill journey into the evening. As I mentioned, the trip up is all business. That means, for me, an unlikely passenger, unless there are northern lights or grizzly bears, I’m probably going to sleep. And I do. Our driver was true to his word, he was moving slower downhill than up. A little backstory is required. Many truckers drive this road day in and day out. They know every pebble, every turn, every nuance. Corners have names. Hills have names. There is a community here. The truckers and pilot car drivers all know one another and chit chat on the radios to one another. Yes, there are multiple radios; one is on an agreed upon channel to chat with your driver and other pilots, then there’s the “road channel” that everyone has turned on to communicate with one another. And, so, the pilot car drivers report upcoming vehicles to their driver on the agreed upon channel, then report the upcoming oversize load to other drivers on the road channel. It is all very impressively complicated and I think there must be some advance degree of study to manage all of this. I don’t know. I only went to college for eleven years, it’s beyond me. Moral; these guys know the road. “Our driver” does not. He has driven the haul road a few times a year, not a few times a week. He is taking it slower than his wide load and brake pads require because he doesn’t know the road. We are in the front, and my man is warning our driver of nuances in the road, to be helpful, and, hopefully, the give him the faith and confidence to speed up, maybe just a little.

I sleep. I wake. I sleep. I wake. I sleep. I wake. I eat a half a sandwich I packed. I sleep. I wake. I get out and pee. I sleep. I wake. And this is how my night goes. Two hundred fifty extremely slow miles. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be a girl, on the haul road, and have to pee? Especially when you’re being followed by a big truck hauling a big tractor, being followed by another pickup truck, all occupied by men. I mean, I’ve been the only female on a ten-day backpacking trip with seventeen boys and men, and peeing was a challenge, but it wasn’t an Olympic sport, like peeing on the haul road being followed by trucks full of men. We made it to the top of a hill, several minutes ahead of our driver, so we thought, in order to be able to warn our driver, and the oncoming traffic, of the other party, respectively. I jumped out of the million mile Ford, pulled down my jeans and squatted by the right, front, tire. The road was just a soupy mud, so what I added really mattered little. I was about 7/8 done with my duty when headlights crested the hill behind me. It was growing dark and I’m pretty sure my silhouette was pretty apparent. I heard an exclamation from within the truck and in a split second, I finished, became air born and partially pulled up my jeans, mid air, while opening the truck door. I landed on the seat, bare butt, pants sagging like a middle school delinquent. As I launched myself from a crouch on muddy earth, into flight, into the truck, streams of mud followed me, clinging to my jeans from the knee down. I’m glad there was no video of my endeavor, and at the same time, kind of disappointed there wasn’t. It had to be spectacular, especially in slow motion instant replay mode.

We left town before 6:00 PM. We made it to Coldfoot at 5:30 AM. And we slept in the sleeper. Both of us. Synchronized rolling over went very well, we’re on about the same schedule, our old bones begin to ache at about the same time, which is cool. I guess.

We are awakened by a very loud pickup truck pulling up next to us in a rather obvious and engine revving sort of manner. I am, at first, annoyed, but I think it was the first “alarm clock”. Shortly after the noisy truck pulled up, there was a knock on the window from the other pilot car (noisy truck) driver. The snooze alarm just went off. I get it. The engine revving was just a “courtesy” to make sure we were awake, or dressed, or whatever, for the approach to the drivers’ window. Not many girlfriends accompany pilot car drivers. I get it. We slither out of the sleeper, fully clothed, and right into our respective seats, the truck is started and we drive across the lot to the restaurant at Coldfoot. I pee in captivity and grab three coffees for the tow of us. We meet our driver and are on our way to drop the D9 at it’s final destination a few miles up the road. A slow but safe trip.

It’s the trip home I look forward to with ample time to pull over and take pictures. My guy will never understand my desire to take so many pictures, he shakes his head when I complain that my MacBook is overloaded because of the forty thousand photos I have in iPhoto. But, still, he offers to pull over every time I lift my iPhone for another shot.

Aside from pictures, we have the rifle with us, just in case a large, male moose should cross our path somewhere south of the Yukon River. Bow hunting is allowed north of the Yukon and rifles to the south, so we’ll keep our eyes opened to the south. We also take advantage of a side road here and there to cut some firewood. There is no excuse for coming home with an empty truck bed, if not moose, then, certainly we can take down a standing dead tree or two! There are a few cords of wood cut, split and stacked in front of the house, but a couple more are in order, shortly, for winter. While he makes short order of a few trees, I pick berries. We are hunter/gatherers on our way south on the Dalton Highway. We see lots of moose hunters, and, still, no moose. There is chatter on the radio, not far away, of a cow and calf that crossed the road in front of a trucker, but no bull followed. While it may be moose season according to the calendar, it isn’t moose season according to the moose. Too warm, still. The bulls will chase the cows when it’s cooler. So I’m told.

We arrive at home, sandwiches eaten and the truck bed full of something useful for the winter. But not a moose. The trip was long, but a success. Our driver and his D9 reached Coldfoot safely with assistance from his two pilot cars, helping him manage the curves and crossings safely. Just like our values, roles, goals and guiding principles help us navigate through the turns and crossings life will certainly take.

Now that we’re home, it is time to upload photos from my iPhone to iPhoto. I’m excited. Every time I look at these pictures it will be almost like reliving the trip, again! A picture, a thousand words, a million memories!

Piles

Today is the day I make piles, in earnest. The piles sort of started forming yesterday, if you can call three items a pile. I’m actually feeling a little behind schedule in my making of piles. You see, before any trip, whether for work or for pleasure, I put things in piles so I won’t forget to pack them. I pile first and pack last minute. I’ll usually have a pile of electronics and related stuff, a pile of clothes, a pile of shoes, and a pile of other flotsam and jetsam.

Before checking out of a hotel, usually the night before, I gather up all of my things, which I keep hyper-organized in strategic locations within my hotel room, and move those hyper-organized piles closer to my suitcase. I centralize the smaller piles into sort of a cluster of piles. By morning, as I’m getting ready before checking out, those piles just get placed into my suitcase/s, computer bag, purse and I’m off. I have only ever left one thing behind accidentally; a razor in the shower.

This system, piles, works well for me. Even in preparation for an early morning run, I will make a pile of everything I need to remember to take with me the night before; my watch, my hydration pack, my food, my “running wallet” (smaller than my daily wallet), and a reminder to grab the chocolate milk out of the fridge.

You would think with as much as I travel as I do, packing would be no big deal. And, during my busy work travel season, that is very much the case. I really don’t even unpack. I come home, often in very late at night or even in the wee hours of morning, take my clothes out of my suitcase, launder them, hang them to dry and pack them back into the suitcase later in the morning. I sometimes have a less than twenty-four hour turnaround at home. I have duplicates of cosmetics and personal care products and will just refill any travel-sized containers I have when I shower. Even when work trips are a little further apart, like now, I keep many things in my suitcase; ugly shoes accountants would wear, trouser socks that are only ever worn with ugly shoes accountants would wear, my bag of duplicate cosmetics and personal care items, about a thousand Target bags to pack shoes and stinky gym clothes in, and my traveling kitchen which includes a stemless wine glass, a jar of spices, Via coffee packets, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, snack bags of Ezekiel cereal, a paring knife, a set of cocktail service with a little knife, fork and spoon, a couple of little plastic bowls, those sheet plastic cutting boards.

When I was backpacking regularly, I had the same approach; I’d hike, come home, launder, repack and a) be ready to go and b) have a handy place to store all my backpacking stuff. In the backpack.

I’m sure it is fairly common practice to make piles in preparation for doing laundry, right? A pile of dark clothes that can be washed on the “regular cycle”, which for me, is about two items. Then there’s the pile of dark clothes for the delicate cycle and another for lighter clothes for the delicate cycle, and, finally, white things, delicate cycle, of course. How else would you do this? Do people do laundry without making piles first

I muse at how this all started. Was it because my mom always had me lay my clothes out for school the night before? For all the good that did, I always changed my mind eight or ten times between the time I got up and the time when I was at the front door ready to go. Sure, it may have worked when I was seven years old and was only supplied with three mix and match outfits for the school year, options were very limited. But, by the time I was seventeen and began my lifelong career of making up for a childhood of having only three mix and match, color coordinated outfits for school, by stuffing my closet full of clothes I picked out and purchased myself, selecting what I planned to wear to school the night before was a futile exercise. This may explain a lot about me and my clandestine shopping tendencies, even as an adult. At last. Now you know.

But, there may be more to the origins of my preference for piling things up than an evening chore my mother tried to instill in me as a child. I am surrounded by piles. Her piles. Mom piles things up and always has. I don’t understand the logic of her piles, but, piles are very personal. That’s for her to know. I’m sure she doesn’t understand my piles, though I think mine are far more evident. Perhaps not. Whatever (link to article). Mom has piles, mostly of paper; newspapers, ad inserts from newspapers, magazines, catalogs, important mail, unimportant mail that may end up being important, and unimportant mail that isn’t clearly understood so may seem more important than it is.

A pile on one chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on one chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.

I am not really frustrated with Mom’s piles, except they take up seating space and if company is coming I’m the one that has to quickly relocate her piles to the “office”, which was supposed to be the laundry nook, with folding doors, downstairs off the family room. Mom had the laundry hookups placed in the garage and my dad used the laundry closet as his office. Actually, his antique roll top desk is in there, but I don’t actually ever remember him sitting there to do any work until he retired. Like me, Dad despised television. The television is in the family room, adjacent to the “office”. So, he did his nightly bookkeeping from his bike shop upstairs at the kitchen table in relative peace. Mom dominated the family room with news, news, news, sitcom, sitcom, sitcom and the news, again, as a nightcap. When Dad retired, he learned to enjoy television, too, and set his computer up in the office. Now that he has passed, the office provides more flat surface space for Mom’s piles. I have relocated Dad’s computer to my office, the third bedroom upstairs. His computer is piled up with my other laptop, my MacBook, when not in use, my iPad and Kindle. So, for my upcoming trip, I need only grab and pack that whole pile of electronic wonderment! Easy peasy! See?

Mom, however, is frustrated with my piles. I have piles of boxes in the garage. When I relocated here, it was from a full size, single family dwelling appropriately full of my things; furniture, décor, dishes, small and necessary household items, most of which I wished for, worked for and acquired with some effort; Cuisinart food processor, Dyson vacuum, Pampered Chef baking stones, the entire collection, an entire set of crystal from my wedding, my grandmother’s china, which Mom thinks is ugly. I think you get the idea. These, among other things, are my treasures. I downsized a great deal over the past five years, with five moves occurring in that time frame, but these are my treasures. That they fill one third of the garage, okay, the third that would be the floor, is not my fault. That the shelves are full of Christmas decorations that only saw one year of use and are packed in boxes labeled with said year, is not my fault. That there are two ten foot long clothes racks hanging from the ceiling full of clothes from the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties that don’t fit my mom, is not my issue. My issue is, I have no other place for my things. The dresser drawers that were mine as a child, in my bedroom, are now full of piles of things that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, and, so, my clothes remain in piles of boxes in my room and in the garage. Yet, as it was expressed earlier this week, “your piles of boxes in the garage are stressing me out.” Okay. Let’s see Mom try to live out of those boxes for months on end and reexamine stress levels.

My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I'd prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I’d prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.

And this seems to be perpetuating, generationally, too. When my daughter moved to the east coast, when she married her high school sweetheart who is, now, in the Navy, I was left with her treasures and her trash. In piles. I spent several weeks sorting through it all, throwing away the true trash, donating the unwanted treasures and re-boxing the true treasures. All of which are now piled in the corner of a storage unit three counties away. At my expense. In my to-do pile is the plan to re-sort and relocate that pile, here, space permitting.

My son moved to Hawaii last week. He did a fair job downsizing, but, again, in a storage unit three counties away are his treasures, piled in another corner. There is a pile in the garage of the house he vacated which I am to, at my convenience, retrieve and find a place to pile. And, in my office, upstairs, is a pile of books that I am to box up in flat rate boxes, periodically, and send to him, except he has not yet found a place to pile them, he is still looking for housing. Until then, the books are piled on the floor of my office. And, ironically, these are a pile of very nice books, Automobile Quarterly, that my dad subscribed to and accumulated over many years. My dad was downsizing his piles and wanted to “get rid” of these books. As they were lovely publications, and my son has the “gear head gene” that seems to run in the family, my mom, who, I think we’ve established, really resists getting rid of stuff, suggested that my son may enjoy the books. So, the entire collection was loaded into my car and piled into my son’s room. Until now. Now they’re back in the house of origin, in my room.

My Dad's books that became my son's books that are now in my office, back in my parents' house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.
My Dad’s books that became my son’s books that are now in my office, back in my parents’ house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.

So, today is a day of piles. Two-fold. I am piling things up for my trip and Mom and I are each taking a pile of things, two cars full, to donate to Community Projects. If I have to prioritize, though, the top of my pile is going to be packing for my trip. The trip to Community Projects can be left in a pile for later, if need be.

Packing for a trip gets a little more complicated, when I’m not traveling for work quite so often, like now, and a pleasure trip comes up. I need to empty my suitcase of unnecessary items, because suitcases become excellent storage facilities when not in use, and fill it with more appropriate stuff. I have a week in Alaska fast approaching. I depart Friday morning. And like a good Boy Scout, yes, I am a registered Boy Scout, I am always prepared. We have several ideas of what we’re going to with our week, but nothing absolutely set in stone. I need to be prepared for just about anything. I know, at the very minimum, I need jeans, something to wear with my jeans, a bunch of shoes and a case of wine. That’s the easy part. Now I need to think of all those things I might need. For example, last trip I ended up layering my pretty, black work cardigan under a flannel and a hoodie to keep my warm while beheading and gutting salmon into the wee hours of the morning along the Copper River in Chitina. I’ve replaced that pretty black cardigan with five new cardigans, a pile of new cardigans, one in black, one in burgundy, red, navy and navy with hand-painted white polka dots. A trip or two ago, again, I ended up layering almost everything I packed for an overnight pilot car adventure up to Prudhoe Bay where it was forty below and blowing. I once had to buy boots for a snowmobiling excursion, not that I ever mind buying footwear, but this is not nearly as enjoyable when supervised, especially by your sweetie. There is a process to buying shoes that most men will never understand. I did manage to score cute AND inexpensive boots that garner compliments when worn, so we were both satisfied. I am the master at shoe shopping.

Piles. What else piles up on us in life besides mail, clothes and books?

Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.
Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.

Do you ever feel like you have a pile of troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that you need to deal with? Fret about? Lose sleep over? This is a common complaint I hear and I don’t think anyone is truly immune. How we deal with those piles, though, is the difference. How we deal with those piles of negative things; troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, is the difference between managing them and letting them manage us.

In letting problems and such pile up to the point where we worry, fret and lose sleep is really not much different that letting piles of newspapers and junk mail accumulate on the back counter in the kitchen. We are constantly reminded of these troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, because they are ever present and amassing. Stephen Covey, author of, among other great books, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggested that we should only ever touch a piece of paper one time. If we go out to get the mail, for example, before we set it down, anywhere, it is classified and dealt with; junk mail immediately in the trash, important mail dealt with and mail for others distributed appropriately. Done. No pile. Could our troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues not be dealt with in a similar manner? Sort, classify and deal.

Why let a problem or worry linger and fester? I know there aren’t always immediate solutions to dilemmas in life, but, if the solution is not immediate, what purpose does fretting, worrying and losing sleep over it now, serve? Address the problem immediately, if possible, and as immediately as possible, and, until it can be resolved, focus on more positive things. Focus on the now. If a problem can’t be resolved, it lives in the future. We live now. If we focus on the future, and the problems in the future, we lose the now, the present. We can only ever impact the present, now, the immediate. Fretting over what lies ahead, in the future, steals our ability to deal with what we can effectively deal with now, the present. Worry manifests in this manner, by depriving of us effectiveness and efficiency, now, and because of the negative focus of worry, into the future, makes us dread what lies ahead.

If we are to pile anything up, at all, it should be an arsenal of useful tools and useful habits to arm us with positive thoughts and actions that will propel us through any troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that may arise throughout life. By practicing a positive mental attitude and focusing on living only in the present, by expressing our gratitude for all that we have, all that we are grateful for, by recognizing our strengths, our value and our power as individuals, by setting clear and decisive goals, based on our purpose, our guiding principles and our values, we are driven through life, and all its trivial and petty little dilemmas, with a positive, confident, powerful force that comes from within. We can make molehills out of mountains, tiny piles out of insurmountable ones. I am not saying it is easy, this takes, first, making a decision, second, making a decisive change contrary to human nature, a course of education oneself, and a great deal of diligent effort. But, the reward is piles better than the alternative. Worth the effort.

So I begin my day of piles. Laundry, emails, work, boxes to go to charity, and, best of all, things to go in my suitcase for vacation. And, at the end of the day, the piles will have all been dealt with and I will sleep peacefully, because I don’t let anything I can’t deal with immediately accumulate. That’s my present for living in the present.

 

 

Disappointment

Disappointment

dis·ap·point·ment

/ˌdisəˈpointmənt/

Noun

The feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

Synonyms

letdown – frustration – chagrin – disillusionment

Ever feel that way? Ever not feel that way?

Disappointment, I’m afraid, is just part of life. I just had a phone conversation with my son who is trying to secure additional student loan funding for a summer course and a planned transfer to another school. Unfortunately, due to many prior disappointments in life, the funding was denied and he is extremely disappointed. His “Plan A” is just not going to be possible. We talked for a while about alternate plans, other possible scenarios for summer and fall and for completing his college education. And we talked about disappointment.

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to believe that our natural state is one of happiness. How are we to be happy all the time if we constantly face disappointment? Disappointment is, really, nearly a daily occurrence, in one way or another. And the very definition of disappointment is “a feeling of sadness”, in direct contradiction with happiness, our supposed natural state. It’s all rather disappointing, isn’t it?

We need to separate disappointment, the feeling of sadness, from happiness, our natural state. Though seemingly related, as feelings or emotions, and in direct opposition, truly, one does not negate the possibility of the other. If you are, generally, very happy, it is perfectly natural, ordinary and commonplace to have some disappointment. If we are disappointed for one reason or another, it does not in any way prevent us from experiencing happiness overall.

Disappointment, again, by definition, is caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. Disappointment is not defined as the removal of happiness from your life. If your hopes or expectations are not fulfilled you just need to regroup and focus on a different hope or expectation, if not a different method to attain the original. Nonfulfillment of a hope or an expectation is rarely permanent.  Disappointment is temporary. Disappointment doesn’t erase your hope or your expectation; it just means you’ll have to find another way to fulfill it. Disappointment, if you get creative with it, is a catalyst for, well, creativity. So, if “plan A” doesn’t work and you are disappointed, use that energy to draft another couple of plans that may move you in the same general direction as the original plan.

As to happiness, our natural state; happiness is permanent, it is organic, and it is easily accessible to anyone. Happiness is nothing more than living in the present. Now. Period. If it is so simple to have permanent, lasting happiness, why does the world seem filled with misery? Because no one lives in the present. Now. Period. Don’t dwell on the past, don’t fret over the future, live each and every moment focusing on the present. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have hopes and expectations, but that you should not be so focused on the future that you are missing the opportunities, in the present, to take action and move forward towards the future, towards your hopes and expectations.

We must have goals. We must have goals that align with our values. Goals that align with our values provide us with guiding principles. Guiding principles are what we use, in the present, to move us towards our goals without being totally myopic about the future. Simple.

So, when disappointment strikes, how do we cope? Again, keep in mind that disappointment, the nonfulfillment of hopes and expectations, is related to the course of action, or plan, that failed. The hopes and expectations are still there. Using your goals, aligned with your values, following your guiding principles, take one step in the direction of your hope or expectation, right now. If that one step is creating a new plan, a new timeline, a new budget, identifying a new resource, it is an action, taken in the present, that may advance you towards the eventual fulfillment of your hopes or expectations. Make sense?

As to the timeline we apply to our hopes and expectations; has anyone, ever, been able to control time? Never. We only ever hope to learn to manage it. As a general guide, a timeline is nice, but in a world of infinite variables, a hard and fast timeline for every goal is never practical and has us doing what? Focusing on points in the future, with stress and anxiety, rather than focusing on the present with peace and clarity.

There is a bit of a trick, though, when your hopes or expectations involve others. Disappointment due to the actions or inactions of other people are completely out of our control. And this comes down to your goals, your values, your guiding principles and living in the present. If your hope or expectation is to have a lasting, loving relationship with a specific person, you are attaching your hopes and expectations to a person you have no way of controlling. And, to make matters worse, seeking to control that person is more likely to cause the relationship to fail than not. This is true for just about anything where your hopes or expectations rely on the performance of another person or people. Adjust for it. Instead of stating your goal “I want so and so to love me forever, to be faithful and true, passionate and caring, for as long as we live” you might just state your goal as “I am lovable, I am loved, I am loving”. The specifics will follow in a more natural and fulfilling manner once you achieve the very general. You cannot control the “who”, you cannot always control the “when” or the “how” but you can control the “what”, and it should all be based on the appropriate “why”.

Have you ever heard someone say “be careful what you pray for?” Sometimes in praying or asking for very specific things, with energy and intent, we get them, and all their hidden or undesired consequences. For my whole life, I wanted a ranch. When a rare but risky opportunity presented itself, I prayed and prayed and prayed to somehow, some way, be able to “get the ranch”. Not “a ranch”, but “that ranch”. Through miracles and very creative mortgage financing, my hopes and expectations came true. With a change in the economy and the deterioration of my husband’s already lacking work ethic and motivation, the dream ranch became impossible to sustain on only my income. It became a nightmare, not the dream. And eventually, it was lost. The pain and the lesson all reinforced in my mind the fact that you need to be very careful in what you pray for. General is better than specific. Take steps towards it in the present and make sure it aligns with your goals, values and guiding principles. Creative mortgage financing, in hindsight, was not in alignment with my goals, values and guiding principles.

For my son, the hope or expectation that he was going to obtain financing, today, requiring a willing and qualified co-signer, in order to attend a specific summer course in his field of study, at a specific time, so he can then move before the fall term to another state, to advance his studies in order to affect a transfer to yet another school that would provide him leverage on admission to the graduate program of his dreams, all may have been a little to specific. The goal is to attend the graduate program of his dreams and that hasn’t changed. The timeline, the budget and the path have. The nonfulfillment is temporary, the goal has permanence.

The means to an end. Is it the means that matter, or the end? Are there not a million ways to reach the end? More than one mean? Of course. With the happiness of living in the present as our energy, fueled by meaningful goals, aligned with our values, creating our guiding principles, we can venture down as many paths as are necessary to fulfill our hopes or expectations. Furthermore, each path we venture down will also broaden our experiences, an added benefit.

So my son and I talked about disappointment today. I said, “if everyone got their “plan A”, we’d all be ….” and I struggled for the right words to express my thought. My son completed my thought perfectly, he said “we’d be weak.” In disappointment, we have the opportunity to find the strength and the means, and often, the very strength and means required to fulfill our hopes and expectations.

Goals. Values. Guiding principles. Now. Period.

 

 

Extraordinary

Ex.traor.di.nar.y

Very unusual or remarkable, unusually great

Ex.tra

To a greater extent than usual.

Or.di.nar.y

What is commonplace or standard.

An evening stroll along Inner Harbor - Baltimore, MD
An evening stroll along Inner Harbor – Baltimore, MD

Life can be extra ordinary or life can be extraordinary. You choose.

Some folks desire an extra ordinary life; it is predictable, safe, known, routine. Others of us desire an extraordinary life; exciting, unpredictable, risky, varied. Personally, I cannot even begin to imagine wanting an ordinary life, let alone an extra ordinary life.

I was having breakfast with my mom the other day when this thought occurred to me. Despite our differences, my mom and I get along quite well. We do have some very fundamental differences, our desire for an extraordinary life, and an extra ordinary life, being a prime example.

My mom has always ever wanted to have a “normal” life, ordinary, extra ordinary, even. To her, this meant two incomes, a tract home in a homogenous neighborhood, purchased brand new, of course. A pristine lawn in the front and back, traditional furnishings in all of the rooms, two very ordinary, though newer and exceedingly practical cars in the driveway, a cat, a dog, and the same, basic meal rotation week in and week out. If company comes, then, a standing rib roast, baked potatoes, green salad, green beans and the type of super delicious sourdough bread you can only buy in the San Francisco Bay Area. To me, the sourdough is the only extraordinary thing about her chosen life. My mom’s ordinary life also dictates that you work, for as long as possible with the same employer and you work full-time until you are eligible for social security. Then you retire and watch the news on television. And clean house.

I have rebelled against most of this for as long as I can remember. I have always lusted for an extraordinary life, and while I have my full-time job in a well-established career and my newish, practical car, the rest is definitely not very ordinary. I don’t watch the news. I keep a clean house, I don’t clean the house, and if I must, I hire a housekeeper. True, some of my extraordinary tendencies in life have wound me up in all kinds of predicaments, I have always learned so much, and have grown, extraordinarily, from those experiences. I have lived on the edge of a canyon overlooking a wild, river valley, at the end of a dirt road. I have lived in an urban center with populated sidewalks and a constant flow of cars speeding past day and night. I have visited small, mountain towns without electricity, having a population that could be counted on your fingers. I have visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City, where the mere thought of the magnitude of humanity and the amount of electricity required for even a minute is mind-boggling. I have spent nights in luxury, resort hotels with marble floors, exquisite linens and mahogany furniture. I have slept under the stars on a thin mat, on the dirt, in the middle of the wilderness, so remote that seeing another person in any number of days was almost shocking. I have been in cities where arming yourself with a weapon is illegal. I have been in rural areas where it is expected that you will arm yourself and know what to do if you need to protect yourself. I have visited the famed jewelry stores in New York City; Tiffany’s, Cartier, Harry Winston, full of gold and diamonds. I have owned old, abandoned gold mines with tunnels, great caverns and ore cart tracks. I have been to the Grand Canyon, hiked and down into it; it was seventy degrees at the top, a hundred and twenty degrees six miles down. I like to eat a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery in Central Park on a regular basis. None of these experiences, alone, are unique or extraordinary. The sum of them, though, has made my life unique and extraordinary.

My mom’s ideal life is like a La-Z-Boy recliner, mine is like a high-speed roller coaster. My mom’s ups and downs in life encompass about two feet of travel and a fairly consistent view, mine, a climb, free-fall, twists, turns, tunnels, inversion, spirals, loops. My mom has lived in the same house for forty-six years. I’ve moved five times in five years. She can’t understand what I’m after, I can’t understand what she’s after. But that’s okay, to each their own.

What am I after? Besides an extraordinary life. Experiences. I believe experiences will provide me with the wisdom, the knowledge, the perspective to have an extraordinary life.

I believe in building your life around your values, your goals and your desire to have an extraordinary life, or, if you choose, and extra ordinary life. I have spent the past few years carefully reflecting and identifying my values, my goals and my desires for life experiences. No doubt, I want the more extraordinary life than the extra ordinary life. I don’t mind change, I don’t mind upheaval, I don’t mind uncertainty, I don’t mine spontaneity, in fact, I crave it.

So, how does one build the life they desire? I think I know. Very carefully and very deliberately.

I have been accused by both my mother and my boyfriend of being “too driven”. I don’t sit still for long, and when I do, I put my time to good use, working towards my goals, in support of my values. Like, now, for example. I worked all day, went sightseeing, went out to dinner, took a walk along Inner Harbor in Baltimore and now, because I want to write, I am writing. There are two televisions in my hotel room and neither of them is on. When I am finished writing, I will read something fortifying and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning, I will go explore Washington D.C. before catching my flight home. I could sleep in, as I am desperately short on sleep, but I have never seen Washington D.C, it is twenty five miles away, I have a “free” rental car with unlimited mileage and five hours to kill in the morning, if I leave here by 5:00 AM. So, maybe I am a little driven, but it ‘s just these types of experiences that help make my life more extraordinary. What’s extraordinary about sleeping in? I can do that next week, maybe, when I’m on vacation. Maybe. Probably not. I’ll be in Alaska.

My point is, building an extraordinary life isn’t going to come from doing the same thing you’ve always done. You have to identify what it is you want to see, want to do, want to experience, then seize it. You have to find the stones and place them one after the other to build the life you desire, whether it be extra ordinary or extraordinary. I think of the stones I use to build my extraordinary life more like paving stones on a garden pathway; I place one in the soil, identify the next, and place it in the soil just after the first. And so on, soon my path leads me in the direction I have chosen. I have chosen a meandering path. And I like it.

The building blocks of an extra ordinary life require, I think, even more, concerted and difficult labor. Stability and consistency require an incredibly strong foundation. A stable foundation, a sturdy, consistent, dependable lifestyle is going to require some very solid planning and construction; education, dedication of purpose to career, to financial planning and management of risks. Building an extra ordinary life, I would say, is much more like building a structure, vertical and tall. Some very solid, very strong stones are placed at the corners; values, goals, purpose, intent. On those cornerstones, more stones are carefully stacked on top, with a strong mortar in between to prevent them from tumbling down if things get momentarily unsteady, or shift gradually with the passage of time. With great deliberation, careful attention to detail, a sound blueprint and hard labor, your structure reaches the heights you desire. A sturdy building, a monument, is always an architectural feat, requiring a great deal of technical skill and expertise, it is drawn, it is engineered, blueprinted, a materials list is made. The materials are selected carefully and stockpiled, and only then is ground broken for the laying of the foundation. Then, for however long it takes, methodically, one stone then another, then another.

I have been traveling to New York City a few times a year for the past several years. Every time I approach Manhattan from the airport, I notice the progress of the buildings in place of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. Every few months, visible progress has been made. I have photographs spanning all the years I have visited the city, documenting, clearly, the rise of this monument. The progress seems painstakingly slow, and breathtakingly rapid all at the same time. This is how an extra ordinary life is built.

An extraordinary life requires as much purpose, as much work, but follows a different plan. One paving stone is laid, and then another. The ground slopes, there are roots and rocks, trees and flowers growing in the path that must be built around. The path takes shape, following a spontaneous, haphazard plan, one that is adjusted after the placement of each stone. The ultimate destination may be planned, but the course of the path leading there may vary tremendously as progress to the ultimate point is made. With each stone laid, a new, fantastic wonder may be discovered that is worth observing, worth savoring, and worth altering the path around, rather than paving over.

No matter which type of extra ordinary/extraordinary life you strive to build, there has to be the overall goal; how many stories tall, what style or architecture or the destination to which the meandering garden path will lead. This is the goal that is identified and worked towards over the long term. This is the sum of the efforts, the sum of the plan, the finished product. Once built, of course, an addition may be in order, a new structure, a new path. That is the way of a fulfilling life.

To make progress towards the ultimate goal, architectural feat of your desire, some kind of progress needs to be made daily. The World Trade Center building is worked on day and night, day after day, year after year, and still, it is not complete. How long did it take to construct the pyramids? The Taj Mahal? Any great, architectural wonder? They did not rise from the ground in a day, it took a continual, sustained effort. How long did it take early explorers to create a navigable trail from the east to the west, one that families could follow towards a life on the new frontier? How long did it take to build the Transcontinental Railroad? The modern interstate highway system? So, too, must your days be, no matter which you choose, the structure or the pathway, daily toil must be made, a daily effort, a daily investment, some measurable progress needs to happen or the goal fails to take shape, falters, crumbles and is lost in ruins.

I lived in a suburban area, once, where a home was being constructed on an empty lot. Great progress was made, to a point, then all progress ceased. For years, the shell of the house stood empty and forgotten on the lot. Nature began to reclaim the site and, years later, when work finally resumed, there was far more work in rehabilitating what had been abandoned than there would have been had the effort just been seen to completion. A continual, sustained effort is far more effortless than an effort that is halted and restarted, this we call inertia, momentum, simple movement itself carries us forward, momentum is the impetus gained by a moving object. Once inertia or momentum is halted, it takes a great deal of effort to resume movement again. This explains, quite simply, why you get better mileage on the highway than you do in the city where you are continually stopping at stop lights, losing momentum, completely, only to have to expend considerable energy to move forward again. And, so is anything we strive to accomplish in life.

So whether you choose to lay the foundation for your great structure, your extra ordinary life, or you choose to begin to cut the path to lay the first paver in your meandering, garden walkway, you must begin with your ultimate vision in mind. What will the structure look like, make the sketch, design the plan, secure the materials, lay the cornerstones, the foundation, and one solid brick after the next. Take your pick and ready the dirt for the first paver, but know where, ultimately the path will end up and let the journey take shape around the wonders you discover in the process. Identify your goals, know your values and begin gathering the experiences you’ll require for your desired life, be it extra ordinary or extraordinary. It is yours to build, one stone at a time.

Profess

I do not profess to be an expert on anything. As the comments and feedback trickle in on this recent adventure, mostly in Japanese, I feel the need to provide clarity. I am not an expert in anything. What I write are more musings, contemplation, ideas – not absolute rules, methods, facts, truths, because for each of us, these will differ. I have made enormous changes in my life, mostly for the positive, using the advice of those I have found wise, again, my personal belief, and I feel I benefited. I wish to share my observations, my personal wisdom in the hopes that it may appeal to and perhaps even benefit others.

On expertise; does someone who professes to be an expert on a topic really know everything there is to know about that topic? Certainly not. There is always more to know, more to learn, more to profess. At one point in history, it was professed that smoking cigarettes had health benefits. Now we know differently. Think of the technological advances made in the last one hundred years. The last fifty years. The last twenty years. The last ten years. The last two years. Always progress, always developments, always evolution. Our rate of progress increases exponentially with each passing day, week, month, year. Why do you think so many professions and certification programs require continued professional education? Because what we knew, as experts in a field, at the beginning of our careers, has evolved tremendously over the course of time, and as “experts” in that field, we need to know and apply those changes to what we do to be relevant, to be accurate, and in some cases, to be safe.

Again, what will “work” for some of us in self improvement, in personal development, will not work at all for others. And time is of the essence, as well. What worked well for me ten years ago does not now. Life is a journey, certainly we all realize that, and as we change, how we grow and learn, how we evolve, is bound to change, too. Or should. Using an analogy I employ in one of the classes I teach for work; you are making rice, you follow the instructions on the package, you get a certain result. You start adding a little more butter (always more butter), maybe a pinch of you favorite spice, you get a better result. And yet, the addition of your favorite spice may not appeal to others. Is life any different? Find your own spice.

I feel passionate about what I write. Of course, the level of passion is often impacted by the number of cups of coffee I’ve had, and the clarity of the delivery of my ideas, perhaps, by the size of the glass of wine! Regardless, there is always passion and I really want to share my ideas, my thoughts, my musings. Those who feel passionate about what they have learned, what they know, what they’ve observed often feel the need to profess that information to others. What they profess is nothing more than a collection of their thoughts, beliefs and observations, sometimes legitimized with corroborating evidence or opinions. In the end, it is still a collection of thoughts, beliefs and observations.

In college, all those years in college, what I learned more than anything else was, there are two sides to every opinion, to every theory, and the key to success is to be open to learning both sides, appreciating both sides, and then forming your own position based on your individual interpretation, knowledge and beliefs. What a professor professes is only what he or she currently holds valuable and true at that moment in time, based on the knowledge collected thus far. It is subject to change. As Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think”.

Additionally, how one professor delivers the content of the course will differ significantly from how another professor delivers the same content. And every student benefits from different delivery methods and certain teaching methods. So, in discussing life and personal growth and development, how one “expert” discusses the topic and presents their ideas, methods and opinions could differ considerably from how another “expert” professes their ideas, methods and opinions. No one is more correct than the other, only, perhaps, more appealing to you as an individual, at that particular point in time. Choose your favorite spice.

For these reasons, I keep my mind open to new ideas, new approaches, new methods and styles. I may profess my own interpretation of those ideas, approaches, methods and styles based on how I tailored them for my own adoption. It is up to you to decide what is of value and benefit to you, and what “professors” you prefer to have instruct you. At the end of the day, you will be your own professor, taking what you have learned and applying it in a manner that suits you. If you choose to share that with others, to profess, just know, your’s is not the only recipe for rice. Add your own spice.