Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:
Gratitude – I’m grateful for little bits of solitude in the middle of a busy work day
Affirmation – I am productive
Attitude – Feeling sensitive
Activity – Strength training at home and ten cartwheels
Nurture – Sat on the deck at dusk, after my delicious dinner, and watched the hummingbirds and the dragonflies flying in, out, and around the oak trees
Enrichment – Quote – “Even the best writer has to erase”
Giving – Gave my last two dollar bills to a panhandling woman with a small child in the Whole Foods parking lot.
Connection – I stopped in at the “Keg and Barrel” at Whole Foods and had a cold beer after chatting with the “wine guy” in the Zinfandel aisle. I used to be a regular, now I’m a “hit or miss”, this afternoon was a hit. I chatted with a young woman at the bar who is into boxing, jujitsu, and M.M.A. She was amazed I ran marathons.
Simplifying – This is getting bad. I drove right past the storage unit where those two bins are, but it was 105 degrees out and I knew it would be even hotter within. I intended to return later in the evening, when cooler, but got distracted shopping at Whole Foods. The storage place closes at 7:00. I’m not one to make excuses.
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls ~ Mother Teresa
I have two very juxtaposed needs; a social circle and silence.
I am still trying to find a circle, or a few circles, a source, a place, or places, for socializing, as a middle-aged, solitary woman with a wildly fluctuating calendar of availability. I am not “single” and am a misfit in the “singles” crowds. I just want to establish a circle of interesting, non-threatening folks to hang out with a time or two a week, for coffee or wine tasting, a hike, a yoga class, or something like that. I don’t let the absence of such a circle deprive me of those joys, I am perfectly willing and able to go to coffee, wine tasting, a hike or a yoga class by myself, a solitary participant amidst a group of strangers, but I would prefer, on more occasions than not, to have a familiar face, or faces, to share with socially, on more than a casual, “hey, you on the yoga mat next to me, nice weather today, eh?” basis.
I’ve found one great, promising and very unlikely resource; grocery shopping. I am a “Whole Food-ee”, as you are probably aware. I am lucky enough, currently, to live in a town that has a Whole Foods Market ten minutes from my front door. Being situated in the Napa Valley, this market has a “tasting bar”. This, I’ve been aware of for some time and I have also been aware of the fact that they have a calendar of events; different featured wineries, breweries, and pairings, for a very nominal fee. As I shop for my local organic Greek yogurt, local, organic, free-range eggs, local organic produce and organic whole grains, crisscrossing my way back and forth across the aisles, I frequently pass the tasting bar, which is “corralled” off, dead center of the store, adjacent to the wine aisle, with a split rail fence and a gate complete with a rope latch, to keep the underage out, I suppose. Often, I see people sitting at the tasting bar and the few tables nearby, enjoying the featured selections, and I’ve thought, “I’ve got to take the time to do that some day.”
One afternoon, last week, with a little burst of fortitude, I reached for my MacBook and opened a couple of new tabs in my browser. I navigated to my gym’s class schedule from my bookmarked pages on one tab and to Whole Foods events calendar on the other. I grabbed my phone and opened up my personal calendar and scheduled out my fitness for the week, including runs, yoga classes, spin classes and cardio. Then, I found a few tasting events and scheduled those on my calendar, complete with a couple of carefully timed reminders. Later that day, right on schedule, I attended a caviar and sparkling wine tasting event at the “Whole Foods Corral”. I found a seat at the bar, a few minutes before the scheduled start time for the event, and enjoyed a fantastic Northern California brewery’s stout offering, just a small glass, for two dollars. There were a few folks at the bar and they struck up easy, casual conversation with me. They were “regulars”, I gathered, from their banter with the “bartender” and because they greeted, by name, nearly everyone that passed by the “corral”. From what I gathered, everyone there was sort of like me; not single, not content to sit home and rot in front of the television, and looking for a way to connect in the community and enjoy beer. And caviar. And sparkling wine. And then, maybe even do some grocery shopping. It was great. I’ve been to the German beer-tasting event, since, again, meeting some nice, non-threatening and immensely interesting people. Today, after my spin class at the gym, and a shower, of course, I’m going to go buy some yogurt and oatmeal and stop by for a wine tasting event, a winery I know, have visited, and am quite fond of, from the foothills of Amador County, southeast of Sacramento. I might be close to becoming a “regular” at the Whole Foods Corral.
The other craving I have; silence.
Likely more elusive than a platonic posse of pals to socialize with, a contiguous block of uninterrupted silence with which to read, think, meditate and write. I don’t consider this need to be one rooted in selfishness, though some may beg to differ. Fine, believe what you want, but, please, don’t approach me with your argument while I’m trying to read, think, meditate or write.
My basic need for a bit of uninterrupted silence, a couple of times a day, as I’ve mentioned a time, or two, or maybe a dozen or two times, before, is very hard to come by in my current living situation. One of the petty minor irritations Mom and I are trying to work through. Mom differs from me in that her most basic need seems to be one of filling every moment with noise, chatter, inquiry (often bordering on inquisition) and distraction. If I fall silent for any period of time, say, during breakfast, she will ask a rapid-fire succession of questions on a topic in, what seems to me, an attempt to extend the lifespan of said topic well beyond its natural and logical bounds. She will chatter incessantly, often using the newspaper as a catalyst, the result being a near constant barrage of completely unrelated factoids that, to me, require no response, or even acknowledgement. Mom seems to desire both, acknowledgement and response. I listen to her many stories of the past, of her acquaintances, and her (very) few social encounters of the week. She relates very detailed stories of the people in her life; doctors, nurses, hairdressers, and of the people in their lives that she has never met, but has only heard tale of. If Mom runs out of material, she will simply narrate everything she is doing, like a “blow-by-blow” account of wrapping up leftover cookies to freeze. If I am not in the room to chat with or chatter to, she will turn on the radio or the television to fill the void.
I love companionable silence; being able to sit, peacefully, with a friend, family member or loved one, after the conversation has been temporarily spent, and just enjoy their presence, their company, and pursuing those more personal, thoughtful endeavors; reading, thinking, meditating, writing.
I’m not sure where the middle ground is here, between my need for companionable silence and Mom’s desire for constant conversation. I think …
“Knock, knock, knock,” on my bedroom door, which I’ve closed to afford some kind of sound barrier from the television downstairs, the ringing telephone and the triple play of the message left; its Mom, of course, on the other side of the door, with a list of questions, a couple of stories and a detailed account of the upcoming hour of her life.
My train of thought has just derailed. I’ll end my musings for the day here.
Two glasses of wine. Well, maybe two and a half. Maybe my glass is large. I awoke feeling like I’d drained the whole bottle. Oh, wait, maybe I did. I gave Mom one glass in her demure little goblet, and I know, for a fact, I poured myself two glasses, and a splash, but, bottle equals empty. I felt like someone hit me over the head with the bottle when I awoke this morning. Dues = paid.
I, for whatever contrived excuses, did not work out yesterday. I had hoped to go to the gym for a core workout, cardio and yoga, but failed. Today, I planned to run, and per my training schedule, I was to run eight miles.
I got up, slowly. I ate breakfast, slowly. I answered emails and did a little work, slowly. And, slowly, I came to the realization that if I didn’t do my run today, I’d likely not get a long mid-week run in, and I will have let myself down. I have my first full marathon coming up in December, I need to stay on track. I have some busy travel weeks coming up, so, now is the time. Slowly, I pulled my running tights on, wiggled into my Victoria’s Secret hot pink, tiger striped yoga bra, which, by the way, is way easier to put on than to take off, especially when all sweaty. All of my upper body fitness, strength and tone is attributable to the high intensity interval training that is removing one very sweaty Victoria’s Secret hot pink, tiger striped yoga bra after a work out. In case you were wondering. My running shoes and socks were in the car, so I found matching flip flops, a miracle, filled up my hydration pack with water, fuel, ID and insurance card and headed out the door. Honestly, I didn’t feel like walking to the car, let alone running eight miles.
I know myself pretty well. I will cheat myself, I will wimp out, if I can justify it for even a moment. Last night’s missed work out being evidence. I have a six-mile loop that I run routinely. Last week, I was to run seven miles, so, after completing the sixth mile, I ran right past the parking lot at the park where my car was, and ran an additional half mile down the road, turned around and came back. Today, weak in spirit and head throbbing ever so slightly, I knew, knew, knew, without a doubt, I’d wimp out at six miles. There would be no running past the car for another mile, turn around and come back. I know me.
This is where it is a good thing to have a somewhat deviant mind. I told myself we’d do six miles, then see. At nearly mile four I round the third corner of my rectangular route. My deviant mind concocted an evil plan to trick my wimp out mindset. I decided to keep going straight, for an additional mile, turn around, and then finish the remainder of the loop. The result being, eight miles and no possibility of wimping out at six, because, well, I’d still be two miles from my car! Brilliant, I know. Right?
I ran every last inch of eight miles, and then some, my calculations were off by nearly a half-mile, but, you know, it didn’t kill me. I felt accomplished for the day. My self-esteem and self-respect were in tact, perhaps even inflated a little. I headed home for a shower, lunch and the rest of the day to do with whatever productive endeavor I chose. Bliss.
As soon as I walked in the door, though, all I could think was “HAMBURGER!” I wanted a hamburger. And maybe even fries. I wanted a high quality hamburger, not some fast food, cooked earlier today, kept in a warmer drawer and micro-nuked to a sickening shade of gray and soggy limpness upon order. I wanted a gourmet burger with an exotic cheese and a unique sauce and some rare ingredient mixed in. This is Napa, there are no shortage of places I could drop twenty bucks on the burger of my dreams. I may have mentioned, I’m on a money diet, I’m being more mindful of my money consumption and my restaurant food consumption. My spending and my waistline need a little whittling after the past few weeks indiscretions. So, I’m proud to say, I did not go out and get a gourmet hamburger. I ate leftover salmon salad, open-faced sandwich style. Such self-discipline, I know, adding even further to my self-respect and my self-esteem.
After a few more hours of work, HAMBURGER! was still on my mind. I had some Whole Foods, happy cow 85/15% burger, frozen in quarter pound chunks, in my freezer. I decided to get one quarter pound lump out, thaw it, and make myself a burger. I also decided, as a treat, to go to Whole Foods and get some sprouted grain buns. I could eat one tonight and freeze the rest for later enjoyment. Oh, and sweet potato fries would be super duper yummy, too. And maybe one large format beer. We’d see. I hopped in my car and headed for the mecca of mealtime ingredients, Whole Foods. I actually found a parking place, at 5:00 PM. I was astounded, I didn’t even have to circle the lot or follow grocery-laden shoppers down the aisle from the store to their cars. There was just an empty space, sitting there, just for me. Okay, so it was across the shopping center and I had to walk fourteen rows, but, hey, I can run eight miles, I can certainly walk fourteen rows.
Once inside my favorite place on earth, next to any shoe store in NYC, I grabbed the smaller, double decker cart. I usually use a basket, but in Jillian’s latest Audible book I’m listening to, “Slim for Life,” she says we tend to buy more crap food when we use a hand basket over a cart. Okay, I don’t really think so, but I’ll give it a try. I always figured you could only buy what you could carry if you used a hand basket. But, I’m freakishly strong when it comes to being able to carry desirable purchases in one hand, to the cash registers. Years of practice, my friends. If it were an Olympic sport, I’d win.
I shop at a lot of different Whole Foods, and, unlike Target, who has precisely three different floor plans, every Whole Foods is unique. As I travel around the country, it is my unspoken mission to visit every Whole Foods in the nation. So, that I don’t totally know the layout of my local Whole Foods is not really a reflection of my intelligence. I swear. The Napa store is chopped in two, it really seems like two different retail spaces connected by an opening between at the front of the store and another at the back. I usually stay to the left; produce, meat, wine, dairy, done. I do know that frozen pizza and beer is immediately through the portal to the “other side” at the back wall, and, ingeniously, displayed immediately next to each other. This is my Friday night wall. Pizza and beer.
For whatever reason, tonight, I head directly for beer. Something was beckoning me, an unseen force. OMG! A sale! I knew it! I can sense a sale on just about anything from quite a distance. The sale aura was very strong in the direction of the large format beer. I chose three. They were on sale. I had to.
Bread happens to be near beer and I quickly located my sprouted grain burger buns. Check. I decided to check out the cheese aisle. I love cheese, and have actually 95% given up cheese because I lack control. But, what is a homemade gourmet burger with an exquisite, and on sale, large format beer, without cheese. I settle on two interesting looking cheeses. I buy cheese a lot like I buy beer and wine; the label. If it has a cute label, is organic, locally grown, fair trade and sustainable, I’m fucking buying it. Was my list complete? Something nagged at me from the depths of my mind. I’d forgotten some staples when I was here the day before yesterday. I pulled out my phone and consulted my perpetual Whole Foods shopping list in Evernote. Ah, yes, canned, organic fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato sauce, both of which go really good in my homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. I’ve been lusting for macaroni and cheese and have made Herculean efforts, successful, by the way, to NOT order it from every appetizer menu I’ve glanced at in the past two months. But, Friday is carbo-loading night, perhaps I can make my homemade macaroni and cheese instead of having pizza! I’ve got cheese! So, I stop in the pasta aisle and buy a really cool looking package of organic, whole grain, locally produced, fair trade and sustainable bag of macaroni noodles.
On to canned foods. I load up my cart with cans of fire-roasted tomatoes, regular tomatoes, and tomato sauce. May as well stock up, I seem to keep running out. At last I head to the checkout. I pile my purchases onto the belt, along with the one reusable bag I’ve brought along. I size up my purchases and, in retrospect, I probably should’ve brought another bag. Or two. I swipe my card and wait for Tatum to scan my purchases. Fifty-six dollars. How did I spend fifty-six dollars on buns and beer? I could’ve gone to the best restaurant in Napa featuring gourmet hamburgers and exquisite large format beer and paid less. Oh, but, I do have ingredients for Friday’s dinner. And beer for a few nights. And a whole fucking lot of canned tomato products. I sign my name, unintelligibly, on the screen with the blunt tipped stylus thing, my signature has become, pretty much, a 72-point wavy line, for whatever it proves, for whatever it’s worth. It would be interesting to see if it held up in court, my electronic signature. Not so interesting that I actually aim to find out. But it looks nothing like my real signature. Whatever.
I schlep my purchases fourteen rows out to where I thought I’d left my car. It was actually sixteen rows over. I only looked a little like a dork lugging my canned food and large format beer laden grocery bags to row fourteen, pausing, perplexed, doing the parking lot pirouette, trying to spot my very small, low profile, non-descript Civic amidst a sea of exotic cars and high-end SUV’s. I heft my bags into the trunk, the Civic squats a little from the burden. I climb in, and at eighty degrees, I open the sunroof all the way and silently pray that a hawk with a snake in its talons doesn’t fly over and let go of the writhing snake just as it passes over my car. I know, a weird phobia, but this scene I have actually witnessed, and think about, every time I open my sunroof all the way. Except, on that fateful day, my sunroof was closed and the snake hit the ground, on the shoulder of the highway, immediately next to my car, mere feet away. And as the snake landed, unceremoniously, and pissed off beyond belief, all I could think was “What if it landed on my windshield? What if it landed on my roof? What if it landed on my sunroof and it was open?” That scene is forever, indelibly, etched in my mind, and plays out over and over again every time I reach for the sunroof button. That’s why I usually tilt, instead.
A life of “what-if’s”. What if we squandered our entire lives thinking of all the terrible things that could happen, so much so that we were too afraid to do anything and life escapes us before we know what it is? That, I think, is the worst “what if” of all. Life is a collection of risks, and whether you think you’re assuming any risk, or not, you are. There is substantial risk in staying home, sitting in your worn out recliner, remote clenched in hand, flipping through the channels, watching other people live. So many things could happen, the least of which is that your life is passing you buy, opportunity is fleeting and you’re sitting there, oblivious, because the news broadcast has you terrified to venture out into the world and live your life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’m not saying go out and court danger, I’m saying, take risks. Go out into the world and have experiences. In risk lies opportunity. In the guise of safety lies mediocrity. Open that sunroof and drive. Hell, if you’ve seen a snake fall from the grasp of hawk in flight, and it missed you, barely, what are the chances of that series of events ever unfolding in a similar manner? That, I like to refer to as the “Garp principle.” If you’ve never seen “The World According to Garp” with Robin Williams, this may be lost on you. But, Garp and his wife are looking to purchase a home. As they stand in the driveway of a house for sale, a small airplane crashes into the house. Everyone is horrified, especially the realtor, knowing for certain the sale is lost. Garp is thrilled and says, “We’ll take it!” His wife looks at him incredulously and he explains, “What are the chances of that ever happening again?” Take it. Take the risk. Open the sunroof.
I wasn’t scheduled to work with a client today, nor did I have a project for work. The latter half of my day was marked on my calendar as a “travel day”. I work on site in Redwood City, California, about sixty miles from home, for the next couple of days. My morning was free. So I got paid to sit around the kitchen table, in my pajamas, and visit with my mom, answer the occasional email and be ready to assist if anyone on the team needed help. No one did.
I had a leisurely breakfast, my usual, plain Greek yogurt with local, organic honey stirred in and some organic blueberries. We sat and talked and talked and sat as the morning wore on. I went upstairs, finally, and returned a couple of emails and a couple of phone calls. My “obligations” were met for the morning, all I had left to do was shower, pack and drive.
Mom and I had entertained the idea of having mimosas, for the sole purpose of finishing off that pesky opened bottle of sparkling wine in the refrigerator before it lost its effervesance. We dismissed the idea, initially, it was Tuesday. Morning. So? We revisited the idea and decided it was probably better to enjoy the bubbles and orange juice sooner rather than later.
Three mimosas later.
We were still talking, and coherently. It was after noon and, still, I was in my “pajamas”, sweats, actually, but still, I was in what I wore to sleep in last night. This is so unlike me, I am actually repulsed by the thought of still being in PJs at noon. Blech! I planned on leaving for my hotel at about 3:00 PM, to hopefully miss traffic through San Francisco and get there early enough to complete my “first night ritual”. I showered and got ready, finished hanging and folding last night’s laundry and packed simultaneously, in fairly short order.
I’ve been missing a sock. I’ve been missing a sock I really, really like. I have these “business socks” I wear with my slacks, for work. And the sock that is missing is actually silver. And glittery. Last night, after my run, I grabbed a clean towel to use after my shower. I guess the silver, glittery sock clung to this towel and has been folded up with it since before I went to New York over a month ago. When I got out of the shower and grabbed my clean towel, out fell my missing glittery, silver sock. I was so happy! Really. It doesn’t take much. I was so happy, I even told my man about finding my silver, glittery sock during our nightly phone conversation. As I explained finding my beloved sock, I was looking for the mate, the one that wasn’t lost. I couldn’t find it! Shit! Now the sock that was there, wasn’t and the sock that had been lost was here. I’m hopeless, sometimes. Today, in folding my clothes and packing, I found the sock that hadn’t been missing, so, yes, now I have two silver, glittery socks. In my suitcase, ready to be worn with my business attire tomorrow! Excellent, I just wasn’t sure how many more times I could stand wearing black business socks with my blue, pinstriped slacks. There is peace and harmony in my world once again.
But, as I continued to sort and fold my laundry, it came to my attention that I only had one of my super expensive, hot pink, Balega running socks. I swear, it’s a curse. I just wore them last night, and I washed them and put them both in the dryer, I remember, vividly. I shook the other clothes out, once, and again. No pink sock. I looked downstairs by the dryer. I looked in the dryer. I looked in the washing machine. My mom had put my clothes that had been in the dryer on my bed, and she’d noticed the solitary pink sock, too. A curse, I tell you. A curse. It was nowhere. It’s like there is this cosmic balance that is maintained only by the fact that there is always at least one highly valued, missing sock. I had almost texted my man the good news of finding the silver, glittery sock, but now that my pink sock was missing, I decided not to draw any additional attention to my ongoing sock saga. Curses are never good and are probably best not discussed.
An hour later, after my mom took her clothes out of the dryer, I went to the garage for some other reason, and there, on the floor, my hot pink sock. If the world tips off its axis or the cosmic well-being of the universe is at all unsettled, just know, it’s because all of my socks are presently accounted for.
After I packed, Mom and I decided to have lunch, and, no, we did not have more mimosas. We were out of sparkling wine and I had to drive. We did decide to have a half a cantaloupe each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle! This is my new favorite lunch and I need to not indulge in this deliciousness too often! It has been a big food week, and with work related travel, meaning dinner out for the next three nights, and another “party weekend” coming up, this could all add up to very tight size sixes by the time next Tuesday rolls around. Or I roll around. At least I’ve run a couple of times this week.
At 3:00 PM, precisely, I loaded up my car and headed for the “peninsula”. As planned, traffic was light. There was a little congestion here and there, but nothing like commute time. I made good time and found my hotel very easily. I checked in and went about my “first night ritual”. After dropping my bag in my room, I grabbed my purse and my TomTom and headed back to my car. The first order of business is always to find the clients’ office. When I booked my hotel, I noticed it was only a couple thousand feet from the address my client provided. I could walk. I may walk. It is about a block away.
The second order of business, upon ascertaining that there was, indeed, a small refrigerator in my room, was to find the closest Whole Foods and buy a few items for my breakfasts and lunches for the next couple of days. I take great delight in shopping at different Whole Foods locations. I don’t know why, exactly, but I do, and I “check in” on Facebook, if for no other reason, than to keep a record for my own purposes. I think it would be cool to be able to claim to have visited EVERY Whole Foods location. Not likely, but cool. I bought Greek yogurt with honey in it, organic blueberries, organic raspberries, a small wheel of Brie and two apples for my lunches, a split of sparkling wine, a split of Zinfandel and a couple bottles of water. Oh, and at the register, impulse buy, two small squares of dark Peruvian chocolate. I made my way back to the hotel and loaded up the refrigerator.
Before leaving home, I made reservations for dinner at a French restaurant in the same town as my hotel. I use Open Table to make my reservations, even though I usually eat early and am always by myself. In other words, I don’t usually need reservations, but, when you use Open Table, you earn points for every reservation you make. You can then redeem the points for gift certificates that can be redeemed at any participating restaurant! I’ve almost earned a $100 certificate, I’m just a few meals away!
When I got to the hotel, after my Whole Foods trip, I pulled up my dinner reservation on my phone to get directions, only to find that the French restaurant was downstairs, in my hotel! Excellent! And it was! A flight of three French red wines, striped bass, quinoa and grilled vegetables, supposedly only 195 calories and for dessert, because it was only supposed to be 90 calories, fresh berries gratin, flambéed. I skipped appetizers, soup, salad and sides, thankfully, that was the most filling three hundred calorie meal I ever ate. I think the French must count calories differently than we do. Or is it the “French paradox” again? How they eat like they do and look like they do, I don’t know. Actually, I do. If you haven’t read “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano, you should. Hopefully, you like leeks. I love them. I eat them every day.
After dinner, the ritual continues; I iron all the clothes for my entire stay, drink more wine, some of the Zinfandel, confirm the time training begins in the morning, set two alarms, each, on both of my iPhones, and make sure all the files are ready on my work computer. Then I busy myself with something entertaining for the rest of the evening like duncing around on Facebook, texting my Sweetie, reading, watching the YouTube channels I subscribe to, or, actually, pretty much what I’d be doing if I were home and everything that needed to be done was, in fact, done.