It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

I’m reading a great book right now! I’ll rephrase that. Of the six or seven great books I’m reading simultaneously, one relates to the following story I have to share.

I’m reading “I Can See Clearly Now” by Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of my favorite authors. I’m reading it on my Kindle, on my phone via the Kindle app, and I’m listening to it on Audible in my car as I drive north, south, east and west for my various adventures and social engagements.

In a recent chapter, Dr. Dyer tells the story of a final exam he took in a graduate course where he’d studied, as I did in college, Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs and “self-actualization”; the highest need. The professor gave the class a question and asked them to write an essay, giving them thirty minutes to complete the assignment. The question went something like this, “A self-actualized man attended a party. When he arrived everyone was in slacks, jackets, and ties. The self-actualized man was in jeans, a t-shirt, and athletic shoes. What did the self-actualized man do?” The entire class wrote their essays, all taking nearly the entire thirty minutes, filling page after page with carefully constructed details. When the professor returned, he asked each student to read their essay aloud. Each essay was roughly the same, stating that the man acted on confidence and didn’t feel self-conscious about his non-conforming attire. The professor told the class that everyone, in jest, had failed the exam.  The question could be answered in exactly three words; he didn’t notice.

Self-actualizers, among many other characteristics, have a comfortable acceptance of self and others. They are also reliant on their own experiences and judgment, they are independent and don’t rely on culture and environment to form opinions or views. A self-actualized man would not make notice of his attire in comparison to the other party attendees. There would be no comparison of self to others; the self-actualizer is completely fulfilled, comparisons of self to others are unnecessary.

I went to a party this weekend, a masquerade ball, to be exact, at a popular winery in Sonoma. I was invited to the function as a member of a MeetUp group I am active with, a women’s networking group. I saw in the excerpt describing the party that it was a costume party and quickly scanned the list of attendees. A great group of gals were planning to attend, so without reading any further, I clicked “Yes!”,  added the event to my calendar, and purchased the $65 ticket online, as one of the very few details I did read said the event was likely to sell out fast. I was committed.

A couple of weeks before the event, the same group of ladies had an impromptu happy hour gathering at a restaurant nearby. I attended and we all chatted about many things over snacks and sparkling wine. With the masquerade ball fast approaching, the topic of costumes came up. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a procrastinator and I had only a few very vague costume ideas in mind. I had not even begun the process of deciding, making, acquiring, or purchasing. When asked, I mentioned that I had a great black dress that I have worn as a costume, playing the role of Morticia Addams from the Addams Family. I also had in mind a zombie school girl outfit I could assemble from wardrobe items on hand. The group organizer informed me that the masquerade ball was actually an eighteenth century masquerade ball and that our costumes should be reflective of that period. She then mentioned that her costume was going to be a twist on that theme, and would be “steam punk”. I am aware of “steam punk”, and had a quick visual image of how she might incorporate that with an eighteenth century ball gown.

I wasn’t too worried. I happen to have an entire storage unit full of beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. Okay, only the top layer of my storage unit is beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. I really need to go through that storage unit and get rid of stuff, but, thank you “universe”, for making me a procrastinator; I haven’t purged the ball gowns. You just never know when you’ll need a formal ball gown, right? They were my daughters, from a youth group she was active in during high school. Fortunately for me, I’ve shrunk, deliberately and with considerable effort and discipline, over the past several years and there is a good chance theses ball gowns will fit me. If not, there is, somewhere in that storage unit, an old Jessica McClintock dress in a very forgiving size that I’m sure I can make work. While I totally embrace minimalism, there are still remnants of the former quasi-hoarder lifestyle I escaped from a half a decade ago. Like ball gowns and dresses from the 1970’s. The universe works in very mysterious ways, or, perhaps, it’s just a freaky coincidence. Anyway, I’m not worried, in the least, about having a costume for the ball. 

The day of the party arrives. I’ve selected the best fitting dress of the lot, and, of them all, my all-time favorite. I’ve made my own mask, which I’m quite proud of, it matches the unique orange sherbet color of my dress precisely. I am feeling so beautiful and confident and perfectly outfitted for the event, I can hardly wait to arrive. In fact, I am so eager, I arrive a full forty minutes early. I select a very strategic parking space in the gravel lot so I won’t have to walk too far in my lovely sherbet orange, ornately sequined, taffeta and tulle gown.

Scarlette Begonia

I sit in my car and wait for my girlfriends to arrive. And, as I sit and wait, I observe other early arrivers as they emerge from their cars. There is a man in a powder wig. Excellent. There is another man in a top hat, he looks like Abraham Lincoln almost! Perfect. A woman exits a car in black slacks and a purple and red striped tunic top. With a mask. What? More people begin to arrive and woman after woman after woman, I observe in slacks, maxi dresses, and LBD’s (little black dresses), some, quite slutty. Cute, but slutty, and, most definitely not eighteenth century ball room, masquerade ball, style dresses. I am comparing my brilliant orange, sparkly affair with the outfits of all the other women I see. I am near frantic. I glance at the clock. I live on the very western edge of Napa, if I push the speed limit, I could make it home, change my clothes and be back before the festivities begin. I seriously consider it. But, then, I remember, my girlfriends are all going to be dressed appropriately for an eighteenth century masquerade ball. We’ve discussed this. I’m cool. I hang. I continue to watch. I continue to watch and to compare myself to every other female who arrives. After about one hundred LBD’s, carefully paired with stiletto heels and a cute mask, I see one woman, about ten years my elder, arrive in a period-appropriate dress. Ok.

I never see any of my girlfriends arrive, but, it is getting darker and I am trying to observe most of this action in the rear view mirror of my car. I check the MeetUp app to see if anyone has posted their arrival in the comments section. Nothing. I see several more LBD’s arrive and no other period-appropriate dresses. Again, I glance at the clock on my dashboard; if I left right now, went home, changed and drove back, I’d be 23 minutes late for the official beginning of the party, which is known as fashionably late. I’d be fashionably late and I’d more fashionably fit in.

Why do we have such an innate desire to “fit in”? I am consumed by this need and why it isn’t at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I don’t know. I think “fitting in” fits in to “love/belonging” and “esteem” rungs in Maslow’s hierarchy. But it isn’t at the top. Apparently, I’m not a self-actualizer. Yet. That’s a crowd I’d like to fit in to. Sigh.

More LBD’s, more black maxi-dresses, all with masks, though. Hoo-fucking-ray for the masks! None of them are orange, though, like mine, they’re all black. I seriously consider forfeiting the cost of the ticket and just going home, having a glass of wine, and continuing my study of self-actualization. I check the MeetUp app again to see if anyone has commented. That moment when you realize you’re the only one in bright orange taffeta and tulle.

The party begins in a few minutes and the organizer has commented, “Here!” Much like my RSVP to this event, I send of a rapid fire response, “OMG! Everyone is in LBD’s and I look like the frickin’ queen!” No reply. At least I have ridiculously dressed friends at the event, they’ve somehow eluded my watchful eye in their corsets and bustles, their taffeta and tulle, their colors and sequins. I am emboldened. A little. I extricate myself from my Civic, which is no easy feat. The tram has arrived and I step aboard. There are four rows of seats in the tram, each wide enough for three humans, unless, of course, they are in a period-appropriate dress. I take up an entire row and am trailing orange sherbet colored tulle behind me as we speed up the paved drive towards the winery.

Everyone on the tram is in black and modern attire, except one woman, probably twenty years my senior; she is in a period-appropriate dress. It’s black, though. But, at least we can both fret with our hoops and corsets and bustles, exiting the tram, in tandem.

The tram pulls up to the winery where a crowd has assembled, awaiting the lowering of the chain across the entrance. The party has not, apparently, officially begun. I gracefully slide off the tram seat and alight on the ground. My taffeta and tulle catch up with me several seconds later, in their brilliant sequined orange. There is a hush over the crowd and every head turns. “Hello.”

I hold my head up high, I smile, I make eye contact, and I frantically look for a recognizable face. Where are my ridiculously dressed friends? Where is the wine?

Scarlette Begonia

I find the wine, thank the lord. Our group organizer finds me, in her “steam punk” dress, which is actually an LBD with some anitique-ish looking accessories that could be argued as period-appropriate. She looks so gosh-darned cute, and sexy, and pretty, and I look like the Great Pumpkin from the Charlie Brown Halloween special. The organizer brought her friend with her. I’ve met her before, she’s super fun and funny and cute, with a delightful accent. I suck at accents, but it’s from somewhere cool, I’m certain. She is in an even L’erBD, with lace and leather and barely covered body bits, and a mask, of course. More wine, please.

I am having a very difficult time navigating the crowd with my very fluffy skirt. My daughter is a full four inches shorter than I, so I am struggling with why the skirt is dragging on the floor for me and it didn’t for her. I’m not good at physics, or trigonometry, oh, wait, that’s triangles, geometry, then, I guess, but I think it has something to do with the circumference of the hoop. Pi, or the square root of pi, or some derivative of, I don’t know. I do know that people keeping stepping on my tulle train which immediately halts any forward motion I am attempting. My daughter’s lovely pumpkin dress cost $500. I know, I bought it, and I really, really, really don’t want to ruin it, though it is highly unlikely anyone will ever wear it again, anywhere. My mom, ever  ready for the worst case scenario, which, in my estimation, just paves the way for the worst to manifest, left, on the kitchen counter, for me, a ten-year old bottle of chemical wonder called “red wine stain remover”. So far, they have only poured bubbly, here. Per the event program, red wine is on the third floor. I love red wine, but I may seek to avoid, at the event, and just imbibe in the bottle of Zinfandel I have on my desk, when I get home. I may just stick to the first floor, all bubbly, and I won’t have to navigate the stairs or commandeer the tiny elevator, me, my skirt, and I.

My gal pals and I head for the Bubble Room, on the first floor, where they remove jackets and other outer garments to further reveal the beauty of their eighteenth century as interpreted by the twenty-first century costumes. And masks, of course. They both sit, easily, in the chairs. I move to sit in a neighboring chair, my ass hits the seat a full several seconds before my abundance of tulle settles around me. I’m sure everyone is watching the spectacle that is me. I smile confidently and adjust my chin a bit higher. Though, whether sincerely, or out of sympathy, several people have remarked on my dress, in a complimentary manner. The employees behind the wine bar, the hired dancers and musicians, and other paid individuals, are all wearing full skirts and flounces, they appear corseted and bustled, but aren’t, actually, as am I. I wonder if the other guests assume I’m hired entertainment. I decide, if that is the assumption, perhaps I shall oblige and act as though I am hired entertainment. I shift, nervously, smile more confidently, and raise my chin even higher. I am probably grimacing, by this point, and that I notice the raw beams of the ceiling suggests my chin may be held a bit too high, at the moment. I readjust.

I have two questions; where are the other gals from our group, one, and, what are they wearing, two?

We three polish off our bubbly and decide to explore the rest of the venue. We make our way out to the foyer and there are two or three other guests milling around. Where is everyone else? There were dozens of folks milling around outside before we were allowed to enter. We finally locate both the stairs and the elevator at the back of the room. We collectively opt for the elevator. When the car arrives, I gather up my yards of orange tulle and squeeze into the back of the elevator. My two friends manage to negotiate their way in, and, surprisingly, the doors close without hinderance. We exit at the second floor where the program states there is a fortune teller. There are two or three guests milling about, looking puzzled and a little bewildered at the lack of festivities, as are we. The fortune teller occupies a table and has a person seated across from her. I favor telling my own fortune, I sure as heck don’t want some acne riddled, twenty-something, making up a story that may seal my destiny. The power of suggestion is far too mysterious and too close to reality and manifestation for me to flirt with. We circle the limited space of the second floor, find no food and no wine and quickly retreat to the elevator once more.

We make our way to the third floor and as the elevator doors part we see where everyone has accumulated, not that there is a great crowd yet, but the dozens assembled out front prior to the party seem to have gathered here, on the third floor. There is food on a long table on one side of the room and every color of wine being poured a bar at the edge of the room, oh, and a juggler. I am hungry. I ran twelve miles earlier in the day and have metabolized all I’ve digested thus far, and then some. I approach the table. The mask I made, the beautiful glittery, sparkly, sequined mask I made, I decided should be of the sort that is on a stick and could be raised and lowered in a coy fashion. I did not want some mask strapped to my face for the duration of the party, smearing my eye shadow, messing up my eyeliner, or mashing my mascara enhanced lashes. I didn’t want my face to sweat. So, I am trying to manage the now empty wine glass I was told to “hang on to”, a mask on a stick, and a napkin, as there seems to be no small plates to amass finger foods upon. My very full skirt doesn’t quite facilitate approaching the buffet completely. I am a yard or so away, kind of leaning in to snatch bits of food perfectly positioned near the edges. My “dinner” for the night consists solely of some overly bright red meat like substance, some kind of salami, and thinly sliced deli variety turkey, which I despise. But I’m famished, and drinking, and must later drive home un-inebriated. I make a reach, snatch a few morsels of cured meat, retreat in an orange taffeta and tulle flourish, and scarf it down, approach the table again, and repeat. After a few repetitions, I feel adequately nourished, though not totally satisfied. What I’ve ingested thus far in food and beverage hardly accounts for my $65 admission. An occupational hazard, I try to not cost things the rest of the evening and focus on just having some fun.

There is music. A DJ. A rotund, middle-aged, DJ. He is playing music from “my era”, music popular in the 1980’s. I glance around at all the beautiful people dressed in small bits of black fabric, with masks. They all look and act older than me, but are probably “from the eighties”. There is a smattering of very beautiful, very young people, but they are loving the “old school”. There is dancing happening. This makes me happy.

I’m feeling a little the third wheel, at this point. The MeetUp event organizer and her “+ one”, aka guest, have known each other for nearly twenty years. They are very close and share two decades of shared experiences, stories, and inside jokes. I smile confidently, adjust my yards of tulle, and raise my chin a little bit. We do the girl-dance-thing, you know, when a bunch of girls really want to dance and there are no men who want to be caught dead dancing. In other words, every dance and every date and every party I’ve ever attended. We dance in the customary circular formation, each of us acting as cool as possible and yet keenly aware of just how good a dancer the other ladies in the circle are. There is unspoken competition here, but, I am disadvantaged. When in a very short, very form-fitting LBD, it is quite apparent how the hips and torso are being moved to the beat of the music. When your hips are adrift in twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle and your torso bound in very rigid boning, movement is not perceptible to the casual observer. I must overachieve. I must overcompensate.

The next song is the “Nay Nay” song. I don’t know the name, or the artist, but, thank god, it is more contemporary than the litany of eighties songs. I love eighties music, but I’m craving something from the current century, I want to break out of the mold of old. The DJ demonstrates the Nay Nay dance and all the LBD’s follow suit. I do my rendition of the Nay Nay dance and only my arms appear to move. I take it up a notch, or two. I’ll admit, I am now having fun and our awkward little dance triangle has dissolved and I am on my own, free to express myself in the art of dance. I win the contest. The DJ awards me a CD of some sort I have yet to listen to. I am presently, actively, looking for the appropriate electronic equipment on which to listen to whatever has been recorded to such antiquated a medium. I mean, I have a turntable, but I don’t have a CD player. Get real. But, it, the CD, is recognition, it is my prize, and it is shiny, like my sequins, so I am happy. I’ve concluded that I won the Nay Nay dance contest, not because I was the best dancer, though I was, but because in the sea of LBD’s, I was the only recognizable dancer.

Scarlette Begonia

At last, we locate the other three gals from our group, also wearing LBD’s, with masks, of course. They’ve made their way to the third floor and the party can now, officially begin. They all compliment my dress. I smile confidently and raise my chin a little higher. And we dance. We dance, we dance, we dance. I am on the dance floor and every song that comes on is my jam! Sometimes there is one other lady dancing with me, sometimes two, sometimes three. The only constant, is me. I dance and dance and dance. I dance the night away and I have an absolute ball. At the ball. With my mask, of course. In fact, I dance for such a very long time that I danced to Abba’s Dancing Queen, not once, but twice! It’s my jam. The only song more my jam is the Cupid Shuffle; I love this dance, I rock this dance, I did not need to remember to smile confidently and raise my chin higher, I was high and all smiles doing the Cupid Shuffle; me and my skirt. I have, by this time, figured out exactly how to move so as to make al twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle do amazing, swirly, things. I am the belle of the ball! I am the bright spot in a sea of LBD’s, the poor dears, all blendy-blendy in black, all in high heels, limping around, doing that “wincing walk” thing. You can tell when a girl’s feet hurt in her outrageously high stilettos, you can see how their stride becomes shorter, eventually a mincing little shuffle, and with each foot fall, a stifled moan and a wince. I have the most comfortable pair of flats I own on, never perceptible beneath my bountiful skirt. “Orange” you having fun?

Scarlette Begonia

The crowd of “older people” (people my age) is beginning to thin. The younger crowd has been rendered motionless by their aching feet. It is nearing the bewitching hour, ten o’clock. The wine has stopped flowing and the party trays are no longer being replenished. There are four of us “old girls” left, still dancing, still partying, still having fun, one has over-indulged. No worries, though, the three other gals have Ubered their way to the party and are sharing the cost to Uber, once again, from Sonoma, back to Napa. I opted to drive myself, and my twenty seven yards of taffeta and tulle, in my Honda Civic, to and from the party. I have been prudent and am in fine shape to drive the twenty minutes home. I make certain the most inebriated girl, being the one responsible for summoning the Uber ride, has successfully done so. There was a period of time in which she was lost. I finally found her in a bathroom stall changing into Birkenstocks. Well, if not Birkenstocks, something equally as ugly and at least as comfortable. You see, I could have worn Birkenstocks all night and not a soul would have known. I am feeling so right and so proper and so winning in my big, bright, orange dress. I am feeling like the Great Pumpkin, in fact. Once I got the three reunited and was certain Uber was en route, I headed for my car. I decided not to wait for the tram, but was feeling so exceedingly well, that I ran to my car. I ran, me and my skirt, all twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle, and as I approached one couple from behind, the female of the pair, limping pathetically along, they turned to see what the fast footsteps behind them were all about. There I was, skirt gathered in hand, running, comfortable but cute shoes still on, down the festively lighted path, towards the parking lot. They called out, “Cinderella, did you lose your slipper?” To which I replied, “Yes, have you seen it? It’s glass, you know!” And I continued on. The woman complimented, “Such a pretty dress!” I responded, “It’s my daughter’s! And I must hurry, because if I don’t have it back by midnight, it’ll turn into the great pumpkin! Oh, wait …” And I scampered on, me, and twenty seven yards of pumpkin colored taffeta and tulle.

I had so much fun, and so many compliments, I overcame my insecurities of being different, of being “the Great Pumpkin”, and, in fact, found that the being different, if comparisons need be made, actually enhanced my experience exponentially. I may not yet be self-actualized, but I am so grateful I didn’t slink home and seek to conform. I had a ball, at the ball. With a mask, of course, in twenty-seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle; the great pumpkin!

Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

A recurring theme in much of the reading I’ve been doing lately has been living in the present moment, and, related to that, mindfulness. Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, even Arianna Huffington, all modern teachers of living in the present and mindfulness

I have seen quoted, time and again, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and everywhere, ” if you’re depressed, you’re living in the past, if you’re anxious, you’re living in the future.” The only time in which we actually live, the only time we can actually make a difference and have any impact, is the present. Have you tried to live and think only in the present moment? Even for thirty seconds? Not so easy, is it?

And, so, enters “mindfulness”, the practice of noticing and acknowledging thoughts as they enter your mind, and then, filtering out those that are based in the past, or in the future. More than that, mindfulness also allows us to identify, acknowledge, and hopefully, derail thoughts that are not beneficial; judgmental thoughts, limiting thoughts, comparisons, and self-critical thoughts, among others.

A practice that helps us hone our mindfulness skills is meditation, and one that all the authors above practice, preach, and promote. I’ve been practicing meditation, off and on, for a few years. Lately, though, in an effort to evolve, I’ve been making a daily practice of meditation. Like yoga, meditation is not something that is ever perfected, it is something, always, that is practiced. Even well practiced meditators, Buddhist monks, even the Dalai Lama himself, have days where their meditative practice is more or less fruitful than others.

I remember the first time I ever really tried meditating; first feeling very self-conscious sitting there with my eyes closed, legs crossed, on the floor. Even though I was alone in my room. I didn’t quite know what to do with my hands, I tried them this way, then that way, then another, flopping them around in my lap like a couple of recently landed fish on the shore. I remember trying to empty my mind of thoughts, I remember not being able to empty my mind of thoughts for more than a split second. I remember getting kind of discouraged and not really trying to meditate again for quite a while. Months later, still reading of its benefits, I attempted meditation again. Again, dissatisfaction with my ability.

When I migrated my yoga practice from my living room a la DVD to the gym, a guided meditation became part of my routine with each class. Still, I struggled with the mindfulness part, but, out of peer pressure, at least I remained still and in good meditative form for the duration. Like yoga, with practice, I improved at meditation during class, and even with mindfulness. On one occasion, I became so mindful I almost dozed off.

In my daily practice, at home, or wherever I happen to be, I feel as though I am gaining ground. Of course, I’ve really committed myself to the practice this time around. And, by “committed” I mean I’ve committed in the best way I know how; I’ve spent money. I’ve bought a dozen Kindle books, I’ve downloaded several guided meditation MP3s from iTunes and Amazon, and I even have a whole folder of iPhone apps with different guided meditations and soothing noises. I even went so far as to order myself a “tuffet” and a “dog bed”, though I think the proper terminology for these items is “zafu” and “zabuton”. Now that I’m heavily invested, I am compelled to practice, regularly, or be consumed with guilt every time I trip over my tuffet and matching dog bed on the floor of my room.

By the way, this is an oft-employed strategy of mine for remembering all sorts of things; put something on the floor in the tripping zone as a reminder. If I don’t want to forget something when I run errands or leave on a trip, I make sure it’s on the floor where I can’t help but trip on it. I even taught my son, Dogwood, this trick, and he employs it often. So this isn’t something just for the middle aged and forgetful. Dogwood will remember something he needs to do in the morning, after he’s gone to bed, so he just takes one of the pillows on his bed and throws it in the middle of the floor. The next morning, he sees the pillow and remembers what he’s supposed to do. At my age, though, if I just see a random pillow on the floor, I just get confused. My tripping objects need to be specifically related to what it is I am trying to remember. Just a strategy, in case you’re so mindful and in the present moment, you forget everything else!

Still, with all the equipage, props and practice, I struggle. More than I should, I think. But I’m committed and I just keep trying. A few things I’ve learned, I thought I’d share, in case you’re in the same boat as me.

First of all, “bed-itation” does not work. In “Zen and the Art of Running”, a great book I read earlier this year, the author, Larry Shapiro, PhD, warns of “sleeping hazards” when meditating. For me, that’s just about anything that isn’t rock hard, cold or incredibly noisy. The Dalai Lama, in “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” while speaking at a large event, warns attendees, all 1,500 of them, that they are likely to fall asleep during a group meditation he leads. “In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness,” he recommends, daily, for eight weeks, a forty-five minute guided “body scan” meditation, lying on your back in “a quiet, warm place where you won’t be interrupted by anyone, or by the phone”. I don’t even have to be lying down to fall asleep in a quiet, warm place where I won’t be interrupted! The body scan begins with becoming aware of the breath, then moves to the left, big toe, then up the body to the top of the head. I can usually remain awake for the left big toe. I regain consciousness again at the top of the head. Sometimes. Other times, I don’t regain consciousness until the audio has moved to another track, like rap music. And, yes, I’ve tried the body scan guided meditation in bed. I fell asleep on the second deep breath. Bedi-tation, a sleeping hazard. Hardwood floor offers some success. Be advised.

Another problem I’ve experienced in effective meditation practice; the medi-libation. I usually practice meditation first thing in the morning (bedi-tation), mid- day for a brief spell, if I can, and before bed. Well, sometime between my mid-day meditation, the end of my workday, and dinner, I like to have a beer. After dinner, I like to have a glass, or two, or three, of red wine. Needless to say, my late night meditation is very relaxed. I do not recommend libations any time before or in conjunction with meditation, I did order my zafu and zabuton in wine color, just in case. Now, for insomnia? Medi-libation, in moderation, may be just the thing!

So now that I have a tuffet and a dog bed, I practice my meditation seated, and (reasonably) sober. I am having more success remaining awake. I am still struggling, and probably always will, with mindfulness. I am improving, but I have to be very mindful about being mindful. And, as I mentioned above, I’m in good company, even the monks themselves still practice this for hours and hours each and every day!

So, mindfulness; focusing on the present and being alert and aware of thoughts that enter the mind, then letting them pass like water in a stream. Piece of cake! No, really, among a bazillion other random thoughts, I am likely to picture a piece of cake, then a zebra, then, perhaps, a Tesla Model S P85. I’m likely to think of what to have for dinner, that cute shop in New York City where I saw all those Christian Louboutin shoes, learning to fishing, my next business trip or Disneyland. I also write articles. Every great idea I want to write about begins as an article, drafted in my head, during meditation. I can’t help it. But, I’ve devised a plan.

Every time I catch my mind wandering, I just tell myself “Wait! Wait! Wait!”

WAIT! What Am I Thinking. It’s an acronym, get it? When my mind wanders and I am trying to be still, I tell myself to “wait”, I take notice of what I’m thinking and then let it pass. Mindfulness. Yes.

Tuffet and dog bed
Tuffet and dog bed

WAIT! When Am I Thinking. If I catch myself focusing on any time but the present, I remind myself to “wait”. I can even think about the past, in the future; I plan how I’m going to recount events and circumstances from the past, in a future conversation. And I bet you do too! How “not in the present” is that? Wait! Presence.

Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dogbed)
Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dog bed)

WAIT! Who Am I Thinking. When I catch myself thinking about people, especially if I am thinking judgmentally or am making comparisons, I just have to remind myself to wait.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!
Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

WAIT! Where Am I Thinking. My mind wanders! It’s normal, I know, but as a reminder, when I want to be more focused, I just remind myself to “wait”.

I tell myself to “wait, wait, wait, wait” when I get off track during my meditation practice AND when I catch myself dwelling on past events, future scenarios, limiting, or undesirable thoughts or when I just need to focus and my mind has wandered. It works great! I swear by it! But, be warned, people will look at you a bit askance if you’re shopping for shoes or filling your car up with gas and you suddenly look startled and yell, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! then smile and go peacefully back to what you were doing. This from experience.

So, I guess to sum up my very mindful thoughts, today, I’d have to say, just stop, wait, and listen. Namaste.

 

Well Balanced Diet

I am a proponent of healthy eating, yes. I eat mostly organic food, when possible, and as clean as possible when organic isn’t an option. I love food, and eat very, very well. I am careful to include the appropriate amounts of lean protein, whole grains and fresh veggies and fruit in my diet. And, in my opinion, a balanced diet also needs to take into consideration what we drink; I like to make sure I have one glass of wine for every beer I consume, just to be well balanced!

I am also very diligent about balancing my nutritional intake with my physical activity. I don’t count calories in and out, like I used to when I was trying to lose a ton of weight, but I have a rough idea of what goes in and what is expended, and it seems to be working, for the most part, I’ve maintained my weight for about three years, with about a seven pound swing through my busy travel/eat in restaurants every meal time of year (nine months) and my work from home, eat nutritious, home cooked meals time of year (three months).

But, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about food, or beverage or exercise, right now. I want to talk about “balance.” And, no, I don’t want to talk about living a balanced life, I’ve talked about that a couple of times before. I want to talk about “balance”, you know, like not falling down!

Gravity is real, undeniably, unarguably real. Some of us have a run in with the law, the law of gravity, more often than others. As we age, sadly, it is gravity and our deteriorating balance that can get us into pretty deep doo doo.

My grandfather lived to be 100 years old. He was in excellent health at 100 years old, and, in fact, still lived on his own in his house and even mowed his own lawn with a push mower, you know, the kind without the motor. Every day, he’d walk a few blocks from his house to the nursing home to have lunch, not with his friends, as they were all long gone, but with his friends’ kids, who were now residents and in need of assisted living. It was on one of these lunchtime jaunts that Grandpa got into trouble with the law, the law of gravity. He fell, broke his hip, went to the hospital and died of pneumonia in short order. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure he’d still be kicking about.

I listened to a great audiobook recently, and have shared it before, “Younger Next Year (for Women): Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Hendry S. Lodge, M.D. With a title like that, how can you resist, right? The book is funny and loaded with great advice and information. This book also addresses the importance of maintaining strength, and thereby, improving your balance, rather than allowing it to deteriorate with the rest of our bodies as we age, or “decay”, as Chris says throughout the volume. As we age, it is falling that is most likely to put an abrupt end to our ambulatory days, if not our life. I don’t know about you, but that’s not in my script, if I have anything to do with writing it!

I am often surprised at how few people I meet that have really good balance. I don’t mean people who don’t work out at all, either, all sorts of people. I am in a running club and I run with folks who regularly compete in 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons and even ultra-marathons. After our workouts, we dutifully stretch. One stretch we do, of course, is the hamstring stretch, where you stand on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and grab your foot. These fit, runner people are hopping all over the place, falling, leaning on each other and against trees, struggling to stay on the right side of the law. Fit, strong, healthy people totally unable to balance on one foot for thirty seconds. Lawbreakers!

Try this; stand up, move away from anything you can hold on to like a wall, a chair, a table, the couch, a loved one, the dog. Now stand on one foot. How long can you do this? How long does it take before you have to set your foot back down, or grab onto something I told you not to stand next to?

Balance is strength. Good balance requires good core strength and it also requires the use of all sorts of tiny little muscles and ligaments in the lower leg and feet. Try this! Stand up, (yes, again), bend over so your hands are as close to your feet, or the floor, as possible. If you can, grab one ankle with one or both hands, now lift the other foot off the ground and balance. Can you feel all the little, minute adjustments your standing leg is going through to try to keep you from losing your balance? So, to improve balance, to avoid getting into trouble with the law, just strengthen all those little muscles and ligaments, oh, and your core, too!

Personally, I find yoga to be extremely beneficial in developing core strength and in fine-tuning all those little muscles and in perfecting your balance. Ballet is good, too, or gymnastics, tumbling or calisthenics. I like yoga because I get to work on my mind a bit, at the same time. Yoga is a practice. So is balance. Balance takes practice and I combine my balancing practice with my mindfulness practice with my yoga practice. It’s the most productive hour I can squeeze into a day!

But, still, I practice balance even more. I have always been a law-abiding citizen, except for highway speed limits, but I consider that sport, not deviance, a game of cat and mouse, predator and prey; I’m the mouse, the CHP are cats, and I’ve been winning for the last thirty years. Knock on wood. Anyway. Practice. There are so many opportunities for practicing balance that you can incorporate into daily life; no gym membership, no expensive workout equipment, no gimmicky gizmos as seen on TV. Consider the following.

I am avid about dental hygiene. I like to brush my teeth. My childhood orthodontist would be so proud of me now! I was driving through the middle of Indiana some time last year. There isn’t much to see. Grass. Highway. Trees. Grass. Highway. Trees. And billboards. One billboard I passed presented a big, happy, cheesy smiling face and a caption that read, “Brush for two minutes, twice daily.” It struck me that someone, somewhere, paid money to advertise what we should’ve all known, and been doing, since we were two years old. But, whatever. Later that night, as I brushed my teeth for the third time that day, I thought about “two minutes”. I got my iPhone out, opened up the clock app, and set the timer for a minute. As I brushed the teeth on the right side of my mouth, I stood in tree pose (stand on one foot, bend the suspended leg at the knee and rest the foot either just above or below the knee. And hold). I brushed and balanced and brushed and balanced. When the timer went off, I set it for another minute and did the other side, teeth and tree pose. I do this every time I brush my teeth, now.

I ran six miles today. I ran eight miles a couple of days ago. I like to run. Every time my demons start to catch up with me, I go out and run, it keeps them at a distance for a while. It works, I swear by it. I plan my run so I after I complete the planned mileage, I have another half mile or so to walk back to where I’ve parked, that’s my cool down. Then I stretch when I get to my car. I have been running in a suburban neighborhood area, near a park, quite routinely. The other day, after my eight-mile run, I felt so fantastic! The weather was perfect, it was a Saturday morning, so the whole world smelled like pancakes and bacon, and every friendly fitness fiend was out and about, all calling “hello!” and exchanging other kind remarks. I finished my eight miles and as I walked the last half mile, I found myself walking on the curb. I walked the curb, you know, the narrow strip of elevated concrete between the landscaping and the gutter and roadway? It’s like a balance beam, but not so scary high off the ground. I walked a half a mile, on the curb, without losing my balance. After running eight miles. I did it again, today. When was the last time you  “walked a curb”? I walk every curb I come close to; in parking lots, even carrying groceries, even carrying my half-caf, soy latte that cost five bucks, I walk curbs in neighborhoods and in the city, but only if I’m not going to get hit by a bus or a garbage truck!

A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!
A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!

Being well balanced just requires a regular diet of, well, balancing. Find fun ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Do the dishes standing on one leg! If you have to stand in line at Target or the grocery check out, or at the bank, if you’re app resistant and still actually go to the bank, stand on one foot. You don’t have to be real obvious about it, you don’t have to do a hamstring stretch or an arabesque or anything, unless you like to draw attention to yourself. Just lift one foot casually off the floor and rest it atop your other foot. Then switch.

I know, this all sounds pretty loopy, but, seriously, I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get into trouble with the law. Try to stick to a “well-balanced diet” and maybe when you’re 100 years old, you can walk the curb all the way to the old folks home to visit your friends’ kids for lunch!

 

 

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter December 26, 2013

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.”

Making a plan.
Making a plan.

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.

At the "Whole Foods Corral"
At the “Whole Foods Corral”
North 101 Brewing - Naughty Aud Imperial Stout
North 101 Brewing – Naughty Aud Imperial Stout
Sparkling wine and caviar tasting at the grocery store.
Sparkling wine and caviar tasting at the grocery store.

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.

Scarlett’s Letter December 13, 2013

My first full day home in the aftermath of those big things that have been clogging up my calendar, my focus, my free time and even how I eat, sleep and work out; travel season and the first marathon.

I feel like a freed prisoner. Liberated. I can resume life, the way I intend it to be.

Before I “went to work” this morning, I called my Sweetie! We hadn’t spoken on the phone for several days, and with his travels between Fairbanks and Coldfoot and my travels between the east and west coast, plus the huge time zone differences, our texts were even missing each other for hours at a time. The delay in text messages and the inability to talk on the phone left an odd and disjointed communication trail that I found befuddling and disheartening. It was heavenly to just sit and talk in complete and coherent sentences for a continuous period of time. It has been way too long, I really miss my guy.

I got a lot done today. First, I just sat my butt right down in my office and didn’t move until I had ALL my expense reports done. Over $6,000 worth. I kept thinking of Brian Tracy’s “Eat That Frog” program where he suggests just tackling the thing you least want to do in your day, first. Eat the frog first and the rest of the day is a breeze.  So I did. Yay! The frog wasn’t so bad.

After my expense reports, I cracked a beer open. Don’t judge, I’m still on “east coast” time for a day or two, it was much later in my brain than the clock said. Before my beer was half finished, I’d finished three quarters of my Christmas shopping, again, without even leaving the comfort of my ergonomic, Tempurpedic, office chair.

Lost Coast Downtown Brown, one of my daily faves.
Lost Coast Downtown Brown, one of my daily faves.

I spent the rest of the day puttering about my domain, upstairs, my bedroom and the other bedroom, which I use for my office. I broke down boxes and discarded packaging from mail orders received over the past month or so, I threw away the piles of junk mail and catalogs that arrived while I was gone and did a mountain of very necessary laundry.

DSW box, among others.
DSW box, among others.

I cooked my own food tonight. It felt so foreign, handling and preparing raw food, I was almost a little scared that I’d forgotten how. I made the most delicious spaghetti sauce with ingredients I had on hand, which were sparse. I ladled it over the last of the soba noodles in my pantry and, truthfully, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time. The food was hotter than any I’ve had in a while, and not nearly as salty as anything I’ve eaten lately, and, the portion size was perfect! I have enough sauce left over for another meal, too. Like maybe lunch, tomorrow!

Cooked my own dinner. So yummy.
Cooked my own dinner. So yummy.

I was settling in for the night, big sloppy sweats on, big glass of V. Sattui Cabernet Sauvignon poured, and I as I accessed my face in the mirror, contemplating initiating an anti-aging regime and noting the obvious need for an appointment with my aesthetician, I remembered; I have an appointment for a massage tonight! So, I funneled the wine back into the bottle, for now, put clothes worthy of being seen in public back on, including undies, I am so going to forget those some day, and I’m about to grab my purse, my keys and my phone and go. I thought about postponing the appointment, but, I can’t. I was mayor of the Napa Massage Envy Spa on Foursquare, until last week. Someone bumped me out of my esteemed position, while I was out of town and unable to do anything about it. The nerve! I aim to go get all nice and relaxed, which should be just the thing for the last of the lingering marathon stiffness and soreness in my quads, and the post travel season shoulder soreness from hefting my computer bag around with its two laptops, Kindle, iPad and enough cords to reach to the moon and back.

All set for a relaxing night at home.
All set for a relaxing night at home.
Luckily, Donna, my handy digital assistant reminds of important things, like massages.
Luckily, Donna, my handy digital assistant reminds of important things, like massages.

And, I aim to reclaim my title as Mayor on Foursquare. Tally ho.

P.S. Odds-bervation – doesn’t it seem peculiar that my Apple MacBook tries to correct the spelling of “iPad”?

Scarlett’s Letter December 2, 2013

What happened yesterday?

COFFEE GRINDER!!!
COFFEE GRINDER!!!

I got shit done and that’s it. Ten mile run. I finally got the coffee grinder from storage but only after getting coffee at the coffee shop, and breakfast, and running, and a shower. I also got my little Target brand Christmas tree up. Packed. Let Mom cook me GMO laced food featuring medicated, tortured cow. I only buy happy dead cow flesh, you know. Cows that were bottle fed by cherubs in sunny pastures, cattle that were lulled to sleep each night by the voices of fair maidens, fed on only lush, pesticide free grass growing in the richest of soils in some beautiful pasture with a view of the ocean,  treated holistically for any ailment that may materialize, provided with an endless supply of Evian water, massaged, by Swedish masseuses, and then, one day, blammo, hamburger. After a tasty, though suspect, meal, I packed for my two weeks away from home and went to bed. It is so much easier to go to bed at 7:00 PM when it’s actually dark out. I still didn’t end up turning out the light until 9:00. And my alarm went off at 1:00 AM.

Monday, squared.

Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!

In the few hours I slept, though, I had some crazy, crazy dreams. And I can even explain them! Mostly. I don’t know if my explanation is accurate, but there are some coincidences with what I dreamt and a few things that I viewed in the past couple of days. Either that, or I’m completely off my rails. Or both.

I dreamt, first, that there were a bunch of baby elephants wandering the streets in my neighborhood. Yes. Baby elephants. Just baby elephants. No mommy or daddy elephants. Then, I dreamt there were lions outside my bedroom window, standing on the roofs of the cars in the driveway, roaring, and trying to get inside. Oh, and the only part I can’t explain, I boxed some obnoxious lady in the ear because she was blocking the way to the restroom in some restaurant and she got belligerent when I asked her if I could pass. I’m not normally prone to acts of physical violence, so I’m not sure where that bit of the dream came from. I woke up right then, so I don’t know what happened.

I ground my coffee last night and actually made coffee for myself this morning, just to get me to the Starbucks at the airport in Sacramento, alive. With my “usual” latte, banana, oatmeal and large Fiji water, all in a Starbucks carrier bag, I made my way to the gate. How bad is it that I recognize several people in the boarding area, weekly travelers, like me. The United flight to Chicago every Monday morning is like a commuter train, all the same faces, all the same discussions; mileage, the state of the airline, airports. I look on, and listen, detached. I am not quite yet among their ranks, they all log over 100k miles a year. I’m struggling to make my much desired “Gold” status. Without gold status, I simply cannot imagine travel. I’d have to pay for luggage, I wouldn’t be able to book seats in “economy plus” for free, my bags wouldn’t be the first off the plane and I wouldn’t get premier access to ticketing. I’m not sure what would happen to my TSA Pre-Check status. So easily am I spoiled. I am oh-so close. I was going to book a trip to Hawaii to visit my son, but the ticket prices between now and the end of the year are pretty steep and I’d have to travel before the end of the year, I think, to “get” the extra miles.

The "Monday Morning Line" at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.
The “Monday Morning Line” at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.

The flight to Chicago is miserable. It’s either a brand new plane or a newly retrofitted plane, but, there is no economy plus seating, no extra legroom, it’s like coach. Somehow, after tweeting my complaint @united, I manage to sleep most of the way, just to block out the horrible experience.

No legroom in a seat that would formerly been in the United Economy Plus section.
No legroom in a seat that would formerly have been in the United Economy Plus section.
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I'm talking about!
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I’m talking about!

I am so excited to have a couple of hour layover at O’Hare! I love O’Hare. I could live in O’Hare! We deplane a couple of gates down from Beaudevin wine bar. It’s noonish. Wine seems fine. But, I am torn. I’d like to have lunch at Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera. There is a bar there that serves Negra Modelo AND has plentiful electrical outlets. Tortas Frontera is very popular, though, I can only imagine the wait in line for food, and then the wait for a seat at the bar or at a nearby table. And especially right at noon. I peruse the food displayed at Beaudevin and it doesn’t look so good. All of the salads feature iceberg lettuce with browned edges. First of all, iceberg lettuce has the nutritional value of water and tastes about the same. It’s only redeeming quality is it’s crispiness, but, the browned edges led me to believe that the crispiness may long since have deteriorated from the salads displayed. I walked past, heading for Tortas Frontera, glance at my watch and turn back, again, towards Beaudevin. I notice they now have electrical outlets beneath the bar AND open seats. I envision waiting for a seat at TF, I think of the limp salads, compared to a Cochinita Pibil torta, I turn, take three steps towards Tortas Frontera, eye the wine selection, again, and the open seating, and turn back. I climb up on an overly padded stool at the bar and look over the menu. I decide on a flight of California Cabs and the cheese platter. You can’t go wrong with cheese and wine that come from NorCal. Can’t. Unless, of course, the cheese is so over-chilled you can’t taste it, so over-chilled it won’t even slice, let alone spread on the oddly textured bread. The wine is good. I pick at my cheese plate, eat about two-thirds of it, and give up.

Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
 I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
Aaaaahhhh.
Aaaaahhhh.

I pay up and make my way to my gate in the other terminal, and, as luck would have it, is right next to Tortas Frontera, which, by now, is not so busy. There’s an open seat at the bar and I sidle up and order a Negra Modelo. Yes, I enjoy beer and wine, often, but I consume, perhaps, a little too much on travel days. I won’t even begin to try to justify it. Sport? Challenge? Or just seeking an ultra-relaxed and altered state of mind in a “world” of frenzied, unprepared, entertaining, though annoying, casual, infrequent travelers. My subliminal goal is to be the first in my boarding group to board the damn plane, find my seat, and slip into a numbed state of mind, if not sleep. Sleep is preferable.  

This, I accomplish on the flight from Chicago to LaGuardia. I stop at the natural food kiosk on my way to the baggage claim and grab a yogurt and an “Eighteen Rabbits” bar for breakfast in the morning. By the time I get to the baggage carousel, my bags have arrived and been unloaded to the side with a handful of others. They are mighty fast at this airport. And, this is one of the few airports where someone insists on comparing your baggage claim tickets to the bags you’re trying to remove. I appreciate this. I may be the only one.

I catch the bus to the rental car lot and select, as my car of the week, a Challenger. Black. Cool, right? Personally, I prefer the Charger. I have opinions on cars much like I do food, wine, fashion and airlines. It is rush hour and I’m in a muscle car. In Long Island. Talk about a complete waste. I honestly think I could live here for decades, not that I’d want to, and still not be able to visualize the maze of highways, interstates and expressways. It is dizzying, and, not much unlike California, SoCal in particular, most conversations quickly turn from the weather to “how I commuted today”.  I listen to David Zabriskie of Team Garmin on my Nuvii as we navigate fast, then slow, fast, then slow, fast, then slow, the fourteen miles to Garden City where I am to live and work for the rest of the work week.

Challenger; car of the week.
Challenger; car of the week.

I come here, for the same client, every year. Often twice. This is my second week here in the past month. I stay in the same hotel and dine at many of the same restaurants. Tonight, for example, tired and lacking energy and enthusiasm, it will be comfort food; Shake Shack, which is practically across the street from my hotel. A beer there, with my SmokeShack burger, hold the sauce, oh, and fries, don’t tell Jillian, and I am ready to go back to the hotel to get ready for the week.  Iron, organize my training materials, set out the tip for housekeeping for tomorrow and get ready for bed. I need sleep.

Comfort food - the Smokeshack at Shake Shack.
Comfort food – the Smokeshack and a Shakemeister beer at Shake Shack.

Scarlett’s Letter November 30, 2013

When I woke up this morning, my hair hurt. I swear it. This being an indication that I may have overdone a wee bit last night. I took two Excedrin and attempted more sleep.

When I finally did manage an upright position, I felt, perhaps, still a bit compromised. Not so compromised that I couldn’t navigate down to “my office”, the coffee shop, that is, where I still reign as mayor, according to Foursquare. I got my latte, acknowledging the fact that the storage unit that holds the coffee grinder I require to grind the whole bean coffee I accidentally purchased over two weeks ago, is less than a mile away. It isn’t the distance, it’s the fact that the box with the coffee grinder in it is kind of towards the back of the unit, and, when I stacked the boxes and Rubbermaid totes into the unit, I made sure the stuff going to charity was at the front, meaning, I’ll have to unload a quarter of the stuff from the unit to unbury the box with the damn grinder. This is how my mayorhood, or is it mayorship, was won. It is much easier to part with a couple of bucks a day than deal with the storage unit. Especially when in need of caffeine. Latte in hand, I headed home and made myself a huge greasy breakfast. For some reason, bacon, eggs and toast seem to be my breakfast of choice when recovering from a night of overindulgence.

My only mission today, other than, perhaps, getting the coffee grinder out of storage, was to go pick up all my wine club selections for the month/months. Tomorrow, my lovely bottles of red wine, hand selected by the wineries I’ve trusted with my credit card information, turn into pumpkins. Not really, but, after a certain period of time, if not picked up, the wine club selections are shipped to you and it costs extra money. And that certain period of time expires today. It was a lovely, sunny and warm day out, all bright and cheery, so Mom and I piled in the car and took off, first for Healdsburg to Quivira Winery for my four bottles from October, then up and over the hill, through Alexander Valley, to Calistoga and down to St. Helena to pick up my two November wine club selections from V. Sattui Winery.

At both wineries, being an esteemed club member, I was offered free tastings. My eyes crossed, my forehead crinkled into a frown, my upper lip curled a bit in disgust, my stomach flipped, and I may have groaned a little, before politely declining. By the time Mom and I made our way back to Napa, we’d sort of missed lunch and we were hungry. Two weeks have passed since we last had our traditional pizza, salad and beer meal at Bene Gusto, which is right across the parking lot from “my office”, the coffee shop. So, for the second time today, I parked in the little lot between the coffee shop and the pizza joint and Mom and I went in with “The Lunch Bite” special in mind. I wasn’t so sure about the beer, but, it comes with the meal. I asked for the Session Lager, which I usually enjoy quite a bit. It arrived, opened, and was placed before me, without a glass, per request. Mom sipped hers, I stared at mine. Mom sipped a bit more of hers, and I just stared at mine. The salad arrived and, as always, the greens were so incredibly fresh, I devoured the entire thing. And stared at my beer some more. I did drain my water glass three or four times, but continued to eye my beer with wariness and trepidation.

The pizza arrived. I’ve created my own variety; a thin New York style crust, red sauce, chicken, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. It’s on the menu with white sauce, but I’ve convinced them that the red sauce is actually an excellent choice. They have yet to put the pizza on the menu, aptly named, “The Scarlett”. I’m hopeful. After about two bites of pizza, especially with all the red pepper I sprinkle on it, the beer became a necessity I was able to manage. I did, however, refrain from ordering a second one, as I am usually inclined to do.

At home, I found myself just staring at my MacBook, mindlessly, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress, texting with friends, pretty much just killing time I’d set aside for writing, time I could have devoted to getting the damn coffee grinder out of storage. My friend Miles, Miles N. Miles, the “N.” stands for Nathaniel, was in town visiting family. We went to high school together but didn’t really hang out together. Miles ran cross-country and sang with the choir. I didn’t. I preferred to get into trouble with my friends, the same friends, in fact, that I got into trouble with last night. Miles and I ran into each other at a Catholic church, east of Sacramento, in the foothills, of all places, several years back. Miles, actually, is who suggested I join the running club I’ve been running with for the past couple of years. He is married and has kids, a boy and a girl, a couple of years younger than my kids. Our friendship revolves around sharing stories and strategies for our continued efforts to effectively raise our offspring, running, a little bit of gossip, and our respective careers. We decided to meet for coffee, so, you guessed it, I invited Miles to “my office”. It is good to be the mayor.

The best part of my whole day, though, after my decaf latte with Miles and coming home and writing for a bit, was a nice, long, chat with my Sweetie. And good night.

What I learned today; when your hair hurts because you tested your limits in alcohol tolerance, take two Excedrin and buy a latte. What I learned today that really matters; a day devoted to friends and family, forsaking the “to-do” list is a day to be cherished and in no way regretted. My focus, this weekend, really, was to spend time with family and friends. The list will be there, still, tomorrow, and the next day. Time with friends and family, though, is rare and sometimes fleeting. Sometimes, in our drive to develop, in our effort to evolve, we are so focussed on results and outcomes, we miss the whole point. Isn’t one of our goals better relationships? For most it is. Don’t let “the list” deprive you of spending time with your family, friends and loved ones.

 

Bene Gusto. I should be mayor here, too.
Bene Gusto. I should be mayor here, too.
Group selfie from last night.
Group selfie from last night.

 

Scarlett’s Letter November 29, 2013

Remember that list from a couple of weeks ago? The one I didn’t finish and would have to tackle when I returned from New York and San Francisco? I made a dent, today, I made a small dent in the list.

And, no, I still haven’t gone to storage to get the damned coffee grinder. I still have an unopened pound of Peet’s whole bean coffee in my cupboard in the garage and I am still frequenting the coffee shop a mile from the house. In fact, I am even “the mayor” of the Browns Valley Yogurt and Coffee Shop on Foursquare. True, I may be one of twelve people in Napa that uses Foursquare, I am likely the only Browns Valley Yogurt and Coffee Shop customer that does. I win. I rule.

The dent I made today, no, not my five expense reports, and I am beginning to stress a little about those. I really need to get them done. Oh, how I loathe doing expense reports, especially really big scary ones, like New York. Especially when the really big scary New York one contains a great deal of personal expense that has to be a) acknowledged and b) separated out from reimbursable expenses and c) paid for by me. The dent I made today was my room.

I moved “home” in February, it is November, and until late this afternoon, there have been boxes I have been shuffling about, opening, rummaging through, shuffling, and restacking, multiple times a day for things like underwear, socks, purses and shoes. The closet, as in only one, which, by the way, is way smaller than any closets, as in at least two, I’ve had in the past several years, has had several boxes of “things” that were Mom’s that she said were mine, or were, at least, mine to deal with. The dresser and dressing table drawers were all full of matter of questionable worth; old magazine articles, outdated maps and trinkets gifted over the years and kept out of duty rather than affection. On one of my trips, I made certain that no boxes blocked access to the drawers and Mom finally undertook the task of the dressing table first. Partially. Five of seven drawers are empty. And I am so hoping she doesn’t get her “sewing” drawer mixed up with my “toy” drawer, they are dangerously close to one another. But, girls, the toy drawer, like real estate, is all about location, location, location. Proximity matters. Mom doesn’t sew so much anymore anyway. Let’s hope.

The dresser was, at last, emptied, completely. The closet, again, was mine to deal with.

So, after a fast four-mile run to declutter my head, I spent a few hours decluttering my room. It was amazing. I liberated my purses and shoes, my underwear and lingerie and organized everything in a manner, though not perfect, a manner I am fairly certain I can tolerate for a bit. Two of the boxes in the closet I had to deal with contained framed pictures of my kids for all of time. I will never own a home large enough to display them all, so I think I’ll unframe them all, scan them, store them in an album and donate the frames. No dusting that way, either. You know I hate dusting.

The third box, a Rubbermaid tote, actually, a large Rubbermaid tote, I’ll add, was full of, and I kid not, old Martha Stewart Living magazines, Reader’s Digests and newspaper clippings. The minimalist within was apoplectic. I have been coexisting in a house where I know much of this matter resides. On one edge of the kitchen table, there is the one pile of mail and reminder notes written on tablets made from years and years of printed out Facebook pages. My dad would print out my Facebook wall for Mom to read, which I find painful to admit, and, yes, she still has them all, but has now cut them in half, put them in stacks and stapled them into “notepads”, which I find even more painful to admit. There are piles of newspapers and clipped out jumble puzzles on two of the four kitchen chairs. And, there is a pile or two of similar stuff, mostly mail, I think, downstairs in the family room. I don’t spend much time down there because the television is almost always on, usually on the news, and really, really loud, three things I am very sensitive to, so those stacks are out of sight and out of mind. The rest of the matter resides in drawers, closets, cupboards and boxes in the garage. I’m sure there are mountains of such matter and I know some day it will haunt me. But, there is no more such matter in my room. My room is matterless.

Oh, then there was the Fisher Price Family Farm, barn, silo and all the little animals. And the tractor with the cart. I played with it for a while, then placed it in the pile to go to storage. You do know it makes a mooing noise when you open and close the barn door, even still, after all these years in the back of the closet.

I have two boxes ready to go to charity, two marked “bathroom” left to unpack, but, no drawers in the bathroom have been afforded to me to unpack into, yet, and two boxes to go to storage. But, for all I did manage to unpack and the organization that took place is huge in enhancing my level of contentment at home, in my room. It is good.

And the day got even better!

This evening I met with my besties from all of time, Janelle, Janette, Eden and Gloria, for a multi-faceted celebration. We’ve all turned fifty now, as of Thanksgiving Day, with Janelle’s birthday, we are all now a half century old. The other celebration, Gloria’s victory over cancer.

A couple of Janelle’s friends joined us for the festivities, and every time the doorbell rang, more wine was produced. Janelle is a fabulous cook, her passion and her trade, and made us a fantastic Asian noodle salad. I asked if I could bring something and the option was left open, without a helpful suggestion, I could bring whatever, if I could think of something to go with Asian noodle salad, or nothing at all. I’m always a bit self-conscious about my prowess in the kitchen in Janelle’s company, so, I made the one thing I am really good at; a beer run. I brought a cold, mixed six-pack of premium porters, lagers and brown ales.

I started with an IPA, then the sparkling wine arrived, so I had some of that, too, simultaneously. Then the chilled Jessup Cellars white was opened, so I had some of that. With dinner, a Terra D’Oro red was uncorked, so, yah, I had some of that, as well. For the record, I did not have any of the blush sparkling wine, though I don’t know why.

After dinner, with Janette as our designated driver, we all piled into the largest vehicle in the driveway and made our way to Silo’s in downtown Napa for a night of Motown music, dancing, and, yes, more wine. We ended up at Empire, at the “west end” and somehow I found myself drinking a lemon drop, poured from a pitcher of the stuff on our table. Things were a bit fuzzy by this point in time, and the last thing I remember with real clarity was really not wanting to drink the lemon drop. I nursed it for a while and texted a bit with my Sweetie, just home from another trip to Coldfoot. I remember overusing emoticons and being grateful, for once, for autocorrect. We always punctuate our texts with emoticons, but I’m pretty sure there were three full rows of emoticons in one text I sent. I consider it poor form to reuse the same emoticon in the same text, with the exception of the red heart and the kissy lips, those two can be used to fill the last row at the end, for emphasis, and to make the message symmetrical in appearance. For the record, there are not enough heart shapes in my emoticon library to fill three full rows of text, I definitely overused certain items. Shame. And, as for autocorrect, I usually do battle with autocorrect, I use big words that the engineers at Apple don’t use, I guess, and I make up my own words, like “matterless” and “declutter”. But, when drunk texting, I am a very poor typist but a much more diligent proofreader, and, so, appreciate autocorrect more than usual, at least as long as I am able to still form intelligible phrases.

And that was about it. I remember that each time Eden and I had to climb into the back back seat of the car, because we were “the bendy people”, it became progressively more difficult. I think I had become, perhaps, too bendy, during the course of the evening. Extracting myself from the depths of the back back seat that last time I do vividly remember and there will be a bruise. Maybe more than one.

I did manage to get home in one piece, only having to navigate myself about two blocks and into the driveway. This task I have practiced for many, many years long before I was of legal drinking age. And, once upstairs, just like old times, tiptoeing, even in my Guess boots, across the squeaky, hardwood floor of my room, careful not to wake the ‘rents, I peeked out my window, down onto my car in the driveway, just to make sure it was a) actually there, b) parked straight c) parked in the middle of my half of the driveway, and d) not halfway into the (closed) garage. Aces.

Scarlett’s Letter November 26, 2013

I worked in San Francisco today. Rough life, I know, New York City to San Francisco.

I’m tired of being “on the road”, and I’m looking forward to a long Thanksgiving weekend at home with Mom and my friends. Two more weeks of business travel after Thanksgiving and I’m done for the year. I think. I’m considering a personal trip to Hawaii to visit my kid and then, January, I’m not sure what I’m going to do, burn some vacay time and go to Alaska, probably.

I shopped at Union Square tonight, at Uniqlo. I LOVE Uniqlo, and I never had a moment to shop there in NYC. So, tonight, in San Fran, I bought a shitload of cold weather clothing, “Heateach” base layer clothing and a packable down jacket in the most obnoxious shade of purple known to man. The clerk at the checkout stand had to “warn” me that the base layer stuff was not returnable or exchangeable, even if the packages were not opened. Harsh policy, and, for a moment, even I doubted my size small status. But, I made the purchase anyway, figuring I’d just work out four hours a day and cut my food and alcohol consumption in half, bringing it down to what most folks my size consume. Back in my hotel room, after a HUGE dinner and dessert and four glasses of wine, I finally worked up the nerve to try the un-returnable, non-exchangeable, size small shit on. Hello? It fits! Of course I’m a size small. Why do people make me doubt myself? I know me better than anyone. I’m a very curvy, somewhat voluptuous, size small. Every girl’s dream and EXACTLY what I’ve always wanted to be!!

And this, after one of the most amazing meals I have ever consumed! I ate at an “old school” French restaurant last night, and loved, loved, loved it. The service was, appropriately, stuck up. So French. But the food was very good. There is a whole “French Quarter” in San Fran, with several restaurants practically adjacent to one another. I’ve eaten at three, so far, and had a hard time NOT eating at another tonight. I stuck with B44, the Spanish restaurant I made reservations at through Open Table because they had a menu item featuring fish, lentils and avocado all in one dish, which is my interpretation of heaven. It was heaven, and the stuck up, aloof, and somewhat inattentive waiter recommended a zinfandel, originally from here, a hundred years ago, then transported to the Canary Islands. This, I’m quite sure, was one of the best wines I have ever tasted. The aloof waiter’s tip went from 15% to 20% at the first sip. And, just so you know, I never tip only 15%. I’m getting really tired of wait staff that don’t know how to deal with single diners, though.

Speaking of single diners, last night, at the stuck up French place, a single male diner entered the restaurant, the maître’d asked if he was “a party of one”, without missing a beat, the single diner replied, “yes, and ‘party’ is the operative word”. I took mental note, and, I plan to steal that line wherever it will fit! Perfect! I loved it!

So, my day; work, shopping, food, wine, writing.  Except for the work part, it was a really good day! And, truthfully, the work part wasn’t that bad, except that I feel like I’m devoting a lot of energy to someone else’s passion. I need to make an adjustment, I just need the guts to do so (link to courage).

San Fran is amazing, though, in my impression, dirtier, filthier, and grittier than Manhattan. I do love big cities, but, while I enjoy the architecture, the food, the culture, I’m lonelier than I ever thought possible. Week after week after week is really beginning to wear on me. I crave companionship, friendship and love. This weekend will be good, before two more very lonely weeks on the road.

The holidays will be a little strange this year, with the kids all far, far away and not returning home, for the first time, ever. It will be a bit quiet, a little sad and a tad lonely without them. I plan on focusing on friends, Mom, and spending some time near home, for a change. I’m looking forward to it.

Scarlett’s Letter November 15, 2013

A sound night’s sleep last night. I almost don’t have dark circles under my eyes. Bliss.

Today, I am so excited.

I finished up with my client today, a little early, something about the Jewish folks in my class and having to go home and have dinner before dark. It is some certain, special time in Jewish world and I have no idea what. I tried to Google it, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and like all things to do with the Jewish faith, I am now more confused than I was ever before. There is nothing about Judaism that makes a lick of sense to me. I respect the faith, completely, but I don’t understand the first thing about it and any attempt to ask about it, or educate myself, has been futile and has left me more confused than before. All I know, their pizza looked just like ours but came from somewhere else and, we started earlier this morning, worked through lunch and finished earlier this afternoon, and I got to go to the mall. I was excited! I have worked with this client for three years, I have been here a half dozen times or more, their office building is perched at the edge of the mall, yet, I’ve never been. I’ve set foot inside, but I’ve never “been” to the mall. There is a difference, and it was exciting.

Non-koser pizza. A working lunch. Looks just like the Kosher pizza. ??????
Non-kosher pizza. A working lunch. Looks just like the Kosher pizza. ??????

I didn’t go to the mall, Roosevelt Field, to shop indiscriminately, I went with a plan and a mission. I intended to buy a pair of black slacks for work that do not require dry cleaning. I have a lovely black pair of slacks, from Banana Republic, but they can only be dry-cleaned. Who has time for that? Dry cleaning is for people who are in the same city for more than a day at a time. I need clean black slacks and I need them clean and back in the suitcase in twelve hours. I have some fantastic, washable slacks from Express, a nice navy blue with a subtle gray pinstripe and another pair in classic gray. They fit great, sort of a manly cut with a low rise that looks super sexy on curvy hips, a small waist, and a flat tummy. They wash great, iron great, pack great, last forever and I want some in black, and maybe every other color they come in. I’m pretty excited.

I found the Express for Women after walking about a mile and a half through the vast mall, and that was the direct route, I just sort of parked at the wrong end. Okay, I admit, I did it on purpose, I wanted to see everything. I went in to Express and found the table with “Editor” style slacks. I found black and began to dig for my size, a six regular. There were about twenty pairs of size zero, twenty pairs of size two, ten pair of size four, and two pair of size eight. A dowdy looking clerk, at least my age, eyed me with disproval and disdain. I know, my son used to work at Men’s Warehouse; I was messing up her merchandise. I am sympathetic to this and was being ever so careful not to cause any disarray, but, finally, she could take no more and impatiently asked me what size I desired. She didn’t say desire, I’m not sure what she said, but it was abrupt and curt and with an air of impatience. I told her and she produced a pair for me from somewhere. I thanked her and browsed some more. I grabbed another style of black pants, just to see if I’d like them even better than the “Editor” cut. I found a polka dot blouse, a gray sweater and a beige blouse, all pieces I could use for work. I haven’t bought blouses for work in, literally, years. I don’t work in the same office every week, I can get away with three or four work blouses. But I do, now, have many repeat clients that I see at least annually, and, truthfully, I think I’ve worn the same four blouses to the same clients for three years straight. Maybe four. It is time for a new blouse, or two. Justified! Bam!

I take my armload of clothes and go in search of a fitting room. I find two empty, locked rooms, but no attendant. There’s a mother and daughter duo fighting in one fitting room, to the point of blows, I think, and the other is unoccupied. I wait a moment, with my “I’m being patient and tolerant” smile on my face. Five minutes later, an employee passes, donning a headset and some blinking, flashing transmission device dangling from her grotesquely tight pants (I think she bought the size zero thinking it said size ten). There was a wire running from the transmission device to her headset, giving her the appearance of a secret service operative. She glanced at me, annoyed, and told me to go to the fitting rooms over by the cash register. I did. I stood for a while. There were six fitting rooms. One occupied. All locked. A clan of women pushed past me and were admitted from the occupant of the one occupied fitting room. Is that how one seeks admission, like an exclusive nightclub? You have to know someone on the “inside”? A line forms behind me, like cattle in a chute waiting for the truck going to the slaughterhouse. Everyone else in line is gazing down at their mobile devices, perfectly accepting of the fact that we are the only people in the store, aside from the six employees, who are all too busy with some urgent, but unseen business to attend to us, the customers, with armloads of merchandise that we’d dearly love to give up our hard earned money for.

An employee scuttles past and says, “a couple of you can go over to the other fitting rooms.” I’m first in line, so I go and am followed by the young woman behind me. I’m back where I started. Both rooms are empty, but locked, and there is no attendant in sight. The lady who “helped” me find the black slacks is folding clothes right next to me, but, apparently, that’s all she knows how to do because she can’t open the doors to the dressing room. I stand for another minute or two. The young woman behind me is staring blankly at the lit display on her mobile device. I think there must be a “pacification” app I don’t know about. Everyone seems content with being herded around and never assisted. I’m adding up dollar value of the pile of clothes draped over my arm, I figure about $200 worth, and I lost it. I dropped the clothes unceremoniously on the floor and strode out of the store. I will spend more, twice even, for better service. Gladly.

My son, Dogwood, sends a text from Hawaii, where he lives. He has an update on his quest for gainful employment. He has a fantastic, unpaid, volunteer, position tutoring kids in a robotics club and he loves it. Unpaid, yes, but with connections that may land him an even more fantastic, paid internship. Yes, studies are first and foremost, but, as I’ve said to him, more than once, “I don’t live in Honolulu because I can’t afford to live in Honolulu, so, no, I can’t afford to pay for you to live in Honolulu”. From birth, practically, I’ve taught my kids the value of networking and connecting, and, as a result, he has some fantastic employment prospects. I am proud. I tell him so. I’m so excited, he will do very well in life, having mastered networking so early in adulthood.

I had dinner reservations at a Cuban restaurant, adjacent to the mall, they had a yummy sounding menu and good reviews on Open Table. My client said it was good, and he is sort of a food snob, too, he just doesn’t take pictures of his food, like I do, but when I get my phone out to snap a shot of my meal, he wants his included in the photo, too. Funny. Anyway. Dinner. Cuban. I’m excited!

Dinner.
Dinner.

Upon walking in, it was definitely “corporate”. You can tell, instantly. Meh. Oh well. I was seated next to a woman, also a single diner. You know, the bench seat on one side, little table, chair on the other? That’s where they always put the single diners. Sure, couples sit there, too, usually, one on either side of the single diners, isolating the single diners from the other single diners so there is no chance of striking up a conversation. Couples just try to pretend the single diners don’t exist, that they aren’t there, right next to them, with nothing better to do than listen to what they’re talking about. Oh, it’s true. It’s totally impossible to NOT hear every word, every whisper and every murmur. Tonight, though, I was seated next to the other single diner. In fact, since it was kind of early for dinner, we were the only diners in that half of the restaurant. All the “normal” people who dine in small herds, were seated in the other room. I guess that would be the room for people who have people with which to eat and this would be the room for those who dine alone. The Latin host showed me my seat and pointed at the lady next to me, made a remark, pointed to me and made the same remark, in some Latin language. He translated, “alone,” he smiled, “you are both lonely”, he smiled broader, “single!” I smiled, tolerantly, and took my seat.

The lady next to me made small talk, she’d been to a movie at the theater next door. She downed her elaborate looking cocktail with a foot tall stalk of sugar cane protruding from it and ordered another. I tried to order a beer, but my waiter seemed perplexed by the fact that I might actually want to select a beer from a menu. There was a big, glossy, bound book of adult beverages, and he wanted to show me all the margaritas and sangrias. I asked again about beer. More about margaritas and sangrias. Finally, he let me handle the book, I flipped a few pages and found the rather pedestrian beer list. I was hoping for something exotic, perhaps even Cuban. Negra Modelo is fab, but I buy it by the twelve pack and drink it like some folks drink milk. It’s a staple.

The waiter returned with my beer, and a glass. He asked if I wanted the glass, which was nice, because I didn’t, I prefer the bottle. The lady next to me ordered a glass of Riesling. When her waitress brought it to her, she tasted it and didn’t like it. She got another crazy looking cocktail with the hunk of sugar cane in it. She asked me about my beer and said she’d like to try one. I assured her it was good. She said she really didn’t like beer, so I headed her off, “Oh, I love beer, the darker the better.” She crinkled her nose and thought better of ordering one. She worked on the sugar cane cocktail some more. By the time my dinner came I knew her whole life story; she’s an attorney, educated at USC. Her dad’s birthday is next week, on the 18th, and she always gets him a shirt or a sweater. She’s going to shop for him after her dinner. I hope she can manage. Dad may end up with something really different this year. Her mom is deceased. She is 38 and unmarried, no kids. She wants kids, she’s not so sure about the marriage thing. I smile knowingly. She had an asshole boyfriend that she’s known since school, he’s been married before and has kids, but it didn’t work out. They’re still friends. Her brother is an accountant with a knack for computers and works for Fannie Mae, now. He never passed the CPA exam and she doesn’t understand his success, except that he’s super good at networking is well connected. She had a falling out with her brother, though, because his wife has no teeth and doesn’t know the difference between a proprietary lease and, oh crap, I forgot, some other kind of document. Now she won’t like me, I don’t know the difference. At least I have all my teeth. She’s still talking. She has a friend in California who is getting a divorce and she’s handling the case even though she is licensed in New York and practices employment law, normally. But her friend isn’t good about getting the paperwork done on time and hasn’t even filed her taxes. Her birthday is the same week as her dad’s, though she never mentioned the date, and she wants another Mont Blanc pen. She has lots of expensive pens because she likes to write and her mom “groomed” her that way. I wasn’t sure what that meant. By now, my meal is finished, my beer is empty, my bill is paid, I’m wearing my coat and my scarf, my cross-body bag is slung across my body, I have one foot positioned in the space between our tables, leaning over, like a runner in the blocks waiting for the pistol to fire. I desperately want to leave. She is still talking, and I have so tuned her out, I now have no idea what she is talking about. Finally, she stands, shakes my hand and stumbles out. I wait for her to get, hopefully, out of the parking lot, before I head for my car. So, a lawyer and an accountant go into a bar … the lawyer talks incessantly and the accountant makes note of all the details. Typical.

I exchange a text or two with my friend, Miles. We went to high school together and ran into each other at a Catholic church in the Sierra foothills some twenty plus years later. Now we keep in touch. I joined a running club he belongs to, on his recommendation. He’s a good friend and he’s checking up on me to see if I’ll be running this weekend, in preparation for the C.I.M., the California International Marathon, in a few very short weeks. My first. I’m excited, in a scared and petrified sort of way. This is his billionth marathon. He’s also checking on me after reading some of my posts from earlier this week. I got a virtual hug. A good friend, like I said. I assure him, twenty miles on Sunday, and, yes, I’m fine.

I also exchange a few emails with “the girls”, in light of the good news yesterday, we are conspiring to find a day to visit, a day when we are all motionless just long enough for a visit, two of the girls returning from Spain, me from New York, another off to Hawaii, and me to New York, again. Visits with friends are a nightmare to orchestrate, but are so, so, so important, and necessary, rare, and enjoyable. Like air to breathe. I’m so excited!

I stop at the liquor store, buy a bottle of red wine and head for the next hotel. A quiet night to write, with wine and a small piece of my Mast Brothers chocolate bar, made in Brooklyn and bought at Shake Shack the other night. I’m super excited!

Chocolate and wine and a night to write 3,500 words about nothing much, really.
Chocolate and wine and a night to write 3,500 words about nothing much, really.

My TomTom, was on a bender, again, tonight. Armando, that’s my TomTom’s name, he is voice activated and answers to Armando. What can I say? Every now and then, and without warning, Armando decides to avoid the highways and take mostly surface streets, usually in very large cities, like Boston and San Francisco, and usually when I have not the time, the patience or the wherewithal to devise a better, more traveled route. I had the time tonight and saw parts of Long Island I never knew existed. I have a visual on several potential restaurants for my next visit, in just a few weeks.

I ultimately arrived at my hotel, one I stay at regularly, a Marriott, a block away from the United terminal at LaGuardia. I feel like Norm at Cheers when I walk in. Okay, not quite, but I do have a few hotels that I have become quite regular at. I tossed my bags in my room, returned my rental car, and caught the hotel shuttle back. Once in my room, I did what I always do, first thing; look out the window. To my delight, from my window tonight, I see the skyline of Manhattan. I can pick out the Chrysler Building. I’ve worked there before. Okay, for three days, as a consultant, but still. I was on the floor where the gargoyles were perched, it was so exciting, gazing out the window of the conference room, down, on the backs of the gargoyles, only a few feet out of reach on the other side of the glass. I’m sorry, I love architecture and historic old buildings just drive me nuts, especially from the art deco era. I can see the Empire State Building, to which I’ve been to the top, once, and the tippy top another time. I look at the millions of twinkling lights of  “The City” from my window, I dare not turn a light on in my room and lessen their brilliance. I will sleep with my curtains open to relish the view. I love every little light bulb, illuminating that magical skyline, and I can’t wait. I’m excited!

MANHATTAN!!!!! SO EXCITED!!!!
MANHATTAN!!!!! SO EXCITED!!!!

I texted Daisy, my daughter. My baby, my youngest. She turns twenty-one next week, “Are you going to be able to celebrate your birthday in ‘The City’ with me next weekend?” She quickly replied, “Yes! I forgot to tell you, I have Wednesday through Saturday off …” I am so excited! We own Manhattan. It is our place. One of our places. We love the wilderness, too. Wherever we go, we will carry what we need, whether shopping bags and mimosas in our metal “water” bottles, or our matching backpacks, we will find adventure and just have a fab time.

It is Friday, and a good day, the end to an interminable, weird and uncomfortable week. I have nearly four days at home before I am off again, and I am excited.

My lesson for the day; stay in touch, network and connect. I recently read a book on charisma, “The Charisma Myth – How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism” by Olivia Fox Cabane. you know how I love books, most books, anyway. This was a great book, very charismatic, and had some fantastic suggestions. One was to reach out to at least five different people every day, whether through a personal message on social media, a text, a phone call, an email, a letter, a face-to-face conversation, or, I guess, smoke signals or carrier pigeons. However.

I’m also listening to a fantastic audiobook on Audible, “Younger Next Year for Women,” by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge. I am so excited, I can hardly wait to listen to it on the plane tomorrow, and in my car on the way home from the airport. One of the “rules” to being younger next year, to not decay until death, is to connect with people, to be social, to have friends, to be in touch, to be touched.

I am as guilty as anyone, we get busy, we try to find time to just sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat work. Retire, watch TV and die. I retaliate against this plight, I rebel against such a routine and mundane life. I live to connect, I connect to live. How many people have you connected with today? Me? My clients, of course, a chatty and partially inebriated attorney over Cuban food, my friend Miles, the “girls”, my son, Dogwood, my daughter, Daisy, and a quick text with my Sweetie before he headed further north through the vast cellular service wasteland to Prudhoe Bay. It was a good day. Still, I am writing, I have to get up in three hours, I’m going to have dark circles under my eyes, again. Now to sleep, in the soft glow of a billion glimmering lights from a not so distant skyline. I’m excited.