Always the Student

Photo Always the Student

“It does not take much strength to do things, 
but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what do to”
Elbert Hubbard

First, there’s the line drawn down the center of a piece of paper, noting pros and cons. Then, there’s some research to be done on the subject. Next, I like to get the opinion of others. Young, old, eccentric, intellectual; their views all get mixed into that big black cauldron in my head. If I’m very quiet, I can begin to stir it up and sense what suggestions will start to rise to the top. Asking for advice and being open to criticism and suggestion takes practice. 

Really listening without speaking is even more difficult. Lately, I’ve decided to take advantage of the forced tranquil lifestyle that’s been dealt us all and concentrate on what I can learn from everyone that I’ve come into contact with. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • How an older gentleman reminded me that in the sink or swim restaurant business, his little catfish restaurant (now 42 years old) has endured, due in part to his motto “We do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
  • How 12 women exchanged their weekly lunch outings for brown bags and started using that money to support local charities in my town. Now 250 strong, this powerhouse of a women’s club has donated their time, talents and over $85,000 just last year. 
  • How one young man’s homage to his favorite uncle, who died too soon, sweetly lived on when he sported a bolo tie on a dating app photo and it caught the eye of a lovely young woman whose grandfather was also a fan of the style. To his surprise, on their first date, she sported her favorite bolo tie and the rest was history.
  • How the tides can change when a young man with a simple love of the ocean became an oceanographer and at 84 years of age wrote his first book, enlightening readers as to how tides and currents actually changed the course of history during historic wars. His first book has since been awarded the gold medal by the Military Writers Society of America.
  • How living in a home that is open to the public 365 days a year is not as glamourous as you might think. “Keep your memory short and your skin thick;” this shared from a Duchess who runs a 300-year old castle on 160 acres in England. On her first day, the then young bride, from a farm village who married into aristocracy, was “welcomed” by the staff when she heard them whispering “Have we broken her yet?” 
  • And, last but never least, how JC*, who never ceases to amaze me with her ageless sense of wonder, spunk and positive attitude, has powered through this last year. Whether she’s painting, knitting hats for charity (she was grateful to have one to wear when her power went out recently), playing Rummikub against herself for practice, reading or researching where our first post- COVID family vacation should be, she is the inspiration that reminds me how important it is to have a teachable spirit. 

If, at times, I can scramble out of my comfort zone, with humbleness and modesty at my side, helping me along the way; if I can walk with my arms open and let them be the antennae that captures all of life’s prospects, then I’ll be content to always be the student. 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it!

Me, Myself and I

Photo Me Myself I

“How was your day?” I asked. Facetiming each evening with JC* is something we both look forward to, especially now. “Great,” she responded. “I took a virtual tour of the Louvre, tested out my piloting skills on a free online flight simulator and I’m considering fostering a cat.” That’s my girl! Like mother, like daughter?

Being comfortable spending time alone, does not necessarily make you a loner. It enhances your vision of who you are and helps you to reconnect with yourself. Enjoying your own company helps you to cultivate your independent self.

The closing of all the gyms pushed me to get out and walk miles each morning. By 9:30 a.m., I’m back home, feeling sweatier and smarter. Thanks to Mobituaries, the podcast by CBS Sunday Morning correspondent and humorist Mo Rocca, I’ve been introduced to the fascinating life of Siamese twins Chang and Eng, along with others whose interesting stories did not die along with them. On the Condé Nast Women Who Travel podcast, I’ve learned what it takes to complete the Iditarod, captain a cruise ship and visit every country in the world, though knowing that the adventures discussed in the pre-recorded interviews would not be taking place was a bit unnerving.

The swimming pools in our community have just reopened. It’s worth getting up on Tuesdays at 6:30 a.m. in order to reserve a couple of morning spots. There’s nothing more serene than lap swimming; the sound of the water as your arms and legs move in a repetitive motion is so calming. On my birthday, I found just the right lounge chair after my swim and in my little cocoon (with a hat, sunglasses, mask and headphones on), treated myself to 30 minutes of listening to some of my favorite songs. I had a spring in my step for the rest of the day!

With no excuses or time constraints, this was the perfect time to concentrate on my writing. The initially intimidating blank computer screen, the blinking curser reminding me to focus and the series of words that seem to magically flow from my thoughts never gets old.

Rereading my blog posts and travel journals isn’t equivalent to traveling. Cooking is certainly not the same as a dining experience at a favorite restaurant. Maybe now is the time that I’m supposed to focus on my inside, rather than outside. Perhaps I should be grateful for the quiet and stillness that I’m experiencing. In a way, it’s energizing me, refueling my usual busy life with a dose of no expectations.

Enhance the power of that special relationship, the one that will never let you down and learn how to be your own best friend. Look deep inside and get to know yourself; it just might strengthen the life lines to everything you connect with.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page

Author’s Note:
If you enjoyed this post, please scroll down, like it and feel free to share it!

 

 

Consistency Repeats Itself      

Photo Consistency

When I think back to when Big A* was a child, I remember that our daily routines had as much of a positive effect on me as they did him. Swimming classes in a hotel pool meant snacking on the free samples from its restaurant afterward. Naptime and bedtime each had their own protocols complete with talking stuffed animals. After making homemade pasta and cleaning up together, we would play the “Puccini and Pasta” CD, just in time for Mr. Wiz’s* arrival home. At an early age, Big A reasoned that if he remembered his manners, he would be invited along with us, rather than stay at home with a baby sitter. As he matured, he understood the consequences of unacceptable behavior.

Children thrive in a structured existence. They are happier and confident when they know what’s expected. According to verywellfamily.com, it provides limits, helps them organize and integrate information into their brains and gives them an understanding as to how the world works. Consistency provides a clear set of boundaries, helps them make better choices, understand responsibility and empowers them to respond positively.

If this makes a child a better person, why wouldn’t it make an adult a better person too? Actually, a routine is anything but mundane. Sometimes you just revel in the repetitiveness that makes you feel warm and cozy.

Once my alarm sounds each morning, it’s time for the weather report. I announce the temperatures in the cities where our families live to Mr. Wiz as a way of starting the day thinking about them all. Then, it’s time for a cup of tea, some quiet time and soon I’m locked away, writing. Dentist and doctor appointments are always rewarded by treating myself to something special. Music choreographs my chores.

The child in me is feeling more encouraged to flourish in the lovely repetitiveness of life that is anything but monotonous. Next, I’ll work on some new disciplinary tactics, giving myself a timeout and no second and third chances when I misbehave.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Too Close for Comfort?

Photo Too Close Comfort

I settled into my seat, excitedly anticipating the start of the show. Munchkins and flying monkeys aside, “Wicked,” the back story to “The Wizard of Oz” would, hopefully, answer the questions I had about the good and wicked witches since I was a little girl. It wasn’t until the end of the performance that I realized that, had I sat back further, I would have appreciated the sets and costumes even more. Sometimes taking a step back is the smartest thing we can do.

Must we always be in the moment? Just as babies become overstimulated from too many sensations and experiences, we too get overwhelmed. Moving away from the issue at hand, taking a deep breath and giving ourselves time for contemplation can make all the difference in resetting our thoughts and feelings and rocking ourselves back to tranquility.

Whether we’re observing a still life in an art gallery or pondering if our life is still on track that one little backward movement gives us a bigger picture and a clearer view.

As it relates to our loved ones, seeing them up on an actual stage, experiencing an important stage of their lives with them or just watching them from afar, gives us a new perspective of who they really are.

Backing up, taking a look around us and appreciating how fortunate we are could do well to reverse those weighty thoughts into lighter feelings of gratitude.

So, let’s all remember that when things get a bit too close, all we need to do is give them a gentle nudge back to where they belong and realize that one step back is really one step forward in disguise.

Though no one can make a brand new start,
anyone can start from now
and make a brand new ending.

Carl Bard

 

Author’s note: Start watching for blog posts every other week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brain Bounce and an Ounce of Prevention    

Photo Brain Bounce

I think I may have learned my lesson this time. Last week, I absent mindedly walked around the wrong side of a snake while hiking, took a short cut through spiny cactus and may have accidently signed up for the Chicago Bucktown Buck Naked Bike Race.

My mind and my body constantly seem to be at odds. As I make my way through the day, I notice that my physical presence is not always in sync with my thoughts. I may look like I am going for a leisurely walk or sitting quietly reading, but in actuality my brain is planning, scheduling and organizing days, weeks and months ahead.

I call this phenomenon brain bounce. As our minds race along each day, we take our eye off the ball (our current focus) and our psyche jumps on to another mental image and then another and we lose our rhythm.

Women are known for taking on the weight of the world. We can’t help ourselves; our lives seem to become intertwined with everyone and everything that crosses our path. Our family and friends are packed like sardines into our daily thoughts. Yet, we have this incredible ability to multitask the heck out of each day, then close our eyes each night and let the smoke flow out of our ears as our minds shut down for the night.

Human nerve cells are arranged in patterns that coordinate our brain functions. I imagine a woman’s pattern to be an intricate, elaborate multicolored design that swirls and twirls and men’s to be solid, black and white squares. While male neurons probably hum along at an even pace during the course of a day, I picture the female counterparts constantly sparking and spewing, as our control system processes information faster than the speed of light.

As I marvel that this amazing organ is only the size of a small head of cauliflower and my mind wanders to recipes with said veggie, I bring myself back around to the question at hand: how to live by our wits and relieve ourselves of the hop, skip and jump of our thought process.

Here are some exercises I’m working on:

  • Focus on one thing at a time: this takes a bit of discipline, but I’m trying hard to concentrate and tune out everything else.
  • Find the Zen: when you get lost in the rhythm of the task at hand, you experience a state of calm attentiveness.
  • Avoid quick decisions: I need to remind myself to take that extra moment to analyze the possible outcome.

The ball is in my court; when I feel myself leaping before I look, it’s time for me to jog my memory before I am sprung from springing again.

 

When Things Don’t Go Swimmingly, Dive In

Photo Swimmingly

Miss Londa had her hands full. A swimming teacher for 15 years, she had seen her share of budding swim team champions and those that, try as they might, just sunk to the bottom of the pool.

Back then, Big A* was an enthusiastic 4-year old student, ready to master each week’s lesson. He’d giggle when I’d call him “Fish Boy” and took to the water immediately. Never having learned to swim, I decided it was a good time for me to join in. It was when Miss Londa asked that I swim across the pool so she could ascertain my ability level that she wondered to herself if it was too late to use her journalism degree to change careers.

Jumping right in and splashing about, I enthusiastically did a version of the dog paddle and dead man’s float that I had personally customized over the years, which left both Miss Londa and Big A stunned. Each week, Big A would progress to the next level and I would be trailing behind, sometimes taking tips from the pre-school age star of the class. With some extra lessons and much practice, I finally graduated.

Years later, I ran into Miss Londa on the street. After joking that we had recognized each other with clothes on, we chuckled about those classes so long ago. She mentioned that, even though I was the worst student ability-wise, she ever had, my enthusiasm and determination had turned me into a swimmer, bolstered her and made her a better teacher. She said goodbye, but not before giving me a hug and thanking me.

When I look back, I don’t remember thinking that this was something I wasn’t good at. Rather, I saw myself swimming laps alongside Big A and enjoying a new form of exercise. Apparently, my mind saw me perfecting underwater somersaults while my body lagged behind trying to keep up. It’s sink or swim out there; apparently positive thinking jumped in and aquatically speaking, compelled itself to commence swimming drills with or without the participation of my body.

Today, each time I wriggle into my Speedo bathing suit, plug up my ears, stretch the bathing cap over my head and put my nose plug on just right, I feel like both like a stuffed sausage and an Olympic swimmer (truth be told, though I’ve moved on from considering a career as a synchronized swimmer, I haven’t discounted the Senior Olympics as yet).

Water, life: rather than feeling apprehensive and settling for just dipping your toe in, why not take the plunge, dive right in and propel yourself?

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

The Mad Scientist That Lurks Within You

Photo Mad Scientist

I have no talent, I am only passionately curious. Albert Einstein

It began as mental floss; a way of channeling my inquisitiveness into some sort of psychological relaxation to soothe my Type A personality.

It started out simple. Armed with a background in supporting grade school science projects, I was confident that I could test a hunch I had, analyze the data and see if a theory was evident. That’s how my scientific experiments began.

My first hypothesis was the observation that perception would outweigh reality. When Big A* was 11 years old, the fashionable traits he inherited from his mom began to present themselves in the form of snubbing any clothing that was not expensive. My only tool a thin marker, I carefully changed the $19.99 sale price of a pair of Nike sneakers to $79.99. The resulted affection and care I observed spurred me to continue this practice until I could no longer get away with it.

Confident now in my abilities, I set out to seek evidence that even a small, swift personal connection in an urban environment would create a positive reaction. On city streets I would do nothing more than smile at the person passing by me. For the most part, it was exhilarating to observe their countenance change right before my eyes as their face brightened. I then added the variable of a daily practice with mixed results. In Chicago, it resulted in friendships (read “Why a Stranger Isn’t Strange To Me”), but in New York, my subjects simply crossed the street.

Now it was time to take my analysis to the next level. Could natural methods combat anti-aging? Was there an alternative to being nipped, tucked and injected? I conferred with skin care specialists and decided to focus on a face lifting massage. In an effort to stimulate blood and lymph flow, detoxify, firm, lift, fight gravity and glow, I apply avocado oil to my face and follow a daily regimen as instructed by a YouTube video. It might just be my imagination since the trial is still in progress, but I sense beneficial results.

If you’ve ever hesitated, trying to remember a fact or a name, you share my concern. Hoping it to be a result of brain overload, would the polyphenol in pomegranates be the antioxidant superpower I was seeking? After reading about a preliminary 2013 study at UCLA conducted on a small group of older adults with age-related memory complaints, I was intrigued. Resulting in increased verbal memory performance and functional brain activity after one month, drinking eight ounces of pomegranate juice a day was a no-brainer.

Detecting Mr. Wiz’s* skepticism, I decided to perform a side, cause and effect procedure on him. While watching television one evening, I corrected him on the name of an actress. I then recounted her date of birth, birthplace, parents’ names, career history and marriages all in one breath, suggesting it was due to the second day of intake of my new magic elixir. Of course, none of the information was true, but it certainly got his attention.

I must confess, I sometimes find it hard to drink down an entire dose of juice; it’s too sweet for me. Unfortunately, suggestions sent to the company to consider a pretzel flavor have gone unanswered. As research continues, I rationalize the price of this study with the fact that, if all else fails, I could always add vodka to the liquid in question at Happy Hour. Or, I could paint the interesting shaped POM brand bottles and use them as vases, thus resulting in another study: time analysis of learning methodology on non-craft minded individuals.

Overall, my dabble in the scientific has been a win-win; it’s enhanced my sense of wonder, while redirecting my focus, soothing my kinetic energy levels and calming me down. Just remember, there’s a bit of the mad scientist in us all; be the catalyst for your curiosity! And if you do see me walking down the street smiling at you with a shiny, avocado-oiled face and pomegranate juice stains on my shirt, please don’t cross the street.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

The Skinny on Infatuation

Photo Infatuation

I’m never sure how it happens; appeal leads to interest, attraction becomes fascination. In any case, I’m sure family and friends are grateful that, by definition, infatuation is an intense passion that is relatively short-lived.

I remember my puff pastry phase as if it were yesterday. Pepperidge Farm provided the blank canvas and I created the masterpieces. The way I lovingly rolled out the dough, then wrapped everything that I could find in it, made some afraid to leave their small pets around me. I gradually moved on, but not before hosting a jovial dinner party that is still talked about in some circles, whereby every course was enveloped in crusty deliciousness. This resulted in copious amounts of wine being consumed, mostly as a defense mechanism in order to facilitate swallowing.

Chef Ina Garten is directly responsible for my fresh parsley stage. She is the queen of finishing each dish with just a touch of lemon, kosher salt or parsley to bring out its hidden flavors. My rationale is that I might have fallen asleep while six back-to-back episodes of “The Barefoot Contessa” played on and into my subconscious. I happily chopped and decorated until I stopped in my tracks one morning, realizing that my garnishing days were numbered after absentmindedly adorning my morning oatmeal.

Grateful for no lingering food allergies, I moved on to footwear. My love of shoes presented itself in a fascination with spectators. Popular in the 1930s, the low-heeled oxford style men’s shoe is known for its contrasting colors on its toe and heel. Wallis Simpson’s spectators, thought of as quite flamboyant at the time, might very well have been the catalyst for Edward VIII to abdicate the English throne. To me, they signified the allure of a time past. My search finally landed me at an Allen Edmonds shoe store, where I treated myself to a pair, to the fascination of their male clientele. To this day, I worry about falling forward when I wear them, as I lean over to appreciate their sculptural lines.

Which brings me to my two latest crushes: spray bottles and vinegar. As we all know, spray bottles were originally invented to fill with holy water and hide by the front door. If you worked quickly, you could mist your child as they entered back into the world, without them ever realizing it. I have no idea where using vinegar came from, other than the fact that I have been eating a lot of salad lately. My collection contains white vinegar and water as a household cleaner, white vinegar and dishwashing liquid as a weed killer and apple cider vinegar to rejuvenate my skin. Now that the bottles are properly labelled and the chaos has subsided, I can settle into a spraying frenzy.

As I flow in and out of these infatuations, I have lasting memories of them all; Scrabble (playing for money finally got my family back on board with board games), polka dots (curiosity into its history led me into an in-depth study of what I have termed “polkadotology”) and flamenco dancing (was being invited by a guitarist to dance on the street in Seville, Spain my 15 minutes of fame?) to name just a few.

Not a movement so powerful as to become a trend and not consuming me into an obsession, an infatuation is a playful fondness that lurks inside us all, if we just take the time to grasp its pudgy, little hand and come out and play.

 

 

 

 

When You Zag Rather Than Zig

Photo Zig Zag

It’s not the way it was supposed to happen. It always arrives at the most inopportune time. It’s never invited, it just crashes your party and refuses to leave. It overpowers your thoughts, changes your plans and affects your emotions. It leaves you feeling lost and unguided.

Disappointment can be annoying, crushing or somewhere in between, but when things don’t go our way, how do we really know which direction they were intended? Until that door closes, another one cannot open. Even though it’s frustrating, we have no choice but to patiently wait until the entire scenario plays itself out before we get to see how it ends.

The end is usually a new beginning. A love lost that steers us toward our true partner. A career change that sparks our creativity. A move that lands us where we belong. Tears that make us appreciate every smile. Maladies that help us to celebrate life.

I am always in awe of the sheer strength and determination of the human spirit. There’s something inside us that gives us an internal hug just when we need it the most. It’s like the throb you feel when a wound starts to heal. It’s your body letting you know that it’s being attended to and before long, it seems as if it had never happened.

Whether you believe that you are being guided by a higher power or by the universe, we can all agree that a little fortitude, hutzpah and moxie will go a long way in reminding us that sometimes we need to go left when things don’t go right and that zag doesn’t always follow zig.

 

Do I Need More Pippi in My Longstocking?

Photo Pippi Longstocking

Our only similarity is that we were both born with red hair. From the first time I met her, she was my idol. She is fiercely independent, unconventional, playful and unpredictable. Her pigtails fly in the wind, her grin widens and her freckled face flushes, as she races from one adventure to the next with her best friends: her horse, her monkey and the two children that live next door to her at her home, Villa Villekula.

Pippi Longstocking (full name Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Longstocking) is the figment of the imagination of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Recuperating from an illness, Astrid’s daughter asked her mom for a story and named the main character Pippi. Initially rejected by publishers, the books have since been translated into 76 languages and made into television shows and movies.

As a little girl reading the books, my eyes would widen and my heart would race; how exciting to be so free! Little did I know that my personality had already evolved, as observed by JC*. She quickly realized that, rather than inheriting her easygoing nature, my tendencies for perfection and order were thanks to my dad.

She knew she had her hands full, but guided me along with such patience. By the time she received the call that I was in the nurse’s office by second period on my first day of junior high, she was resigned to the fact that I was a bit different from other children. Apparently, I did not see the humor in being handed one of the first computerized class schedules, having only a few minutes to arrive before the bell rang and being mistakenly assigned to the boy’s bathroom for second period.

In my efforts to be a bit more spontaneous, I have actually made some major strides:

  • I visited a model home and did not rearrange anything (I’m not sure if this counts, since Mr. Wiz* was holding my hand, tightly).
  • I polished my fingernails a completely different color than my toenails.
  • On a whim, I changed my grocery shopping day from Friday to Thursday.
  • I double snoozed my alarm.
  • I impulsively ate four Triscuits with lunch, rather than my usual three and did not worry about biting cracker number four precisely on its horizontal markings.
  • I went on a trip without any pre-planning, waking up each day and deciding on my next adventure. Wait a minute; that was a friend of mine that did that, not me!

Oh to be a bit eccentric! What fun it would be to make paper airplanes out of my to do lists with my avant-garde pals. Regrettably, I am only able to participate as a spectator, realizing that the only flow I am able to go with is if it has first been documented on an Excel spreadsheet.

At first, I thought that living vicariously through others was unfortunate. Then I realized that family and friends are as fascinated with my quirks as I am with theirs. They loosen me up, I keep them on track and together, we walk through life one unique step at a time.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.