The proverbial “they” say we all carry baggage and most of it is crap that we need to let go. What they don’t tell you is that old crap has a mind of its own. It’s sneaky, too, for no matter how much time you spend digging through it, sorting it out, and mucking it out your emotional door, without warning –BANG – there it is again! One day you’re floating along blissfully content, congratulating yourself on being a survivor, knowing all is right and always will be. All the while old crap is sitting back, watching and waiting for you to feel comfy-cozy. Okay! Let’s wipe that smile off her face! Old crap doesn’t even bother to knock and ask politely if it can return, it simply barges in, barreling through the doorway of the mind and reinstalling itself without so much as a by-your-leave.
I’ve got to say, it’s pretty embarrassing when something triggers those old feelings you thought you had a handle on. This is especially true for someone like me – the energy worker, writer, spiritual enthusiast — so when I read Susan Cain’s Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, it left me cheering. Every introvert should read this book for a boost to self esteem. In fact, every extrovert should read this book to understand that personality traits, such as introversion and extroversion, are at least 50% genetically hard wired and that extroverts need introverts for balance.
A prime take-away for me was the discussion of several scientific experiments, notably the one which focused on overcoming fear (aka old crap). As countless scientists, healers, and energy workers have discovered, when something negative happens to us, it embeds itself into our psyche and we learn from it, whether it be positive or negative. Those lessons are stored in a little place in the brain called the amygdala. When we encounter a situation reminiscent of something negative from our past, the amygdala kicks in and takes control. This could be anything from losing our temper, crying, withdrawing, or shaking with fear. I strive to overcome the negative lessons and release them from my body, either through writing, Reiki, massage, or whatever. It makes me feel better.
In her book, Susan Cain relates an experiment in which rats were trained to grab a food pellet when they heard a specific sound. Once the poor rats learned to race for their food at the sound of the bell, the scientists began to shock the rats when they took the pellet. Now the rats had learned a new behavior – fear. After awhile, the scientists stopped shocking the rats and gradually they returned to scarfing up food pellets. They had released their fear of the shock treatment or so the scientists thought. When the scientists cut the connection between the brain’s pleasure center and the amygdala, which part of the brain do you think took charge? The amygdala! The rats were once again fearful of the food pellets even though they were not being shocked.
This was a revelation for me. Now I understand why old crap or fear returns and takes over – it never left in the first place! At best, we learn coping mechanisms so when we are uncomfortable, our brain must make a decision: fear or cope? This explains my dog Oro’s behavior. She is a rescue dog and, in her past, was abused. Initially, she was fearful of strangers, including me, and would hide in a corner. Eventually she learned to trust me and a few other people. She’s a good dog and likes her life, but sometimes her old fearful behavior returns. At that point, I have to retrain her to come out of her hidey-holes and enjoy her life again.
If we work hard, eventually we develop skills to overcome our fears, but that’s all they are: tools to use to get us through sticky situations. Despite my introversion, I’ve become accustomed to leading writing workshops, groups, and book clubs. I’m good at it, too, which is why I frequently get asked to come back and lead another group. Yet, every time, right before a session begins, my amygdala throws down the gauntlet and challenges me to a duel. I can do this – no you can’t. I CAN do this – NO, YOU CAN’T! My palms sweat, my throat aches for water, my belly flips, and my head pounds. I CAN DO THIS! I plaster a smile on my face, take a deep breath, chug some water, force myself to relax and begin.
A few years ago, one of my mentors taught me that the most you can do with old, negative feelings is make a decision to place them in an imaginary box, wrap them up, tie them with a string and tuck them away in a dusty, dark corner of the brain never to be opened again. She was right: we can’t release the old crap but we do have a choice. We can refuse to open the box, strengthen our connections, consider our options, and move forward. We can learn to overcome. And isn’t that a good thing?
I’ve started a practice of gratitude. I know, I know, same old boring stuff, right? Wrong. Each day I state three things for which I am grateful – different things every day and prompted by my experience on that particular day.
Two things guided me to start doing this:
- A friend of mine was challenged to post three things she was grateful for on Facebook for 5 straight days.
- The book, Happy For No Reason, by Marci Shimoff
When my friend began posting her five days of gratitude, my immediate thought was, why stop there? Why not do this every single day? Now, this was a good thought, yet I procrastinated. After all, every morning when Tom and I sit down to breakfast and each evening we share our evening meal, we say grace. We offer thanks for the day, for our food, for life, and for each other. We alternate saying grace and it is entirely off the cuff. Admittedly, there are times we do the abridged version simply because we tire from saying the same things over and over. Yet, we adhere to this practice.
Then I read Happy For No Reason. Did you know that in Thomas Jefferson’s day, the word pursuit had a different meaning? To TJ and his compadres, pursuit meant practice. So when we read the Constitution, the founding fathers weren’t guaranteeing us the right to chase down happiness, they were guaranteeing us the right to practice happiness. This is at the core of book: instead of chasing down happiness, practice operating from a foundation of happiness. One of the ways given to establish the foundation of happiness is to offer gratitude each and every single day.
So I married those two guiding things together and began my own practice of offering gratitude. Each and every day my offer of thanks is different and specific. One morning I offered gratitude for the yellow blooms of the desert senna which cheered me; for the dogs who roust me out the door for a walk in the morning; and for the bat that zipped by chasing down pesky mosquitoes and gnats. Another day I appreciated the crunch of stones beneath my feet, a testament to the fact that despite my tinnitus, I can still hear quite well.
Is my foundation of happiness in place? Since I’ve only been doing this for a few days, probably not, although after answering questions to one of those quirky Facebook quizzes, I’m told I operate from a place of Joy. What is most surprising to me, however, are some unexpected fringe benefits – side effects, if you will.
First, as I go about my day, I am on the alert for things to appreciate and that puts me squarely in the now. In her book, Marci shares that scientists have figured out that 80% of our thoughts every day are recurring and negative which definitely gets in the way of happiness. Now I’m so busy looking for things to be grateful for, I don’t have time to think those crazy negative thoughts that try to squirm their way into my brain.
Second, it reminds me of my connection. The Superstition Mountains are topped with rock spires called hoodoos. The day I offered thanks for the hoodoos, I was reminded of the legend* of the hoodoos which, in turn, reminded me of the ancient people who trod the earth I walk today. Instantly I felt connected in a way I’d never felt before.
Third, gratitude is a great teacher. Yesterday I stood in the desert in the morning and spun in a slow circle admiring the sky and giving thanks to the clouds. To the east, the bellies of the clouds hung low and were tinted lavender and pink. To the north, stormy cumulus clouds billowed high and sparked with lightening. To the west, a dusky blue and grey haze hovered over everything. To the south, the sky held a few wisps of milky white. It didn’t matter that some clouds were drifting and others were threatening. Each cloud caught the light of the rising sun and created its own beautiful masterpiece.
And I thought, this sky is showing me the colors of my soul. Although my emotional palette may change from day to day, like the sky, my soul is always beautiful.
Then I wept for the beauty around me and within me. They were tears of happiness.
*Oh, by the way, in the ancient legend, a prophet warned the ancient people of a great flood. Many people discounted his claim and stayed where they were. Others believed and climbed the mountain to safety. When the great flood came, the people who didn’t believe, drowned. Those who climbed the mountain were saved and, for their belief, now live forever as the stone hoodoos.
Yesterday I walked out the back door at 5:00 a.m. and the heat slapped me in the face. It was 93 degrees and the sun hadn’t shown itself yet. I leashed up the dogs and we headed out in the pre-dawn light. The walk was like an obscene phone call – lots of heavy breathing and tongues hanging out. The heat pulled at us and we all walked with our heads down. The sun topped the mountain on our return and the first ray to hit my face was merciless, confirming the weatherman’s prediction of over 110. In my early twenties I had a bout of heat exhaustion, since then, my body rebels if I over exert when the mercury climbs above 95. My planned 16 mile bike ride was out and there would be no long walk to the coffee shop. My expectations for the day withered like the heat stroked squash plants in my garden.
Back home, I settled in front of the computer until Chris, one of Tom’s workers, tapped on the glass of the patio door and crooked his finger. “Come see the owl”. I followed him down to where the garden edges up to the greenhouse. A couple of the crew were clearing out a dead jojoba and trimming the remaining trees. Chris pointed up. In the tangle of branches and leaves, an owl perched, surveying the work going on below him. He was a tiny thing, less than a foot in height, but impressive despite his small stature. He blinked those great yellow eyes. Ohh! The sudden movement surprised me! Everyone snapped photos and I wondered if the owl realized that his presence caused a mini-work stoppage. We were all enthralled. Throughout the next half hour he stayed in his spot supervising the work below. After the crew finished and things quieted down, I walked back out. Owl was still there. He blinked his eyes at me. I took one step to the side and his head swiveled; those yellow eyes tracked my every movement. His presence had caused quite a stir, yet he was unruffled. You deserve some peace, I said and left him alone.
Later that day, Tom walked out to the outdoor shower to rinse off the day’s sweat. He shouted, Owl! I ran over and there was the owl regally perched in the ironwood tree. The doves, finches, and thrashers were quite unhappy to have a predator in their midst. They flew and chattered at the owl but he was unmoved. Only that great head turned from side to side as he considered his choices for his evening meal. The thought of him possibly killing a songbird disturbed me, so I sent him thoughts of mice and pack rats hoping he’d take my advice and consider them better fare.
Out here in the Sonoran Desert, we coexist with coyotes, javelinas, and roadrunners. Quail gambol about, hawks soar, and the occasional mountain lion lopes through. While I stop and watch the wildlife, I have to admit sometimes I take it for granted. I’ve become used to the coyote lapping at our water fountain in the yard and quickly side step any rattler that slithers through. Owl, in all his extraordinary beauty, renewed my appreciation for the life humming around me. He reminded me that all too often I get caught up in my expectations, those things of relatively little consequence and miss what’s important. If I’d taken that bike ride, or that walk, I might have missed Owl’s visit. I might have missed seeing the blink of those yellow eyes, the easy turn of his head. I tend to delve inward, spinning and sorting the thoughts in my head, and when I do, it’s like donning a pair of blinders. My own thoughts obscure what’s happening around me. If I’d have missed seeing Owl, I’d have regretted that much more than missing a bike ride.
This morning I ran out to check on Owl’s whereabouts but he was gone. Tom thinks he’ll be back since so many critters call our gardens home. The dogs danced around me, eager for our morning walk and, as we headed out, the heat again dragged our feet. The dogs still trotted along, heads down and panting, but this time I shoved my expectations for the day to the back of my mind and remained fully alert, scanning the desert for whatever might come my way.
My women’s group meets twice a month to discuss all things spiritual and metaphysical. We drum, we chat, we eat, we provoke each other with new thoughts and ideas, we hug, and we laugh. Each member of the group takes a turn hosting and the hostess decides the direction for the evening. Sounds formal, but it isn’t; part of the fun is the surprise for often you don’t find out what we’ll be doing until you walk in the door. Tonight’s meeting, however, is different. Our hostess asked us to think about the heroes in our lives and the influence those heroes have had on us. Seems a straightforward request, but for the past two weeks, I’ve come up empty.
Part of my problem is trying to define the word hero. What comes to my mind is that little bumper sticker you see sometimes on cars: WWJD, the acronym for what would Jesus do? Lucky people, they know Jesus is their hero and they tell the world about it. When confronted with a sticky situation, they simply take a moment to ponder how Jesus would handle things and take it from there. But when the word hero was tossed up as our assignment, no one – and I do mean no one – came to my mind. Last night, I told Tom about my dilemma and asked him if he had a hero. Immediately he said, my mom. Then he brought up his admiration of Abraham Lincoln, a name prompted by the book he just finished, Team of Rivals. I had to admit, his quick answers made me envious and a little perturbed with myself.
Why don’t I have any heroes? As a student in a parochial school, I spent hours reading the Lives of the Saints. They were rollicking good stories, a bit tragic and bloody, but spellbinding. In particular, I resonated with Catherine of Sienna only because I fancied myself as her namesake, yet her story, after all these years, is lost in the cobwebs of my mind so, although she likely was heroic, I can’t count on her for inspiration.
After I read his book, Sacred Hoops, I hoisted Phil Jackson, former coach of the Chicago Bulls, up on a pedestal. That man, I thought, had it down as he interacted with his players by incorporating the philosophies of the Lakota Sioux and Zen Buddhism. When he moved to LA and cheated on his wife, the pedestal cracked and crumbled. I still admire his philosophy, but I recognize he’s human and no more special than anyone else.
I considered my parents, good people with solid values. Certainly they influenced me. Often when faced with a difficult task that requires me to stretch beyond my limits, I grumble for a moment or two, then plunge forward stoically, a trait passed on to me by my father. Too many times, when raising my own children, my mother’s words fell from my lips. My grandparents, my own children, aunts, uncles, cousins – the whole of my extended family – have touched me in ways small and large. I love and admire them all. Even my ex-husband, who tormented and angered me, served me well in that he made me strong and fearless, the exact qualities I needed to stand up to him.
Then it came to me. Humans are human and humans are frail. It’s the rare person who might be able to stand up to the intense scrutiny of heroism, yet often, I witness acts of kindness, small tokens of behavior that strike a chord in my heart and reinforce my belief in the love that is the foundation of humanity. I may not have heroes in my life, but I am deeply grateful for the small heroic acts that I witness on a daily basis.
- The young man who gave up his seat on the train so my future daughter-in-law could sit down with her sleeping child.
- The friend who rescued the tiny hummingbird after it crashed into her window.
- The crew of people who go out week after week to clear the hiking trails.
- The smile and chit chat Tom shares withour waitress, Laurie, at the local café.
- My friend, Alyce, who fights a daily battle to ensure her husband receives adequate medical care.
- The driver who waves and sits patiently while I cross the street on my morning walk.
- My neighbor, Lois, who handles her husband’s descent into Alzheimer’s with grace.
- My other neighbor, Karen, who, despite being a widow, still plays the piano every morning with gusto.
- The gentleman who retrieved my pen when it fell out of my purse while I hunted for my keys in the parking lot.
These acts are the threads of life. They bring a smile to the face, lift the heart and, for a moment, remind me of why we are here: to share our gifts and help each other. No matter what form of assistance we give or receive, it is good. In a few hours I’ll head off to my women’s group with a blank list of heroes, but an overflowing list of heroic acts. I’m good with that.
My fingers trailed over the white woven clutch purse and lingered on the gold clasp. It’s an elegant thing, something a lady might carry for an evening at the symphony, certainly too refined for a rawboned woman like me. My friend Jeannie sent it to me as a birthday gift after I moved to the ranch in Arizona. I remembered smiling when I pulled it out of the box and slipped it out of its plastic wrapping. This will look great with my steel toed shoes, I thought. I’d left the corporate world of skirts and heels behind, but in Jeannie’s eyes I was still polished and professional. We used to joke how we looked forward to Saturdays. Jungle Rules, she’d say, meaning no make-up, hair pulled back, sloppy jeans and sweatshirts, but I never for a second believed Jeannie would stoop so low. On casual Fridays, I’d waltz into the office in jeans, sweater and comfy loafers. Jeannie breezed in wearing slacks, a crisp blouse and jacket, a bright scarf slung around her neck, gold earrings, and low heels. I’d tease that she was too dressed up; she’d peer over her reading glasses at me and pluck the one piece of lint clinging to my sweater.
I found out yesterday that Jeannie passed away and have been on the edge of tears ever since. Tom sat quietly and listened while the memories poured out of me. Work was our stomping ground and formed the basis of our friendship. We were the same age, although when she irked me, I reminded her from time to time that she was six months older. We compared recipes and men, commiserated over raising our kids and office politics, and laughed our way through it all. Holidays and family were important to Jeannie. I marveled at her Franklin Planner overflowing with business appointments and copious notes on birthdays and events. Everyone was family, from her two sons to the neighbor who watched her cats to the receptionist at the office. Together Jeannie and I kicked off every Christmas season by attending the One-Of– Kind Art & Craft Show in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. I’d whip out an old envelope with a few names penciled on the back, but Jeannie’s list rolled like a tape from an old adding machine, a list to rival Santa’s. The show featured over 500 vendors and we’d arrive a half hour before the doors opened, cups of hot coffee and tea in hand. We’d plot shopping strategies while we stood in line, but in the end, we’d careen up and down the aisles, bouncing from booth to booth like ping pong balls, filling our canvass shopping bags to overflowing. All the time Jeannie watched carefully to see what caught my eye, maybe a pair of earrings or a pottery bowl, and somehow the piece always found its way into her bag and into my gift for the holiday.
The last few years we worked together, Jeannie developed uterine cancer. She struggled through with surgery and chemo. She never lost heart and managed to beat back the disease but her battle prompted us all to take a hard look at our lifestyles. As a result, a group of co-workers decided to ditch the afternoon Snickers bar for a healthy glass of fresh juice. We pitched in to buy a Jack LaLanne juicer and had the local grocery store deliver a standing order of fresh produce every Monday morning: carrots, celery, apples, parsley, pineapple, cucumbers…. Around two in the afternoon, Jeannie, our coworker Sue, and I would gather in the office kitchen and make juice. We cut arm and neck holes out of garbage bags and slipped them over our clothing to use as aprons. It was the only time I ever saw Jeannie looking less than perfect. We’d finish, whip off our bags, and then walk around the office delivering cups of fresh juice to pep everyone up.
Shortly after I moved to Arizona, the company we worked for was sold and, like me, Jeannie moved on to another life. After Tom and I married, we traveled to Missouri and spent a day with her and her Dave at their house on Lake of the Ozarks. Jeannie and I floated side by side on rafts, holding hands to keep from drifting apart while we chatted and splashed. You look happy, she said and I replied, so do you. Divorce, job changes, raising kids, living life on our own terms…we were both survivors and we knew it.
I popped open the clasp on the clutch purse. A piece of stiff cardboard was still tucked inside and shame washed over me. The clutch was still brand new; I’d never once used this gift from my friend. Yet, I’d kept it. Even though it didn’t fit my new lifestyle, I never could bring myself to give it away. I removed the cardboard and left it open on my lap. It still doesn’t quite fit my life, but it fits my memories of my dear friend. I placed a few things inside it, things I’ll need the next time I go out.
“Mom! Did you eat those salt water taffys?” I had to admit it, I did but I was on vacation and that calls for a little deviance from the norm. My daughter was shocked, of course, as eating healthy is my mantra. Of course, that wasn’t always the case and while I shy away from sugary foods, I still have a sweet tooth. Since dentists seem to be quick when it comes to yanking out wisdom teeth, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask him to extract that darn old sweet tooth, but he shook his head, laughed and patted my hand condescendingly. He must still have his own set of wisdom teeth, for when I told him I was serious, he wisely said it’s not that easy.
Having a sweet tooth isn’t my only imperfection. The weeds are keeping pace with the tomatoes and peppers in my garden. I’m terrible in social situations, forgetting names and tripping over my tongue when meeting new people. In my twenties, my then husband’s aunt tried to teach me how to embroider. I proudly showed her my little handkerchief covered in violets, but she immediately flipped it over to find all the mistakes on the back. When it comes to cooking, I’m game to try new things but my follow through is lacking. Today I attempted to make a gluten free peach pie for my husband’s birthday. Instead of glutinous flour, the pie crust recipe called for a mix of 4 main dry ingredients: rice flour, tapioca flour, corn starch, and sorghum flour. I was out of rice and sorghum flour and, rather than a quick trip to the grocery store, I did my usual thing, substituting all purpose GF flour and an extra scoop of tapioca for good measure. The pie came out of the oven and, while it smells good, it’s a bit sorry looking. No worry, though, for Tom will give me points for trying, especially when I present him with a plate of my no fail almond butter cookies.
So I don’t come close to perfection. In fact, you might say I am perfectly imperfect and I’m okay with that. I can understand my daughter’s reaction, though, as it’s kind of hard to discover that someone you’ve looked to for guidance may not be the wisest (remember, I did lose 4 wisdom teeth after all). Even more difficult is accepting your imperfections.
A few years back, my own mom and I were discussing the menu she was trying to put together for a family get together. My mom is lovingly called “the social director”. If there’s a party, she’ll go. If not, she’ll put one together. This is a woman who, at the age of 82, not only bowls in 4 senior bowling leagues each week but is the secretary for each one. Every Tuesday morning for years she’s attended her TOPS group (although she doesn’t need to), and is re-elected every year as an officer. So it shocked me that my mom was stressed about her shindig. I’ve always thought of her as a good cook but she was comparing herself to her sister who is a bit of a gourmet cook, my cousin who totally nails every recipe, and another cousin who owns four high-end Chicago restaurants. Mom wanted to put out a spread that would rival this trio’s assembled culinary skills. Rather than compete, I told her best to make the gathering a pot-luck and let them all have at it.
When it comes to imperfections, I’ve heard of two schools of thought. One is to focus on your strengths and the second is to improve on your weaknesses. I prefer a third approach. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Polonius told his son Laertes, “To thine own self be true.” Be honest and know yourself. Accept what you’re good at, recognize your faults, and figure both into the mix that is you. In other words, be good but live a little and don’t beat yourself up about it. I walk past the candy rack every time I’m at the grocery store, but I indulge a bit on holiday. Sometimes my cooking experiments fail and sometimes they come out divine, like my no fail almond butter cookies. Once a month I take a hula hoe to the garden weeds to make it look presentable, but Tom tells me those little weeds in the garden are actually nitrogen fixers that help my veggies grow. I like to think my imperfections are like that: little Kathy-fixers that make me a little messy but, in the end, define and shape a better me: perfectly divine, healthy and whole just as I am.
Anyone care for an almond butter cookie?
No Fail Gluten Free Almond Butter Cookies
1 cup almond butter
¾ cup organic sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vanilla
Handful of slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients except almonds in a bowl. Mix in the almonds. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes. Cookies will be soft when they come out of the oven. Let cool for 15 minutes then transfer to plate. Allow to set for half hour. Makes about 15 cookies.
Do you have one? A bucket list? A list of those places or things that everyone touts as must see or do before kicking the bucket? (Which makes me wonder, is that how the term bucket list originated?) According to Merriam Webster Online, the answer is yes.) Although there have been times I’ve said those words, “it’s on my bucket list”, I really don’t have one. Yes, there are places I’d like to see: the rolling hills of Tuscany, Glacier National Park, and a pyramid or two; and there are things I might like to do like hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim, but rather than focusing on a list of hopes and desires, I’ve come around to a new way of thinking. While it’s good to have wishes and dreams, I don’t want to lose sight of the amazing opportunities and blessings that have already come my way. Rather than a bucket list of wishes, I intend to fill my bucket to overflowing with gratitude.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Tom and I traveled down to the rolling grasslands of southern Arizona. In one short weekend, I have much to be thankful for:
- Breathing the scent of pine while hiking to the top of Ramsey Canyon.
- A deer standing on its hind legs, stretching to reach up to munch on the leaves of a tree.
- Viewing the Kartchner Caverns Throne Room and feeling my heart connect with the heart of Mother Earth.
- The small drop of cave water that plopped on my head – a blessing from the Earth Mother that made me smile.
- Cheeky Monkey wine from the Elgin Winery.
- Stumbling into the Cornucopia Café in Bisbee and enjoying a slice of gluten free toast with my salad.
- Dining al fresco at the Velvet Elvis in Patagonia.
- Javelinas, wild turkeys, and baby owls along Sonoita Creek.
- Birds, birds, and more birds!
- Tom’s patience while I struggled to keep up with him on the golf course.
- The Singing Wind Bookshop in Benson.
- Watching the sunset from the veranda of Rancho Milagro.
- Finding a wonderful pet sitter to watch over our “fur children”.
- The unbridled excitement of our pets when we returned home.
- Sleeping once again in our own bed.
- Family, family, family.
- Friends, friends, friends.
My gratitude bucket could go on and on and, as I sit here gazing out my window, I think I’ll add the sight of the little finches whirling and chattering about the bird feeder. I guess if I have to have a traditional bucket list, the only thing I’d wish for is a bigger bucket for all the things I’m thankful for.
The sport of shopping is something I never embraced, at least until now. Sure, when on vacation I enjoy perusing the little galleries and gift stores in whatever locale I am in and, yes, I always buy at least one thing. In the midst of my daily routines, however, I tend to shop only when I need something: blueberries, a new white blouse, or socks without holes. Shopping for essentials (even clothing) is a chore for me. I make a list and then play a game of Beat the Clock, whizzing down the aisles, throwing stuff into my cart lightening fast. Even when the parking lot is jammed, Tom is quite impressed with how fast I can get in and out of Costco.
This stems back to my childhood when my Grandma and Mom would team up on a Saturday afternoon and drag us all to the mall. These were not pleasure trips. No running, no touching, no spitting, no shoving, no screaming, no ice cream…how boring is that for a kid? Occasionally these expeditions would have a purpose, like new clothing for Easter, but that too, was horrible as I was always stuffed into some cupcake cute outfit that Gram and Mom liked, but I didn’t. If you want proof, check out those old Easter photos – I’m the one in the green dress, the frizzy Toni perm (but that’s another story), and the scowl on my face. Clothes shopping was the worst and this attitude continued all the way through high school when I was forced into a long, sleeveless Prom dress (green again) and a little rabbit stole that shed and left me spitting out tiny hairs all night.
The one good thing about brick and mortar shopping is that you only did it when YOU decided to do it. At some point, the stores figured out that they needed to cast a different line to reel us in and telemarketing was born. Sneaky bastards, they always waited until you were sitting down for dinner. They knew we’d answer for this was in the days before Caller ID and answering machines. Not answering could be life or death. You were in the dark and possibly missing out on a hot date, the latest gossip, or an invite to dinner at Gram’s on Sunday. Like a post-Civil War carpetbagger, the phone industry swooped in with machines that identified, answered and took messages. So in our wish to beat the telemarketers, we still spent money.
Needless to say, I was one of the first to embrace online shopping. Christmas gifts for twenty? No problem, snap! A wedding gift for a twice-removed cousin I only met once? Piece of cake! Shopping was now at my fingertips. I controlled when and what, or thought I did until this morning. Google decided a while back that I needed some organization to my incoming emails and began sorting them into Primary, Social, and Promotions. Today I pulled up my email: 5 messages in Primary; 3 in Social; and a whopping 23 in Promotions! That isn’t counting Spam! Later in the day I checked email again: 0 messages in Primary and Social and 4 in Promotions. If it weren’t for online shopping, I’d never get any email!
Now I have to admit, this is my fault. Anytime I buy something online, I usually ignore the little box next to the fine print. Check box if you do not wish to receive email promotions. At the time of purchase, I’m feeling pretty good. Most likely I got a bargain, crossed someone off my gift list, or unearthed a difficult-to-find item I wanted. Usually I think to myself, yeah, okay, I’d like to know when you’re having a sale. And, darn, if I don’t open up that latest email from Ann Taylor that shouts 40% off tops and tees! Not to mention all those recommendations from Amazon. The online marketers endeavored to turn me into a shopper that would make Grandma proud and they succeeded.
I spent a good bit of this morning unsubscribing although I hung on to a cherished few (I do love you Amazon). It might hurt a bit tomorrow when the Promotions tab is nearly empty…I’ll feel lonely and unloved…but in my heart I know this: they’ll figure out another way to get me.
Several years ago I read the Harvard study on aging which defined the differences between aging well and aging poorly. It wasn’t about how many miles you could still run or the number of crunches you could crank out, rather it centered on attitude. Crabby, complaining curmudgeons, even if they were in the best physical health, were found to be aging poorly while those folks who embraced life, met new people, shared their wisdom, and found joy in every day, despite any health challenges, were said to be aging well. It came down to attitude. At the ripe old age of 61, I believe attitude plays a big role in optimal well being, but I’ve found another factor that contributes to a life well lived: creativity.
The glorious thing about life is the ability to create. Whether it’s quilting, painting, sculpting clay, or taking pen to paper, creating something with your own hands and your own mind fuels purpose and provides reward. Think about the emotions that swept over you when you discovered you were becoming a mother or father; consider the swelling of pride when you prepare your food using vegetables from your own garden, or the joy of snuggling under your own handmade quilt for warmth. The things you create come from your heart. The things you create tell the world “this is who I am”.
Last night I was at the home of a friend, a quilter, although in truth, she is an artist of the highest caliber. Deb takes the time to sketch out her ideas, dyes and stains her own fabrics, pieces things together carefully, and “paints” with needle and thread. Her pieces are complex, vibrant, and stunning in their beauty. Before I learned Deb was raised on a ranch in Montana, the wildflowers and animals throughout her designs told me she was a child of nature. At exhibitions her work routinely takes first place, the greatest testament coming from her peers. It might take her a year to bring one idea to fruition and when complete, she gives it away, taking her reward in seeing the pleasure on the recipient’s face. As we explored her quilt room together, I admired more than her designs. I admired the light in her eyes and the flush of joy in her face as I praised her work. She is my age and for a moment, I wished I was more like her.
On the way home, Tom reached over and squeezed my hand. “When you were talking about your experiences on the ranch, talking about your book and writing, I watched your face. You were beautiful.” In that moment, I understood. Creativity, no matter what form it takes, is the spark that lights one’s soul and makes us luminous. Creativity is the key to sharing one’s soul. Deb may use need and thread while I use pen and paper, but we are actually cut from the same cloth. We both find pure joy in creating and even greater joy in sharing our creations.
I’m golfing today – well, let me rephrase that. I’m going out with three other people who have promised to humor me in my efforts to round out their foursome. Tom, my husband, gets out on the course about three times a month. Norbert and Jane hit the links a few times a week. They are good friends and insist that it will be fun and no one will laugh, at least not to my face.
I’ve shaken hands with a golf club a few times in my life. When I still worked in the business world, a couple of guys I worked with organized an unofficial golf tournament each year. They begged me to participate, not because of my golfing prowess, but because I held the keys to the marketing storage room. I’d pull out old golf balls, hats, and any other leftover items for prizes and giveaways. I’d get a clean storage room and they’d walk away with their arms full of free stuff. It was a match made in heaven, until they’d get me on the golf course. When it was time to sign up to play, I’d demur, but the guys always cajoled me into it, probably because they wanted to keep their free prizes coming.
Many years later I dated an avid golfer. Why? I don’t know. He lived on the back nine of a golf course and played every possible day he could. On weekends he’d drag me out to join him. He’d golf and I’d run around the course like a kid. “You’re a natural athlete,” he’d say every time he convinced me to go to the driving range. Once in awhile, I’d wallop the ball but you can only do that so many times before your wrist goes numb. Those driving ranges are intimidating, too. I’d watch serious people taking serious swings and think to myself, “seriously? It’s only a game.”
Last week, after a nice dinner at the local Asian BBQ, we drank wine on Norbert and Jane’s back patio which overlooks the Superstition Mountain golf course. “Let’s get together next week to play.” I’m not sure if it was the beautiful sunset slipping down the mountainside, the peace that comes with a full belly, or the wine molecules coursing through my veins, but suddenly, after years of avoiding fairways and putting greens, I was committed. Sigh.
I’ve never understood the allure of golf. Yes, the courses are pretty with their sweeping expanses of perfect green broken up by water hazards and sand traps. Those little carts are a kick, too. But there are problems besides my lack of stance and swing. The big issue for me is a lack of target. It’s damn hard to figure out exactly where you’re supposed to be aiming your ball. This is America, after all – why not supersize those flags so a person can see them? Once I do hit the ball (after my usual two or three swings and misses), I lose it in the sun – or the grass – or the rough. They tell you to keep your eye on the ball but don’t lift your head! Don’t drop your shoulder, keep your arm straight, and don’t break your wrist. I am simply not that coordinated to remember it all without some kind of operating manual.
Its one hour and 45 minutes to tee time and the temperature is already 88 degrees. I showered and dressed in my gray cargo shorts, my new red, sleeveless gauze shirt, and my Ecco walking sandals. I thought I looked cute but Tom took one look at me and said, “Is that what you’re wearing? There’s a dress code, you know.” Golf is not an easy game to play but dressing for it is even more difficult. You need collared shirts, little plaid shorts, and matching golf socks and shoes, none of which I have. Then there is an assortment of woods, irons, tees, towels, and balls plus a bag to put them in. Again, none of that can be found in my closet. Resigned, I changed to an old blue short sleeved shirt and my black walking shorts but I refused to ditch the sandals. “My feet get too hot, then they get sweaty and then they get stinky!” I wailed. Tom gave me a big hug and said “Everything will be OK.”
One hour and 35 minutes to tee time and the wind is really kicking up out there for which I am grateful. It gives me the perfect excuse for my soon to be apparent lack of golf skills. Surprisingly, I am relatively calm about the whole thing. You see, the way I figure it, once everyone sees how horrible I am at this game, they’ll never ask me to play again.