You Spot It, You Got It

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Mother Nature is a bit of a drama queen. 

I notice when I write about weather related things, I experience more of the same.  So instead of spinning snow and rain into something to celebrate, I’ve decided to stick to sunshine, seventy degree temps, low humidity, and a lack of tornadoes and flash floods in hopes that things will calm things down.

One of the keys phrases from the Radical Forgiveness audio-program I’ve been listening to is, “You spot it, you got it.”  In other words, if you notice something in someone or something else, it’s in you as well.

Suggesting Mother Nature is a bit dramatic could mean I, too, have a tendency to be a bit over the top when storms are brewing.

You spot it, you got it,” is similar to what my siblings and I would say to each other as kids. When one of us slung an especially unflattering insult, the other would respond with, “Oh yeah?  It takes one to know one!”

Like a lot of phrases that have stayed with me from childhood, this catch and release comeback is paradoxically profound. 

This idea is difficult to digest when I’m spotting crazy making behaviors in someone else.  Part of what gets me so worked up is the idea that I would never behave like this person is behaving. 

For example, I get wigged out about poor customer service because good, or at least decent, customer service doesn’t take that much more effort.   I make it a point not to treat others the way I have been treated by people in so called “customer care” departments.

But if I am honest, I have had my moments (usually when I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired) when I could have been kinder, more patient, or more understanding.

On my good days, I catch myself in the act and repeat the message I remember hearing the Emergency Broadcasting System send.  This is a test.  This is only a test.  In case of emergency, we’ll send reinforcements…. or some such thing.

This is another one of those paradoxically profound messages. 

On the flip side, I am often blown away by how innovative, generous, smart, or talented someone is.  I’m convinced I could never summon the courage, creativity, or sheer stamina to succeed as spectacularly as the person I’m reading about, listening to, watching, or learning from.

And yet, if I spotted it, might I have at least some potential?  After all, I can’t recognize in someone else what I can’t recognize in myself.

It may be that what we see is what we get, but it might also be that what we see is what we forget. We forget we’re more or less all that.  Isn’t it convenient we get so many reminders?

I’d love to hear what you’re spotting. Share if you dare in the comments below.

I Love a Rainy Night

Okay, that’s not exactly true.  But it does make me happy to hear that catchy Eddie Rabbitt tune of the same name with the tricky snap clap combo that sounds like windshield wipers clicking in the background.

While I may not prefer persistent precipitation, I have learned that with the right rain gear, the show can go on.  The show in this case being my daily or nightly walk with the dogs. 

The highlight of a dog’s day dare not be dimmed by a little drizzle.  On the contrary, it provides an opportunity for some good, though definitely not clean, fun.

I’ve been chasing rain the last week like a storm chaser chases storms.  That or the rain is simply stalking me.  In any case, years of living in the desert, dealing with droughts, and fighting a fire or two have taught me to appreciate the gifts a good rain brings.

When it’s sunny and beautiful everyone (and their dog) is out enjoying the day.  When it’s rainy and a bit chilly, it’s the committed few who choose the road less traveled.  And that, to paraphrase Robert Frost, makes all the difference.

I’m not by nature a highly social creature.  However, if there is a party, by all means let me be the life of it!  But this is really more of a defense mechanism than a true nature sort of thing.  My true nature would have me home reading a book.  Or blogging.

So after a day of facilitating and advising and counseling and critiquing, I really like nothing more than to come home and hang with the canines where nonverbal communication is what it’s all about.  There’s plenty of tail wagging, woofing, whimpering, and wild gesturing going on, but since I don’t have to look good, sound good, or even smell good, it’s all good.

Tonight I was convinced I’d come home and call it quits, shut it down and get some shut eye.  But who can refuse those four legged creatures who want nothing more than to prove to me that I really do love a rainy night or any night that I get to come home to them and Bob and my beautiful new kitchen and blog about it.

What do you love?  Share if you dare.  Especially if it’s a catchy song title!

Have a Whole Alphabet Plan

Because even Plan B may not be enough, I recommend having a whole alphabet plan.  Especially when you go on vacation.

Today the strategy of spending the afternoon lounging poolside soaking up the sun changed to spending a very rainy afternoon at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Morris Hall for Fashion Marketing and Management with my niece Kat. 

If the truth be told, for a creative person, this was a far better option.  After all, it isn’t every day I get to be surrounded by so much art and so many examples of students who are this passionate about their studies and leaving their mark on the world.  If ever there was a place to be creatively inspired, it is here.  So I took out my laptop and started this blog while she completed her homework.

When I arrived on Tuesday we went to my favorite pizza place, Vinnie Van Go Go.  About half-way through our meal this artsy looking young man slid up on the bar stool next to me.  I happened to notice he was only drinking water and wondered whether he was going to order something to eat.  Eventually a single slice of cheese pizza arrived. 

My sister and nieces and I had made the mistake of ordering a large pizza, which at Vinnie’s amounts to approximately 36 inches in diameter.  As you can imagine, we had some left over. 

Normally, I don’t flirt with strangers, especially when I could be their mother.  But I have a weakness for starving artists and the flirting was actually more like mothering since what came out of my mouth was something like “Honey, you look hungry.  Would you like some more pizzaWe’ve got more than we can eat.”

Maybe it’s the student advisor in me that makes me now feel responsible for the care and feeding of anyone who appears to be in need of a hot meal and an equally hot shower. 

Of course, not everyone is as receptive to my well meaning intentions as my new friend and blues singer Echo was.  Some people actively avoid me after I offer them a piece of advice or pizza. But generally I’ve found it’s worth the effort to engage others and show an interest in their lives.  At the very least, you’ll walk away with a great story. 

And this is another reason I recommend traveling with a full alphabet plan.  You just never know who or what is going to show up to alter the plans you made in the safety of your own home. 

More than most activities, traveling requires a conscious awareness of the present moment.  Otherwise, you can end up on a plane to Richmond.  (I’ll let Bob explain that one.)

From the moment I step foot inside the airport until I arrive safely back home, there is at least one item that has shifted during flight and several items to keep track of like room keys, electronic devices, or boarding passes that really have no default hiding place.

This means I must pay extra attention to actions that are usually mindless.  Keeping my wits and my poncho about me is the difference between immediate room key reconnaissance and getting soaked in the rain.

With that in mind, tonight my sister and have I decided to stay in and order room service at the hotel.  The original plan was to catch the ferry over to the restaurants on River Street and grab some gumbo. Instead we’re watching Forrest Gump and trying to guess where exactly it was filmed so we might reenact certain scenes in the morning. 

Of course, if the rain continues, we’ll be back to climbing stairs to the 11th floor as we resorted to tonight instead of walking around Forsyth Park, as is our daily ritual.

Are you starting to see how Plans L, M, N, O,  P have been working for me?  The difference between an adventure and a disaster lies in how I rearrange the letters.  And my attitude. 🙂

Here’s to your Easter adventures!

The Eleventh Hour

I’m not sure what it is about leaving town that suddenly makes everything that couldn’t be done before suddenly appear possible in the eleventh hour.

Like getting butterflies to fly in formation, getting my ducks in a row is tricky business.  I have accomplished diddly in last five days.  But today blogging, paying taxes, editing a brochure, deciding on an engagement ring, attending training, and finding a spray tan place were all in a day’s work.

I’m not sure why I believe all of this must be done before leaving. (Except for the spray tan.  We all know the blinding truth of what happens when we go to the beach sans spray tan after a very long winter.)  Attempting to make sense of the known gives me a false sense of security as I face the unknowns that await me as soon as I pack my bags.

They say it’s the things you can’t anticipate happening that make a trip memorable.  As much as I hope that everything goes as planned, there will be those things that don’t.   But as I’m learning from my Radical Forgiveness tape, “I’m not okay.  You’re not okay.  But that’s okay.”

Years of traveling have taught me I should plan better.  Years of traveling have taught me I should travel lighter.  Years of travel have taught me that in that eleventh hour I am going to question more than once why I decided to leave in the first place.

But years of travel have also taught me there’s nothing like it to open my heart, my eyes, ears, my taste buds, and awaken my sense of wonder, grace, and gratitude.  So I gather up my overstuffed luggage and six pairs of shoes and am off on an adventure with my sister and her girls at SCAD in that sassiest of southern cities, Savannah.

See you when I return. 

What Easter adventures might you be up to?   Share if you dare.

If Dogs Could Blog

Recently I’ve been listening to an audio program by Colin Tipping called The Power of Radical Forgiveness.  While the insults and injuries have accrued for a lifetime for most of us, the really radical part of the Radical Forgiveness program is that maybe we’d be better off surrendering to instead of suffering through a lot of stuff we let totally trip us up.

We humans like to be right.  We like to be right at the expense of a lot of other things.  We’re a society that likes to play the victim and express our righteous indignation way more than gratitude or humor or any other emotion that might lower our blood pressure.   

Radical Forgiveness asks us to look at life as if it were an intricate tapestry.  The challenge is we can only see the back side of the tapestry where the threads randomly intersect with frayed knots, stops and starts, and loose ends. Try as we might, it’s hard to find the order in all this chaos.

It’s rare that we can turn it over and get a glimpse of the other side of the tapestry.  This is the side where everything comes together beautifully without any hint that everything is not exactly as it should be and every thread is serving a singular purpose.

Remembering the tapestry analogy in the middle of an audit, a divorce, a life-changing illness, the loss of a loved one, job, dream, or a once in a lifetime opportunity is almost impossible for most of us.

But the promise of being free of the energy required to keep up the fight is worth the discomfort of working through it.  I would rather use my life energy to create something new than to stay stuck in a cycle of sameness.  Because if it keeps showing up, apparently I haven’t learned as much as I imagine I have. 

Naturally, I turn to my dogs for clarification since I’m convinced dogs are spiritual masters.  It’s no coincidence that dog is god spelled backwards. Not only do they have the unconditional love thing down, but they don’t have to say a word for me to totally get the point.

Allow me to illustrate.

Yesterday Scooter, our small Jack Russell terrier, was naughty.  On our daily walk he discovered something dead, smelly, and nasty. Despite several scoldings, he refused to drop it where he found it and instead brought it home.  A present, perhaps?  Still I decided Scooter would need to be leashed this morning in order to limit his meanderings. 

Jake, our overly exuberant 100 pound brown lab, loves to walk 15 pound Scooter.  He puts Scooter’s leash in his mouth and off they go. On family walks, I walk Bob, Bob walks Jake, and Jake walks Scooter.  Abbey just follows the parade route.

Because of the size difference, if Scooter decides not keep up with Jake, he gets pulled along. For this reason, Jake usually walks Scooter on the way home, after Jake has tuckered himself out and is more likely to move at Scooter’s pace.

For whatever reason, this morning Jake was especially exuberant and Scooter was exceptionally reluctant.  Because Jake was getting to walk his dog from the get-go, his enthusiasm could not be curbed.  Here’s how the scene unfolded in my neighborhood.

Jake was gleefully galloping along.  Scooter was resisting and, therefore, skidding along the sidewalk.  I was trying to catch up to both dogs, all the while coaching Scooter to stop resisting and go with the flow and pleading with Jake to stop pulling and cut Scooter some slack. 

The madness stopped when Jake cut the corner a little too close and lost his grip on the leash.  I caught up and the lecture began.  It went something like this: 

Scooter, why must you resist?  Jake is 100 pounds heavier than you are.  If you surrender and enjoy the ride, Jake will get you where you want to go much faster than you ever will on your own. Granted, you forfeit your right to stop and sniff at your favorite spots.  But there will be sniffing spots where he’s going. Why do you think he’s in such a hurry to get there?” 

“Jake, not everyone is as enthusiastic and gung-ho about this adventure as you are. Not everyone sees the value in being the first, the fastest, and the most focused.  A near death experience does not guarantee another will see the light.  In fact, it may have the opposite effect.

At this point both dogs just wanted to go their separate ways.  Before I could put myself in time out to think about their behavior, they’d forgotten it.  But since they went to the trouble of staging this lesson for me, I promised them I’d tell their tale (as they wagged their tails) in today’s blog.

Now you can share if you dare.  Who or what is showing up with news to amuse you?

Follow Your Fascination

Joseph Campbell popularized the directive “Follow your bliss.”  While this is great advice in theory, it’s a bit more complicated in practice.  
Like other well-meaning mantras such as “Just be yourself” or “Don’t worry, be happy“, not knowing the particulars of how to do this makes the whole concept more confusing than constructive.  Especially when the prevalent cultural messages are to be like everyone else and worry about everything from aging to overeating to incontinence or impotence and the side effects of taking the proposed solutions.
It can be very confusing indeed to follow the lead of the ad men and women who do their darnedest to convince us that all we need to be happy is whatever they are selling.  I’m not knocking the media.  There are products that make me very happy I’d never know about had they not done their job.
But a clearer, more consistent way of finding out how to relax, be myself, and discover what makes me happy is to follow my fascination.  
I’m a big fan of Gretchen Ruben’s book and blog “The Happiness Project” and her latest book, “Happier At Home.”  Gretchen went to law school and clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before discovering her real love was writing.  Her decision to follow her fascination and give up her career in law and pursue writing paid off.  She has since become a New York Times bestselling author and a leading expert on all things happiness.
Twelve personal commandments and eight splendid truths make up her happiness manifesto and serve as very specific examples of how we might adapt these concepts to our own life.  First on her personal commandments is to “Be Gretchen.”   
While this smacks of “Just be yourself,” Gretchen is the first to admit how very challenging this can be.  She makes this concept much easier to assimilate by advising that what makes someone else happy, may not make you happy and vice versa.  She also warns that just because something “should” make you happy, doesn’t mean it will.
The surest indicator then is to follow your fascination, no matter how strange or quirky it may seem to other people.  
For example, I cannot get enough of listening to audiotapes. My favorite source for these is Sounds True or Nightingale Conantor Learning Strategies.   My car is like a mobile university.  If I’m driving any distance, I’m listening to one of my favorite teachers attempt to enlighten me on their area of expertise.
The irony of this is that I cannot stand listening to any other kind of talk radio and is probably the main reason (besides The Coffee House and The Bridge) I love Sirius XM radio.  
Bob, on the other hand, can listen to baseball, football, KMAQ, and all kinds of country stations before he’ll agree to listen to even one self-help cd.  What’s good for the goose is clearly not good for the gander.  It also makes for interesting road trips and the necessity of noise cancelling headphones.
This year I have been fascinated with blogging.  Admittedly I was intrigued a few years ago when I started Midlife MacGyver, but not enough to pursue it with gusto.  
Where weekends of yesteryear were devoted to landscaping and digging through financial paperwork from three years ago for an IRS audit, weekends this year find me hanging out with my B-school buddies learning everything I can about the blogosphere. 
Implementation remains my biggest challenge since like a kitchen remodel, a business remodel takes more time than I think it should.  The good news is I don’t have to manufacture my enthusiasm.  I want to figure this out because I’ve wanted to figure it out most of my life. 
I’ve always had the dream, just not the technology.  Now that the technology is readily available, I just have to make the time.  Doing so while holding down a full time job makes the desire that much stronger because I have to consistently choose to make the time.
This is why doing anything less than what you love will probably lead to less than spectacular results.  Sooner or later, it gets difficult.  But sooner or later (okay, most likely later) you will have a breakthrough moment when you know whatever you are doing, however much time it takes, and no matter how hard it is, it’s absolutely worth it because you are following your bliss.
Until blissing out is your default mode of operation, just try noticing what continually captures your attention.  If you’re feeling a wee bit curious about something, check it out.  Notice your energy level, enthusiasm, and overall mood when you allow yourself to follow your fascination.
And if you feel like sharing, tell me about it below.   I’m fascinated by what you’re up to these days that’s making you happy.

Downloads from the Divine

Coyotes are such tricksters.

For the past couple of weeks several of them have discovered the dog food or squirrel corn or birdseed outside my house and considered themselves invited over for an early breakfast. This feast quickly turns into a raucous party that rudely returns me from dreamland to a reality of yipping and yelling that makes the hair on my head, neck, arms, and legs stand up.

It is not a soothing sound.

Unfortunately it sets off a chain of events that unleash the same yipping and yelling inside my head. Then it’s adios to the dream of sleeping in or sleeping at all. 

And then there are the cows.  “When exactly do the cows come home?”  you ask.  According to my calculations, at 4:21am.  That’s when the cows across the river start bellowing to their young to call it a night.  Or at least stay away from the coyotes.

Instead of tossing and turning, dousing myself with Rescue Sleep, or sliding headphones into my ears to lull myself back to sleep, I’ve decided to blog.

It appears my muse not only likes to speak in riddles but she also likes to speak at 4am.  I’ve often considered that because these Downloads from the Divine, as I like to call them, happen at this bewitching hour, and I usually sleep through them. 

But thanks to the coyotes, the cows, and now the early birds, this morning I am ready for dictation.

These downloads are like koans, or teaching questions, that may or may not have answers but somehow leave the student a little more enlightened.

The following are just a few of the downloads I received.  They may not all be for me, but since I’m up, I’ll write them down.  When you wake up, feel free to let me know if I missed any.

Here goes:

Would I rather be right or loved/free/happy?
What might be found, retrieved, or discovered today instead of lost?
What if difficult people are sent to teach instead of terrorize?
What if I allowed things to be the way they are, knowing I can’t yet see the perfection in them?
What if I could recall 3 blessings for every curse?
What if I could remember compliments as vividly as criticisms?
What if I stopped expecting others to live up to my expectations?
What if I could express my anger in a way that is clean, clear, conscious, and concise?
What if instead of trying to craft a perfect blog post I just posed some questions?
Where might one small change make the biggest difference?
How would I feel if I ate a consistently healthy diet instead of a habitual one?
How can I gracefully accept this awareness of time passing and be fully present?
What if people are in therapy because of me?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
What if the best thing to do at 5:30am is to go back to bed?

Be Our Guest

It’s hard to believe it was already a week ago that I was checking into The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in preparation to attend the Beyond Rubies conference.

While it’s not standard practice to praise the competition, I have to give credit where credit is due. And this community college has definitely got it going on in the hospitality/culinary arts arena.

I can say this because I grew up in the hospitality business.  My first couple of jobs out of college were at The Worthington Hotel in downtown Ft. Worth and DFW Hilton Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas.

I had arguably the best job at these facilities.  I supervised or managed the health clubs, taught fitness classes, and was the buyer for the Pro Shop.  This meant I got to shop a lot and purchase anything from ties to tights to t-shirts and sportswear.  Consequently my uniform was an assortment of shorts, polo shirts, socks, and shoes in every color.

Like Julie on The Love Boat, if there was fun to be had, it was my job was to make sure people had it.

Thanks to my employee discount, I also got to stay in fabulous hotels whenever I traveled.  I learned to spot an exceptional facility and pick up on the code of conduct or mission statement that guides the actions of the employees from the maids to the maître d’. 

The Hotel at Kirkwood is a teaching facility.  A four diamond teaching facility, I might add.  What better way for students to learn about the hospitality business than to work in it and learn firsthand what it’s all about?

Believe me, after my share of manager on duty weekends, there’s more to running a hotel than most guests ever want to know.  The notion of gracious hospitality was so ingrained in me that I still can’t step foot in a public restroom and not feel obligated to pick up after people.

Needless to say I was impressed with everything about the experience. From the facilities to the event to the attendees, it was well worth the price of admission and the effort required to catapult myself out of my comfort zone.

While my overt mission was to bring back ideas on how we might host a similar event at our college, my covert mission was to learn something new about myself.  What do I know now that I didn’t know a week ago other than I don’t know my way around Cedar Rapids and attempting to figure it out at night in the middle of a rainstorm is not advisable?

I know I’m incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do what I do at work and at home.  I’m lucky to have adventures but even luckier to share them with you… although I’m still trying to figure out how you might sample the superior salad I had with chocolate shavings sprinkled on top.

We’ll attempt to savor that some other day when a sensory delight is called for.  Right now some shut eye is what we need.

Food for Thought

Long time no blog. 

It used to be six months seemed like a long time not to blog.  Now six days feels longer than six months ever did. Maybe because it didn’t become a habit before or there was no expectation that I would write more than every once in a while.

Now summing up the day in 6 words or 500 seems the best way to give a day its due.  It differentiates these 24 hours from all the others that run together if I let them.

It’s alternately exhausting and exhilarating to be present enough during the day to be able to capture the essence of it at the end of the day. It’s truly its own reward if I have the discipline to do it.

Fortunately for me, discipline is part of my tortoise tendencies.  Since I’m the tortoise in the tortoise and hare pair, my slow and steady pace may not always win the race, but does guarantee I’ll cross the finish line, usually at the eleventh hour.

Being the hare in the tortoise and hare pair, Bob goes like a house on fire all day. But once he hits the couch, his fire is extinguished.  He may be the physical fire fighter but I’m the metaphorical fire fighter in this household.  (Go ahead and say that five times.)

As the metaphorical fire fighter, I smolder.  I can keep going provided I stoke that fire with enough snacks, dog walks, cat naps, song, dance, and occasional fluttering of jazz hands.

What writing has done for me is raise the bar on this smoldering aka my energetic output.  I used to think I had nothing left over for the rest of my life when I left work at the end of the day.

Now I walk into my newly remodeled kitchen and am inspired to create something delicious, or at least edible.  If that plan fails, which admittedly it often does, I can always write about it.

And this is the ultimate gift.  Every day life offers up an endless supply of food for thought. So as Scarlett O’Hara herself declared, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

Right now I’ve been stockpiling stories for six days. If I didn’t tell you at least one today, some were sure to spoil.  That adds the urgency to this emergency.  (That line or rather “who took the urgency out of emergency?” goes in my Emergency Room: The Musical script and is fodder for another day’s blog).

Every day something absurd, amusing, alarming, annoying, and altogether amazing happens.  It might just take a little imagination to spin it that way.  Once I start the spin, I can only imagine where you might take it.

So let’s sleep on this and see what stories start to stir.  Or if you’re an early reader, wake and wonder what the day will bring. 

Then let’s all report back here at Happy Hour on Hump Day for a tale telling treat, shall we?