We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

There’s nothing quite like traveling to a warm climate to shake me right out of a winter funk.  My six word summary when I woke up in Arizona went something like this:  Palm trees.  Mountains. Penny’s in Heaven.
I can pretend I blend in the Midwest but I come alive in the Southwest.  Even though my skin immediately feels the effect of no moisture in the air or on the ground, my brain is busy recalling all the things that make this place so special to me.
First of all, it looks different.  From the architecture to the landscape to the weather to the collection of cultures, there is no mistaking we’re not in Kansas – or Iowa as the case may be – anymore. 
There is significantly less green and an absence altogether of white stuff.  This changes the predominant color scheme to adobe brown, auburn, copper, magenta and buttery yellow.  These are my kind of colors.  
Since I wear these colors all the time at home, Saturday I decided to sport pink shorts (traded in the pink coveralls) and an orange shirt, making me look like a sherbet ice cream cone. This ensemble combined with the fabulous flower powered sandals I purchased at the Swap Meet created a similar visual to the pink haired octogenarian I also spotted there with sparkly star earrings the size of her face, a purple track suit, and yellow tennis shoes selling Viagra or some promise of youth.
I try all my flamboyant fashion statements on vacation. Bob gently reminds me that my parents have peeps here and have to suffer the consequences of my questionable choices.  I remind him they have had to suffer these consequences my whole life which is why they’ve won the Parents of the Year award for fifty years running.
Another reason I love it here is because people can be outside almost any time of the year (they claim it’s a dry heat), so bike trails, hiking trails, golf courses, rugged outdoor outfitter stores, open air markets, concerts and parks for people and dogs abound.  Lemons, grapefruit, and oranges are ripe for the picking, tempting me to pluck one as innocently as an apple in front of Eve.
Life is full of fun and interesting activities in Sun City.  What’s not to love about being able to golf, swim, bowl, or bike for a buck?  Caveat:  you have to have your parents’ permission or at least their activity pass.  
Don’t even get me started about the things that go on in these “retirement” villages.  My parents and their friends have more fun in four months than I do in four years. 
It does my heart good to hang with these spunky folks because they seem to be on to something to the key to happiness.  The combination of community, connection, sunshine, warmth and access to all kinds of culture and activities keeps them vibrant and engaged.    
We tend to think it’s all downhill once we hit a certain age, but this annual visit to my parents reminds me that although we may not have a choice as to what happens to us, we have a choice as to how we respond and consequently age.  I, for one, would like to follow in their footsteps and age with grace, good humor, and great friends.  
Today we’re off to explore Prescott, a funky art town that makes me incredibly happy for reasons I’ll save for the next post.  

Wherever you find yourself today, I hope you treat yourself to an adventure.

Less Is More

Sometimes less is more.  
After thirty-one days of writing 500 words a day, the challenge for March will be to succinctly sum up my day in a six word sentence.  This brings a whole new meaning to creative writing.
Writing is this delicate balance of eloquently saying what needs to be said without a word more. It’s censoring the monkey mind in order to make way for Shakespeare.  
In her fabulous book Wired for Story, Lisa Crone uses brain science to describe how our brains are wired to find patterns, details, clues, and the thread weaved throughout a story that ties it all together.  
The reason we love a good book or a movie is because it gives us the essence of an experience without all the bathroom breaks, deciding what’s for dinner, snow shoveling, bill paying, bed making, commuting, working, tolerating, care-taking moments that make up the majority of our days.
If something or someone is introduced in an episode of our favorite night-time drama, there’s a reason for it.  While the action is playing out on the surface, our brains are busily working overtime to solve the mystery that those seemingly insignificant clues provide so that we might figure out whodunit before the big reveal at the end of the hour.  
It’s that search for meaning or relevancy that keeps us constantly attempting to make sense of random events throughout the day.  Everything happens for a reason, we tell ourselves.  Although it’s really tough to explain why the keys were in the refrigerator this morning instead of the milk.
Being the spectacular spin masters that we are, we can use our powers for good or evil.  Whether our day takes a decided turn for the better of worse can be attributed to something that was said or done, lost or found, noticed or ignored. 
Catching ourselves in the act of twizzling (a word I’m adapting from  ice dancing moves that sounds more thrilling than simply spinning) we have a better chance of keeping our daily dramas in check so we might better capture the core of our day in six superb words.
I’m not a stickler for six words.  You might choose seven, eight, or four (like Patti Digh in her fabulous book Four Word Self Help).  You might need several sentences. Like that 70s game show Name That Tune, challenge yourself to name your day in as few words as possible.
I’m so excited about this new challenge I’ll give you a preview today.  Since I am heading to a place that does not require pink coveralls, ice cleats, or coats of any color and I’m not sure how much internet access I will have in the next week, we’ll let the excitement build and start in March. 
Here are some examples… 
No snow in Sun City so ….   (six word summary or cliff hanger)

Sunshine. No snow.  Must go. Now.  (six words/several sentences)

Arizona  (why write six words when one word says it all?)

Of course, you can start now and post your six word summaries below.

Dare Not To Compare

My mom gets more than her share of catalogs and magazines.  One day while visiting her I decided to peruse her impressive pile of publications.  As I skimmed through the articles in a few of the women’s magazines, I noticed every time a women’s name was mentioned, so too, was her age, as if that bit of information alone defined her.

I picked up some other magazines as well to see if this was a universal trend or one specifically aimed at women.  Much to my dismay most of the other magazines were also in on this “comparison conspiracy”.
If it wasn’t age, it was income.  If it wasn’t income, it was sex appeal.  If it wasn’t sex appeal, it was technological wizardry.  If it wasn’t technological wizardry, well, you get the picture.
Sure it’s interesting to know what other people are up to – especially successful or charismatic people.   While celebrities or Olympians or the new Olympic celebrities may inspire us or cause us to envy their achievements or advantages, their triumphs or failures don’t necessarily reflect our own.   
It’s often those closer to us that us are the real comparison conspirators.  The co-worker who got our promotion, the friend who lost the 30 pounds we set out to, or the client who just published her book trigger bouts of insecurity because surely we should be able to obtain the same results.
It’s easy to underestimate the effort that went into their success.  We can never know the mix of muscle and magic that led to their results.    
Our job is to stay focused on what we can achieve, how we can achieve it, who might help us achieve it, and why we want to achieve it in the first place. 
There will always be those who are wealthier, smarter, more attractive, have a quicker wit and a more sophisticated sense of style.  There will always be those who are older or younger, more or less driven, more or less qualified, and more or less creative. 
The key is not to compare our evolution and growth with that of someone else.  If this really is “our circus, our monkeys“,  whether someone else can make them fly matters only if that’s what we want our monkeys to do.  If so, we can always sign up for the flying monkey seminar offered by some wizard of odd and save ourselves the grief of figuring it out on our own.
Otherwise, dare not to compare.  Dare to share instead.

This Thing Called Love

Valentine’s Day defines February in much the same way Christmas defines December.  Whether you’ve jumped on the love bandwagon or not, you’re bombarded with images of a world ruled by romance and populated by passionate partners.

It’s not that I’m against love.  Oh no.  I’m all for it.  I believe love is a many splendored thing and, like Burt Bacharach, what the world needs now is love, sweet love.  (Funny, the things I remember from childhood piano lessons.)

It’s just that the idea of love that’s been sold to us from the beginning of time needs a little revision.  From fairy tales to scary tales (“reality” tv like “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”) to promises of soulmates and twin flames, how can the real possibly compete with the ideal?

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s the imperfections that endear another to me.  I’ve had my share of “perfection.”  It’s intimidating, exhausting, and self-indulgent, not to mention impossible to maintain.

What I absolutely adore in others are the things that make them unique.  Things like using “sassafras” in a sentence in an attempt to sound sophisticated, consoling an elder by singing her show tunes, being able to recite the Gettysburg address in its entirety, knowing how to solve story problems or anything to do with algebra, naming the constellations with confidence, caring deeply for the environment, or always making time to give a dog a bone.

I also adore this uniqueness in inanimate objects.  Last night I fell in love with the sunset.  Not just because it lit up the sky with shades of red, orange, and magenta, but also because it created a kaleidoscope of colors reflecting off the clouds in the opposite direction. 

Up until then I was feeling tired, cranky, and creatively challenged.  Once I stopped and marveled at the sunset, I felt energized, inspired, and deeply loved.

The thing about love is that we so often limit it.  There is no lack of love. There is only a lack of awareness of it in its many forms.  

It is freely offered to us in a smile from the toll booth attendant, a bird landing on our windowsill, a door held open by a stranger, a warm breeze blowing at our back, a cat napping next to us, a toddler being tickled, or a song sung soulfully by a street musician.

Yet we don’t expect love from life in general.  We expect it from those we love.  And we usually expect it on our terms. 

If the center of love is the heart, it helps to acknowledge that the words “hear” and “art” are both contained within the word heart.  There is an art to love that requires us to hear, open, allow, touch, feel, see, taste, experience without fear. 

We’ve all had our share of heartaches, heartbreaks, and heart “attacks.” No one willing signs up for these or imagines they will follow the infatuation phase.  Yet in my experience, the greater heartbreak is not to love at all. 

Though you may choose to celebrate Groundhog Day, Presidents’ Day, your birthday, anniversary, or the new moon with more exuberance than Valentine’s Day, if you allow love to sneak up on you in small, unsuspecting ways, you might just find it every day. 

* I first wrote and published this a few years ago in my monthly ezine, Everyday Alchemy.  I thought I’d dust it off and re-gift it to you this year in hopes that you’ll be my Valentine. 






Write Anyway

Every now and then it’s important to remind myself why I do what I do.  It’s especially helpful to create a manifesto when I set out to improve some part of my life or break a destructive habit or resolve to do something I’ve not succeeded in doing up to this point.

As I embark on yet another incarnation of my creative life, I find a writer’s manifesto is necessary to guide me through the content intensive phase of building a brand and giving my website and blog a makeover.

The Paradoxical Commandments written by Dr Kent Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders has been on my mind lately.  This seemed like the perfect piece to adapt to serve as my writing manifesto and see me through the times when I wonder whether all this reinvention is really necessary. 

Here’s what I came up with today.  I share it with you to serve as an example of something you might create for yourself, substituting the obstacles and resistance you face on a regular basis along with the thing you resolve to do anyway. 

To read the original commandments, click on the link above.  To read the version that has been attributed to Mother Teresa, click here.

Create one for yourself, then as always, share if you dare below in the comments.

Write Anyway

Forces may conspire to squelch my creativity,
be still and write anyway.

My muse may refuse to inspire,
log on and write anyway.

Exhaustion may convince me I’m too tired to take this on,
rest and write anyway.

Drama may attempt to declare dominance over my day,
keep calm and write anyway.

Rejection may unleash a lifetime of doubt,
ignore and write anyway.

Others may not read, agree, appreciate, or approve of what I write,
accept it and write anyway.

The pain may appear to be too terrifying to articulate,
trust the art of the heart and write anyway.

I may have said it all before and have no original thoughts,
repeat and write anyway.

I may be exposed as inconsistent, slightly irrational, or overly emotional,
risk and write anyway.

There may be 10,000 tangible things on my to-do list,
honor the intangible and write anyway.

I may need more training, guidance, editing, or research to succeed,
seek support and write anyway.

There may be millions of writers reaching for the same dream,
join them and write anyway.

In the final analysis, we all are trust fund babies of the Great Creator.
To claim my inheritance, all that is required is to write anyway.

Just Keep Swimming

Please note I did not title this, “Just Keeping Snowing,” although clearly someone must have sent up that request at the same time someone else requested subzero temps.

Maybe it was those winter Olympians who wanted us to be able to relate to the conditions they thrive in. Let me just say they had me at “luge“.  Nothing more is required to earn my respect.

Lately I’ve been awed by athletes of all kinds.  With the spotlight on the winter Olympics and the incredible amounts of training required to get there, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of training required to get us through the day.

There are situations that require every ounce of determination and discipline we possess to get us through a meeting, a difficult conversation, or an after-school activity involving more than three events going on at the same time.

Phrases like, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” or “The only way out is through,” come to mind when I think of situations that call for perseverance. They don’t sugarcoat the fact that the present moment isn’t pleasant or current circumstances in no way simulate the comfort of the couch.  

They imply that whatever you’re in the middle of is tough, challenging, or attempting to kick your ass, but you are equal to the task.  In this moment, you can deal with whatever is in front of you and will eventually figure it out, no matter how badly you’d rather be playing ping pong.

In order to do this, you must do what my favorite blue fish Dory does.  Just keep swimming.  Or snowboarding. Or writing.  Or working.  Or doing what’s necessary to keep your family afloat or yourself sober or kids safe or your parents healthy or your business profitable or your self-esteem intact.

Challenges do not have to be dramatic.  You may need a degree of difficulty to keep it interesting, fresh, or engaging, but high drama is not necessary.

As I was entertaining this idea of just keep swimming, I came across a TED talk by a woman who blew it right out of the water (pun intended).

When Diana Nyad says just keep swimming, she means just keep swimming for over 50 + hours straight from Cuba to Florida.  I listened to the details with disbelief.  Can any human actually do this?  Especially a woman who is 64 and already attempted it 4 times?  And the real question is, why would she want to?

But incredibly she did!  She lived to tell about it and encourage us to never give up.

I love to swim, if I have my zoomers, hand fins, swim cap with flowers, water iPod, and an open lap lane in a relatively warm and secluded pool.  I have no desire to swim in a shark infested, jelly fish ridden, pitch black salt water sea of unimaginable terrors.

My degree of difficulty lies in swimming without being detected by anyone I know.  All this ridiculous swim gear rivals my ridiculous winter gear.  But just as the pink coveralls keep me toasty in the frozen tundra, the swim gear makes my arms and legs work harder, and the music motivates me to swim longer and steadier than I might without it.

Having the right tools for the task makes all the difference.  Of all my tools, the one I wield with any predictability, power, or influence is my attitude.

So, might I suggest you jump in?  The water’s fine if you just keep swimming.

Super Sunday

I’m no football fan.  But there are things to appreciate about Super Bowl Sunday. 

As groups of party goers huddle together around chip dips and big screen tvs across the country, commenting more on the commercials than the game, I can retreat to the quiet of my uncluttered office, collect my thoughts, and possibly post them before the end of the game.

If that plan fails, I can sneak out to our local super store and grab some groceries, confident that the aisles will be relatively empty and I might actually return home with the one thing I set out to secure.

I like a good gathering as much as the next person, but I absolutely savor the times I can slip into something comfortable and soak up the silence that sets in at twilight.  Abbey, my resident muse and guardian angel dog, just curled up next to me as she has done every night for the past month as I sit down to blog. 

She knows the drill.  There will be much movement.  I seldom settle in one position for more than a paragraph.  Then my foot thinks it should jiggle, my leg wants to fold under my seat, my back needs to crack, my wrist longs for a good stretch, and I crave a snack at the precise moment Abbey craves a Busy Bone.

What a writer needs as much as a good idea is the ability to sit still and focus. All this contorting of arms and legs is kind of like the pregame show.  It’s required to build the hype and get me fired up and ready to write a few good words.

Ideas flirt with me throughout the day and compete for my attention.  Sometimes they even wake me up and insist on expressing themselves before my eyelids are open. 

This morning thoughts of the Brrry Scurry woke me.   I volunteer at the 4-mile race sponsored by our college and many local businesses to help raise money for scholarships for CCC students.  Yesterday I got my best assignment to date.  Actually any inside job is a good one since it’s usually quite cold outside, putting the brrrry in the scurry.

Yesterday I got to volunteer at the water table.  This meant after the runners were done I got to greet them with a “Woo-hoo!“, “Way to go!” and “Would you like some water?

Some jobs are thankless jobs.  This one was just the opposite.  I’ve never heard so many thank-you’s in one afternoon.  The more thanks I got the more “woo-hoos” I gave.  It was an endless appreciation loop,

Since Friday night I completed the blogging equivalent of a 4-mile race in cold and snowy conditions, I felt especially inclined to celebrate the success of the runners and walkers as they completed their goal.  While runners are their own brand of crazy complete with outrageous outfits, it was fun to acknowledge every one of them who came up to the water table.

We all have that thing that we will make time to do, not because we’re getting paid the big bucks, but because we cannot not do it.  It’s who we are at our core. 

What would make someone want to run 4 miles in February in Iowa?  Over 500 people showed up to do just that, each with their own reason for being there, some traveling from neighboring states.

I love the idea of manifestos.  So much so that when I had one of those milestone birthdays, I put together my midlife manifesto, made a  little movie illustrating my ideas, and started declaring all kinds of things. 

But manifestos are only the beginning.  Like mission statements, they only work if we actually abide by them.  To paraphrase the good book, in the beginning, there might be the word.  But if our actions don’t back up those words, we might as well save ourselves the trouble of uttering them.

So on super Sunday I’m skipping the shenanigans that go along with the big game and instead celebrating the commitment that got the teams there, got friends together to watch, got creative people putting out their edgiest, funniest or riskiest ads, got runners running for a cause, and got me back in my blogging chair.

Game on!

PS – Just as I was about to hit “publish” the ad I’d been waiting all night to see came on.  If you’re guessing it was the Budweiser one with the puppy, the “ponies”, and my favorite song by Passenger, Let Her Go, you’re right. 

Write Words, Carry On

 “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.  
After enlightenment;  chop wood, carry water.

This Zen koan is what Day 31 is all about. Like most Zen koans, or seemingly illogical questions (What is the sound of one hand clapping?) and answers given to students by Zen masters, this one may require some explaining.   

Or not.  When I was looking for links to explain this concept I came across a production company  called Chop Wood, Carry Water.  “Just do the work, Grasshopper” is how they explained it.

I might have written about that early on, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until today. Today, Day 31 of the 500 Words a Day for 31 Days Challenge, I can say that nothing has changed and everything has changed. 

In the spirit of Chop Wood, Carry Water my new mantra shall be,  “Write Words, Carry On.

Who knew doing something I’ve been doing my whole life would suddenly define the rest of my life?  We all know I wouldn’t have done it without you. 

So, before I go any further, let me express my heartfelt gratitude to every single one of you who read even one blog post.  For those of you who read all of them, I give you my first born.  Oh right, I don’t have children.  A Himalayan salt lamp would surely be a fitting token of my appreciation.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done something that feels this important or necessary to my introverted self.  My extroverted self is out there every day, advising students and choosing counter tops, introducing Visiting Artists, and alternately dispensing tension tackling tips and inciting minor meltdowns. 

Yesterday I was asked to be on our local radio station to talk about upcoming programs at CCC.  This is fun and good as long as I don’t allow myself to go off topic.  While there may be a mute button on the microphone, it doesn’t work once you’ve already said something regrettable. 

After those 15 minutes of fame, or infamy as the case may be, I had to return to the mother ship to attend several meetings.  By the end of the day I wanted nothing more than to shut up.  But to quit talking on Day 30 was inconceivable.  

I sat down at my computer and starting moving my fingers in a familiar pattern.  The clickety-clacketity of the keyboard cajoled me into a conversation about the things I really wanted to say.

Most conversations stick to predictable topics like the weather or would we like fries with that or other harmless repartee.  But every now and then someone will walk into our lives and start talking directly to our souls.  That’s scary stuff, if you’re not expecting it. 

Personally I am on the lookout for these kinds of conversations whenever and wherever I can find them because that connection with another is what I live for.  If there are really funny stories mixed in, I’m completely beside myself with joy and utterly incapacitated.

Let me know one spectacular thing about you and I promise not to forget and will probably out you as the super star you are in this blog.   Bob already has more followers than I do and he hasn’t written a word.  My friend Barbi has yet to be mentioned but because last night she left me leopard tissues and a burlap pouch with a bird in it to hang on my door and remind me of spring, she gets a special shout out.

The plan from here on out is to post two or three times a week.  The exact days are yet to be determined but I’m thinking Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The other days I will be writing, just not for an audience.  I’ll keep you posted on A Penny for Your Thoughts and give you sneak peeks into other projects. 

The fun has just begun. So Bob and I are off to celebrate.  Unless he and his followers have already got the party started.

I’ll leave you with my mantra…. Write Words, Carry On!

Or if you are a runner…

Run on! … even if it snows…. at the Brrrry Scurrrrry tomorrow at CCC at noon.

 My friend Ann and her crew do a fantastic job!!