Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Author Your Thoughts

Sometimes our thoughts can be as destructive as a room full of five year old boys, or monkeys, which are sort of the same thing. We carry mental garbage including worry, fear or criticism even though it’s widely documented that negative thoughts affect our health. Negative thoughts can cycle endlessly like a ubiquitous, annoying Christmas song in December. Sometimes you just need to throw a stick in the spokes.
Worrying will never prevent the big bad wolf from blowing your best laid plans into smithereens. Only our reactions to life are under our control. When something we perceive as negative happens, we naturally feel justified reacting with fear,  anger or sadness without realizing that we can choose a more enjoyable response. The negative reaction serves no useful purpose. Marcus Aurelius said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your estimate of it...”.
Positive thoughts and behaviors attract positive circumstances. There’s always something to feel grateful for and happy about that most people take for granted.
It takes Herculean strength to banish the negative noise inside our heads and expect the best in ourselves, other people and our lives. Equanimity requires that we relinquish the illusion that we can control outcomes. We ruin this moment worrying about things that will never happen.
Mark Twain said, “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life. Some of which actually HAPPENED.”

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Cats Are Perpetual Two Year Olds

After much contemplation, I've come to the conclusion that having cats is very much like having two year old human children who never outgrow their annoying habits. The reality is that I will never have nice furniture unless I keep it covered with the armor of thick blankets to defend against certain "people's" claws. Yes, Frodo, I'm looking at you. And although cats provide excellent pest control, they aren't very good at cleaning up their expelled hair balls. People try to comfort me by saying that my 30 pound cat is not fat, but is a typical "Maine Coon" although this remains unproven as he was rescued from the SPCA without pedigree. For all anyone knows, Strider is really a long lost Russian prince. Said fat cat is not so good at keeping himself completely sanitary but I'm sure he would consider a diaper to be ignominious and I don't think potty training is part of his future plans.
As I mentioned in a previous post, since cats really are always on the wrong side of the door, I get as much undisturbed sleep as any mother of toddlers. And like human children, cats would rather play with the box than the costly toy that came in it.
Our human children eventually lose most of their inconvenient habits, or so we tell ourselves, but if we want to live with cats we will have to reconcile ourselves to a lifetime of destruction and messes in exchange for what they surely consider to be our privilege in living with them. Mark Twain said, "If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Good Old Days?

I recently mentioned how much I love Barnes and Noble. It is my mother ship. Today I heard the unthinkable news that my local store is going to close.  I'm making an effort to be all  philosophical and positive about it but I am failing miserably. I am, in fact, having an emotional tantrum that would raise the eyebrows of any self respecting two year old. For countless reasons, I don't like change. At all.
Although Gramps likes to tell us how much better life is now since we no longer have to walk ten miles uphill through the snow both ways, I still find the passage of time disturbing. I want to fix all of the things that I love permanently in place while allowing the bad things to drift out of existence. I was furious when my grandmother's house was bulldozed. Every time a favorite place disappears, I feel a void and no matter how much I love my now behemoth boys at every age, I still miss carrying them in the body pouch.
I've read a million sagacious quotes pointing out the necessity of "letting go" but it is still a challenge.
The butterfly has to stop being a caterpillar in order to become a butterfly. The tadpole becomes the frog. And most of us become more compassionate and peaceful as the years pass.
I love to quote the wise ones. If only I could always walk my talk. Christopher Columbus said, "You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore." And  Dr. Seuss said, "Don't cry because it's over.  Smile because it happened."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Go Your Own Way

According to authors and philosophers, variety is the spice of life. So why does the world continue to pressure people to conform? I'm reminded of all the people in The Emporer's New Clothes who convinced themselves that the king wasn't running around in his birthday suit just because they did not want to stand out from the crowd and question what they had been pressured to believe.
In the 70s, women wanted stick straight hair like Cher and Marcia Brady. In the 80s, thanks to Bon Jovi, everyone wanted a perm and too much mousse. And then came  the flatiron for the curly haired girls who want to subdue their DNA.
And don't even get me started on the backsides. At one point everyone was in an uproar because the supermodels all looked like skeletons on a diet and now the girls aren't happy unless they have a big "booty"?  Let's not forget the disastrous results of plastic surgery on the celebrities who feel pressured by an industry that requires everyone to look no older than 22.
It used to be considered radical to have a tatoo but now it's unique to be ink free.
Fashion is an arbitrary tyrant. Jeans have ranged from "mom jeans" that come all the way up to your neck, to lowriders that allow us all the dubious privilege of sporting the "plumber butt" look. For centuries men wore long hair and now, even in today's supposed atmosphere of acceptance, long haired men are discriminated against by employers.
People feel pressured to seek careers that are considered prestigious and expressing opinions is like dancing blindfolded through a minefield.
It takes incredible strength and courage to be exactly who we want to be and sadly, most people take half of their lives to realize that they've been making decisions to please other people. We have limited time on earth and should spend as much time as possible being who we want to be.
There is a story that Dr. Seuss' father criticized his drawings and said that they did not look "real" but his mother, thank goodness, encouraged him to draw things his own way. Dr. Seuss later said, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

One is Not the Loneliest Number

Our culture glorifies romance. Movies, music and books insist that happiness can only be found in romantic relationships. A great relationship has many benefits but by desperately seeking one, many people end up compromising themselves and accepting a relationship that brings them more misery than happiness. In a bad relationship, people bring out the absolute worst in each other and it's hard to like yourself when you are constantly on your worst behavior. Some people even seem to think that hitting each other with frying pans indicates passion.  I once read this quote, "A bad marriage makes you lose your fear of death." Ouch. That's life changing. If given the choice between a lousy relationship and being alone, most people are too terrified to make a change. But although growth and transformation can seem daunting and painful, the results will more than compensate.
Solitude is often mistaken for loneliness but it is necessary if we ever want to know ourselves. Being alone let's us hear ourselves think. It allows us to remember who we really are and what we want without the influence and expectations of others. Being alone helps us to become more confident, capable and independent.
As Einstein said, "Be a loner. That gives you time to wonder, to search for the truth...make your life worth living."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Listen to the Four Year Old

When I was four years old, my mother made what she probably believes to be the worst mistake of her life; she allowed me to choose my own shoes. They were red, canvas sneakers and like a dark magician, it seemed I could conjure them at will. My mother would subdue my wild little feet into lacy socks and those horrible shiny black shoes for church but I would smuggle the red sneakers into the back seat and surreptitiously change into them. Having four kids, my mother was too distracted to notice until it was too late and she was forced to endure the shame of having her youngest daughter displaying highly unfashionable footwear to the entire congregation.
Her second regret might be sewing a jumpsuit for me out of blue fabric covered in red smiley faces. I wore it so long that not only did I appear to be waiting for a tsunami, but since it was one piece I could no longer stand up straight and had to stoop and slump like Quasimodo to avoid ripping my jumpsuit in half. I was an aberration of the feminine, graceful swan my mother expected but no one could have said that I didn't know my style!
Through the years, the world encourages us to conform but we would do better to trust our four year old selves.  I've been called a tomboy among other things. My sons tell me I am the Peter Pan to their Lost Boys.  As the old saying goes, when someone says something to you about yourself, well, "if the (red) shoe fits"........you know the rest.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Save the Books

As I write these thoughts for people to read online, I am hoping that electronic devices never cause the extinction of books. You know, paper and ink. I especially love hardcovers. I'm in love with books, period. I read my favorites so many times I can quote them; The Hobbitt, Fablehaven, Great Expectations and reference of all kinds including nature or travel books loaded with photos that allow us to experience every thing the world has to offer from a park bench. As a kid, I read the encyclopedia from A to Z and a dictionary that almost outweighed me. And before I could crack the magical code, my long-suffering sister read to me. I would wiggle with intolerable anticipation while waiting to see the dog party in "Go, Dog. Go!"
And then came that ingenius invention, the bookstore cafe'. When I walk into Barnes and Noble I'm immediately intoxicated by the combined scents of books, coffee and baking cookies. I never want to leave! No wonder you find people sleeping in the armchairs. Maybe they are being educated by osmosis.  Do you think they would notice if I brought in a cot and my cats?
Books look beautiful in a room, they feel good to hold and did I mention the smell? There are many advantages to the new paperless world but if books ever become extinct, please bury me with the last one!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Worth the Wait

When I was a kid, before the days of the internet and video recorders (yes, there was such a time) I would wait eagerly all year to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. I was mesmerized by Tom Turkey, the Garfield balloon and Santa in his snow goose sleigh. We also had to wait all year for "Miracle on 34th Street" and I envied the little girl in the movie for living on the parade route. That movie was worth watching even if only to see Santa whack that smug shrink with his cane. If you had the tragic misfortune to miss those holiday specials, you had to resign yourself to a year of waiting.
This year, I missed the parade on Thanksgiving, but the next day on my way home from work I saw a cloud formation that bore a remarkable resemblance to a line of parade animal balloons, (see photo below). I clearly saw a baby elephant, whale, snail, duck and rabbit.  Or maybe my imagination is just over developed from reading "The Hobbit" one too many times.
I digress. My point, and I did have one, concerned waiting. Instead of settling for and marrying the first schlep we meet, sometimes it pays to wait for the person we want. Chocolate needs time to ferment and I assume croissants need time to rise, (I don't know because they sound way too difficult to make).
I boldly state that it is a universal truth that in this world of instant gratification, some things are just worth the wait.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Step Away From the Credit Card

As the aptly named "Black Friday" approaches, normally sane and courteous people are preparing to morph into ravenous, ruthless spenders. I know there are millions of books about financial security and wealth building but it sort of all boils down to this. Stop spending.
Are Americans the only people who actually pay for storage units and buy books telling them how to organize all of the junk they never use? Instead of trying to store all of that stuff, wouldn't it be easier not to buy it in the first place? After books on clutter prevention have topped bestsellers' lists, people are still dedicating a whole day to buying stuff.
Debt puts us in bondage. Instead of feeling deprived and telling yourself that you "can't" buy something, choose to allocate that money to savings and investments that will eventually buy your freedom.
We all agree that Einstein knew a thing or two, so please humor me and read this quote.  "Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.  He who understands it, earns it....he who doesn't, pays it."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Cat is Always on the Wrong Side of the Door

The cat yowls to come in but once inside, decides that the place he just left is more desirable and proceeds to yowl to get out. There is currently a lot of research concerning hedonistic adaptation. In English, this roughly means that although a change can make us happy at first, we will eventually return to our baseline level of happiness. If we have something pleasant daily, it becomes habitual and taken for granted.
A new job, city or relationship is intoxicating, but the only way to continue enjoying it is to improve our baseline ability to search for and appreciate the benefits our lives currently offer instead of thinking that the proverbial grass would be so much greener if we had something different.   As Einstein says, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Chocolate is a Bean

It seems that the scientists are on board with chocolate. They say it's filled with antioxidants and mood elevating substances. And it's a BEAN that actually tastes good!  What's not to like? I ask you?!
What would the world be without chocolate? Can you imagine the Christmas stockings, Easter baskets and trick or treat bags? Do I even need to mention Valentine's Day?
Chocolate was once considered a rare extravagance. A cacao tree will only grow within 10 (some say 20) degrees of the equator. That would leave most of us chocolate deprived if not for modern shipping methods.
To renew your appreciation, do yourself a favor and read the classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". Just be sure to have a sweet stash within reach!

Grace Under Pressure

Was it Hemingway who said, "Courage is grace under pressure"? I don't enjoy Ernest but I love the Rush album that I assume was named for the quote. Grace under pressure describes the word equanimity. Equanimity is my favorite word. Do all people have favorite words or only those of us who read encyclopedias and dictionaries for relaxation?
Have you ever been in a hurry and the person in front of you is driving twenty mph under the speed limit as if he hasn't noticed that he is no longer driving  a covered wagon? At this point we can behave in a way that would make Cruella de Vil look like Mr. Rogers or we can remain calm and attempt to find some humor in the situation. Unless there is an obvious, immediate solution, sometimes we can strengthen our characters by tolerating inconvenience with equanimity. It also helps to put what's irritating us into perspective. When considering all of the real tragedies that occur, are we really justified in having a cow over an inconvenience? I think not.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's Good to Be Queen

I love bees.  I especially love honeybees. They are decorative AND useful. I love that the color of their little bodies matches the luxurious golden color of the honey they create. They are the world's most important pollinators and they take what is widely available (nectar) and transform it into a valuable product that humans have coveted for centuries. We depend on bees to pollinate our food supply. Another seemingly magical ability they have is transforming an insignificant larvae into the crucial queen by feeding her royal jelly. We would all benefit from emulating their ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Some people make the unfortunate mistake of lumping bees in with wasps. Wasps can be very aggressive and when associated with bees, can cause people to have an unfounded fear of bees. Unless we go out of our way to disturb bees, they are peace loving creatures. At different times, I've seen honeybees share a flower with bumblebees, butterflies and hummingbirds. There's another example for us. The world needs bees for a plethora of reasons. Let's protect them. Long live the Queen!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Naturally Happy

It's hard to be grumpy when surrounded by nature. If you pay close attention, you'll notice that the wind makes a different sound in each type of tree. I absolutely love the wind. On windy days the whole world seems so alive. The trees seem to be dancing!
Water makes a variety of music depending on if it's part of a fountain or waterfall. The sounds of nature are drowned out by the noises of man. Make a point of listening for the sounds that are widely tuned out including thunder, rain, waves, birds and insects. Nature sounds are in meditation music for a reason.

One Man's Weeds Are Another Man's Flowers

I once knew a very wise man who said, "Weeds are just flowers that you didn't plant." So many people go to war with weeds. They cover their property in chemicals trying to make a golf course lawn that would never naturally exist. Wouldn't it be easier and healthier to just let the wildflowers take over? The butterflies and bees would flourish and increase their pollination which is vital to humans.
Take the time to look for roadside wildflowers. They are so diverse, you can find ten different kinds in a 12 inch area. They are exquisite, minute masterpieces that would make an extravagant mouse-sized bouquet. Wildflowers remind us that sometimes the best things are the ones we didn’t plan or pay for.

Happy With Less

There was a time when most people cared very much about what the general public thought of them.  People felt the need to have large, expensive, and therefor, impressive houses and cars. What I really love about our current culture is that it is considered cool to have less. Instead of being viewed as inferior, a person who chooses a smaller house or decides to keep his old car, is now considered environmentally responsible.  A financially modest lifestyle is now something to proudly embrace instead of reluctantly tolerate.
Who wants to be owned by her house or be responsible for loading up the landfills?  As my Aunt says, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Last month, I was evacuated from the path of a potentially deadly hurricane with my three very large teenage sons and two cats. The only hotel that accepted pets was an expensive luxury resort. When we arrived, we were surrounded by luxury cars and limos. The perplexed valet could not figure out how to work the (broken) power locks on my vintage SUV. I proceeded to crawl into the back seat to unlock the doors. Not at all drawing room style. My SUV is 13 years old and boasts nearly  300,000 on the  odometer. What parent of three boys in her right mind would want a nice car? I make an effort to live below my means which includes avoiding car payments and debt of all kind in favor of saving for investments and emergencies.
After we were happily settled in our room, one of the boys commented on the poor valet who tried to do his job with dignity although our car would have made the Beverly Hillbillies proud.
My son then sagely summed up the situation and stated, "The reason we have the money to stay in this hotel without going into debt is BECAUSE we have an old car." Touché.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pay Attention

Everyone has seen a beautiful sunset, but a moonset is something else altogether. In September, while driving to work early in the morning, I saw a gigantic orange ball to the West. I astutely assumed it had to be the moon since everyone knows the Great Pumpkin only appears on Halloween. It was low in the sky and I was looking for a place to pull over that allowed a clear view of the horizon. I should have stopped and taken a picture as soon as I saw my firey moon because within two minutes it had vanished. Something so lovely and rare existed for such a brief time. I guess we can't measure value by its duration.

Trying to Turn a Wall Into a Door

I know a person (that would be me) who labors under the delusion that every good thing that happens to her is to her credit and every bad thing is a result of a poor decision she has made or a lack of planning.
How is it that with the proof of vastly different siblings who were raised in the same home, we continue to insist that we are in control of outcomes?  We press the elevator button repeatedly and spam the enter button rapidly as if our sheer effort and determination can bend reality.
Like with those Chinese Finger Traps, we are oblivious to the fact that the harder we struggle, the more we feel trapped. Maybe we should just make a point of acting with our best intentions and then letting go. Tell the truth, do the right thing and then throw it to the four winds. The result will be so much better than anything we try to wrestle into existence.