Monthly Archives: December 2013
My Mom and I recently went on a trip to the beach together. It’s always fun, and quite revealing, when you take a road trip with another person, but especially so when you are held hostage in a car with someone you have known all your life. You just get some of the best and funniest stories. One of the favorites from the last trip goes like this:
Several years ago, when I was a youngster, my Mom had some issues with her feet that drove her to the podiatrist. It was highly likely the damage was caused by wearing spiky high heels to work and everywhere else for years, and probably was made worse by all the dancing she did over the years in those shoes. The doc suggested surgery for her on both feet and while most patients would do one foot, recover, then do the other foot, my Mom, the consummate overachiever (I no longer wonder where I get that attribute myself) decided she would rather have the surgery on both feet and get it over with all at once.
When the surgery was completed successfully and the recovery was launched, the doctor had her come in for a visit to get fitted with “shoes” she could walk in if needed without her feet bending during the recovery process. By necessity, the shoes were made of a flat piece of wood with straps to hold them, much like a sandal, but with no bend or play in them at all. When she walked, it was in a Frankenstein-type manner, and a rather humorous view, to say the least. I was young, but I totally remembered those shoes. My sister and I even tried them on a few times, and almost killed ourselves trying to walk in them.
Christmas time arrived and all the galas and parties and events….and Mom was wearing wooden shoes everywhere. Now my Mom is a social gal, prone to attend events and much like me she is ready at the first “Do you want to go…” that falls from anyone’s lips. So when her ladies’ bunco group planned their annual Christmas party, there was no question Mom would attend. But even more interestingly, when we heard they planned to have a night of music and dancing at a local hang out, it didn’t shock us at all when she told Dad she wanted to go and might be dancing….wooden shoes and all. This was in a day and time when women in a group like this would go, dance, minus their significant others and just have a night of fun out, and my Mom was not gonna miss an opportunity. The other bunco women thought it was crazy for her to think about dancing, given the shoe situation, but she was determined.
My Mom has always looked young for her age, and being a petite brunette with big brown eyes and a classy lady in dress and style, she has always been quite the looker. So it was not surprising she was one of the first of the gaggle of women asked to dance. She accepted the outstretched hand of her prospective partner and as she is walking slowly to the floor she whispers to her partner “I want to tell you before we start dancing, I have on wooden shoes.” He laughed and muttered some kind of funny remark to her and she quickly said “No really I do, I had foot surgery” and she lifts the hem of her long skirt a bit so he can see the weird accessory. She continued ” So I will have to go slow, I think I will be fine and can slow dance, but I understand if you don’t want to dance with me.” The man grinned and said “Sugah, if you had four legs and horseshoes on your feet I’d still want to dance with you!” So they headed out to the floor to give it a whirl. After they started dancing, she was doing quite well, and her partner says “I bet you are a teacher.” People assumed this all the time for some reason, her manner I guess, but she shook her head no and said “But people ask me that all the time.” The man questions “Well, if you aren’t a teacher what do you do?” She never broke a smile and said ” I’m with the rodeo.”
This story came to mind again this morning when I got a message of a past acquaintance’s death. This was the third person in two days who had passed away and I was shocked at each one. The first, a former customer, was found in her home by a family member right before Christmas. She had been gone three days and no one knew. She was a nice lady, but a little odd. When my cleaning staff would arrive at the home in the past, she would have the front door unlocked for them and would retire to the bedroom for the entire time the staff cleaned, as much as 4 hrs. They rarely if ever saw her or had any interaction with her at all. The second was a former high school classmate, beauty queen type, sweet and kind to everyone, a talented dancer and teacher in my area for almost 30 years. She had lung cancer that went into remission then resurfaced into brain cancer. At age 50, it was such a loss to her friends, family and our community. The third was a round dance teacher and cuer, nationally known and beloved by all. She was shot down on the front porch of her home and the details even now are sketchy as to what happened, but the loss is devastating to the community of dancers and her family and friends.
I thought of Mom’s story and wondered of the three people who had lost their lives, who was wearing wooden shoes…
Two lived life right up till the end in the way they loved. They were doing the things that made them happy, spent time with those who made them smile and laugh, never turned down an opportunity to go and see and absorb life and what it had to offer to them. The third, lived much of a hermit existence, regretfully lonely and alone, and I sadly believe her end was not much different than her every day. She had no wooden shoes.
So many times, I have allowed less than perfect situations or circumstances to guide me in truly life altering decisions. Finances may not be quite what I think they should be to go away for a weekend of relaxation that is sorely needed immediately, so I chose to wait rather than just go when I need the getaway the most, and enjoy whatever I could for the amount I had to spend at the time. A person would come into my radar having quirks or weird little oddities in their personality and I would shy away from getting to know them better because they didn’t fit the criterion I had for those I associated with or allowed myself to spend time among. I lost potentially real and deep friendships because I wasn’t willing to step out of my comfort zone and let my guard down. Even now, physical incapabilities of the past might hamper my trying out new challenges or hobbies. I will be the ultimate loser in any and all of these scenarios. How simple the answer is for all of us…just get a pair of wooden shoes, try them on, walk in them a bit, and see our possibilities soar. We might end up with a different kind of odd footprint left behind, but more importantly we will end up with a better life walk in the end. One thing is for sure, it is always more fun to be a part of the rodeo itself than watching from the bleachers. If I am gonna get splinters as I go along anyway, I’d much rather get them in the soles of my feet…
Sometimes being adult isn’t all it”s cracked up to be. Depending on your actual job title or position you hold in your family, there is always something on the list to do and most likely someone to answer to that usually has different ideas about procedures and proper execution of items on your to do list. Stress ensues because you want to please the masses but remain true to your own ideals, implementation, or time tables for completion. There are looming deadlines, constant rushing from one place to another, screaming customers or crying babies in the background. Carpools are crammed into the front and back part of your day if you are a parent, kids have sports practices, piano recitals and birthday parties and you are their designated driver. If you are a business owner or employee, there are usually a million little bosses you answer to consisting of clients, immediate supervisors, government officials, or just good ole Uncle Sam.
The pressure to perform should be enough. The pressure to perform with success can be near deadly unless you allow yourself time here and there to regroup, revitalize and refresh. Many times this is shoved to the back burner because finances are not there for a vacation, time is not available, or work is so urgent that you cannot even think about taking time away. In my own life as a mom and eventual business owner, I worked long, tiring hours trying to make a living for my family. I knew if I didn’t work, the bills would not get paid, so it was difficult to justify taking time away for myself.
One weekend, several years ago, I got out my huge box of photos. I was looking for a particular work photo to use in an ad, and I started running across old high school pictures of friends and activities. I spent over two hours looking through the pictures, reliving those memories. There were photos of myself and my best friend, Melinda, hunched over her pool table in her basement where we spent many Saturdays. We always had a bevvy of boys there sharing root beer floats, chips and dip, and a friendly game of Around the World. Of course, even at 15, we both knew the halter tops and short shorts were the real draw.
I ran my finger over a photo of Al’s Golfhaven, where I received my first real kiss from a boy and smiled. We were surrounded by the sounds of screaming kids coming down the monstrous 3 story Sui-slide on burlap bags, the flying ping pong balls slammed into us by nearby players, and the drifting smells of popcorn, citronella candles, and sweaty pimple-faced kids….and it was just heavenly.
Other photos fell from the box in piles. There was the grassy knoll where we laid down panting after a fierce game of kick the can, a picture of myself and another friend sitting on the brick fence at the back of Graceland, feet dangling over and waiting for a glimpse of the King riding his horses. Pictures of my first day on my first job…a pony-tailed young girl behind the counter of Radefeld’s Bakery at age 15 looking very official in my pink smock and name tag. I could almost still smell the sweetness of that place when I held the picture in my hand and remembered how I washed sugar bits out of my hair every work day, and my tennis shoes stuck to every floor in the house if I wore them inside without wiping them down first. I ran across a photo of the old Katz Drugstore on the highway near my home…there was a soda fountain and I always sat on the same stool and sipped the flavor of the day, licking the froth from my lips as I chatted merrily with whomever my companion was for a sweet treat getaway that day. Then there were pictures of one of my great “loves” in high school, Alan…I was there in camo and boots, holding up the rabbit I had just learned to skin and dress. The things a woman in love will do for her man…
As I put away those photos, and pulled out the work ones I was looking for, I started thinking of those moments and began to realize it wasn’t so much the moments that made me smile, it was the time away from reality they represented that brought the real joy. Over the next several days, I determined to take mini-vacations, beginning immediately. I didn’t want to wait anymore to get enough money, or enough time to go away and get the refreshment I needed. I knew it would probably mean traveling alone, and being a social person I didn’t know how that would fit my personality. Up to that point I had never eaten alone, traveled alone, or tried an activity alone. But I found myself to be my greatest company and devoted friend. I was no longer afraid to disappear for a while, settle into me and what I needed, and enjoy life more in the process. I began to allow myself to be a kid again, throw off restraints, and redeem my time and my own life in the process. The life I lived became my “currency”….I didn’t have to have a lot of money or tangibles. I would join a group or activity and it would buy me the next experience in a way. I met people I would never have met sitting in front of a computer in a cold, dark little office. Consequently my life grew, and so did my work itself and my personal contacts.
I had been mistaken many years thinking if I didn’t work, if I “disappeared” from my responsibilities, then I would fail both at my work and my own life. In looking at the photos in the box, I knew a disappearing act was exactly what was needed. Today I take mini-vacations and gift myself with spans of quiet solitude. I can often be found reading my Kindle over a margarita in my favorite local Mexican hideout. You can find me at the lake nearby feeding the ducks and considering my next day trip. Visits to the mall and people-watching , or going to the park and swinging for a while is inked onto my calendar. My own deck has become a sweet retreat where I do my best mental manufacturing…researching places I want to go on my laptop, studying about things I want to do, foods I want to try, and odd and diverse cultures I want to learn about… and then I plan my next run in that direction and I don’t let lack of funds or time hamper my quest. There will always be time for work…there will not always be time for exciting experiences. Each of us has a magic wand over our own life. It is called choice, and all it takes is a little waving, a sprinkle of pixie dust and the magical word abracadabra….and your disappearing act becomes a place of your most memorable and cherished scenes.
So, what are you waiting for? Poof…
One of my great joys in life is reading. I have always been an avid reader, even as a very young child. The school librarian was my best friend by the age of 7 and I was introduced to many a dusty little volume of the adventures of Dick and Jane, Laura Ingalls Wilder or Curious George. Biographies, field study books, poems or prose…it really didn’t matter. I read them all and could often be found with my nose in a book while the other children did cartwheels on the playground at recess or hurried to the local bike trail for races after school. I loved books because they were filled with windows of opportunity. I could be anyone and do anything, and happiness and contentment were found simply in the whispering turn of a page.
My favorite book as a child, and actually still to this day, is Harold and The Purple Crayon. I remember seeing this book for the first time on Captain Kangaroo. The story held instant fascination for me. Here was a boy, even younger than I, who drew his world exactly as he wished it to be. The book began with Harold as it’s sole character. Harold wanted to go for a walk in the moonlight, but there was no moon, so he draws one. He has nowhere to walk, so he draws a path. The book is full of many adventures and twists and turns. At some point in the story, Harold is looking for his room, and ultimately he draws his own house and bed and goes off to blissful sleep.
Most recently, I stumbled across another “purple crayon” book by Tim Ferriss, an American author, entrepreneur, angel investor and public speaker. He is most notably recognized for his book titled ” The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich”. It is a book that focuses on “lifestyle design” rather than the traditional “deferred” life plan we all know and blindly engage in, which has you work grueling hours and taking few vacations for decades and save money in order to relax after retirement. Frustrated by overwork and lack of free time, Ferriss took a 3-week sabbatical to Europe. While continuing travels throughout Europe, Asia and South America, he developed a streamlined system of checking email once per day and outsourced pretty much his whole life to virtual assistants. The genesis of the book came when he made his personal escape from a workaholic lifestyle and started living the life most of us only dream about….and doing it all within the confines of 4 hours per week. When I finished that book, I realized he was a modern day Harold….drawing his life the way HE wanted it, not the way everyone else thought it should be. And I started taking stock of my own box of crayons and found it to have become pretty bare. Lots of broken pieces, some colors even missing, no purple to be found. It gave me a moment of great pause in the knowing. How could I draw my own life the way I needed, with whom, for what if I didn’t even have a purple crayon in my box? So I have set about on the journey to find my own purple crayons…lots of them.
Ferriss had the goal of upsizing his life by downsizing his work. Admirable, but certainly not the goal I gravitated toward, at least initially. My purple crayon pursuit was more a social adjustment than socioeconomic, and personal more than paycheck driven. For most of my life, I have been pretty much allowed myself and my pursuits to be dictated by the rules of society and the basic mores of our culture. You get up early, you work till exhausted, you eat a little and sleep even less, you fit in family and familial activities while you can and if there is enough time left over at the end of the day then you can have 30 minutes or so of personal development, but certainly do not count on it. Vacations only come once a year, if that. Meals are meat, taters, one green veggie and an occasional dessert. You work until retirement, if you are a lucky one and have the wherewithal to retire some day, and then you sit on the porch and rock the rest of life away. You do it this way because THEY say so….whoever THEY is. But I one day realized THEY do not have a purple crayon in their box. It was high time I went on my own purple crayon search.
Today I choose to draw into my life only what I want drawn, not what society thinks needs to be there. I spend time with those who enhance my current and established life, not seek to rule or change it. If I want to hop in the car and speed down to the coast to take in the Shrimp Festival and enjoy a Jimmy Buffett Concert, I simply throw a few things in the car and go and decide on the way down when I will return and I don’t ask someone’s permission first, I just do it. I meander into Baskin Robbins, when I indulge in the creamy treat on occasion, and I pick one of the 31 I haven’t ever tasted rather than go to my “favorites”. You can’t know about something unless you try it at some point, right? If I want to wear esoteric Ed Hardy tennis shoes with distinctly tailored clothing to a meeting, I do and I don’t stop to worry if I look alright or will be accepted by those I come into contact with. When I go out to eat with a friend, I take his suggestions on what to order, even if it is out of my norm or even a bit past my palate’s comfort zone. If and when I have the financial ability, I plan to travel to every spot on the planet, given the opportunity, and experience everything possible in the way of new cultures, foods, friends and customs. I want to learn to paint, really paint, to play the guitar even perhaps badly, and write books that people will fall in love with while reading and weep when they are over. And I have made it my mission to befriend and spend my time only with those who have those same purple crayon ideals.
Life is short…we have heard that phrase so many times it has become a bit cliche’, but the truth of it remains. This is it, here on this planet anyway, and I don’t want to look back at my own life and regret not having gathered the fascinating people, unparalleled experiences, and deeply passionate love I want for my own just because I was too afraid or too timid to buck the system a little and live my moments outside the normal little box that becomes the road map for most folks. It is not my dying wish that my last words be “Welcome to Walmart” because I haven’t allowed myself early retirement from the presets on this life machine and gone off to new journeys and adventures even if it takes a bit of drawing it all in as I go. A truly awesome life is not for the weak-hearted or frail….it is for those bold enough to not only read about it, but step into it, with a fistful of purple crayons in hand. I see the sun is coming up and my breakfast awaits…time to draw in a Waffle House…maybe this time in Madrid…