A Night to Remember

Last night inspired me to write a long overdue blog post. It was my dad’s retirement party, thrown by the Pathology Department at Columbia University where he was a Director for the past 16 years. When I heard they were planning to roast him, I laughed and wondered what in the world was “roastable” about my dad. He’s just a normal guy. There’s nothing particularly quirky about him, unless you have the inside scoop after living with him for 20-something years of your life. 😉

I was proven wrong. Not about the “nothing particularly quirky about him” thing. No, there’s plenty of that. What I was wrong about is the “he’s just a normal guy” part. Perhaps because my siblings and I grew up in the presence of greatness of the quiet variety, we took that greatness for granted. There’s actually nothing normal about my dad. Hearing how his boss came to hire him, a guy with none of the credentials for a job in pathology, made me realize just how bizarre and extraordinary his journey has been.

At nineteen years old, amidst the protests of both of their families, my dad and mom married. They had lived next door to each other since they were thirteen. Exactly a year later, I was born. My dad drove a Wonder Bread truck to make ends meet. He ate a lot of doughnuts en route to diners in the middle of the night, and saw his share of roaches scatter when he turned on the lights to refill the bread boxes.

When I was almost four, he decided he needed something a bit more stable and became a New York City Police Officer. He worked in Canarsie, which was very close to our home in Ozone Park. When he was on the 8-4 shift, we were eating dinner by 4:30. Very stable (and good practice for the early-bird specials he’ll be eating as a newly retired person). Several years into his police career, he was injured and placed at a desk job in the Audits and Accounts division at Police Headquarters. As he was growing in his administrative skills, he returned to college at night and managed to get a degree in Sociology, despite the craziness of raising three rug rats in a very small home. Eventually, he became a sergeant and lieutenant.

Then, something happened that changed the course of his life. He applied, via a program in the NYPD, to Harvard for a Master in Public Administration. Future Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had been the candidate accepted a few years before. Dad went off to Harvard as I returned to my senior year at Washington University in St. Louis. Since he had never attended sleep-away college, I counseled him about the temptations and distractions he would face, namely excessive partying, drinking, middle-of-the-night fast-food runs, the freshman 15, sleeping through morning classes, and cramming the night before exams. I told him I knew he had a good head on his shoulders and he’d do just fine. I sent him off with a pat on the back, happy that I could share my extensive knowledge with him for a change. At the end of the year, my parents came to the Midwest for my graduation and I went back East for his.

He returned to the Police Department and became the Quartermaster. After 22 years on the job, he retired at the tender age of 46. In his next career, he was the Associate Executive Director for EMS at Health and Hospitals Corporation. Six and a half years later, they merged with the Fire Department and he decided to leave. But he was only 51, and mom wasn’t quite ready for him to be retired, as the story goes. So, she started sending out résumés to jobs listed in the New York Times and was pleased to announce someone had contacted him for an interview at the Pathology Department at Columbia University. By his own admission, his big qualification for that environment was knowing there was a difference between blood and urine. Lucky for us he wasn’t colorblind.

As dad’s boss related the story last night, they had been interviewing people for weeks when the department’s fax machine spit out a final résumé. He took one look at it and thought it was suspicious—New York City Police Officer with a Master’s from Harvard—but he was intrigued enough to offer him an interview. Thanks to intellectual curiosity, the rest is history.

To hear the regard that people have for my dad and the many things he achieved was very moving. He has never been one to talk about himself or his achievements and is the most humble person I know. So, it was a rare gift to hear the stories, told with such feeling, by the people who have worked with him the past 16 years.

My hat’s off to you, dad. You are a man who has worn many hats literally and figuratively…and worn them well.

Looks just like every other New York cop in the 1970s.

Graduation Day at Harvard

From our cross-country camping days

With the grandchildren born, I’m pretty sure this hat was worn for their benefit and not my mom’s.

Notice the color-coordinated headband.

[This amazing event was held at Bouley Test Kitchen. The food and the space were magnificent. For those of you who know me well, if I eat in a place this good and manage to write an entire blog post without mentioning any of the culinary details, you know how powerful the non-culinary portion of the evening had to be. It truly was. With that said, “Damn, that place rocked.” Click here to take a peek.]

Rethinking Games from My Youth

When you’re a kid learning how to play games from adults, you latch on to certain things, depending on your personality and perspective. For me, in Scrabble, it was “Oooooo…7-letter word. Aaah…triple-word score.” I was a nerdy, dictionary-reading kid, so as part of my strategy, I also memorized the “q” words that could be spelled without a “u.” In my circle of family and friends, I was a very good Scrabble player.

Fast forward about 30 years. I started playing Words with Friends online, and one of my pals was whipping my butt. The worst part? He was doing it with plain, old, two-letter words, stacked one on top of the other and attached to another word on the board. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit it, but I’d never considered that as a strategy. I was too mired in the “rules” as I had learned them—or perceived them—as a child. Needless to say, my Scrabble game has greatly improved.

Which leads us to chess. I came home from a friend’s house one day at the tender age of five and surprised my dad with the ability to play chess. I suppose it was impressive at that age. At 47, when you’re still playing like your former, five-year-old self, not too impressive.

Enter Chess.com. I began playing with my Words with Friends pal, and he repeated his butt-whipping performance. That is, until I started taking advantage of the free resources on Chess.com and went on a 17-game winning streak.

So, here’s my analysis. I know you’re waiting for it. As a child, I learned how to move my pieces and internalized “Don’t let them get your king.” As a result, I was a reactive player. No strategy. I would haphazardly move pieces and when one threatened, I would react. With the help of Chess.com, I’ve learned to get those power pieces on the board, castle early, set up pieces six moves ahead, and use certain pieces together.

Bobby Fischer: Please, no visitations from the other side. I understand there must be even more than this, but for me this is huge. Let me have my moment of glory.

[Men, look away for a moment. Women of a certain age: If you’re suffering from a fuzzy, perimenopausal brain, you’ll be pleased to know that playing chess has returned me to my former, sharp-minded self. I assume this “therapy” would also be beneficial to women in the postpartum stage, but we all know you don’t have time to brush your teeth, let alone play chess. Men, welcome back.]

Just before I started playing chess again, I caught a movie on Netflix that, no doubt, inspired me to take it up again. Queen to Play is a French movie, starring Kevin Kline and Sandrine Bonnaire, with a bit but tingly performance by Jennifer Beals of Flashdance fame. Totally hot, flirtatious, seductive, and that’s without an ounce of sex. It’s like porn for the intellectual. Sort of. Check out The New York Times review to whet your appetite.

So, do you wrinkle your nose at all properties except Boardwalk and Park Place, or are you a real estate tycoon? Do you play rows of same-color guesses in MasterMind or mix it up from the start? Do you focus on the corners or the middle in Battleship? Let’s discuss.

I’m Alive…and 49 Pages Closer to “The End”

You lookin’ at me?
(Thanks MKD for the photo.)

Another heavenly week has come and gone. This was year 2 of my Virginia Beach writing retreat with the Doll Babies. If that’s conjuring up images of sweet, little ladies popping bon bons as they write, well, the bon bons are not far off course, but sweet…nah. If you saw us coming, you might think we were a gang. We’ve got the thriller-writing motorcycle mama, and the tattoo-covered fantasy writer. Then there’s the one that sounds like My Cousin Vinny. Ahem. Throw in a former investigative journalist, a nuclear plant engineer, and a flamenco-dancing biologist. Don’t let the two southern belles fool you. And beware of the one who induces death by chocolate every night. Scarier still, the one who cannot be bribed with chocolate cake and has some frightening ideas on revenge. You don’t want her moving those ideas from the page to the street. Trust me on this.

Were we having fun yet? Hell, yeah!

Long story short…I had hoped to complete another 18 manuscript pages, but I ended up with 49. Don’t ask me how. As everyone sat at their computers for hours, I got up for a snack, and then some relaxation on the beach, and then a run and shower, and then a nap. Oh, look at the time—dinner. You get the idea. Whatever works.

There were moments I wanted to skip over the tough scenes and write the easier ones. But I knew I’d never have this kind of uninterrupted time again, so I forged ahead. It was a good decision. It forced me into the dreaded middle of the novel and I got some momentum going.

Besides the writing, there were a few other highlights:

I went down to the beach, one morning, sheet in hand. I kicked sand into a few umbrella holes, laid out the sheet, and then lay down with my eyes closed. The sound of the surf lulled me into a meditative state. A short while later, the excited screams of two women disrupted my peace. “Oh my God. Look at all those crabs.” I lifted my head slightly, shaded my eyes with my hand, and realized the women were pointing at me. My sheet was surrounded by crabs. Those umbrella holes I covered up…not umbrella holes. The crabs were digging themselves out of their wrecked homes. They looked angry. Some of them wielded little beach sticks in their claws. Frankly, they were menacing. I grabbed my sheet and ran.

Another day, a fellow writer and I walked to a nature preserve. It was a long walk. A very long walk. It was hot. We didn’t have water. All the snack bars were closed because it wasn’t quite the season. When we arrived at the entrance booth, a friendly man gave us each a cup of water and then told us to mind the venomous snakes and the wild pi-igs. Wild pigs? Yup, those ones with the tusks. I was convinced he was having some fun with me and my New York accent. Not so. There’s something about the word pig pronounced with two syllables that scares the hell out of me.

So now it’s back to the real world. Work. Bills. Chores. Not enough time to write. No worries. I’ve got memories of ten women sharing their stories, eating good food, laughing like crazy, not a care in the world. It’ll keep me going until next year.

A strong suggestion for my readers: Do this for yourself. You don’t have to be a writer. Carve out a week with like-minded people. It’s food for your soul.

7 x 7 Link Award

My pal over at Celluloid Zombie passed along this award, which led me to revisit some old blog posts.

The rules to the 7 x 7 Link Award are simple:

  1. Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows.
  2. Link to a post I think fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, Most Pride Worthy Piece.
  3. Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.

And we’re off.

Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows

If not one person knew some deep, dark secret of mine, I can’t imagine why I’d suddenly tell everyone. But here’s the thing…I’m a pretty open person. I’d offer up even the most cringe-inducing confession if I thought someone else would benefit by it. So there you go. Not nearly as exciting as the bodies under the floorboards over at Celluloid Zombie, I know.

1. Most Beautiful Piece

Without hesitation, my most beautiful piece—One Two Three Kick—is about the person responsible for so many happy moments in my childhood (even if I do shudder when re-reading the paragraphs detailing the excessive snacking. What did we know? It was the 70s.)

2. Most Helpful Piece

Felix the Cat and MacGyver inspired this post that I hope encouraged you to consider how the simplest things and a bit of imagination can take life from mundane to memorable. Check out Felix the Cat and MacGyver Picnic on a Purple Sarong.

3. Most Popular Piece

Reading Old Journals…Yikes! struck a chord with many readers. It is my leader in Comments and what great comments they are.

4. Most Controversial Piece

Controverisal? Moi? Well, if you’re planning on hiring me sometime in the future, please don’t read Denim, the evil fabric until we’ve finalized all the contracts.

5. Most Surprisingly Successful Piece

Who could have guessed that my family recipe for Migliaccio (Italian Farina Custard) would top my Most Viewed chart? When did farina, eggs, and sugar become so popular? It just goes to prove that the whole, bubbling concoction is greater than the sum of its parts. With Easter right around the corner, you don’t want to miss this one.

6. Most Underrated Piece

Apparently, readers don’t want to hear about one of the more embarrassing moments in my life or the possibility that Child Protective Services has a file on me for subjecting a minor to naked aliens. If that sort of thing doesn’t interest you either, then don’t read Signs.

7. Most Pride Worthy Piece

My post Travel: Gaeta, Italy in October is the one I’m most proud of. It was a labor of love to condense two of the best weeks of my life into a CliffsNotes travelogue. I’m so hopeful that someone out there will make this very trip and then tell me all about their experience. I love reminiscing about this vacation and I often return to this post to immerse myself in a sea of memories.

My 7 Nominees

I know people are busy, so don’t feel obligated to participate. However, you are the ones that entertain me the most and it would be fun to read some of your posts I may have missed.

Altared Spaces

Finding the Humor

Girlboxing

Huffygirl’s Blog

Mostly Bright Ideas

The Fordeville Diaries

The Glowing Edge

Winter Status Update in Bullet Points

  • January and February are not my favorite months.
  • I go into hibernation mode.
  • I run less.
  • I stretch less.
  • My hamstrings tighten up.
  • I eat comfy foods more.
  • My love handles bulk up.
  • My belly looks like Baby Roo has taken up residence.
  • My back aches.
  • The number on the scale increases.
  • I don’t walk as much.
  • I don’t get as much fresh air.
  • I don’t get as much sunlight.
  • My mind is not as sharp.
  • I am reduced to writing in bullet points.
  • My emotions are not as stable.
  • I make the scary discovery that the state of my mind really does influence how well I land planes on Flight Control HD on the iPad.
  • I decide that putting my fate into the hands of an air traffic controller who has been running less, eating comfy foods, not getting enough fresh air and sunshine, and feeling a bit out of it may not be such a great idea.

But there’s hope.

  • The days are getting longer.
  • They’re also getting warmer.
  • I’ve had just about all I can handle of comfy foods.
  • My tight, aching body actually is beginning to crave exercise and fresh air again.
  • I have a gift certificate for a massage waiting to be redeemed.
  • The Chopra Center is sponsoring a 21-Day Meditation Challenge, which begins on Monday, February 20th.
  • My life coach buddy has invited me to her 3-day Soulful Cleanse.
  • I’ve made some progress on the novel.
  • March is right around the corner.
  • History indicates I do this every year and always spring back.

How are you surviving the winter?

From Intention to Action: Turning resolutions into reality

It’s that time of year again. You’re either rolled up in fetal position on the floor or writing a list of New Year’s resolutions. Some of you writing resolutions might prefer to be rolled up in fetal position, and those of you on the floor wouldn’t change places with the resolution writers for a million dollars.

What is this compulsion that drives us every January 1st? How predictable are we that gyms do much of their advertising in January and then again a few months later when our bright, shiny beginnings have tarnished and crusted over and there is empty floor space to be filled.

For me, writing resolutions has always been a fun ritual. There’s something about writing a thought down on paper that makes it more attainable. That’s been true in many areas of my life. However, we all have those things that are especially difficult to achieve. Sometimes the writing of the goal isn’t enough to get us there. And our good intentions, no matter how strong, can’t motivate us to “Just Do It.”

That dilemma led me to think about how I had approached other goals in my life—ones that had been attained. For example, I hadn’t just thought about working for myself and ended up with a successful business. It was accomplished by breaking the goal into manageable chunks. Of course, I didn’t realize I was doing that 19 years ago, but in hindsight it’s obvious. So, why not do the same to finally achieve the goals that have been regulars on too many of my annual lists?

Writing “I will eat healthier, write regularly, and work out more” hasn’t been enough on its own to make those dreams a reality. But taking intermediate actions to bridge the gap between intention and action has proved to be successful.

For example, I’ve become quite regular with my exercise, following the “don’t skip more than 2 days in a row” rule. But sometimes, even though I know I’m going to feel great once I do it, I just don’t feel like working out. I’ve found a trick—something very simple—that gets great results for me. What do I do when exercise apathy hits?

I put on my workout clothes.

Yup.

That’s it.

There’s something about the act of getting dressed to work out that begins the momentum. Once I’m dressed, I’m going to feel like crap if I take off my workout clothes without having exercised. I know it sounds crazy, but follow the logic. The act of putting on those clothes is a prerequisite to working out, so it gets me one step further along the path to actually performing the desired action.

I decided to try out this trick in another area of my life. After thinking for the umpteenth time that I needed to get to the library to do some writing, I packed up my Neo, a printout of my manuscript, and my supply case in a bag and left it by the stairs leading down to my front door. Every time I walked through the living room, I saw that bag. Eventually, I put on my coat, grabbed my bag, and WALKED to the library. How’s that for killing two birds with one stone? 😉

Which leads me to my “eating better” resolution. If you studied my eating habits on paper, you’d think you were looking at the records of two different people. From dawn till dusk, I am the model of good paleo nutrition. After the sun sets, it’s like my inner Carb vampire emerges. I want Cookies, or Cake, or ice Cream, or Chocolate. The letter “C” is evil, isn’t it? 🙂

So, I began questioning why it’s so easy to stay on track during the day. And I realized it’s because my breakfast and lunch are prepared in advance and carted to work and dinner is planned out as well. If I’ve carried meals with me, it’s unlikely that I’ll get something else at the cafeteria. And in fact, I don’t. So, the answer may be to plan and pack up a healthy snack for each evening so I don’t indulge by whim. Whim is a very bad thing when combined with food. At least for me it is.

If you happen to enjoy experimenting with yourself as the guinea pig, let me know how these ideas work out for you. Most important, keep it positive. Don’t focus on what you won’t do. Rather stay focused on what you will do. There’s a theory that your subconscious mind doesn’t recognize a negative. So, for example, if you say I will not eat cookies at night, all your mind hears is I will eat cookies at night. That minor design flaw has been wrecking diets around the world. Just to be on the safe side, focus on what you will do. “I will eat berries and Greek yogurt at snack time.” Or whatever your intention is.

Last but not least, be gentle with yourself. Life is a process. We get to grand places by taking little steps.

Happy New Year.

Feel free to share your tips and successes.

On Writing: When Outlines Attack

Back in my early days of novel writing, I was addicted to reading how-to books. I raced through one after another with barely a breath between them, let alone time to apply what I’d just read. Eventually, I became disgusted with my lack of progress after eight years of working on the same novel and decided to read a book and actually do the exercises in it. That book was The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray:

“A dynamic 52-week program to help you produce a finished novel…one weekend at a time.”

I can already hear the groans of the writers in the audience who sit down to a blank sheet of paper and start writing a novel with not one bit of a plan in mind. Bear with me. 🙂

On Weekend 1, I started with character sketches and completed one for each of my characters. I progressed to the characters’ back stories, their dreams, the contents of their closets, and then it was time for storyboarding, sketching out scenes, and setting the stage. I’ll admit I was having fun in those early weeks, exploring and discovering.

Soon I had a 3-column table listing every scene that would eventually be in my novel in excruciating detail. I was ready to sit down and write. And that I did, right up to the last quarter of the book where I stopped dead and lost all interest in finishing.

The following year, I showed up for a writing workshop at my local library. We were told to bring our in-progress novels and any other materials that we had created to facilitate the writing process. As we went around the table, each person held up a chapter or two and told a similar tale about how they had sat down to a blank page, begun writing, and hadn’t gotten very far. Then, it was my turn. I pushed my hand truck up to the table and started unloading my specimens. [click on graphic to enlarge]

My turn to share at the writing workshop

The shock and horror on the faces of the other participants will never leave my memory. It was like I was the star of a circus freak show.

When I finished my spiel, the instructor stood up and said something so simple and obvious, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t thought of it before. But it was truly a light-bulb moment for me [click on graphic to enlarge]:

You must unlearn what you have learned.

Then she turned to the others and said, “She needs to do less plotting and outlining, but you need to do a bit more.”

I barely heard the rest of it because my brain had jumped into high gear. I realized she was right. I had already written the novel in summary form and dreaded writing it again. A few years later, I would study personality typing tools like Myers-Briggs and realize that I am an unstructured person by nature who had been forcing myself to operate in a super-structured way for an extended period of time. That mistake had sucked the creativity and fun out of the writing process.

“If I had a plot that was all set in advance, why would I want go through the agony of writing the novel? A novel is a kind of exploration and discovery, for me at any rate.”  —Chaim Potok

From that point on, I did away with the tomes of reconnaissance on my characters. When I had an idea for a new novel, I’d jot down some notes and play with the idea like it was a piece of clay, mushing it this way and that until I saw something I liked. Over the course of the writing process, I’d record a bare-bones list of scenes, maybe 1-2 sentences for each scene. Sometimes the scene had already been written. Sometimes it hadn’t and I didn’t want a good idea to slip through the sieve that is my brain.

The skeletal structure of my outline made it extremely flexible. I could delete or add ideas whenever the mood hit. It was also helpful as a Cliff Notes-type tool to remind me what I had already written, so I didn’t have to waste time rereading chapters before getting down to the task of writing. Perhaps the best part of such an outline is that it makes the dreaded synopsis, a submissions requirement of many publishers, much easier to write because it is already in “tell/don’t show mode,” which is how a synopsis should be written unlike the novel itself.

I’ve seen debates online where writers claim their approach to writing is the better method. Writing organically, or not, is a good thing only if that is how you write best. If it’s not, forcing yourself to work that way is a major chore. And let’s face it, writing is hard enough when you’re doing it in a manner that is true to your personality type.

With that said, I do think it sometimes helps to sprinkle a pinch of “opposite function” into the stew. For example, when you’re flying by the seat of your pants and you feel yourself floating off into space, maybe a bit of a plan would help. And if you’re recording every last detail in an outline before you even begin writing and find that you’re stuck, maybe it’s time to put away the outline, take a notebook outside and just start writing whatever comes into mind. These kinds of tricks often help to awaken the part of your brain that’s having a long siesta.

In 2009, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an exercise in which you write a 50,000-word novel in one month. I started on November 1st with the barest hint of an idea and had to come up with 1,667 words of pure, unthought-out originality every day. I managed to churn the words out for about half the month until my novel The Benefactor was published and book promotion took precedence. However, I did end up with about 28,000 words of a novel that I was looking forward to continuing. I planned to proceed in the same manner—without a plan—but because of the complexity of the story, I repeatedly found myself in a labyrinth of dead ends. I wasted a lot of time before I gave in and wrote out a brief outline to make sense of the various twists and turns and to gear up for an equally complex second half.

As a technical writer in a my day job, I’m happy to plan out the details in advance to be sure my documentation covers all the bases. At night, I prefer to be a bit more creative and meander the various paths that could lead to the end of a novel. But I’m most comfortable doing that with a crude map in hand, just in case I get lost along the way. That’s who I am.

I’d love to hear about your light-bulb moments in writing or self-discovery.

 

Ramblings on Running

This past Thursday, I set out for my regular run in good spirits, but within three blocks I just wasn’t feeling it. Knowing that those first few blocks are usually the worst for me, I told myself to run two more blocks and then decide whether I would be finishing with a walk instead. Somewhere during those two blocks my mind became engaged in other matters and when I noticed my surroundings again, I was almost at the 1 mile mark. I decided to do a 1.5 mile run and walk the rest of the way home. But when I got to the 1.25 mile point, instead of going straight, I made a right turn that would take me onto my 5K (3.1 miles) route.

I’d only run 5K once, the day after my 46th birthday back in June, and though it felt like a great achievement, it wasn’t one I thought I’d be repeating any time soon. So, I told myself “just go as far as you can…no pressure.” That line was repeated a few times along the way, in between the distractions of passing some neighbors and an older gentleman running who I exchanged the “running nod” with. As always, the “people encounters” energized me. Before long, I was crossing the 5K mark and slowing into my walking cool-down. I was a bit stunned that I had run another 5K when the session had begun with me wanting to stop after 3 blocks.

The next day at work, I was talking to a fellow runner, and before I could voice the thought, my friend said “isn’t it weird how there’s no rhyme or reason to how you feel when you start out and what you end up accomplishing during the session?” I thought I was the only one who felt that way—that slightly out-of-control, is-this-within-my-will uncertainty.

[Speaking of out-of-control, we won’t mention getting on the scale after running 5K and eating right all day only to find that I was 2 pounds heavier. Yeah, yeah, I know muscle weighs more than fat and all that crap, but it’s demoralizing, okay?]

Today, I set out for my run and I had the sense I was going to shoot for the 5K distance again. I didn’t want to be too enthusiastic. I’m a bit superstitious that way. Sure enough, I finished my third 5K, came home and did my crunches and stretches, and felt like I had conquered something. I no longer think of the 5K as a fluke in my running history. It’s something I can do on a regular basis.

[I guess that’s why I immediately started researching 10K training plans despite saying several weeks ago that I had no intention of increasing my distance. The Couch-to-5K program and Robert Ullrey’s podcasts that I used to get me to this point were a huge part of my success.]

So, what have I learned about my needs for a successful run:

  • Psychological state at the beginning of a run is not a good indicator of how it will end up, so “just do it.”
  • Running one or two more blocks when I want to stop gets me through the lethargy.
  • Bargaining with myself along the way usually results in running farther than the bargain offered.
  • Double knotting my shoe laces ensures the neighborhood kids won’t need to hear my muttered obscenities when I have to stop and re-tie.
  • I feel better in the early morning when the sun isn’t at its hottest, but I don’t feel like running until about 11:30 AM or so. See the “just do it” bullet above.
  • Negativity saps my energy, so ignore the idiot drivers and the smelly garbage trucks.
  • Encounters with people along the way seriously energize me, so acknowledge everyone in your path and feel the good vibes come back to you.

Please feel free to share your tips and tricks. Oh, and does anyone have a recommendation for a GPS/pedometer thingie so I can change my route and still know how far I’m running?

Felix the Cat and MacGyver Picnic on a Purple Sarong

I’ve been on holiday in England the past couple of weeks. A travel blog post is on its way, but in the meantime, I was wondering…

Do you have tangible items in your life that are symbols for your dreams and desires?

You might remember that I attended a Writers’ Retreat in Virginia Beach back in May and, while there, visited the Edgar Cayce Center. In addition to several books, a purple tie-dyed sarong with fringes caught my eye. It didn’t match my bathing suit, and yet I knew I had to have that sarong. It was more than a beach cover-up. It was a fabric talisman that would transport me from suburban mom to sophisticated world traveler with a minimum of luggage. I would carry it with me on every trip and this one item would eliminate the need to pack several others. Sure, at the beach or pool, it would function as a cover-up, but there were several other uses for this piece of plum material. Felix had his bag of tricks, but I would have my sarong, and like MacGyver, I would transform it into anything I needed at the moment.

On a windy day, it’s a hooded scarf.

When there’s no time to change for dinner, it becomes a wrap that dresses up my outfit.

Tied in a few places, it’s a halter top…

…or a bohemian skirt.

At the outdoor market, I’ll pack up my fruit, cheese, and wine and carry it over my arm.

In a pretty meadow, I’ll lay it down for an impromptu picnic.

Back at the hotel and without a proper dining table, I’ll drape it over my suitcase and serve a decent cup of tea.

Caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella, I’ll hold it above my head and run to shelter.

When injured, I’ll use it as a tourniquet or to support a sprain.

Even when I don’t speak the language, I will delight children with a game of peek-a-boo.

In a church, I’ll cover my shoulders.

Where religious norms in other countries require my head to be covered, it shall be…in purple tie-dye. Hmmmm, maybe not.

In a pinch, it’s an extra towel.

After waking up at 5 AM and traveling hours to Bath to take part in the Jane Austen festival and consuming way too many scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, I’ll lay my sarong out on the grass in a park and take a two-hour nap.

And at the end of the day, I’ll wash it and hang it to dry so it’s ready for another day of adventure.

That was my thought as I stood there holding the purple sarong in my hands. And it was a thought that made me very happy indeed. So, I bought it and brought it with me to England three weeks ago. I’m happy to say it came in handy after the Jane Austen festivities. 🙂 See photo below.

Lack of sleep + cream tea sugar high = eventual coma. Would Jane Austen have behaved in such a manner?

Are there items in your life that are symbols or reminders of who you are at heart or where you’re heading in life?

Head Games

 Head Game

I’ve been thinking a lot about mind, body, and spirit and how to integrate the three. The trouble is, well, just return to that word “thinking” in the previous sentence. I’m a thinker. In fact, my preference for thinking and overthinking is so strong, I should really introduce myself as “Hi, I’m Margaret, and I’m an OverThinker.” You get the point.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I admitted that I see myself as a head sitting on a table—no body—my brain taking in information, processing it, and spitting it out in useful chunks. It’s a bit difficult to approach the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit when you sometimes don’t feel your body. Case in point, while deep in thought, I’ll walk into a piece of furniture without realizing it, barely register the pain, and find a huge bruise a few days later with no memory of how it got there.

That’s changed a bit over the past few years. I’ve become more conscious of my body. I exercise regularly and take note of how my body feels and moves. Slowly but surely, I am trying to be mindful—ha, ha, mindful, can’t escape those head words—of my body. I still have a long way to go.

So, how about you? What part of your body best represents or symbolizes who or what you are in your life or how you operate? Think in terms of caricature. Are you a pair of helping hands? Heels dug into the sand? Atlas shoulders supporting the weight of the world? A womb or lactating breasts nurturing the masses? Or is your head sitting on the table next to mine?

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