Stop, and smell the lilacs.

It’s late April. The birds are singing, the grass is green, the weather is beautiful. And I’m down in the dumps. Yesterday I took my bad mood outside to sit in the yard and listen to the birds. I realized it was a glorious day and I shouldn’t miss out on it, in spite of my low spirits. At least the birds were in chipper mood. I settled back and closed my eyes. The breeze shifted and the smell of lilacs swept over me. The smell of spring and the feel of the warm sun quickly began to improve my mood. I started to smile as I drifted off and somehow made my way back to April two years ago.

I was visiting my parents. The weather was absolutely beautiful, the trees were in full bloom, and the colors were glorious. With the change of season, and at my mother’s request, I pulled out her summer outfits and put away her winter ones. She inventoried her wardrobe, looked at me and said, “I need new clothes.” Then she spoke those magic words, “You have to go shopping for me.”  And a choir of angels began to sing. What girl just doesn’t love to go shopping? And not only did I GET to go shopping, I HAD to go shopping!

There are some of us who love to shop. Then there are those of us who regard it as a sacred art, and have developed a level of skill and proficiency that make the average shopper look like bumbling amateurs. I consider myself in the latter category. My mother warned me that I would have a difficult time finding clothes that met her specific criteria. More music to my ears. I love a challenge. I meticulously planned my strategy as I drove the familiar road to the mall and headed straight to Macy’s.

Two short hours later, I staggered to the check out with piles of clothes in my arms. All the sales clerk could see were my eyes, the top of my head and the tips of my fingers. Triumphantly, I plopped the merchandise on the counter, and told her, “These aren’t for me. They’re for my mother, and I’ll be back tomorrow to return what she doesn’t want.” I took the huge bags home and had a great time playing show and tell with my mom. We organized the clothes into three piles as she tried them on. You know, the “yes” pile, the “no” pile, and the “maybe” pile. We took a break to admire our work, and then we put our heads together to plan my strategy for the following day.

After another successful day at Macy’s,  I brought the fruits of my labors home. More organizing, trying on, mixing, matching, and the piles of “yes”, “no”, and “maybe” grew larger. We were on a roll. Ahhhh, shopping! By this time my father was so impressed with my level of skill that he got in on the action and placed an order for himself. This was getting better and better. Just listen to those angels sing!

I went back to the mall the next day, and the next day, and the next. By the fourth day all of the sales clerks knew my name and I knew theirs. I called them by name and waved to them as I worked my way through the store. I was surprised they didn’t put me on the payroll. Some of the sales staff thought I actually was on the payroll. My Macy’s card never saw so much action and it sizzled from the activity.

By the time I left to go back to Denver, my mother had a well-organized new wardrobe. My father had new shorts and shirts. I had a whole group of new friends at Macy’s. I did my part to boost the local economy, a practice that my sisters and I would continue over the next several months, but that’s another story.

I came out of my reverie. I wasn’t in my childhood home, I was in my own yard. I wasn’t at the mall, I was in my lawn chair. But for some reason, I was in a much better mood. Sometimes, all you need to do, is stop, and smell the lilacs.

The gift…. of three little words.

I’ll never forget the first time I looked into the eyes of a man I barely knew and heard three little words that helped change my life. It wasn’t what I was expecting, especially from a man I had just met. We were brought together by a strange twist of fate. I remember standing close to him while he murmured those words in a soft, silky voice that nobody else could possibly hear. But I heard them. I still remember them. And it’s not what you think.

It was in the early days of my martial arts training. That means I was in the first  six months and still not sure what I was doing there and wondering how soon I would quit. But, I was learning a few things, so I kept going to class. Somehow, I was talked into attending a seminar. I was assured that it was great fun, low key, no pressure, and I would have a marvelous time. I was more gullible back then than I am now.

During the seminar, I found myself paired up with a huge bull of a man. I am good spirited by nature and a natural born flirt, so I was okay with it. At first. Everything changed when I suddenly found myself in the middle of a huge circle surrounded by all of the other students, instructors, and Sensei walking straight toward us. I was the only woman there, I was the center of attention, and everyone was staring at me.

I froze, like a deer in the headlights. I looked towards the back door to see if I could make a quick get away. Unfortunately, there was a wall of black belts blocking my path. They were lined up next to each other like the ninja version of Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, we dare Cheryl over!” I was fairly certain I couldn’t break through that line. I glanced around for my teacher to bail me out. No help there. I had no way out. Honestly, I was just a heartbeat away from a serious and very public major melt down.

Terrified, I looked up at my partner. Very softly and quietly he whispered those three magic words, “Don’t be intimidated.” Easy for him to say. He outweighed me by at least 150 pounds. And he was quite comfortable in this testosterone infested environment.  The circle was closing in tighter and I looked at the back door again. Maybe I could break that line. My partner shook his head slightly and said it again, “Don’t be intimidated.” All of a sudden, the circle that was closing around me opened up. I got out of my immobilized state and found the courage to start moving again.

That was eight years ago. The rest, as they say, is history. That man gave me a gift beyond anything he could have imagined, and the support I needed without embarrassing me. It was our little secret.  I can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if he hadn’t been so supportive. Maybe that would have been the end of my martial arts training.

A few years later I ran into him again at another seminar. He looked at me in surprise and said, “You’re still here!” Then he looked down at my belt and burst out laughing. “And you outrank me now!” Later that day we were paired up again. In that same soft voice, he taunted me this time. “Look at you, girl, you’re not scared any more. Look at how strong you are.” Of course, strong is a relative term. I can’t overpower a cat. But I have developed a strength of spirit and courage that I never knew I had before, thanks to my training.

Words can have a powerful effect. It’s important to choose your words carefully. Speak softly, honestly and gently. You may be giving someone a powerful gift that keeps on giving. After all, you never know when you may be in need of some encouragement. Recycle the gift.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov. PT, GCFP

Reddy Kilowatt meets Mr. Sparky

    When I was a little girl, I did what a lot of kids do out of interest and curiosity when the opportunity arises. I took a hairpin and stuck it in an electrical outlet. I wasn’t a fast learner in a lot of life’s experiences, mostly because of my incomparable stubbornness. I figured if something didn’t go my way the first time I tried it, I’d do it again until I got the outcome I wanted.

    However, the shock I got was a pretty immediate and lasting learning experience. I never did that again. I also learned that the cute and sparky little fellow that represented our power company had a mean streak. And one heck of a bite. For years, we all remembered the day that Reddy Kilowatt bit me.
    Here it is, over fifty years later, and I am having electrical issues again. We have known for a long time that our wiring was outdated and not up to code. We had an electrician tell us several years ago that we needed to rewire the entire house. Okay, we knew we would get around to it, someday. But we didn’t worry about it too much, until the day I watched as flames shot out of a neighbor’s fuse box. So, the electrician had a point.

    Enter, Mr. Sparky. No, I’m not kidding. That’s the name of the company that we hired. Actually, I hired them to do two small jobs. That changed when he opened our fuse box. The two small jobs evolved into a major (and expensive) project. He showed us what the problem was, and where we had already had two burns. Again, visions of flames shooting out of the neighbor’s fuse box and the power of Reddy Kilowatt flashed in my mind. It was time to git ‘er done.

    It took three visits and a team of electricians to get the work done. At least I had an idea of why it cost so much. On the second day, they started changing the old outlets and pig tailing the wires. Whatever that means. One of the electricians saved an outlet to show us what it looked like. She told us, “This was a bad one.” The top half of the top outlet was black and the plastic had melted away. It looked like Reddy Kilowatt was messing with me again.

    Anyway, Mr. Sparky took charge of my childhood nemesis.  He got control of that zippy little rascal, reigned him in and got him hog tied. Or pigtailed. You get the idea. The important thing is that the work is finally completed, and my home is safe. It was an expensive home improvement project that no one can see, and only we can appreciate. But it beats flames shooting out of your fuse box. And at least all of the new wall plates look pretty.

    Funny, I was writing this post while Mr. Sparky was putting the final touches on the new wiring. I had finished the story and noticed that I was having a problem saving it. It seems Mr. Sparky had cut off the power to my computer and I lost the entire post. I think Reddy Kilowatt was the culprit, just letting me know that he still has some power over me.

    I saved the burned outlet. I might have it made into a necklace. Or maybe I can use it for the grown up version of show and tell. I will keep it as a reminder to enjoy a major home improvement project that no one can see. And as a gentle reminder to listen the next time some one tells me I have a problem with my wiring. I’ll apply the life’s lesson that I learned as a child. Which is that just because Reddy Kilowatt is cute, he still needs to be respected.
        At this point I have to put a plug in for Mr. Sparky, so to speak. They do a great job. So, if you are in the Denver area and looking to have some work done, keep them in mind. Their team of electricians are very professional, respectful, friendly, always on time and clean up after themselves. Even better, one of the electricians was a girl. That in itself made Reddy Kilowatt shake in his hot little yellow boots. What more could I ask for?

     So, that’s the story of the day that Reddy Kilowatt met Mr. Sparky. It looks like my old nemesis had met his match. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven, but at least sparks aren’t flying.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

A very funny Easter Bunny…..

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania was pretty special. All of the holidays were celebrated with great enthusiasm. It didn’t matter if it was a national holiday, state holiday, school holiday, personal holiday, birthday, or religious holiday. We celebrated them all.

Being of Eastern European descent, our family celebrated Easter with the ethnic and cultural traditions of our religion and our heritage. However, we also got to experience the other part of the Easter holiday, the Easter Bunny. And we enjoyed the decadence of all the chocolate Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs, jelly beans and marshmallow peeps.

Of course, the Easter Bunny is famous for leaving baskets for each child at every house he visits. But, he never left baskets for me and my sisters. We must have been last on his “to do” list, and by the time he got to our house at the end of the street and at the top of the hill,  things began to go awry.

Every year he developed a small hole in the bottom of his bag, probably from dragging it around all night as he went from house to house. As a result, he left a small trail of jelly beans on the walk leading up to the door of our house. The trail became bigger the closer he got to our front door. By the time he used his magic key to unlock the door to our house, jelly beans and brightly colored chocolate eggs began to litter the floor.

At that point he must have given up. Since candy was already falling out of his bag, he must have decided to go with the flow. So he did. And he made an incredible mess. He threw candy all over the dining room and living room floor. At least he neatly lined up the packages of colored peeps, large chocolate bunnies and big eggs on the fireplace. Maybe he stole that idea from Santa Claus.

Every Easter morning, we woke up to that beautiful, colorful mess. My sisters and I crawled around, gathered up the candy, and put it in the bowls and baskets that our mother pulled out of the cabinets. Yes, indeed, once a year we ate candy right off of the floor! Good thing our mother was a meticulous housekeeper. And, we rarely used the living room and dining room anyway. It was only for company.

Every year, our mother would  complain about that darned Easter Bunny for messing up her house. And, every year she would plot how to stop him from doing the same thing the following year. We always hoped the Easter Bunny didn’t hear her. That rascally rabbit was one funny bunny. It would sure be a bummer if we started getting boring baskets like the other kids. Where’s the sport in that?

Fortunately, our Mom never did stop him in his tracks. And every Easter Sunday we were treated with the sight of all that candy thrown all over the floor. Although, it wasn’t as much fun picking up candy off of the floor as I got older, especially since my two older sisters and I got to help our Easter Bunny throw the candy around for our younger sisters when it was their turn to enjoy the magic. But, it was still okay to eat candy right off of the floor.

The truth is, I still believe in the Easter Bunny. And Santa Claus. I believe in the magic of childhood, and I believe in the power of healing and comfort that sweet memories provide. I believe in the mystery and the reality of things that cannot be explained, but that we know in our hearts exist. And, I learned a few important things along the way. It’s important to keep your floors clean. You never know when something sweet might land on them. Second, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You may want to throw them around a bit, and share them with others. At least, that’s what our Easter Bunny would recommend.

Brown bag, lunch time, and April Fool’s.

When I was growing up, I never ate lunch in the school cafeteria. The first time I did eat in a school cafeteria was on my first day of college. It was pretty awful, and I had an even greater appreciation for the brown bag lunches that my Mom packed for me and my sisters every single morning.

In elementary school we walked home for lunch every day. But once we entered junior high, my sisters and I brought our lunch from home. Our mother would pack a sandwich, piece of fruit and a cookie and put them in the classic brown bag. Sometimes she would put a hard-boiled egg, left-over chicken, or anything else that was handy. Lunch was always predictable and reliable.

However, one day each year, our mother took a few liberties with our lunches. She had a great sense of humor, and loved a good joke. Every April Fool’s Day, the joke was on us. And in our lunch bags. Peanut butter sandwiches were laced with rubber bands. Two pieces of bread would hold a hand written note that said “April Fool!” On one occasion the note read, “This is not a piece of jumbo.” (Western Pennsylvania slang for bologna). One time the sandwich was a picture of a slice of jumbo. If there was an egg, we weren’t sure if it was hard-boiled or raw, until we cracked the shell.

She did it every year. Every year we knew she would do it, although a few times we did forget about her favorite holiday. At least, until we opened our lunch bags. Oh, yes, it’s April Fool’s Day. I can imagine her at home, watching the clock so she knew which child was in lunch period, opening her special brown bag. As much as she loved her little joke, she would never let us go hungry. She always had an extra lunch for us sent with one of our friends. So, by the time we were in high school, our friends knew about Mom’s joke, and eagerly anticipated April Fool’s Day to see what she came up with this time.

So, on this April Fool’s Day, I celebrate my mother and her sense of humor. I raise a slice of bread slathered with peanut butter and laced with rubber bands to my mother’s memory. And to further honor her, I share with you the lessons I learned from her and those lunches. First of all, it’s important to have a sense of humor. It’s good for your health. It’s important to laugh often, and laugh hard. A good belly laugh is good for your spirit and has the added benefit of working your abs without doing crunches. It’s important to go along with a joke, even if you already know it’s coming, and you are on the receiving end. It’s even better to share the joke with friends. It teaches you not to take yourself too seriously.

One last thing….always have a back up plan, just in case your brown bag is full of rubber bands, raw eggs and April Fool’s. It’s good to be prepared for the unexpected.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP