R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Don’t you absolutely just love the song about respect by Aretha Franklin? You know the one,“R-E-S-P-E-C-T…..Find out what it means to me.” I never thought about it before, but I guess it does mean different things to different people. To me it means being polite, mindful, thoughtful, considerate, and treating everyone with the human dignity they deserve.

A few weeks ago I met a woman for the first time. We were introduced online by a mutual acquaintance who assured us that we had a lot in common and would get along famously. She was wrong.

We met at a coffee shop, got a table, and exchanged a few pleasantries. Suddenly, she whipped out a notebook and said that she just got an idea and had to jot it down before she forgot it. No problem. I often do that myself.

She began to write. And write. I sipped my tea and waited. And waited. I checked my email. I checked my texts. I checked Facebook. I organized my thoughts. I organized my purse. I finished my tea. She continued to write. I ran out of ways to entertain myself.

Just as I was ready to get up and suggest we reschedule our meeting when she was less preoccupied, she slammed her notebook shut, and gave me an ingratiating smirk. No apology. “You understand,” she said. “And I’m sure you don’t mind.” Actually I didn’t understand and I certainly did mind, but I simply smiled politely. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. And respect.

She began our conversation with a political rant. Really? I sat silently while she raged. When she finished, I tried to change the subject and asked her about her practice. She began another tirade about her clients. It wasn’t pretty.

I sat there for an hour and twenty-five minutes, not speaking, just smiling until my face ached and my teeth hurt. Afterwards I sat in my car and shook off the negative energy that had engulfed me. Suddenly the immortal words of Aretha Franklin sprang into my mind. She certainly nailed it when she sang “R-E-S-P-E-C-T…..Find out what it means to me.” And sock it to me.

 

Seize The Day

A few days ago I woke up feeling heavy and sluggish. Gingerly I rolled over in bed, got up, and staggered toward the enticing aroma of fresh coffee brewing. Ahhhh, coffee! I followed it into the kitchen where my husband and 3 dogs greeted me with wagging tails and a cheery “Good Morning!” Easy for them to say.

Eventually the coffee worked its magic well enough for me to give everyone a pat on the head (including my husband) before going down to my girl cave to get some work done. I also had to clean the kitchen, get dinner in the crock pot, get dressed and head out the door for ballet class. I had a lot to get done, and I was in a crappy mood. I made sure I took my bad mood with me as I made my way downstairs.

But something funny happened. All of a sudden my creative juices began to flow. There I was, writing and working, working and writing. My mood began to shift and I felt lighter, and happier as I pounded away at the keys. Here’s one of my many deep, dark secrets–I can’t type. I never learned how. I’m a writer that can’t type and a physical therapist that hates exercise and thinks that chocolate is food. I giggled at the irony.

I glanced at the clock and got a shock. It was so late I would have to scramble to get dressed in time for class. Forget about cleaning the kitchen and making dinner. I was panicked about being late for class and agitated that I would lose momentum with my work. My bad mood returned.

As I ran around like a crazy person, I stopped cold. What was I doing to myself? I was exhausted, and it was obvious that my stress (as well as my bad mood), was purely self-inflicted. I went back into the kitchen, patted everyone on the head again (including my husband), and sat down to have breakfast with him. Surprised, he asked, “No barre today?” “No,” I replied. “I’m going to stay home, relax, and get some work done.” He smiled and patted me on the head.

There are a lot of life’s lessons in this story. First, we have much more control over our mood than we think we do. All it takes is self-awareness and introspection to lower our stress levels and change the course of our day. Next, it’s important to laugh at ourselves and embrace our idiosyncrasies. Also, sometimes we need to pass on the barre, no matter how tempting it is. Finally,  everyone could use a pat on the head. And a belly rub. It’s good for the soul. Besides, it makes us laugh. Most of all, remember to seize the day, and take charge of your life.

Never Stop Dreaming

The ability to dream is something each and everyone of us are born with. However, as we mature into adulthood and the responsibilities of work, home, family, and life’s challenges can get in the way of our dreams. And sometimes we even forget how to dream.

That happened to me. It was a long time ago, but it really doesn’t seem like it now. I was going through a major bump in my road of life, and simply getting out of bed in the morning was a supreme challenge for me. My focus was merely to live to survive another day. Or not.

Well, I kind of did. After all, I couldn’t imagine leaving my husband to take car of my dogs all on his own. But every moment in life was so effortful. And just in case you were wondering, I have been accused of inventing the word effortful. But think about it–if something can be effortless, then why can’t it be effortful?

The truth is that life is full of highs and lows. Good times and bad times. When we’re in the midst of one of our down times, it’s easy to get stuck in it. Especially if we stop dreaming.

So, no matter what life throws at you, remember that it will pass. And remember to keep dreaming. Because we were all meant to live life to its fullest, and living our avowed dream is our God given right. And no one can take that away from you.

As long as you don’t let them.

When Circuits Misfire

Don’t you just hate it when your circuits misfire? Maybe there is just too much going on in your head, the signals aren’t clear, or the messages are conflicting with each other and you can’t move forward. Or backward. Or at all. I believe this is called cognitive dissonance.

A few weeks ago I was driving on the interstate in rush hour traffic. I was anxious to get home so I could let the dogs out. My husband was out of town and I was feeling guilty that I was gone so long. On the other hand, I was feeling quite satisfied that I had a very productive day and feeling good about my accomplishments.

As my conflicting thoughts swirled around my mind, suddenly something felt terribly wrong. Confused, I looked down at the dash and saw that all of my indicator lights were on. My car had stalled, right in the middle of rush hour traffic!

I did what every responsible, mature, experienced driver would do. I totally freaked out. But even in my panic, somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain my mind went into autopilot. Put on the flashers, test the brakes (which weren’t working), scream like a banshee, put the car in PARK and try to restart it. The grinding noise from the engine told me that was definitely not the thing to do.

More screaming, put the car in NEUTRAL and try again. Miracle of miracles, it started. Even more miraculous was that no one hit me, nor did I plow into anyone else. I drove the rest of the way home without further incident, and I didn’t even cry until I hugged my dogs.

Our mechanic checked it out and discovered that 2 internal sensors weren’t communicating well. Each one was sending the other conflicting messages. In the words of my mechanic, since they didn’t know what to do they both freaked out and completely shut down. Huh. Cognitive dissonance.

Our mind and brain work much the same way. Sometimes the circuits get conflicting messages about what we really want in life and how we’re going to get there. It’s not that the circuits misfire. It’s just that they can’t process the information it’s receiving, and shuts down.

It was a powerful lesson for me and a reminder to slow down and proceed with caution when life gets too hectic. After all, I don’t want to overload my system. And I certainly don’t want to be rendered incapacitated in this road of life. Ever. Do you?

Pieces of April

I absolutely love the song “Pieces of April” by Three Dog Night. In my mind, it’s the more sophisticated (and musical) version of that quaint saying, “April showers bring May flowers….” There’s a metaphor for life, don’t you think?

I love springtime. But for some reason, April bums me out. Maybe because a lot of tragedies in our nation’s history happened in April. Maybe because the weather is psychotic, especially here in Colorado. But it’s spring. Isn’t every one bubbling over with joy and happiness?

Apparently not. Because I’m not the only person who gets bummed out during the month of April. A few years ago, a friend described this time of year as being full of effort, even for nature.

She explained that the grass and flowers were hard at work struggling to push through the earth to get to the sun. Same thing with the trees trying to push open their buds. Only to be foiled by a late spring snowstorm. Birds were frantically trying to stake their territory, build their nests and lay their eggs. Everyone and everything was pushing, pushing, pushing.

Maybe it’s our biology. Maybe it’s our history. Perhaps it’s the 24/7 news cycle that relentlessly bombards us with bad news. Even when we turn it off it still pops up on our computer screens. Maybe it is simply that we empathize with the frenetic pace of nature trying to get things done before spring turns into the lazy days of summer.

The point is, life isn’t always easy, but it’s always wonderful. And sometimes we need to push through the tough times to get to the other side. Because no matter what we are dealing with, it will pass. There is always a morning in May, and the promise of great things to come. It’s just  the way life works.

When Life Gives You Lemons….

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I was recently reminded of this when I was looking for an old Fannie Farmer recipe. I didn’t even know that Fannie Farmer was a real person. I just thought it was a catchy name for farm fresh recipes. That shows you how much I know! I was fascinated at what I found.

Fannie was the oldest daughter in a family of 4 girls. Huh, interesting. I grew up in a family of 5 girls. She and her sisters were expected to go to college. Another coincidence–my sisters and I were expected to go to college as well. So we could be self sufficient before we got married. We were kind of expected to do that as well.

Anyway, that’s where any parallels ended. Fannie never did pursue higher education. She suffered a paralyzing stroke when she was 16. Sixteen! How does someone have a stroke at 16? As a medical person I know it happens, but it’s pretty rare.

For several years, she was unable to walk. She lived at home so her parents could take care of her. While recuperating, she took up cooking and eventually turned her mother’s home into a boarding house that was renowned for the quality of the meals it served. Go, Fannie!!

The rest, as they say, is history. And Fannie Farmer certainly made history, as well as significant impact on the future of cooking, nutrition, and domestic science. Her life path was dramatically changed by a devastating medical crisis. But instead of giving up, she managed to find a new path which made her name a household word long after she was gone.

Her story inspired me, and made me think of other people who changed the world. Not in spite of their physical challenges, but because of them. Joseph Pilates and Moshe Feldenkrais are just two that come to mind, but there are hundreds more out there.

Maybe you’re one of them. Or will be in the future. Just remember that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I have faith in you, and I’ll give you plenty of sugar along the way if you need it. Because I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. And I certainly believe in you.

Roses in November

I love November. I love the entire fall season, with the weather changing, the leaves turning, the incredible bright blue skies of October. But I have always loved November, and I especially love Thanksgiving.

I grew up in Western Pennsylvania where the winters are brutal, and can sometimes start as early as October. But, 8 years ago, the weather was a completely different story. I ought to know, because I was there.

Both my parents were ill with leukemia. I know. What are the chances? My 2 older sisters and I spent 2010 taking turns “visiting” them for a week to 10 days at a time. They would never accept help if it was offered and would NEVER ask for it, but they were happy to have us “visit.” If we just happened to take them to their treatments, the hospital, the doctors appointments, etc., that was just a pleasant coincidence. (Sigh).

My mom and dad were playing a bizarre game of End-Stage Leukemia poker during that year. You know–I’ll match you an infection and raise you a reaction. Okay, I’ll match that reaction and raise you and ER visit. On and on it went. You get the picture.

In early October, I came home for a “visit.” My dad came out of the house to greet me and to show me my mother’s rose bush. He was so excited, because the bush had started blooming again. In October! My dad was delighted, and told me that my mom was as well. I looked and sure enough, there were a few buds beginning to open. I was thrilled. And then it hit me.

Somewhere deep inside of me, I realized the truth, and what the roses represented. This was it. The end had come. For both of them. We were in the final stretch. Fighting back tears so my father wouldn’t see (thank God for those Maui Jim sunglasses), and keeping my voice neutral, I ooh’d and ahh’d over the roses. But, in reality felt like I was falling off a cliff.

The incredible weather held up all during October and through the first week of November, and her roses bloomed the entire time. She died on November 8th. Her roses bloomed until the snow came and gently covered them, 19 days later, the day my father died. It was 2  days after Thanksgiving.

You might think that I get sad or depressed during November and around Thanksgiving. Nah, I don’t. My parents wouldn’t want that. Besides, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I don’t want to be sad. I’m especially glad that my mom got one last chance to see her roses, which she loved. And grateful that my dad got to see how happy it made her. And I’m really glad that they are together forever, where every day is a day of wine. And roses.

You’re Only Too Old If You Think You Are

When I was in college I began taking ballet classes. Everyone laughed at me, because I was “too old” to start dancing. Ballet was for children or aspiring professionals, not adults who were stuck with the freshman fifteen. I ignored the naysayers and went to ballet class anyway. Funny, everyone stopped laughing when they saw the results.

After enjoying a rewarding career as a respiratory therapist, I decided to go back to school and pursue a career in physical therapy. Once again the naysayers came out in full force. The application process is too long and arduous. The competition is too fierce. I wasn’t smart enough. And my personal favorite—I was too old.

And yet again, I ignored the naysayers and went through the grueling application process. I graduated from Colorado University with my Master’s Degree in physical therapy just three months shy of my 40th birthday. Apparently I wasn’t too old.

A few years later, at the tender young age of 47, I began studying an ancient Japanese martial art. Guess what my friends told me? Yep, you’re right! I was too old. but by now, they also included the phrase “and too frail.” Oh, really? Ten years later I became my teacher’s first female black belt. In the entire 20 year history of the school, no woman had ever received such a high rank. Hmm. Not only was I not too old, I wasn’t too frail, either.

Then, at the age of 58, I decided to listen to everyone’s sage advice and start engaging in more age-appropriate activities. But, I think I’ll save that juicy little tidbit for another day. The main point I wanted to make is that you’re only too old if you think you are. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Does it?

Should, Could, Would: Life’s Lessons From a Little Girl

Should, could, would. I was in first grade when I learned those words. My teacher was terrifying, and I believed she became a teacher to torture helpless children. She wore a perpetual scowl on her craggy face, and the only time she smiled was when she was berating one of her hapless students until they cried so hard their teeth rattled or they wet their pants. Many (like myself), were known to do both.

One cold winter afternoon, our teacher handed out sheets of paper with the words “should, could, and would” printed on them. She explained what the words meant. She also told us that they were advanced for us, but she didn’t care. She expected us to keep those papers, look at them every day, and learn how to spell them as well as how to use them in a sentence. With one final scowl, she dismissed us for the day.

Clutching my papers in my mitten-covered hand, I walked through the snow, anxious to get home. Suddenly, a gust of wind yanked the papers out of my hand. I watched in horror as my important papers danced in the wind for a moment before they were carried across a neighbor’s yard. I tried to run after them, but the snow was too deep and my legs were no match for the speed of the wind. Holy crap, my teacher was going to kill me! I began to cry as I slowly continued up the hill to my house.

A truck pulled up beside me. It was my father. He grinned at me and opened the passenger door to give me a lift the rest of the way home. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself, “Things just went from bad to worse.” When he saw my tears he asked what was wrong. I cried harder.

Choking back sobs, I told him what happened. “Well,” he said, “Let’s go look for them.” I couldn’t believe it. My father was going to save me from the wrath and imminent public humiliation of a caliber only my teacher could accomplish. For what seemed like hours my father and I trudged through the deep snow looking for the lost papers. I had stopped crying, because at least now I had help.

Finally, my dad asked me how important these papers really were. I shrugged and wiped my nose with the back of my mitten. Then I told him what Miss You-Know-Who had said. My father said nothing for a long moment as we stood on that hill with the snow and the wind whipping around us, but his face got very red. It must have been the wind. He knelt in the snow and put his face close to mine. “If Miss You-Know-Who says anything to you at all, you tell her to come talk to me.”

I smiled and nodded my head. My father was a large man, and could be quite formidable. He also knew my teacher quite well, since she went to our church. Yep–I even got to see her on the weekend. Lucky me. Then my dad carried me through the snow, put me in the truck, and drove up the hill to our home. Nothing more was ever said.

I learned a lot about those three words since that day in the snow all those years ago. I learned how to change my “shoulds” to “coulds”, my “woulds” to “will,” and my coulds to “of course I can!” I learned that we all could use a little help sometimes. I also learned that anyone can be a bully, as long as they can get away with it. And anyone can be a hero, as long as they have the courage to speak up.

 

Life is Full of Bumps in the Road

Ah, life. It’s not always easy, but it is always wonderful. Even when we hit a few bumps along the way. After all, these bumps in the road of life help us build character. I had my first series of bumps when I was just five years old.

That summer before my fifth birthday, our family attended a church picnic at the local amusement park. It was a beautiful day, we were at White Swan Park, and everyone was having a marvelous time. All of us kids were in Heaven as we ran around from ride to ride. Finally, we came to the roller coaster, “The Mad Mouse.” It was the pride of the park, and was always able to strike fear and excitement in the heart of every child.

The roller coaster had individual cars rather than a chain of them linked together like a train. It also had a series of bumps at the end of the ride, each one a little bigger than the previous one. We all lined up at the entrance of “The Mad Mouse,” ready for the thrill of a lifetime. However, some of us got a lot more than we bargained for.

Each child was placed in their very own car. Since I was the smallest child, I was put in a car with my oldest sister. I sat in front of her with her legs wrapped tightly around me, with both of us holding onto the safety bar. The Mad Mouse slowly started to come to life, taking us around the curves at breath-taking speed. It was great fun until we got to the series of bumps.

When we hit the first bump I flew up in the air between my sister and the safety bar and landed halfway out of the car. My sister grabbed me and tried to pull me back into the car just as we hit the second bump. I flew even higher into the air and landed further out of the car, bent at the waistline, with my fingers dangling just a few inches away from the track.

Even in my panic I could feel my sister frantically grabbing at the only thing she could get a hold of–the waistband of my underpants. I could see the grown ups screaming below me, including my mother, who was seven months pregnant at the time. Bless her heart, she was running beside the tracks with her arms outstretched as if to catch me. I thought to myself, “This can’t be good. I’ve never the woman run, and I’ve never seen her catch anything in my entire life, either” 

Fortunately, my sister’s strength and the elastic waistband of my underpants both held out as the  young man operating the roller coaster brought it to a rolling stop. He was pale and shaking as he plucked me out of the car and handed me over to the grown-ups who rushed in to make sure I was alright. I noticed that my mother wasn’t looking so good. It must have been the pregnancy. Or maybe the heat.

I was embarrassed by all of the attention. I broke away from the crowd and ran off to the next ride. The adults marveled at my resilience.  My Mom still didn’t look so good. As a matter of fact, neither did my sister. But I didn’t let that distract me. After all, it was a beautiful day at White Swan Park, and everyone was having a marvelous time.

Life is a lot like that day at the amusement park. Everything can be going along just fine when life throws a series of unexpected bumps that leave you flying by the seat of your pants. And sometimes you’re just hanging on by a thread. Sometimes you feel like you’re going over the edge, and hope that there is someone to catch you. Even if they don’t have the skills needed to help you, just knowing that they care makes a difference. So, the next time you see someone hitting a series of bumps in their road of life, you might want to give them a hand. It can literally save their life.