Category Archives: Life Lessons

A Case of the Vapors

I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I laid there with my eyes closed trying to convince my body to relax and fall asleep, but it was useless because my brain was working over time. So finally I conceded, and opened my eyes to an overly bright glowing digital clock that read 3:15am. Ugh.

As I laid there looking around the room, I was surprised to see how many different colored lights were glowing from our electronics. The clock, DVD player, smoke alarm and even my electric toothbrush were all emitting a colored light. I wandered into the living room and it too was lit up like a Christmas tree—the oven, microwave, stereo, ice maker and power outlet strips were all glowing blue or red.

Not sure what to do with myself now that I was up, I wandered over to my charging cell phone to see if I had any emails. (Or as I like to refer to it, “to see if anyone loves me.”) As I hit the on button the phone blazed to life with a blinding light. Through my squinting I could see that I didn’t have anything new in my Inbox. I thought at least Groupon would have sent me something, but I guess they too were asleep like the rest of the world. Bastards.

After being blinded by my phone, I staggered back to bed hoping Mr. Sandman would bring me a dream. Instead, I laid there contemplating whether or not all this technology that we hold so dear is really such a good thing after all. I definitely see the benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. Computers and cell phones have made our jobs more efficient and faster, which should have freed up time in our day for other more pleasurable activities like spending time with our loved ones. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, because as a society we have decided that it is more important to fill up that time with more work, more deadlines and more stress. The ratio seems to be somewhere around 1:5—for every 1 extra hour you gain for being so efficient via technology, you are given 5 more hours of work to do within the same work day. It is sad that this is the new norm, and it is unlikely to change any time soon.

I had read an article some time back talking about how during the turn of the 20th century women were rushing to healing spas in droves complaining of anxiety and hysteria (i.e. “the vapors”) brought on by the fast-paced change in technology. Just to put this in perspective, we began the 20th century with the infancy of airplanes, automobiles, and radio. We ended the 20th century with spaceships, computers, cell phones, and the wireless Internet. Technology has definitely sped up considerably.

I think I’m having a case of “the vapors” now, and since my luxurious lifestyle will not allow me to spend a year at the spa to quiet my mind, I’ve had to come up with my own relaxing healing plan. It begins with turning off the electronics for a set amount of time each day and maybe having a candlelight-only evening once in a while. When the opportunity presents itself, I also want to go camping. There is an amazing place called the Forest Retreat in Mississippi. It is a vast area filled with trees, nature and 4 cabins built within the landscape far apart from each other. No tvs. No radios. No wi-fi.

Photo Credit: ForrestRetreat.com

(Photo Credit: ForestRetreat.com)

I could sit on the porch and write with pen on paper for hours. Take a break, and wade barefoot through the creek with my husband and dog. Roast marshmallows over an open fire while listening to a strumming guitar. (If one of us ever decides to learn to play.) Ahhh… The thought of the wind rustling in the trees, the clear starry nights and the crickets chirping is enough to lull me to sleep.

Until the alarm blasts in the morning.

It’s definitely time to get unplugged.

Faith the Size of a Willow Leaf

I have always had very vivid dreams.

As a child I was plagued with night terrors, which are like nightmares on steroids complete with night sweats, rapid heart beat, and bed linens being thrashed about while sleeping. The next morning I was always able to recount my fiendish dreams in great detail. The retelling of the dream seemed to take forever, and my mother was always amazed by my recollection.

The nightmares that scared me the most seemed to run on a loop. My five-year old self called them my “reruns”, and dreaded going to sleep each night to see which dream would be airing. The worst of the nightmares involved a gothic castle, gargoyles, tribesmen and one magical weeping willow tree.

The dream begins with me finding myself attending a huge gala with my parents at a very creepy Gothic castle. All of the adults are dressed in their best attire and are drinking cocktails and enjoying the evening filled with music and laughter. The children were dressed in their party clothes as well and were running around playing hide and seek. The castle was an endless series of hallways, doorways and staircases. I found what I assumed was a closet door and thought it would be a good place to hide. Upon turning the big brass doorknob, the heavy door opened and there was nothing but a sea of blackness inside. It was a frightening vision, made worse by the dismembered skull that came flying toward me yelling that the wine the adults were drinking was poisoned.

I raced through the interior labyrinth of the castle to my parents and begged them not to drink the wine, but they couldn’t see or hear me. I then ran out of the building to find help. Around the bend was a small wooden bridge that led to a strange, primitive village filled with raised huts. As soon as I crossed the bridge, angry tribesmen carrying spears and wearing war paint came pouring out of the huts and began chasing me back to the castle.

Once I reached the castle grounds, I saw that all of the party guests (my parents and playmates included) were standing under a bare willow tree, staring ahead blankly, and holding a single leaf. The giant clock on the face of the castle was starting to gong the midnight hour and the stone gargoyles began to crack from their casing and become alive. Intuitively, I knew that I had only seconds before I was to be brutally mauled to death by the savage beasts. The key to avoid certain death was to hold one of the leaves from the weeping willow tree, but the tree was now barren. 

The tribesmen clan was at my back preventing me from running away, and the almost-freed gargoyles were growling on my right. I started to cry as I looked upon my parents and friends for the last time. And then, as the clock struck midnight, a light gust of wind blew a small previously unseen leaf off the top of the tree and placed it gently in the palm of my hand, saving me from a horrible fate.

I had this particular “rerun” so many times that I was eventually able to alter the script slightly and experience it from a different perspective. I came to recognize the flying skull as a friend warning me of impending doom and not someone to be feared. I decided that the tribesmen were heeding my call for help, and had sprung into action to defend me, ready for battle. The wretched growling gargoyles were just cranky and achy after being trapped in stone for centuries. They didn’t want to hurt me, they wanted to get the heck out of there.

But just in case I was wrong, I always knew that in the end God would save me by sending that precious little leaf on a soft cloud of air. Now the real trick is having that kind of faith when I’m awake.

I’m still working on it.

Cheers to Getting Organized

Originally, my 2013 New Year’s resolution was to stop making New Year’s resolutions. Or, at the very least, to stop making the same resolution that I have made for the past 15 years—lose weight & get in shape. Every year, I make the same promise to myself that THIS IS THE YEAR the magic will happen! But it’s not magic, it’s diet and exercise, and I hate it. So, this year I decided to aim for a different goal, one that I knew could be reached—to get the house completely organized.

This would be no small undertaking. I envisioned myself tearing through this house like a wild fire leaving nothing in my wake. I would systematically move from one room to another organizing every drawer, cabinet and closet. Items that hadn’t been used in years would either be donated or sold in a massive garage sale. I was going to be rich! And the house was going to be so much easier to clean without all the unnecessary stuff everywhere.

I started with the pantry.

I took everything off the shelves and wiped them down. Anything that was expired, moldy or suspicious looking was tossed out. With great pleasure I dumped all remaining Medifast Meals from last year’s failed resolution attempt in the garbage. What an exciting and liberating experience this was proving to be! I moved from the pantry to the kitchen and organized everything in sight. I tried to reduce the 3 junk drawers down to one, but we had too much stuff so I just renamed them instead. We now have a “bill paying drawer”, a “junk drawer”, and a “miscellaneous drawer”.

I then tackled the coat closet, the closet under the stairs, the garage and the laundry room. As I moved from room to room, I made quite a few discoveries. Like why in the world do we have 6 bottles of Draino? And why are they scattered all over the house? I started to notice how many items we had in duplicate and triplicate. Who needs 4 bottles of Armour All and Shout It Out? Or 3 tire pressure gauges for a two-car household? How much money had we been foolishly spending purchasing items we already had on hand, simply because we weren’t organized?

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I ran upstairs to tackle the studio. There I discovered 7 pairs of scissors, 17 rolls of scotch tape, 30 various colored and sized highlighters and countless other redundant art and office supplies. (In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I did just recently shut down my art education business and sold off most of my inventory, but not all of it. The items mentioned above however were not used for my company. These came from our personal stash, collected over years of making art and apparently hoarding supplies.)

After 5 trips to Goodwill and even more to the dumpster, I finally finished cleaning out the upstairs studio and am halfway to my goal of organizing the entire house—and it’s only the beginning of March! It looks like I may actually make good on this year’s resolution.

And as a bonus, it turns out that deep cleaning the house is some seriously good cardio exercise! I think I may have actually sweat off a few pounds. Maybe I should take the money I’ll save this year from not having to buy all of the items I already have in excess and go join Weight Watchers to get a jump start on next year’s resolution.

But for now, I think I’ll just take a little break, put my feet up and have a beer. (or two…or three) After all, I do have a whole year.

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The Universe is as Subtle as A Dog

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To the casual observer, my 75-pound Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab/Border Collie mix mutt is anything but subtle. He bangs on the blinds covering the back door when he wants to go outside. He carries his metal food bowl and drops it in front of you on the hardwood floor when he’s hungry, rattling your skull in the process. If he’s feeling mischievous, you better guard your socks and underwear because they are bound to go missing in hopes that you will soon be in hot pursuit to retrieve them. He definitely knows how to get his point across.

With my background in marketing and advertising, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in communications. But recently it has come to my attention that the loud, über fast-paced, deadline-driven, visually, audibly and chemically over-stimulated world that we live in has actually deadened our communication skills as a society. (Or at least mine.) Subtlety and innuendo are a lost art. If you want to be heard you better shout and it better be in 140 characters or less because we don’t have time or the attention span for anything else.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made a concerted effort to s-l-o-w  d-o-w-n, and in doing so I discovered something amazing. My dog is a master of the art of subtlety, but I’ve been too distracted to notice. He gives a series of nonverbal cues as to what he wants and only escalates them to an annoyingly loud level when I don’t acknowledge his previous attempts. For example, when he wants to play fetch he will look in the direction of his toy bin and then look back at me with inquisitive eyebrows, a big smile and a wagging tail. Then, he will bring a ball to me. If I don’t get the hint he will drop it at my feet and stare at it in hopes I will follow his line of sight and engage in playing. If that still doesn’t get my attention he will demonstrate “throwing” the ball by standing on the back of the sofa and dropping it. If I haven’t started playing by now he assumes I must not like his initial toy selection, so he will get a different ball and go through the motions again. It is only as a last resort that he will drop the ball in my lap and start barking incessantly and at an eardrum-piercing level, because by this point it has become apparent to him that I will only respond to the most obvious and painful of tactics. The universe, it seems, uses the same playbook as my dog.

More often than not, I’ve had to learn my life lessons the hard way. In looking back though, there were always numerous opportunities to learn the same lesson through a less painful method. The trick is to slow down, be quiet and observant, and listen. The universe speaks to us in whispers all the time, giving us the advice we seek and steering us toward the right path and helpful people. If we don’t listen to the whispers we can eventually expect a shout or worse.

Don’t wait for life to bite you in the butt. Quiet down, observe the subtle cues, throw the ball and get into the game. Life is a lot more fun that way.

Running into Einstein in the Girl’s Bathroom

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The other day I rediscovered a gem of a coffee-house in my neighborhood. It has become a favorite spot of mine for blogging and people watching. It attracts an interesting mix of cappuccino-drinking college students, musicians, professionals, chess players, high school D&D enthusiasts and self-professed creative muses like myself that enjoy the laid-back hipster vibe. Here, the music is just as eclectic as the patrons. Today I heard an old Blues tune followed by an instrumental version of some song I didn’t know featuring an accordion.

While sipping my Italian Mint Latte, my moment of solitude and reflection was abruptly disrupted by a herd of screaming children that came running into the coffee shop. With their book bags swinging, threatening to knock over everything in sight they marched from one end of the establishment to the other until finally settling on several tables by the entrance. (Fortunately for me, I’m a bit of a recluse and prefer the more dimly lit back area; far, far away.)

The kids were busy being typical kids—noisy, completely unaware of any rules of decorum, with their sole focus on laughing and having a good time. In the background, “Who Wants To Live Forever” by Queen was playing. This was all taking place while I was in the throes of my mini mid-life crisis and trying to decide what to be when I “grow up”. In my frustration at not being able to concentrate with all the surrounding ruckus, I decided to get up, stretch my legs and go to the bathroom.

And that’s when I saw him, the greatest genius of the 20th century, Einstein. With eyes twinkling, he was sticking his tongue out at me and looking like an even bigger kid than the screaming munchkins in the other room. I started to laugh. At first, I laughed because he was directly facing me and making that funny face at my most vulnerable of moments, when my pants are around my ankles and my butt is on the throne. Then I laughed even harder because I got the message the universe had been trying to send me:

1. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

2. Be fearless. Who cares what everyone else thinks? It’s your life.

3. You will get the guidance you seek. “The teacher will come when the student is ready.” (In my case, Einstein and a group of unsuspecting children. Not too shabby.)

When I came out of the bathroom, the children had gone and Louie Armstrong was on the radio singing, “We Have All The Time In The World”. I took that as an invitation to sit back, order another latte and save my mid-life crisis for later.

The Curse of Competence

When I was working in the corporate world, I posted the following quote on my office door for all to see:

“Lack of preparation on your part does NOT constitute an emergency on my part.”

It was (because I hate conflict) a passive aggressive attempt to dissuade my less than buttoned up colleagues from badgering me about helping them meet a looming deadline that they had days if not weeks to finish.

Because of my natural OCD tendencies, I always had my work finished, polished and ready to go prior to the deadline. If you asked for 3 great branding concepts, I gave you 6. If you wanted rough doodles, I’d bring in tight sketches and a mood board ready to send to the illustrator for production. Unlike grammar school P.E. class where I was always the last one to get chosen for the team, I was now in my element and I was excelling. Life was good. Until it wasn’t.

One day (after working at the same firm for 12 years) I got called into my manager’s office for a closed-door meeting. (Never a good sign.) I was told that I needed to not excel so much because my abilities were upsetting my colleagues because I was outshining them. I was dumbfounded. I repeated what was being told to me out loud because I simply couldn’t comprehend it. “You mean to tell me that you want me to do less than what I am capable of so that the under achievers can feel better about themselves?”  Silence. “So, instead of encouraging my coworkers to up their game you want me to throw mine?” Crickets.

Then just a simple, “Yes.”

That’s when I learned that I was cursed. My colleagues wanted my help to bail them out of their last-minute jams (because they were socializing when they should have been working) and my managers wanted me to downplay my skills to make the rest of the team “feel better”.

Today, I read an article about an economics professor teaching his students about the downfall of Socialism. He stated, “When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they worked for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.”

I think the same applies to the work place, or at least advertising.

My Korean Waitress Speaks Little Spanish

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Yesterday, I met my husband at the Korean restaurant that we frequent because the food is delicious and the location is midway between his office and our home. When we walked in we were greeted like Norm from Cheers which gives us the false sense of importance that we enjoy so much. They sat us at one of “our” tables and practically brought us our iced teas before we ordered them. We ordered our typical fare—Eel Bibbity Bobbety Boo Bowl for me (I can never remember the real name) and the BBQ Ribs Bento Box for my husband. The food was superb as usual but something was missing. Something…atmospheric, but what? The normal lunch hour chatter was humming, Korean techno music was thumping in the background and the smells of yummy goodness being grilled was all there, so what was missing? And then it hit me—we had a different waitress and she was—really good.

Our usual waitress, to my husband’s great amusement, kind of annoys me. She is an overly bubbly, talkative person that thinks she has a personal relationship with us. She also thinks it’s part of her job to entertain us while we are sitting in her section. She tells jokes and laughs at her own banter while we politely sit there smiling and nodding because we can only understand every fifth word. Our lack of comprehension isn’t solely because of her very heavy Korean accent and the speed with which she speaks, but because she flip flops from speaking broken English to speaking broken Spanish. As someone that took remedial French in school over 20 years ago, this definitely presents a very big communication barrier.

But yesterday, (dare I say it) I was missing our happy, chirpy, quasi-bilingual waitress. How strange.  I guess we all find comfort in things that we can count on staying the same. The same childhood stories being told over and over again when we’re home for the holidays, the perfect cup of coffee made just the way you like it from your local barista, and now, the Korean waitress that for whatever reason has taken a shine to us and is doing all she can to make our experience pleasant and memorable.

I guess this is a sign that it’s time to dust off that Rosetta Stone Spanish language course that my husband gave me several Christmases ago and finally give it a whirl. Maybe I can become her token Cajun Customer that Speaks Little Spanish. Bon appetit! I mean, Buen provecho!

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