Sunday, November 11, 2012

On Finding Balance ...

The wonderful thing about finding something you are passionate about is the thrill you get from doing it or even just being around it. It's so easy to immerse yourself to the exclusion of all else, and even, everyone else.  Some folks think if you're truly serious about something, then that's the only way to be.  To some extent,  I do agree.  For example, if you enjoy motor racing, and you want to compete at national level, sometimes, even local level, you're going to have to put in the hours of practice to hone your skills to be able to compete.    

The last couple of months have been quite a journey in trying to find the balance between the thing that brings me so much joy and the responsibilities I have as  mom and wife and friend.  For a while, I happily let myself get lost in my passion to the exclusion of everything else.  As anyone can tell you, when your life becomes unbalanced, the road starts getting really bumpy (to use our car analogy).  The children start remarking on your frequent (and  prolonged) absences, your home starts being invaded by "Thing 1" and "Thing 2", and everyone knows what a house looks like when they've been to visit!  Family pets start reacting to you as if you're a complete stranger and friends begin to wonder if you were abducted by techno friendly aliens who allow you to post Facebook statuses as you feel need to.  Significant Others become quietly resentful at getting whatever time you have left, instead of the best you have.  You find yourself making all manner of compromises in order to make time for your passion.   For some, all this might seem admirable and an indicator of dedication, and maybe it could be.  To me, it slowly became a point of anxiety.

Life has a way of talking to you, though, if you'll listen.  It starts with a quiet whisper, a little word of caution from a friend, a off hand remark from a stranger, a song on the radio.  Little messages letting you know that you need to make a decision.  Add in a crazy month of preparation, entertaining,  birthdays, and unplanned dental emergencies, and you suddenly find yourself in a position where you are forced to prioritize.  And prioritize not in the way you'd like.   Everything that had been bumped to the bottom of my "To-Do List" suddenly HAD to be dealt with - NOW.   At first I panicked.  Afraid that I would lose the thing I held so dear.  In the situation I was in, there was nothing I could do.  Don't you just love when Life insists on teaching you something.

The crazy whirlwind that has been my life the last four weeks or so, is finally calming down to a coastal gust, as it were, and while I would love to report that nothing has really changed, that wouldn't be true.  I learnt that even in pursuing your passion, it is important that you never forget the people who were there for you before you found that spark.  When Life says, "Not now,"  it's not saying "Never."  I have managed to find some balance in all this.  A schedule that works for me.  Accommodates the whole person I am now and not merely fragments of me.  And yes, an outlet for my passion as well.  Maybe not in the way I envisaged or planned, but maybe what I had envisaged wasn't what I needed right now.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting "Hair" Done ...

I have never had much luck with finding two things which really work for me.  A gynecologist and a good hairdresser.  As any lady will tell you, or maybe not, it's important to have folks who know what they are doing in these two fields.  A bad visit with either one of these professionals can really sour a girl's day.  Since moving to Tennessee, I have not had much luck in with finding professionals in either one of these fields that survived more than one or two visits from me.  That is until today.  Today, I am cautiously optimistic, I may have found a hair stylist!  For years I have suffered through folks who are good at their jobs, but not very good at listening to their clients.  Or sometimes they are so very good at their jobs that they don't feel it necessary to give the client anything of what they ask for.  After all, they know better!  For years now, I have sat in the stylist's chair, told them what I wanted and had to walk out making peace with whatever style they deemed would look best on me.  A few months ago, I wanted a pixie cut, but the stylists shook her head and replied, "I don't see you with something that edgy.  You would look better with soft layers."  The problem was, I had had soft layers for years!  I wanted something different!  What the poor woman didn't know, and couldn't know, was that the twenty stylists before her had said the exact same thing.  Well, with the exception of one who nodded when I explained to her what I wanted done and then simply did what she wanted to do anyway.  Soft layers.  Today, was different.  I walked into the salon armed with a picture of what I wanted done.  To make sure that it would look good on me, I had gone through the trouble of downloading an app that allows you to see what a style or hair color would look like on you before you attempt to wear it.  I confidently pulled out my phone and showed her what I wanted done.  My arguments were neatly lined up and ready to go, my resolve was ... well ... resolute!  She looked at my picture and exclaimed with glee, "Oh yay!  This is going to be so much fun!"  That was NOT the reaction I expected.  Out came the foils and a metric tonne were applied to my head.  Next, it was time for me to bake ... under the dryers I went.  Just when I feared becoming all crispy, I was whisked out and whirled into the comfy chair at the basin where some rather foul smell stuff was smeared on my hair.  Rinse, condition, massage, rinse and pat dry.  Marched to the chair where my stylist seemed to bouncing from one foot to the other in anticipation.  A gleeful giggle and then she got busy.  First the scissors then the razor.  An hour later, I was whirled around again and I almost cried!  Happy tears.  Finally I had exactly what I wanted and it looked GREAT!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Joys of Traveling on a Green Passport

South Africans are a proud lot.  We love our country.  Yes, it's a mess and horribly dysfunctional, but it's our mess and dysfunction.  We can talk bad about it all day long, and we do, but don't let anybody else say anything mean about the place.  Them is fighting words!  We love our flag.  We may not pledge allegiance to it, but we like that we have all the colors of the rainbow in ours.  Okay, I exaggerate, we don't have ALL the colors of the rainbow, but we do have most of the colors of every other flag known to mankind all collated in our little flag.  Our national colors, when competing internationally is green and gold, not to be confused with Australia's gold and green.  And man!!  Are we ever proud of those colors!  Springboks, Proteas, BafanaBafana, it doesn't matter what name you call us, we are proud.  Even when we don't do too well.  We are still proud.  The only time the Green and Gold becomes a real pain in the ... bottom, is when it relates to our passports.  Yes, our passports are dark green with gold emblazed coat of arms.  It actually looks super stylish, however, no one else seems to think so.  Or at least, when traveling, you don't get credit for having a stylish looking passport.  When folks from other countries see our beautiful green and gold passport they immediately tell us to get visas.  It doesn't matter where you might want to travel as a South African, you WILL need a visa.  It started in the Apartheid years as a form of sanctions.  Post apartheid, it hasn't be lifted.  It would appear that we are still not trustworthy.  What I find ironic is that our passports have this little blurb in the front which basically says that the bearer of the passport is granted free travel anywhere and that our passports should be accepted as proof that we are free to travel.  I think an amended blurb needs to be written which says, "Dear Citizen, Yes you have a passport which should enable you to travel, but unless you are traveling on the continent of Africa (and even then), expect to have to get Visas for every place you wish to visit."  I know most Americans and British folk have no idea what the big deal is, because they have passports (albeit slightly less stylish) which truly DO grant them entry into any country they wish to visit.  The exceptions to that rule, are so few, and usually include places that most tourists would rarely want to visit anyway, that they hardly bare mentioning.  However, on a South African passport, I have to buy a visa every time I wish to travel to ANY where.  Yes, I did say buy.  You fill out a long application form and then you have to send in a "processing fee."  These can run the gamut of $80 to a whopping $141 for my recent UK tourist visa application.  Yes, that's $141 for a visa for a visit that is only going to last 7 hours.  Did I mention that South African passports are also subject to the latest fad in travel documentation:  The Transit Visa.  Yes, now even if you are merely traveling through a place, you need a visa.  No, you will not be leaving the airport, merely landing at a place that would normally want you to have a visa if you were going to visit.  However, you won't be visiting because you will be going from one gate to the next to continue on your journey, but you still have to fork out the bucks for a transit visa for the privilege (or inconvenience) of doing this.

I also find it rather interesting that most countries that are subjected to Visa requirements are poor.  Some are also the "black sheep" in the international community.  Although,  I had hoped that South Africa would have made it off the international black list by now, but apparently not.  So no matter how proud I may be of the Green and Gold, when it comes to my passport, it's a drag.  An expensive drag.  And an insulting drag:  I mean, I need a visa to visit Mexico, for Pete's sake!  Really?!

Countries can have whatever excuse they want for requiring visas:  security being the biggest argument.  Another one being trying to deter folks from illegally immigrating.  You know, overstay your visa.  Problem is, desperate folks still do that.  I know that is one of the reasons why Britain insists on South Africans having visas. Why not have a rigorous passport application processes that guarantees that people that are issued with passports are "good" citizens and trustworthy and therefore can be trusted to travel abroad to any country they want without requiring the extra expense and stress of visas.  What I find ridiculous about the whole process at the moment is that at some point I will be applying for American Citizenship.  At that point I get issued with a Navy blue passport, and "poof" suddenly I go from being untrustworthy and suspicious to being completely trustworthy.  I haven't changed.  I am the same person.  Just the travel document I use is different.  That's how ridiculous the whole thing is!  There has got to be a better way to do these things that isn't financially crippling, ridiculously invasive (I had to send in copies of pay stubs for my UK visitor's visa) and time consuming (processing times can be ridiculous depending on where you are applying from and where you want to go).  I understand countries want to make a little bit of money off of tourists, but then be honest about it and charge a entry tax and levy it on EVERYONE.  That seems more fair.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Review: The Magic of Belle Isle

I had seen a trailer for this movie a while back and had thought it looked "kinda interesting". It seemed to have all the elements needed to be a sweet, safe, family movie. Three adorable sisters, ranging in age from teen to Kindergartener; a creative and wise mom, trying to pick up the pieces of her life, post divorce; a sweet young man, who is mentally delayed and likes to bunny hop everywhere and his eccentric mother, who also is an accountant. Throw in an alcoholic author with writer's block and a vocabulary that made me envious, and you have the makings of a story that runs the gamut of coming of age, to comeback story, to love story, to "THEY CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY OUR FRRREEDOM!" motivational story.

I learnt the importance of seeing what's NOT there as a writer. To be fearless when telling a story. Incorporate from your experience, but make it something different. It reminded me how hard it was to understand my mother as a teen. How hard I was on her and what a powerful impact the realization that she too was a girl once, had on me. Just how we never truly know, or understand, the effect we have on others lives when we simply live ours. Regardless of how sad and low or empty we may see ourselves.

So many times we focus on what we don't have, didn't achieve, couldn't or can't do and attach our worth and "usefulness" to that. We measure the space we consume here in this life based on that. Oprah deserves so much because look at how large her life is. I'm not as important, so I'll just stick to my sofa. She can touch lives and change situations because she's Oprah. I 'm just poor little me. No money, no influence, no life. We forget that the Oprah's of the world didn't start big and powerful. They became that way over time. No, I don't believe we are all destined for fame and fortune, but I do believe that we ALL have something to offer in life. Something that makes us different and can help others in meaningful ways. Sometimes a smile affects more powerful change in a person's heart than a million dollars ever could. Sometimes the right word spoken at the right time can launch people into brand new adventures and life trajectories. Those things are just as important and meaningful. Being brave enough to be who you are, courageous enough to touch other lives just through our daily "living life" routines, brings color to people's lives as well as meaning to our own. And that is the message I heard from "The Magic of Belle Isle".

Well worth the time ...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When Mommy Strikes ...

So I found an interesting article today that I wanted to share with everyone.  It's interesting because I have similarly tried this experiment, to much the same result.  The progeny (and sometimes, the spouse) are all good for a while, and then slowly but surely everyone reverts back to their "forgetful" ways.    I was lucky enough to have a cleaning service for a few months, which helped to give me a day off during the week.  But not everyone can afford that, even for a little while.  Which means, that for us moms to have the respect we deserve from our families, we have to regularly insist on it.  No nagging necessary.  Just gentle reminders followed by natural consequences (no breakfast cereal bowls available for breakfast if no-one takes their dishes to the kitchen).  I like my home to be clean and organized, but part of being a parent is that I teach my children how to be responsible for themselves as well.  Cleaning up after yourself, whether it be taking a dish to the kitchen, cleaning up the bathroom after you used it, bringing down towels to be washed so that you have towels to dry yourself with again, are all part of that learning process.  It also teaches you to have respect for those you share space with.  Whether we are work outside the home moms, or work in the home moms, we all deserve to have at least ONE day where we don't have to be responsible for cleaning up after someone else.  It's okay to have a day off.  To relax and let others take care of us.  It doesn't mean we are failures or weak or wimps.  It means that we, like everyone else on this planet, function best when we have had time to rest.  Enjoy the article .... and make some time for yourself!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Working for the Weekend

Weekends, for most of us, are equated with "down" time. Let your hair down, calm down, get down (or up) or chill time. It means we try do the things we weren't able to (or couldn't be bothered to) do during the week, preferably with people we don't always get to see that much of, or simply enjoy having around a lot. In our home, weekends have become sacred. It's the one time when we can truly reconnect as a family. Like so many families in the US at the moment, our family is split up during the week. Livings have to be made, and sadly, it cannot always happen where you live. So, weekends have become the most looked forward to time in our home. Not only that, but to ensure that everyone gets the time they need with "Dad", weekends are scheduled to some degree. So when the grown ups can some unscheduled time alone, we enjoy it for the gift it is. This past weekend it took the form of "work". We are preparing for a big family trip and there is "giftage" that needs to be acquired to ensure I have a good time (because let's face it, giving someone else a gift is ALL about me!). A pilgrimage to Opry Mills was made, and every shop perused (but only few chosen for gifting purposes). Sunday, was spent staining the beautiful coffee table my hubby made me AND doing a photo shoot for some friends of ours. We may have been busy, but we were busy together. Working together. Needless to say, everything felt less like work or responsibility or "to do listy" and more like fun! We capped of our impromptu weekend hang-out by watching our favorite Sunday night shows together (can I hear a woot woot for my favorite serial killer). All in all, a PERFECT weekend, spent with the one person I love to hang out with the most. Next weekend, we return to the tight scheduling as usual: birthdays, projects, friends. How lucky am I to have such a full life!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Imagine - A Dreamer's Prayer

In 1971, a "strange" young man wrote and released a song, simply titled Imagine.  As far as melodies go, not very complicated, and the arrangement, a simple piano led accompaniment.  Nothing fancy.  Yet it is this simple little 3:14 song that has been weighing on my heart recently.  Especially in light of all the unrest in mostly Muslim countries, the horrific attack on American embassy staff  and the nasty rhetoric that has since followed.  All which came about as a result of some silly YouTube video which offended the Muslim community.

The very first time I heard Imagine, I was a young adult.  I know that many of you would be just stupefied that a person could go through life without having heard Imagine, but sadly, it's true.  On first hearing the song, I have to admit, I was NOT impressed.  I found it to be really offensive.  How do you mean, "Imagine there's no Heaven and Hell?  And no religion?".  That dude must've been smoking some really good stuff!  Turns out he was.  However, that shouldn't negate the message of his song.  I've grown up a bit since then.  I've lived a bit.  Been out in the world.  Done a little traveling.  Now I get what this "crazy hippy" was trying to say.  Not that I claim to understand all things, quite the contrary.  However I think I better understand what he was trying to say.  He was dreaming of a world when we wouldn't let our differences define us or prevent us from seeing each other as worthy of respect.  In his opinion, living for Heaven or in fear of Hell, prevented people from appreciating where they are now, the relationships they have now.  Religion seems to pull us apart instead of giving us compassion for each other.  Most of our faiths espouse tolerance, compassion, generosity, hospitality, mercy, love, peace.  One would think that we would see the benefit of that in our societies, instead we seem to cling solely to that which would cause hurt and pain.  We use our faiths to judge, condemn, oppress, destroy.  It would be wonderful if we just were able to just BE people.  Not have countries and nationalities, just be people.  All willing to share, no-one taking more than they need.  Everyone living in the understanding that when I care about the well-being and welfare of my neighbor, I am also caring for myself.  But our innate natures seem to be somewhat greedy and restless in its discontent.  Ironically, the very reason I think we could benefit from the positive teachings in our faiths.

It is so easy to look at images of the angry demonstrating crowds and think, "Exactly what we've come to expect from Muslims.  Always getting upset and excited about something trivial."  Yet, Christians are just as guilty.  Muslims may bomb or kill people they consider offensive to their faith, but Christians have been known to blow up abortion clinics or assassinate doctors who work at those clinics.  Then there's the infamous witch hunts, pogroms and crusades, all done in the name of God and under the flag of Faith and with the Church's blessing in some cases.  What was that?  Oh, not ALL Christians are extremists?  Well, couldn't it be possible that not ALL Muslims are extremists either?  Similarly, not every Middle Eastern man wants to rain death and destruction on the West.

Extremes in ANYTHING in life can be dangerous and have disastrous effects.

Seeing news footage of the burnt down embassy in Libya, the folks that lost their lives, the angry protestors in the streets, just made my heart feel so heavy.  Shouldn't we of faith, regardless of which faith it is, be able to rise above these things?  Can we not find a way to share this wonderful planet with each other without perpetually warring with each other?

Somebody posted a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King on Facebook the other day, which so aptly described this dilemma for me:

"When we look at modern man, we have to face the fact that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast with scientific and technological abundance.  We've learnt to fly the air as birds;  We've learnt to swim the seas as fish, yet we haven't learned to walk the earth as brothers and sisters."

How very sad.

Yet, like Dr King and Mr Lennon, I do have a dream.  Maybe, ONE day we will finally be able to understand that different doesn't mean superior or inferior, it simply means different.   And different doesn't equate to bad.  We all have something to teach each other and something to learn from each other.  We all are necessary to make this rich tapestry that is Mankind.  Each contribute flavors and colors which adds to the richness and beauty of life.

To quote another singer/songwriter, "I'm starting with the man in the mirror, I asking him to change his ways ..."  If we all chose to "give peace a chance" - not merely lip service, but actual actions (and sometimes, inactions) that would bring about real change, could you imagine the world we would have?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SuBtle Plugs

I really don't like pushy sales people. I really don't like being bullied and sometimes, in order to make a sale, folks will try to run roughshod over you. My first encounter with "high pressure" sales pitches was when I was eighteen. I had just started working, was living on my own, and was enjoying being "footloose and fancy free". My experience with door to door salesmen had been very limited up to this point. I'll admit, I was completely taken in by his dazzling smile, flattering ways and "hocus pocus". Before I knew it, I had signed an automatic bank order for a 12 place setting dinner service. It was beautiful. There were serving dishes, serving platters, and the all important gravy boat. The plates were near indestructible and the glasses elegant. The problem with "Hocus Pocus", as with any "spell", it's hold lasts only as long as the "caster" is there. Sure enough, after the gentleman left, my faculties slowly returned to me. What on earth am I going to do with a dinner service that would take me two years to pay off? Naturally, I did what any self-respecting, strong, independent, single woman would do. I called my mom. She very graciously agreed to phone the company and cancel my order. The lesson I learnt from that experience, beware charming men with dazzling smiles, and truly NEVER open your door to strangers. Since then, I've followed my mother's words of wisdom: Just say no. Some folks are really determined. Or maybe just hard of hearing. Those situations require incessant use of the word "no!". As in, "nonononononoNOOOOOOOO!"

Once I moved to the US, I had to really step up my game. Here, they have people who phone you all the time trying to get you to buy stuff or change stuff or upgrade. Thank God for the shelter of the "Do Not Call List". Being rude to folks isn't something that comes naturally to me, and most of the time I am able to convince folks to leave me be, before having to resort to hanging up on them mid-pitch.

Now companies have changed their strategy yet again. Now they're using our TV's. Yes, I'm aware that commercials have been with us since the beginning of visual medium, but these aren't your "typical" advertisements. These are cleverly placed products on set of our favorite shows. Car companies really seem to be stepping it up, with shows like the Closer, Burn Notice, Suits to mention a few, cutting away from relevant dialogue to point out Ford's latest feature or Hyundai's latest gizmo. Regardless of having a DVR that I use to skip through the majority of ad pitches, here, smack bang in the middle of my favorite serial drama, I have a not so suBtle advertisement. That's not even talking about the other little things like soups, clothes, cereals, TV's, appliances and so on and so forth. I understand that marketers sole job is to make me want their product. But, seriously? Is there no respite from their relentless bombardment? One would think with the amount of advertisements they cram in between scenes, they wouldn't have to find additional ways to ply their wares.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Longest Day

Some days feel like they'll never end. Some days seem to fly by at light speed, leaving you feeling breathless in the effort of wrangling it to a more languid pace. Some days seem to last a month or a year. Or five years. Sunday, was a long day for me. The sun was out. The sky a beautiful blue. Autumn temperatures made being outside simply wonderful. A gentle breeze was playfully mussing the leaves in our trees. The day was slow, as befits Sunday. It would never do to have a rushed "Day of Rest". In an instant, a blink of an eye, all peaceful rest is upended. All wonderful tranquility forgotten and in it's place panic, fear, sadness. In the midst of this awful drama relentlessly unfolding before me, I find myself thinking, "It's ok. Tomorrow will be a new day. A fresh start." Normally, that would be true. But this sadness, this unhappiness, this need to make things right, will not be done with tomorrow. It's repercussions will linger and haunt me for a while still. Like bad medicine, the after taste will repeatedly remind me, "this happened". My soul bows over under the burden of a hurt heart.

Yet, I determinedly face this Long Day. This day whose length will be measured in days and weeks, not simply hours. I know even the Longest Day eventually has to say its farewell and give way to something new. I take a deep breath, dry my tears, square my shoulders and lift my chin.

The sun slowly begins its majestic descent. It's fading light giving Angels colors of fantastical hue to paint the horizon with. On the light, evening breeze, a song of ... Hope. A new day is on its way ...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Fighting Marlises

Ever had one of those days.  You know, the ones where your comforter/duvet wraps itself tightly around you, pulling you into it's warm embrace.  Your bedroom cloaks you in comfort as its dim light whispers lullabies, tempting you to hit "snooze", accept your comforter/duvet's inviting embrace and languidly slip back into dreamland for part two of that really great dream you were having.  I don't know about you, but all this begins a raging argument within myself.  The Responsible Side whispers, "It's time to start your day."  The Immature/Irresponsible Side counters with, "Just a few minutes more and then you can get up."  Followed by, "Come on.  You know you're not going to make it out the house on time if you lay here for much longer.  There's lots that has to be done today."  Eventually, the "arguing" between the two sides of myself becomes so loud, the only way to have any peace is to just get up!  Well, I had one of those mornings today.  What made today a little more unusual, was the continuation of the internal arguing even after getting up.  The topic was "To gym or not to gym."  There were some really great arguments made against visiting my place of blood, sweat and perseverance.  Some really tempting ones, in fact.  Yet, I kept going.  One foot in front of the other,  until, I found myself standing in front of the door to Curves.  One would think that at this point, the two sides would have conceded the arguments and let me be.  Oh no!  It continued, like two snippy chihuahuas, continually harassing each other.  "Do just one circuit."  "You're here now, might as well do the full two."  "You're not feeling 100%.  You don't want to end up hurting yourself"  "Think of your riding goals.  You want to strengthen your legs, don't you?  Do at least two circuits."  While they continued to snip and snap at each other, I did two circuits, with extra reps on the squat and quad machines.  I didn't let Immature/Irresponsible Side get me down when I looked up my work out stats and saw I was a little below where I wanted to be.  I didn't get down on myself because I had managed to complete my workout, to the best of my ability, with all that racket going on in my head!!  Surely, that was the hardest part of the day.  Surely now the noise in my head would die down and let me get on with the rest of my day.  Alas!  The new subject of debate:  going to the barn.  I don't really need to go to the barn.  I could survive without going, and yet .... I know that I am better once I've been there.  I doled out some apples to my four legged friends, chatted to assistant trainer as she did her chores, and by the time I left, there was peace.  No more wrestling with myself.  At least for a while.  It started all over again on entering my home.  "Get things picked up. Tidy up.  You'll feel better"  "Nah.  Leave it for a day."  "You left it for a day yesterday" "The kids are only going to mess everything up.  Why bother?"  And so on and so forth.  Again, during this tug of war, I managed to wipe down the kitchen counters, load the dishwasher, get a load of laundry done and made some time to quickly write this blog (even though, according to one Side, "no-one reads it anyway!"). 

Yes, today has been one of those days.  Everything has been a fight and a struggle.  Yet, I feel like I have accomplished so much more precisely because of it.  I didn't give in.  I kept moving forward.  One little step at a time.  One little action followed another.  The result has been, the things that are important to me, have gotten done.  Some of the things that aren't so important but necessary have gotten done too.  That's reason to celebrate!

Whatever day you're having, whether it be highly motivated or a continual struggle to get things done, at the end of the day, may you feel content.  May there be pride in what you have accomplished.  May you go to sleep tonight, with a smile on your face and a light, joyful spirit.  Until tomorrow morning ...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dinner and a Show - Family Fun at Samurai's Hibachi

Flaming onion
 Progress reports arrived, and I was both relieved and pleased to see how exceptionally well my High Schooler faired.  Relieved, because school has always been such a monumental challenge for him and pleased because he managed to overcome his other challenge - staying organized.  This is the first time in years that every assignment was completed on time and  handed in.  Achievements this big cannot go uncelebrated, and so it was with glad heart that I asked my first born how he would like to celebrate.  He immediately mentioned Samurai's,  a Hibachi restaurant in town that we had been to once before.

One would think the flamboyant meal preparation and extravagant knife work would have the kids interested in visiting the restaurant, but in fact it's the large replica of a  Samurai statue that has them even more intrigued.  When I related that the sculpture reminded me of one of figures from the Terracotta Army, my son was completely astonished.  "A whole army made of Terracota?"  Since then, it's been a firm favorite for "Family Treat Night".

 Watching our chef flip, toss, roll and catch a fresh egg before delicately cracking it on the cooking surface, had me in complete awe.  How many hours do you think they spend practising those moves.  What makes the whole thing so much more amazing is the absence of egg shell.  All that fancy work and not a shell fragment to be found ANYWHERE!  Seriously?  I have to be careful not to include "crunchiness" to my recipies every time I have to add eggs.   The "food toss" is another big favorite with my kids (and it seems, everyone elses kids too).  The chef chops up some vegetables, and flips them from his spatula into a guest's mouth.  I expertly caught my broccoli floret on my crown.  A regal catch indeed.  My husband, who tends to be the less co-ordinated of the two of us, caught both broccoli floret and a gulch of sake, in his mouth.  I am still in awe.

I cannot pretend that we could understand our chef very well.   He spoke with a thick accent.  But there was no doubt that the man had skill when it came to handling his knives.  However, the proof is in the pudding.  The man can whirl a knife around, but can he cook?  Not all Hibachi are equal.  Some tend to overcook their food, but who cares when you have been dazzled by mad food prep skills combined with small pyrotechnics show?  Imagine my surprise then when I popped the first morsel of filet mignon into my mouth and recognized it as filet mignon!  Not shoe leather, or beef jerky, but actual tastey, juicy and tender steak.  It was heaven in my mouth.  The lobster that followed was just as tender and full of flavor.   Thank God for "boxing".  To leave the food on my plate would have been a sin!  Instead, I boxed it up and brought it home to enjoy later.  And man, am I looking forward to that.

While it certainly isn't the most affordable meal we can have in town.  We have to budget for a trip out to Samurai's,  but it is quite an enjoyable time together and worth every penny spent.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Week Day Early Morning Madness ...

Early morning, and a thin, muted seam of light peeping between my curtains, tells me a new day is here.  I lie in bed for a little while, savoring the silence and calm.  A quick glance at my clock and I know I have about five minutes ...  Five minutes of just me.  Five minutes of peace.  Five minutes of enjoying the birdsong.  Five minutes before .... Mayhem.

The jaunty riff from my phone announces the official start to the race.  In my head, I can hear a race track announcer utter the all important words, "Aaaaand they're off!".

Stumbling around in half-light, I find my gym clothes.  Everyone knows that if you put on your gym clothes, you are more likely to actually go to the gym.  At least that's what I've heard.  Then again, maybe you just like to walk around in gym clothes so every thinks you've been.  Maybe, gym clothes are the only clothes that fit at the moment ... But I digress, and on weekday mornings, there is absolutely no time for digressing!

First room to hit is the teenager's room.  One does not enter the room.  That would be unsafe.  Who knows organisms lie in wait in that most comfy of all Petrie dishes that is a Teenager's room.  No, I stand in the doorway, and using my most patient and gentle of voices, call my darling child from the Land of Nod.  The comforter moves, and then stops.  The gentle siren call is repeated, gently coaxing the youth from it's sleep. The comforter grumbles, lengthens and then gives way to head.  I cannot move on to the next room until the head has popped out. 

Next is the nine year old's room.  Slightly safer than the Teenager's room, but as the light is dim, and my feet are bare, standing in the doorway seems to be the safer bet.  My nine year old sleeps with our dog, who jumps up almost immediately when he hears me enter the room.  I like to think it's my gentle mommy's voice that calls my darling into the land of the living, but in all likelihood, it's his noisy ear-flapping that does it. 

We all stumble down the stairs.  Thaddeus leading the way.  The entourage of progeny sounding like a herd of stampeding rhinos, but now isn't the time to talk about possible structural damage to the house.  It never ceases to amaze me that such little people can be so very heavy on their feet!  Once the nine year old, running down the stairs, as is a nine year old's way, caused such vibration that the shadow boxes and pictures in the living room came off the wall.  But, I digress, again.  And as I mentioned before, the mornings aren't a time for digressions of any kind.

Breakfast is set before the half awake, zombie like off-spring and while they sleep-eat, my refereeing job begins in earnest.  The cats don't know how to share and so someone is always whining about the other not letting them at the food bowl.  The dogs, who are let out for their early morning ablutions, are now scratching at the door.  They too want their breakfast.  Yes, everyone gets to eat except mom. 

"Are you done with your breakfast yet?"  is met with sleepy mummbling.  "Well, you have to get a move on, or we'll be late."  More sleepy/semi-irritated mummbling.

Ten minutes later, no progress has been made with the breakfast consumption.  "Guys, we are going to be late.  Lets get a move on here."

Another ten minutes later, the kids straggle up the stairs while I tidy the kitchen, grab some breakfast on the go and check email. 

"Mooooommmm, *Johnny's in the bathroom and I need to brush my teeth.  He said my teeth don't need to be brushed today!"

"Johnny!"  I call from the kitchen, wishing once more that I had an intercom system in my home, "hurry up in there or pass your sister her toothbrush."

"Mooooommmm!  He said I'm ugly! And I have stinky breath!"

"Don't make me come up there!"  I need my coffee.  Definitely the Sumatra blend.

Doors slam.  The pictures on the living room wall shudder slightly and I let the dogs in who have now pawed their way through the third layer of wood on the door.

"Mom!"  I sigh.  "*Kathy is hogging the mirror and brush!  She's already brushed her hair - TWICE!"
"Is not!"
"Is too"
"Is n ..."
"If you two don't stop this nonsense, you will both have to take a sick day today!"
"Really?"  Johnny lives in eternal hope of having a day off school.
"Oh maaan!"

I sip my coffee as I hear my children engaging in "friendly"  scuffles with each other.  I choose to find my happy place.  It's a beach, with lovely sea breezes and a sea that is crystal clear and sand that is pure white....

"Mom!  Where are my socks?"  Deep breath - happy place ..

"I'm leaving, Mom!" Kathy slams the front door on her way out, and I dash up after her to make sure she has remembered her lunch, her backpack and hasn't snuck out the house wearing her high heeled wedge shoes to school again.

Johnny runs down the stairs with his binder in one hand, shoes in the other and shouts, "I'm ready!"

Riiiiiiight!  No time to argue though.  We have to hit the road so we can be ahead of the school rush traffic.  It's a murderous gauntlet that is unrelenting in is tedious pace and traffic gridlock.  Moms in minivans are dangerous, especially first thing in the morning.  Many of us actually leave the house without having our morning coffee!   Then we face the obstacle that is the school parking lot.  It is a test of endurance, sanity and civility that only a few of us master.  I'm hoping, that I'll keep it together today. 

High school drop off zones are even more fun.  You have young drivers to contend with as well as "Minivan Moms", and some of these young drivers are still learning the finer techniques involved in steering with your knees while applying a full face of make-up!

It's a hasty good-bye and a frantic grab for backpack, binder, shoes, pencil and something else that's hanging from his mouth (are those his socks?) and he's out on the sidewalk and I am finally free to exit the madness of the week day morning .... until tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Watching Isaac

Americans are watching with bated breath as Tropical storm Isaac barrels down towards Louisiana.  Engineers have been interviewed reassuring the public that the improvements that have been made to the erstwhile defunct levies, will hold and function as they should.  Still, the local authorities aren't taking any chances.  People are evacuating the lower parishes.  Proper emergency shelters have been prepared to avoid the fiasco that was the Superdome.  Emergency services are on full alert.  Other support services are on their way to Louisiana to offer assistance with clean up and repair work.  

Yet this awful storm that has everyone nervous and worried, also brings with it much needed rain for some of the regions that were worst hit by drought over the summer.  I know, I for one, am looking forward to the rain Isaac will bring.  Heavens knows we need it.  Even so, my heart goes out to the folks who live in Louisiana.  The folks that stayed, after Katrina blew threw and brought such devastation to so many.  The stalwarts who cleaned up, tore down and rebuilt.  My heart goes out to them as they face another big storm and with it, I would imagine, some of their darkest fears.  May the levies hold, the winds weaken, the waters recede.  

So as I say, "Thank you" for the rain, I also think of the folks on the Gulf Coast.  May you all be safe, unharmed, and relatively unscathed.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Fun The Veep Brings

It seems to me that the purpose to any VP (Vice President) candidate, is to provide some balance to the guy who is actually going to be President.  In the few years I've been here, I've watched totally spell bound as the whole process of electing a President unfolds.  There's drama, tears, laughter (mostly from the other side), copious kissing of babies and shaking of millions of hands (fortunately not in one day!) all in the hopes of being elected to the White House.   One of the biggest "pre- Presidential" decisions a candidate has to make is the Veep choice.  Technically, I've only been here long enough to witness, first hand, the fun and games of politics, for two administrations.  Still, I think that's enough to get the "jist" of things as it were. 

The Bush administration had Cheney.  It was a interesting choice for many reasons.  Mr Cheney seemed to be considered very experienced in politics which would help reassure those folks who were a little concerned about President's Bush competency and ability to lead the country.  He was also controversial because of his numerous health issues.  As President Bush's term stretched into a second term, there were many whispers by the conspiracy theorists that it was Mr Cheney who was in fact running things, not President Bush.  One could forgive them for thinking that especially when Mr Cheney's "hunting mishap" hit the news.  "If that's what happens to his friends, what on earth does he do to his enemies!"  Of course, it was all poppycock!  I do think Mr Cheney did give quite a bit of advice and input with regards to many matters, but I think President Bush, as much as a President can in this country, did run things - for the most part.

In my opinion, they were quite the "couple".  One had a debonair way about him and another was clever and politically astute.  One could easily get tongue tied and be "misunderestimated" and the other ... well, didn't say much at all, but things seemed to mysteriously happen in his presence.  One was a regular feature in SNL's skits, the other was given a wide berth.  The perfect compliment to each other!

When President Obama won the nomination of his party to run for president, the late night comics mourned.  For eight years they had no shortage of material for their writers.  Quite the opposite.  They had so much, they spent a lot of time deciding which was the best quote/incident to use.  Now here was this incredibly studious man.  A man who wouldn't say things like "misunderestimate" and who chose his words very carefully.  Then,  this careful man, chose for his running mate, Joe Biden.  The comedic world rejoiced and thanked the gods of Comedy for ensuring that there would once again be sufficient material to keep the writers busy for those all important monologues they all love to do.   Sadly, Mr Biden has been fairly low key.  A dropped "F-bomb" here, an unfortunate turn of phrase there.  Nothing as dramatic as shooting someone or supposedly running a shadow government.  But I do think that Mr Biden does bring balance to the President Obama's ticket.  He connects with people with a very easy going "every man" kind of style.  He has an air of approachability to him.  I suspect he can tell a really mean joke! 

It is with great interest that I watch the interaction between Mr Romney and Mr Ryan.  I wonder what kind of dynamic Mr Ryan will bring.  Will he make it "big" like Mrs Palin did during her time on Mr McCain's ticket and go on to become a big celebrity?  Will he be just what Mr Romney needs to get the votes he needs to win the object of his desire?  Too early for me to say definitively.  I look forward to finding out though.

Friday, August 24, 2012

On the Electoral Season and Why It's a Drag

It's that most drawn out and not so fun season for folks in the US.  Election season.  It seems, at least to me, that the Election cycle starts earlier and earlier each year, with this last one starting as soon as the new President took office.  Maybe that's the reason why so many folks just couldn't be bothered with actually going to the polls.  Everyone is just so worn out by the the time election day rolls around, they'd rather just pretend it wasn't happening and go have a beer with their buddies instead.  If, however, you are quite the study in perseverance, then maybe the pet election season topics will cause you to run the other way.  They are, in no specific order of preference:  Abortion, Entitlement Spending (Medicare, Social Security), Abortion, Healthcare, Abortion and Immigration.  Yes, we are still arguing about a law passed in 1973, that for the most part does not address the serious problems most families are facing at the moment, but arguing about this pet subject, rallies "the base" and therefore makes it's way into every debate in every election cycle.  Could one really be annoyed with folks for NOT wanting to get involved?  Why vote when you feel like your time and effort aren't going to make a difference.  And why go vote for somebody who essentially is identical to their opponent except for the banner they run under?  I totally understand people's frustration.  So, after some thought, here's my take on what it would take to "energize" all people into truly participating in the democratic process of electing leaders.

1.  Get rid of the Primaries.  The primaries are the most fun in the elections.  You have a host of candidates all vying for the top spot, and everyone feels really passionate about their candidate.  Unfortunately, and I don't know how on earth this happens, it seems that the most disliked, mistrusted candidate wins out in the end.  It's usually at this point that most folks lose interest in the the whole election process.  Why not just let everyone run. Keep them all on the ballot.  Let the voters have someone to vote FOR not vote against.  Most folks feel like they are put in  a situation where they have to choose the lesser of two evils.  Seriously?  That's the choice you want your citizens to have?  Devil #1 or Beelzebub #2?  By keeping everyone in the race you keep people interested and engaged.  I am pretty sure that voter turn out will be at all time highs if just this was changed.

2.  Dissolve the Electoral College.  If you want people to vote, they must feel that their votes are going to count.  What does it help that people go vote and the Electoral College has the final say?  It's outdated and has served it's purpose.  And while we're on the topic of letting people's vote count:  do away with this hysteria of voter fraud.  Only ten cases of fraud over the span of how many decades?  Seriously?  We should be trying to make it easier for EVERY citizen to vote, not harder!

3.  The President gets to run against everyone.  Including members from his own party.  Why should he be afforded privilege of no contest from  his own party simply because he is currently in the White House?  If his/her policies have worked and benefited the country, the citizens will keep the current leader if not - hasta la vista, bebe.

4.  The President shouldn't be allowed to serve two consecutive terms.  My reasoning for this is simple.  At the moment, Presidents spend their entire first term trying to make sure they'll get elected into a second term.  This leads to compromise and broken promises to appease special interest groups or the ever elusive "base" and leaves those that elected him/her to office out to dry.  A President's second term is often the term that best reflects the things that were important to him/her to start off with.  So why not stop the nonsense and help the President out?  Make it so they only get one term in office.  They can run again in four years.  They can keep doing that for two terms or three or whatever.  I think if they cannot have a consecutive terms, it helps to keep them honest and reminds them that their job is to serve the best interests of the citizens of the country NOT interest groups.

5.  GET THE MONEY OUT OF GOVERNMENT!!  Special interest groups, companies, non profits and charities should not be allowed to donate money or services to anyone who holds an office or wants to hold an office in government.  If you want your citizen's to feel like their voices are being heard then you have to get all the bullies and money mongers out the way.  As things stand at the moment, Regular Joe cannot get his voice heard over the sound of the automated counting machines that every congressmen, senator and, yes, President has in their office.  Put caps on what folks are allowed to spend on campaigns, whether it be for local office of national office.  You'll make the races fair that way, and then everyone who wants to run can run and it won't just be the folks with the BIG money that win each time.  It should be disturbing to Citizens that statistics show that the candidate who spends the most money is the one most likely to win.  Really?  That's what decides for us now?  Money?  We can do better than that, and we should demand better than that.

6.  Stop pretending that Abortion is a real issue.  It's not.  It's simply used to get people all hot and bothered.  The simple truth of the matter is this:  if people really wanted abortion gone, it would be gone by now.  It's not a real issue for most folks.  What are real issues to most "regular" folk are outsourcing, jobs, jobs, jobs, and did I mention jobs?  Coupled to that are the rising costs of living and education.  And, if we really want to talk about spending, lets start with military spending first and work our way down from that to Medicaid and Social Security.

To be involved in the wonderful privilege and responsibility of choosing a country's leadership, should be something every citizen wants to do.  Yet, we cannot judge those that just feel like they couldn't be bothered.  They have good reason to feel that way.   If you want everyone to be involved, then you need to involve everyone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On The Strange Little Things That Stick

Ever wonder about the "odd" things you learn in school?  You know, the things that aren't easily categorized into Maths, English, Economics, Accounting etc.  Maybe it's just because I went to a girls school that taught "Deportment" too, that has my head full of these strange little factoids.  For example, yesterday I bought myself some roses.  A pretty little bouquet that was almost near it's sell by date and therefore marked down.  I brought them home, selected a "vase" for them, and immediately began trimming the stems, at an angle, and arranged them in to a lovely loose arrangement.  During the trimming, I could clearly hear an instructor in my head telling me, "It is important to cut the stems at an angle with sharp pruning shears, so that you don't crush them and thereby damage their means of getting water."  This morning, after loading the dishwasher, another little factoid about my fresh flowers came to me.  Flowers last longer if you give them fresh water almost every day and if you trim their stems again.  You can also keep them looking great by adding either a aspirin or a splash of bleach.  Or another interesting little fact:  putting shredded lettuce on a tray of sandwiches helps to keep them fresh longer and adds decorative splash.  Then there's all the hair care stuff (don't use a brush on wet hair -  a large tooth comb is better;  Always condition your hair and use pH balanced shampoos to prevent itching and drying of the scalp), nail care (soften cuticles by soaking them in warm soapy water;  push back your cuticles regularly to prevent peeling;  it's better to file your nails in one direction - never really understood that one;  don't overload your brush when applying polish;  cover the nail in three strokes starting from the center and working out).  All those funny little things, that at the time, I thought were interesting but silly, yet I've used them over and over again.  Some of them, daily.  Who would have thought that copious "Morning Tea" functions would be the perfect training ground for entertaining later in life.  Everything from place settings to arrangements to menu planning.  As they say, God is in the details, and in my experience, it really is the littlest details that can make the biggest difference. 
One of the many little bits that float around in my head is wardrobe planning.  It really can save you lots of money and make you look ten pounds lighter if you apply the principles properly.  Keeping a few key pieces that you can mix and match, dress up and down as the occasion demands. 
What's really surprising is just how much of the information I retained!  Then again, our first week of school was spent on these "Deportment" courses.  From ninth through twelfth.  I guess, if you didn't get it the first time round, you were bound to have something stick the third or fourth time around.  At the time it seemed like such a drag, but looking back, I am really grateful for those little lectures.  My age must be showing because I think I agree with my old Headmistress:  everyone needs a little course in deportment. 


DSC_8055 by safricaner
DSC_8055, a photo by safricaner on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Winter Is Coming"

Ah, Friends!  It is true.  Just like the familiar refrain of one of my favorite shows (and book series), Game Of Thrones, I have to admit, "Winter is Coming!"  And is it just me or has it happened rather suddenly.  No, it isn't the temperatures that have cued me into this astonishing insight, its the absence of light.  You see, over the past five months or so, whenever I have woken up at five in the morning, Mr Sun has been out about his business, enthusiastically greeting me with his fabulous display of extravagant colors and soothing playlist of birdsong.  Over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that Mr Sun seems to be suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder).  The symptoms are quite clear:  he seems to have trouble getting out of bed at his usual time, his extravagant display of colors has become somewhat muted and even a little dreary.  Also, there seems to be a profound absence of birdsong until much later.  Could be his iPod isn't working properly, or maybe his alarm clock is faulty. Either way, as the wonderful characters created by Mr Martin would say, always with ominous tone, "Winter is Coming."  So, here I sit, with only the illumination from my Apple to light the room, and, wait,  I hear a true "early" bird, chirping a singular song.  Yes, I am a little sad to see my cheerful greeting from Mr Sun go.  The wonderful energy that comes from greeting the wonders that is "Dawn" (and no, I am not referring to a special person I know, although, her company has also been known to give a similar jolt).  The kinetic activity of nature and humans all working in rhythm with the Sun's wonderful composition.  Simply beautiful.  However, rest is needed.  Probably even more so after this summer.  Mr Sun must be in love because he was smiling ever so broadly and brightly, and while I am truly happy for him, my poor flowers and lawn had a hard time countenancing his outburst of joy.  Who am I kidding?   I too was wilting somewhat under the happy glare.  "Winter Is Coming" and with it, cooler climes and longer spells of darkness, and my proclivity for hibernating.  It's true, I am part bear.  Truly I am.  I have all the characteristics of one:  I eat a lot, want to do nothing but sleep all day and can become really irritated when my hybernatory habits are interrupted by outsiders.  Also the food choices seem to change from light and lean to heavy and rich.   Other indicators that I am part bear:  cardio becomes walking to the fridge, strength training is defined as opening the door of the fridge and lifting plates or mugs of hot drinks, stretching is reaching for the peanut butter (or chocolate spread) on the top shelf of the grocery cupboard.  You have to agree, all very bear like.  Where I differ from those amazing lumbering creatures is I LOVE snow.  I love the feel of it, the sound of it, the smell of it, and even the taste of it (as long as it is fresh).

Fare Thee Well, Mr Sun.  Enjoy your rest (and shorter working hours).  Bring on the cooler temperatures, the richness of color the trees and plants display, the magical blanket that snow spreads.  The air of enchantment, of change about to happen. Bring on the UV lamp ....

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Art of Enjoyment

Lascassas, Rt 266
This weekend has been one of great enjoyment.  For one, it started with a riding lesson (what a great way to start!) and an evening with friends.  Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you that I really enjoy entertaining, so when my friends came over, I prepared some spare ribs and corn on the cob for us.  Great conversation, great food and a gentle stroll down memory lane, made for the perfect end to a perfect day.  The following day, I decided I'd like to get some pictures of some of the horses at "The Barn".  Maybe even get some pretty landscape pictures while I was there.  On the way back, maybe stop at the little town we drive through and get some shots of their old "Americana" type buildings.  My daughter came with me, and while I was shooting away, watching a lesson in progress and just enjoying being around my four legged friends, she explored the farm and merrily went around giving all the ponies and horses treats.

General Feed Store
The weather was mild, and the day a little overcast which made for some even keel lighting as far as pictures goes.  Took some pretty pictures (and not so great ones as well) and then headed into Lascassas.  This little town literally has a big ol' Baptist church, a Post Office, a general store, a small barber/hairdresser, a vet and a feed store.  All the buildings look to have been built circa 1930's or so (maybe older).  It still has the kind of gas pumps (petrol pumps for my European and South African friends) I grew up with.  Most of the people around there are farmers and so most of the supplies tend to be agricultural in nature.  Whenever I drive through it on my way to "The Barn" I can't help but think what a great piece of "Americana" the little place is.  The quintessential small town America.

 Saturday evening found my hubby and I sans progeny.  What is one to do when faced with a surprise opportunity for a romantic evening alone.  Hit the town, paint it red?  Dinner and a movie ...  Well, almost.  We opted for Chinese take out, a good bottle of wine, and our DVR record list.  Somehow, cuddled up, on our couch with our "Thurdy" (our little dog) watching an episode of one of our favorite shows just seemed so heavenly.

Yellow Pastures
The weekend rounded out with a lovely breakfast at one of our favorite "breakfast joints".   A lovely drive into the country to collect our eldest from our friend's place and some gardening.  There were bushes that needed moving and flowers that needed planting.  I got to use my new electric weed eater.  Sadly, I discovered that there is quite an art to cutting nice clean edges with a weed eater/trimmer.  I obviously do not have the skill, and what started as an attempt to trim nice neat edges along our pathway and drive way ended, in what will be known forever as the "Great Grass Massacre of 2012".  Yes, great big bald patches were weed whacked into the grass in my feverish attempt to get tidy edges next to our concrete paths and driveway.  I have forever been banned from attempting edging again.  General "weed whacking" has been okayed with proper supervision and superfluous supply of those nylon string thingys that somehow magically cut the grass.  I went through three pairs in my attempt to edge around one and a half flower beds.  Apparently, that's not good.  Oh well.
Talking to BP

I share all of this to say this:  In each of those "happenings" there were moments, when I found myself taking a step back and just enjoying the moment I was in.  They weren't big moments either.  If I hadn't paid attention, I might not have noticed them at all.  They would have quietly slipped away, unnoticed and with it an opportunity to make a new memory or to nourish my soul and spirit.  We are all surrounded by so many wonderful gifts in life.  Whether it be wonderful families, great jobs, fantastic friends, loving partners, exciting or fulfilling hobbies.  All these can bring to us so much joy, so much meaning, so much purpose, if we pay attention.  Often we downplay the gifts we have.  We think that what we do or who we are isn't all that important in the larger scheme of things, so we plod through life.  Putting one foot in front of the other, just trying to get from one day to the next.  Yet if we keep our eyes and hearts open, we can catch glimpses of these precious moments that remind us that while we may not be here for a long time, the time we are here can be wonderful.  We may not all be big movers and shakers in this world, but in our little corner of life, we do make a difference.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I have often heard of people talking about their "bliss".  I nod, smile, without really grasping what it is that they are talking about.  According to Webster's Dictionary, "Bliss" is defined as 1) complete happiness;  2) Paradise, Heaven.  Wikipedia describes "bliss" as  "an emotional state that is characterized by perfect happiness (feelings of enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction)."  I could grasp what they were saying on a intellectual level, but not on a heart level.  That is until three weeks ago.  

Three weeks ago, my daughter and I signed up for riding lessons.  My daughter had asked a number of times about learning to ride a horse, and I would always nod and say something dismissive like, "Uh-huh," or "I'll look into it."  I didn't mean to be dismissive.  There was just so many other things that always needed my attention, or my "looking into" skills.  Riding lessons always were pushed into the background for more "practical" pursuits like tennis, or soccer.  However, there was something different about the way she asked me this time.  I recognized that tone.  The longing and wishful hope in her little heart as she tentatively asked me again.  This time I got online and started looking for folks giving riding lessons near to where we lived.  There weren't that many listed so the short list was very short.  One phone call later, I had set up a meeting with the instructor.  Two days later we met her, and the rest is history.  Both my daughter and I are taking lessons now.  Different days, so we each have our own space to learn.  We both enjoy our time at "The Barn".  

It was after my second lesson as I dismounted from "Little Man" that it really hit me.  I have found my Bliss.  The thing that ignites in me such strong feelings of enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction, that at times I feel I am going to burst.  Sometimes, when I am going around the ring, practicing my posting and point 2's, I cannot help but laugh.  My trainer says she gets a kick out of me because my enthusiasm is infectious.  I honestly cannot remember anyone saying that about me.  No matter how hard I've worked, how shaky and wobbly my legs feel after a session, my heart and soul feel light.  My mind, quiet and still.  After being with the horses and ponies, I feel alive.  For me that's a really big deal.  For over ten years, I've felt utter hopelessness.    Such overwhelming sadness had a hold of me that it paralyzed me.  At it's worst, I could barely function.  Nothing interested me.  Taking care of myself was an overwhelming chore, let alone trying to take care of my family.  I would try to pull myself up by my bootstraps and fail.  Failure, guilt and frustration became familiar companions to me.  Until my darling husband couldn't take my pain anymore and pushed me to get some real help.    Many hours of therapy and hard work later, I no longer feel like that.  After much thingamajigging with meds, I could feel even. That was over five years ago.  I had made peace with my even state.  After all, it was better being even than the other.  Still, when I'd hear of others talking about finding their "Bliss", or being able to really feel joy, I was at a loss.  I could remember what joy felt like.  Almost like a faded memory from long ago.  Like a beloved loved one that had passed away a very long time ago.  The power of their physical presence long gone, but the memory of who they were and what they were lightly lingers in the small corners of your mind.  That is how it felt for me to think of happiness and joy.  Abstract concepts that could be understood.  Then I got on a horse's back and all that changed.  

"The Barn" has become my refuge and escape.  The place I seek out when I just need to remember what it means to be me.  Not a mommy, or a wife.  Friend, sister or daughter.  Just me.  The little girl with all the big dreams and unshakeable belief in herself.  The young girl who knew that life is good even if it can be unfair and sad at times.  The young woman who just instinctively knew she could be successful in life.  That's what "Bliss" brings you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The DVR Challenge: What Does It Take To Get Your Ads Seen?

I have no doubt that the advent of DVR's has dramatically changed how advertizing companies try pitch their products to us.  We no longer have to sit through their dry pitches or boring infomercials, we now can simply buzz straight through them.  A satellite company has even come out with a device that will actually "hop" through the adverts thereby saving you the annoyance of actually having to pick up your remote to skip through whatever dull pitch was being pitched.  Naturally, advertizing companies as well as big TV networks haven't been so thrilled about these advancements.  TV networks make most of their revenue from selling Ad spots.  Obviously, companies don't want to buy spots that aren't going to be seen, especially when you consider how much TV ad spots can cost.  My thought on the Ad company's complaints is, "up your game!"  If you don't want people to fast forward or hop through your advertisement, make it "skip" proof.  I can assure you that if your advertisement is good enough, people will stop to watch it.  There have been a couple over the years that have managed to convince my hubby and I to hit "stop" and "play" when fast forwarding through the dreaded Ad breaks.

One of our favorites were the E-trade ads featuring the "E-Trade Baby".  The earliest ones were the best and no matter how many times we had seen it before, we wanted to see it again.  This one is one of our all time favorites, followed by this one.   Then there were the Mac ads.  Remember these?  These ads combined information with humor and creativity.  The combination of all these qualities was enough to get us to stop and play their ads.  Even more amazing, we actually looked forward to seeing what the new installment in the series would be.  The latest ads I've enjoyed are the AllState "Mayham" ads.  The dry monotone of the actor combined with all the crazy situations he finds himself in (or that we find ourselves in) never fails to bring a smile.  My favorite one in the series is this one.  The dialogue, mannerisms, all of which helped to make us hit this "stop" and "play" for this ad.  The next one in the series that I really enjoyed (probably because I have had this happen to me a couple of times) is this one.  There are a couple more that are really amusing and well worth searching for on YouTube.

My point is, if the Ad is good, people will stop to watch.  It's no longer good enough to have an Ad that just sells something.  It has to entertain as well.  Rather than prohibit the use of "hopper" type devices and the like, why not just add more creativity to marketing your products.  People don't mind watching advertisements when they are funny or powerful.  When they are, they will stop to watch your spot, to hear what you have to say.

Maybe, instead of thinking of DVR as being a threat, maybe it should be seen as an incentive.  The goal being:  DVR proofing your Ad.  Make the Ad so entertaining that people actually want  to watch what you have to say.

The Ultimate Relationship Test

A "tweet" from a friend the other day got me thinking about something.  Relationships and indicators that it's healthy or not.  I think most of us can tell when a relationship has gone bad, but can we tell if it's about to go bad?  I've had a theory, (sadly, not scientifically proved) that if you aren't able to be yourself, completely yourself, in front of your partner, you're heading into dangerous territory.  One ascertains this by doing a very simply sophisticated test: The Fart Test.  For more delicate sensibilities, "The Breaking Wind" test, or for those who love euphemisms, "Cutting the Cheese Test".  For a relationship to remain healthy and dynamic, both partners have to be truly present in the relationship. To me, being present means being comfortable enough with the other person that should nature suddenly, and  rudely erupt, or disrupt, during a conversation, it's no big deal. We can laugh about it and continue on with our conversation.   There's no need to continually disappear into another room, or a balcony, to hide an embarrassing bodily function.  Let's face it, in the long term, it's simply not practical!  Not to mention, that the human body seems to have a plethora of embarrassing functions which it loves to team up with lousy timing.

I have to admit that it was my hubby that helped me with this, "relax and be yourself" business.  We were spending a lovely afternoon reading.  It was sunny outside and the sun was streaming in through the big windows in my room.  Suddenly, my darling man, gets up and goes onto the floor with his book.  Gluteus in the air.  I found this rather amusing, but thought he might be stretching out his back.  We had been slouching on the couch for most of the day after all.  After a short while, there were the sounds of some gaseous eruptions followed by a sigh of relief from Prince Charming, who sat up and continue to read as though nothing had happened.  I sat in stunned silence for a while and eventually made some kind of remark.  He just shrugged, smiled and carried on reading his book.  After the sixth time I saw him doing this (thankfully, not in the same day)  I dubbed the gluteus up position, "The Farting Position."   Naturally, teasing ensued, as it always does in any relationship where there is a good humor present.  If you don't have humor, how on earth are you going to weather the many storms that blow in and blow out (hmmmm was that a pun?)  You have to be able to laugh together, and yes, at each other.   One of my hubby's favourite things to say to me when he teases me is, "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing with you."

I guess the Flatulence Test really is a test of tolerance.  If your partner cannot handle a biological "flaw" as it were, that often you have very little control over,  then how on earth are they going to cope with all the other flaws.  The ones that are just part of who you are as a person?  Part of having a strong relationship is being able to accept the other person as they are. Where they are now not where you envision them to be after doing six months of your "Extreme Makeover: Wife/Husband Edition".  No, it must be completely as they are.  Good, bad, irritating and inspirational all at once.  You have to be able to see that the "dark" is what makes the "light" shine so brightly in people's characters and personalities.  If you cannot handle the dark side of a person, then you aren't able to really love that person, or yourself for that matter.  You are only able to love a version of the person.  And what a pity that is.  It's our partner's "dark sides" that show us who we really are.  Now, obviously if your partner's dark side is violent, harmful, dangerous and abusive, that's another matter altogether.  What I am talking about are those things we like to hide from others.  Whether it's our propensity for letting rip with a string of obscenities under pressure, or losing our tempers when things don't go our way, or maybe we're just a little self-centered when it comes to our careers and such.  We all have these little flaws that can sometimes end up being big issues in our relationships with others.  Yet for us to experience the real joy of being totally loved, we have to risk being honest about who we are with the people we love.  Note, I didn't say everyone.

I have a friend.  We have been friends since the first grade.  We have been through all kinds of things together and it is my friendship with her that first showed me how freeing it is to just be yourself.  She didn't have any expectations of me.  She took me as I was.  Nothing I have done or said has shocked her or caused her to withdraw her friendship from me.  We haven't always agreed with each other, but we have always accepted each other.  Having relationships where you can just be:  no censorship of any kind, I think is really important for the human spirit and soul.  I have been blessed with three such relationships in my life, excluding my wonderful family.  But that is really rare. 

So, when starting out in a new relationship, instead of developing the  "new girl/boyfriend bloat", just let it rip.  It will either be the start of a really great relationship or the end of a superficial waste of time.  Either way you win.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fourteen Days ...

It's hard to believe that the Olympics ran for a mere two weeks.  In that time, it seemed to be all anyone could talk about.  Even politics took a backseat to what was happening in London.  In the middle of a Presidential Campaign, that says a lot.  For fourteen days, the world fought it's battles on the track, field, in the pool, arena (and BMX track!).  We cheered together, cried together, felt each others disappointment and shared in each others pride.  For fourteen days, we managed to get on with each other (for the most part) and for a few of us, we were finally able to see past some of our differences and find common ground. 

 Due to technical issues beyond my control, I wasn't able to see all of the closing ceremony.  By the way, I hear it was great fun if my Facebook feed was anything to go by.  The only part of it I did see, was Rio's "taster" for the next games and the extinguishing of the Olympic flame.  Or as the case seem to be, the passing on of the flame to the next host country.    I am not ashamed to admit that I  cried when I saw that wonderful "torch" being lowered into all its separate parts again and one by one watching the flames being extinguished. Almost like a Dandelion being blown apart by a gentle breeze on a lovely summer's day.  For fourteen days we had come together, each bringing our own little lights.  On their own, they look puny and uninteresting, but when they were joined with others and raised, how brightly the light shone.  Maybe the reason for my sadness is the realization that we only had those fourteen days to feel like we were all one.  In that brief time, despite what was going on in our home countries (and there were some horrific and troubling things going on for some of us) we chose the higher road.   We chose hope and optimism.  We chose to compete honestly.  I wonder just how different the world would be if instead of deploying armies to settle our disputes, we sent athletes.  If our land issues and party issues could be decided by synchronized diving or the 400m hurdles.  Yes, I'm being way too naive, and yes, I am over simplifying world issues,  but sometimes it's nice to dream.  Judging by how many people in the world watched the Games, I suspect it's a dream that not only I carry.  It seems that for the most of us, there is a longing for a unity amongst nations.  Not conformity, but a respect for our diversities, a celebration of our differences and a recognition of the things that we all have in common.  For fourteen days, the best of who we can be and who, I suspect, we wish we could be, was tangible.  It permeated not just London and Great Britain, but every single country that participated.

Thanks for having us, London.  You did a "smashing" job.  We hope the clean up after the wild party isn't too bad and that traffic will settle down from totally outrageous, to just impossible.  Hopefully the prices of pints and pies will be coming to within "normal" range as well.  I feel it's important to also thank you all for sharing your "locals" with us.  And may I apologize if we didn't always show the necessary respect that those hallowed places of communion have in your communities.  It was "Brilliant"!

Now it's the crash after the high.  The hangover after the binge.  My "hangover" was marked by "Stars earn their Stripes".  Seriously?  After watching amazing people do amazing things we get this?  I think I'm better off watching "Duck Dynasty".  At least that has a comedic aspect to it.  You know, something to laugh about so that one might forget how sad one feels at not being able to watch diving anymore! 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Dreams May Come

I have lived a very lucky, blessed life.  I'm not special.  Certainly not what I would call a "righteous" person.  I don't live in church and am just as flawed (if not more) as everybody else.  

Over my thirty something years of life, I've prayed many prayers, yet it's the prayers I prayed as a little girl I seem to remember best.  Maybe I remember them from all the many times I prayed them.  They weren't the typical children's prayers.  They were more like conversations in which I would express what I would like for my life and future.  The type of man I would like to marry one day.  How many children I would like to have, even what color I wanted their hair and eyes to be.  Other prayers were more like spoken wishes.  Things I hoped for, but never expected to see realized.  There was going to Disneyland, living in California (that dream came from watching CHiPs), traveling outside of my home country, and what every little person prays for, fame.

I've been incredibly fortunate to see almost everything I've hoped for, come to fruition.  I married a wonderful man, who is everything I asked for and more.  We had the children I had hoped for, in the order I had wished for.  I have been fortunate enough to visit England, live in Germany, visit Paris, live in L.A and visit Disneyland and Disney World.  Just recently, I have been able to start riding lessons, another silent wish and hope.  

Today, I had another lesson, and while I was on the back of Little Man, who was feeling oh so frisky today, I suddenly realized I was doing one more thing that I had thought I would never get to do.  In that moment, with my legs wobbling like jelly and my foot hurting from the strain of keeping my heel down,  it dawned on me.  I have a list of crossed off requests, silent wishes and hopes.  I haven't done anything to deserve this.  Maybe it's just keeping myself open to the idea that life can be anything you want it to be.  Even when things don't go your way, or don't work out the way you had hoped, that experience leads to opening another door or opportunity for you.  I certainly don't have any answers for it, but I am grateful.  For all of it.  The good, the bad, the ugly and the mental anguish.  The "clear as day" times and the "murky as mud" times.  All of it.  Because it all led to me having this one moment, this one more thing that causes me to turn my face into the sun, open up my arms, smile and twirl.

There's no telling what dreams may come, if you're open to it.  If you're brave enough to take a leap of faith or desperate plunge.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Where Boys Can Be

This weekend, my hubby and our son had a date. It was a different kind of date. For one, it didn't involve gaming or movies or computers. Secondly, there would be need for bug spray, sunscreen and lots of water. My hubby was taking our son on his first one day hike in one of the many State Parks around here. What surprised me about this "adventure" as my son calls it, was the origin of the idea. It came from my son. You have to understand that this boy spends most if his time gaming. Mine Craft, Sky-rim, Portal. Single player or co-operative play. That's what he's into. Once in a while, I'll get concerned about his lack of vitamin D and boot him outside. He acquiesces but always with a grumble and a moan. Leave him out there long enough, and soon you'll hear the sounds of a boy immersed in his imagination.
They rose early on Saturday morning. Showered, had breakfast and packed the pack with their supplies for the day. I have to admit to being a little apprehensive about this grand idea. My son has many talents but perseverance is not one of them. This was going to be the furtherest he has ever had to walk. Visions of my hubby having to throw our son over his shoulders to get him home in the evening filled my head, as I wished them well and waved goodbye. Half way into their day, I received a call from our son who very excitedly informed me that he had just seen a snake. "It's so much cooler to see them out here, Mom. Here they actually move. Not like in the zoo!". Indeed! As long as the kept moving away from my son, I didn't have a problem. The rest of the day I found myself fretting a little. They had already encountered a snake, what happens if the run into a mountain lion, or a bear, or even worse, a rabid skunk?!
When the arrived home, my son was full of excited chatter. His words all ran into each other making it hard to understand what it was he was saying. I politely nodded and smiled, and once he left to go "rest his legs" on the living room sofa, I asked his father how the adventure had panned out. He smiled and answered, "good" and started working on editing the photos he took of their time in the woods. What became very clear to me, very quickly - our son had a really great time. He walked over a tree bridge. He climbed a rock face, swung on some vines and saw some of Natures oddities, beauty and eccentricities, up close. My hubby played back one of the videos he had taken of our son swinging on a vine Tarzan style. I was transfixed by the image of this boy/man, his biceps flexing to assist in holding him on the vine, his voice crackling and breaking, as it does at this age, his eyes all lit up with joy and pride. In the face of this boy I was seeing a glimpse of a man.
He had gone out into the wild and faced a snake, climbed, ran and explored. He just was ....

Snap, Crackle and Pop - The Sounds of Aging

My hubby and I have been on a serious "get healthy" kick.  I wouldn't call it extreme get healthy kick because we still drink our tea and coffee, and still think there's nothing tastier than a good steak.  Our "Health Kick" is more in the shape of (pardon the pun) exercising and including more water, vegetables and fruits in our diet.

It all started when it dawned on me that aging was a progressive thing.  Even worse, it was an "all inclusive" thing too.  Normally, I'm all for "all inclusive".  Who wouldn't be?   A romantic getaway to the Bahamas - absolutely!  A Round the World Vacation - YES and AMEN!  Aging, just isn't one of those things that one would like to be all inclusive.  Wouldn't it be grand to have addendums and exclusions - loopholes that one could use to avoid the fun that is maturing? As they say here in the south, "Heck*, yeah!"   Over the past couple of years or so, I have read a few articles on aging and it's effect on the body.  Let's just say - it ain't purdy!  What is encouraging is that there are ways you can help your body better weather the maturation process thereby aiding in both looking and feeling better. As my hubby and I have discussed this topic over time,  the one thing we do have absolute consensus on:  we don't want to be frail and feeble.  It is our hope and goal, to remain as independent, healthy and vibrant for as long as possible.  Yes, my idea of aging gracefully, includes fighting it, tooth and nail!  If I were a character in a graphic novel - I would be an awesome, sword-wielding amazon, fearlessly infusing dying cells with new life.  In most of the articles I've read on the research into aging, the one thing that has been consistent is the relationship between being physically fit and quality of life.    Needless to say, hubby dearest and I have been working really hard at working up a sweat.  Some days it's not that hard to do.  Just step out the front door and stand on the porch for a few minutes in the middle of Summer, et voila! you have sweat!  Other days, it requires serious motivation and energy,  to get the lazy butt  moving and stay moving.  Most of the time I can get the lazy butt to move, but normally only to the nearest chair, where it then plants itself for the rest of the day.  Overall though, we have done a great job of exercising.  Which brings me to my story ...  Friday, I headed out to the gym early.  On arrival was greeted by a sign that it would be opening later in the morning.  BUMMER!!  I drove back home and was feeling a little irritated at having to drive all the way back into town to get my work out in.  My hubby, ever the problem-solver, suggested I do a little routine with him instead.  It sounded delightful and it would certainly help with my problem, such as it was, so I agreed.  All was going well until we began squats.  It was hard concentrating over the loud "Snap, Crackle and Pop's" our joints were making every time when went down into the first position and then came up again.  Eventually, I just couldn't help myself anymore.

"Darling, if we are going to continue doing these, I think we need some WD-40!  We sound terrible!"

Or, I guess we could just turn up the music next time ....

*Substitution has been used and has thus changed the saying from the original.  Original saying is "Hell, yeah" and was altered to avoid causing offense or black listing by the language police.  Other sayings like "bless his/her heart" have been left in their original form as their actual words are non-offensive although their implication can be.  Please do not repeat the saying in it's original, unaltered, unsubstituted form unless safe to do so.