See the World! (aka: Living Vicariously)

“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum.” ~George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life)

George Bailey See the World

When I was a teenager, I often fantasized about traveling the world. I had a long list of places to go, languages to learn, foods to try. I begged my dad and stepmother to send me away to a boarding school in some faraway country (okay, this was partially because I hated living with them). They just laughed and mentioned this silly little thing called money.

Ugh. Money.

That has always been the Big Obstacle. Every time I managed to begin stashing some away toward international travel goals, some monster would come along and eat it up. Monsters such as bills. My college expenses. Kids’ extracurricular activities. Home maintenance. Kids’ college expenses.

Those vivid dreams of walking through streets in London and Barcelona, touring Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, sipping coffee at a French cafe in Paris, climbing the ancient stones of  Macchu Picchu, became smaller and more distant as years passed, and life kept sending more monsters to get in the way. I learned to feed my hunger for travel in smaller, more attainable ways, like studying languages, eating foods from around the world, and watching House Hunters International. (Hey, that show can be pretty addictive!).

See the World travel

Recently, I sent my 16yo daughter off on her first big international journey. She traveled with a group of students to Beijing China, then stayed with a host family in Jinan. Each day, she sent me photos and stories about her adventures abroad, which I ate up with relish. Finally! Although I am still stuck here, working hard to provide a good life for my kids, at least my children can live out my dream, and I can share in them.

This week, our family has been hosting a student who traveled here from China. Just as my daughter’s host family showered her with kindness and introduced her to a wealth of Chinese culture, we are attempting to do the same. My kids are getting a chance to improve their Mandarin, while our student improves her English. And I get to practice being uber-organized, to fit everything into our schedule. (Luckily, I’m usually pretty Type-A, so it’s not too big of a jump to be Type A+).

Now my daughter has caught the travel bug, too. She’s already conspiring with friends to backpack Europe and stay in youth hostels after graduating high school next summer. Eek! I am excited about her ambitions, too. The next best thing to traveling and seeing the world is to travel and see the world through the eyes of someone you love.

 

 

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Reverse Karma (a poem)

 

Karma, people say

is the great Equalizer.

That you get what you give

That the universe gives what you deserve

measured in spoonfuls

Good for good

Bad for bad.

 

But here is the truth

(I offer it to you with no shiny bow

no pretty package):

 

No of it matters.

 

You can choose to be cruel

walk the wide path through a valley of vice

build your throne on the hearts of others

reflect your self-hatred

scorn what is good

and life will reward you

with glory, with riches

with honor

with love.

 

You can sow seeds of kindness

cascade with self-love

pour it into others

reflect inner peace

like sunshine

strive to always do good

give generously

and end up alone

always so alone

always unloved

in return.

 

There is no Karma.

That is only something we offer each other

to make us feel better

to offer sparks of hope

when there really is no hope.

 

The truth is, no one knows how to explain

why God so often

blesses those who choose to do wrong

and punishes those who choose to do right.

 

 

 

The Energizer Bunny is My Spirit Animal (aka: Energy!)

Energy!

Energy!

The word itself demands an exclamation point. Caps, bold, and italics, even. ENERGY!!

As it now Friday afternoon, and many of you zombies are slumped over at your desks, waiting for the weekend to kick in, the word energy is more like an expletive. Or a plea. Or a complete unknown. Energy? What on earth is that?

That’s when I pull out my cheerleader megaphone and do a few cartwheels to encourage you all.

I’ve got energy, yes I do! I’ve got energy, how about you?

(Okay, you didn’t have to use your last remaining reserves of energy to throw tomatoes. How rude! )

Energy is one of those things that so many people wish they had way more of. But like free time, like money, like low-calorie meals that fill you up and taste great, it’s one of those things that always seems to be in short supply for many people. That’s a real bummer, since it takes energy to do so many of the things we want to do. To climb out of bed each morning. To focus at work. To shuttle kids around to activities, and clean the house, and cook healthy meals, and get to the gym, and plan social events, and weed the garden, and schedule that dental appointment we keep putting off. Ack! No wonder everyone’s so exhausted.

I wish I could tell you that there is some magical way to acquire more energy. After all, it has always come naturally to me. Ever since I was very young, I’ve had this inner well of mental and physical energy that makes it very, very hard to mesh with you couch potato types. I become very restless if I don’t exercise daily and push my mental and physical limits on a regular basis. I am definitely the get-up-and-go type. Laziness does not come easily to me. The Energizer Bunny is probably my spirit animal.

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According to recent scientific studies, my high energy levels are most likely hard-wired in my genetics. Which is funny, because I grew up in a family of TV-loving, exercise-shunning, sleep-in-on-weekends couch potatoes. Clearly, I was born on Jupiter and swapped at birth.

So I’m sorry to say that, if you were not born with lightning in your veins like me, then you probably struggle to find enough energy to do everything that you want to do. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to boost your energy levels, even if your spirit animal is a sloth.

SLEEEEEEP I can’t emphasize this one enough. Way too many Americans don’t get enough good, regular sleep. 7-8 hours per night, peeps. That does not include time spent in bed reading, watching TV, or other…um…nocturnal activities. Improve your sleep by setting a relaxing routine during the hour leading up to bedtime. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Make your bedroom comfy and relaxing. Bottom line: want more energy throughout the day? Go to sleep!

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EXERCISE It may sound counterintuitive. I mean, how are you supposed to go for a run, or ride a bike, or hit the gym after work when you don’t have the energy? But exercise itself actually gives you energy. Remember mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cells? Well, they also produce this chemical called ATP, which your body uses as energy. So guess what happens when you work out? Your body produces more mitochondria, which means more ATP, which means more energy! So if you’re facing a sluggish moment in the middle of your work day, go for a walk. Climb some stairs. Hit the gym near your workplace for a midday pick-me-up. It’s more effective than coffee.

CUT THE SUGAR If you have a sweet tooth like me, this one is soooo hard to do! But sugar and simplex carbs (think white bread) are the enemy of lasting energy. They’re fine for an immediate boost of energy, but you’ll crash quickly and feel more tired than you did before. If you want carbs for energy, go for yummy whole grains, fruit, or veggies.

CHOOSE ENERGETIC HOBBIES If you center your free time around couch potato activities, then you’ll be stuck in the same inactive rut. Once you’re engaged in a good TV show or video game, it’s hard to make yourself stop and go for a walk or work in the garden. But if you work active activities into your schedule, and give those first priority, then it’s easier to convince yourself to do them, even if it’s just to “get it over with.” Who knows? You may get so used to being active that the couch seems a lot less appealing!

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THINK ENERGETIC THOUGHTS I believe that the mind, body, and spirit are strongly connected. By focusing on how tired you feel, how difficult it is to exercise, and on the hundreds of little excuses you’ve made up for why you’d rather lie around the house, you are encouraging your own energy levels to drop. When you shift your thoughts in a positive way about your energy levels, you will experience a positive increase.

Well, this post is getting a little long, and my body is already anxious to get up and move. If you try these tips and still find that your energy levels are low, be sure to check in with your doctor. Sometimes, low energy levels can indicate low iron levels, sleep apnea, or other underlying health issues. But if they are effective, then great! We can start a club for Energizer Bunnies, and keep it going and going and going…

Oh No! Overdues! (aka: Public Libraries)

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Overdues! Auugghh!

I’m kicking myself. I mean honestly, I have no excuse. Our family lives within walking distance of the public library. Kind of a long walk, but still. The library even has these convenient drive-up book drops for lazy peeps who can’t be bothered to park and walk a few hundred feet to return their books.

No excuse. And yet…

There is just something about libraries. Returning my checked-out materials on time has been a lifelong struggle. No exaggerating. Somewhere on one of our family’s packed bookshelves, I’m pretty sure there are a couple of books that were due to the El Sobrante Public Library in 1985.

I can’t begin to imagine how high those fines must be by now. *Shudders*

Other than the overdues issue, the public library has been one of the richest parts of my life. When I was a kid, I used to spend long, leisurely summer days in the children’s room, nose glued to a book. Or making sock puppets in the craft room. Or watching family movies on the little projection screen. Or any other special events they had on the schedule. I adored the summer reading program and took great pride in filling up my bingo grid with all the books I’d read while other kids were busy watching TV or playing with friends.

library books

With the public library, there was nothing I couldn’t obsess over. When I was obsessed with learning foreign languages in 4th grade, I checked out every existing library book for learning Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Japanese. (It’s very hard to learn Japanese from a book, by the way). When I was obsessed with learning how to cook, I discovered a world of colorful cookbooks. Same goes for crafts. Same goes for obsessions with sci-fi, supernatural stories, and books about kids getting kidnapped or hooked on drugs or sent off to summer camp. I even went through a phase of checking out record albums, so I could learn a zillion new folk songs to drive my family crazy.

Finiculi-finicula, Finiculi-finiculaaaaaa!

overdue fines Charlie Brown

But as easy as it was to check out materials, as simple as it was to flip through the card catalogue to find the right Dewey Decimal code, it was really, really hard to return my checked-out books on time. I blamed it on my lack of consistent transportation to the library in those days, which required a long bike ride, or a trip on the back of my stepdad’s motorcycle. In later years, I attributed my constant string of overdues to the books themselves, and their pesky tendency to hide among the hundreds of books in our family’s library, or in dark, hard-to-reach places, like deep under the bed, among spare socks and loose coins.

But I know the truth.

The reason why it is so challenging to turn in library books on time, and why it’s so easy to lose them, is because they do not belong to us.

Think about it. You spend a portion of your hard-earned money to purchase your own shiny new Thing. Then you are far more likely to take care of that Thing. To nurture it. To look after it. To keep it in a safe place, so that it won’t get lost or destroyed. Why? Because it’s yours. You value the things that you feel a sense of ownership for. Or at least, you should. But library books? Those are just worn-out things that belong to everyone and no one. And so, we become careless. We fold down the pages instead of using bookmarks. We read them in the bath, not fearing water damage. We use them as makeshift coasters, or frisbees. (Okay, maybe not frisbees).

Because they don’t belong to us, we don’t cherish them.

Isn’t it kind of the same with people? We tend not to cherish the people who are outside of the little circles we build. We tend not to value the opinions of others. We tend to forget about the feelings of other people. We absorb what we want from people, then we carelessly turn away, leaving them worse than they were when we found them.

Lucky for me, I managed to scrape together my overdue library books and turn them in with a less-than-$10 late fine. Only a small fraction of some of my prior overdue fines. I paid the fees, and get to start again with a clean slate, because that’s how it works with books. People are a lot more complicated. Our carelessness can do irreparable damage. No late fee can mend the human spirit. Only love can do that.

kindness

Like library books, we don’t have ownership of other human beings. We only get to check them out — sometimes for a lifetime, and sometimes for just a little while. But while they are in our care, we can treat them with all the care of our most valuable treasures. There is no one who is worthy of less than that.

Be the Sunshine (aka: Self-Reflections on Life Purpose)

Which hat shall I wear for today’s blog? Poet hat? Single mom hat? Clueless adult hat? Goofy humor hat? Ah, I know… *Puts on TED Talk speaker hat* Time to dive in deep, readers. Ready?

Over on MakeItUltra’s blog, I came across these great questions to encourage self-reflection. For me, it is easy to be goal oriented, and to take steps toward achieving those goals. But it’s like making any other to-do list. Check! Check! Check! Look what I did! I feel successful, like I’ve accomplished something. Another gold star for Tiare!

It’s an entirely different matter to pause and self-reflect on the deeper, more important facets of life. What is the point of achieving a goal if it doesn’t bring me happiness? Lead to greater fulfillment? Have lasting meaning? Whatever our building blocks to success, they must begin with a solid foundation based on our core values, and reflect our passions.

Self Reflection

Questions for Self-Reflection:

What are my values?

When am I happiest?

What do I find meaningful?

What am I passionate about?

What was I put on this earth to do?

What emotions do I feel most of the time?

When do I feel most comfortable in my skin?

What are my values?

I value family. Which sounds odd for someone so disconnected from most of her family, with the exception of my children. In an ideal world, I would be deeply connected with my parents, siblings, and extended family, attending family parties and barbecues, and helping out where needed. I hope that my strong relationship with my kids will continue as they head out into the world soon, and that they will give me grandchildren to love and spoil someday. Next, I value the pursuit of personal excellence; of that which helps each of us become better human beings, contributing to one another’s growth, and making the world better in our own small ways.

When am I happiest?

I am happiest sharing moments — big and small — with people I love. I love long belly laughs, singing together, silly dancing around the house, hiking through nature, watching the ocean waves roll in, rooting for a sports team, listening to live music, and eating good food. These things are enjoyable alone. But when shared with the right people, they are filled with so, so much happiness.

What do I find meaningful?

Those same moments that bring me the greatest happiness. Also, being able to contribute in some positive way to someone else’s happiness. To know that I did something to lift the spirits of another human being, or help to make their day a little brighter, or their lives a little better, that to me is meaningful.

What am I passionate about?

Writing. I am passionate about writing stories that other people will (hopefully) enjoy reading. There are one million strange little worlds and lives living inside me, and I can’t wait to share them with the world. Currently, I am also passionate about the work I do, creating Salesforce systems to make other people’s work experiences so much better. These two passions keep me fueled every day, and make it exciting to jump out of bed and face the day.

What was I put on this earth to do?

Write and share stories. Love my kids. Be the sunshine for everyone I can. Love, love, love with my whole heart, even when it hurts.

What emotions do I feel most of the time?

None. I am an emotionless robot. Okay, kidding. I am actually quite sensitive and have learned to rein that in a little too well, I think. When I actually allow myself to just feel something other than my exterior bubbly cheerfulness…well…I hate to admit this. I feel loss. I feel sadness. I feel loneliness. And I just want to stuff that all away and focus on being happy. There is a different between being happy all the time and feeling happy all the time. Sometimes the feelings follow the attitude.

When do I feel most comfortable in my skin?

When I am in a position of leadership or team encouragement. When I am being a goofball with little kids, singing zany songs and reading stories aloud with lots of expression. When I am baking cookies and singing along to 80s songs or Red Hot Chili Peppers. When I am hanging out with people who know me and get me (a very rare treat).

I would love to hear some of your answers, readers! Please feel free to answer in the comments.

I Meant to Do That! (aka: Handling Klutziness With Grace)

One minute, I was a respectable, civilized human being, quietly scanning my groceries in the self-service lane. Then, I picked up a jar of dill pickles, and…

CRASH!

The jar slipped from my fingers, hit the edge of the shopping cart, and tumbled to the floor. Glass shattered. The air filled with a vinegary odor as pale green pickle juice puddled at my feet.

Oopsie. Butterfingers.

A hot blush of shame spread across my face as other supermarket patrons stared and store clerks went running for cleanup supplies. So embarrassing!

“Don’t worry about it.” A clerk tried to reassure me. “Happens to all of us.” I smiled, but my urge to do a humiliated Snoopy crawl out of the store didn’t fade. I also couldn’t help but notice that the clerk scanned the replacement jar of pickles for me, rather than risk a repeat offense.

To be fair, I’m not normally a klutz. But I don’t normally have mallet finger — a common ligament injury which means that the middle finger of my right hand is entombed in a clunky splint for 6-8 weeks. Which makes everything harder to do. I can’t sign my name. I manage a fork and spoon about as well as a toddler. I drop everything. Instant klutz. And plenty of embarrassment.

The clerk was right, though. Embarrassing things happen to all of us. Like discovering that you’ve left the house wearing two mismatched shoes. Like accidentally passing gas in the middle of yoga class. Like realizing that you made a ridiculous typo on a Tweet or Facebook post a day ago. Eep!

Knowing that billions of other people also make silly mistakes doesn’t always help when you’re in the middle of an embarrassing incident. What does help, however, is reminding yourself that the people around you aren’t judging you as hard as you are judging yourself if that moment. Most people don’t notice or even care that your ponytail looks less than perfect, or your lipstick has smudged a little, or that your dancing resembles Elaine’s less-than-graceful moves on Seinfeld. Who cares? Dance anyway. Let your smile be more noticeable than your lipstick. Own the moment, good or bad. Handle your klutziness with grace. When the crowd is staring and your cheeks are flushing bright red, take a sweeping bow, then repeat the wise words of PeeWee Herman. “I meant to do that.”

 

Meanwhile, Somewhere in California… (aka: Bay to Breakers)

Last Sunday, my 16yo daughter and I went to a huge party. Well, actually, it was a party disguised as one of the world’s largest footraces. Bay to Breakers is held every spring in my favorite city, San Francisco. With tens of thousands of participants dressed in zany costumes and ready for fun, it is a race like no other. The goal? To run 8 miles, from San Francisco Bay, through the heart of the city, all the way to Ocean Beach.

My daughter and me Bay to Breakers

My daughter and I joined the throngs in our corral, as we have done in other races. Only this time, we were all decked out as the Sun and the Moon (or Night and Day, I still haven’t decided).  To have time for our costumes and makeup, then to commute to the city by car and by BART train, we had to wake up at 4:00am, and then do a little shivering until the real sun showed up to warm things up a little.

It was crazy how many people there were in the streets! We were surrounded by bananas, flamingos, superheroes of every kind, cowboys, pirates, and then some. We found Waldo again and again. We spotted a school of Salmon running upstream. There were too many furries to count. And, in true San Francisco fashion, there were also way too many naked runners to count. That made us giggle at the start of the race, but after a mile or two, we were like, “Eh. Just another costume.”

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Before the race began, we joined in the time-honored tradition of throwing tortillas in the air. Why? I have no idea! But it was super fun (except for that one my daughter accidentally threw at the back of someone’s head. Whoops). We also threw beach balls around the crowd, and cheered until our voices were hoarse. And then, it was Go time.

Bay to Breakers salmon swimming upstream

I was a little nervous at the start, because this was my first time ever running beside another person. I’m pretty used to running alone, with music in my ears, and didn’t think I could make it very far without that. I also didn’t think I could keep up with my daughter, who runs cross-country and has far better stamina. But she slowed down, or I sped up, and we managed to carry on conversations and laugh our heads off the whole way. We weaved in and out of a group of people dressed like In ‘N’ Out Burger staff. We chased a dozen giant doughnuts. We orbited around an Earth, ducked under a limbo stick, and sang along to music playing from my iPhone and the numerous speakers blasting around the city. And yes, that was us doing gran jetés and piqué turns through Golden Gate Park. We couldn’t help it. Blame the gymnast / dancer in both of us.

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What was just as much fun as running in Bay to Breakers dressed as the sun? Giving sunshine to the other runners. I was having so much fun, that I couldn’t help but reflect it back to those around me.

“Eh-oh!” I called out as I passed a Teletubby.

“Vive la France!” I called out to a runner wearing a beret and waving a French flag.

“The emperor has no clothes!” I called out to a naked guy wearing only a crown and short cape.

“Imposters!” I accused an entire running group dressed like suns.

We were having such a blast, that both my daughter and I were surprised when we reached the finish line at the beach. So soon? That felt more like a five or six mile run than eight miles. But lucky for us, that meant we still had energy to enjoy the huge finish line area extension of the party, with a live band, free swag, and all kinds of great free food. We even took home an entire case of vanilla flax milk (so yum).

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I am not much of a party person, but I would run Bay to Breakers again in a heartbeat. Next year, I may dress as a superhero. Or a flamenco dancer. Or a soccer mom. But no matter what I choose to wear, I will always bring the sunshine.