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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Oh No! Overdues! (aka: Public Libraries)

overduestamp1

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.”

 

maternity (a poem)

maternity

No one from outside

would ever know that you were my mother

our differences vast

A lush, hidden rainforest birthed from

blazing salt desert

Nervous hare escaping

traps of words, poisoned barbs

flavored with cola and ashes

sepia-tinted memories of hiding in a corner

fingers white with tension, clutching a book

swallowing tears

feeding myself with ideas

lest I starve

on your thin diet of gruel.

The Good Girl

The Stubborn Girl

The girl who knew everything yet nothing

and spoke a language you could never understand.

Even today, your version of love

Is blind obedience

Open your mouth and drink the bitter tonic

rub it into your wounds

or leave the party

if you won’t dance, little puppet.

My best teacher of hardness

invisible shield to hide my deformity

too-tender heart, easily crushed like mint

flees from your heavy brand of love

that smothers every spark.

 

la maternidad

Nadie desde afuera

sabría que tú fueras mi madre

nuestras diferencias vastas

Una selva rica y escondida nacida de

una desierta abrasadora de sal

liebre nerviosa escapandose de

las trampas de palabras, púas venenosas

de sabor cola y cenizas

recuerdos teñidos de sepia de esconderme en un rincón

los dedos blancos de tension, aferrando un libro

tragando las lágrimas

alimentandome con ideas

no sea que me muero de hambre

a causa de tu dieta de gachas aguadas.

La Buena Niña

La Niña Terca

The niña que sabía todo pero nada

y que habló una idioma que jamás podías entender.

Aún hoy, tu versión del amor

es la obedencia ciega

Abre la boca y bebe la tónica amarga

frótala en las heridas

o salga la fiesta

si no bailarás, titerecita.

Mi mejor maestra de la dureza

escudo invisible para esconder mi malformación

corazón demasiado delicado, facilmente machacado como la menta

huye de tu marca pesada del amor

que ahoga cada chispa.

 

Get On Your Feet (aka: Training Your Tootsies)

Take a deep sniff. Smell that? No, it’s not a bag of stale Cheetos™.  It’s the oh-too familiar whiff of a very hard-working, under-rated part of our bodies.

That’s right. Our feet.

Most of us are born with two of these babies. Most of them have ten toes, sometimes long and skinny, like fingers, and sometimes short and stubby, like plump little balls. Some are flat and stompy, built to be encased in wide sneakers. Others have a delicate Barbie-arch that slides perfectly into high heeled shoes. Many are somewhere in between.

Do you ever think about how important feet are? Those of us who have them often take them for granted. We stuff them into cheap, too-tight shoes, then trudge through shopping malls, and across parking lots, and around the fields where our kids play sports. Then we complain when our poor tootsies get all swollen and blistered. Some of us torture our feet by making them run long distances on hard pavements. Many other people spend hours every day with their feet sitting on the floor beneath their desks, forgetting that feet, like dogs, need to take a walk, sometimes.

We put our feet through a lot.

Now some people, women especially, pay all kinds of attention to their feet. They worship their feet. They take them to spas and pamper them with professional massages and long, hot soaks. They have pedicures, getting their toenails all purtied up with bright coats of paint. They rub them with scented lotions, then dress them in cute, expensive shoes the way some people dress up their little frou-frou dogs.

I’ll bet feet love people like that.

One of my favorite things to do to nurture my feet is to let the experience nature. Undressed. Unshackled. Just the bare skin of my soles sinking into the warm sand at the beach. Letting the cool ocean waves wash over them. Getting them tickled by blades of grass at the park. Hearing them squelch as they’re sucked into gooey, oozy mud. My feet love that. Well, as long as I stay away from sharp rocks. And bees. And hot asphalt surfaces that make them sizzle like burgers on a grill.

Feet are marvelous things.

Did you know, that if you train them right, they can climb mountains? For real. They can also climb a few flights of stairs every day, if you let them. They can walk all over town, and the best part about that is that you get to see things you may have missed otherwise. Just yesterday, my feet took me along a river trail I’d never taken somewhere near the downtown office where I work. And do you know what I saw? Goats. Like, fifty goats, kids and all, chewing up the grass along the walkway. Right there, in a major metropolitan area. What the what? It was super weird, and a pretty cool sight. And I never would have seen it if not for my trusty feet. (Good girls). Unfortunately, my feet also led me to a coffee shop, where I wound up buying a delicious, fresh-baked cookie. So I guess they still need some more training.

Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this. The only thing you want to do with your feet is prop them up on an ottoman while you watch TV. I’m not judging, nor am I pointing any fingers at specific readers. But you know what they say — if the shoe fits…

All I want to do is remind you that, if you train your feet and treat them well, then they’ll reward you. They’ll show you new sights and take you to meet interesting people. They’ll work with your body to get it stronger, fitter, healthier. They’ll remind you that you have these two amazing things attached to your legs to be grateful for every morning. They might even get a little naughty and lead you to a coffee shop that sells yummy, fresh-baked cookies. You’ll never know unless you move them.

Where have your feet led you?

Grayer than Gandolf (aka: Graysexuality)

Secret shhh

I have a deep, dark secret. One that most people would never, ever suspect. Ready?

I am a sucker for romance movies.

Some of my all-time favorite movies include a selection of romantic and romantic comedy films. Pride and Prejudice (2005). Shakespeare in Love. You’ve Got Mail. Sleepless in Seattle. The Notebook.

I don’t just watch these films. I watch them repeatedly. I swoon when the meant-to-be couple falls in love. I am thrilled when they paddle through a pond full of ducks, or rendezvous in the rain, or write beautiful plays an poetries inspired by their true love. I ache inside when they are separated from one another by time, distance, or unlucky circumstances, and rejoice when they come together in the end. Ah, love…

But as much as I am an inner romantic, I have another secret — one that more or less means that no matter what, my own life will never reflect those beautiful, romantic happy endings.

I am asexual.

Gray Asexual, Gray Ace, or Graysexual, to be specific. The “A” in LGBTQA. My brand of sexuality is represented by the gray stripe in the Asexual flag:

What does that mean? Well, asexuality in general means the lack of sexual attraction to other people. Graysexuals, like me, are very, very rarely sexually attracted to other people, though it does happen once in a very blue moon. You might call us…highly selective.

Highly Selective Clueless

Being graysexual does not mean that I am not ever romantically attracted to others. I am heteromantic, which means that I am only ever attracted to the opposite sex. But for me, being attracted to someone doesn’t automatically translate into wanting to be with them in a sexual way. In fact, it almost never means that. I am far more likely to daydream about doing fun things together, holding hands, or watching a sunset and snuggling.

Sex doesn’t really interest most asexuals. I know. What a waste of sexiness! For me, it just isn’t something that seems fun or interesting. Trying to convince me otherwise is like trying to convince a coffee hater to keep trying coffee, because maybe one day, something will click, and they will begin to crave that morning cup of java like everyone else. It just doesn’t work that way.

Spilled coffee mess

It’s not like I was once into sex, then the desire went away. I married as a 21-yr. old virgin, then learned during the honeymoon that sex was really not for me. During that 17-yr. marriage, I tried all kinds of things to learn how to like it, but mostly, I hated it. My ex-husband had a very hard time believing this, and took it quite personally. I don’t blame him.

The only time in my life during which I actually really enjoyed sex was while I was dating Mr. Right, my dream guy, last summer. He was the third man I ever had sex with, and will be the last one I ever have sex with, as well. It was all so different with him. Maybe because of how I felt about him. It made me want to share everything with him, to be close to him in every possible way. This is a rare occurrence for asexuals — possibly a once-in-a-lifetime connection. No, I don’t foresee any relationship like that ever happening again for me. The very idea of being romantic or sexually intimate with any other man is revolting. Ugh. No thanks.

I’m sure that the idea of asexuality is super weird to most typically sexual peeps. After all, it is rare. Only 0.5 to 1% of the entire population claims to share my spot on the sexuality spectrum. But it is a very real thing. I’m not sure why it occurs at all. Perhaps it is an evolutionary design, to control human overpopulation. Or maybe it is just further evidence that I’m an alien from another planet.

So no, my real life is never going to resemble those romantic films I adore so much. Because I just don’t believe that there is a man out there I would connect with, who would also be perfectly fine with a completely platonic, or at least sex-free relationship. Sure, the sea is full of “fish.” But I am a vegetarian. So this fisherwoman has hung up her pole, and plans to live out her days pining over the One that Got Away. Because he was the one cup of coffee that suited my very, very picky tastebuds.

Asexual flag