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I went to an event last night on the Geopolitics on Water and Climate Change.  It was fascinating, but I left feeling quite frustrated.  The argument about the importance and increasing rarity of fresh groundwater was very compelling.  But after half an hour of growing fear about the future my daughters and their future children will face, there was no action suggested.  There were no ideas for things I could do, or habits I could instill in my daughters, or proposed changes for which I might advocate.

So I went home worried and continued to worry all night.

Well, that’s not quite true.  Around midnight when I still couldn’t sleep, I surfed the internet for ways that an individual can help conserve water, like:

  • Harvesting rain water and keeping your gray water to water your plants
  • Checking your water lines, faucets, toilet and meter for leaks
  • Installing water-saving shower heads and faucet aerators, as well as using creating or buying a toilet tank bank (I just use a couple bricks); take shorter showers, turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, running your dishwasher and washing machine only when full
  • Replacing water-needy plants with drought tolerant plants
  • Growing your own food, knowing and choosing food with water in mind (that is food that doesn’t require excessive irrigation or watering to grow), reducing food waste (by buying and/or eating less food so you don’t end up throwing away food — according to our speaker last night a LOT of our fresh groundwater goes to industrial-sized crops, and nearly 50% of our food in the USA is thrown away instead of eaten)
  • And a 100 other ideas

But knowing is only half the battle.  Now I need to implement these ideas–to DO something.

Which brings me to my real point (not that water conservation isn’t important; it is both important and urgent)—if we continue to hear about important and urgent matters that don’t contain action items, how many of us are likely to even KNOW what to do?  Which means we’re even more likely to NOT do anything about it.  Which means change isn’t likely.  However, if you share a problem, take the additional step to help people know what they can do to help.

So what action items do I want you to know from this post?

  • If you are creating content, tell people how they can help.
  • Provide a range of actions (for instance, some may find putting a brick in their toilet to reduce water flow to be all they can manage, while others may go out and order that rain barrel and calculate their food-water consumption then change their shopping habits starting today).
  • Create a way for people to join the conversation (not comments, because those aren’t a conversation) to find solutions if solutions aren’t readily available.
  • Go DO some of the suggestions yourself!  (Karma doesn’t hurt to get the ball rolling.)

Think about the possibilities if every time there was a story on climate change you had options you could adopt.  Or if every time there was a story about terrorism you also read about easy ways you could help make the world safer and more peaceful.  Or when they announce the time on the Doomsday Clock today, you knew what you could (and should) do to help turn the clock backwards.

Dancing with Putin

Did I tell you 2016 is the year I’m going to quit being lonely?  I decided it sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Some would say that since then I’ve behaved oddly.  I’ve put away my cell phone while trying out new Irish pubs around my little spot on Earth.  I’ve flirted just for the practice.  I’ve laughed and smiled instead of worried.  And I’ve even accepted invitations to events I wouldn’t normally attend and discussed Russian politics with people I wouldn’t normally talk with.

Last night, I did all of these things.

And guess what I’ve discovered.  I’m not the only one who cares about Russian politics, men often enjoy flirting just for the practice too, laughing is good for my complexion and, probably most surprising, I’m not the only one who still enjoys dancing.  In fact, in the last 24 hours, I’ve met at least half a dozen people who go dancing around my little spot on Earth.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then by what happened next.  I went home in high spirits, let the dogs out, drank some chamomile tea and went to bed…and dreamt I was dancing with Putin.

It started out charmingly enough.  He is, afterall, someone I admire–don’t get me wrong, I think he is dangerous and not to be trusted–but from my intellectual interest in strategy, diplomacy and human behavior, I find him to be brilliant.  And he is a smart, but manly Russian man–perhaps my favorite kind of man.  So when he approached me at a networking event and bowed deeply asking me to dance with him, I was flattered.  And excited.

A Viennese waltz was playing–odd, I admit, but appropo too.  We started out slowly like the music, taking baby steps to learn each other’s rhythm and testing out our physical communication skills.  The room gradually became more quiet as the hundred conversations about business quieted.  The room also seemed to expand as we moved more quickly with larger steps around the room taking up more space–as any powerful person ought (Putin, not me).

Once we had established our space on the floor, the music changed.  But the dance did not.  And our steps, which had at first been tentative, then a trying parallel smoothed right into unaided synchronicity.

However, when the strains of that song faded, I was surprised to find that Putin had no intention of leaving the floor.  Even when the next song meant the dance would change.  He was a surprisingly agile swing dancer.  Smooth might be the word I would use to describe him.

And so we danced the night away–literally, in my dreams.

Unfortunately, as the night turned to dawn, the dancing would cease.  He danced me home and left me at my door.

I guess when you dream of dancing with Putin, you should expect the unexpected. But I was just thrilled with the dance.  So imagine my surprise when I went to let my dogs out (in my dream) and I found him picking the lock to the back door trying to break in with a mask meant to use to change and smother me

I was to become Darth Vader, it seems.

I woke up with a start sweating and cold at the same time. I woke up frightened.  So I threw myself into my morning routine hoping it would soothe the images and feelings and calm me.  But it hasn’t worked…until just now.  I collapsed into my favorite chair exhausted from the effort of trying to forget the dream.  There in front of me, on the ledge by the TV sat two movies that haven’t been put away.

Frustrated (for I like to keep an uncluttered house) I get up to put away the clutter and note rather bemusedly that the two movies are Hello Dolly and Star Wars III Revenge of the Sith.

Perhaps it’s Kismet.  Or a lesson.  But I think it’s a sign.  A sign that I should take better care of which movies I mix in my mind.

Bedtime prayer

It’s past my bedtime after a long gloomy Sunday, and here I am wide awake in my bedroom. It reminds me of a stateroom on an old sailing ship with its aged wood accents, slatted wood floor and creaky windows in the winter winds. My salt lamp sits atop a stack of treasured books by authors from an age of romance and fairy tales…some of them based on real lives.  I placed them on my writing desk near the head of my bed so their triple-named spines can watch over me when I do sleep.

Right now, however, they merely elevate the light, which casts a soft pink glow that adds to the aged and somehow staged feeling of the room.  Only my open journal and star gazer that I use on cloudy nights such as this one to pretend I can see the heavens and beyond are out of place—a detail that seems to glare in the light and usually irks me.  But not tonight.

I have a song stuck in my heart and so I play it on repeat…repeat…repeat…while I write. The song is about an hourglass.

The chandelier I splurged on a few years ago picks up the light and sprinkles a few sparkles causing me to look up.  Why is it moving, I wonder.  But instead my eye catches sight of the scarves hanging on the door hinge and I start sharply.  They look eerily like the ghost of Christmas yet to come–or is it Christmas that could be?  Or the grim reaper whom I haven’t forgotten that I saw around Halloween near the train tracks not far from my house.

My Olliepup must feel my nerves for he lifts his head from his polka-dot position and growls low and menacingly at it. It doesn’t move; I don’t move; Ollie doesn’t move.  We stare at each other while my heart pounds loudly and surprisingly forcefully in my chest. Finally, I muster up a bit of courage and move the scarves or at least dishevel them enough that they no longer represent a ghoul.

In doing so, the light now reflects off the mirror hanging on the back of my door to illuminate my archers bow and arrows.  They sit poised and ready under the fake moon that hangs on another wall–a vestige to encourage my overactive imagination and my underutilized action. They wait, ready for an adventure…like I do.

Earlier tonight I decided to move my frog prince from the dressing chair in the corner by the full-length mirror my ex-husband made me when we were once happy together…so long ago…to the shelf above my bed where the tiny sheep sit. The sheep used to help my daughters fall asleep when they were tiny girls. Now they sit collecting dust above my bed like a reminder of sleep or children or dreams gone past.  Maybe my frog will give the sheep new life–and my dreams with it.  For my daughters seem more like roommates then children these days–negotiations, careful considerations, adjusted schedules and rhythms.  I notice it most at night when my skin seems to crave a soft caress–or is it the warmth of their little cheeks and hands…or the smell of their freshly washed hair…

Once again Ollie must know. He scoots up and snuggles next to my side placing his head in my lap feeling soft, warm and smelling sweet. He sighs as if to remind me we must return to the real world in the morning. A new year. A new month. A new work week. A new day. Full of possibilities? Or like this song on repeat…repeat…repeat…of any other day, week, month, year that has past?

I feel restless. And ready. My journal is open and awaits a new story.  I hope it’s a good one…

Hope Mongering

“Did you know that pessimists survive better than optimists?”  I wasn’t sure if my dad was telling me or asking me, so I answered anyway.

“I totally believe that.”

My mom, however, did not believe that.  “That can’t be right,” she said looking over his shoulder to see what he was reading.  But according to the news article, he was right.

The article went on to say that pessimists were more likely to imagine all sorts of terrible things that actually might seem ridiculous, but could help them better prepare for less terrible things that might actually happen.

That’s when I realized I must be a pessimist.

Merriam-Webster defines Pessimism simply as a feeling or belief that bad things will happen in the future.  

Does that describe me?  I mean, I say things like “The sun will come out tomorrow.” And “I CAN slay the jabberwockie.”  And “there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” Seriously, I say those things almost daily to people.  Ask my daughters!

But when I see my neighbor’s puppy playing in a front yard, I can’t help thinking there’s a good possibility it will dart out into the street in front of a car, and then I have to keep my eye on it.

Or when the hiking trail becomes a steep incline covered in a mound of wet leaves, I can see myself sliding right down it before choosing the rocky, muddy, but surer-footed terrain next to the path.

Or when my dishwasher drain is clogged, I decide in advance that the liquid draino could likely eat a hole in the plastic pipes and make the whole thing a disaster so that when it does, I’ve already got the plumber on speed dial.

Or after watching a talk show about people being robbed at gunpoint during the night in their own homes while waiting for the auto mechanic to rotate my tires, I type up a plan for escaping from my house out the bedroom window and e-mail it to my daughters (the plan is complete with creating a sheet-harness to lower the dogs down too).  I now sleep with my wallet and keys next to my bed so we can use the car to escape.

Or after hearing about all the “active shooters” in the news, I call a family meeting and sit down with my daughters to talk about the pros and cons of throwing things at active shooters, rushing them, playing dead, running, and/or the responsibility to help others versus save yourself.

Or when the financial crises seemed much more dreary and devastating, I read up on the Moneyless Manifesto and began adopting some of the practices so I’d be prepared if money just became green paper like Douglas Adams has warned us.  And I bought an extra towel.

My friends laugh sometimes when I say I truly do have a “bug-out bag” and then they remind me the zombie apocalypse isn’t real.

I know it isn’t.  But the bug-out bag would come in super handy if there was a fire in my house, a natural catastrophe (like a tornado or severe earthquake) that meant I had to evacuate my home, or I just decided on a whim to go camping.

So maybe I am a pessimist. But how do you explain my silly Pollyanna doctrine?

Simple.  I believe in hope.

I might imagine all kinds of bad things happening, but I believe that the Universe is on my side.  The preparations are merely ways for me to feel like I’m doing my part.  Like in the story of the master and disciple in the desert.

The master was teaching his charge that he could always trust in God, since He was aware of everything.  

Night fell, and they decided to pitch camp.  The master raised the tent, and the disciple was given the assignment of tethering the horses to a rock.  But, as he stood by the rock, he thought to himself:  the master is testing me.  He said that God is aware of everything, and then asked me to tie up the horses.  He wants to see whether or not I believe in God.  Instead of tethering the animals, he said a long prayer, and left the fate of the horses in God’s hands.

Next day, when they awoke, the horses were gone.  Disappointed, the disciple complained to the master, saying that he no longer believed in him, since God had not taken care of everything and had forgotten to watch over the horses.

“You are wrong,” the master answered.  “God wanted to take care of the horses.  But in order to do so, He needed to make use of your hands to tether them to the stone.”1

Or the Italian joke about the lottery.

A poor man goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint-please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, “My son-please, please, please…buy a ticket.”2

Here in is the lesson of hope (at least in my view).  You have to be aware of what you want, take a good hard look at what is, and then do your part trusting you’ll get the help you need, when you most need it.

 

1. The Valkyries, Paulo Coelho.
2. Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert

Twinkle

Twinkle, twinkle little star. Tonight I saw you from a far.  But only for a second or two before the fog hid you from view.

My warm breath added to the mist that gave the air mysteriousness among the trees so still, so tall they seemed like guards watching o’er us all.  Or maybe more like guardians, or forest sprites or Narnians, for I felt safe there in their park —protected and calm there in the dark.

And though the path was rocky and rough, I enjoyed the challenge; it was just enough.  

For there, at the end of the path, you see, a thousand twinkle lights lit up around me.  Like fireflies or glistening snow falling in moonlight in winter aglow, these lights and time then seemed to slow, and the world was once again magical, and I know.

So into the woods and all is well, the path is long, but I can tell that into the woods is right for me along my life and journey.  And as I leave I see a string of lights as cars come journeying to find the calm and peaceful thing that I have found this evening. 

So twinkle on my little star, you give me hope beyond the war. And though you’re hidden from my sight, I know you’re shining on tonight.

Yes, twinkle, twinkle little star.  How I wonder at all you are. 

Year End 2015

2015–The Year of Connections.  It’s almost over.  Normally at this time of year, I’m itching to craft a plan for next year, sure I might have some smart or wise idea for how I can live better or at least more well.

But this year, I find no such itch.

I’ve started this post–my annual review–at least three times, and each time I’ve put no more than a dozen words down before discarding it and finding something else to do.  Today, in fact, I started this very post in the wee hours of the morning, then conveniently distracted myself with email.  When I returned to the post, I discovered I suddenly wanted to play my new piano.  And now, here at my third attempt, I sit snuggled in my love seat with a dog curled up on both sides of me, content to listen to the quiet and admire the warm soft glow of the twinkle lights lining my bookshelves.

Out my window, I see a neighbor—a teenage refugee from the Congo— walk by with her backpack and an umbrella.  The brilliant pinks and yellows of her umbrella and coat spotlight her in the gray surroundings and I wish I had my camera ready.  But then again, I’m glad I don’t for surely I would have missed the fact that she is singing as she walks by head held high.

I just feel so cozy, and I don’t want to squelch it with goals and strategy.  Does it get better than this moment right now?

Theo stretches his paw with a big yawn and accidentally hits my keyboard.  “Y” he types.  Then he hops down and stretches out on the floor at my feet.  I guess I’ll take that as a sign and get on with it.

What happened in 2015?

I turned 40 and began the transition to the next phase of my life–one in which I have the freedom that comes from knowing you’ve raised your children and they’re off learning to fly on their own.  To celebrate, I took an entire month of travel–partly for work and party for pleasure.

I drank wine in Napa, directed marketing in Chicago, documented anthropological research on a remote island in the Aegean Sea, and toured the Acropolis in Athens.

Then I came home to help my city host almost 100 foreign dignitaries ranging from Ambassadors, Foreign Ministers and Parliamentary Representatives to Mayors, Media and Academics.  In the process, I met some of the best people in my own town, including bus drivers with more than a million safe miles under their belts, hotel staff with the best manners, airport staff with the greatest attitudes, and interested citizens who volunteered their precious time and energy.

I consider every one of them new friends, and the event became the highlight of my year—personally and professionally.  Quite possibly, it will be the highlight of the decade!  I guess time will have to tell…

Time tells me this year, professionally, was a great year.  I stretched myself on all fronts–energy, skills, subject matters and balance.  In the process, I made some important discoveries…like the importance of time blocking (especially e-mail), and learning that how much I love a project typically has as much to do with the people I’m working with as with the work itself, and that I LOVE logistics.

But for the record, I still think etiquette is the answer to life, the universe and everything.  (That’s 52 using the alpha-numerics of your phone or 122 using a basic alpha-numeric cipher.)

Numerically, I worked with 13 different clients in five different states and five different countries to increase my annual revenue by almost 50%.  Which meant I once again found myself facing the dilemma of how big I want my business to be.

But that has more to do with my personal goals and plans than my professional one.

So what was 2015 for me personally?  It was really good!  My dogs and I hiked more weekends than we didn’t.  My youngest and I spent some time exploring our roots, testing foreign language skills and bonding over schnitzel during the summer.   I experienced the healthiest lifestyle with the healthiest people in the world first-hand.  I upgraded my internet, refinanced my house, learned to make amazing vegetarian meals (but I didn’t turn vegetarian), wrote a book, learned French, took a class on primitive fire making, and volunteered more than 250 hours in my community.

But there is always difficulty to be had, and I had my fair share of that too—like my first experience with ticks on my dogs (horrifying and traumatizing, and probably not pleasant for the dogs either), difficult relationships with a client or two, growing pains as a mother and a daughter and a sister, a flat tire on the side of the highway, poison ivy–again, 71 mosquito bites (yes, I counted—they say that if you get over 100 bites, you build up an immunity, which is both terrifying and somehow hopeful), still lonely, a dead piano, technology challenges (primarily related to my phone, my computer, my wireless internet, my television, my DVD player and my alarm clock)…and I still haven’t MADE fire using the primitive method yet despite many (many, many) hours of trying.

Did I make connections?  Yes.  Probably not what I anticipated or in the way I thought, but then again, I think that’s probably a good thing.  So why make long-term plans?

Which brings me back to not feeling itchy to make plans for next year.

You see, Gentle Penguin, one of the most important connections I made was that my best performances and moments were usually tied to situations that required flexibility and adaptability—not planned perfection.  And with that, a lot of my anxiety left…and hasn’t returned.

Still, I like the habit and ritual of naming each year at the beginning and reflecting on it at the end.  It reminds me that for all my bemoaning the dullness that sometimes seems like life, life is actually made up of a Graham’s number of tiny moments that come and pass and aren’t often recognized.  Except during a review like this.

So I have decided to name 2016 the Year of Adaptability and then see where it takes me…and us.

What happened in your 2015?  And what’s next?

And so it goes

My piano was given a fatal diagnosis this morning when the tuner confirmed fixing it was hopeless.

I tried to hold my back my tears as he explained that in the 1950s, when my piano was made, the oil-based plastic parts they used instead of wood joints were actually considered space-age and thought to last a lifetime.  Unfortunately, we now know they actually don’t last a lifetime.  And my piano is proof.

After the tuner left, my heart broke and I mourned my piano as it still sat in pieces in my office.

Then I wrote a letter to the family members who so thoughtfully arranged the tuning as a birthday present for a milestone.  I turned 40 about a month ago.

Forty has always been a milestone year for me, not because of the number, but rather for what it represents in my life.  For 20 years now, I’ve been a mother first.  And in a matter of months, my youngest will begin driving signaling the end of a my taxi-service phase.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the time I will regain, the freedom this milestone grants, marks the beginning of a phase in life in which I am something else first.

Of course I’ll still be a mother, but the days of scheduling my life around that priority have already begun to slip by.  I already can join friends for happy hour after work without having to bring a child along or worry about daycare pick up times.  I can hang out with adults instead of children, eat meals that don’t consist of ranch dip and fried foods, and talk about things that adults talk about.  I’ve decided to get serious about dating.  And last month I spent almost the entire month traveling…partly for pleasure and partly for work.

It was during this month of travel that I actually found myself. It sounds so cliche, I know.  I hadn’t thought I was lost.  But with such a long stretch of non-parental duty, I discovered that I’m not at all who I thought I was.  And maybe who I’ll be next won’t be such a terrifying transition.

Gentle Penguin, I have to tell you that I discovered I’m actually quite a bad-ass.  Not bad, nor an ass, but bad-ass.  I was fearless in hiking mountains and scaling rocks and exploring secluded wildernesses on my own—and was able to do so safely and agilely.  I was firm but respectful in standing up for myself and others when confronted with rudeness and injustice—and people found it charming.  I was daring, dancing in the spotlight with a stranger at a community party in a remote village where I was a guest—and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I discovered that people relied on and highly valued my insight, my observations, and even my intuition.  That I have an outstanding sense of direction, and it isn’t a fluke that every time I go somewhere new, people ask me for directions—not because of my sense of direction, but because I smile at people and make eye contact.

I sometimes spoke up to four foreign languages in a day—not well, but appreciated and exciting all the same for me and the people with whom we were trying to understand.  In addition, I deactivated my Facebook in mid-September (and haven’t missed it yet); spent an entire evening learning the constellations using only the night sky and a planisphere; flirted with foreign men; was taught to forage by a 92-year-old woman; and lived the way the healthiest people on the planet live with the healthiest people on the planet instead of just reading about it.

The best part is that upon returning home to parent duty, my bad-assness has only grown, much to my daughters’ delight, and my own.  No longer apologetic or fearful, I’m embracing the milestone and the transition.

Which brings me back to my Philadelphia & Lester mahogany spinet piano and the appreciation letter to my thoughtful and generous relatives.  You see, the tuner was also bad-ass—not bad, nor an ass. And I wanted my family to know.

Actually, the tuner described himself as “a rich man” because he has been able to spend his entire life working in music. He says that building a lifestyle around his love of music has kept other expensive things from distracting him, so he doesn’t have to work for money, but rather for the love of the piano and pianists, which–in turn–gives him freedom to make choices that enrich his life more than money ever could.

What would enrich my life more than money?  A new piano. So with my tears dried and two of my family members along for the adventure, I headed to the used piano section of our local piano shop.

I must have played two dozen different pianos. Spinets, uprights, consoles in pine, oak, and mahogany.  Some sounded bright. Some were tinny.  Some sounded sad.  My fingers and ears told me which ones were right for me, and which ones weren’t.  And in the end, I fell in love with another mahogany piano.

It’ll be delivered on Tuesday, and my Lester will be hauled away to the dump.  Another transition.  And one that I can’t help equating to the toughest transition I’ve ever made—my divorce nearly more than 14 years ago now.

My Lester was the first thing I bought with my first bonus check the year I graduated from college.  When I got divorced, it was the only thing that was really just mine.  So I took it with me, and I gave up sleeping and eating to just play.  I played for my daughters who were 5 and 1—lullabies to help them go to sleep, music to dance to, music to sing with.  And in the process, I found my footing and healed my heart and soul.

Now, with a new piano, no sticking keys, no out-of-tune melodies and a little free time on my hands (literally), I imagine this will be a reminder—a reminder of other transitions I’ve faced, as well as the joy I’ve known since early childhood that making music can be.  You see, I’ve been playing piano longer than I’ve done pretty much anything else in my life, even longer than being a mother.

The nice thing about that is it means—in this transition or any other—I’m still me too.

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