Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ante up and Go "All In!"

Why a poker face is not nearly as important as what you’ve got left at the end of your bluff...

Remember when you were a kid and the sky was the limit?  You only had to wish or imagine what your future would be…and you were young enough to believe it was as simple as going and getting it.  You hadn’t hit any real obstacles yet… and life was fairly simple.  A lifetime in front of you seemed much like one continuous fast pass, with only a short wait in line before the next thrill ride.

As time goes on, you begin to set limits and consider the climb before taking your first step.  Maybe it’s a missed try-out for sports, a hill that popped your tire instead of the planned epic jump…or it’s the first girl or boy you liked, who didn’t like you back.  Early disappointments and bruised egos start to shape and shorten your runway and adjust your ultimate goals.

Your frame of mind has everything to do with your potential and when you limit your dreams, you create an invisible safety net…a stopping point, where you’re unwilling or afraid to go further or step forward across new bridges of opportunity and risk. 

I’ve been guilty of casting that invisible net in my own life as well as that of my three sons.  I have had the best of intentions, trying to shield my kids from being hurt or disappointed.

And despite those good intentions, I realize I’ve also passed on my fear of failure and inadvertently caused them to pull back when they should lean forward.  Like a game of poker, you bluff, you raise the stakes, sometimes you fold…but you always have to show your cards at the end of the game.

The game is a delicate balance of starts and stops, wins and losses.  And what if someone calls your bluff early?  What if you don’t get the card you’ve been waiting for?  If you fold, will you still be able to maintain a poker face and move on to the next hand?

It’s no secret that I have kicked my own game into high gear a little later in life than most…most recently, I finally edited and published a book I wrote nearly 20 years ago.  But my kids have been cheering on the sidelines all along and at some point, my fear of failure gave way to setting a better example for my boys.  I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but my poker face was transformed and I was suddenly “all in,” moving from a good bluff to deciding which cards I had left to play in my hand.

Now every new experience or challenge I take on is embraced with reckless abandon and relentless tenacity.  I think in terms of what’s possible and rarely settle in and consider the impossible.  It’s changed my view and line of sight.  I’m older, questionably wiser…and yet somehow more determined and deliberate, ignoring my ego and embracing my battle scars, hard fought and earned.

I changed my mind in the middle of this particular game.  I realize now that the greatest barriers we face in life are the self imposed shackles and constraints we put upon ourselves.  You can’t be afraid to try and you have to be willing to take a few bad hands along with the good to win the game.

And finally, and most importantly, as a player, your definition of “winning” should be self defined and not based upon the chips distributed around the table.  I’m “all in” and I expect my boys to pick up their hands, with endless possibilities and Aces…and a few wild cards just to make life interesting.

If you believe you’ve got a great hand, you need to up the ante…because you could cash out at any time.


(First written/published 6/29/15)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Squirrel: Gardening isn’t for everyone…or is it?

Green Beans

So I started my “urban farm” earlier in the spring.  It lacks the uniformity of what you’d typically visualize of a garden…or at the least the kinds that come to mind for me.  I think of neat and tidy rows, with mounds going down a long patch of field, with at least a dozen rows, not including corn.

Some people don’t take this seriously. They just throw stuff out there, planting wherever there is an open patch.  Not me, I carefully nurtured dozens of seedlings indoors for several weeks, careful to mark the plants.

When planting day came, I went out to see what I had to work with.  And while it wasn’t exactly a nicely tilled field, waiting for attention…I figured I could make it work with a little creativity, hard work, and commitment.

I spy...hmmm.  I'll have to get back to you!
I had three what I would call “growing areas” inbetween the brick pavers on my patio, plus numerous planters from my tropical decorative trees from summers past.

Now budgets.  A typical summer design on the patio (with me doing all the work/ materials and plants only) has run around $600.00 per year, to transform my backyard patio into a garden oasis, with a tropical feel and an outdoor room you want to spend every spare second in during the spring, summer, and fall season.

This year, I knew right away I wasn’t going to drop that much cash on plants that die at the end of the season.  So I focused my attention on pulling together a mix of flowers and vegetables, growing and living in harmony side by side.

I am almost certain that my budget did not exceed $100.00, including seeds, two hanging plants, and a flat of purple flowers to sprinkle around my planters.

Last year, I went for height to achieve the tropical feel.  I chose corn stalks this year; they grow tall, have long leafy stalks, and look different throughout the growing and harvest season.  I sprinkled a few purple flowers around the base and yes, planted them right into a container (5 total of same variety to ensure healthy cross pollination). 
Corn and a little "John Deere Green" for luck

I smartly bought plastic labeling stakes on Amazon to label everything.  I used a Sharpie Marker, with bright orange. 

At first, I wanted to make sure every plant had a unique spot to grow.  Then it became crowded and the seedlings were out of control in the flat I had on the kitchen table.  I moved it outdoors, which only made it worse.

Throwing caution to the wind, I quickly found a warm bed and new home for every seedling I’d grown.  Halfway through the process, I gave up on labeling…which in hindsight, really didn’t matter because as it turned out, Sharpie ink runs off plastic plant stakes and while I have cute little white bubbles sticking out of the ground, they are signs going nowhere…because they no longer have any writing at all and I have resorted to guessing plants as they grow and produce.  The green beans were easy, same with tomatoes.  I’m pretty sure these really pretty orange flowering vines are cantaloupes, but they could just as easy be watermelon…I’ll let you know when something sprouts obvious.

Harvest time is kind of a sliding scale.  It started a few weeks ago…when I was able to snag a strawberry a day from my new plant.  That single berry was the sweetest, best tasting berry ever…probably because I’d taken it from seed to plant to food.  This is way more cool than I expected.  I lived on a farm and benefited from a fresh garden every summer.  But I wasn’t the one that tilled the garden, prepped it, and planted seeds.  I was the one that would walk out back and trudge through dirt and pick the choice corn, tomatoes, beans…whatever was on the dinner menu.  I took for granted this simple chore as much as I do picking up fresh produce from a grocery store.  Because it wasn’t mine.

It all goes back to what you work for in life, how hard it takes to get it, and how you feel when you get to reap the rewards.  In my backyard garden, I have “harvested” about a dozen green beans, 3 or 4 strawberries, and am working on a spice jar for dill weed, which is apparently really easy to grow.

It’s funny because I didn’t even know the beans had sprouted until I was pulling a few weeds out of the way.  And I couldn’t help thinking that much like life, we often miss the best stuff because we don’t feel like going too far into the weeds.

And the strawberries?  I had to watch them every morning and evening just to get a handful to sample before the birds took them away.  I think about other things in life I’m not watching that closely.  And I wonder how much of my life flew away like the birds while I wasn’t paying attention.
Mason Jars have always been a "thing"

My corn, though, I have the highest of expectations for.  And they are the funniest story of the entire hodge podge of my make due garden.  You see, last year, I thought some old corn seeds came back (yes, I know now they don’t do that) and there was a patch of gorgeous stalks growing all summer.  So proud was I to have them looking so lush and fruitful,  
Wall of "Corn" from 2013
it didn’t occur to me to question why at the end of the summer, they were 9 foot tall and producing no corn.

I sought some expert advice and the answer deflated my farming pride to a new low…because I learned that the “corn” I’d been cultivating, feeding, watering and nurturing was in fact a look alike plant, more weed than plant…and extremely invasive and destructive…and tough to kill.  My corn is a running joke and this season, I aim to put an end to it.  My corn tasseled last week and I’m expecting the first ears in a few more weeks.  And then I’ll never confuse the two again (or admit it anyways).

If you leave a garden unattended, the results are going to be mixed, and you will have little influence and control over the outcome.  So my choice location for my garden was in the heart of my home…my backyard patio, where we spend a lot of our time.  Instead of picking a field (which truth be told, I don’t have in the city), I chose to plant around life, with me and my boys in the middle…sitting out on the patio chairs, watching the trees, roasting marshmallows at night.  Because putting my garden in plain sight ensures it’s not an add on to anything.  It’s part of life, with my boys growing faster than the weeds, and my own life moving swiftly along as well.  But being surrounded by this very unique garden, I can tell you that there are so many moments inbetween that we stop and see something that gives us pause and makes us smile.  It might be our favorite humming bird or it could be a shy rabbit in the yard.  The bloom of a new flower…the bouquet of fresh flowers in a mason jar sitting on the table.   And almost daily, several deer looking strangely out of place in the city, but pure delight for us to experience.
Campfire aka "burn can"

I used to think faster is better.  Really!  In all things.  Why do something by hand that you can do in half the time with something automatic? 

Canning, making jelly…slowing down to look at life close up, it’s like all that good stuff you find only if you’re willing to go a little deeper in the weeds.

I’ve decided the view is way better, once you’ve faced whatever weed is holding you back…in my garden, it was a weed that looked like corn.  In my life, it’s my own reluctance to pull back layers, be willing to trim and cut away the past, so that I can slow down and consider the time we all have here on a moment by moment basis…without worrying about missing out on what may or may not be a better moment in the future.  Pick your present like a delicate flower, and keep it in the center of your life.  And only let go when the moment has passed and there is a new moment to be treasured, enjoyed, and remembered. 
Never guess this is a city sky

I guess growing a garden isn’t for everyone, but there are some basic similarities for reapplication in life…and I think we could all benefit from a community garden, where we share a little more with one another.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Where Do Your People Come From?

Insert "persons" here.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.  I sometimes think that trying to maintain a healthy relationship with my family bears an uncanny resemblance to this philosophy. 

Everyone loves their family or hates them…or loves to hate or hates to love.  And when I say “family” I’m not talking about the ones you live with…oh no, that’s for a later post and date when my kids diss on the family they grew up in…and what was right or wrong…or remembered differently by all as either ideal or nightmarish.  And speaking from experience, the realities could be both, depending on who you ask and when.

The family I’m talking about is the one you grew up in…the one that included your parents and siblings.  The ones that know exactly what to say when you think there isn’t anything anyone can say that will make you feel worse about any given situation.  The ones that know all the right buttons to push…the ones that will, in a single breath, wonder in surprise why you suffer from low self esteem…followed by a dig in some area of your life you feel the most vulnerable about.   You know who you are…I mean you know what I’m talking about, right?

 In the country, as in rural areas (not countries in the way we define geography), they used to refer to family as your “people.”  I remember my Granny, who frequently made friends and neighbors by asking where “their people came from.”  Today, I’m not sure it is still said or shared.  But if asked, I could tell you who my people were growing up…but more importantly, I could tell you about how I redefined the lines of my family tree to include persons I have come to consider family, even though we have no shared bloodlines or childhood memories.

I’m a huge Grey’s Anatomy fan and I have shamelessly adopted Meredith and Cristina’s definition of a “person.”  And I consider myself extremely fortunate to have two such persons in my life.  They are the ones, who show up for me at a moment’s notice.   They are the ones who help with damage control when my “people” from birth catch me by surprise, landing sucker punches in my gut.  

They remind me to stop when I’m circling Einstein’s insanity with family and celebrate when I reach new milestones like mowing my grass, making it through the work week…or finishing a day without crawling into a fetal position.  I’m joking (mostly)…seriously! (channeling a little bit of Izzy, who I really miss from the show). 

So I’m smiling today and thinking about where my “people” come from and how to live in a reality that lets me forgive and forget or just say F’em when they are at their very worse…seeking to pull me down from the journey I am trying to continue…learning and growing all the time.  Seeking to be a better person, better mother, and a better friend.

Because having two amazing persons who mean the world to me means that I want to give that same level of support and awesomeness back.  Candidly, I think they both are much more self-sufficient than me; they’ve figured out how to avoid Einstein’s curse of repetition.  And yet, they’ve always got my back and even in at my worse “told you so” moments, they laugh it off with me instead of rubbing it in (whatever, and when they rub it in, I laugh in spite of myself).

I think it’s important to know where your people came from and how to keep from being sucked back into the madness of things that hold you back.  It’s a combination of forgive and forget…sometimes settling on “forget” when the latest freeze frame moment of discontent pulls you back a few steps from where you started at the beginning of your day.

And I hope my persons know I’m as much their “person” as they are mine…and stand at the ready to defend, protect, and cheer up any time, day or night.  My people (the ones I grew up with) will always be a part of who I am and where I started.  They will always be my family in some way or another, even when we choose not to talk or stay actively connected. 

But for my persons, I feel the need to grab a crayon and sketch out two new branches in that family tree.  And I know those branches are the sturdiest of stock, now permanently connected to me and mine…I can’t tell you much about their people and where they came from, but I can tell you they both arrived just in the nick of time at different times in my life.  And I am forever grateful for the extraordinary gift I have in each of them.   


Thursday, June 9, 2016

TBT - First Jobs, Workplace Productivity and Enjoying the View!

Pic of one of two machine types I ran


I landed my first real job starting out in the cliché “mailroom” working part time, after dropping out of college at 19.

I loved my part time job running two big #Xerox copy machines, printing large batches of copy jobs for an insurance company.  Starting pay was $4.25 an hour and after six months, I earned a fifty cent per hour raise.  It might not sound like much now, but it was enough to raise my standard of living to afford $25.00 a week for groceries instead of $20.00 and the increased debt potential to take on a used car payment.

I timed the two machines just right throughout the day, collating sets on one side, while collecting copies from the other.  Kind of funny to think I was an early adopter of workplace productivity. J It was much simpler then, leaning on the tried and true model “common sense.”  I like to stay busy…makes the time go by faster.  I found a system that utilized every spare minute of my work shift, keep both machines running at all times.

Entry -level job benefits were much greater than I could appreciate at the time.  The chance to look out a 9th floor window at a bustling downtown community on a sunny day, the ability to “clock in” and “clock out” without having to check in later from home. And there was a finite amount of work each day, clearly measurable by the output of my machines.

These days I am no less busy, salaried and no longer hourly, and feel fulfilled in the work I deliver every day.  But it’s a rare occasion that I take the opportunity to look outside and enjoy a beautiful skyline…and even rarer still when I don’t “check-in” at the end of the day.

I can appreciate both now.  Regardless of where we travel in life, we should always remember to look back and enjoy the view of where we’ve been.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Blog #100 ... and My Favorite "Moments"

So I feel a little pressure in writing this…it represents my 100th blog post, since I started in late 2014.

I want it to be impactful, spectacular…thought provoking…but I’ve lived long enough to know that some of the best lessons I’ve learned and shared rarely feel that way at the time.

Looking over at 99 snapshots from my life, I see a number of areas coming into focus, which seemed fuzzy before.  I have learned (or had to learn again and repeat the lesson):

When you see something you like, that makes you feel comforted, happy and safe…you should keep it.  There are still some things that time can’t touch and don’t have a price tag.  

A lifetime of experiences would be better served enjoying every moment of life instead of moving quickly ahead and chanting, “We’re almost there.”  

Always watch the burner so it doesn’t get too hot, let out the steam slow and steady, being mindful not to burn yourself or anyone else nearby, and acknowledge that you won’t get it right every time and you will learn as you go, and most importantly, don’t worry about what anyone else is cooking! 

Much like kids with Minecraft, we are all "living" and trying to survive in the same world, trying to build it up and make it better.  Social media is one more tool to help enable all of us to make a bigger difference.  Don't feed the trolls and "don't mine at night!"

Organic growth?  I would argue that we can all be masters at the fine art of being human and growing our networks the old fashioned way, investing more time and less fertilizer J 

Generosity is a virtue I have embraced all my life…I now humbly accept that I don’t have a corner on the market, and accepting the generosity of someone else’s kindness does not compromise who I am, what I can do, and the confidence that I will still maintain the giving side within myself.

Every moment is like a new puzzle piece…it's interconnected and if you only stay within your borders, you may miss out on the opportunity to help shape an even bigger landscape.

If you ask me the greatest privilege of all, don’t laugh too hard when I tell you that beans and rice will always be at the top of my list.

No matter how much preparation you do in anticipation of making a change or taking a journey, you usually wind up spending too much time thinking about what to take with you and not enough time considering what you should leave behind.

Looking over my planting beds and vegetable garden, I finally realized I still have it made, living at home. I strongly recommend it…all it takes is looking at your four walls with a fresh set of eyes, where you can feel more than you see.