Monday, February 10, 2014

Open Up: Let 'Em Run!!

Around our house, the Winter Olympics can't come around too often.    We watch many of the sports and enjoy cheering for the United States team, but are not above rooting for a good athlete no matter where they are from.   

Yesterday we happened to be watching some of the downhill skiing and were simply amazed at the speed and danger those skiers were in from the moment they began their downward descent to the gate at the end of the course.    You could hear their skies chattering on the icy slope and the cameras followed them closely as the edges of the skies dug into the crusty surface.    It was obvious the conditions on the hill were extremely slippery and the skiers had to be ever vigilant to not go flying off the course into a snowbank.    With modern cameras (think Go-Pro!) you can all but be on the slope yourself as they follow the competitors moment by moment down the course, wind biting at your face and ears.   

As I watched the skiers yesterday I could almost feel my own leg muscles tense up as they would go into a sharp curve or go down a hill at blinding speeds.     I found myself holding my breath as they went airborne from the Russian Trampoline only to land and have to do it all again several times before skidding to a snowy stop at the bottom.  

Now if I am being honest I have to say I have never in my life skied as fast or fearlessly as these athletes competing at the level of an Olympic champion.     What I have done is ski on some spectacular slopes in the Colorado Rockies and in Park City, Utah for a period over ten years of my life when I was much younger and before back surgery and arthritis put an end to my skiing days.   I know what it feels like to be on top of a snow covered mountain and look across the vastness that makes up those majestic mountains.    I've stood in the cold with wind nipping at my cheeks and nearly sucking the breath from my lungs.   I watched as others around me swooshed by leaving a trail of their tracks carved into the powdery snow.   And on several occasions, I found myself gliding along, enjoying the view and, for a brief time, not thinking about how dangerous it was that I had strapped some waxed boards to my all too heavy (and bone crushing painful) ski boots and then rode on a chair lift up to the highest point on the mountain that I dared to go and then stood on the edge of a slope, pushed myself forward and took off.  
Marcia and Rebecca at Keystone, Co

And then one day the worst thing happened.    Or at least it seemed that way at the time.    I was going along fine, wind in my hair, sun bouncing off of my goggles when I hit an icy patch.    They don't talk about "icy patches" too much in ski school.    In fact, I don't recall anyone ever mentioning those pesky spots that can happen anywhere along the slope.   When the sun is shining and the temperature rises just above freezing, the snow can melt just a little and get soft.  As the skiers go over those places they pack the snow down and it gets pressed into a hard, icy mess.    If the temperature drops again, you can easily have little surprises waiting for you all. the. way. down. the. hill.   

So I hit one of those icy places and being a relatively inexperienced skier, I started skidding and slipping, pretty much losing control and headed for the snow bank.  At some point (I'm not saying when because frankly I don't remember and I don't WANT to remember), I fell and got turned around so I was headed down the hill head first.    There was nothing to do but continue to slide and pray that I'd get to the bottom without hitting anything.    I slid over further and further and finally was off the trail, headed straight for a pine tree.   And then I stopped, my head only inches from the bark of the tree.  

Larry and Rich ready to go!
Larry raced over and helped me to my feet.    We quickly figured out that the only thing hurt was  my pride.   Oh and maybe a bruise here and there but mostly it was my ego that got injured.   I didn't fall much when I skied, even as a beginner.    I don't know why except I was pretty cautious and took my time.   Or maybe I was just lucky.  This fall felt really humiliating and I was embarrassed, too.

So we made our way back to the condo and related my tale of woe to my niece, Rebecca,  and her husband, Rich. They were sympathetic to my plight and offered hot chocolate and sincere encouragement and thanks that I had not been seriously injured.   I put my skies up on the rack in the hall and was thinking, "Well, that is that.    No more skiing for me this time."  Just the thought made me feel anxious and start breathing faster.  

The next day, I opted out of skiing.   There was plenty for me to do at the condo.   Laundry, making chili, watching the snow fall, baking brownies.    Oh, for sure, my skiing was done for this trip.    And I meant it.    The mountain had gotten the best of me and I was ready to wave the white flag of surrender.  

But I was not counting on having a mentor or challenger right there in the condo with me.    It turned out that Rich was having none of it.   He allowed me a day off and then he began talking about going back on the mountain again.     I protested but he was not going to give up.  He just kept telling me I needed to go back out there and try again.    Rich was a really good skier, a confident athlete and sure of himself when he got on the mountain.  And in his mind, the thing to do when the mountain kicks you in the behind, is get back out there and stand up for  yourself.    Take a deep breath and like the Nike ad says, Just do it!  

The next morning, bright and early, we headed out, just the two of us into the frosty air.   We made our way over to the ski lift and with my heart in my throat, we got on the lift headed for a modest run not too far up the mountain.     I might mention here that ski lifts are not my favorite mode of transportation and I have encountered a few issues with them in the past.  My heart was racing as we got near the top because it's a known fact that for many skiers just getting off the lift without suffering an embarrassing prat fall right in front of everybody is their highest achievement.  I know this because I have had prat falls in front of everybody and I have also skied, victoriously, off to the side of the lift without humiliating myself.   So I have known both feelings.

We got to the end of the ride, quickly made our exit and began gliding over to the place to start our way down the mountain.    I was thinking of begging Rich to just let me go find a gondola to ride back down but somehow I knew by the look in his eyes not to even go there.     As I said, he was having none of my excuses or protests.   I was practically quaking in my ski boots as we inched our way over to the slope.    All the while, Rich was giving me encouraging pats on the back and he kept repeating a little mantra something like, "You can do this."    He must have said that ten times and I kept holding back, not wanting to let my skies get anywhere close to that edge.   I knew once I went over the edge there was no going back.   

For those that don't ski, slopes, especially the easier ones have areas that are slanted downward and then flat places where you can stop, catch your breath and rest before finishing the run.    On more difficult ski trails there are fewer flat places and steeper slopes.    Rich had wisely brought me to a relatively easy ski slope to try to rebuild my confidence.    So we took off again, down the hill.

At the next opportunity I stopped again.    It was clear this was going to take some time and I was not really enjoying it one bit.    Oh, I made my way down the hill, but joy and exhilaration were the last things on my mind.   I was kind of getting annoyed with Rich because he was so determined to help me get past the fall and he was not going to give up easily.  He just kept repeating his mantra.   I kept thinking, "just get me off this mountain!"   This was not going well.    

We came to another slope, another chance to win back my confidence and prove to myself that I could do it.    I hesitantly shoved myself toward the edge of the slope and let them drop over onto the edge when I heard Rich take a breath behind me.    I began to cautiously inch my way down the hill, making snow plows as I went.   A snow plow is a beginner move taught at the very first ski lesson so you will slow down.   You put your skies together in a pie shape wedge and it really does make you go rather slowly down even a slanted run.   And that's what I was doing.  Snow plowing my way along.   It is not a good strategy for skiing with intention of having fun.   It's just a way to get the job done until you get to the end.    

Finally, in exasperation, I am sure, I heard Rich shout, "Open up!!  Let 'em run!!"   In other words, stop doing that silly snow plow and go for it!!    I knew he was going to dog my tracks, repeating that phrase over and over until I did it.    So just to get him off my back, I dared to let those skies drift ever so slightly to parallel with each other.     As they came into line, my speed began to pick up, as expected.     I stood up a little straighter and began to look around me.     I saw the trees going by, faster and faster.    I heard the noise my skies made as they glided across the glistening snow.    The wind blew across my face, reddening my skin and making me know I was alive and on this day I was skiing like I meant it.    I was having fun and could feel that tiny thrill of excitement in the pit of my stomach as I approached the orange gates at the bottom of the hill.  Rich's last ditch effort had worked!  
Marcia and Rich--- I did it!

I have thought about that day since then many times.    I am proud of myself for having the courage to go back to the mountain and prove to myself that I could conquer my fear and overcome the self doubts.   And I am really glad that I had that chance, one more time, to ski like I meant it.   To have fun.   To open up and let 'em run.    

As it so happens, I didn't want to relate this tale from my past just for grins and giggles.   No, my dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you are in life, I have a point to make.    All of us face mountains that have sidelined us.   We all have moments of self doubt and certainty that there is no way we're going back to face those fears.     When those times come into your life, you need to remember those Olympic athletes and the mountains they are on.   Not one of them was always where they are today.   Every single one of them had to learn their sport the hard way.    And when the times got hard, the bruises too painful, somehow they had to reach deep down inside and push their way back to the top of the mountain and try again.     They had to find a way to say to themselves, "you can do this."

Breckenridge, Colorado
I was lucky that day and had a coach, a family member and mentor who could have been out on the mountain skiing for himself.   He took time from his own opportunity to ski a much more demanding, difficult ski trail to encourage me to return to the hill.    A good lesson was learned that day.    Don't give up on yourself and give in to defeat.     No matter what your goal, your station in life, your level of education, you can go on to bigger dreams.     Put yourself back on that mountain top and give yourself permission to Open Up:  Let 'em run!   

Sunday, February 9, 2014

She Loves You, Yea, Yea, Yea!

It had a been a difficult year for me.    The previous summer in June of 1963 our family had -- it seemed to me -- rather abruptly packed all of our belongings into a gigantic Mayflower Moving Van and left my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi to go live Deep in the Heart of Texas -- Fort Worth.    My Dad had gotten a promotion at work and had the audacity to make the decision to move to Cow Town, as it was quaintly called, without consulting me or my sister, Ginny.  

To say we were upset and unhappy about the move would be a huge understatement.    I think we cried all the way to the suburbs of Dallas and at that point I realized we were moving to a very, very different place.    I had just finished up the 9th grade at Hardy Junior High School and was really looking forward to my first year of high school the next fall at Provine High School.    I thought I'd finally arrived at the perfect age and was eagerly anticipating what life was going to be like now that I had finally gotten to the big time -- high school.   All of that had taken a sudden about face as I realized I'd have to start all over making friends, going to a new school and all that a move like that entails.   

I made it through the summer that year without too much angst and met some new friends my age when we began attending a Methodist Church a few blocks away from our house.     I was a very shy teenage girl at that point in my life and very self conscious of my Mississippi accent and my Mississippi clothes that suddenly seemed really out of style with what my new peers were wearing.   I was approaching my 15th birthday that fall and I let my Mother know right quick that if I didn't get some penny loafers (Bass Weejuns) and a pair of white Levis I would die a mortal death right there.

I was just getting adjusted to my new hometown and figuring out how to make new friends at my brand new school, Arlington Heights High School.   It was a rather affluent school with kids that came from a wide area.  Some of the kids I went to school with actually were driven to school in chauffeur driven limousines.   A few lived behind gated mansions with servants and amenities I had never heard of, much less seen!    Of course, not all of the classmates there were rich and neither was I.   But it wasn't long before I found another lonesome soul like me and she and I became fast friends right away.   I was beginning to think I might do OK here in this Cow Town, so far removed from my old hometown in nearly every way you could imagine.  

Things were going well until the late fall of that year when the entire nation experienced a loss so great and so unexpected it threw us all into a kind of group mourning and state of grief.   It was the assassination of President John F, Kennedy.      I was in Mr. Van Meter's biology class when we first heard that there had been a shooting and by the time I got to my English class a few hours later we were told of the president's death.     There is no way to describe exactly how it felt but it was a frightening and very scary time for everyone to see our president shot to death and it happened in a town only 30 miles from where we were.  The President had been in our own town earlier that morning.  We were not prepared for such a devastating turn of events.   And for the next two months we all more or less went through the motions of living and tried to go on with our lives but it was extremely difficult.

In January of 1964, a buzz began to go around especially among the youth of the nation.   There was a new musical group that was the latest sensation in Europe.    They had an odd name and their clothing and hair made as much news as their music.    Some of their music began to show up on local radio stations and word of a trip to appear in person in the United States began to circulate.    For a nation still in mourning, it was a light hearted turn to something that would help us transition back to living again.  

That group was The Beatles and once they came on the musical scene, the world has never been the same.   They influenced music for sure, but they also brought in new hair styles, clothing and new ways of thinking.    Over the years that they were together,  their music evolved, too, and each fad of the way they dressed morphed into another.    Parents lamented their long hair, which by today's standards was anything but long.    Schools dealt with how long was too long and what to do with the boys who dared to break the rules for acceptable hair styles.  The Beatles were pretty outspoken, too, and the youth of the world began to listen to not only their music but some of their opinions about politics and even religion.

By February 1964, the arrangements had been made and the Beatles were scheduled to appear on the very popular variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show.    Mr. Sullivan was famous for having a wide range of  entertainers on his show featuring everything from opera singer, Robert Peters to dancing bears and the Line Backers from the Green Bay Packers.    Anybody who was anybody showed up on Ed Sullivan!    So the word spread like wildfire that THE BEATLES were going to be on Ed Sullivan.  

My sister, Ginny, and I were so excited to see our new found singing idols that we actually stayed home from our church youth group the first Sunday night they were on.   We were fairly quivering with excitement when the time came for them to come on stage.     Girls in the studio audience were swooning and crying, something we had never witnessed before.   My father, unabashedly a musical snob, was not impressed and rather vocally told us how he felt about the whole thing!   Undeterred, we watched with rapt attention and thus, Beatle-mania broke out right in our living room and truly,  all across the country and eventually world wide.

So on this 50th Anniversary of that occasion, I can't help but look back in fondness with all that took place during that time.     I was a shy, awkward teenage girl, searching for who I was and wanted to be.    I had been plunked down into a totally new situation and was finding my footing in a new place.  New friends, new way of talking, new way of dressing.     And layered on top of that to become politically aware of how quickly things in our world could change, it was almost too much for a 15 year old girl to endure.    The Beatles were a phenomenon that came along at the right time and place.  They sparked our imagination and made us smile again.    

Thanks to John, Paul, George and Ringo, I turned back to being a teenager again.    I talked with my best friend late into the night about which one of the Fab Four was the cutest.   We read our Beatle magazines from cover to cover and felt like we knew every aspect of their lives.    And one Sunday afternoon my Dad took me by the local record shop where I bought my very first Beatle album, Meet the Beatles.    I thought nothing could ever top that.    For a teenage girl, I thought I'd finally arrived and that all was right with the world.    

Every kid needs something to remember their teen years for that they will take long into their adult years.   For me, one of the highlights will be remembering my fascination, indeed, love for the Beatles.     They brought me great joy and happiness at a time in my life when I needed it.    They were the first real recording artists that I knew much about and wanted to buy their music.     The bonds of friendship that I had with my first friend I made in Fort Worth were knit from the common thread of our love of the Beatles.    Even all these years later I can hear their early recordings and smile and remember the words like I knew them at 15.     She loves you, yea, yea, yea.... Indeed.       

Monday, January 27, 2014

Random Thoughts on a Winter Day

I've been away from here for a while so I thought I'd just post a few things that were dancing through my head this afternoon.   Our weather just got upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning.   We've been on a Winter Storm Watch since yesterday and we expected the upgrade so it's not exactly a surprise.   Anyhow, the thought of real, honest to goodness winter weather headed our way took me back a few decades to my youth. 

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, not exactly the place most likely to have severe winter weather.   But every now and then we'd have an epic (for Jackson) snow storm.   My mother and older sister often told me the tale of when my baby sister was born how it snowed them in and our house was the only one on the block with heat because my father had thrown a bath mat over the gas meter, thus preventing it from freezing up.   They told me about neighborhood parties with my parents' best friends because no one could get to work.  They trudged through the snow to our friend's house and proceeded to have an impromptu party.   They cooked large pots of chili, played cards and just had a really good time while the kids all played out in the snow, made snowmen and had snowball fights.  

When I was about 10 years old, we had one of those unusual, once-in-a-decade snow storms in Jackson.   The wind howled and the temperature plummeted to single digits.    School was cancelled, of course, and with the unexpected holiday, every kid in our neighborhood was running around outside like Daffy Duck.   We did every cliched thing you've ever heard of when kids get around snow --- some of us for the first time in our lives.    We stuck our tongues out and caught snowflakes, made snow angels and played until near exhaustion lobbing snowballs across the yard to our "snow forts".    It was such pure fun it brings tears to my eyes to remember the innocence that surrounded us that day.

Later we lived in Ft. Worth, Texas and one year a snow storm blew through that had us huddled in front of our fireplace, wearing parkas and mittens to keep warm.   The blustery wind kept gusting up under our house and would blow out the flame on our gas heater.   So for all practical purposes we had no heater in our house and the only source of heat was the fireplace in our living room.    It was a shock to our southern souls to have true winter weather thrust upon us.   It did not shock us so much that we forgot what to do in the snow, however.

My sister, Ginny, decided we needed to build a snowman .  She seldom ever did things that were ordinary and neither was her idea of a snowman.   We rolled the snow in our yard into three snow balls ranging from small to large.   Then we stacked them on top of one another.   It was at this point that Ginny decided that our creation had to be a lady.   She ran in the house and got a scarf and other accessories to dress our lady and for some reason, I seem to remember she even figured out a way to give her earrings!   Like I said, Ginny never did anything half-way.    When it came time to finish her off, she started gathering up more snow and before I knew it she had added arms to our lady.    And she was not content to just put arms.  She added hands and sculpted fingers so our snow lady had her hands on her hips!    Sassy, she was.

We had snow so seldom when I was a kid and when we did, it was always an occasion.   It meant a day or two off from school.   Daddy stayed home from work.  Mama would let us do things that we ordinarily did not get to do.  Our town got transformed to a winter wonderland.  It was almost magical.  

I made a batch of Peanut Butter Cookies this afternoon and if I am being honest I have to admit it's because of the prospect of winter weather.    If I can figure out a way to make a Low Carb Fudge, I'll make that, too.   And why is that?    Because of all the memories made during those times of snowy, winter days, one thing I remember us doing always was making goodies and treats.     Daddy made snow ice cream for us.    Mama let us make fudge and sometimes it actually turned out right. But frequently it didn't.   We never let a little thing like fudge that wouldn't set up deter us, however.   We ate soft, chocolaty goodness right off the plate with a big spoon and then grinned big fudgey smiles at each other.

Those were some happy times that came tumbling back into my mind this afternoon. And all because we're under a Winter Storm Warning!  Good memories on a January afternoon.     Our weather is going downhill soon.  The wind has already shifted around from the south so that now it's coming out of the north.     The cold air is going to invade our town.   But I'm prepared!   I have those cookies cooling on the counter.     At the first sign of a snow flake I'll probably run around outside like Daffy Duck.    It will be like old times and it'll make me very happy.  

Do you have fond memories from your childhood that can come back in an instant?    What about traditions associated with those memories?   For me, making those treats is as natural to me as putting on a hat and gloves to play in the snow.   It is just something I automatically think about doing.    The Peanut Butter Cookies are easy and if you want to make a batch here is what you need:

1 Cup of Peanut Butter, creamy or crunchy
1 Cup of Splenda Sweetener (or Splenda Brown Sugar Blend)
1 Egg
1 tsp. Vanilla 

Pre-heat your oven to 350.    
Mix the peanut butter with the egg.   You can do this by hand with a large spoon.    Add the Splenda and vanilla until well mixed.   
Using a teaspoon or small scoop, make a small ball of  the peanut butter mixture, about the size of a walnut.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil.    About a dozen will fit on a standard size cookie sheet.    
Use a fork dipped in the Splenda to make the hash marks on the top of the cookie mixture.  The Splenda will help keep the fork from sticking to the cookie.   
Bake for about 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool.   
Make about one dozen small cookies.   

This is a flour-less, sugarless cookie.   Low Carb.   Be sure to use a peanut butter without added sugar if you want to limit the sugar in the cookies.   I found Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter to have no added sugar and it worked fine in this recipe.   

I am still going to hunt for a Low Carb Fudge recipe and if I find one that works, I'll post it here.  If I have to, I'll eat it with a spoon and I'll tell you that, too!

Hope you all have happy memories from back in the day.     I know I do and it was fun to go back to that happy place again.   

Happy Trails,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Don't Let Your Car "Brake" Your Day!

Not very long ago, Larry and I set off on our very first real road trip.    We've made trips before, obviously.    But this one was different because we were going a very long distance in our own car.  No rental car this trip!   It was a trip that ended up putting nearly 4,000 miles on our trusty Camry.     We knew it was going to be a lengthy trip because we planned to be gone for nearly 3 weeks  and required several overnight stays along the way.   

I started planning for this trip some time back in the summer.     I spent a lot of time on the internet scouting out hotel rooms, places we wanted to see along the way and what we could do once we got to our destination---Massachusetts.      Thanks to wonderful hosting by Rich and Rebecca, we got to see parts of Vermont, Massachusetts and New York.    They were our traveling companions for that portion of the trip and made a lot of grand adventures possible!  

Before we could pack our bags, load up the car and head out on this fun trip, Larry was already thinking about preparing our car for the trip.     Fortunately, he didn't wait until the last minute to do that.     A full two weeks before we were to leave he began maintenance and check ups that anyone should think about before taking a road trip.  He replaced belts, hoses, changed the oil and checked fluid levels.  He even gave the ol' buggy a good wash and wax!   Starting ahead of time ultimately saved us a lot of aggravation and potential problems that could have interfered with our plans.  

Larry is a guy who knows a lot about preventive maintenance because he spent the lion's share of his career doing that for Fed Ex.    The vans that he kept running and in service were on a regular maintenance schedule.   But it wasn't just the scheduled maintenance that was important.   The eyes and ears for every day those vans went out on the road came from the drivers who were required to do a pre and post trip inspection.   Before they ever left the building, they were expected to do a walk around for their vehicle.  They looked at it, noted anything that didn't seem right.   They were supposed to make sure the vehicle was ready for service and tell the mechanic if anything seemed amiss.     Then they listened and watched for things while on the road and finally, wrote it all up at the end of the day so the mechanic could check it out with more detail and experienced eyes.   This system works very well for major fleets and is one that you can adopt to make your car last longer and not fail you when you need it to work properly --- which come to think of it is EVERY time you get in it to go somewhere!     

How many times do you just get in your car, crank it up and let 'er roll?    You only pay attention when the noise coming from under the hood is literally screaming at you or it fails to start.      Or you give a passing glance to the dash board and don't make it a habit to note whether there are lights on, other than the gas gauge giving you a nudge that you might need to refuel.   If this is you, then maybe the following suggestions will make your driving experience a bit less of a hassle and more pleasurable.   

Cars today are amazing devices and, like most of the other things in our lives, are run by computers.    They make our cars run more efficiently, keep us safer and, in some of the newest models, have even taken over things like parking and braking to keep us a safe distance from the next vehicle.   When you look under the hood of most cars, the entire engine compartment is filled edge to edge with almost no room for a hand to get in there to repair something that is broken or malfunctioning.   What you need to realize is that even with all those computers and mechanical devices the most important component is YOU.   If you don't heed the warnings, the lights and other ways your car has to tell you that something is wrong (those new sounds!!), you could still end up stranded on the side of the road. 

On a regular basis, you should be looking at your tires, your oil and water.    Unlike the Fed Ex driver, you probably don't need to do this every time you go out, but every couple of weeks is usually sufficient.     When you crank your car, listen to it.    Preferably without the radio or air conditioning on as they can mask important sounds.   Does it sound like it normally does?   Did it take longer to crank than it usually does?   If so, what did it sound like?    Make note of these things because you will need that information if you believe it needs to be checked out by your mechanic.   Don't ignore changes as they are clues to what is going on out of your sight, under the hood.  

Once you get going, does your car move correctly?   Do you notice any unusual vibrations or shimmying as you move along?   When your tires are not aligned properly it can make your car sway as it rolls along.  It might be harder to steer, too, or pull in one direction or the other.   Improper alignment can make your tires wear out faster than they should and can interfere with the comfort of your ride.    If you notice unusual lumpiness as you ride along, it may be that your tire has a serious issue going on that requires a more thorough exam by a mechanic or tire store.     Before we left on our road trip, Larry did a visual examination of our tires and deemed them to be OK.  But to be sure, he took the car in to be aligned and so they could put it on a lift for a better look at the tires.   Imagine his surprise to be told that one of the tires had a serious problem that would have almost certainly caused us a problem after we were under way.     As it was, because he started the check up process WELL AHEAD of our trip, he had plenty of time to replace the tires so we started our adventure with less of a chance that a blown tired would ruin our day and possibly our trip.   

Now about those warning lights and gauges that we depend on to warn us about issues under the hood......On a trip last fall to Apalachicola,  I learned something that I never knew before.   We had been traveling along nicely, enjoying the scenery near Panama City when all of a sudden an amber CHECK ENGINE light came on.   Larry noticed it almost immediately and mentioned it to me.    I was sort of panicked, wondering what it meant and if our trip had just hit a big snag.     I figured he would pull over and stop immediately.    

I was wrong.    He did stop, but it was a little way down the road where we could pull off into a shopping center parking lot.     He got out, did a quick check and then got back in and we continued our trip.     He explained to me that AMBER lights mean one thing, while RED lights are another matter altogether.  This, I never knew!    Amber lights are a way to let you know that something is not right and that it should be checked out.    As a rule, they do NOT mean you need to stop ASAP.     Just make note of the light and, at your earliest convenience , take the car to the shop to find out the source of the problem.

Please note that another thing you can do is take your car to almost any of the national auto parts houses (Auto Zone,  O'Reilly's or Advanced Auto) and they can hook your car up to a laptop computer that can get the code your car's computer is giving and tell you what it means.     Most of those places do not make the repairs but can tell you what needs to be done which will be useful information when you take your car to the repair shop.     

RED LIGHTS.    They are a whole other ball game when it comes to your car's well being.    If you ever see a red light come on, you have to find a way to get off the road and quickly.      Something is really wrong under the hood and that RED LIGHT is giving you the signal it's time to shut things down.    If you ignore it, chances are pretty good that your car is going to simply stop running and you're going to stop anyhow.  If you see a red light, start planning immediately how to safely get to the side of the road or to an exit if you can.   You probably will need road side assistance and possibly a tow truck to get you to a repair shop, but by acting quickly and appropriately, you could save yourself thousands of dollars in repair expenses!   

And speaking of repairs, if you are ever in a situation where you are advised to have an expensive repair done to your car, always think about getting a second opinion.    Ask the first mechanic to write down what the problem is and what they recommend to fix it.    Then find another mechanic, take the car to that person and get another opinion.    Do not tell them what the first mechanic recommended, just what the symptoms are.   When you are being told that an expensive repair is necessary, you surely want to know that it was, indeed, necessary.    So don't be afraid to seek out another opinion when it's your money and your car.    

Finally, one last bit of advice from the resident mechanic here on the Funny Farm:   Try to park in the same place when you arrive back at home.    Why?    Because every now and then (two weeks) you need to move the car a bit ---- back it up, pull it forward, whatever works in your drive way or parking space. Then look where your car was parked.     Is there fluid on the ground?    If so, do you notice any color to it?     Normal air conditioning drips will not be colored and will dry up shortly. Totally normal, by the way.  If you notice color in the drainage, take note of what color it is.   Fluids that your car uses to function come in all colors---red, yellow and green.    Oil leaks will often give off a rainbow effect.    Make a note of the color of the leakage so when you take your car to be checked ----- you ARE going to get that checked, aren't you? ---- you can tell your repair shop service writer (the guy or gal writing up your ticket) what you found had dripped out of your car's engine compartment.  This gives them a starting place to look and will save them time and possibly save you some money.    

Most of us today would be lost without our vehicles.   We depend on them to get us to our jobs, run errands and just take us from here to there!    You can make your car last longer, cost less to maintain and reduce the stress in your life by simply taking the time to maintain your vehicle.   Listen to what it is telling you.    Pay attention to the signals it is giving you.    Then act on them and don't wait until you're stranded to discover you have a problem.    You might even save a lot of money by getting attention where it is needed before something is ruined or has to be replaced.   Moral of this story is: do your due diligence when it comes to your car and it will make your car last longer, cost less and give you less heartache.   You might even have an amazing road trip to tell about!

Happy Motoring!  Happy Trails!



Thursday, August 15, 2013

What's In Our Future and the Future of our Grandchildren?

I wasn't doing anything unusual for a Wednesday afternoon.   I walked into my utility/laundry room and took a load of wet laundry out of the washer and transferred it to the dryer.   I tossed in a fabric softener sheet and after pressing two buttons, the machine sprang to life and began tumbling the clothes inside.   In less than an hour, they were dry, smelling fresh and clean and ready to fold.  But that is not anything too spectacular or out of the norm around here.    I do this no less than 5 or 6 times a week and sometimes more than that.    I would go so far as to say I take these labor saving devices for granted. 

Which brings me to my next thought.    In my grandmother's day, doing laundry was a big deal.  It required a lot of hard labor for the better part of a day and maybe more than that if it was for a large family.    There was water to be heated, sometimes over a fire located outside.    There were washboards and harsh soaps and a woman was lucky if her hands were not sore and red after doing her family's laundry.    I remember my mother telling me that it was very common to wear things more times than just once....understandably so, given the labor intensive methods used to do the laundry.   

As time went on, machines to do the wash and then wring them out before hanging them on a clothes line came to be the norm for many families.    My mother often told of getting an automatic washer, the kind that had a round window in it so you could see the clothes agitate, when I was born.  With a newborn baby and disposable diapers twenty years away, a washing machine was her idea of heaven on earth!   Twenty something years later, when Larry and I moved to Mobile and bought our first house,  we also got a brand new, avocado green, matching set, Kenmore washer and dryer.   I was thrilled, having done laundry next door at my mother's house and hanging the clothes on the outside clothes line for nearly 10 years.

1948 Westinghouse Washer
I mention all these things to say it's an amazing world we live in.   When I consider the world my grandmothers lived in,  I'm know they wouldn't recognize the digitized, computerized world we live in today.   Our cars all have black boxes and computer chips that control everything from communications to parallel parking.  Many of us carry around portable telephones that are capable of calling just about any place on the planet and can instantly connect us to the internet.   A large portion of us conduct our lives via these small boxes including paying bills, buying everything under the sun and communicating with anyone and everyone.    They don't call them "smart phones" for nothing!  

Imaging the difference between the world I live in today and comparing it even to the life I led as a child is like night and day.    We take it all for granted and our day to day existence is impacted  by the things that inhabit our world from the moment we wake up until we nod off at night.    So it is only natural to wonder---what's next?   Will our world continue to change as much as it has in the time I've been alive?   

Well, I say it sure looks like it will!   A few days ago a young man named Elon Musk,  a truly amazing guy with an imagination that must give him some wild dreams, introduced the world to his latest idea.  Musk is famous for founding Tesla Motor Company and a thing called PayPal, that many of us use regularly to make our purchases safely and easily on the internet.  His idea is called a Hyperloop,  a futuristic concept for transporting people via a high speed tube system between Los Angeles and San Francisco.    It takes the notion of high speed rail and pushes it up a notch or two.     On first read of the 57 page document that outlines his concept, one might be tempted to think he is way out on limb and that it's something that far eclipses our ability to execute.    A capsule inside a tube that hurtles people at 700 mph between cities?   Surely this is the stuff of science fiction?   

Elon Musk's Hyperloop


In a word, NO!   It is out of the mind of dreamers like Musk that we got all of the things that currently inhabit our lives.    The first airplanes, automobiles, computers and microwave ovens all had to go through the phases of people thinking they were not serious concepts.    I am sure the first people to actually go airborne in an airplane went aloft with their hearts in their throats.    And so it is with Musk's plan to reinvent how we travel whether it's from one city to another and even to how we will move around the globe....or dare I say it?  Across the galaxy?!   With his plan one might consider that a trip to Australia, currently a 24 hour plus ordeal of planes crisscrossing continents and oceans will be reduced to a few hours in complete comfort and with little or no stress.   We will be able to go there as easily and conveniently as we go to see our Granny  who lives a state or two away from us.   

Gavin at the microscope.
I think it's safe for me to say that the world I live in today is apt to change just as drastically as the world did for my Grandmothers.   We tend to think we live in the epitome of high times and forget that the dreamers and inventors of today are no less curious and imaginative than the Thomas Edisons and Wright Brothers of yesteryear.      The potential and possibilities are endless.

Luci reading & thinking.

So keep your eyes open and pay attention to what's coming.    When my grandchildren look back at how their world has changed, they will view today's best inventions with the same impression we think of the Model T and the washboard and  lye soap.    It will all look so primitive to their eyes.    I hope that the news of Mr. Musk's  plans for the future sparks their imagination, too.      I'd like to think that one of them is thinking right now of something new, unheard of that will change their world in ways we may not be able to fathom.    I sure do hope I live long enough to see their ideas come to life. 

Ben and Brian inventing.

Happy Trails and to my Grandchildren~~~keep on dreaming and thinking of how to change your world!
Marcia AKA Grammy

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Is Your Inner Critic Holding You Back?

In my last post I wrote about being happy.    No doubt about it, finding true happiness often eludes many of us and the ones who do find it may not be fully aware of what combination of things they did to get to that special state of mind.    I think some of the things I discussed last post most definitely figure into the whole process. 

To recap:   Making sure you don't put a lot of stress and difficult images into your mind is a place to start.   Keeping abreast of the news is important but determining how much is enough should be a priority.    Taking time to relax and appreciate the beauty around you is another way to ease your way into a more blissful state of mind.  And no matter what strategy you use takes effort on your part.   Getting to a better place mentally won't come looking for you.    You probably are going to have to initiate that task.  If you figure that out, you'll be ahead of the game!  

But truthfully, those are just a few of the strategies you must employ to figure out what works for you.    I guess what may ride over the whole process is a thing called your inner critic.    Those of you who write or paint or have attempted to do something out of your comfort zone know exactly what I am talking about.   It's that nagging little voice way in the back of your head that whispers all the reasons why you can't do something.    It's the thing that convinces you that you're wasting your time and that you should give up.    Often it does an effective job of shutting you down BEFORE you even begin!

Inner critics sometimes start in our childhood.  I suspect that many of us can point to a specific person who influenced us or discouraged us in ways that may have been subtle but effective ways of shutting down the creative or inventive process.    Perhaps it was a demand for perfection so that nothing you did was ever good enough.    Or even a suggestion that the idea was not really yours or original.     Little cuts here and there that may have eroded your confidence in your own ability may have happened at home or in school.    I have examples in  my own life where an elementary school teacher was directly connected to my math phobia that dogged me all the way through graduate school.  And conversely, I had another elementary teacher who instilled in me pride in being such a fast reader.     So there was a mixed bag from early in my life of feeling really insecure about myself and my proficiency with math,  as well as the boost I got from another teacher regarding my ability to read.   

Some of us have parents who were the source of our insecurities and fears about putting our work on display for judgment by others.    And while most parents had no intention of doing us harm, they may have said or done things unwittingly that ended up making us feel less worthy of praise.    Ironically many times that behavior stems from a real desire to see us succeed and just goes awry in the execution.   

So while we sometimes can easily see where that inner critic came from, it's harder to deal with and figure out how to coexist with that little inner voice that fills in for that parent or teacher who brought you together in the first place.     What can be done when you're sitting at the keyboard or the easel feeling the urge to be "creative"?   What can you do when you're asked to be a speaker at your club or church and your knees immediately begin to shake and go to Jell-O under you?   How about when you're offered a promotion or position of leadership?    How can you stop the negative thoughts from filling you with self doubt?  

First you have to have mechanisms in place to help you when the self doubt creeps in and dominates the thought processes.    My older sister, Charlotte, was a woman of many talents.   She was smart, she could sing, a natural born leader.    There was not much she attempted in her life that she didn't do and do very well.    But she struggled with insecurity and negative self talk about many things.     One of her many talents was her ability to sew.    I don't mean simple projects that you learn in Home Ec.    She took on things like lined suits, prom dresses for her daughter and new drapes for her living room.     Many people looked at her work in complete awe of what she made with her own two hands!  

The problem for Charlotte was that her insecurity made her focus on the glaring flaws that she was sure were  there for all to see.     No matter how many people told her that what she had made was lovely or a great execution of the project, her eyes would zoom to the one spot that she perceived was not quite right.    Eventually, she developed a technique for dealing with this that worked like a charm.    Once she completed a dress or a pair of slacks, she immediately would put the project on a hanger and put it in the closet for a few days.   And she left it there until she was ready to take the new creation out for inspection when she knew she would have a less critical eye.    The time spent letting it hang in the closet served as a buffer for her so that when she looked at it again,  she saw the whole outfit and not just the places she thought weren't right.  

So a strategy for those who struggle with their creations, whether it's a painting or a poem is to put it aside for a few days after it is completed.     Don't think about it, don't evaluate it during that time.    Then after sufficient time has passed, bring it out and look at it with new eyes.    I have done this with things I have written and been surprised to find that I actually like what I find, even if I put it away thinking it was worthless.   

 Another way to deal with inner critics telling you that you're not any good, you have no talent or you're wasting your time is to learn to recognize that it's the voice in your head telling you these things.  No one else.  Are you putting off doing a project?    Are you finding OTHER things to do that take you away from what you intended to do?    Are you putting other priorities to the head of the list of things you want to do so that your special project is still in the mix but just never seems to get done?  Maybe what's going on is that you are hearing that voice but are not recognizing its impact on what you are doing.  The inner critic can and will steer you astray --- if you let it.

Start paying attention to the voice and have a conversation with yourself.    Is what the voice is telling you true?    And even if it is true, does it really matter if what you want to do is important to you?    There comes a time in all of our lives when we have to stand up to inner critics that tell us we're not good enough, not talented enough or that what we want isn't important.     You may have to come to a point where you're willing to banish the inner critic and do what you want anyhow.   

If you are serious about tackling the inner critic in your head, there are many books, websites and self help materials to give you even more strategies to try.    In addition to those resources, you will find that there are professionals who specialize in helping people reach their full potential.   A quick Google search will probably bring you more things than you can read in a month.    The trick is to recognize what's going on in your head and figure how where you need to go from there.   Identifying the problem is a start and how you solve it has many solutions.

As I said in the beginning, a search for happiness is not easy and can be a complex matter.   If you want to succeed in getting to a happier place in your life, it may involve pushing yourself to do or think in new ways.   If you have an inner critic that is holding you back or making things harder for you, it may be time to think about what YOU want and how to get around the obstacles.      Find the courage to face up to them and think about what's waiting for you if you get the nerve to just go for it.    You may be surprised at what you find and what you can do.   

Happy Trails,

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Happy Camper Confesses All....

Well, to be honest, I have been missing in action around here for some time.    No excuses other than time flies and it's easy to put things off or ignore what needs attention.   That in no way means I haven't had things swirling around in my head that should have somehow made it to this page.    So here I am again.   Maybe some of what I'm thinking today will resonate with you.

It's been said by some that I am "the proverbial happy camper".    My inclination is to hunt for the silver lining and I've been known to find some bizarre glimmers of hope even when in a dire situation.    I recall sitting in the waiting room before my first radiation treatment and my sister and I were engaging in a little "gallows humor" by wryly opining that there might be a chance I'd glow in the dark when they got finished with me.     We both laughed at that notion and for a moment we could forget why I was there in the first place.    A moment of levity and humor can help take the sting out of almost anything. 


But the real truth is that I am as subject to dark nights of the soul, endless self-analysis and moments of pure self pity---just like many of you who will read this blog post.    As much as I would like to characterize myself as a happy camper, I know that it takes a lot of effort and tricks on my part to pull myself out of the doldrums and get to that happy place.    It doesn't just happen naturally, although I confess if you do the tricks long enough, they start to become more natural to you.  

I've been thinking about those tricks and methods I use on a regular basis.    What has worked for me? Are there things I do for myself that I think someone else might find useful in their journey to a happier place?   The truth of the matter is we live in a difficult world and we can use all the help we can muster to figure our way through a tangled and Byzantine path.   Indeed, whole books have been written on living a happier life, dealing with adversity and just achieving a sense of peace.   

My intent today is certainly not that grandiose or meant to be a complete guide to that mythical place called happiness.   It is meant to be a starting place for you to begin unraveling the tangled mess to something that works for you.    Not everything I suggest will work, but maybe one little trick, one idea will prod you to take the first step.   

First, I believe it's important to look at what you surround yourself with on a day to day basis.    Do you fill your head with negative information?    Are you saturated with compelling news stories that make you worried and afraid for your personal safety?     Do you spend too much time dwelling on things that you cannot control?    These are not strategies that will take you from misery to happiness.   In fact, they are a guarantee you will get more of the same.    So inventory what you put into your head.     This is not a suggestion to eliminate the nightly news or to never keep up with what's going on around you.     The idea is to take it in measured doses and then stop when you begin to obsess about it or fret too much.   


Second, finding joy in your life takes a bit of effort sometimes and you need to realize that it can be right under your very nose and you will miss it.     If you stay focused on negativity, the good, positive things that are there for the taking will elude you.     Start right in your own backyard.   

Yesterday I was walking through the family room and happened to walk over to the back door.    It is all glass so I was looking out in the backyard not expecting to see much of anything that isn't always there.     I stood there looking for no more than a few seconds when I noticed a flash of red feathers go streaking through the back flower bed.    Moments later I saw that it was two birds who were obviously searching for bugs among the plants.   They put on quite the show as they flitted and swooped among the plants, pecking and hunting for the tiniest morsel of buggy goodness!   I couldn't help myself and literally laughed out loud when I saw them.    It was such a small moment of unexpected joy, but it made my day!  

Third, finding the unexpected nuggets of joy make involve taking you out of your back yard.  Some extra effort may have to be put forth on your part.   I was looking on Facebook the other day when I noticed some photographs posted by my niece while she was visiting in Yosemite National Park.   She and her family were spending a leisurely moment taking in the grandeur of Glacier Point and I must admit the view was breath taking.    It was one of those moments that will stand out in their memory with or without the photographs to refresh their recall of the majesty.    When you travel and observe the beauty of the world around you, that's a fantastic way to lift your spirits and find some inner peace.

But you may be saying to yourself, "I don't have the money or the time to go to Yosemite."   What do you do then?    The eternal pessimist would go into a blue funk (a state my father used to mention) and then wallow there for a while.    If you are determined to not go there, the simple solution is right there in your hometown.    Every place, no matter how dismal or mundane has its places of beauty or historical value.    Do you live near a body of water?    A lake, river or ocean?   For many of us, watching the action of the water is in itself a soothing and calming remedy for a troubled soul.    A few minutes spent in quiet contemplation can help erase a month's worth of misery and turmoil.    How about a trip to the zoo?   Or a botanical garden?     Those are places that typically don't cost much to visit or may even be free.    The thing is you have to put forth the effort to find them and take advantage of what they can do for you and your need to find some respite to quiet your mind.  


A sunny day at Pensacola Beach near Ft. Pickens


I happen to live within a 20 to 30 minute drive of the Gulf of Mexico.    Not only is it a body of water with never ending movement, but it also affords the most fantastic views of sunrise and sunset you could ever imagine.    The icing on that cake is that we have the world's whitest sand on our beaches.    It isn't called SUGAR sand for nothing.    We can take a beach chair, a picnic lunch and my camera and we are privy to a lifestyle that many will never know.    And it only takes a few minutes to get there and a bit of gasoline.    It's worth every penny, too.    Watching eagles and ospreys on their nests and the turtles come to the surface of their little bayou to watch what I am doing is an amazing thing to see.    It reminds you of your place in this world and compels you to be grateful for things available to you, big and small.  That little piece of paradise that is only a few miles from my house is there day and night.   Any time I get too self absorbed and too focused on things that take me down, I can hop in my car and drive to that place that will make those negative things fade away.    


Are you looking at me?   Or am I looking at you?

I guess I could go on with more things like turn off the TV once in a while.   Step away from your computer and give your brain cells a rest.    Put your phone down or better yet, turn it off.    You have voice mail for a reason so if someone calls with something you really need to know, you will get the message.   Just maybe an hour later than they planned for you to get it.   But that hour you spend doing something to restore your sanity, to bring peace and calmness to your soul is far more important than being the first to hear some juicy bit of news.   


The thing is, those opportunities for us to renew and restore our sense of happiness really are there for us to find and use.    But they won't come in search of us.    We have to open our eyes, ears and hearts to find them.   Those lovely cardinals who were dancing among my flowers in my back yard did not issue an invitation for me to watch.    In fact, I am pretty sure they were totally unaware of  my prying eyes.    It was up to me to pause long enough to even realize they were there.    But oh, the reward that was mine for lingering just a moment or two longer at that door to see their light hearted display.  It was just the tonic I needed to make me realize (once more) that the world really is NOT all bad.    For we humans tend to have short memories and we need to be reminded again and again of this fact.  

So I challenge you to look for ways to bring some oomph to your life.   A little bit of joy to make you smile and remember the good things that are a part of your life.    Not every day will be a stellar one.   Not everything that you have to deal with as part of our life story will be easy and without pain.   But to balance out the bad parts, you can and should look for ways to pull yourself back toward the center.   I can't guarantee you will end up as a happy camper, but I can tell you that what you find is worth what effort you put forth to get there.  There is a saying I hear a lot lately:  the definition of insanity is to do the same things over and over and then expect different results.     Maybe what you need is a change of direction, a new plan and then you might get the results you are after.  

Happy Trails,