The Road to Hell …

Well, you know the rest. It’s paved with good intentions. Every year, usually during the alcohol-fueled bonhomie of New Year’s Eve, we perform the annual ritual of making New Year’s resolutions.  Over 95% of the resolutions made are based solidly on good intentions. Of course, there’s always that 5% or so of not-so-good resolutions some people might make… the ones left unfulfilled because of the fear of civil or legal repercussions, or the actions of vengeful spouses.

For the rest of us, the arduous task of keeping our resolutions starts the morning of January 1st. To quote Shakespeare, “It was the winter of our discontent.” A few weeks into the New Year – or if you’re like me a few days – we realize that maybe we bit off more than we could chew. Then lo and behold, it’s almost the end of January and we’re facing a moment of bitter shame inner reflection.  When this happens, we go into three stages of reactive consciousness:

  • Hey! I still have eleven months to do it. I’ve got this. Eventually. Maybe.
  • That was a stupid resolution to make in the first place. No-one would ever keep that resolution.
  • Did I even make any resolutions for this year? I should really get on that for next year.

Researchers at the Foundation for American Intention Loss (F.A.I.L.) have determined that the failure to follow through on New Year’s resolutions is the second most common reason for self-loathing among Americans; the first being the failure to vote last November.  I tend to agree with them. That’s why I decided long ago to stop making New Year’s resolutions.  I have plenty of other ways to generate self-loathing, which I do fairly well I’ll have you know.

Instead, I took to heart the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!” Okay, so look. That’s just a saying. I wouldn’t really eat an elephant. Elephants are like my third favorite animal, right behind horses and pigs. Plus, I hate hunting. And I don’t eat meat. So yeah, it’s just a figure of speech symbolizing how one handles a large problem or issue. Not really condoning the eating of elephants, people. Just wanted to make that clear.

The point is, rather than set one large 365-day goal, I’ve set 365 small daily goals.

Now, I don’t want to go all “Dr. Phil” on everyone, but I find it much easier to accomplish daily “baby steps” than to try to accomplish a resolution of say, “I’m going to write a novel during 2018.” Resolutions are like term papers. You think you have plenty of time to finish them, but you wind up pulling an all-nighter the day before it’s due. Where’s the fun – or learning – in that?

BUT, when you make a small resolution each day, accomplishing it is quite easy. Start reading a book. Call Aunt Eleanor. Give a cheerful “Hello” to the checkout clerk who always looks overwhelmed. Clean the bathroom. Take the dog for a walk. Don’t rage at the rude drivers. Okay, so some are harder to achieve than others. Learn something new. Organize my closet. Well, maybe this one should take two days. But you get the idea.

Soon you’ll notice a change. The self-loathing-o-meter readings will start to drop.  Your family and friends will notice your increased self-confidence and hopefully brighter demeanor.

Better tell them what you’re doing for 2018 though…lest they think that you’re up to something.

It’s Not Just a Ball Dropping

Once again, New Year’s Eve is upon us.  Some see it as a reason to celebrate the end of a year. Others, especially the seasoned partiers among us, call it “Amateur Night.”  Still others view it only as an excuse to stay up late to watch Anderson Cooper get picked on and the ball drop in Times Square. In its simplest form, it’s a day that marks the completion of a specific period of time, and while that sounds boring, it’s not really. We celebrate the fact that after 365 days, 6 hours, 8 minutes and 38.4 seconds, this large chunk of rock and water travelling at 67,000 mph (yes, that’s faster than a speeding bullet) we call Earth, has arrived at the same spot in the universe it left 12 months ago without hitting something and spiraling wildly off into space killing us all. Hmmm, I guess that’s a pretty good reason to celebrate.  Before I go on, let me take my Neil deGrasse Tyson hat off (and hope that the smarter ones among us, I’m looking at you Paul, don’t end up correcting me on my figures – I worked hard on that).

As we complete each year, New Year’s Eve holds a special place in my heart. And while I’m not big on the whole resolution thing, it’s always been a moment of self-reflection. New Year’s Eve, especially this year, is for me a confluence of emotions that bring back a lot of memories and presents thoughts about what might lie ahead for me as I make plans for some serious changes in the coming year. I know, heavy, right?

This year, I’m celebrating my own version of the ancient Roman holiday of Carmentalia. It was a festival celebrated around this time of year in honor of the goddess Carmenta. She had the power of looking back into the past, and looking forward into the future based on what she learned from the past. Pretty nifty gift if you ask me, and don’t we all wish we had that power? The power of using what we’ve learned from the past wisely.

I feel that I should take a moment to explain. The time around New Year’s Eve always represented a personal trifecta for me. I was born on December 30th, a last-minute tax deduction for my father. I won’t say what year it was, just know that the AARP has me in their membership sights. Discounts at Denny’s are great, but yeah, not yet. Of course, there is the “normal” reason for celebrating.  I made it through another year without blowing anything up, or getting sued for anything I’ve written here. And miraculously, my kids and animals are all still alive, as is the one plant I’ve laid claim to. Go me! And this December 31st would have been my 19th wedding anniversary. I say “would have been” because my divorce was final this past January, hard on the heels of my 18th anniversary.  Believe me, that was a positive event despite also being a disappointing one. And since then, the dating world opened up in front of me in all of its anxiety-inducing glory. I know, it’s weird, right? Glorious and exciting, but weird nonetheless.

Anyway, as I said, I’ve decided that I’m going to celebrate Carmentalia. And I’m going to have a little chat with Carmenta herself. I need answers. Where have I been, where am I going, just what the hell is up with Tinder?

I have big plans for the coming year and life changing events are on the horizon. It’s a thrilling and good-scary time, and long-overdue. Ever the realist though, the raging introvert in me shouts, “Yeah, okay, so you’re starting a new adventure in 2018, but let’s not go overboard, okay?” I guess I do have a New Year’s resolution after all. And that’s to put my hands over my ears shouting “la-la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you!”

In the meantime, placating the introvert in me actually sounds like a peaceful way to usher in the New Year and ready myself for what’s sure to be a wild ride. So, this New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will find me ensconced on my sofa – with some equally introverted company, grazing on leftovers and sipping on a lovely Moscato a friend gifted to me, while the TV alternates between a 24-hour marathon of “Psych” and the showing of all 6 “Thin Man” movies. I know, I know, it won’t be the chaos that is Times Square when the ball drops. But, hey, it’s not like I can completely disregard who I am after all. And why would I want to? Plus, this will no doubt ease my mind and prepare me for the next 67,000 mph race around the sun.

Bring it on 2018 and Carmenta. I’m ready.

Happy New Year, Happy Life

Another year has passed us by and the year coming…well, let’s just hope for the best, shall we? I thought about resolutions this year, but the thing with resolutions is – they are all too often made half-heartedly and therefore easily broken. Plus, who says we have to make serious commitments to life-altering changes only once a year? Wouldn’t it be better to make adjustments as the year, and life, wears on?

Deciding on foregoing resolutions will certainly help one’s self-esteem – no resolutions made, no resolutions to break and feel guilty about later in the year month week. I mean, seriously, who needs more guilt?

Be a better person. Live a better life. Take chances. Those are resolutions worth making and would hopefully be easily kept. As for that diet or exercise regimen? Sure, make those too if you want, but just remember, promises casually given, even to oneself, are easily broken. In which case, don’t beat yourself up for it…I have no doubt throughout the coming year there will be times when you will feel the need to change some aspect about yourself or your life – seize it! For all intents and purposes, those decisions, those opportunities, they are your New Year’s resolutions, even if they come in July.

Inner Salvation

There will never be another me. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but there you go. I’m too damned old and too damned fed up with others who think they should have some level of control over me to placate unworthy people anymore. I’m me. And I’m happy with that.

 

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Perchance to Dream

Many years ago, too many to count or even admit to, I used to listen to a radio show called America’s Top 40, hosted by Casey Kasem. His sign off phrase was, “Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.” This is good advice. Dream big, but stay somewhat practical.

Sadly, as children and even well into adulthood, we are often discouraged to dream at all. Sometimes we are discouraged by people who don’t support or believe in our dreams, and sometimes we’re knocked down just by pure circumstance. Perhaps, however, the reason we’re afraid to dream is because we are afraid to fail, or maybe, just maybe, we’re afraid to succeed. Whatever causes the death of our dreams, I just know it doesn’t have to be that way.

Balance is of course a healthy part of life. It’s good to be smart about life, to be grounded, and of course I always say to have a “Plan B.” And “C.” And even a “D.” Believe me, I’m not telling you to throw your life away in pursuit of foolishness. I’m not telling you to quit your job, sell your stuff, and backpack around Tibet. Unless of course, that’s something you really want to do. Then I’m all for it. Send me a postcard!

The young dream big, don’t they?  I mean, they can dream like we adults can’t even dream of dreaming. So who are we to snuff that out? Don’t we know that one of the cruelest things a person can endure is when someone they love can’t support their dreams? In a sense we’re saying we don’t believe in them. We don’t mean to. We’re just trying to protect them from the hurt we may have endured ourselves.

Plus, we think we know it all. We’re adults, right? We’re supposed to know it all. What we have to realize is that it’s better to let go and pursue our dreams rather than to always live with the ache of what could have been. I for one don’t want to be responsible for that in my life or the lives of my children.

What about us older folks? Those of middle-age and beyond. Do we think we’re too old good to dream? Our dreams are what move us to accomplish greatness and gift the universe with our brilliance… or maybe they just allow us to get through each day as we struggle with overwhelming mediocrity.  I will digress here for a moment to point out that Grandma Moses, pretty much a household name now, didn’t start painting until she was 78.  She painted right up until her death at 101. 101!  Her favorite quote, which indeed seems to tell her own personal tale, was “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” Words to live by indeed.

Bram Stoker didn’t create Dracula until he was 50 (Stoker, not Dracula). I mean, seriously, where would the vampire genre be without him?

Donald Ray Pollock received quite a bit of attention for his debut novel, The Devil All the Time, but did you know that he dropped out of high school to work at a meatpacking plant for many years before moving on to a paper mill where he worked for 32 years as a laborer and truck driver?  The same year he turned 55, he took the leap and published a book of short stories – just a year before graduating Ohio University by the way.  Three years later, in 2011, along came The Devil All the Time which won him the Guggenheim Fellowship.  Talk about following a dream.

To digress even further (thanks for your patience!), Laura Ingalls Wilder… well, there’s another one. Even though she was a columnist at the age of 44 and doing fairly well, her Little House books made her a household name, and she didn’t publish those until she was the ripe age of 64.

After the death of her second husband, Mary Delany began creating amazingly intricate paper cut-outs of flowers to help her deal with her grief. She was 68. She created more than 1,700 pieces of this unique form of art and continued with her artwork until she was 88. Her pieces were so delicate and so incredibly beautiful that they now reside in the British Museum’s collection.

My point is, dreams shouldn’t be snuffed out… not in children, and certainly not just because a person has mastered the aging process. If anything, aging gives our dreams greater meaning. Life may throw us curve-balls or set us on a different path than we ever expected to be on, but dreams…dreams can set us free and put a new life in motion.

Happy Birthday to Me (for real this time)

So, break out the belated balloons and cake, my birthday was just on December 30. Yay me! Of all the things I could have done to celebrate, I decided to spend time around family and it was a great time. After the requisite reflection of my life that occurs to each of us on our special day (Wait, what!? It isn’t a requisite!? Damn!), I realized something both comforting and uplifting…I’m happy.

Those of you who know me well (and those who haven’t seen me for a while but are back in my life) have been telling me for some time now that I seem more at peace than ever before so I’m assuming this sensation of happiness I have is real and noticeable. Kinda surprising I can write this with pure honesty. I mean, considering the year I’ve had and the tumultuous life I left behind, being in “serenity now” mode is quite the achievement (in my humble opinion). Yeah, yeah, I still have some of the more stressed-out Seinfeld-y “serenity now!” moments when certain triggers rear their ugly little heads…but not very often, and overall, I’m back on solid ground and not eggshells. A very good thing.

There are still obstacles ahead, but hey, that’s life, right? When they come, I’ll find a way to deal with them. Until then I’m just going to keep looking ahead and moving forward. Onwards and upwards, as they say. It’s the only way to fly!

That all being said, guess what…there’s a new addition on my Bucket List. Any idea what it might be? Skydiving? No. Just no. Bungee Jumping. Are you nuts!? Do you even know me at all!? Wrestle a kangaroo? Uh-uh. Meet Vladmir Putin? Pass. Okay, okay, I guess I’ll just tell you. You guys are really bad guessers. Ready? I want to visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.

If this isn’t exactly what you were expecting as a Bucket List-worthy item, I’m with you. I must confess that I had never heard of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum until I saw this article just the other day. But, I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans. It’s got the bustling and vivacious French Quarter, the Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Zoo (me and animals…duh!), ghost walks, classic architecture, and a history steeped in voodoo and the occult!

That’s a rather good list of places to hit when I do go to N’awlins. So why the Pharmacy Museum? Well, this particular tourist attraction had me at “opium soaked tampons.”  I know, I know. Not exactly “mother approved” blog material. But still. How can one resist? Sold! You had me with the headline. That’s marketing right there people.

So I’m not going for the most noble of reasons, sure. It might not even get mom’s seal of approval, but please, this is New Orleans we’re talking about. An ancient, drug drenched tampon is just another grain of sand on that dune. And really, how can I resist the urge to at least see what the heck that’s all about. Plus the lurid appeal of voodoo elixirs AND leeches! Oh boy! I mean, come on, don’t even try to tell me you’re not feverishly perusing the article right now, trying to catch a look for yourselves and reading up about what else they might have in store (ha!) for their visitors.

If anyone out there has any New Orleans experience you’d like to pass my way, please do. I love learning about different places. Once you’re done poring over the Pharmacy Museum article of course. Go ahead.  Take your time. I can wait.

 

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New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (click photo for article)

There’s No Crying in the Dollar Store

So. Do you ever look at something that in and of itself is completely benign and straight forward, but taken into context with the memories that item brings to mind can leave you awash with forgotten emotions? At best you feel a twinge of heartbreak or perhaps a smile from some long ago happy day or at worst you’re left blubbering in the seasonal candy aisle in the Dollar General Store in town.  Which is exactly where I found myself a few days ago.

Now I’ve never bought candy at the Dollar General Store in my town as I’m something of a candy aficionado and I prefer the “good stuff.” Quite often you’ll find me at the Cracker Barrel for the old-fashioned candy they sell (Peanut Chews, Maple Leaves, and a good brand of old-style Almond Brittle are among my favorites) or I scour the internet for the chocolates I can’t find elsewhere (Ice Cubes come to mind) and of course the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in the outlets near me see my face quite frequently because I admittedly covet their chocolate covered strawberries and other decadent goodies.  But I digress. Deliberately so.

Anyway.  While at the dollar store, I stumbled across two types of candy that I would often purchase this time of year for my Great-Aunt Bunny while she was in a nursing home.  You guys may remember Aunt Bunny, I’ve talked about her before. She’s from the West Virginia crew of Mooney girls who tried the patience of their mother and are now undoubtedly livening up the realms of Heaven.

Well, for Christmas, I would send her this huge care package of goodies that included the best kinds of her favorite candy but other treats as well that she wasn’t supposed to have…but no one could take away from her since it was in the form of a present.  This tickled her to no end.  We’re talking a huge box full of stuff, it looked like I was preparing her for a trip through the Serengeti. If it was a trip to be sustained on sugar and junk food that is.  I took my self-imposed obligation seriously and my search for the perfect candies and snacks to include each holiday started early, probably right around this time of year. Which is why seeing the candies at the Dollar General Store hit me so hard I guess.

Aunt Bunny was never crazy about chocolate although I always sent her a bit…one year it was Chocolate Peppermint Penguins and one year it was Buckeyes, always something different.  Mostly her stash was filled with things like Claeys’ Hard Candies of all sorts (licorice, lemon, horehound, rootbeer), old-fashioned Ribbon Candy, a type of old-style hard candy as shown in the photo below, peppermint sticks, Divinity, Maple Leaves, and, because it couldn’t be all sweet-stuff, I’d include pork rinds and the like as an extra tasty treat.  Bless her heart, Aunt Bunny always tried to eat everything immediately, but eventually she had to hoard it and ration it out piece-meal so as to enjoy it longer. Although I don’t think it ever lasted much past the New Year.

I think I enjoyed finding the items to include in her goodie box as much as Aunt Bunny enjoyed eating them.   I won’t be doing it again this year.

And that’s how I ended up a teary-eyed fool at my local dollar store. I’m sure I was a sight.

Strangely enough, I had a dream about Aunt Bunny the next night. She was giving away all of her things. Something she routinely did in life – we couldn’t leave her house on a Sunday afternoon without being burdened down with food, drinks, some knick-knack or another. She never wanted someone to leave empty-handed. At least not us. It became a running joke in my family. I miss that joke. I miss searching for Claeys’ Hard Candies.  And I guess for a while, I’ll be avoiding the Dollar General Store.

 

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Dollar Store Trigger

 

Bunny & Family 1968

Bunny & Family 1968