Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lessons from a Tea Rose

Each January I find myself making resolutions. Lots of people do. They vary, these resolutions. Eat less. Workout more. Lose weight. Drink less alcohol. Write more. Sometimes I'm more ambitious. Last year I resolved to make 2012 my Year of Creativity. (Talk about resolutions taking over your life!) But NINETEEN creative projects later, something inside me was different.

This year, I've made my resolution a bit simpler. My decision to do so was inspired by a book I started called "Simple Abundance" by Sarah Breathnach. See, each year I select a study book for daily inspiration and direction. I read and reflect on a selection from this book during my early morning "Quiet Time." I have read this book before. But for some reason this year it seems to resonate stronger with my spirit.

My reading today spoke of linking our search for contentment or happiness with personal authenticity. To be truthful "authenticity" hasn't always been a word I've paid much mind to. Not that I walk around being dishonest, but because digging deep inside and uncovering my true, real, honest, base self is uncomfortable at times. It's much easier to wear the facade and go with the flow as the woman everyone expects me to be. The authentic me isn't always pretty. It isn't something Others want to see ... or something I want to share with just anyone. It can be uncomfortable to be real. I might tread on some toes. Or, maybe people won't like me.

 But for 2013, I've decided to let Sarah take the lead and guide me through this exploration. Who am I -- really? What motivates me? Attracts me? Challenges me? Moves me? I guess it's time I knew.

I have a little plant. Nothing fancy. A tea rose that a friend gave to me. I've done my best to care for it. Last summer, it outgrew its original pot so I selected a lovely black and white ceramic pot and transferred it safely to a new home. At that time, I noticed some small bugs. So, I changed the soil, watered it and cared for it -- like you do for a plant. I've never had a green thumb, but I did what I thought needed to be done.

In August, I went on vacation. Before I left that week, I noticed some dust on the leaves. Spider webs. Weird. Thinking it was dry, I watered it. After all, it seemed to be flourishing otherwise ... there were three rose buds just waiting to bloom.

A week later, I came home to find the leaves falling from my rose. I was horrified. It had been watered and cared for in my absence. What could be wrong? I carried its woebegone remains across the street ,,, my neighbor works for Bordines so she would certainly know what to do. She informed me that my plant had "spider mites", and this prognosis, though common among tea roses, was usually terminal.

Wait ... water, sun, care, new soil, new pot ... all the effort in the world and my little plant was doomed? She gave me a treatment option to try and instructed me to cut the rose down to its bare bones ... trim it down inches from the soil. The beautiful blooms I had looked forward to were now in the garbage.

I followed her instructions. And this little rose and I started over. I focused on what was truly important now ... paying closer attention to indicators and healing measures. Becoming more intuitive to the plant and its actual needs.

See, I had looked only at the surface of this plant for so long. To what I expected. To what I knew. I cared for it based on typical needs of plants. But this rose wasn't typical. To thrive, it needed me to go deeper. And despite signs it had provided, I was still only looking "leaf deep."....And, as a result, I almost lost it.

This plant has become kind of a symbol for me. See, the authentic me has some "spider mites." At times I bloom and at times I struggle. At times I outgrow my surroundings and need something new to help me evolve. There are aspects of me I've ignored or been unattentive to. But when I do that, I don't grow. I can't bloom.

But not this year. This year, I've cut myself back and am going to embrace the quirky, unique, crazy, fun, joyful, creative, dark, and sometimes imperfect and ugly parts of myself. They are all aspects of me. The spider mites can bite, but they can teach too. I mean, when did you ever truly grow when everything was peachy keen. Our greatest opportunity to shine comes when we find ourselves in the darkness.

And my little rose has a new lease on life. Growing slowly and easily. No blooms yet. But it's strong and steady. It's grounded and strong. It's growing ... reaching to the sky to find what it needs. Comfortable in its surroundings but evolving ... Like Me. Maybe even like you.

Do you have any Spider Mites? Are you going only "leaf deep?" Perhaps you'd like to join me on this journey. If so, for the next few days, let your spirit guide you to discover what makes you smile. See what draws your eyes. See what color you feel best wearing or what beverage tastes best. Open the catalog and cut out pictures of clothes or places or things that draw you. Don't try to guide your choices. Let it happen naturally and don't judge or force it. You may find out something about yourself.

As for me and my little plant, we will continue our journey together. I won't judge it for lacking blooms. I will just accept it for what it is ... today.
                                                                                                                  -- Jenni



Friday, January 25, 2013

French Fry Filosophy

Have you ever stopped to think of Life in the context of French Fries & Ketchup?

Most people enjoy French Fries. There is something about a good French Fry that makes me smile. Mushy ones, not so much. But a good fry can brighten my day.

And then there’s the Ketchup. It is the ideal pairing. The Ketchup brings out additional flavor. It adds color. It gives a different taste to the Fry.

Most people eat Fries & Ketchup together. Most people enjoy them. Some people even have favorites or associate them with a specific memory or restaurant or person. Taking that Fry and twirling it into the Ketchup is fun, well, it makes me feel like a little girl. Fries & Ketchup make me happy.

As a child when my parents would go out for an evening, they would take my brother and me to McDonalds. I remember the drive-thru back when McDonalds used to post on the big sign the number of people served each year. I remember how much my brother and I looked forward to those fries. We didn’t get them a lot. I’ll never forget the games we played with them … the longest fry contest or the crunchiest fry. I learned to associate fries with happy occasions … a special treat. Comfortable.

For some people, Fries are no big deal. Just part of the Fast Food experience. When in a rush or need a quick meal, drive thru and place an order. Fries can be filler – a side item.  In the Drive-Thru Lane at a fast food restaurant, you order a sandwich and the automatic response from the attendant becomes: “Do you want Fries with that?” So you say yes and go from there. They are an after thought. You just shovel them in your mouth and think nothing of it.

French Fries and Ketchup can be many things depending on your mood. Your response to them varies. No matter how you view them, pretty much everyone has experience with French Fries and Ketchup.

So, what is it about French Fries and Ketchup? Take a minute and think about your favorite fries … Where do they come from? When and where do you eat them? Do you eat fries in the car alone? Or, are they Bar Food? Do you share them with someone? Do you order them as a side item or just get a basket? Why Fries and not Onion Rings or Mozzarella Sticks?

For me, Fries and Ketchup are simple things. They take me to a happy place. They open me up for lengthy conversations. I eat them slowly, spinning the Fries in the Ketchup playfully and triggering a variety of feelings. When I can’t think of something to say, I toy with a fry. They make me feel creative – in the right location I’m event thoughtful. And reflective. Fries and Ketchup are a comfort food that make me smile and relax.

But, French Fries and Ketchup can be messy. A big blob of Ketchup … a little Fry. One false move and there’s red stain on your favorite shirt.

And too many Fries … well that’s another issue. Too many French Fries means wait gain and too much salt isn’t good for you either. There’s a fine balance to maintain.

So did you ever stop and think about your day, your life, or an aspect of what’s happening at any given moment in the context of French Fries and Ketchup? 

Like French Fries, life has flavor. But add too much salt or pepper even – like too much of anything – and you end up distorting the flavor. Add too much seasoning, and you can make something good into something … well bad. Too much “salt” – good in small doses – makes a fry – or life – taste yucky. It can even ruin the entire experience.

And Ketchup is messy. People tend to want their life to be nice and neat. But it isn’t. There are little red stains around us all the time … life lessons or personal challenges or blobs of regret or dissatisfaction. Too much ketchup heading your way on one little fry and your life can become really messy. You have to be careful with Ketchup. Like life.

Reaching? Maybe. But Fries and Ketchup are simple things to me. Good things. But too many Fries? Well, I’d be bloated, overweight and not healthy – all things that take me mentally and physically to a bad place. Too much Ketchup, well I’m messy to begin with so you can imagine the result.

                                                                                                        -- Jenni

We Need A Silent Night ...

Are we too plugged in?

I ask this question inquisitively. I sat in a coffee shop the other day and watched people on the sidewalk walking along with a companion and either texting or talking on their phone. And I found myself wondering: Are they truly “connected?”

I see people sitting at a table in a bar or restaurant … and each of them has their phone out checking Facebook, posting on Twitter or texting some message. I watch them and ponder:Why come out at all if you’re going to spend the evening interacting with a computer?

I sit in a Room … amidst my extended family. Two TVs are on. My niece and nephew are texting. My son is browsing the web with his iTouch. My daughter is playing a computer game. My husband is checking the stats of his Fantasy Football league on his tablet. There is so much going on around me and no one is talking to each other. My book and I leave to find a quiet space. I need a silent night … and a moment of real connection.

There are so many ways we believe we “connect” and stay connected with our friends, family and co-workers…Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Text Messaging, Email, Phone Calls etc. But the simple human touch seems to be dwindling in its importance. I sit beside people in meetings. Someone is speaking while their “audience” is made up of people scrolling thru their smartphone or clicking their tablet to read an email or to find something … something infinitely more important than what is happening in that human moment.

As I watched the couple from my cozy coffee house seat, I could tell they were together. But their actions drew them apart … the need to be plugged in seems to be is interfering with relationships. I thought the point of the cell phone was to keep us in touch with each other … but does it, truly?

With the tablets and cell phones come noise. So much noise surrounds us. It is difficult to find a quiet moment amidst this incessant communication. It’s exhausting … constantly being reachable or constantly plugging in. But when you are talking on the phone, are you truly dedicating attention to the person on the other end? Or, are you typing on a keyboard or doing something that actually distracts and takes you away from what could be a “real” moment?

When was the last time you turned off the TV and sat with your husband or wife companionably reading a book or newspaper? No music. No cells. No tablets. Maybe talked about random things … things other than what they did at work or the kids’ latest achievements? When was the last time you or your kids walked in the house and didn’t immediately turn on the computer or TV to play Wii or xBox or watch a show? When was the last time you enjoyed a silent night … maybe a board game or card game or some family interaction? Had just a few friends over so it’s not a mass of noise but easy, casual conversation?

Last night I sat with a friend and talked. No cell phones. No texts. No Facebook messages. Didn’t Tweet my location or check in on Facebook. I sat and enjoyed the company of another person. Heard his ideas … thoughts. Laughed. Debated stuff. Disagreed occasionally. It was easy and refreshing. Nothing electronic to interrupt or interfere with being in genuine relationship. My words weren’t perfect … sometimes I stumbled over them and struggled to get my ideas clear. I couldn’t edit or delete or review his message before I spoke. It was honest. It was real. It was flawed and imperfect. Yet it was a most natural thing. Just spending time … unplugged.

In theatre we call it being “in relationship.” That means you are in tune to another person. Focused on them. Actively involved with what they are saying in a give and take kind of way. By focusing outside yourself, you become aware of what is happening with that individual and what is happening around you. You look them in the eyes and connect. You remember things they’ve told you … reflect back on times you’ve shared. You remember comments they’ve made with others. It’s settled. It’s genuine. As Barbara Streisand said so eloquently, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

I need people. Yet, I want to unplug. I’m tired of texting … of logging in Facebook to see what my friends are doing and hope they have time to “chat.” In a way, I feel like I’m spying on others’ conversations there. Call me greedy, but I want the real thing. The touch of a hand. The smile that goes all the way up to the eyes. The laughter that I can see and hear. I want someone sitting across from me or next to me sharing a moment. Connecting. Listening to me stumble over what I have to say before I edit it fifteen times in an email or text. I don’t want to be perfect … Relationships are messy. I like them that way. I want lunches and coffees and drinks and walks and random encounters with people I may not run into every day.

And while I’m “connecting,” I want our cell phones to take a break, resting quietly in a pocket or purse.

                                                                                                                      -- Jenni

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What a Girl Wants: Twilight on an African Holiday

I like movies. Films. Whatever you call 'em, I like them. I find screenplays fascinating. How a book is transformed to dialogue and descriptive text that come out of a writer's mind and then to life with the help of a camera, boom mic and on location or studio set is a process I would one day like to see unveiled before me. But, at this time, I have to settle for the finished product. And I am drawn in whether these stories are told on a Blu-Ray player in my home or on the larger-than-life screen of the cinema. Movies have a story and something to say. How we listen and what we hear is personal. We can miss the subtext entirely ... or we can be moved or changed by it.

My taste in movies varies. It's influenced by the actors. The directors. The marketing -- yes, an intriguing title and movie poster can draw me in completely. But, probably most importantly, my taste in movies is directly related to my mood. With the exception of horror films -- sorry Stephen King I just don't enjoy those and the nightmares resulting -- and documentaries, my emotional state leads me to different movies. The experiences are unique and I truly enjoy the journey.

First of all, let me get it out there that I enjoyed the Twilight series. No, I'm not the target age-market, but I read all the books. Twice. And I enjoyed the way these stories came to life on screen. I responded to the way the characters struggled with their feelings ... with trying to do the right thing and think about the other person more than themselves. I liked the romance. I liked the drama. I truly connected to the final lines of the third film, a moment between Bella and Edward that is the core of the story. "This is a choice ... between between who I should be and who I am. I've always felt out of step, like literally stumbling through my life. I've never felt normal, because I'm not normal. I don't wanna be. I've had to face death and loss and pain in your world but I've also never felt stronger...more real, more myself because it's my world too. It's where I belong."  That kind of self-awareness ... well, it hit me. And the love between these two characters thrives on their absolute honesty with themselves and each other. It's idyllic. It's what so many search for. So to watch two people find this kind of timeless passion is beautiful no matter the elemental sides of vampire, werewolf and supernatural creatures. Some people are influenced by the trappings ... me, I go to the heart of the matter. 

Another favorite is Roman Holiday. If you haven't seen it, you should. Here's Queen-to-be Audrey Hepburn and all she wants is to live and experience a normal day in Rome. She escapes the palace and embarks on a magnificent adventure, stumbling into the very handsome Gregory Peck in the process. He's a writer and at first he's all about getting the story. But the love story takes over. They have a whirlwind day and then ... she goes back to the palace. No, the guy doesn't get the girl. But then again, at the heart of the matter, that happens too. And they had a heckuva good day, leaving a lifetime of memories to treasure.

My "Go To" movie when I need a lift is one few have probably heard about, despite the star billings. What A Girl Wants tells the story of Daphne, raised by a very loving mother but without her dad. So she goes in search of her fairy tale father, one of the "peerage" in England who just happens to be running a race for Parliament. Her uniqueness has its own appeal ... then she tries to conform, discovering in the process how important it is, to quote the Bard, to "thy own self be true." Won't spoil the ending, which features this amazing kiss between Colin Firth and Kelly Preston. But suffice it to say, finding and embracing your authentic self is at the heart of this film.

But my favorite epic masterpiece is Out of Africa. Meryl Streep ... Robert Redford. The challenge of an unforgiving, unrelenting African climate. The battle between comfort and adventure. Love and loss amidst a harsh yet rich landscape. The struggle of a woman trying to find her own way. There is are so many lines in this film that I could quote. So many poignant moments that resonate with my soul. But to me the key message comes from Redford's role of Denys ... He says to Karin:  I don't want to live someone else's idea of how to live ... I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life."

Today so many people do that ... live according to others' rules or expectations. Being individual is a challenge. Fitting in and belonging is very desirable. To be part of a group or relationship where you feel a sense of belonging is to many what life is all about. And once you achieve that sense, it's very difficult to rock the boat. There's safety in the comfort zone. Paving your own path can result on you getting lost. Or falling amidst weeds. Falling down and getting hurt.

But in all the movies I am drawn to, someone is moving out of their comfort zone to make greater discoveries ... know deeper love ... experience a more vibrant existence. So as I look to Twilight and Roman Holiday and What a Girl Wants and Out of Africa, a theme calls out to me. I'm drawn to these films because I'm on my own holiday to figure out who I am and learn how best to be myself. Perhaps I'll channel Alice in Wonderland tomorrow and grow curiouser and curiouser until I look through the looking glass and glimpse the many dimensions of my true self. Are you curious? Are there aspects of you that are reflected in the movies you choose? What are those movies saying to you and about you? Are you listening?

Movies -- at least the ones I choose to watch -- empart a message. The message varies and the message one person hears may be completely different than another. But when you pause and take the time ... a movie can take you to the heart of the matter. Think about your favorite movies and make your own conclusions ...

                                                                                               -- Jenni