Thursday, November 28, 2013

Toro! Toro! Toro! Olé!

I divide the world into two groups.

Those who throw the box, packaging and the owner’s manual away immediately.
Those who keep the box and the owner’s manual for twenty years even after they have thrown away the item they served.

I thought about this recently when I wanted to convert my twelve year old Toro electric blower/vac from a blower to a vac.

When I first bought the Toro I was a timid new homeowner. The idea that I could use a torrent of air to force all the leaves to collect in one manageable space and make my yard look pristine without lifting a rake made my mind dance.  

Yipee! I sang as I drove home with my Toro. There is no song that has Yipee in it but the anticipation of performing this magic act inspired giddy me to make up a song.  Yipee, Yipee, Yipee.  Life is going to be easy.  I know what I’m doing.  Nothing can stop me.

Cleaning up the yard was going to be a snap. Enjoyable and satisfying.  

It was not a snap. It was not that satisfying.  The machine was heavy and clumsy.  The leaves were as unpredictable as a teenage monkey. They went up in the air or accumulated in the wrong place or went where I had just cleaned or stayed stubbornly embedded in the grass.  From time to time the Toro blew dirt and/or dust in my face.  At the end of a long, noisy battle with the heavy Toro I had a raggedy pile of leaves and other leaves that had stayed behind.  I had to rake.

Each year I drag out the Toro and a long extension cord and give it another chance.  Last week I noticed that on the side of the Toro motor it says, blower/vac.  Wow.  It’s a vacuum, too.  Right after that I saw a big canvas bag on a hook in the garage that had Toro printed on it.  Wow.  If I could vac the leaves instead of blowing them, I’d have them trapped in that big bag.  I went in search of the manual so I could convert my Toro.  

This brings me back to the original premise.  I’m in the group that keeps the manual and the box.  I have a manual folder.  It contains manuals for a dremel, a dehumidifier, three remotes, a washing machine, a gas boiler, a mixer but not the Toro.  I called Toro to ask for an owner’s manual but it was the week-end and they were not in the office. 

Then, beckoning me like a lantern in the dark, the Toro Owner’s Manual drew me to the kitchen junk drawer where it rested, upside down, a little stained but still intact. There on page 15 was the heading: Converting your blower to a vac. Home run.

A nasty weather system has kept me indoors for the last two days but the minute the sun is out again and the Thanksgiving sleepiness goes away, I’m going to be converting my blower and vacuuming those leaves right out of my yard. I feel that old excitement welling up in me. What?  You’re worried it might not turn out as I imagine?  Don’t worry.  It’s going to be a snap.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Clean up in aisle three - uh, and four

When Oprah tells me to do something I do it. 

Okay maybe not her fiber fat flush.

When she offered me a 21 day meditation challenge with Oprah and Deepak* and it was free I thought, why not? 
At the very least it will quiet my restless mind.

Oprah is not to be taken lightly and she doesn’t have to do this stuff with us.

The first day, Oprah and Deepak asked me to identify my DEEPEST desire.  
They said that if I asked my heart and was alert to my daily life the answer would come.

Usually when I’m asked this question I close my eyes and the first image that comes to mind, I take as a metaphor for the answer. 
The image was a lawn chair but even as a metaphor - a modest resting place in a big expanse - a rest stop in a safari?- I couldn’t cram my usual superficial desires into the image.

Deepak and Oprah said not to worry.  They said to continue meditating and asking. The answer would come.

I chanted the mantra and minded my breathing for eleven days but nothing came.

It was the meditation on Surrender that began to turn things around.
I do not like to surrender to anything. 
 I’d rather control things even if it means not going anywhere or doing anything or engaging with the rest of the world.
After the meditation on Surrender, I had the ‘new to me’ idea to surrender to a couple of things.  
This might sound lame but it was a new thought, a thought I would not have had before. 

The trick to surrendering is to catch yourself getting ‘your back up’ which means ‘defending’ yourself or your ego against something you perceive as threatening to the status quo.  We just adore the status quo (even if it’s not that great.)

During the gratitude meditation that Oprah swears changed her forever, she quoted Meister Eckhart an old German mystic priest that I had read a long time ago. I trusted him.  He said if you only say one prayer in your life 
let it be ‘thank you.’

Normally I would make fun of this to entertain myself.  Really?  Just say thank you? After years of looking at my life and shouting: Clean up in aisle three, uh and four the Universe is suddenly going to say: 
Polish the trumpets, somebody had an aha moment?  Maybe. 

That morning, feeling a bit dorky, I said thanks for the hot shower and for my strong legs and the warm and sunny weather in November.

I continued with the meditation challenge and repeated my mantra even though pronouncing Om Vardhanam Namah for twenty minutes takes some doing.

During the gratitude meditation it came to me. It was such a jolt I had to open my eyes and begin to write this post.  
My deepest desire was UNDERSTANDING. That was the only desire I needed because it would lead me to everything else.

This is not earth shaking or even exciting.  BUT to receive an answer to a question you’ve posed to your heart and mind and be CERTAIN of the answer is a pretty good discovery.  I could use this method -  surrender, alertness and gratitude - to get an answer to other things.

So what do we have here? Surrender to what comes your way (well, not a runaway bus), be alert to your daily life and say thank you (yes even for your annoying friend Delores who rants against the government non-stop). 
You can’t go wrong.  

Happy Thanksgiving. 

I say thank you every day for the people who read this blog. I am in your debt.

* Oprah & Deepak Meditation <>

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Let's chat about laziness.

I don’t think you’re lazy.  You get up you get dressed you go somewhere you do things.  You make your smoothie and drink it.
No, I’m lazy.  Once in a while I'll do some fake hard work to avoid real work.

Do you know what lazy means?  A disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so.
That’s exactly it.  I sit around.  No daily plan.  No delaying instant pleasure in order to get greater pleasure.  

What’s wrong with instant pleasure?
Doesn’t last long.

What about greater pleasure?
I don’t know.  Never had it. 

Maybe it doesn’t last long either. Name a person who you think isn’t lazy.
That’s easy.  Joyce Carol Oates.  She has written over 40 novels and almost that many plays, short stories, nonfiction. She writes so much people make jokes about it. I once saw a picture of her at a party and her slip was showing an inch below her skirt. She works so hard, she doesn’t even know her slip is showing.  If I worked that hard, I’d go out in my pajamas that’s how little I would care about anything else.

Maybe you’re not lazy.  Maybe you are gestating, as in incubating ideas that you will use later.  Or maybe life, as in LIFE, is so hard you are rightfully stepping aside for a day.
No, I’ve been lazy all my life. I'm lazy about the things that really matter.  

If you were not lazy what would you be doing?
I’d be working much harder and getting things done. I'd be focused. I would kill for more self-discipline.

Do you know what 'not being lazy' feels like?
Yes.  I get lost in the task - I could be dead that's how immersed I am in the work.  In fact, that's what I think dead feels like.

I believe we use the word lazy because we don’t know what to call the trait we are really exhibiting.  We don’t know to say: I work hard at physical tasks because I don’t know how to access the task I should be doing. Is there any prompt that makes you work hard?
Yes.  If I get good news I become hyper and ideas pour out of me.  My head explodes. 

Why do you think that is?
I think good news jerks us around, jiggles some part of our brain and makes it want to do things.

So the answer to laziness is to get good news every day.
No. The answer is to learn to jiggle our own brain and make it act as if it heard good news.

Is there anyone you know who has enough self-discipline?
Yes.  I know one a person who is all self-discipline.  Everything he does is deliberate and would be hard for most of us.  He never takes the easy road.  If he did that experiment where you delay eating the cookie in order to get two cookies, he wouldn’t eat the cookie.  He wouldn’t even eat the reward cookies.  He’s all discipline.

Is that person happy?
No.   That person is not happy.

So hard work doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness?
I guess not although I don't believe in that amorphous, ill-defined state known as happiness.

What have we learned here?
I don’t know. Nothing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

One narrow inlet of guilt, wonder, fear, apprehension, anger, joy and WTF.

 (We're approaching Holiday time - our annual torture test.  I thought it might be okay to re-post this "get out of jail card")

Today on Facebook I saw a video that urged me to “live life to the fullest.”  I would totally do that if I didn’t have to leave the house.   “Live life to the fullest” is one of those sayings that is so lacking in specifics that you just slosh around as if wearing regret galoshes that are ten sizes too big and you have no solid footing. 
Oh, my god, I’m not living life to the fullest.  What to do?  Hey wait, what does that mean? When I hear that phrase I see some foolhardy athletic activity as in when one of my children jumped off a cliff in a foreign country with only a rubber band tied to his feet to keep him from plunging.
In my teens and 20’s I did about fifty “life to the fullest” things that could have ended in me being dead or randomly hurt or going down a bad road that would have altered the entire direction of my life. The direction of my life was altered anyway and some of it was good and some of it was bad.  Discretion and my children’s sensibilities keep me from spilling some of the stuff.  At 20, I left the country and my senses while I traipsed (love that word) through Western Europe with a movie group. At 18 I went to Miami and lived for a year first working as a waitress (half of a day) at Jersey Charlie’s, unwittingly as a jewel thief's assistant and then as a telephone operator at the Eden Roc Hotel. I lived in a hotel room in not yet trendy South Beach.  At 23 I quit a dream advertising job to lead a penniless life in Greenwich village. At what point does “living life to the fullest” and acting like a dodohead merge?
I got married and had children and my life contracted into one narrow inlet of guilt, wonder, fear, anger, joy and WTF.  If someone had asked if I was living life to the fullest I would have punched them.  I kept thinking I’m never going to get out of this.  It’s just going to go on and on like some Groundhog Day film.  BUT.  Something weird happened. During this time of guilt, fear, anger joy and wtf, I re-connected with my writing. With three kids hanging on to my nightgown and an ancient Royal typewriter with a missing N, I began writing and publishing op-ed pieces and columns and eventually books.  I was writing not in the luxury of an isolated Village apartment but within the chaos of a family of five.
I was creeping up on the “life to the fullest” road.  But that still wasn’t it. The kids grew up and I moved to a distant village where I didn’t know a soul and began what I can only describe as a ‘what fresh hell is this?’ episode that morphed into something decent. I made friends with my adult children.  I took on a job that could have been neurosurgery that’s how off base it was with my usual.  Taking that job and not even thinking of failure allowed me to re-compute who I was.  Live life to the fullest?  How about if I just don’t leave a big chunk of money on the table.

Friday, November 8, 2013

An intimacy freak throws in the towel

I never felt confident at parenting and with good reason.  When the kids were little I was overwhelmed. There was no close family around and living in a kid-poor area, I was isolated.  We won’t mention the fact that four pregnancies in five years left me batsh*t crazy.  Unfortunately for the kids, it was also the time when I was “discovered” as a writer and was often invited to "humiliate" them in the national and local press.

It was a lonely life, not another kid in sight.  I had to drive to the park, supermarket, playgroups.  I had to even drive to the school bus because we lived on a long non-public road. Did I mention I was a poor driver and only learned in my thirties?  I once made an illegal left hand turn right in front of a cop and when he pulled me over I had no clue what was wrong.  He told me to keep off the main roads for a few months. 

On the plus side, we were a three minute walk to Long Island sound where the kids learned to swim and sail a small boat that is still in use today.

I mention all of this because today I am getting ready to welcome two of my children and their children and I’ve been up since ten (kidding) cooking and getting the toys out.  I may not have aced it as a mother but (surprise) I am a good grandmother. We’re all surprised by this turn of events.  The grandkids like me and I like them.  I like playing with them and talking to them.   I think they are gorgeous and wise and funny and confident.  They have taught this intimacy freak to throw in the towel.

Here’s what I made for them to eat over the week-end.  I dragged out my old (70’s) Redbook manicotti recipe where you make crepe-like wraps, (made them this a.m.) fill them with a three-cheese (optional chopped zucchini) mix, wrap them like little fat cigars and cover them with a good tomato sauce and more cheese on top. I also made baba ghanoush, home-baked corn chips, lentil soup, pizza and medallions of pork.  There are  lots of organic greens ready for dressing and good ice cream for dessert.

Everything is done so I can spend the entire week-end free to engage and play.  Redemption thy name is grandma.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

There goes my money

The gift receiving season is fast approaching. I have several people in my life to whom I give the gift of money. When they were younger, these people thought cash gifts were crass and thoughtless. At the time, they were not paying their own bills. Currently, money is accepted without hesitation.

1.  The best reaction is when the receiver takes the check or the cash, looks at it, is overwhelmed with the amount, immediately tries to give it back.  “I can’t take this.” is the first sentence.  “Too much.”  I’m so thrilled that I’ve stunned the person, I want to stun them again. “I could make it more if you like.” “No,” they demure. “This is more than generous.” The check or bill is placed carefully in a wallet.  I know where my money is.  It is safe, unfolded and I can go my way satisfied.

2. “Thanks. I love money,” is another reaction.  The check or bill is stuffed into the shallowest jean pocket where it doesn’t even fit all the way. It becomes crumpled. Those jeans will be washed with the money or check in the pocket if it hasn’t already fallen out in the street.   The money will be destroyed or lost.   There goes my money.

3. The third reaction has no words.  The money is flipped into a fold and slid under the jacket in a razor quick movement. It nestles in that odd pocket on the inside lining that opens sideways (the manufacturer only put that pocket there for empty marketing.) When the maneuver is over I’m unsure if the event took place.  Did I give somebody money?  Where is that money?  It’s in that pocket nobody uses or looks in.  That jacket will go to the cleaner or be given away to a charitable organization.  The person unpacking donations will find it.  He might or might not turn it in.  There goes my money.