Amazing Grace–a happy human condition.

I have this habit of seasonally taking stock in things.

In the fall, I tally how much wood I have for the fireplace.

In the winter, I measure the amount of scotch in storage.

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In the spring, I size up what made it through the harsh winter and then I toss whatever didn’t.

In the summer, I keep my fingers crossed that I was one of those things that survived the spring cleaning.

My birthday is this week, and each year when it arrives, the first thing I do before sticking a toe out from beneath the covers is to make a balanced body account:

Anatomy-wise, what is still chugging along cooperatively? What is barely keeping up? What buckled under the pressure and was left on the side of the road and is currently being pecked into bite sized morsels for turkey vulture vittles? If I find that the scale hints even slightly in the positive direction, I will roll over and begin my morning ablutions. If I have a deficit, I will try again in an hour.

I have been lucky thus far. Rare has a birthday come and gone with me spending most of it hitting the snooze button. I have been criticized much of my life for being uncommonly, uncomfortably and annoyingly happy. But this quibble regarding my nature is inaccurate. It’s not that I’m continually popping perky pills, it’s much more simple than that.

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I’m grateful.

And gratitude can be a heady drug.

I cannot walk by a blooming bush or a cluster of planted posies without detouring in order to inhale a lungful of their inebriating fragrance. Occasionally, I find I am nose to nose with another individual who is not particularly thrilled with me overseeing his work, and can make a painful point about territorial rights.

I can easily be swept away by the colors that explode around me: greens that are so intense they are nearly pungent, hues of blue that suggest a depth of travel for which there is no end, blushing bursts of color that flare across fields and hillsides beckoning the eye and tossing in an extra heartbeat to my normally steady rhythm. I am a sucker for a rich palette, whether displayed on canvas, or within a shock of teenage hair; it is eye candy and I am drawn to it hungrily.

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My appetite for conversations with the small brood I care for is insatiable. I want to know what they’re thinking, how they’re thinking and if they’re thinking. Their learning process has been so different than mine, so foreign to my intuition and intellect, that I find myself wanting to study them like an entirely new species. And they are. Their alien intelligence is something I may have paid for, but am denied access to. Still, I am granted the license to observe and appraise, to curiously examine, and to marvel at the mechanisms of learning. I also marvel at the fact that most nights I am not face down in my soup, having exhausted all reserves of energy in attempting to follow their rapid fire, warp-speed conversations about topics I couldn’t even classify. Copious amounts of their words are not in my lexicon.

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They are a foreign species, but I’ve found I have a taste for the exotic. Another tick on the gratitude graph.

My appreciation scale widens further with the component of a truly savory experience. The phrase Food and Wine is one of the greatest string of words mankind has thrown together. With every adventure into a grocery store, a restaurant, or even my own refrigerator, I am continually caught by delighted surprise with what is available and creatable. I am also caught by surprise—not the delighted kind—with what is available and creatable.

Yum and yuck.

Ultimately, whether I am drawn to something new, something bold, something blue, or something old, the notion of feeding my body, feeds my soul. And many times I have found myself tempted after a particularly delectable adventure to turn to someone next to me and ask, “Does this make my soul look fat?”

Fingers crossed it does.

Lastly, true sensation–the ability to feel both physically and emotionally–is not without risk. At one end of the spectrum floats blissful nirvana. The other is the lead weight of despair. Somewhere betwixt is balance, but the gamut is wide with a breadth and depth that needs to be explored to claim the title of ‘a life well-lived.’

And this is what I seek: the taste and touch, the sights and sounds, the extraordinary, the humbling, the awakening, the challenging, and that which steals your breath away, but hopefully returns it.

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If I stop to think about it, I’ve been spinning in a reeling pirouette from the moment I was a cluster of human cells. Rightly so, I should be dizzy enough to ask for pause to untangle myself from the one way spiraling road trip, but thankfully, I am determined to remain in my seat.

Each day I continue to purchase a ticket, find an open stool, and buckle up my safety belt.

Destination: Life

~Shelley

 

June Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for June!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles

Oh, for crying out loud!

Oftentimes we’re asked to assess parts of our physical bodies—to rate and rank that which we like and that which we abhor about ourselves.

Crack open any health, fashion or beauty magazine and you’ll likely come across a quiz that will ultimately help you “understand” yourself a bit better by the end of it. You hate your chunky thighs, but love your thick hair. You’ve got flawless skin, but detest your wide, flat feet. Your eyes are strikingly green, but folks will never notice until they stop gawking at your red, pudgy nose.

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We’ve all got bits like this. Things that work for us and things that we wish we could bring back to some almighty maker with receipt in hand to ask for a refund.

Still in the process of raising two teens, I’m often thinking about how to communicate a healthy kind of “self appreciation” that balances awareness and mindfulness without obsession. Occasionally I hear one of my kids pass judgment on one of their bodily features that would make Simon Cowell announce they were being a bit harsh. I’m left with no other choice than to put a spin on the part getting hammered. I give them a few encouraging words that might make them see that attribute from a more positive perspective.

If I hear, My fingers are too short, I announce my envy at the speed at which they race across a keyboard. A comment like, Why won’t my hair cooperate? receives a reply such as Likely your hair is a reflection of your personality, which is somewhat wild and untamed and determined to show a little of that covetable rebellious teenage attitude we adults sorely miss. Or the complaint, What the heck is going on with my toenails? I point a finger at the phone and say, Take it up with your grandfather. Those are definitely his genetics. But hey, he’s super funny isn’t he?

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Yet there’s one physical feature I’ve noticed about myself lately, which I can’t quite seem to engineer an optimistic response to. And it’s a very tiny thing.

My tear ducts.

They’re unruly.

No. I mean they’re a little more enthusiastic than I’d like.

See? I just tried to steer that disapproval into a slightly upbeat description.

Nope. Didn’t work. I still feel like those puppies are determined to wreak havoc with my appearance at every opportunity—appropriate or not.

Yes, you’re watching a sad movie, reading a tragic novel or viewing the 6 o’clock news—many of us will tear up. But I could be in line at the bank and hear two people in front of me talk of one of their mothers who is struggling with the recovery from a hip fracture and I am right there with them, feeling the helplessness of knowing someone you love is in pain. Stepping up to the teller yields the response, “Umm, here’s ten, twenty, forty and the tissue is on the house.”

I’m at the grocery store, sifting through fruits and vegetables and I hear a lyrical piece of Musak. I stop what I’m doing and pause to listen to the heartrending chord progression that makes my breath catch and sends tears down my cheeks. I suddenly see the produce guy standing in front of me, staring. “Wow, lady. You really are sensitive to onions aren’t you?”

I once wandered the isles at the local drug store and found myself parked in front of the makeup display. After a minute, I noticed a young woman dressed from head to toe in camouflage combat fatigues standing next to me, and the insignia for the U.S. Army on her chest. My mind flooded with gratitude. All I could do was turn to her and say thank you.

She looked at me. Looked back at the makeup. And then handed me a wand of waterproof mascara and said, “You’re welcome?”

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Somewhere inside, I know that having ‘hairtrigger happy to respond’ tear ducts should not bring about the element of discomfiture (read occasional mortification) that it does. But when your kids stop wanting to hang out with you because the last time you all went to the local café together you started leaking over the happy fact that they still had their cream of tomato soup on the menu, one must pause and question whether or not you should be let out of the house. You begin to doubt whether even a well-respected PR team could spin this into likeable quirk.

Maybe I possess a huge heart filled with gratitude and I should continue attempting to relish it. Maybe I’ve created a new level of hyper-developed sensitivity that comes with trying to conjure up believable emotion within the characters I write about. Maybe I suffer out of control hormones and should see my GP for medication or shock therapy.

Whatever it is, I’m determined to keep trying to embrace it. Yes, I’ve ruined more pictures by suddenly realizing I’m with a bunch of folks I love, and immediately tear up as soon as someone says, “Cheese!” But this is no reason not to love my selfie.

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That would be a crying shame.

~Shelley

 

**Gotta Have a Gott**

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles

 

Just how nosy are you?

I’m not asking are you a meddling snoop and all up in somebody else’s bidness nosy, I mean how much do you treasure your schnoz?

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Out of all my most cherished senses, including my sense of humor, I would have to place my ability to smell at the top of the list. This perplexes at least one of my family members, as she has told me just how short-sighted I am in evaluating the importance, need and relevance of a few other senses that should come first in line. She could be right, but short-sighted I am not. I had Lasik done years ago to fix that problem, and now, neither short or far-sighted, all I do is seem to play the trombone when bringing fine print before my peepers.

Although I’m grateful for the actual ability to smell—the heady, perfumed sprig of lilac, that warm, plump strawberry dribbling juice down my chin, and the eye-watering, throat closing fumes of sulphur dioxide—it is the result of the smells that I am more appreciative of. What is this result?

The memory that is stirred by them.

I am transported back to the day when a childhood friend stuffed my school locker with armfuls of lilac blooms. I return to the hot and sticky summers of kneeling in the freshly turned, sun warmed soil of a strawberry farm where I worked eating more than I picked. I am yanked out of sleep with the sharp reminder that I allowed the dog to finish off the Mexican three bean layer dip before bedtime.

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These memories are precious. And pungent. And worthy of preserving.

(Some will be burned into my brain to ensure I will not make the same error twice.)

They are curious things, one’s nose and one’s memory, and the way in which they are linked is something we humans rarely consider. Whether it’s a flashback of your second grade teacher’s smothering hug after you lost the three-legged race on Track and Field Day stirred by walking by the perfume counter at Macy’s, or the recollection of your yearly trip to the state fair anytime someone opens a jar of peanuts, a sense of smell is something that can (and should) be practiced in order to improve. Sadly, many folks have no idea just how skilled your nose can become.

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If you want to learn how to play the piano, you must exercise your fingers across the keyboard. If you want to learn how to develop your sense of smell, you must exercise your nose across a variety of aroma compounds. The nasal workout is nothing more than inhaling a diverse assortment of scents, repeatedly and without peeking—no barbells necessary.

The key to great success lies in the memorization of these odors. Sure you can easily detect hay and cowpie patties when you wander on by the edges of a working dairy farm, but can you identify those same pungent barnyard aromas in that lovely glass of pinot noir you’re about to drink? And no, that earthy terroir note does not mean your glass is destined for the kitchen sink. Balance is the key.

Have you ever walked into someone’s house and immediately recognized a scent, but couldn’t place it? It might be because you came thirty seconds too late to see the gaggle of teenage girls rush up to someone’s bedroom with a truckload of freshly made popcorn. Walk into a movie theater on a Saturday night and you’ll know in an instant that very same scent. Why?Memorization. Firstly, you expect it to be there, and secondly, it’s all over the floor.

As humans, our noses generally expect to see the source of whatever aroma is perfuming the air we’re inhaling. Invisible smells have folks casting about, searching out the supplier. If we can’t see it, it causes us to test the strength of our memory. If you haven’t practiced recognizing the scent of a banana at fifty paces, or you haven’t enjoyed the romantic routine of “close your eyes and open up,” and then guessed what was on the fork, you might want to give it a go.

Word of warning though, do not hand that fork over to an eight-year old with a stinky sense of humor. A wedge of soap, although cleansing, sticks to the palate for a good chunk of time.

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Science tells us that smells and memory are linked early on, as most of the “new” smells you encounter occur during your youth, and when recognizing a scent, it’s more often than not connected with the moment you first stumbled upon it.

So you may shy away from doing a laundry load of bleach-necessary whites because you are taken back to that wretched community pool where the boys poked fun at you in your first and last ever bikini. And it’s possible you refuse to get anywhere near the nectar-sweet smell of Southern Comfort after that college frat boy party where you … well, let’s say I’ve heard about the results.

On the flip side, some people burn pine-scented candles all year long because the fragrance of the holidays is so embedded with sweet childhood emotions they’d like to sit on Santa’s lap 24/7. And others keep a nearly empty bottle of cheap perfume from the time they were fourteen and first kissed at their middle school dance as an immediate recollection of their earliest crush.

Smells evoke feelings. Scents bring back memories. Aromas manipulate the “emotional brain.”

As I am a nostalgically sappy sort, I love to jog that gray matter and recapture some history. And you can do it too by finally memorizing the smell of something without actually seeing it. It’s really very simple, and actually wonderfully fun.

So to hone your nose and develop some talent in the department of aromatherapy, remember these words: In order to have a sharp sense of smell in the future, just take a whiff of your past.

~Shelley

**Gotta Have a Gott**

Last month, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles

Fortune favors the brave. (And so does my library card.)

Fear word art

This is a powerful word. A word that when spoken—better yet, whispered—can send a cold prickle down the back of your neck. Try it.

Nothing? Okay, go into the coat closet and turn off the light. Now whisper it.

Still nothing? Fine. Go into the coat closet, turn off the light and wait for your dead grandmother to whisper it. It’ll happen. Be patient.

Was there a touch of angst that crept into your mind? A slight uneasiness joining the flow in your bloodstream?

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We all have fear to some degree: an anxiety about a work project, despair with a love affair, qualms regarding the choice we made selecting our new insurance policy, jitters because we just flashed, honked and gave a one-fingered salute to an old service truck that nearly cut us off in traffic, only to realize after another few miles that this is the guy you called from the office to please, please, please squeeze you into his schedule and come to your house to fix your piece of garbage air conditioning unit that’s broken down in the middle of a  record-breaking, blistering heat spell, and he’s rushing to meet you at your house on his lunch break.

Yep. Cold sweat fear.

And we try to avoid it. Like it’s a bad thing. But what if it isn’t? Yes, the result of the bad thing we fear being realized is not something most folks want to welcome into their lives, but that state of being fearful might be.

Hasn’t being in that moment—that heart palpitating moment—oftentimes brought you a pure rush of excitement, of thrill, of accomplishment? Hasn’t pushing through fear helped you realize your new potential?

Lately, I find myself a fear magnet. Examples of it are popping up all around me.

–        It’s the end of the school year. My kids are up to their earballs in exams. This is fearful.

–        I’m in the process of collecting quotes for a major house repair that may determine whether I end up needing to auction off a kidney. This is fearful.

–        Domestic terrorism and militant extremists. This is fearful.

–        Global warming. This is fearful.

–        My dead grandmother just spoke to me in our coat closet. This is fearful.

Prison 2

Prison 2 (Photo credit: planetschwa)

It is so easy to build a moat—abstract or concrete—around ourselves in order to shun that which frightens us, but it’s also easy to brick ourselves into the very castle meant to protect us. Now what have we got?

Prison.

Even as I take stock of my library books, stacked on my bedside table and surrounding my desk, it’s no longer snort-like funny to grasp how many of them are addressing the voluminous boundaries of this one subject.

1. Places That Scare You : A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön (the most edible looking Buddhist/nun/teacher/author you may never come across.)

2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Wayward woman + massive life challenge + teeth grinding grit = awesome story + bestselling book + scarcity of toenails.)

3. The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope (From Krishna to Keats, Jane Goodall to Ghandi, Ludwig van Beethoven to Susan B. Anthony—words meant to get you off your big, broad backside.)

4. Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts (Yes, expect more loss of toenails, blackened chunks of flesh and to be cold the entire time you read this.)

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5. Daily Life in 18th Century England by Kristin Olsen (You’re right. This has nothing to do with the others—except for possibly the castle and moat theme.)

This is just a smattering, but the general theme is apparent: I’m guessing subconsciously I want to move to Tibet, find an iceberg and meditate through the pain of frostbite. Or it could mean that I need more iron in my diet and that my library card would benefit from a temporary suspension. Maybe I just need a walk.

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Maybe … it’s worthy to embrace uncertainty. Perhaps wading through the turmoil, you find that you’ve exercised that mental muscle, that by wrestling with the beast of dread you’ve subdued the bête noire and tied him to a tree, that, as the Danish are fond of saying, Life is not simply holding a good hand. Life is playing a poor hand well.

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There is so much more to do than tremble. Although tremble if you must as you do what you dare. Explore the edges of possibility. If there is no wind, ROW.

So when the world sends you messages—whether from the faces of your children as they pack up their book bags for the next dreaded round of exams, the rotting corner of your leaking, tarp-covered, held together by a handful of this and a whole lot of hope house, the collective alarm and despair felt by a nation as we trudge through another day of tragic headlines, or the titles that doubtlessly raise the eyebrows of the librarian scanning your books—it might be time to put down the trencher and ditch witch.

Be brave. Push through. And fail forward.

You didn’t need those toenails anyway.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.