An Address to a Girl in a Dress (and a Cap and Gown)

Dear Reader,

With permission from my daughter, I’m sharing my “personal commencement speech” given to her following her college graduation. I imagine it is kindred to a million other parental letters. But she is my kin and my one in a million. 

Plus, I really needed an essay for my monthly blog post.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Chloe,

I’m sure by now a million people have said, Congratulations.

So I won’t.

Because I don’t like being like a million other people. And neither do you. Which is why I like you so much.

I’m lucky that way because I could have birthed a child who wanted to be on American Idol, or who wished to run a gelato shop, or who believed working as an accountant for the IRS could be a safe and super fun job.

But I did not birth that child. Instead, I landed a girl who rolled her eyes so often with impatience in her formative years, one of those times she was looking skyward actually revealed something that held her gaze. A star? An airplane? A celestial thought?

We may never know. The point is, is that everyone has vision. Whether through working eyeballs or simply one’s focused imagination, we all have some sort of direction. Yours just happened to be up.

Which must have been really frustrating for you for over sixteen years of schooling, as in order to achieve a position in that field where everyone else is looking skyward, you spent most of it looking down. At textbooks and exams.

But you’re finished with all that right now.

For about a minute.

I know. That was an awful thing to say. Especially to someone who still carries around the blood shot eyes of a student who just days ago was pulling her umpteenth all-nighter.

But it’s the truth. Because …

Life is school.

It is a giant campus with a million different teachers and a gazillion annoying classmates who are repeatedly flunking and succeeding right alongside you. It is countless classes where the only scores given are pass and fail, and you get to determine what your GPA represents.

Money in the bank?

Title at work?

Rovers landed?

You decide.

Yes, there are still exams. Yearly, you have a giant pain-in-the-ass one which the government insists you show up for, but it’s not as bad as it seems because you’re granted a cheat sheet—they’re called accountants.

The medical ones are some you start attending with greater frequency—and again, thankfully this is “group effort” problem solving, so rest easier in that department too.

There are the courses you enroll in that instruct you on home ownership, insurance policies, contract negotiation, and credit card debt. These are all core classes you’d best take a few notes in, but there are others—the humanities electives—where you can sit back and relax, maybe doodle in the margins.

There is, and never will be, a syllabus for yoga.

Likely there will be some mind-blowing field trips—maybe Mount Olympus, maybe Olympus Mons. Who knows? But it’s likely with your itch to run, your feet will tread across paths old and new, and you’ll Snapchat your way across every one of them.

When we, as a society, look out across the world at the sliver of individuals, the percentage of our population, who end up having truly amazing jobs, we usually first think about how lucky they are.

In truth, or after a moment of Googling just what amount of effort goes into getting that job, we realize that no, they’re not lucky—they’ve worked their backsides off to get to that place.

Okay, and yes, they’re lucky.

But more important, we’re lucky.

We get to benefit by tucking up close and drafting off your efforts, positioning ourselves within your slipstream as you push aside the rough winds in front of you. If you do it well enough and deftly, you may be awarded a few plaques or trophies with your name etched across a plate of gold. But those recognitions usually only happen at work. No one is going to erect a statue in your honor for cleaning out the cat litter, but it’s equally important work, and occasionally lives or marriages depend upon it.

I will miss this last past phase of your life, the video chats where you don’t want to chat, but instead simply want some actual parent to be your parental controls on all things technologically distracting. So we both work in silence companionably. Or where you text photos of your meals, or your dress, or your clean laundry, or proof the cat is still alive so that someone can give you a faraway hug of approval for those independent efforts. Those reach-outs will lessen, and I will mourn them. But I’ve cherished them.

Every single one.

So as I’m not prepared to offer you congratulations, maybe the better thing, the more fitting thing, is to say, “Welcome.”

Welcome to the new hallways, the bigger classrooms, the special buses, and to the many lounges that hold some kick-ass club meetings. It’s going to be great. And hard. But mostly great.

Maybe I’m wrong. About the start of it all. Maybe as a little kid the first thing that left an impressionable mark on you was the red clay of Virginia beneath your tiny bare feet, and when you finally glanced up, you recognized the kinship of a sister planet’s soil.

The call was strong, and so are you.

Welcome here, honey.

Make yourself at home.

Love, Mom

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I used to cling to a mantra that encapsulated everything I thought and felt, and was conveniently and succinctly put into three words:

Change equals death.

I know. It sounds … dead on perfect, right? Like I nailed life for nearly all of us, yes?

Except, every time I uttered this phrase and expected to get a high-five from the person listening, I was instead greeted with the fusion of eyebrows. It was like I’d asked each one of them, “Can you make any part of your face look like a caterpillar?”

I don’t say the phrase out loud anymore.

It’s not that I don’t like entomology, but rather, I’m trying much harder these days to embrace change.

Or death.

It could be both.

I’m not sure.

I have been incredibly lucky to have been given a plethora of experiences on this particular go round—this multi-decade drawing in of sustainable breath. Experiences that have allowed me to steep in, or wade in, or dip a toe into the pool of at least three things I have been passionate about thus far:

Music—Writing—Whisky.

(Yeah, yeah, the whole childbearing thing has been grand as well in case the two of you are reading this.)

Moving from one to another—or even doing two simultaneously—has proven to leave me with heart palpitations that prove I can be a pretty fearful person. Or that I’m housing a really large tapeworm.

But it can be hard to give oneself permission to explore and be curious.

Being a grownup requires discipline.

And a huge sense of humor when catching a reflection of yourself when stepping out the shower.

But mostly it requires the understanding of multisyllabic words like: Timeliness. Efficiency. Quality. Obstructionism. And all these things—when done in concert and with proficiency—can produce the thing most folks are seeking:

Payoff.

Now, defining what a payoff means to any one individual may fall on a wide spectrum of meaning and significance.

In the past I have assigned it to mean something that will end up paying the electricity bill.

But sometimes we need to feed meters in other areas. It’s so easy to dismiss the importance of learning something new because effortful thinking can be … well, effortful. And who truly likes to have sweat leaking out their ears? But paying the brain bill is crucial. And especially worthwhile after the reward of newfound knowledge and skill bathes you in a golden glow of self-congratulations.

It just feels damn good to get smarter.

It’s happened to me at least twice.

Once when I figured out that there was a filter in my vacuum cleaner. And the second time when I figured out that it was a waste of time to vacuum.

Other things that have paid off for me during the last few months?

Naps, fresh air, walks.

Yes, I’ve found the answer to life is to live like my dog.

A dog that can drive, and read, and open a bottle of wine—true—an unusual breed, but every day that puddle of sun on the wooden floor is increasingly comfortable, and I’ve gotten used to peeing outside at the edge of the woods.

I’m only kidding.

I never go as far as the edge of the woods.

There are the other myriad bits of horse sense that every day grow to sound more reasonable—I wouldn’t call them aha moments but rather duh moments of realization.

Anger is a waste of time.

Righteousness is a waste of breath.

Tantrums look awful from a 71 year old civil servant.

I think you all know where I’m going with this one. Nearly all of us survived a year where it felt like our country was thrown into a giant Yahtzee cup, shaken until our teeth began to rattle and then tossed out onto some new horrific cardboard landscape in the 2017 version of Life.

And I mean nearly because thankfully Hasbro has decided that this year’s version would be updated with a space that says, “If you have shamelessly behaved in any lewd and licentious way, the rest of the players are free to vote you straight off the island.” So yes, the dominoes are falling in a sweetly satisfying design of their own making.

Enough with the game metaphors.

My point is, we’re surviving.

But is surviving enough?

Sometimes it feels enduring is all one can do when surrounded by an unhinged political circus that has the annoyance factor and efficacy of a fruit fly convention. (Dear God, may it have the lifespan of one as well.)

Maybe we all just need to remember that if we put out one overly-ripe and near to rotting piece of fruit all those vexatious pests will make a beeline straight for the cesspool (or cesshouse or cesshole) and feast themselves to death while the rest of us get on with work in a gadfly free zone.

And maybe that work means making some changes so that we can ALL continue to keep the American dream alive—the one where we’re encouraged to see just how much of a difference we can make on this planet by discovering our talents and skills. A chance to see just how far we can push the limits on the human experience.

So maybe change doesn’t equal death always. Maybe, I will have to consider that if I stubbornly set my talons deep into the earth where I now stand, I will deserve getting flattened by the giant 64 wheeler flying down the highway and coming straight at me.

Sometimes it only takes a few steps to the left or right, just enough to get out of the way of your own demise.

Just follow the chicken.

What I’ve come to understand this last year is that change is actually a choice. And choice is a freedom. And none of us should ignorantly pass up the opportunity to exercise our freedom. In a world where more and more of us are being stripped of our liberties by those who are in power, it becomes easier to see that the phrase Change equals death should be altered to Change equals fear.

This makes a lot more sense when trying to parse what’s happening around our globe.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

We have a choice. So let’s make a change while we still can.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Bones: Taking Stock of Life

It’s the end of the year. Time to take stock. And time to make stock, as my freezer is chock a block full of the bones of birds who’ve been spatchcocked and roasted to perfection, and of deer who have unfortunately wandered to close to a tree stand.

I’m grateful. Amazed. And exhausted.

Grateful in that twelve months have passed and not one of them has slipped by unnoticed as it spreads itself out on a buffet table full of things that taste sweet or bitter or rancid or divine. I believe in a well-balanced life just as much as a diversified diet. Nothing can quite put one’s perspective into sharp focus as much as having the two ends of life’s emotional spectrum—joy and sorrow—battle each other daily like the climax of a Marvel superhero film.

I’d never wish for a life that was as supine as a flatlining monitor, but this year, both my brain waves and heartbeat have tested the vertical space allotted them. I wouldn’t mind tweaking the master switch just a tad so that the next 365 days might not have quite so much ear-splitting, heart-wrenching feedback.

Amazed because one can go through a year of peaks and valleys (or as I like to refer to it in whisky terminology—glens and bens) and still come through the other side not only thankful for another day to draw breath, but indebted to life with a capital L for an additional chapter in the rulebook of survival and longevity.

Shock therapy—not in the literal sense, but rather a sharp realization after the fact—can be crisply defined and utilized by simply asking the question: So how much did this really matter?

My answers have spanned the gamut of So much more than you thought it would to Meh, it’s only money.

The point is, without truly delving into that question, you carry a lot of weight around that serves no purpose other than to stress your aching joints and increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. I’m learning that instead of my usual daily mantra of Never, never, never give up, I might be better served by trying a few How quickly can I kick this one to the curb?

Of course, millions of women around the world are now having to change their calming daily incantations to Wake up, kick sexual harassment’s ass, repeat.

And lastly, exhausted from all of the above. But let me be clear; it is not burnout.

Life is full of failure, and I get that. I get to taste from that big soup spoon frequently and sometimes unceasingly—especially since I’ve taken on Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to do something every day that scares me.

In fact, that prescription has forced me into the prickly awareness that I’m growing comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And discomfort can be taxing. It can plaster you to a prostrate position by the end of the day–sometimes from the work that requires effortful patience and tenacity but sometimes like the flick of a switch with the speed and tonnage of a freight train.

Samey samey. You’re either deflated or razed. But in the wee small hours of the morning you’re pretty much a puddle.

I’m a very omni-directional sort of person. When coming to the end of the year, I like to look back. I like to see where I’ve been, how I’ve changed, and how many bodies are littering the ground behind me.

I like to look forward. To see how far I’ve yet to go, how much grit I’ll have to muster up, and whether the tread on my shoes are up to the task in front of them.

And I like to look outward. Outward because—and this is a little meta so hear me through—it helps me see inward. I think you can’t really answer that question above—So how much did this really matter?—unless you can pull back the lens and get a bird’s eye view. 30,000 feet gives you broad objectivity. From this frame of reference, the roots of the Tree of Life you tripped on grow blurry with the landscape.

What sticks out are the things you built.

The work you thought important. The relationships you believed were relevant. The foundation you’ve chosen to stand upon.

Your attitude of interpretation.

I hate to be preachy. It makes me my own teeth itch. But the end of the year always finds me channeling my inner Glinda the Good Witch with her saccharine life coaching. Obviously, she’s been dying to come out periodically but just like the Elf on the Shelf, she’s usually boxed up until the month of December when my whole house becomes the set for a Hallmark Christmas romance movie.

Plus, with so many family feasts and holiday gatherings, liquor is in abundance. And with the first sip of spirit comes the unleashing of all those pent up, stuffed down wistful musings I try to keep a lid on because I actually like my teeth and don’t want anyone to remove them when their fist accidentally bumps into my face because they just can’t stomach me anymore.

So I go back to making stock. Bone broth is simply life in liquid form. It’s nourishing. It’s healing. It’s soul sustaining.

Make enough of it to buoy you through the next twelve months. There’s magic in that elixir. It is full of life from the past … and for your future.

Happy New Year everyone,

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

 

Straighten Up and Fly Right

Today, Peakers, I’m posting an article I wrote for an online magazine called Dear Teen Me, where authors pen their teenage self a note from the future. An exercise in memory, humor, advice and forgiveness, writing a letter to your former self is a worthy task and a labor of love.

Also, a shock of realization regarding your naiveté with savvy hairstyles.

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Dear Shelley,

Buckle up. I mean it. Your life is going to be like a long, long ride in a SIAI Marchetti aircraft doing countless aerobatic maneuvers until you toss your cookies across the glass-roofed ceiling and finally land. Then you’re going to scrape all that Keebler off the canopy and get back up there.

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And if you’re having a hard time imagining what it’s going to be like in that Marchetti, picture the Blue Angels, or the Thunderbirds mid-show. Picture speed, panic, and an occasional loss of equilibrium.

And then realize that your answer to all those hair-raising, stomach-churning, lunch losing flights is to learn how to fly the damn aircraft yourself.

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I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking we’re an idiot, right? Well, we are and we aren’t.

We’re an idiot for letting so much scare the hell out of us, but we’re not too duff in the brave department. It nearly evens out.

There’s so much I could tell you right now—warn you about, but I’m thinking if I do that, we might have ourselves a Back to the Future situation here where I could end up altering the past. And I’m not willing to risk that.

I know what you want to hear. Did you get the guy? Is your name in lights? Did all those wishes you made on candles, eyelashes, and falling stars come true?

Sorry. I’m not going to tell you that. Even though it would be tremendously easy for me to do so. Why not? Because you like surprises. And because life would hold no magic if I let you read the end of the book.

Do you remember that one time when you were eleven or twelve and finally got the new hardcover everyone was talking about in school, and everyone was nearly finished with it and you were so behind you jumped to the end so that you could at least talk about the ending with everyone else the next day? Do you remember how it made you feel?

Empty.

The book meant nothing to you. You found out the plot, but you missed the whole point. Yeah, it totally sucked and I’m not going to do that to you. I want you full of wonder. Because wonder is the thing that motivates the hell out of you. But you already know this. I’m not spoiling anything here.

So what might be the point of this letter? Why write to you in the first place? The answer is such a simple thing—such a tiny message, but it might have a big impact. This letter is nothing more than a request. I want you to make a habit of carrying around a small plastic bag in your pocket. Think of yourself more like a Girl Scout. I want you a teensy bit more prepared. Prepared for those “I’m so scared I could toss my cookies” moments. I want to at least eliminate the fear of having a “visual burp” where you can’t get rid of the evidence within the amount of time it takes to tie your shoe, or swat a fly, or download a song from iTunes when you’ve got unbelievable Wi-Fi coverage and computational speed. Okay—ditch that last reference because you’ve got no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

It doesn’t matter.

But because we carry fear around in our invisible backpack of ‘can’t leave home without them’ obstacles, it’s best you just stop trying to overcome it or destroy it and maybe just embrace it.

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I’m not saying the two of you have to become best friends, but you are both riding on the same bus and you’d better find a few things to talk about in order to pass the time. It’ll be so much easier this way.

Get to know this fear entity as quickly as you can. Explore it, like the dark side of the moon people write songs and poetry about. It’s really not such a mystery, more like a family member no one wants hanging around when the shit hits the fan. Fear is one of those things that ends up getting in the way of solving a problem when you really wish it would grab a bucket of water and start helping to put out the fire. Fear is the person who screams, “MY BABY!” instead of wrestling the longest ladder she can find off the fire truck and slamming it up against the house beneath the nursery window.

It doesn’t have to be all panic and suffering. It can be more like accomplishment with a little sprinkling of panic and suffering.

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Think of fear as a seasoning like salt and pepper. You can live without them, but ask anyone who’s on a low sodium diet what they think of their dish and the first thing out of their mouth is going to be about how bland everything tastes.

So, here’s my definition of fear: not necessary, but greatly needed in order to provide life the depth and breadth of its true dimensions.

I promise I’m not just blowing smoke out of my pie hole for fun. At forty-five, we’ve had enough experience with the annoying companion to qualify as a crackerjack connoisseur on the subject. Trust me. Just roll with it.

And don’t forget the plastic bag.

Lastly, just so we don’t waste time with the whole ‘get your debut book out there quicker’ issue, I’m attaching the manuscript of a little book I wrote which I think might do well. It’s a tale about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard.

Love,

Shelley

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*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Today, he’s posting a sketch that BELONGS in DEAR OPL!

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.

 

 

Who Do You Think YOU Are?

Now that we’ve all gotten through that first (and some might say unbearable) month of the year, it’s a grand (and some might say painful) time to take a quick looksee backward to collect a few points of data.

I call this month the time of RECALIBRATION because with all the frenzied excitement of December’s last week, which is stuffed full of well-meaning (some might say drunken) promises we nearly tattooed to our skin with the bulldozer determination of rebranding ourselves into the new shinier 2015 version, it can get overwhelming.

Some might say paralyzing.

I see no need for any of us to shrink away from our former selves, or the vows we made to our former selves. Like campaign promises, circumstances change: real life slaps us upside the head, supporters who swore they’d have our back are getting crabby because the timeline is too slow, we’ve finally had a moment to sit down and read the fine print, and in some cases, we discover that Lincoln’s historic and exclusive bedroom smells like Lincoln’s socks are still stuffed beneath the bed. All the hype ain’t quite what it was cracked up to be.

So now is a good time to take a deep breath and practice this phrase:

I used to be …

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NO GUILT!

‘I used to be’ can be just as cleansing as it is clarifying. For example, I used to be determined to rid myself of the seasonal Jack Frost Flab until Polly Polar Vortex burst through the door and hollered hello.

I have changed my mind. I am now simply always on the ball with early winter prep.

Another illustration might be, I used to be resolute in my goal to sing a duet with Frank Sinatra, but then he died.

I never gave up on this goal, I just came to realize it is doubly difficult to sing two part harmony with a corpse.

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There are myriad examples that may be just as revealing, but a little less disheartening like:  I used to be young, but now I am … not as young.

But each day that has passed has brought something my younger self did not have:

EXPERIENCE.

Hard won, effortful, exhausting, mind-numbing, hair-curling, wouldn’t-trade-most-of-it-for-the-world experience. (Some of it I would trade. Some of it I would pay people to erase from my memory and the memory of all the others involved, and then I would be at the mercy of those folks for as long as they would allow me to serve them.)

Or how about: I used to be a student—and go figure—I still am.

I used to be a student in a small classroom, then a large classroom, then on a massive campus. Now I am a student, but one without walls. My math assignments are the bills, the budgets and the taxes. English reports are my books and my blog. History is learned from the library. Science is a rich alchemy occurring all around me—from the stove top to the utility room, from the distilleries I study to the labels in my medicine cabinet. School is ever present, and I will always be a student.

At this point in my life, it’s almost as if behind every door I open, someone is flipping on a light bulb, and a small, but vocal collection of brain cells all join together and belt out a beautiful chorus of an aha moment.

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I pray their efforts don’t diminish. I hope that one day there will be an ongoing work of symphonic status performing up there.

And I implore science to hurry up and double their labors at successfully creating that special pill/implant/gene therapy that will ultimately improve my concentration, increase my memory, and boost my intelligence. I promise to do great things with it. I promise not to hack the financial industry, or mess about in the tech corridors, or commandeer the world’s defense divisions.

I promise. I can assuredly say that I used to be honest is not a phrase I will ever utter.

I really just want the extra brain juice for a few household experiments like figuring out a cost analysis for the most efficacious and least expensive wrinkle creams, or for what speed my make and model of car would consume gas most efficiently, or whether cryonics will be a sound decision for my hound at some point because I cannot imagine finding another animal as perfect for me as he is. And I will wait for whatever cure veterinary medicine doesn’t have available just yet for some ailment he may nearly succumb to in the future.

That’s what I’d use it for.

I promise.

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And how ‘bout this one to leave you with? I used to be afraid to try new things.

I still am. But I never let it stop me. Except when fear equals wisdom. Best not to ignore that little pearl.

Now you look at your life. How many ‘used to bes’ is it filled with?

It takes a significant element of courage and energy to commit to become something. That something that was important to us for a minute, a month, or a lifetime. Identifying your used to be is not a list of your failures.

It is a record of your efforts and accomplishments. It is a sign of movement and momentum. It is a mark of evolution.

~Shelley

(This post was inspired by one of my favorite authors and thinkers: Seth Godin.)

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.

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Unfettered freedom; America’s elbow room.

Tis the week we Americans begin getting a sprightly gleam in our eyes. It could be suggestive of our massive appreciation and gratitude toward our forefathers—the ones who gave their lives for our liberties. Or it may simply be a reflection of all the illegal fireworks we’re setting off in preparation for the big day: the one where we’re supposed to be showing massive appreciation and gratitude toward our forefathers, but end up losing focus due to the overabundance of burgers, beer and bad behavior.

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Therefore, this year I am determined to explore the theme of freedom before my brain becomes befuddled.

Summertime is a season where typically we are encouraged by the onslaught of complimentary commercials to enjoy the hot, sunny days and wear the attitude of one who is footloose and fancy-free. And I think that works brilliantly if you have a trust fund and are allowed free rein with someone else’s credit cards. Sadly, this is not the case for most of us.

If you are a regular Joe, with a “regular Joe” debt, any day that you are offered a free lunch, or a free ride, or heck, even a Freemason, you’ll likely feel some appreciation—especially if  you’re hoping to understand anything Dan Brown has written.

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So although we attempt to conjure up a free spirit on our off hours and break free from the hectic work week mentality, it can be challenging to toss off the shackles that bind us and view our good fortune.

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I’m trying to encourage this holiday of independence to become as meaningful as I can possibly make it. One needs only read the headlines or hear the top of the hour news to gain crisp perspective on how fortunate many of us are—irrelevant to the number of dollars, pounds or shekels we have in our respective bank accounts. A good number of us are granted the license of self-government—to an extent. Wear what you want to wear, say what you want to say, love whom you want to love. These are prime examples in our culture of where we are encouraged to think and act freely. And folks make an impressive practice of it.

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Unfortunately, not many follow through with an all important end clause: think and act freely, and then pick up all the garbage that may have been the result of your thinking and acting freely. That’s the hard part. Because as I see it, sometimes the privileges we’ve come to bank on crumble, and from then on it’s a slow, tortuous game of pass the buck in search of a clean-up crew. You can ascribe these words to politics, to education, and even to something as trivial as whomever chose the “meh” food, horrific service, and over-priced restaurant you all dined at last night.

As I sit in wonder this week, hearing the pop and crack of homemade bottle rockets, cherry bombs and Roman candles, and as I gaze with awe watching the professionals set off specialty fireworks–particularly, certain explosions that leave me wondering how anyone was able to make a massive Bundt cake appear in the sky, I want to evoke my many definitions of the concept of independence.

Self-reliance falls under that umbrella. Realizing that yes, maybe for much of your life someone else is in the driver’s seat, but understanding that at any point you are allowed to ask your chauffeur to pull over and let you drive, let you out, or let you toss your cookies on the side of the road before you continue on. And all free from guilt. You are more than capable of deciding your own compass heading.

Self-determination is another idea I gravitate toward, as well as the easily linked word autonomy. The world is full of people with ideas. Some are masterful and well-thought out, some are sparked ‘in the moment’ by inspiration, and some are bound together within the pages of The Darwin Awards—a wonderful series of books that salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.

My point is, is that it takes courage to strike out. It takes confidence and pluck and a bold arrogance that you are right. And sometimes, all it takes is an excess of liquor.

If there is one thing in particular that I will focus on during the celebration of this country’s independence, it will be bravery. Robert Anthony is quoted as saying, “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.” It’s clear that history is rife with examples of those who chose to liberate themselves from an incompatible life. They faced a daunting task. And it took grit.

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Freedom is not free. It comes with a price. And I believe that the higher the price you pay for something the dearer it becomes to you.

This is not a free ride, it is not a free-for-all, and we are certainly not home free. There are people who need our strength, children who need our voices, and causes that need our leadership.

Stand up and fight. Like those before you.

I want to see you be brave.

~Shelley

(And for your viewing and listening pleasure, watch this vid and get motivated!)

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. Click on June 30th 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.

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And I quote …

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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I pay attention to words. As a writer, I am encouraged to scrutinize my words — and everyone else’s.

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And I have been known to give voice to animals, insects and inanimate objects purely because I am convinced they are trying to communicate. I will be their translator.

Oftentimes, it’s like converting African Khoisan clicking into Klingon and sprinkling it with a bit of Dothraki and Pig Latin. Yeah, that hodgepodge is probably not going to catch on.

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Even though I have a nerdish penchant for individual words, and when asked for the title of my favorite book, I awkwardly admit it is Roget’s International Thesaurus, the next level up on my scale of linguistic admiration is that of the quote.

I am addicted to adages, transfixed by truisms and wild about witticisms. In my opinion, reading the words that express other people’s wisdom in bite-sized format is an appealing approach to acquiring needed knowledge. The quotes I’m drawn to are powerful pearls of astute insight that have experienced countless retweets in the grand scope of the overall twittering universe we inhabit. Some have taken off like wildfire, a quick strike of a match that hungrily spreads from one combustible source to another, and others are smoldering embers—words that have been around like the coals of a dampened fire in the hearth—ready to be repeatedly brought back to heat-giving life in the morning, yet will continue a slow, hourly seep through the house of many minds.

Look through any bathroom in my house. You’ll find most of the reading material is short and quippy. I don’t encourage anyone to hunker down in there, but if you find it unavoidable, I hope the words invite you to ponder.

I’ve even taken to painting quotes on the walls of bathrooms and bedrooms because they’ve moved me to feel they deserve permanence within my humble abode.

Three quotes I feel worthy of daily reflection are:

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. ~  No one can count the apples in a seed.

Do not follow where the path may lead … go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

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And most importantly,

If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, or hear it with your own ears, don’t invent it with your small mind and share it with your big mouth.

Okay, that last one is just another version of what was drilled in to me as a kid only in the less graceful form—You keep your nose out of other people’s business and they’ll keep their fist of your nose.

It worked for me.

As it is, everywhere I turn seems to sprout yet another worldly proverb or sagacious aphorism. Desperate to memorize these slick and savvy sayings, I’ve taken to writing them with a pen on my skin with the hopes that they’ll remain there long enough for the philosophy to penetrate before the ink departs.

If I went with the more indelible route–and tattooed myself with these many mottoes–I’d be a side show attraction at one of the county fairs. Plus, I’d rather not have small children run from me if I’m filled to the brim with all this wordy wisdom and no one to share it with.

I could start a Bookmobile that could rival my massive library system strictly with the number of volumes I possess that are only filled with the blunt, but brilliant quotes of others. They are everywhere around me: in my car, by my bedside, scattered across my desk, strapped to the belly of the dog for when we go take a walk and I’m in the mood to chew on a mouthful of metaphysics.

Everywhere.

These quotes are at the bottom of people’s emailed notes, on the first pages of great novels, spray-painted across the arch of a bridge, on the tear sheets of all my calendars, etched onto my bars of soap—that one isn’t the most cunning use of marketing dollars, but oh well, I suppose the point is that the shower is a reflective place.

And of course, I find laudable quotations from the world’s greatest source for anonymous pithiness with a pen: the public bathroom stall.

I’m not fussed where all this acumen comes from, or indignant from Oscar Wilde’s slight that the majority of us will never realize an original idea and only spout those from the cool kids of the past.

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I am prepared to receive the world’s collective enlightenment as it comes and from whichever direction it blows. There are an inordinate number of clever folks out there, adept at stringing together a sentence or two that have touched me to the very core.

I leave you with two last quotes and hope you might have one to share with me. The first I’m guessing might have been the rough draft of a speech somebody in Congress was about to deliver, but then ditched. The second is simply one I would have loved to have penned myself.

We, the unwilling,

led by the unknowing,

are doing the impossible

for the ungrateful.

We have done so much,

for so long,

with so little,

we are now qualified to do anything

with nothing.

And lastly,

Some people are like a slinky … not really good for anything, but you still can’t help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

~Shelley

 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.

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