Monday, September 29, 2008

A Whole Latte Luxury

“The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond” ~ Edward McDonagh

The cars sitting outside Starbucks this morning: new Mercedes, BMW convertible, Nissan Z, Hummer H2, Audi, Corvette ... and J's old Ford pickup that I decided to drive today.

Let's consider the "Latte Factor" here -- even if I saved the six bucks I spent at Starbucks this morning and stashed it in a high-interest account over the course of my lifetime, not really sure I'd ever reach the caliber of the other vehicles in the parking lot.

But would I even want to?* Sure, expensive cars are beautiful in their own right. J and I are looking to buy a new SUV in the near future, so we test drove a completely decked out Yukon Denali last month -- it's okay to dream. Because everyone is desperate to sell SUVs right now, the dealership let us take it home for the weekend. After crunching the numbers we had no real intention of purchasing it, but we thought what the heck, let's take the darling home.

I melted into the ebony leather seats, cruising around with the sun roof open, the satellite radio blasting some funky urban jazz. It winked at me from the driveway every time I looked out the window. It purred as I ran my hand down it's Birch Metallic and chrome body. I felt dirty driving it, and it's overzealous V8 roared as I accelerated at stoplights, turning heads. That's right boys, look at me.

So ruggedly sexy, I thought. But that annoying little voice inside my head began to buzz and reality (eventually) set in. No, I don't really need fancy GPS, heated leather seats, third row seating, DVD player and $55k worth of gas-guzzling bells and whistles. I just need something to haul the dogs, future kids and flowers from Home Depot.

But it sure is nice to dream.

*Kudos to those of you who are able to have expensive things. Adopt me. Seriously.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Finding Purpose

"One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have whole-hearted enthusiasm. One needs to feel that one's life has meaning, that one is needed in this world." ~ Hannah Senesh

To finish my thoughts from last weekend on life, loss and finding purpose, the drive back from the funeral last Friday was a long and quiet one as I tried to turn over every rock of life in my head.

I slept little, clutching J tightly in an effort to find comfort. I had a charity 5k for a friend of mine Saturday morning. I awoke before the sun, drove an hour and a half to Fort Worth, and began to realize life's full potential.

I arrived at the walk early so I u-turned and stopped by a Starbucks I had seen along the way. I usually will not go anywhere in public wearing cotton stretch pants but decided life was too short to worry about it. Eight dollars later I was back on the road and parked at the walk.

I called a few of my teammates to see if anyone else had yet arrived. I decided not to cower in the parking lot and walked by myself down the road to the registration tents and starting line. There I ran into an old friend of mine Panda, who I hadn't seen since her horrific car accident two years prior. I can't believe I hadn't made the effort to see how she'd been since then. We talked until our other teammates arrived, all of which I either knew -- or should have known -- in high school and have kept in touch with over the years.

Our team captain was our inspiration. Last year the bouncy blonde was diagnosed with kidney disease and, since the medications aren't working, it looks as if she'll need a kidney transplant in the very near future. We're hoping her younger sister's a match. It was so great to see her. She looked well but tired, and genuinely happy that we were all there to be with her. At the end of the day, her biggest fear isn't her failing kidney -- it's the thought of not being able to have another child. But she smiles through it, knowing that whatever's supposed to happen will.

As I stood amongst our team, catching up with old friends, and as I stood amongst the other participants, all running for their inspirations in the fight against kidney disease, I felt something wash over me. As I looked around, I realized that this was the feeling I've been missing. The need and want to help people. To be there for people. To connect deeply with people. To be needed by people.

I have a bad habit of putting things off, of breaking commitments -- whether to myself or others. Here I've been worried about not accomplishing my dreams in life when all I've really been doing is wasting time. Thinking instead of reacting. Shying away from situations that may be a little uncomfortable when it could be an opportunity to connect with someone or something. Sure, it seems like the same old "live life to the fullest" crap -- but it's the feeling that's different.

After the walk we all went to lunch and sat for two hours chatting, laughing, sharing. We talked about plans for the annual Christmas party that Curly throws at his lake house -- which I've always had an excuse out of because I couldn't find the perfect dress to wear or because I wasn't in the mood to mingle. Not this year. This year I'll be there with bells on. It'll be me in the photos slinging back martinis and dancing with the Christmas tree.

I sat there listening to everyone, realizing how much we've grown since high school years ago -- but also realizing how much we're still the same. It made me think about who else in my life I enjoy having around but have lost contact with. I'm horrible with returning phone calls, so the list grew larger in my mind.

When it was time to go, I was so internally happy. Happy that we were all able to support our team captain and old friend. Happy that our small team was able to raise $1,400 to support the National Kidney Foundation. Happy that I was able to spend time with everyone and reconnect. Happy that I didn't waste another Saturday morning just sleeping.

I checked the mail when I got home and I had received another purple and white brochure from Team In Training, supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I've wanted to complete a marathon with them since college, but had always found an excuse away from it. I checked the box for an informational meeting and set it with the stack of bills to be mailed.

I awoke early Sunday morning, which is a huge feat for me to awaken before 10 any day of the week. But imagine how much more I could accomplish in my day if I got up two or three hours earlier? I poked sleeping J in the stomach and uttered music to his ears: "Take me fishing." He was up in a flash and we stopped by Taco Cabana for a breakfast burrito, hooked up the boat and headed to Lake Grapevine. We each caught three bass, and it felt so great to be on the lake again. During our move over the summer we didn't get too many chances to fish, so it was great to get back out there and soak up nature. And we needed a little "couples therapy."

My attitude all week has been different. I've gotten up early each day (it's actually not as painful as I thought it would be), accomplished several things around the house I've been putting off, got caught up at work, had lunch with an old neighbor, stopped sweating (most) of the small stuff like J leaving his boots in the living room, and actually stopped to talk to a few of the neighbors instead of ducking into my garage like I normally do. And it's been great.

I know I've rambled on in this post, so if you've made it this far then kudos. It's hard to put what I'm feeling into actual words without the true meaning getting lost, but I had to try -- hence the reason this post comes a little late. I urge everyone to think about something in their life that has become habit -- like me sleeping in every morning or truly giving yourself to others -- and change it. There's no telling what you will accomplish, how the feeling of being needed will strike you, what higher purpose your moments on this earth will serve.

Musings from Starbucks

"He had a fool proof plan for not getting a job -- In the event of an interview, wear flip-flops." ~ Alan Davies

I've been working at Starbucks all morning, just for a change of pace. That, and my cat won't quit chewing on my power cord when I'm working at my desk at home. (That's a story within itself -- someday I'll tell the novel of my bi-polar kitty.)

I've actually gotten a ton accomplished. I'm sure my boss is turning off her blackberry as we speak, not wanting to receive another cheery e-mail from me or PowerPoint to review. She's probably thinking that I'm off my rocker as I hardly ever get anything accomplished on Fridays ... or any day before lunch. Perhaps it was the Diet Coke for breakfast or the Grande White Chocolate Mocha that's got me wired like a caged gerbil on a wheel.

Anyhoo, the characters here this morning are interesting. Surprisingly, I've noticed that more women drive thru while men park and come inside to order. And, the majority of those coming inside are holding an already empty Starbucks cup, which they proudly chunk in the trash and hurriedly jump in line. Talk about a caffeine fix. Mid-day jitters, anyone?

Right now, there's five ladies of various ages sitting at a table next to me. One skinny middle-aged lady is undergoing an interview by the other four plump ladies. She's wearing cropped pants, a sleeveless shirt, open-toed sandals, and more makeup than the Chanel counter at Dillard's. Last I checked, this wasn't the most appropriate attire for a job interview.

But, as I listen closer, neither are her comments. She's interviewing for a job at a pre-school and admitted to leaving her last job as a teacher because she couldn't stand the kids. Interesting. Norah Jones is blasting in here, so I can't catch all of the conversation (and I'm pretty sure they're hoping that the creepy girl in the corner -- that would be me -- would quite staring at them).

An apron-clad barista just came around and passed out free snicker doodle and gingerbread* samples. The ladies giggle and all take one except the interviewee, who sneers and rudely proclaims that she's watching her weight. The four plump women sheepishly set their warm sample down, glance at each other, ask a few more questions and then quickly thank the lady for coming. As the interviewee exits the door, the women indulge themselves and smile.

To dress inappropriately is one thing -- but to make a group of women feel self conscious? Tsk tsk.

*OH. MY. GOD. The gingerbread is AMAZING. Barista lady, come back!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Am Loved, too!

I promise I will finish my post from last time, but first things first. Thanks to Newlywed Central, my blog is loved! *insert applause here* This award means so much to me -- one, that people are actually stopping by to read this thing and two, people (uh, well at least one person) likes what they're reading.

As with all awards, here's the fine print:
  1. Link to the giver.
  2. Nominate up to seven other fab blogs and link to them.
  3. Leave messages announcing their rise to greatness. (Note: You may have been given this already, so that means you are a GREAT blogger.)
So, in an effort to pass the warm fuzzies, here are a list of blogs I enjoy ...
There are many, many more blogs out there that I think are brilliant and funny, so this is just the short list. Check out my "Blogs I Enjoy" section for more. Thanks again, Newlywed, for the award! :-)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Life & Loss

"Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time ... It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other." ~ Leo F. Buscaqlia

This weekend has already been a doozy, and it's not even over yet. Friday, hubby -- who will be called "J" from here on -- and I went to a funeral for his great aunt, who was one of the nicest women I've ever met.

I've been to many funerals, but nothing compares to a small-town funeral. Sitting amongst 150 of her closest friends and family in an outdoor tabernacle in the middle of a green pasture, we listened to story after story of how this courageous 68-year-old woman overcame depression, a life-threatening car accident and brain cancer to make a lasting impact on her church, her family, coworkers, on everyone.

I watched as one of her sons sat quietly with his wife and two children, softly dabbing his eyes with tissue, trying to make it through the service knowing that he hadn't been there when she died. My heart broke for her husband, now suddenly alone after 53 years of marriage. 53 years. I can't begin to fathom the heartache he must be enduring.

J and I held each other, listening to the memories, bowing our heads in prayer. A breeze whispered through the big oak trees, the cows sang their own sympathies, and the butterflies danced around the dozens of colorful flower arrangements that had been sent from friends and family, the local diners, nearly every resident in the town.

After the service, we all met inside the small church to sit and talk about old times, while the ladies of the church prepared lunch -- fried chicken, green beans, homemade biscuits and pies -- for all 150 of us. Packed into a small room, we all sat elbow-to-elbow, and there wasn't a stranger in the place by the time we left hours later.

Sometimes I think we get so caught up in rushing around, that it was nice to actually slow down for awhile, allowing time to contemplate life and loss. When my Granddad died last Christmas, his service was crammed into a thirty minute window at the military cemetery near my home. It wasn't our choice, just how the place handled services. As we left, another family was rushing in to bury their young son who had been killed in Iraq -- it just didn't seem right.

I had more time to think this time. As we left J's great aunt's funeral, I was bombarded with a series of internal questions. What would people say at my funeral? Have I lived my life to the fullest? Am I wasting time? What impact have I made on others? What higher purpose can I serve?

I began to discover a few of those answers Saturday morning ...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When Men Get Curious

“There’s very little advice in men’s magazines, because men don’t think there’s a lot they don’t know. Women do. Women want to learn. Men think, “I know what I’m doing, just show me somebody naked.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld

This morning I caught hubby flipping through my September issue of InStyle magazine that I had left on the kitchen counter. I watched from the hall for a moment before poking fun.

Me: Getting ideas on what to wear today?
Him: [flipping a few more pages while thinking of something to say] I was trying to figure out Uma’s last name [now closing the magazine and pointing to the cover].
Me: You mean Uma Thurman?
Him: Oh … [setting the magazine down] … right, that’s it.
Me: Uh huh, sure.

Maybe he was interested in this year’s Fall fashions, the pictures of beautiful women, or perhaps he truly couldn't remember Uma’s last name. Regardless, his curiosity sometimes is quite entertaining. Like two days ago when he came home early from fishing and found me with a green clay mask on my face.

Him: Eww … what is that?
Me: It’s a clay mask … don’t make me laugh, it hurts.
Him: What does it do?
Me: Makes me pretty.
Him: Can I touch it?
Me: What? No, keep your dirty hands away from my face.
Him: But I want to touch it.
Me: You freak, stay away from me.
Him: Okay, Shrek.

Later that day I found him slathering the clay on his hands.

Me: What are you doing?! You’re wasting it.
Him: I just wanted to try it.
Me: But it’s for your face.
Him: Oh … I thought maybe it would make my hands look less wrinkly.*
Me: You’re a guy, your hands are supposed to be rough and wrinkly. Dork.

*Note: His hands still look the same, so no -- it didn't work. Though, it was fun to watch him not use his hands for ten minutes.

Hopes of (non)Perfection

There's a saying that I run across from time-to-time that says, "If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Sometimes when I hear this I can't help but chuckle to myself. Lately, it seems like I have too much on my plate to handle anything else. But then there are days where I have nothing to do -- and couldn't imagine taking anything on because I like enjoying my downtime.

I have come to realize that I'm one of those who, when faced with a full plate, push it all away and sit like a four year old who refuses to touch their peas. Instead of attempting to accomplish as much as I can to the best of my ability, I sit there, arms crossed, pouting. If I can't do it all and do it all perfectly, then I want nothing to do with it. If I can't make a decision knowing that it's exactly what I want, I'd rather not make one at all.

It's a horrible downfall, but I can't say I wasn't warned. My mother, who bestowed this tid-bit on me awhile back, said that my fourth grade teacher had warned her it could happen. How I was such a perfectionist that, while it labeled me "gifted and talented" in grade school, would one day lead to my demise if I didn't learn that not everything had to be perfect. I spent too much time worrying about if one thing was done perfectly than trying to accomplish more and do it well.

She actually told my mother I would learn the hard lesson for myself in college. She was right.

And now, I'm trying to retrain my way of thinking. I have to. And it's HARD. My rationale disrupts my work day, plays a role in delaying decisions and keeps my mind in disarray. It's the reason I still have a huge box of photos that haven't made it into scrapbooks, why my walls in the house are still white, why I've been searching for weeks for a new pair of brown heels.

And I am by no means saying that I'm perfect. Believe me, I’m not. More like I think things must be perfect, that I must make the perfect decisions -- otherwise I'd rather just not do anything. Maybe it's a fear of failing (but I've been there) or just a fear of someone not liking what I put my heart and soul into.

Sometimes I feel like a Pollock painting -- perfectly chaotic ...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Storm

"Anyone who says they're not afraid at the time of a hurricane is either a fool or a liar, or a little bit of both." ~ Anderson Cooper

Last night, hubby and I sat glued to the television as Hurricane Ike approached the Texas coastline. We watched into the wee hours of the morning, praying that Galveston would still be standing when dawn broke. While the damage is devastating, it's no where near what was expected. Stunning.

It seems Katrina has forever changed America's outlook on Hurricanes. They're no longer just a horrible storm -- they're like a brewing apocalypse unleashed to destroy human life. And I have to wonder why anyone would choose to stay and wait out the storm, which 1,000s decided to do during Ike. Is it pride? A sense of unyielding adventure? Stupidity?

It would be hard to leave my home behind, to know that there may not be a home to return to. But, at the same time, your home means nothing if you're not alive to enjoy it. Rescue workers risk their lives to help those who are stranded -- I would almost feel selfish if I made a decision to stay, only to wind up in a situation where I needed to be rescued.

And I can understand the concern for protecting your things. It's a shame that, in the face of tragedy, looters take and destroy what may have been left behind. I figure there's a place for them in the caverns of hell.

Watching the news now, it's weird to see so many memories washed away. A six hour drive from home, Galveston has always been a great place for a weekend getaway. Year after year, I'd visit the same shops on the Sea Wall, knowing they would all have the same things -- hermit crabs, seashells and t-shirts -- but it was tradition to visit each one. Other memories come to mind -- my older sister being stung by a huge jellyfish, being "attacked" by crabs, learning to surf, seashell hunts with my dad, building sandcastles, watching dolphins from the ferry, stories of mom camping on the beach when she was a little girl ...

It's hard to collect my thoughts -- I can only imagine what it's like for those who live there. I just hope the town heals quickly.

*All photos from Reuters

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Work Relief

Sometimes I think Peter from Office Space had the right idea ...

Joanna: So, where do you work, Peter?

Peter Gibbons: Initech.

Joanna: What do you do there?

Peter Gibbons: I sit in a cubicle and I update bank software for the 2000 switch.

Joanna: What's that?

Peter Gibbons: Well see, they wrote all this bank software, and, uh, to save space, they used two digits instead of four. So, like 98 instead of 1998? Uh ... so I go through these thousands of lines of code and, uh ... it doesn't really matter. I uh ... I don't like my job, and, uh ... I don't think I'm gonna go anymore.

Joanna: You're just not gonna go?

Peter Gibbons: Yeah.

Joanna: Won't you get fired?

Peter Gibbons: I don't know, but I really don't like it, and, uh, I'm not gonna go.

Joanna: So you're gonna quit?

Peter Gibbons: Nah-uh. Not really. Uh ... I'm just gonna stop going.

Joanna: When did you decide all that?

Peter Gibbons: About an hour ago.

Joanna: An hour ago... so you're gonna get another job?

Peter Gibbons: I don't think I'd like another job.

Joanna: Well, what are you going to do about money and bills and ...

Peter Gibbons: You know ... I've never really liked paying bills. I don't think I'm gonna do that, either.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ChapStick Kisses

"Never a lip is curved with pain, that can't be kissed into smile again." ~ Brete Harte

I had another bad dream last night. It wasn't exactly a demons and dragons nightmare like the night before –- in fact, it's hard to remember what it was about exactly, swirling more around real life than fantasy. I awoke a little before 3, tangled in the down comforter, sweating, the little hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. I blinked a couple of times to get my bearings. I'm okay. I'm okay. "I'm okay."

The moonlight cast awkward shadows around the room, and I could make out hubby's silhouette lying next to me. I could hear the dogs rhythmic snoring from their spot underneath the bedroom windows. All the comforts of a peaceful night's slumber, yet I couldn't shake the creepy feeling.

I rolled over and made a long reach for my ChapStick on the nightstand, not wanting to remove myself from the safety of the covers any more than necessary. I began slathering on the lip balm as a soothing defense against whatever eerie feelings were lingering.

Already feeling better, I sense hubby's hand enclose around mine as he asks if I'm okay. "Just a dream," I whisper. Our noses touch as he leans in to kiss my forehead, then cheek, his lips making a last stop softly against mine. "Mmm, ChapStick kisses," he laughs. I smile into the darkness.

It's amazing how it's always the little things that chase away the monsters.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Work. Life. Balance?

"We need to maintain a proper balance in our life by allocating the time we have. There are occasions where saying no is the best time management practice there is." -- Catherine Pulsifer

There's something amiss in a world where eating breakfast at your desk has become the norm. A norm established by longer work hours, less time spent with the husband, baby, puppy each morning. Will eating dinner at the office establish itself as well?

Companies already have started a trend by stashing free drinks, snacks and soups in break rooms, pushing the envelope when the clock ticks to 5. Just one more phone call, draft one more e-mail, consume one more hour. 5 turns to 6. Family dinner's pushed to 7. Or, you simply get a warm plate of scraps in the microwave after dark, left to eat alone, listening to the children get ready for bedtime. A kiss on the forehead for each, one for the spouse and off to bed. Tuck in, roll over, and it's time to do it all over again.

Work creeps into weekends too. Just a Saturday morning, they say. "We'll buy your lunch." Does free lunch really do it justice? Does it make up for missing a trip to the donut shop, helping in the yard, taking your boy to soccer practice?

I'm not a parent, but someday I will be. Someday I'll want work to stay at work, and for all of me to come home and enjoy my family. And I'll want the same for my husband. No begging for a day off to see an ailing grandparent. No skipping lunch with mom because a deadline is looming overhead.

Just work. Life. Separate.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Searching for Inspiration

"I didn't get into design to be an artist. To me, an artist creates things to evoke emotion. Being a designer goes a step further than that, not only trying to evoke emotion but trying to make a reaction." -- Mike Davidson

I recently moved into a new house and have finally got most of the boxes unpacked and put away. Now it's time to tackle the white walls, which are starting to feel a little sterile, a little blah.

But I need help. So I turned to my dear friend Google for some inspiration and found a few "treasures" along the way, including this rad outdoor living room in Miami:

And then I found this chair ... I think it speaks for itself ...

I can imagine having my family over, with everyone playing musical chairs to avoid sitting in this pink, Playboy-like disaster. Moving right along ...

I instantly fell in love with this beautiful, Old World entryway with iron spindle staircase:

And I love checkered flooring ... so chic ... so castle-like ...

The color on the wall is similar to a color I used at our old house ... and hubby made me promise to never use it again. I didn't think it was that girlie. I thought men liked blue?

I'm still searching for the right burst of inspiration to come along -- I admit I have commitment issues when it comes to paint colors ... and furniture selections ... and just about everything else. But maybe, just maybe, this time around will be different.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Have HOAs Gone Mad?

There's a storm brewing in my town that has nothing to do with the looming hurricane. In a neighborhood close to mine, the HOA is dictating what type of vehicle you can keep on your driveway and which must be parked in your garage. (Read the full story here.)

Are you kidding me?

Sure, I would agree to a few limitations: cars propped up on blocks, cars that haven't moved since before your grandma was born, and other typical HOA tacky stuff.

But to actually limit the brand that can be parked on your driveway? Are you kidding me?

First off, we're in Texas. I grew up around the city and drove a small car -- but hubby grew up on a dairy farm and has always owned trucks. Not the fancy-dancy kind, the get-the-job-done-last-forever-Ford-Chevy types. He owns a really nice 4-door F150 now. Sure, we're looking to trade in my car and his truck for a smaller classy-yet-rugged SUV that I can handle better than a truck (I once got his truck stuck in a parking garage in downtown Dallas ... you do the math).

BUT, if anyone ever came to my door and said, "I'm sorry, but your ... ahem ... Ford must be parked in the garage because the neighbors are tired of looking at your ... ahem ... Ford and it's bringing down the value of the neighborhood," I would give the neighbors something to really talk about. (Hmmm, pink flamingos come to mind ...)

How can an HOA regulate what car you drive and park on the driveway? They aren't providing my salary, or feeding my family, or paying my mortgage ... what if I couldn't afford to buy one of the cars on the "list"? (By the way, Chevy Avalanches are on the "good list" -- since when is an Avalanche a luxury vehicle?)

I know our F150 right now barely even fits in our garage, and we have a pretty big house. So, if HOAs are going to start forcing us rednecks to park our unsightly *cringe* Fords in the garage, then pressure the builders to make the garages big enough.

We moved from our last house to get out of the "rat race" of Frisco, where every soccer mom drove a $60k SUV, 13-yr-old kids at the mall carried Coach purses and 16-yr-olds cried in Nordstrom when mommy wouldn't buy them a pair of Uggs (at which mommy would give in because everybody has them) ...

Why the hell is it following us?