Goals trounce resolutions

The statistics kings, or as I refer to them- “they”, say that we break 65% of new year’s resolutions.  New Year’s resolutions are designed to be broken, which is why I did not make any.  I can experience failure any time I want, sometimes several times within a day, so I’ll be damned if I am going to court it.  I was not always this way.  I spent much of my 20’s and all of my 30’s on one self-help road or another striving to be better.  Better than what?  Better than me.  It took me 43 years to accept my successes, my mistakes, and the whole package that makes up who I am, taking into account how much I have learned and grown.  With my thirst for learning and new experiences why would I not continue to grow ?  I now revel in some of my imperfections, such as a raunchy sense of humor and blunt honesty.  The world does not have a surplus of those two attributes, so I feel I add something worthwhile to the mix, just as you and your imperfections do.

Year-long promises that usually involve abstaining from a desire/addiction or performing acts that we think are good for us but do not really want to do are set-ups for failure.  One slip and I get to feel like I broke a promise to myself.  No thank you.  I prefer denying myself unhealthy habits and working toward my dreams in bite-sized increments so I can savor each daily, weekly, or even hourly victory.  I was the kid that easily made a candy bar last all day because it made for a better day.  I am not going to wait all year to pat myself on the back for going to the gym 3 times this week.  I see the calorie counter on the treadmill and I earned a candy bar or even a dish of ice cream.  This strategy makes it much more likely that I will return to the gym next week.  If I bury myself in a novel in front of the fireplace instead of going to the gym, I do not let myself off the hook for the rest of the year because I failed.  My discipline frequently lags, but not living up to a goal breeds vigilance the next day.

Another reason resolutions fail is because willpower cannot fix every problem.  Trying harder often equates to increasing frustration as I try to fix things out of my control or slap a band-aid on a problem that needs a tourniquet.  If I concentrate on the short-term goals on the branches of my big dream tree, I can appreciate how all things work together.  If I go to the gym I have more energy and sleep better, improving my cognition so that I work smarter.  Also, my jiggly parts are more perky, gaining me extra spousal squeezes and increased confidence, which ultimately leads to a better love life.  When I eat greens and lean protein I feel lighter and not a bit guilty when I indulge my love of chocolate.  I proved this to myself once again over the holidays because there weren’t any Christmas salads, but there were plenty of desserts.  When I write daily I am a happier person (so my husband says), which makes me more successful in my relationships.  When I read literature, non-fiction, or contemporary fiction, it makes me a better writer.  When I perform detailed research on career options I often discover aspects I was previously oblivious to and it motivates me to spend more time writing and constructing a virtual assistant business.  If I volunteer to work with disabled veterans, I feel better about not contributing to my community with a paying job and exposure to veteran perspectives and characters enhance my writing.  If I meditate and journal today the unemployment blues abate somewhat, which makes it easier for me to take action rather than spending the day on the couch unshowered thinking of how unfair this situation is while the TV drones in the background.  It all works together.  I am not the only one thinking this way, as evidenced by an app at iTunes called Resolutions 2012 which deconstructs resolutions into bite-sized, realistic goals that encourage a person to think about what it will take to meet a wide-sweeping resolution like losing 20 pounds or quitting smoking.  I think the best resolution all of us can strive for is doing something nice for someone else every day.  If that took off I would not need to challenge myself with meditation as often, but wishing for something hardly ever makes it so.

The American lives even more for his goals, for the future, than the European. Life for him is always becoming, never being. 
-Albert Einstein

The Village

Relocating from the city to a village surrounded by apple orchards and woodlands has been a positive experience, for the most part.  The culture is simpler here; a local art revue with centerpieces of apple sculptures, a Celtic Festival, the annual Town & Country fair, and the small building whose only function is as Santa’s house during the three weeks of Old Fashioned Christmas, epitomize our small-town community.  We know our neighbors and everyone except one snotty couple waves to us when we turn onto our street.  If we want to know the happenings around the village, or even if we don’t, Johnny from across the street is a better reporter than those on the evening news, often delivering tabloid-type tidbits such as who drinks too much, who was arrested or picked up by an ambulance, and which relationship just broke up.  He inherited his reporting skills from his dad who will eagerly entertain us with both saucy and factual history dating back forty years.  They are the reason I pull our shades down the moment darkness arrives.  There isn’t anything gossip-worthy happening in our house, but privacy makes for more comfortable evenings.  Thanks to those two and the rest of our slightly less watchful neighbors, I do feel safer here than I ever did in the city where it seemed the primary goal was to avoid eye contact.  They tell me that most people do not lock their doors, but spending my formative years falling asleep to sirens instilled security habits that cannot be overturned.

My husband fits in here more than I do, probably because he grew up surrounded by seven acres of farmland and woods where he and his playmates had free rein.  He adapted instantly, often performing acts of kindness such as snow blowing the neighbors’ driveways simply because there is a foot of snow and they brighten our days with their waves and smiles.  They return the favor, too, showing up if they hear a hammer or power tools and snow blowing our driveway after a morning blizzard.  It is a sweet joy to discover a clean driveway when you are imagining and dreading hours of work during your commute home.  Our next-door neighbor Linda feeds our cat when we go on vacation and baked my husband cookies as a thank you for his thoughtfulness.  I can wander over there with any question or request and she and her husband Don are unfailingly helpful.

The tellers at the bank and clerks at the grocery store, gas station, and video rental recognize me and exchange friendly chit-chat when I am out running errands.  It takes a little longer, but a few minutes are a trivial price for the personalized service and feeling of belonging that they gift me with.  Slowly, but effectively, they are wearing down my unnecessary defenses.

The village has changed since we moved in eleven years ago.  Streetlights were replaced by retro-style lamp posts downtown where our village taxes also paid for brick walkways and benches outside tiny mom and pop shops and restaurants.  A couple of years ago they installed a traffic light by the new energy-efficient high school and a long-time resident opened a hugely popular Mexican restaurant that attracts folks from the city.  I can handle the rate of change here.  This village is my respite with the biggest disruption being the children playing at the park across the road.  I can face the world outside of our village because of the comforting balm of home that I begin to feel when I drive past Potato Joe’s farmer’s market sign which always sports common-sense quotes such as the current, “A clear conscience is usually a sign of a bad memory.”  Makes sense to me.

Chasing Z’s

Sleep is an elusive and unpredictable bitch that switches up the timing of her escape between very late at night and much too early in the morning.  She requires that I court her all day long in order to gain a slim possibility of a rare eight-hour stretch that will leave me feeling like I won the lottery.  At least once a week I see or hear the sleep courtship rules that we have all memorized by now.  The advice to not drink caffeine or exercise late in the evening is like receiving instructions on how to tie my shoes at this point.  The only reason I continue to tune in is my hope for a new fix, just as I continue to read money-saving articles in hopes of something other than the advice to skip $5 lattes.  Note Starbucks’ success and the public’s tendency to follow that advice.

The number of adults that report trouble falling and staying asleep is on the rise, with approximately 17% reporting severe insomnia.  Ironically, as we become increasingly stimulated we are getting less rest.  The primary cause, however, is that the hypothalamus gland begins decreasing production of the human growth hormone associated with deep sleep in one’s early 30’s.  Peak production in the teenage years was responsible for those dreamy days of sleeping well into the afternoon (sigh).  I wonder if it is our body’s way of telling us that the older we get the less time we have to waste.I would love to wage an argument, but have learned that my body does not alter its’ course no matter how valid my debate is. A new study states that 80% of women report feeling too stressed or worried to fall asleep and 30% are now taking sleep aids.  According to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical intelligence agency, nearly double the number of women aged 40 to 59 were prescribed sleep medications than men in the same age group.  Perhaps this “intelligence agency” is somehow sabotaging our hypothalamus so that women do not take over the world…probably not, but that term makes me paranoid nonetheless.  The most prescribed sleep aid is Ambien.  I took Ambien for a year and it was very effective; knocked me out within 5 minutes.  The only side effect I experienced was sleep walking and eating snacks.  Potato chips were my sleep eating choice, but because I loved the deep Ambien slumber I ignored the chip evidence until I was busted.  During a visit my daughter and son-in-law witnessed me walk to the cabinet, grab the chips, and munch away on the couch with my eyes closed.  Of course they were laughing and asking me questions, but it seems my sleeping self was very focused on the chips.  Lucky for all of us, I had heard about the possibility of sleep walking, eating, and even driving, and always slept in pajamas.  I became afraid of what else I may be doing while asleep and night sweats began to make pajamas unbearable, so I weaned myself off Ambien with the help of Benadryl.  My doctor preferred that I try Trazadone over the Benadryl and although it is not nearly as effective as Ambien, it does make me drowsy enough to fall asleep by midnight most nights.  D.H. Lawrence expertly and lovingly described a night-long sleep:  And if tonight my soul may find her peace in sleep, and sink in good oblivion, and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.  Good night.

The value of a good bartender

There is a tavern on the shores of Bois Blanc Island, Michigan that feels like home.  Barb’s Boblo Tavern is a meeting place for island folks where I can hear the surf of
Lake Huron and drinking is not required, but encouraged.  What are island folks?  Well, the island is a different sort of place and likewise attracts many of the uncommon characters in my novel life story.  There are year-rounders, usually about 60 of them, which live and work on the island and travel to the mainland over an ice bridge in the winter.  There are the seasonal islanders, most of which can tell you stories about their ancestor’s primitve adventures on the island.  Looking for a unique perspective?  Head over to Barb’s and I guarantee you will find one that has nothing to do with your rung on the income ladder and everything to do with your philosophy.  There are more interesting stories to be told within this small population than there are bar hours to hear them, many rich with the history of the island which was opened to settlers in 1884 .  The seclusion from mainstream America lends itself to conversations that simply are not heard in polite company (the best kind), yet people have no problem bringing their kids to the tavern for dinner and a game of pool or shuffleboard.  We all just try to limit the cussing when kids are there.

Barb Schlund, the owner of the Boblo Tavern, has created a comfortable place where someone will offer to drive you to your cabin if they see you have imbibed too much and are unlikely to keep your truck between the trees, and new visitors are welcomed like old friends, at least until they prove themselves non-island material by asking, “what is there to do here?”.  There is no sense in making friends with them because they will not be back.  What there is to do is evident to islanders that appreciate the over 30 square miles of undeveloped forest and dirt roads, many of which are only tracks, and it is not shopping.  Our friend, Dan Reynolds, is a singer/songwriter who also plays the guitar and created a CD of island songs titled This Ain’t the Mainland.    My favorite is “Ring that bell”,  a ditty about a red bell in the tavern that sports a sign “Ring the bell, buy the house a round”.  We are fortunate that Dan is a true islander that plays at the tavern without charging us a dime, because he loves being a part of the fabric of Bois Blanc.  Even if he became famous, he would still play at Barb’s and graciously take requests from drunkards that sometimes ask him to play The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald more than once in an evening (sorry, Dan).

My husband and I have been the only islanders in the tavern and have been two in a crowd of dozens, yet received the same excellent service from a team of bartenders that somehow maintain a laid-back friendly demeanor even when rushing to insure no one runs dry and the food is delivered hot and timely.  Barb is a demanding boss whose
team of bartenders says they love their work because they love her and because she works as hard, if not harder, than they do.  From the expansive menu to the anything-but-weak drinks, her attention to detail is as obvious as her desire to provide her patrons with a clean, inviting place to swap stories.  This past Saturday we, along with approximately forty other people, watched the Michigan State versus Michigan NCAA football game at the Boblo tavern.  Barb and Jen fed us while keeping our drinks full, all without breaking a sweat.  They even visited with many, not out of a sense of good business, but just because they seem to genuinely like their customers.  Barb and her team have taught me that the value of a good bartender reaches far beyond serving drinks, into the familiar ground of caring.  A simple gesture – Barb giving me her bar stool earlier this summer when the bar was packed and standing room only – is only one of many that have led me to love Barb, Jen, Courtney, Tom, and Lani, the most talented, fun-loving, and genuine bartenders/island folks I have ever met. 

ArtPrize 2011 Revisited

With over 1,500 pieces, ArtPrize 2011 lured me in for another look.  This time I took my husband who is quite evolved for a Michigan outdoorsman, although not appreciative of the more abstract art forms, the pieces that you cannot exactly say what it is because it is something different to each viewer.  So I plied him with a tasty lunch and a microbrew before we looked and then topped off our outing with one for the road at an Irish pub in Downtown Grand Rapids.  Included in this post are a few more photos of some of the pieces we admired.

Now that the top ten have been chosen by voters throughout the community the art critics are complaining about some of the “amateurish” pieces and the entire voting process.  How could common folk who have not been formally trained possibly know which are the best pieces?  ArtPrize  is advertised as a social experiment designed to promote connections between artists and the community (common folk) and inspire creative conversations.  What I observed was families with children and classes of schoolchildren viewing the art downtown.  Many of the people dressed in jeans and t-shirts and the price to get in to view the art was zilch.  ArtPrize made art accessible, which is what most deserves an award.  Kudos to Rick DeVos, the founder of ArtPrize, for his response to the critics’ assertion that ArtPrize lacks credibility in the art community, “I just want to see crazy crap all over Grand Rapids, and I think we’ve achieved that,” DeVos said. “The goal is not to find better art through voting. It’s not better art through democracy.  The prize and the voting are really just mechanisms. It comes back to building a creative culture in West Michigan.”

Dinner anyone?

Rachael Ray asks the guests on her daytime TV show 3 random questions designed to let the viewer know the celebrity a bit (because they are always unflinchingly honest during a talk show interview).  She asked Sarah Michelle Geller, “If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?”  Ms. Geller responded “Jackie Kennedy Onassis” to which the crowd “ooohhed” and Rachael complimented “good choice”.

I have heard this question before and enjoy hearing the wide variety of answers and reasons why.  Some people feel the weight of it and take a long time to decide, while others quickly answer something like, “Brad Pitt, hands down”.  One of the most popular answers is Jesus; so many people are dying to meet Jesus.  I anticipate a moment beyond the greatest joy I can imagine when I meet my Lord, but I have a gut feeling that it is best to wait until my reservation is called.

As a toddler, I lived with my Mom’s Mom for a while until she died when I was five.  To
people who knew Evelyn she was a strong woman with firm opinions rooted in Christianity and traditional values.  Everyone agrees on that and her tendency to hand out harsh criticism.  I would not say I was spoiled, but I was certainly doted on by my Grandmother and she took wonderful care of me.  I recall much of my time with her and have no mean memories, except when she sent me to bed at 7pm., which seemed malicious at the time.  She went to bed an hour later and got up early to go to work as a housekeeper, so obviously my perspective has changed.  We were fortunate that my
Grandmother’s sister saved a paper she wrote for a 12th grade oration where she spoke about World Peace and won third place.  In this paper my Grandma’s idealism shines
forth as only a young woman’s can, calling for men to love their countrymen and
put an end to war forever.  She talks of Christianity and acknowledges that not all Christians are peacemakers, but all peacemakers are Christians.  I have always doubted the assessments of people who knew her because my experience was
with a loving Grandmother who may have sternly insisted I keep my head still
when she put in ponytails, but looked the other way when I snuck Hershey bars
from the kitchen cabinet.  Her oration paper made me realize that she was much more than the stern first-born child of Rose and Charles, more than the judge of my mother’s young pregnancy, and more than my Grandma.  I think she was likely a complicated woman who may have been bashed about by those strong ideals, but held on nonetheless to what she believed was right.  I would love to have dinner with her and get to know her better.  I think we might have a lot in common and I would like her.