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Attitude

So here I am sitting at my mom’s kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee (I gave up Diet Coke for Lent – I’m already having carbonation withdrawals), while I figure out the day’s events. I’m visiting my family in Virginia this week – spending a few days in Roanoke, a day in College Park, MD, and the weekend at The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA (I hope my planned combination of ice-skating and white wine mix well together… ). Anyway, Tuesday night, after I made it in to town in record speed (leaving Atlanta at 11:00 A.M instead of 5:00 P.M really does make a HUGE difference – traffic avoidance: what a positive aspect of the jobless lifestyle!) and my mom and I finished downing margaritas and chicken fajitas at our favorite local Mexican establishment, I hit the fridge looking for something sweet (she is always hiding cookie dough in one of the drawers) to munch on while watching the latest American Idol episode.

The front of the refrigerator looked like it always does – same ole magnets, same ole pictures, a few business cards and some appointment reminders – but right splat in the middle of the door was a piece of paper entitled “Attitude.” It must have been a recent clipping (I’ve mentioned, in previous posts, mine and my mom’s affinity for cutting out quotes, stories, and articles from newspapers and magazines), for I hadn’t noticed it at Christmas. It took less than a minute to read but had a profound impact on my perception of “attitude,” and I’d like to share Charles Swindoll’s words with you. Grab your cookie dough (I’d share that with you as well, but my mom and I polished it off last night while doing our taxes – sorry!) and learn to embrace the positivity in life.

Attitude

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important that facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

—Charles Swindoll

One of Japan’s most read and best-loved authors, Kenji Miyazawa, once said: “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” I am unfamiliar with many of Miyazawa’s works, but his quote resonates in my soul, and I am sure many of you will remark its relevance in your own lives. Each one of us is fighting our own battles – at war with people, ideals, thoughts, diseases, our own minds, etc. At any one moment, we are working to overcome various adversities in our lives so we can hopefully discover, at the very least, contentment, and at the very most, pure and utter happiness.

To say that the road to happiness is “difficult” is an understatement. It is full of perils, unexpected obstacles, and, sometimes, lessons you were hoping you never had to learn. But what is a journey without all of these obstacles? Well, I would argue, it’s not a “journey” at all. Yes, in the literal sense, a journey is an “act of traveling from one place to another” (thank you Merriam-Webster), but in the mental, physical, and emotional sense, a journey isn’t just another word for “trip.” The dictionary forgets to mention the hard work, perseverance, despair, heartache, sadness, accomplishment, and every other emotion in the realm of possibilities when it belittles the word to its simple one-to-two-line(s) definition. Getting from the defined “one place to another” isn’t easy, and we have to come to terms with all of the physical and emotional roadblocks along the way. But as painful as the journey can be, if we embrace the pain and we use it for fuel, we can keep on going – keep on chugging along no matter the pace.

We are constantly journeying through life in an effort to follow our dreams; at times along the way, we’ll take two steps back, and other times, we will have leaped ahead three. What’s important is remembering that the journey is where we find out who we are – where we realize the fight we have within us and the will to never give up. What kind of life is worth living if you are always walking through the raindrops? What sense of accomplishment do you glean from being handed your goal – from never having to work to achieve your dreams? Embrace the individual rain that pours down on each of you – the rain that drenches your perfectly planned life journey – and just get wet once in a while. See the adversity. Relish in the disappointment. Really feel the heartache. Envelop yourself in the pain. Then try and overcome it – burn it as fuel – the victory will taste that much sweeter, and the journey will mean that much more.

In the end, the destination is not really the reward…

I recently began reading Too Soon to Say Goodbye – the last book Pulitzer Prize winning humorist and columnist, Art Buchwald, wrote shortly before he passed away. Buchwald, known as the “Whit of Washington,”spent 4 decades chronicling and satirizing the Washington political scene, and, at one time, his syndicated column appeared in more than 500 newspapers worldwide. At age 80, Buchwald had part of his leg and foot amputated due to blood clots and learned his already failing kidneys were totally failing. He began extensive and lengthy kidney dialysis, but after trying dialysis 12 times, he decided to throw in the towel. He no longer saw “a future in this” and didn’t “want to do it anymore!” Stopping the dialysis was, in a sense, signing his own death certificate, but in February 2006, Buchwald proceeded with checking himself into a hospice with the offshoot chance he would survive for about three weeks.

His three planned weeks turned into 5 unplanned months and “the man who wouldn’t die” was able to coin his last book and move back home to die on his “own terms.” Too Soon to Say Goodbye gives us an intimate look into Buchwald’s life and allows us to experience his hospice care and impending death with grace, dignity, and humility. I am only a few chapters in, but I can already tell what a special, inspirational person Art Buchwald is from just reading the first chapter. While essentially waiting to die, Buchwald still says of hospice care: “In case you’re wondering, I’m having a swell time – the best time of my life.” Buchwald is able to face death with joy and humor, and he reminds all of us to live life to the fullest and be grateful for every day we have. I hope his words will help to put your life in perspective and encourage you to find the humor in even the worst of situations. I’ve always believed that no matter how sad or bad you feel – if you can laugh – you will make it. I am so pleased to discover that real-life hero, Art Buchwald, feels the same way. 🙂

First chapter from Too Soon to Say Goodbye – entitled On Standby for Heaven:

“I am in a hospice and I have this recurring dream. I am at Dulles airport and I have a reservation to go to heaven. I go into the terminal and look at the list of flights. Heaven is at the last gate.

I don’t know if they have reading material on the plane, so I stop at the magazine stand and pick up “Vanity Fair,” “The New Yorker,” and “Playboy.” I also buy a package of gum and some M&M’s. Then I head toward security.

I have bought my ticket, which says, “When you go to heaven, you need only one bag, but do not include a cigarette lighter or sharp scissors.” I stand in line for hours. I didn’t realize how many people were on the same flights.

I run into several friends, and I am surprised to see them. They hadn’t mentioned they were going too. In my dream several of them are younger than I am, and I know two who were smokers.

I finally get to the security gate, holding on to my bag for dear life.

The agent says, “You don’t have to bring your computer with you. They have them up there.”

“I say to the agent, “I want to hold on to my bag because I don’t want you people to lose it.”

Then they make me take off my jacket, my belt, and my shoes.

When I ask why, the agent says, “You don’t want to wear shoes in heaven. They scratch up the floor.”

They send me through another gate because I have a pacemaker. Then they make me stick out my arms and they scan my legs with a wand.

I finally get to the departure gate. Dulles is crowded. In my dream, there are no seats in the waiting area, so I got to Starbucks to kill time. I am not sure if you get lunch on the plane to heaven. For all I know, they give you a bagel and cream cheese and a soft drink. I am warned by an attendant that I can’t get ouf of my seat on the flight.

This is kind of silly, because who would hijack a plane to heaven?

It’s open seating on the plane. I know heaven is a wonderful place, but on the way there you have to sit three across. As with all flights, there are emergency exits in case the pilot changes his mind. There are also life jackets under each seat. In my dream the flight attendants are very beautiful, and they hand out blankets and pillows.

I enter the waiting area. The loudspeaker says, “Heaven is at the last gate. There will be intermediate stops in Dallas, Chicago, and Albuquerque. The plane has just arrived.”

I go up to the desk and ask, “Am I entitled to frequent flyer miles?”

The agent says, “You won’t need any, because you’re not coming back.”

Now, this is the part I love. (Remember, this is my dream.) The loudspeaker says, “Because of inclement weather, today’s flight to heaven has been canceled. You can come back tomorrow and we’ll put you on standby.”

Art Buchwald: 1925 - 2007

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day – marking 65 years since Auschwitz, the abhorrent death camp where more than 1 million people were slaughtered, was liberated by Soviet troops. More than 6 million Jews and millions of others were tortured, enslaved, starved, beaten, and mercilessly killed during the Holocaust; and today, we honor all those persons who lost their lives as well as those persons who were fortunate enough to survive the horror. I am of Russian decent on my father’s side of the family and come from a long line of strong and courageous Jewish men and women. I have distant relatives who died during the Holocaust, and every time I look at the intricate family tree that my great aunt created for my father and see “dec. Holocaust” next to the names of some of my family members, I observe a moment of silence and pray to God for the peace, acceptance, and understanding this world needs so badly.

Since I was a little girl, I have so admired Anne Frank and her positive attitude and sunny disposition despite the circumstances she was forced to live in. At the young age of 13, Anne and her family hid in a secret annex attached to her father’s office in order to escape deportation to Nazi death camps. Two years after going into hiding, Anne’s family was discovered, and all the persons in the annex were eventually shipped to concentration camps. At age 15, Anne lost her life from Typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp only a few weeks prior to its liberation by British troops. Long after her death, Anne will always be remembered, because the world has been so blessed with the chance to read her diary – a chance to experience her strength and optimism during the worst time in her life. Anne Frank is a true inspiration to all of us, and today, I want to share with you some of my favorite quotes from her diary. The beyond-her-years wisdom she had as a young teenager will never be forgotten.

“Whoever is happy will make others happy too.”

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”

“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

“We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.”

“I have often been downcast, but never in despair; I regard our hiding as a dangerous adventure, romantic and interesting at the same time. In my diary I treat all the privations as amusing. I have made up my mind now to lead a different life from other girls and, later on, different from ordinary housewives. My start has been so very full of interest, and that is the sole reason why I have to laugh at the humorous side of the most dangerous moments.”

“And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.”

Today, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, please take a moment to remember all those persons who were killed and those that survived during this disgusting atrocity on one group of people by another group of people. We all can use a reminder of what happens when racism, prejudice, and hatred run rampant – and often go unnoticed.

Anne Frank: 1929 - 1945

We are constantly moving, looking, planning, doing, wondering; in the midst of one activity, we are thinking about the next one. Our brains and bodies are eternally at work, and it can sometimes seem impossible to try and focus on only one thing at a time. For example, right now, my primary focus is on this blog post, but in the back of my mind, I’m wondering what I should eat for breakfast (okay, maybe that one is in the forefront of my mind…), what time I should go to the gym, and which clothes I need to take to the dry cleaners. I’m also simultaneously on Facebook, Gmail, and WSJ online.

You know, women are excellent multi-taskers – we can talk on the phone, watch T.V., peruse the internet, and flawlessly apply lipstick all at the same time. Just the other day, I had a rag in one hand in an effort to finally win the war against the effervescent dust bunnies occupying my space, my cell phone in the other hand so that I could catch all the gossip about my girlfriend’s blind date, and my eyes were intently focused on the T.V. watching Pauly D and “The Situation” “creep” on some girls Jersey Shore style. These days, multitasking is synonymous with action – if you want to get it all done, you have to do at least three things at once.

Because we have high hopes and expectations for ourselves, we work as hard as we can to basically just “get it all done,” and we drive ourselves crazy doing it. We wear ourselves out trying to be attentive mothers,  star employees, 5 star family cooks, holiday hostesses, selfless volunteers, fun friends, loving sisters, caring daughters, spic-and-span maids, etc. etc. We all need to pause for a moment and remember –  we aren’t machines – sometimes, we just can’t do it all. As my mom says, “we can’t always be everything to everyone,” but we sure do try don’t we?

It really is okay to say no, to put some of our dreams on the back-burner for the time being, and to ask for help when needed; and it’s definitely okay to not be the best at everything you do. Slow your roll and think about what’s really important. I’m sure your child’s bake sale will benefit from brownies in a box just as much as homemade brownies, and I guarantee your boss doesn’t care that much if you used the same word two or three times in a report. We are constantly assuring friends, relatives, and co-workers that “nobody’s perfect.” Well if nobody’s perfect, what makes you think you can be?

This post is inspired by Mika Brzezinski who was courageous enough to share a valuable life lesson she learned about slowing down and re-prioritizing when she caused her 14 week-old baby girl to break her leg. At the time of her daughter’s accident, Brzezinski had been surviving on a two to three hour power nap per day while trying to be a devoted wife, a perfect mother to her toddler and newborn, AND an on-top-of it, vivacious overnight anchor for CBS News. One day, she was hectically running around her house (described by Brzezinski as “zipping around like a wild windup toy”) with her newborn, Carlie, on her hip when she missed the top step and tumbled down the stairs with Carlie pinned under her. Carlie was fortunate enough to only end up with a broken leg, but she remained in a body-cast for eight weeks following the incident. Brzezinski felt so guilty that her mile-a-minute lifestyle caused her daughter’s accident, and she began to realize how her desire to “do it all” was wrecking havoc on all aspects of her life. She soon discovered that she was a human and she had limits. It took her daughter’s near-death experience to realize that in the end, “failure can save your life.”

I strongly suggest reading Brezezinski’s entire article so you can cultivate your own perspective, but the last paragraph really sums up the importance of her story and the reason Brezezinski feels so compared to share. I hope you will glean some wisdom from her inspirational words. And remember, it’s okay to fail. Sometimes unintended failure can result in the most unintended of successes.

“I’ve shared this story with you not because it’s my proudest moment, but because I want to remind women that perfection is a myth. As my girls move toward adulthood, the most important lesson I can pass on is: Pace yourself. It’s what all these years of running and gunning and accomplishing have taught me. It’s not about slowing down but strategizing for the long haul. Pull back when your gut says you should. In retrospect, my biggest failures always seemed to find me when I was trying to do too much too soon. But that’s OK; sometimes the only way to get it right is to get it wrong first.”

So it’s about 4:00 A.M – scratch that – 4:30 A.M and I am wide awake. It must have been that late-night Diet Coke I gulped that is keeping me up – or maybe it’s the fact that I lost my job and my schedule is slightly off now. Regardless of the reason, I’m awake and these peepers aren’t closing anytime soon, so it’s a rather operative time to do what I enjoy most – write or read. 🙂

You know, January is usually a pretty mellow month; in other words, life is boring post holiday madness. Every year, I rely on experiencing an uneventful January – detox for the mind and body. In true Tiger Woods fashion, I was ready to hibernate through all of January and re-emerge sometime in February (albeit, my emergence wouldn’t be documented by a swarm of paparazzi but maybe a few friends would start to notice I’m back). I was to only make a January appearance for imperative events – such as work, church, book club, the Macy’s One Day Sale (that last one’s a joke of course! Okay, well kind of…). Nonetheless, January has shaped up to be a pretty exciting month. I’ve spent time with family, friends, strangers, and co-workers doing everything from trivia to shopping to eating to talking, and I’ve enjoyed nearly all 20, jam-packed days thus far. I even enjoyed the day I got laid off from work…

Why you ask? Well this past Monday wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows – I was rather upset when I walked into work at 9 A.M, Dunkin Donuts french vanilla-flavored coffee in one hand and a Whole Foods bag full of frozen lunches in the other, only to get booted out less than five minutes later. Apparently, while I was enjoying a relaxing weekend at my dad’s house in Columbia, South Carolina, the search marketing company I work for was losing a big-name client, and I was to be the first and only casualty of this loss. As my (now former) boss was informing me of the situation, my mind wandered (I mean – how much do you need to hear about why you got laid off – the point is – you’re canned, the “whys” are just an afterthought) to a scene in “Up in the Air” – the now very relevant movie I, ironically, saw less than two weeks prior to Monday.

Nonetheless, my boss’s lips were moving, but I was only hearing George Clooney (not a bad substitution!), as hatchet man Ryan Bingham, telling one of the many people he was hired to lay off that he now had the opportunity to do what he really wanted in life – in the cliche sense of the statement – to “follow his dreams.” This particular man had been working the same office job for years, because it was basically “his job,” and it was his duty to support his family. Whether he did or did not like his line of work wasn’t important. Now in middle-age, the newly laid-off man feared what everyone fears – who is going to hire me now? What will I tell my family? How will we get by? Bingham reminds the man that he’s been in this job, not because he loves what he does, but because he feels he has to stay in it. Now that a major decision was made for him, he is free to actually try and make a living doing something he loves – in his case, cooking. As unhappy and worried as the man in the film is, you can see a glimmer of hope in his face – maybe life isn’t over after all.

As one of my favorite quotes so eloquently states – “Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.” So I am going to take the cards I’m dealt and turn them into a win. Through no decision of my own, I have been given the chance to actually explore my opportunities and to discover a new chapter of my life. I think I’ll take Ryan Bingham’s advice (and the advice of my friends and family), and spend some time discovering my true passions and hopefully making a career out of them. And, it just so happens that I already have a few tricks and in-the-works plans hiding up my Northface-fleeced sleeve! 😉 I can’t stress enough how much I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Less than one month into the new year, my life has shifted quite a bit, but I know I have a great deal of excitement and unexpected surprises to look forward to, and I’m ready to play my cards to the fullest.

It’s like they always say – when one door closes…another one opens – I just have to go and find it.

Your 2010 Handbook

Yesterday, my wonderful friend Keeli (whom I miss dearly, because she has been living in Seattle for a year-and-a-half now – I think she got stuck on the Space Needle and just hasn’t been able to get down…it’s my only justification for my constant state of dissaray as I anxiously anticipate my next dose of ‘Kee Kee’ 😉 ) sent me an email entitled “Handbook 2010.” Keeli knows me oh too well as she so poignantly stated in her personalized note: “This is right up your ally! :)” As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I find immense inspiration in quotes and axioms – a few short, too-the-point words can put your whole life in perspective (and they are easy to remember – always a plus!). So when Keeli sent along these “instructions for life,” I immediately reveled in their wisdom and felt a new sense of hope for this upcoming year. We may already be halfway into the first month of 2010, but it’s never too late to start a resolution or to change your life for the better. You can find inspiration in a variety of forms – in a child’s smile, a good cup of coffee, an early morning sunrise, a refreshing walk, a motivational sermon, and the list goes on and on. I hope you’ll find some sort of inspiration and unending hope for the year ahead in the words signified below; remember – “We are made wise not be the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility of our future” (George Bernard Shaw).

***I bolded my favorite lines that have provided me with much-needed inspiration and/or are words I strongly believe in, and I also provided a little life instruction of my own for #40 – Enjoy!

Handbook 2010:

Health:
1. Drink plenty of water.
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar.
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
4. Live with the 3 E’s – Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.
5. Make time to pray.
6. Play more games.
7. Read more books than you did in 2009.
8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
9. Sleep for 7 hours.
10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

Personality
:
11. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
12. Don’t have negative thoughts on things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive, present moment.
13. Don’t overdo it. Know and keep your limits.
14. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
15. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip.
16. Dream more while you are awake.
17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
18. Forget issues of the past. Don’t remind your partner with His/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don’t hate others.
20. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.
21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class, but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
23. Smile and laugh more.
24. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

Society
:
25. Call your family often.
26. Each day, give something good to others.
27. Forgive everyone for everything.
28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of  6.
29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
30. What other people think of you is none of your business.
31. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

Life
:
32. Do the right thing!
33. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful, or joyful.
34. GOD heals everything.
35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.
37. Always remember that the best is yet to come.
38. When you wake up alive in the morning, thank GOD for it.
39. Your innermost being is always happy. So, be happy.

Lastly:
40. If you are touched by these words, share them with someone you care about – always spread love and fill other’s hearts with joy as often as you can. MAKE yourself a better person by just BEING a better person and be ready to relish in the unremitting happiness that follows.