Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Golden Rule Rules

I’m a rule-follower. A rules-girl. 

I tend to set a lot of rules for myself that I think I should live by. Such as. 

I think women over a certain age shouldn’t wear their hair long or in ponytails. 

I think most women should wear high heels regularly and routinely. 

I think many women should wear red lipstick more often than not. 

I think men ought to wear regular ties, not bow ties. 

Although most of my rules just happen to be my personal opinion, those around me are good-natured about listening to me talk about them. 

For my birthday last week, my colleagues at the office decided to do something I would like them to do as their gift to me. 

I thought this sounded like a fabulous idea. Something I would approve of. That would follow my rules. 

Yet in the long run would benefit them. How perfect. 

My coworker Krista led off the present-giving initiative by announcing that she was getting her very long hair cut short. “It will be my birthday gift to you,” she joked.

My other colleagues quickly jumped on board with this idea. 

Brittany said she’d exchange her flats for high heels for my special day. 

Ben offered to swap out his daily bow tie for a regular tie instead. 

Even Kate, the manager of our department asked me, “Would you like me to wear red lipstick on your birthday?” 

Since my colleague Bree had already followed some of my rules for her, such as lightening and cutting her hair, she was exempt from the project. 

But to celebrate everyone’s sacrifice, Bree volunteered to bring a box of mini cupcakes in honor of their selfless gifts.

My rules could possibly have deep-seated roots from my childhood and family heritage. 

The last time I had long hair, I was in the sixth grade. My hair has always been bulky and impossibly difficult. 

Growing up, my sister would help me wash it. My mother would help me dry it. They would both help me style it. Finally they’d had enough. My mother announced that if I couldn’t manage my own hair, I would have to get it cut 

Shortly after, I sported a shoulder-length bob that was much easier to control. I've never had long hair since. 

Secretly, I sort of envy women who can wear their long hair in perky ponytails because I never could. Wearing my hair in a ponytail gave me a headache. 

As for red lipstick and high heels, I think they're a necessity for me. Red lipstick doesn't manage to get lost with my dark eyes and hair like lighter lipstick does. I wear high heels mostly because I’m short. 

I learned early on that I could at least see eye-to-eye with my friends who are taller if I wore four-inch heels. So over time, my rules have just become a part of who I am.

But I also tend to set rules for myself about much more serious things than hair or lipstick or shoes. 

Rigid rules about what I think I should accomplish. 

Unbending rules about what I should be doing with my life. 

Inflexible rules about what I think God must think about me. 

These rules rule my life. What's worse is that I start thinking that everyone should live by my rules. And that's just crazy. 

Because sometimes rules are made to be broken. 

Or at least they should bend a little bit. And maybe I could remember the most famous rule of all -- the Golden Rule -- and make it my motto to treat others as I would like to be treated. 

Because that's what my colleagues graciously offered me in giving up their own preferences for mine. 

As we polished off the last crumbs of our cupcakes, I was amazed that my kindhearted, thoughtful colleagues were willing to play by my rules for a day. 

Maybe next year on my birthday, I might let my hair down, kick up my heels, tie one on, and paint the town red. 

Unless of course, I decide to rule it out.

L-R: Brittany, Bree, Krista and Ben

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Celebrating in Celebration

There’s a town called Celebration, just outside of Orlando. 

It’s a traditional neighborhood, designed by the Walt Disney Company, with carefully planned parks, shops, restaurants and homes. 

Last weekend, my sister and I were at Celebration’s Columbia Restaurant for hot Cuban bread and their famous 1905 salad. Their patio is a perfect spot to dine outside in view of the interactive fountain in the town center with streams of water that rest and gush at timed intervals. 

We barely touch a fork to our salads before my nephew Nathan and my niece Devon are asking when we’re going to the fountain. They think they have the fountain figured out.

Nathan asks if he can run through it with his shoes on. He thinks he can avoid getting soaked by the tall water columns. 

Devon takes off her sandals but stands just outside the water jets, not wanting to get wet. 

It’s calm for a few minutes and then the water suddenly appears. A small spurt at first, that quickly bursts into a rushing gush of water. 

Nathan stands right in the middle of the fountain, calculating, then plans his mad dash in and out of the water streams. He gets splashed here and there, but for the most part, he avoids the full force and is relatively dry. 

Standing at the edge of the fountain, Devon squeals to Nathan to come run with her. He ignores her for awhile, then finally comes over and grabs her hand to lead her through the maze of spurting water. 

She screams and comes running back, afraid of getting caught in the middle with water streams all around her.

I think both of them have the right idea. 

Sometimes standing under the fountain is okay. 

When I want to rush ahead in all directions, when I want to give my side of the story to all who will listen, when I want to speak a stream of words that may be better left unsaid, maybe what I should do is wait. 

And stand still in the cool stream of water. 

But sometimes it’s better to sidestep the coming waters, too. 

To dodge and duck. Weave in and out. Escape the deluge. Steer clear of the rush of events and circumstances and mini-dramas that threaten to flood my day. 

At the end of the night, Nathan takes one too many chances and is soaked by the fountain. 

But Devon wants to stay dry. As she races toward us, she yells, “I did it! I didn’t get wet!” 

And I realize it’s a celebration for both of them. 

Nathan doesn’t mind getting wet to play mind games with the water. He thinks he had fun. And he’s drenched. 

Devon ends up with a few splashes on her dress, but is glad she didn’t get doused. She’s happy. 

And my sister and I are celebrating, too. 

Dinner on a breezy, sparkling patio with bubbling fountains and giggles and gushes of laughter. 

Celebration is always a good place to celebrate our lives. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Paris Prompts

A table full of Paris stuff catches my eye as I walk through Nordstrom. 

On display are a coffee mug with Paris tourist spots, a plate depicting a map of Paris, French notecards, magnets and kitchen towels. 

I notice "The Little Paris Kitchen" cookbook, a beautifully photographed book with Rachel Khoo, a British chef who visits Paris bistros for her TV show on the BBC. 

I had never heard of her until I was on the flight from New York to Paris and her cooking series was available for viewing on the plane. I was charmed by her lovely British accent and happily distracted as I watched her cook in her truly tiny Paris kitchen as I flew all night over the Atlantic.

As I circle the Paris table at Nordstrom, I realize that I want all of it. 

Everything that’s on display. 

Then I stop and think that maybe it’s rather silly to buy Parisian things that aren't actually from Paris. But when I was in Paris, I walked in and out of numerous tourist shops, trying to decide what I wanted to take home as souvenirs of my trip. 

I bought three bookmarks that said they were printed in the USA. I bought two Paris mugs, one at a lovely chocolate shop on Rue Mouffetard and one at a tacky tourist shop, and they were both stamped "made in China" on the bottom. 

Even though they weren't made in Paris, I knew they at least spent a little bit of their life there. 

Maybe it doesn't matter if I got it in Paris or not. 

I would remember Paris when I drank my coffee. So I decide to buy the Paris mug in Nordstrom.

I had these same thoughts run through my mind a few weeks ago as I bought a picture of French pastries at Home Goods. 

I put the picture in my cart and debated about buying it because it seemed so ordinary. I thought maybe I could find something more extraordinary and unusual somewhere else. 

But in the end, I decided to buy the picture. 

Because the pastry reminds me of the chocolate croissant I ate for breakfast several mornings in Paris. 

I feel silly, being drawn to a picture in a discount store because it doesn't even seem like art. 

But aren’t most of my things like that? Just things that prompt a memory?

They remind me of times that are important only to me. 

They remind me of what I’ve done, where I’ve been or what I’d like to do. 

Ruffling the paperbacks on my bookshelf and inhaling the musty pages of books I’ve had since childhood reminds me of the used bookstores in Ft. Lauderdale my parents stopped at every year during our summer vacation. 

I’d ride home to Pittsburgh surrounded by stacks of books in the backseat, straddling my legs around them. 

A set of crazy vegetable magnets hung on my grandmother’s refrigerator. They’re kind of ridiculous. A carrot, tomato and celery stalk with faces. When she died, my mother handed me the box and said she wondered if I wanted the magnets. 

I keep them because they remind me of my grandmother’s bountiful, old fashioned refrigerator. Klondike bars in the freezer, homemade potato salad and my favorite – deviled eggs -- in the fridge.

So I nail my French pastry picture on the wall in my kitchen, just above my coffeemaker. 

I like thinking about my flaky croissant breakfasts in Paris as I drink my morning coffee in Orlando. 

The artful city scene on my mug reminds me of the places I visited and loved – the Pantheon, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower. 

And in a way, these things inspire me. 

To remember the places I didn’t get to see in Paris -- Sacre Couer, Montmarte – and a dozen other places I want to visit. 

Because someday soon I'm aspiring to go back to Paris. Because I think that's what souvenirs are supposed to do. 

Prompt our hearts to remember the past. 

And spark our imaginations to consider the future. 

And always to dream of what’s yet possible.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fanning the Cool Autumn Breezes

It would be nice if some cool autumn breezes made it down to Florida this time of year. 

Even though the calendar says September, the crisp, invigorating air of fall still seems a long way off. 

I'd like to feel refreshed after a long hot summer. I would have especially enjoyed a stiff breeze to stir the sultry air during a day at the beach last weekend. 

Loading and unloading the truck, carrying the chairs, umbrellas and toys (even with a cart to wheel them in), trudging through sand so hot it burned my feet (even with my shoes on), and waiting in the restroom with my niece (where it was a sauna-like 120 degrees) all made me long for cooler days ahead.

My vintage silk fan has a lady on the front and city scene on the back.
I watched my sister's dogs last week, stopping by her house to feed them and let them in and out while she was away. 

The dogs spend their days on her large covered patio, which has comfy couches and cushions for them to sit on and plenty of shady spots. The pool's not far away if they feel the need for a swim. 

She told me to be sure I turned on the ceiling fans for them -- on medium speed, no less -- so they'd be cool. Which seemed unlikely to me. 

During these dog days of summer, I doubted her dogs would even know if I forgot to turn on the fans. 

But I do know that I would welcome some cool air fanned on me.

Because sticky air swirls around me. 

New work projects and assignments have me going at top speed. 

In the heat of these moments with my nerves a little edgy, I find myself answering too quickly, responding too sharply. 

My cool is lost when too many documents are open on the two computer screens sitting on my desk. I need to quickly find what I’m looking for, correct it and reload the page. 

All of a sudden the air is too hot in my cubicle. I start groaning and exclaiming that the computer is driving me crazy. My cubicle colleague comes to my rescue. 

Like a breath of cool fresh air, she tells me to calm down and patiently helps me find what I need, load and refresh. 

And it’s just not the computer page that's refreshed. I am too.

I went for a walk one evening this week after a thunderstorm and instead of feeling slapped in the face with a wet washcloth full of humidity, I felt the slightest whisper of a cooler breeze. 

The sky was clearing and the setting sun was trying to break through the clouds. 

I reached the end of the walking path, turned around and saw the rainbow. Just behind me as I walked. 

I didn't even see it until I stopped to turn around. 

I think that's the way it is sometimes. I can't appreciate what's just behind me, that has allowed me to acquire perseverance and composure.

Because I'm too busy looking for the break in the weather. 

Thinking that what's ahead might be the breathing space I'm yearning for. 

That whiff of crisp, rejuvenating air that's going to make all the difference. 

And I guess it could. But in addition to looking forward with anticipation, I want to appreciate the days that develop my character and strengthen my resolve. 

Because I need that too. 

It’s not fall in Florida yet. 

Maybe after Halloween we’ll enjoy some cooler breezes. That let me know that refreshing days are ahead. 

But until then, I'll just keep my ceiling fans running on high.