The Elixir of Life

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September 29 is National Coffee Day, at least according to the coupon section of the Sunday paper. And I’m going to celebrate it like it every other day of the year.

I am a coffee devotee. That is not to say I am a coffee aficionado, because that would imply that I am a coffee snob, which I’m not. In fact, while I am a loyal supporter of Starbuck’s Vanilla Lattes, I honestly am not a fan of their straight coffee. I’m not a “fan” of coffee, but more of a “fanatic.” I honestly would drink coffee all day if I could (and often do).

I’m not entirely sure when this dedication to coffee started. When I was young, I didn’t even like the smell of coffee. I never drank coffee in high school or even college, in order to pull all-nighters. Coca-Cola was a sufficient amount of caffeine. But somewhere along my life’s journey, I discovered the life-giving properties that coffee – and only coffee – could provide to me.

Like millions of Americans – and likely humans across the globe – I start my day with a cup, a hint of sugar and cut with a good amount of French vanilla creamer. I have to start the day there. I have been known to drop everything to run to a store for any of the ingredients…or even a new coffee maker if necessary. But the coffee consumption doesn’t stop there.

Around 9 or 10 in the morning, depending on when I have meetings scheduled, I run down to the Starbuck’s in my office building for a “Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte with an extra pump of Sugar-Free Vanilla,” my signature drink from Starbuck’s. (I’ve even taught the kids how to say it so that when they stop at Starbuck’s, they can get it right.) During the work week, that will usually get me through the day, at least until I get home, where I immediately heat up a cup of coffee, sit down and drink it. And when I say immediately, I mean before I start making dinner, before I change my clothes, some days before I even say hello to the family. (Those are the really bad days.) And then I proceed to drink the rest of the pot (and sometimes even make another small pot) before hitting the hay. And no, I have NEVER had a hard time falling asleep.

Of course, my “devotion” was worse when I was at home all day. The convenience of having the coffee pot located in a central location fueled my addiction, and our local economy, since I was buying coffee and creamer by the gallon. (I do wonder sometimes if my local grocery store has had to readjust its creamer order since I’ve gone back to work.)

People I work with have always marveled at my love of coffee, but it has made life pretty easy for them when it comes to any kind of gift for me. They know that a Starbuck’s card is the way to win my affection and gratitude, not to mention make me a delight to work with. My family knows that, when in doubt, Mom will love not having to pay cash for her Starbuck’s…which also makes for a much happier house. Even the husband knows that if he’s making me get up early for something, as long as the coffee is made, well…happy wife, happy life.

So here’s to you, Juan Valdez, on National Coffee Day. May you and your cute little burro continue to provide the world with the elixir of life!

 

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Post Time

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We watched the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

For the uninitiated, The Belmont Stakes are run in Elmont, New York, on the first Saturday in June and is the third race in the prestigious Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, or more informally, just the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby (first Saturday in May at Churchill Down, Kentucky) and the Preakness Stakes (third Saturday in May in Baltimore, Maryland) are the first two races.

Now before you think I am among the initiated, I’m not. I’ve watch the Derby twice in my life on television, and I only recently saw my first actual horse race live. I placed one bet…and lost. And enjoyed the rest of the day in the sun.

But for some quirky reason, we ended up seeing the Derby and the Preakness on television this year, so by the time the Belmont came along, I kind felt obligated to watch. Plus the hype around the favorite, California Chrome, winning the first two and having a real shot at the Triple Crown, kind of drew me in.

The Triple Crown is not only prestigious, but challenging to actually win. There has not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed won in back in 1978. But California Chrome looked to have a shot. And his back story had a Cinderella undertone to it. His training was unconventional, and the horse himself also had some idiosyncrasies that made the racing community question his ability to seriously compete. His natural curiosity about things around him made it challenging at times to get him in the starting gate and keep him focused for a good start out of the gate. His owners, DAP Racing, was a tip of the hat to folks who questions the wisdom of purchasing California Chrome’s mother. Steve Coburn, co-owner, was a “regular, down home” kind of guy, and seemed to be a fun interview. A cowboy at heart, Coburn looked like the average rancher from Texas, cowboy hat and bushy white mustache, a little out of place among all the celebrities and outrageous hats at the Kentucky Derby.

Despite having no personal interest in the race, and despite my husband wanting anyone but California Chrome to take first (he had placed a bet which could have paid off big), I was kind of pulling for California Chrome. I usually like the underdog. But it was not to be. In the end, he came in fourth, tied with another horse.

While this was disappointing, I was more disappointed in Mr. Coburn’s reaction. I get that he is disappointed – even more so than me obviously – but to have the tantrum he had was a bit out of line. The reason that the Triple Crown is so prestigious is because it’s NOT easy to win. The field changes from race to race, and while there are some that run all three, there are “fresh” horses that enter each time.

If you have seen any of the post-race coverage, or ESPN at all in the past day or so, you will hear the talk. But I have to admit, the whole thing tarnished the Cinderella story for me. But I still find myself hoping that California Chrome comes back next year for post time.

 

We Fear Change

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I recently read something: The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions. If people equate change with death, no wonder they fear it.

I won’t lie; I’m not always a fan of change. I don’t like it when my grocery store stops selling my favorite brand of coffee and I have to find a new one (new coffee, not grocery store). I don’t like it when they move my favorite TV show to a new night (usually a sign that the end is nigh). These are small changes and an annoyance, but I complain for a while and then deal with it.

Bigger changes are harder. Life-changing events can be good or bad but difficult either way. Moving to a new home is exciting but exhausting. Welcoming a new baby is exhilarating but even more exhausting.

I’ve had a number of life changes in the last several years. My daughter going away to college was a big change, and definitely hard. My son getting his driver’s license was a big change. I was supposed to somehow relinquish control in a big way, but it is nice that I don’t have to drive him to those early morning baseball practices anymore. Losing my job was hard, but I was in a rut, so I was able to see that change as a good one. It forced me out of the rut…that did feel like a grave on some days…and made me embrace the change.

Throughout these changes, I’ve look at each as an opportunity to take back control. I am now in a position to determine how I want to change my life and control my own destiny. And it feels good.

How do you master Change, rather than be its victim?

 

The Key to Happiness

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Everyone has their own key to happiness. The trick is to find out what your key is.

For some, the key is money or power or fame. For others, faith and spirituality unlock happiness and peace of mind. And still others have more unusual keys.

I have a friend for whom Peeps is the combination for complete contentment. Another friend uses shopping – for anything – to unlock happiness. Another friend simply needs to look at her kids to turn her key to joy.

My key to happiness is laughter and a sense of humor. When I am faced with the road bumps of life, I try to use humor to keep my perspective intact. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes it takes gallows humor to pull me out of the dark abyss. Sarcasm is often like a skeleton key. It fits any situation.

As I look at my children, and I see how they cope with the ups and downs, I realize my daughter has embraced my key and taken it as her own. Well, there is yet another way that she is just like me. Her sense of sarcasm is even sharper than mine sometimes (YIKES!), but I think it has strengthened our bond. She often says that nobody gets her like I do…and vice versa. For my son, it seems that his key to happiness is sports. Any time, any place, any sport…it takes him out of his problems and provides a different path for his mind to follow.

It’s interesting to me that the keys change often. While humor is my skeleton key, I find happiness is in the simple things as well. A quiet morning on the patio with a good cup of coffee. Finding the perfect gift for someone on my first try. Spending an entire Sunday afternoon reading a good book.

Let’s do a little sociology experiment to see what else unlocks happiness. What is your key to happiness?  Post your thoughts in the comments section.

 

Riding That Train…

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I recently had to go into the city, and I had a choice…drive (YIKES!) or take the train.

As luck would have it, where I was going was close the train station – easy walking distance — so I decided to train it. I generally avoid the train, not because I don’t appreciate the commuting ease or the earth-friendly aspects. It’s really because of a lack of control.

There. It’s out there. I have some control issues.

In my own defense, I don’t have to control everything across the board. With very few exceptions, I don’t care what’s on TV, what food we order in, where we go on vacation, etc. I’m pretty easy going with most things.

And I will say that the train does provide some solid time to just think…I put on my headphones and get lost in my music and my thoughts. Not always a bad thing.

But when it comes to commuting, the simple idea that I have to run on someone else’s schedule? ARGH! This is why I don’t like the train, even when, in most cases, the train gets me home quicker than being stuck in traffic for hours. But riding the train takes that control away from me, especially during the midday schedule, when the trains run hourly only.

This is also why I don’t car pool and why I always hate it when one of the cars has to go in the shop, because more often than not, I end up being the one without the car. And this drives me CRAZY! Granted, I rarely leave the office, even to go to lunch, but knowing that I can’t just kills me. I want to know that — wherever I am — I can just pick up and go at a moment’s notice.

As the train rode along next to the highway, and I saw the bumper-to-bumper parking lot that it was, I was glad I decided to train it. And when I realized my final destination was directly across the street from the train station, I doubly glad I took the train. But I kept thinking the entire time, “I hate not having control.”

I think I have a better understanding of why my husband hates to fly, although I would be more nervous if he had control of the plane rather than the pilot…but that’s another story…

 

The Circle of Life

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I am in that stage of my existence, where I’m smack in the middle of the circle of life.

I’m still young enough to remember my past…the heartache of a first love, the frustration of bullies, the pressure to do well in school, the absolute terror of trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Of course, the kids think that I was born at 30 and never dealt with the problems they are dealing with. Funny too, because they also don’t believe that the things they are trying to pull over on me have ALL been tried before…BY me.

When I complain to my mother about it, she just nods knowingly and says – in her sweetest, old lady voice – “Frustrating, isn’t it?” And honestly, I can’t blame her or even begrudge her that response, since we both know that I was the exact same way when I was the kids’ ages.

On the flip side, I can see where the kids are maybe making the wrong decisions…or no decision at all…and it can drive me crazy. They ask my opinion and I provide the wisdom of the ages…or at least the wisdom that I have fought hard to win through my own poor choices. And then they ignore me…sigh… I know that they need to gain the wisdom I offer through their own mistakes and regrets, but as a parent, I want to save them the trouble.

And when I complain to my mom, she again nods knowingly and smiles.

Being a parent is tough. And it gets worse as they get older, because you can’t soothe their hurts with a kiss and a boo-boo-bunny. You have to just be there to pick up the pieces as needed, even when you could have stopped the breakage from happening in the first place.

And you have to have the intestinal fortitude to not say, “I told you so.” God love my mother for giving me the best example to follow.

I hope I can continue to respond as she does, because I know, someday, I will get to nod knowingly and smile as the circle of life comes back around.

 

 

Do You Believe in Miracles?

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While the cynic in me says a resounding “NO,” there is still a little piece of my soul that whispers, “yes.”

I guess much of it depends on how you define “miracle.” Many would go the big route, raising the dead, stopping a volcano from destroying surrounding villages…heck, even the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team beating the Russians back in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games could qualify, I suppose. But that cynical voice in me tells me to look for the more logical explanation, or write it off as a nice story.

But when I stop to look, miracles are all around us, and happen every day. A lone crocus pushing up through the heavy snow, a cardinal lighting on a tree limb, the giggle of a toddler…all can feel like a small miracle.

I think that we all possess the power to create miracles. Helping a friend move may not seem like a miracle, but it could mean getting him or her out of a bad living arrangement. Paying for the next person’s order at a fast food restaurant may seem like only a couple of bucks out of your pocket, but you could be providing the only meal that person gets that day. Making a friend laugh when they are feeling down can turn their whole outlook around. Even a simple compliment to a stranger in an elevator can brighten someone’s day more than you can even imagine.

I’m going to make it a point to look for ways to create those small miracles every day. I’m going to nurture that tiny part of me that still does believe in miracles.