Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Month: April 2023

It’s All a Balancing Act


A long while back, I posted an essay about finding ways to tolerate doing certain things that, frankly, I simply dislike doing. The target irritant in that post was dusting. While it’s still not a favorite chore, I’ve been surprised by how much more palatable it’s become since I adjusted my outlook. Instead of viewing the chore as a necessary evil, I’ve been doing my best to consider it an opportunity to appreciate the items I’m dusting. I let myself think about their history and what that history means to me. Simplistic, I know…but it seems to do the trick.

While dusting recently, I started fiddling around with a whimsical toy my husband got back when we were dating. At least, I think we were dating. We might have already been married, and I may or may not have been the one who got it for him. That was about a hundred years ago, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of accuracy.

Anyway, the toy consists of a clown or a jester — or maybe just some guy in his pajamas — that’s suspended on curved wooden bars. When you tap his head or foot just right, he twirls delightfully back and forth from one end of the bars to the other. But if you’re off even a tiny bit when you tap him, he goes all wonky and can twirl himself right off his platform.

Noticing how easy it is to throw this little guy off course got me thinking about the importance of balance for us real people…both physically and mentally.

From a physical standpoint, personal experience has proven I can get knocked off balance in the blink of an eye. I’ve always had a special talent for falling up steps and tripping on air. As I age, that gift just keeps on giving. Fortunately, good bone density has prevented any disasters. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change.

In an attempt to stay as upright as possible for as long as possible, I make sure to incorporate some balance work when I exercise each morning. It’s not a lot, but it seems to help me feel steadier as I go through my day. As a matter of fact, even though I know my klutziness can rear its ugly head at any moment, I have to say that I haven’t tripped on air or fallen up (or down) any steps in quite a while. I attribute that monumental feat to those balance moves. Of course, just to be on the safe side, it might not hurt to throw some salt over my shoulder to keep up the good juju.

From a mental standpoint, the whole concept of staying on track gets trickier because I don’t always know exactly what needs to be balanced…let alone how to go about doing it. This generally occurs during conversations. Sometimes I’m not even aware it’s happening until I’m a mile down the road of some unintended brain tangent. By then, it takes major recalibrating to get back to the present. It’s particularly off-putting when it happens during a discussion that suddenly requires my input. I start off focusing on what’s being said and, without warning, my mind flits to something totally unrelated…and often completely insignificant.

I’ve got ADHD and realize it affects the way I think, but I’m pretty sure this can happen to almost anyone, regardless of their mental fortitude. I’m not talking about technological distractions, although there’s no argument that those are annoying little devilments. I’m talking about more innocuous attention thieves. Sometimes the least little thing can send us twirling off-kilter just enough to make our thoughts wind up somewhere we didn’t expect or want them to be.

My above-referenced diagnosis is fairly mild and, since it doesn’t terribly disrupt my life, I don’t take medication for it. I’m not crazy about pharmaceutical side effects so, for the time being, I’m content to manage my condition on my own. Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t. But even people who don’t share my specific disorder can occasionally find their minds wandering off unattended. It’s like trying to restrain a toddler who just spotted the monkey cage at the zoo.

So what can we do to stop these cerebral jaunts from jacking up our thought processes? I don’t have any solid answers, but I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately. My usual methods of staying on track require tactical exercises inside my head…like silently repeating what someone says so I can keep a grasp on it, or throwing a lasso over each fugitive thought and then mentally dragging it back where it belongs. Sometimes, these are just occasional hiccups. Other times, they seem to happen nonstop and leave me utterly exhausted by the end of the day. It would be nice to find simpler, less cumbersome, ways to tame the wandering beast.

A quick Google search gave credence to at least one of my tried-and-true practices – that of mentally repeating people’s statements in order to ground them in my head. But I came across other suggestions, too.

One recommendation was to maintain eye contact during a conversation. Not constant, unblinking eye contact, of course. That’s just creepy. But creating a sort of eye-to-eye relationship may help a person stay focused on what the other one is saying. I must confess that this is something I struggle with because introverts aren’t generally all that keen on eye contact. But, if doing so can strengthen the connection, it’s worth that little bit of discomfort.

Another tip was to ask questions related to what the person has said. Not only does that show interest, but it can help to mentally cement the conversation. And that makes sense. If our thoughts have concrete feet, they’re a lot less likely to stumble off on their own.

It was also suggested to find a way to surreptitiously make some notes about what was just discussed. If you’re like me and have trouble remembering, jotting it down can serve as both a memory anchor and future reference…just in case that “anchor” somehow gets cut loose. Lord only knows how many anchors are rusting at the bottom of my cranial ocean. Luckily, I’m no stranger to sticky notes.

Although the above ideas aren’t earth-shattering – or even all that original – they’re doable, and I believe they can be effective. I’m actually looking forward to seeing if they’ll help me stay in the here and now when I’m talking to someone. It would be amazing to stop getting mentally waylaid so much.

When it comes to successfully navigating conversations, what I really want is to be like that wooden guy in his PJs. All I have to do is figure out how to perfectly tap myself so I can twirl back and forth along my own little track without the constant worry of falling off.

Right. No pressure.


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How to Make a Brain Stay Put

If you’ve met me — or have simply read some of my essays — you know I have a habit of slipping off the rails from time to time. Digression is one of my most honed skills, but it’s not a talent I’ve deliberately fostered. I just happen to be one of those lucky ducks that comes by it naturally.

I’m fully aware that getting easily distracted is a trait that can frustrate those around me. It frustrates me, too. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for simple techniques to prevent myself from ruminating along some weird path to never-never land.

I know there are other folks out there who can totally relate to dealing with this peccadillo. Click the button below to find out what I’ve learned about wrangling runaway thoughts. (Oh, who am I kidding? You’ll read what I’m still trying to learn. It’s pretty much a never-ending battle.)

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My (Brief) Life as a Carnivore

I’m a meat eater. Steaks, burgers, pork chops, bacon, chicken, turkey…you name it, I eat it (although I do draw the line at seafood and organ meats). Considering this, I thought following the carnivore diet would be a piece of cake. No pun intended. Except now I want cake. 

Anyway, even though I’ve been eating pretty low carb for years now, I came to the realization that I needed to make some changes. The weight I’d lost a few years ago started to creep back on, and my aches and pains returned full-throttle. Thinking something in my diet was causing a lot of inflammation, I decided some sort of elimination diet was in order. 

Enter that carnivore thingy. I figured a couple of weeks away from carbohydrates would be long enough to get it all out of my system. Afterward, I would gradually add my favorite foods back in to see what it is that doesn’t agree with me. 

The first week went by quickly and easily. I barely had to think about what I’d fix for meals because my choices were so limited:  beef, pork, bacon, eggs, and butter. I took the hint from other carnivore dieters and also included black coffee, even though it’s technically a plant food. Oh, and I could have salt and pepper. Woohoo! I did have tuna once, mixed up with chopped boiled eggs. I ate it, but it didn’t make me happy. What it did do was teach me a lesson. Tuna “salad” without mayonnaise is just tuna in eggs…and it lands rather dismally on the palate. 

Most of my other meals were fine, though. I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting for a while now, so my first meal isn’t until at least noon. During the time I was eating carnivore, that meal was eggs with either bacon or sausage. A few hours later I’d have some rotisserie chicken. For dinner, I’d have pork chops or beef patties. And I had butter with absolutely everything…even my coffee. 

While that first week was a breeze, the second week seemed to last a freaking eternity. Not because I was hungry or craving junk, but because I was getting so bloody bored. I missed a lot of simple things like green beans, peppers, onions, apples, cheese, mayonnaise and – perhaps most of all – cream in my coffee. I knew I’d eventually be able to have most of those things again, but the boredom made the days drag by. 

It didn’t occur to me until the 12th day that I could probably have pork rinds. I know a lot of people think they’re gross — my husband being one of those people — but I’ve always liked those fried-up little pork skins. I had some on hand and, once I confirmed the ingredients were carnivore-friendly, I dumped a bunch on a napkin and went to town. They tasted so good! That little bit of variety was like a party in my mouth. 

Even with the addition of those pork rinds, I still couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be over. I wasn’t noticing any reduction in pain, and my weight loss was minimal. The idea that there are people who have been eating this way for years – and loving it – is just lost on me. It’s not that I think they’re lying, it’s just that I know I could never join their club. And truth be told…I don’t think I want to.

On the 15th day, I had cream in my coffee. It was wonderful. What was even better was the fact that, as the day wore on, I experienced no ill effects. I had some veggies and cheese later in the day, and those settled fine as well.

After watching some YouTube videos about elimination diets, I determined I’m apparently not cut out to follow that sort of protocol. Everything I heard indicated you need to stick with the diet for four to six weeks before reintroducing other foods and condiments. I was dreaming of dragging my bacon through a plate full of mayonnaise after less than two weeks. You’re also supposed to add potential problem foods back in one at a time over the course of several days. I was not blessed with that kind of patience. 

With the whole carnivore experience behind me, I can look back on it more objectively than I could during that second week. Deprivation and lack of benefits aside, I’m glad I went through with it. One of the things I’d hoped to accomplish was to stop snacking on processed foods. I didn’t miss eating them during those carnivore weeks, so that proved it wasn’t going to kill me to do without them altogether. I honestly feel that I can now satisfy my snack urges with nuts, cheese, veggies, and fruit. And instead of buying prepackaged “healthy” treats, I’ll make my own. I’m no pro in the kitchen but when push comes to shove, even I can whip up a batch of tasty sugar-free brownies.

Discipline has never been my strong suit, but I feel like my food brain is finally growing up. I wouldn’t have believed it possible if I wasn’t right smack dab in the middle of it.

Sometimes life is weird…in a good way.

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Look What I Did!

So…two big things happened in my little universe since the last post, and I’m proud as a peacock! One was this:


It took a long, long time to bring this book to fruition, but it’s finally out in the world for all to see. That reality is equal parts thrilling and frightening and, like it or not, there’s no turning back.

The other big thing that happened may seem trivial by comparison, but it was still big to me. I finished up a self-imposed elimination diet and discovered two things: It wasn’t nearly as long as it should have been to be truly effective, and I’m no good when it comes to deprivation. Strand me on a deserted island, and I’ll still find my way to a mini-mart for snacks.

Hit the button below to see how I fared on this little exercise in minimalistic eating.

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Don’t Let the Awful Overpower You

We live in a world that seems to be filled with angst, sadness, and hostility. You can’t turn on the news without being bombarded with tragedy, inequality, and distress. While it’s important to pay attention and not turn a blind eye to what’s happening around us, it’s also important to find a way to exist without letting the bad drown out the good. Because there is good out there. You might have to dig for it, but it’s there.

Finding ways to navigate life in a manner that allows us to smile and laugh and find joy isn’t always easy. But like I said, there’s good amidst the bad, and we definitely don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Learning how to be okay with our lives is essential because, even though not everything in this world is sunshine and roses, each one of us deserves to be happy.

The essay you’re about to read is my take on how to make that happen. It’s certainly not foolproof because we’re all works in progress, but it can be a place to begin. Just click below to read Pursuit of Happiness.

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Pursuit of Happiness

People are different as snowflakes. We have different dreams, different interests, and different goals. Ultimately, though, we’re all searching for the same end result…happiness. But what, exactly, does it take to make us happy?

Some people swear it’s money…that age-old myth that the more you have, the happier you’ll be. No one can deny it’s a lot less stressful to know you can pay your bills than it is to constantly dodge your creditors, but more isn’t necessarily better. I used to work with a guy who had quite the enviable bank account, and he wouldn’t know happiness if it waltzed up and smacked him on the forehead. On the flip side, I know people who live paycheck to paycheck and seem quite content.

Maybe good health is the prerequisite for happiness. As with money, it can help, but it’s no guarantee. The world has its fair share of people whose demeanor screams discontent even though they eat right, exercise, and are rarely ill. At the other end of the spectrum, you find folks with perpetual smiles on their faces while navigating their lives from wheelchairs and hospital beds.

It could be that happiness lies in family…that loving tie that binds parents to children and husbands to wives. No doubt a close-knit family can create immense joy. There’s something wonderful about coming home to a spouse you can cuddle up with and confide in. And having little mini-mes running around can be such a blessing. But if having kids always makes people happy, why do we hear so much yelling in the supermarket? Not from the little ones, mind you, but from the grown-ups. And take a look at some of the married people around you, then make a mental note of how many of them seem to exude the bliss of a death row inmate. In contrast, you may notice a significant number of single, childless people in this world who find their status exactly to their liking.

Okay, so, if all those things aren’t surefire roads to happiness, what about professional success? People who reach the top of the ladder and brandish that coveted sword of authority must surely be ecstatic. Maybe…maybe not. Many are overstressed to the point where being happy falls to the bottom of their “To Do” lists. Who has the energy to be happy when the only emotion you have left is company loyalty? Not to mention all those CEOs who are virtual islands because their employees are terrified of them. If being at the top of the corporate food chain is what’s necessary to be happy, how do we explain the genuine, effervescent grin of a hotel doorman?

Perhaps the golden ticket belongs to clergy…people of the cloth…the faithful followers of the Divine. Surely and undoubtedly, those folks are happy. I’d venture to say that most of them are…but not all. We hear too many stories about ministers-turned-embezzlers or disillusioned priests leaving the church. And what about those everyday zealots who witness out of one side of their mouths and complain about their lot in life from the other? To say that being happy requires Bible-thumping is to unfairly dismiss those who live serene lives without professing any sort of religion at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t find real happiness as a rich, healthy, married parent who runs a successful business and faithfully attends church. Some of those things bring a true sense of fulfillment to a great many people. But those things don’t guarantee happiness. And for some folks, they aren’t even on the radar.

As I said before, people are different. That means our paths to happiness are different. And the way we receive external influences can dictate how happy we are. I guess what it really boils down to is this: It’s not so much what’s going on in your life but what’s going on in your head. I firmly believe in the old adage that says, even though we have little to no control over what happens to us, we do have control over our response to it.

Without a doubt, there will be times when we’re cranky and ungrateful and frustrated and sad. Those are valid parts of being human. But it’s important to know that, barring some chemical imbalance, we have the power to choose whether or not to wallow in those emotions. Occasionally, beating our chest or crying our eyes out is a necessary release. We just need to know when to pull the plug on those bad feelings before they have a chance to smother the joy in our lives. After sufficient primal therapy, it’s imperative to suck it up. Feel the feelings and then let them go.

It’s taken me many years and more than a few hardships to get the hang of that. Taking ownership of your emotional destiny doesn’t come without some battle scars. I don’t always find the silver lining…but I’m getting better at it. It’s essential for me, in the long run, to stay positive. Negative energy is an insidious stalker that hangs around in the shadows and molests you when your defenses are weak. But I believe the more time you spend being consciously positive, the more it becomes a natural part of your being. Once that happens, even during troubling times, those negative lapses are easier to overcome.

How a person gets to the point of choosing happiness over discontent is difficult to assess. We each have to devise workable methods to defeat our own particular mood blasters. For me, the following practices have proved to be quite beneficial:

Faith in a power higher than myself. I’m not a churchgoer, but I maintain an ongoing dialogue with God. I’ve worn His patience thin more than a few times, I’m sure. But there’s a lot of comfort to be found in handing my insecurities over to someone who actually knows how to deal with them. My mother taught me long ago to “Let go and let God.”  It’s not that I expect Him to fix my problems, but I trust He’ll guide me in the right direction.

Expecting the best from people. Sure, I’ve been duped and disappointed more than a few times but, generally, this expectation works out pretty well. Sometimes I have to dig really deep, but I believe there’s something good in almost everyone.

Living the Golden Rule. Corny, maybe, but it’s one of the easiest things to do to ensure my own happiness. More often than not, if I’m cheerful and considerate of others, I get the same in return. That’s not to say I always manage to be that way. Sometimes my surly side gets the better of me. But when I do interact with kindness, I wind up being the biggest beneficiary.

Smile therapy. I read about this years ago. It sounded absolutely ridiculous, but I figured I might as well give it a try. The basic premise is that when you’re feeling gloomy, you force your face into a big smile and hold it for 60 seconds. The idea is that if your face looks happy, your psyche will follow. Is this going to help during tragic circumstances? No, of course not. But for those day-to-day incidents that threaten to bring me down, I’ve found that it actually works. I don’t understand how or why it works; I just know it does. In the end, that’s really all that matters.

Music: I think this can help bring a lot of people out of the doldrums. If I’m out of sorts and have the time and privacy, I’ll listen to some of my favorite music. For me, that generally boils down to 70s rock. For others, it could be country or classical or jazz or hip-hop. Music really can soothe the savage beast.

Gratitude. This may be the most important practice of all. I’ve been royally blessed with a strong faith, a fabulous family, wonderful friends, a cozy home, good health, all the necessities and some of the luxuries, a sense of humor, compassion for others, etc., etc., etc. Making a conscious effort to acknowledge all of the amazing gifts in my life keeps me grounded, especially during difficult times that threaten to drown me in discontent. I don’t keep a gratitude journal, but each night before falling asleep, I mentally inventory these things in my “Thank You” prayers. I find that I have so much to be grateful for that it’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night and realize I fell asleep before ever getting through the list. It’s next to impossible for me to stay unhappy when I focus on gratitude.


So, there you have it. I don’t have a huge bank account. I have a bad back. I’m nobody’s boss. I’m overweight. Oh…and I’m happy. Really, truly happy. A lot of folks would look at my life and yawn, thinking, “How utterly mundane.”

I look at my life and say, “How incredibly perfect…for me.”  If there really is a secret to finding happiness, I do believe that’s it.

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