Category Archives: Inspiration

Stories that help us feel or do.

Journey of (re)Discovery

Written by Patti Isaacs
            I told my fifteen-year-old son, Emilio, that I’d be out when he got home from school.  I handed him a house key, which he put in his backpack.  My husband, Gauss, agreed to make saffron rice and salad for dinner when he got home from work.  Our older son, Luca, was off at college.
            Later that afternoon, while I was running errands, my cell phone rang.
            Gauss: We don’t have any onions!
            Me: Yes we do.
            Gauss: They’re not here.
            Me: Yes they are.
            Gauss: Where?
            Me: In the pantry cupboard, where they always are.
            Gauss: They’re not there!
            Me: Well, I know they’re there.  Ask Emilio to show you.  He knows where they are because he grills them when he makes himself hamburgers.
            Gauss: He’s not here.
            Me: Why not?
            Gauss: He called from the neighbor’s house.  He couldn’t get in because he didn’t have a key.
            Me: He’s an idiot.  I gave him a key this morning and saw him put it in his backpack.
            Gauss: So where are the onions?
            Me: Open the pantry door.  Look for the shelf with the cereal.  Look at the shelf above that.  There should be a bag of onions there.  They should be right in front of your face.  You can’t miss them.
            Gauss: Oh, here they are.
            After dinner I opened Emilio’s backpack.  The key was where he had put it that morning.
            I knew that it was time to cut these guys loose for a couple of weeks.  I’d been kicking around the idea of a sales trip for a few months, so I called potential clients and set up appointments.  But as my calendar filled and I plotted my route, I became alarmed to discover that after spending twenty years at home being mother hen to my family, my independence seemed to have vanished.
            At eighteen I had crisscrossed the country with a backpack and a lot of luck, hardly thinking twice before I hopped on a Greyhound or stuck out my thumb for a ride.  At 28, I spent a year teaching English in China.  Now, approaching fifty, with dependents and a mortgage, the prospect of a solo road trip was daunting, even with a late-model car and a pile of credit cards.  What had I lost in those intervening years?
            Like a rock tumbler smoothes an agate, life had knocked the sharp edges off me, and I wasn’t so sure I liked the polished version of myself.  I wondered if the edgy personality I used to have was still there.
            After setting up twelve meetings, I couldn’t back out, so at 8:30 on a Monday morning, I loaded my Honda Accord with a portfolio, a laptop, and an mp3 player crammed with tunes for the road.  I would drive from Minnesota to Boston, visiting established and potential customers along the way.
            Putting the key into the ignition, I felt like a sheep going to slaughter.  What was I getting myself into?  But as I headed through Wisconsin’s rolling wooded hills into the morning sun, my anxieties began to fade.  The trees were gold, red, and orange, almost fluorescent.  Fields spread out at their feet, blond crew-cut stubble of harvested corn, velvety green grass, or rich black earth.
            I found myself to be an ideal travel companion.  I liked the way I drove; I didn’t complain about the lodging I selected, and I never asked myself.  “Are we there yet?”  As the tunes blasted, I’d sink back in the seat and soak in the scenery in an almost meditative state, relaxed and alert.  Thoughts flowed through my head; it was like standing on a bridge watching a stream beneath me carrying feathers and twigs.
            My first appointment was on the outskirts of Chicago that afternoon.  I lugged my samples into the office, greeted my contact, and began my presentation.
            Each subsequent meeting became easier, and by the time I’d given three presentations in New Jersey, I began to enjoy it.  Even the least successful meetings were cordial and businesslike; the best left me feeling that I’d made an important connection.
            By the weekend I’d reached Long Island where I stayed with my sister.  I spent Sunday “doing” New York City with Frank, a guy I’d worked with for years via phone and email, but had never met.  We found each other under the big departure board at Penn Station at the appointed time, shook hands, and headed up to street level.  At the top of the Empire State Building we spent a long time looking out over the city, identifying buildings and pointing out geologic formations.
            We walked several blocks to a restaurant for lunch.  As we ate, we talked about historical buildings in our respective cities, September 11, where we’d gone to school, and how we met our spouses.  Like my husband, Frank is Italian, so we talked about our favorite Italian foods and cities.  When it was time to go, Frank pointed me to the correct subway platform, and with a wave and a smile, I took off for Chinatown.
            I strolled the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, wandering into tiny stores on side streets that catered to recent immigrants.  The products they stocked were identical to those I’d seen on the shelves of stores in China when I’d lived there: stacks of plastic washbasins in vivid candy colors, tinny aluminum steaming pans, bamboo baskets, cloying floral-scented soaps.  I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and was transported back for a moment.
            Traveling alone, I extended myself more to others, trying out my meager Chinese on the store proprietors, helping a French exchange student find her subway stop, and chatting up the guy selling flowers on the street.  As evening fell, I headed back to Penn Station to catch the train back to my sister’s place.  My coach was oddly quiet, packed with people who, like me, had tapped themselves out running around the city for the day.  As I slumped in my seat for the ride home, my cell phone rang.  It was Emilio, calling from a friend’s phone.
            Emilio: Mom, do you know where Dad is?
            Me: How should I know?  I’m in New York City; he’s in Minnesota where you are.
            Emilio: I can’t get into the house and he’s not there.
            Me: Maybe he drove Luca back to the dorm.
            Emilio: What’s Luca’s phone number?
            I gave him the number and the conversation ended.  I settled back, closing my eyes.  At the next stop, an enormous woman plopped herself into the seat next to me, smashing me up against the window.  My phone rang again.  I struggled to get it out of my purse, which was wedged between my foot and the sidewall of the train.  I answered on the fifth ring.  People around me looked irritated.
            Emilio: He’s not there.
            Me: Maybe he’s at Nonna and Nonno’s.
            Emilio: I forgot their phone number.  What is it?
            I gave him the number and hoped he wouldn’t call back.
            The train rattled down the track and I started to doze off.  My phone rang again.  This time a couple of people shot wilting looks at me.
            Me (eyes rolling): Hello
            Gauss: Hi Patti!
            Me: Hi Gauss.  Did Emilio reach you?
            Gauss: No.  Where is he?
            Me: I don’t know.  He called from Nick’s cell phone and said he couldn’t get into the house.  I had him try Luca’s dorm and then your parents’ house.  You’d better track him down.  I can’t believe it.  I’m fifteen hundred miles away and you guys are still calling me to help you find each other.
            Any feelings of homesickness I might have had were quickly erased.  I was glad I wasn’t going back just yet.
            The next day I headed for Boston.  My memory of the place dated from a cross-country journey I took as a teenager, when my cousin drove me around in his Renault, practically clipping the door handles off the cars in the next lane.  But after a day of driving there, I adapted, no longer skittish of the city’s narrow streets.
            While I enjoyed my client meetings, being “on” for so many of them was wearing me out.  I’d been on the road for nearly two weeks and was ready to head home to my boys.  I wanted to cook in my kitchen and spend time with my pet birds and to be home on Sunday morning when the paper came.
            Gauss told me that aside from the phone calls, Emilio had risen to the challenge of my absence, getting himself up without prompting in the morning and taking over laundry duty.  With me gone, Gauss and Emilio—and even Luca, off at college—discovered that they were more self-sufficient than they thought.
            The last day of my trip, as I drove back through Wisconsin, the trees had lost most of their brilliant leaves.  Like me, they looked a little more tired than they had two weeks before.  My wallet was lighter and the car had more miles on it, but I was returning with more than what I’d set out with: a fresh appreciation for my home and family, and a renewed belief in my talents and abilities.
            I’ve often heard that courage is not a matter of being unafraid; rather, it’s the ability to march ahead despite fear.  And that that’s what I’d done.  Years looking after my family had turned my focus away from myself, and life’s trials had whittled away some of my self-assurance.  I had left needing to know if I still had courage.  I realized, as I pulled into our familiar driveway, that it had hitched a ride back with me.
photo by Patti Isaacs

WISDOM Wednesday: Whitney Houston – Inspired Contemplation

A  tribute written by Malati Marlene Shinazy

When I first heard Whitney Houston had died, I fleetingly thought, “Sad, another amazing talent has fallen to drugs.”  I had no evidence to support that thought.  I actually had no information at all.
Over the next 24 hours, however, my sadness deepened as I was deluged with non-stop broadcasts describing how her death impacted the music community, her family and fans … her vocal range and tonal purity and her struggle with drugs.
I decided to examine why I had such strong feelings over the death of a celebrity I didn’t even know.
Yes, “The Body Guard” is a favorite film.  Yes, years ago I downloaded most of her music.
Somehow, though, I my feelings related to Whitney Houston, The Person.  On the surface, our lives shared no semblance.  She was a singularly talented artist, a recovering addict, and a celebrity.
One layer deeper however, on the level of Person, she resembled many of us.  Her life was one of great capacity and noble challenges.  She was resilient.  She possessed unstoppable passion for her work and family.
We have lost a great talent – a younger member of our boomer generation.  So, how does that relate to me?  What have I gained from my exercise in contemplation?
Like Whitney Houston and many of us boomers, at all stages of the age spectrum, I see my life continuing to expand and deepen …Life is simultaneously more profound and joyous … serious and silly.
  • The passion I have about my new business is more exhilarating than businesses I’ve launched in the past.

  • My love is more than my heart opening.  It is multi-dimensional and felt at my core of my being.

  • My community service is not simply a cluster of activities I “do.”  It is an integral part of me, who I “am.”

  • My role as a mom, one I took seriously when my kids were young and actively needed me, has changed too.  I truly feel privileged when my young-adults ask for counsel or share a confidence.

Whitney Houston’s life gave me moments of song and tidbits of celebrity gossip.  In my contemplation of how I felt about her passing, I realized how wonderful it is to be fully engaged in life … 
Laughing, Crying, Loving and Sharing Wisdom with each other
Plus, I have this assignment to write stories for WISDOM WEDNESDAY – a forum for voicing all sorts of perception and insight.  It provides me an opportunity to continue to grow and learn from people everywhere – from folks of any age, culture, or rank in life.  Now how cool is that?  I get to be both sage and student.

Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012)
Singer, Actress, Mom and Person

  photo by Nathan B

FOLLOWER Friday: An Invitation to Write

   This story was written by Sheri Robinson

Ever since I can remember, a journal has been a major necessity in my life.  A collection of raggedy, spiral bound notebooks had to be on tap at all times.  Like toothpaste, toilet paper, and deodorant, it was something I could NEVER do without.  Over the years, the notebooks were upgraded to beautiful hard-bound journals of blank canvas – lined or not – that promised to receive – without judging or interrupting  – my every thought, prayer, emotion, dream, anxiety, fear, and yes, my actual tears.  They were filled to the brim . . . brimming over with “Me.”  They were frayed to the point of duct-tape and rubber band repairs.  They were cherished friends that I could always reach out to, any time of day or night.  And as the years rolled by, my journal “friends “ transcended from therapists to counselors to mentors to surveyors of dreams and platforms for voice and thought.

Though the pressures of motherhood  and career became more complicated, my eyesight not as sharp as years before, and my handwriting more time consuming and less legible,  my ever-present, ever changing thoughts, experiences, hopes, and dreams still continued to expand and fill my mind, dive-bombing in and out like birds attacking mosquito larvae in still pools of water. 
It became absolutely necessary to empty my head… before I changed another diaper, cooked dinner, finished that report, started another diet…before real life crowded into those sacred storehouses of “me,” and pushed them aside.  Eventually,  my journals transformed into “lists” scattered and hastily written on  random scraps of paper – old envelopes, the back of receipts, the inside of empty Double Mint gum wrappers – anything I could find within the contents of my purse. 
(As fellow multi-taskers can attest, there is nothing worse than the feeling that you were supposed to do…are supposed to do… something…really important…but you can’t remember exactly what it is because… you forgot to write it down; you simply stored it somewhere in your already-crammed memory files of to-do’s, tomorrows, and yesterdays.  It haunts you for minutes/hours/days until an unsolicited trigger – a smell, a sound, a random thought – jolts you into full remembrance of what that something is…or was.  The impact of that realization is like falling asleep on a bus, and the feeling of gratitude that comes when you wake up just before the driver arrives at your stop…or the sinking frustration of waking up after the driver has passed your stop…three miles ago.  I’ve had both the fortunate – and unfortunate – experience of both.) 
Soon, I found a neater solution: my journals became the virtual (but printable) pages of Microsoft Word, onto which I would pour both my thoughts and lists.  Keyboards replaced pens and pencils, and a thought that took 20 minutes to write down now only took a few tap-tap-taps…and viola!
Then Life changed…Again.  Fast forward to today.  At the present, the mental demands of a career do not compete for my full attention, and my multi-tasking has gone from cerebral.  (reports/meetings/filings) to physical (sewing/cleaning/unofficially designated carpool mom.)  As far as motherhood goes, one baby bird out the nest, one left to fly.  And all my lists…what lists?! 
I’m writing, again…armed with a host of new experiences and wisdom to fill at least a dozen journals. 
And, Babes, have I got some things to share with you!  Stay tuned!
photo by Rennett Stowe

WISDOM Wednesday: Root Canals, Friendship & Personal Growth

Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

The need for a root canal sometimes just sneaks up on us.    One day I’m unconsciously consuming a thousand chocolate chip cookies, and then suddenly I feel an unrelenting pain in one of my molars.  That afternoon, I’m in my dentist’s chair, getting a root canal.  The process hurts so much I grow in character just having endured it.

Could I have done anything to prevent this?  Say, eaten fewer cookies?  No… in this case the root canal was due to a low-grade infection that sat for years, undetected.

Oddly, like low grade infections, my unconscious behaviors with friends can sit latent for years and become toxic, and on rare occasion erupt, causing an abrupt and painful end to a friendship.

Usually my friendships are a source of shared enjoyment and comfortable acceptance.  The flaws in each of us are overlooked because, in balance, the contentment of the friendship outweighs them.    Then something unexpected happens.

Ten years ago, one of my closest friendships ended quite badly – horribly, with a lot of finger pointing and accusatory shouting.  It was quite ugly.  Like a two year old, I privately ranted, calling her all those labels that would hurt her if I ever said them face-to-face.  “She is egotistical and self-centered; a horrible and stupid human being.  I never want to talk to her again, ever-ever!”

Unlike like a two year old, however, instead of addressing her directly, I typed the words next to her name in my cell phone.  Should she ever dare call, my caller ID would warn:  “Josie / STUPID & selfish”

Years passed with no communication.  Then one day, a text from Josie arrived.  Having long forgotten the poorly ended friendship, I replied.  After multiple rounds of texting… she suddenly stopped.  After a few weeks, I texted her:

Me: “What happened to you?”

Josie:  “What happened?  What do you think happened?  I’m going to keep talking to you while you continue to call me names?”

As if picking up from our past, I retorted, “Are we going to start this finger-pointing thing again?”

Then I remembered… the old notations after her name still remained in my phone!

I immediately felt embarrassed and ashamed.  Like the undetected infection in my mouth, the deep-seated, immature meanness in me had caused Josie emotional pain.  I immediately began an excision process, a sort of deep cleaning to rid myself of this tendency and to be conscious of it going forward.   And – right now – to update my phone.

When I called Josie to offer a truly heartfelt apology and explanation of why I was “calling her names” in our previous texts, we talked at length about how we each behaved a decade ago.  I shared with her the unscheduled but necessary mental-emotional “root canal process” I needed before calling to apologize.  I sensed we both had grown and perhaps would rebuild our friendship.

 After I hung up, I reflected, humorously….

It was mother’s insistence that I go to the dentist twice a year.  And, sometimes, I still needed the dreaded root canal…  But, as I mentioned before, I grew in character just having endured it. Now, with a lovely new crown set in place I could continue my life, spontaneously glinting a healthy smile.

 As I’ve come to discover, the same can be true with my friendships.

    photo by Malati Marlene Shinazy  

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No n’t

What  Shinazy will not say

Many years ago, during a previous recession, I wanted to introduce some positiveness into my day.  (Is positiveness even a word, you ask?  Well,… it is now!)

But what could I do?

In order to be effective, I thought, it needed to be something that happened all the time, and it had to be subtle enough to go unnoticed by others, to avoid people asking me, “Hey, what’s going on with you?”
I woke up one morning with this resolution: I would stop using the word “not” and its cousin “n’t”.
I questioned: if I could change my speech and construct my sentences in such a way as to eliminate the use of these two words, would I start to think, feel, perceive, and communicate positively?  And could it really be this easy – to just stop saying or writing two words and expect my outlook on life to change?
To make this transition I found that I had to say exactly what I meant.  Instead of telling my children “do not  cross the street,” I would tell them “stay on the sidewalk.”  When my girlfriends wanted to see the movie Halloween, rather than say, “I don’t like that type of movie,” I would say, “I prefer comedies rather than slasher movies.”
Of course, there were – and still are – times when I open my mouth and my brain whispers “No n’t !” ….and then I stammer about with a string of “aaaaahhhh’s” while that same brain searches to form my thought without uttering an “n’t” word.
It isn’t easy to not use these words…aaaaahh — mental correction — it’s a challenge to avoid using these words… but it’s well worth the effort !
photo by sboneham
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Just Being

by Shinazy
Sometimes we find joy in just hanging out with the people we care about.  No agenda.  No goals.  Just being.  Together. 
relaxation, relaxing, relax

Sitting on a chaise lounge, at the edge of a pool.  Warm desert breeze, shade from the water starved pine trees, clear blue sky.  Is this featureless sky real?  Looking around I see no clouds, nothing on the horizon – no distractions for us to change our focus from being together.

Some of us are reading the Las Vegas Sun; others are napping; still others are writing their blog.  You can hear the sound of children playing – have you noticed; wherever you are in the world, the sound of children playing is the same.  Laughter is a universal language; we all understand a smile, a giggle, a laugh.
Yes, there is big JOY in Just Being.

photo by Shinazy