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Cock your hat – angles are attitudes. ~ Frank Sinatra

How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about. ~ Philip Treacy

A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in. ~ Frederick the Great

A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life.  Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.  ~ P.J. O’Rourke

I can wear a hat or take it off, but either way it’s a conversation piece. ~ Hedda Hopper

One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is. ~ Erma Bombeck

 

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My 20s and 30s – and a sizeable chunk of my 40s – were spent allocating far too many hours, days, weeks (and more) agonizing over matters of little import, wasting precious time, energy and mojo fixated on imperfections, minutia and Other People’s Business which only served to diminish my own standing with self.

It should be easy, intuitive even, to recognize that the less stressful path to peace of mind is best pursued not from forceful, hand-wringing, futile attempts to guide events toward a self-determined outcome but rather in accepting and responding to life’s outrageously misfortunate slings and arrows with as much dignity and resolve as we are able to muster.

Don’t like how something has turned out, unfolding in directions that are out of alignment with your own wants, needs and desires? Adapt and / or find your own way, your own path, your own happiness, your own destiny. Stop lamenting over what is and wailing (to any who will lend an ear) about how life done did you wrong.

And yet, this is difficult to do. Certainly, it’s challenging enough if one is circumspect and so able to analyze a bump in the road with calm, steely resolve but damn near impossible once you find yourself already tightly coiled (guilty as charged!) within a maelstrom of anxiety and emotions, frustration and annoyance.

A few years ago, I set a goal for myself (continuously renewed!) to try to live more in the moment, to tackle life as it comes with a quieter strength, with grace and good humor while actively seeking to live more delightfully, giving myself up to all that is good and real and lovely much as a child sees and interacts with the world. Listening to children’s laughter, watching their sense of wonder and curiosity, seeing them play with such freedom and abandon, gently reminds us of the innocence and joy we knew (or were entitled to know) when we were young.

Living delightfully – thrilling to the sight of a hawk perched on a fence post or soaring overhead, observing a lone egret, legs akimbo, standing in a marshy field, smiling at the recognition of a cardinal’s call, laughing at a shared private joke with a loved one, savoring a special meal surrounded by family and friends, enjoying the crackle and roar of a blazing fire, resting peacefully in quiet solitude after a hectic day – these experiences and others that provide immense satisfaction and peace are the lifeblood of our existence. If we don’t appreciate, cherish and relish these nuggets of happiness, we do ourselves a great disservice. I don’t know that anything is sadder than to observe someone who is merely plodding through life without enthusiasm, without gaiety, knowing no festivity or frolic, one whose life is anything but filled with comfort or warmth or cheer.

For me, I choose to live delightfully. Because otherwise, really, what is the point?

I fear, Dear Reader, that my outdated views on this particular topic are an undeniable indication that I have entered that final, sad realm of a woman’s life known as Upper Middle Age and that I am now firmly, irrevocably and forever more considered No Longer With It.

It always surprises me to see women wearing dresses and skirts, their painted toenails jammed into sporty little high heels, and they aren’t wearing panty hose but instead are naked from the hemline on down. Seriously? For one thing, I don’t think it’s a flattering look whatsoever. The sleek, finished look of hose on leg is much more attractive. Why do women think its preferable to go au naturel? It has to be kind of chilly too I would think. Whether it’s the AC cranked uber high in the summer time or the chill of autumn or even – I can’t bear to think of it – the frigid air of winter, I still see women with bare legs sticking out beneath their upper layers. What is up with that? Do they have space heaters ‘up above’ blowing hot air to warm their thighs, knees, calfs (calves?), ankles and tootsies? I also wonder: Don’t their feet get blistered with nothing to cushion their skin against the constant chafing of those leather pumps they’re wearing? And last but not least, I have to believe those Manolo Blahniks get mighty sweaty and stinky with nothing to buffer and absorb the perspiration oozing off their feet all day long.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I really am No Longer With It but damn, I’m warm, I’m comfortable, my legs shimmer with a smooth trace of color – a la Barely There and Pearl, two of my faves — and my shoes don’t smell bad.

At least I don’t think they do…

Sometimes I feel like the world’s biggest jerk. Everyday annoyances and pet peeves – humph. I’m a fool to let such inconsequential things get me all riled up but still they do. My life, while far from perfect and not without challenges or constraints, is holding up pretty darn well, thank you very much. I am fairly healthy and gainfully (and comfortably) employed. My husband treats me like a queen, makes me laugh and is a wonderful BFF. We are financially stable, my son is thriving in both in his career and in his personal life, we live in a beautiful home and we’re happy – plain and simple.

But – News Flash! – I’m human and as such I’m as prone as the next guy (or gal) to grumbling when things don’t quite go my way or aren’t to my liking. And for that I feel pretty sheepish at times, embarrassed even.

It’s just that, well, it’s the way some folks (okay – LOTS of folks) don’t bother to reciprocate during conversations by asking me questions about MY weekend or showing even a modicum of interest in MY life – while I’m happy to query them about theirs and listen patiently with a smile on my face, nodding with interest, encouraging them to go on. Or when people at work don’t bother to clean up after themselves, leaving sinks and countertops sloppy and gooey with coffee grounds or pizza crusts or chili con carne and not wiping up their messes. I also find annoying (and I’ll admit that, yes this is really pretty doggone trivial) the local tradition we learned of when we moved to the Des Moines metro nine years ago known as Beggar’s Night where kids Trick or Treat a day or two prior to Halloween INSTEAD OF just taking the kids door to door ON Halloween. They’ve been doing it for decades and while it’s cute how the kids usually tell a joke to get their candy I still think it’s silly that they don’t do it ON Halloween. What’s the point then of there even being a day called Halloween?

See what I mean? Some incredibly petty things to get upset about, right?

Oh. And can we go back to Halloween for a minute? It IS that time of year, after all. What is up with kids ringing the doorbell, bags thrust forward, expectantly waiting for the candy to fall and not saying a word? When WE were kids (‘Get off my lawn!’), we always and eagerly shouted ‘Trick or Treat!’ as soon as the door was opened. And it was simply unthinkable that we would ever fail to say ‘Thank You’ after we’d been treated. Kids these days!

Indeed, I know what you’re thinking. ‘Julie, you ARE the biggest jerk in the world’. Because I do KNOW that this stuff means nothing. It’s just not worth it to get all worked up over something so frivolous and irrelevant. But there it is and here I am – warts and all. At least, at least I can take some comfort in knowing I am not alone. Everyone gets up in arms over day to day nuisances once in awhile. Mine may not be the same as yours but our shared humanity tells me that we all have our days. Some of those days just may be uglier and more unattractive than others, that’s all.

So to compensate I try to be more positive.  I clean up the spilled coffee and I laugh at all the kid’s funny Halloween jokes and that’s why I’ll continue to sit there, smiling encouragingly and try to put the focus on the other person in an effort to make them feel appreciated, liked and admired despite their cluelessness in not extending me that same courtesy. Sometimes, though, it really is a challenge.

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In a place like this, it’s impossible not to gaze in wonder at the beauty that surrounds you. The quiet, the stillness, the solitude – it’s always there, in the dark of night, in the early morning, at the end of each day. I get it now, why people speak so lovingly and with such enthusiasm for not just this particular place but anywhere that nature takes us, pulling us in, away from day to day worries, cares and concerns. When I was in my 30’s, a group of friends and I, with my young son, went camping and hiking several times throughout the year, exploring state parks, lakes and trails. Why is it that I let that go for so long? Our recent trip to Colorado has awakened that sense of wonder in me again. I yearn for it and find I’m happiest and most content when I’m outdoors, actively engaging with the natural world all around me.

My husband, knowing how much I enjoyed camping, proposed to me at an overlook at Bellevue State Park. It was the first and last time we used the new tent he purchased for the occasion. And then we got busy with graduating from college, starting our careers, buying a new house, remodeling, friends, family – our lives somehow got in the way of pursuing something that is simple enough to enjoy and yet we always maintained ‘sometime we’ll do that again’ but somehow we just never did.

Fall camping is my favorite time of year and we still have that tent. I don’t know that either of us wants to sleep on the ground anymore so a trip to ye old Bass Pro Shop may just be in order to check out more comfy options. Favorite memories are flooding my brain now: the sounds of the woods at night, hiking and exploration, great conversations (and fantastic meals!) around a roaring fire and being awakened by the songs of the birds in the trees. Lovely recollections and experiences so real and genuine that I’m actually stunned that I’ve failed to recreate them all these years since then.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~ Albert Einstein

Feeling adventurous and eager to play with our new toy – the Canon 70D we recently fell prey to in a weak mood of self-indulgence – Bill and I hopped in the car and drove to the High Trestle Trail last night around 8:00, our spirits buoyed by the gorgeous fall weather, clear skies and that wonderful stillness that often takes hold once the sun goes down.

Driving Kramer-style with a tank of gas teetering toward empty, we arrived in Madrid to gas up before heading to the trailhead with a few miles to spare before our tank went belly-up. Full throttle now, we continued on our way. There was no moon to guide us and the gravel road leading out of Madrid was lit only by our headlights with occasional flashes of illumination cast off from farm houses along the road. After two false leads (we had to turn around a couple of times and backtrack) we found the parking area for the trail. We’d only been here once before during the day; funny, isn’t it, how things look so much different at night.

As we pulled into the gravel parking lot, another vehicle was just leaving. While we were prepping ourselves with the camera, tripod and bug spray, we no longer had the place to ourselves as a new car pulled in to the darkened lot. Late at night, no streetlights or moon overhead, I’ll admit once we stepped onto the trail that leads to the bridge it felt both exhilarating and a little spooky. The trail to the bridge opened up in front of us, a converging path toward a dimly lit target in the distance. The leafless trees provided dramatic silhouettes against the dark, starry sky. It was breathtaking!

A friend had cautioned us to wear some kind of reflective gear or to carry a flashlight as it is difficult for the many bicyclists and pedestrians who use the trail to see others on the trail ahead. I soon learned the truth of her warning when seemingly out of nowhere we were able to discern two adult figures walking toward us. It wasn’t until they were literally right in front of me that I noticed they were each pushing strollers with two small children in tow. They issued a friendly greeting and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. This was great fun and I loved being out there but when you’re on a lonely stretch surrounded only by trees and sky late at night during the week and no one knows you’re out there – well, let’s just say it was easy for my imagination to get the better of me at times. Still, we pressed on knowing there were folks just ahead of us as well from that second car parked next to ours.

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Each end of the half-mile bridge is marked by two structures which are beautifully lit at night. These towers, artistically appointed, are 42 feet tall. According to the High Trestle Trail website, the dark bands represent geologic coal veins found in the area limestone deposits. As we approached the towers, I was reminded of our first visit here two years ago. The 13-story bridge, located between Madrid and Woodward over the Des Moines River, offers stunning views and is punctuated along the half-mile span with six overlooks. The bridge design includes 41 steel ‘frames’ covering the trail and extending the length of the bridge. At night, in the center of the bridge, these frames are illuminated by thin, cool, blue rods of light resulting in a dramatic burst of geometry.

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For a mid-October weeknight (precariously close to our normal bedtime), the trail was surprisingly busy. Some, like us, were outfitted with camera and tripod to snap a few photos while others, including a couple of groups with small children and babies, were apparently just out for the fresh air, starry skies and unique location. Bill and I experimented with aperture settings, ISO settings, shutter speeds and generally just played around with some of the many features on our new camera. Some photos were fairly successful.

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Others, not so much. (See the ‘ghost’?)

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After an hour and a half of walking the bridge and experimenting with our camera, we headed back to the car. By this time, the others had left and we were alone on the trail. After we’d walked some distance from the bridge towers, we noticed a strong beam of light behind us. Turning around to look, my first thought was someone was driving a car on the trail which is designated for non-motorized travel only. On closer inspection, we realized it was a pair of bicycles with very bright lights. Again, the riders called out a cheery greeting (perhaps regular users of trails, especially at night, recognize all too well the adrenaline rush of those they are about to pass, in a place where thoughts of vulnerability are utmost in one’s mind when an unknown entity approaches amidst all that isolated darkness!) Their gesture was greatly appreciated whether or not their intent was to tamp down fear. In any case, mission accomplished.

We continued on (with both of us reveling in the intensity of their bicycle light beams even as the distance between us increased over time) until at last we reached the intersecting gravel road that led to the parking lot. Another moment of apprehension as a car drove toward us and then turned around. Its passengers, however, had simply made the same mistake we’d made earlier and overshot the entrance to the parking lot. Ten o’clock on a Thursday evening and here were two more daring souls seeking the peace and solitude of hiking this popular trail built on a former railroad bed on a beautiful October evening under a clear sky bursting with stars and wispy streaks of clouds while being serenaded by the sound of chirping crickets and a gentle breeze.

On the way home it occurred to me that while our recent trip to Colorado and the magnificent Rocky Mountains was incredibly inspiring, beautiful and fulfilling, so too was this little outing that I had just enjoyed with my husband, my partner by my side.

Most everyone says you look better with a smile. And for the most part I think that’s true.

Except when it isn’t.

I dated someone once – a tumultuous two year affair that ended badly – who, at the time, I found very physically attractive. So long as he kept his mouth shut. And never laughed. Or smiled.

At one time I thought he would make a great male model. He was tall and lean with a sculptured, muscular swimmer’s physique. Chiseled cheekbones and eyes that twinkled whenever he looked at me. Nice hair.

But if he smiled…

Remember that scene in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when Santa first lays eyes on that shiny nose? The big guy’s hands fly up to his face and he sort of staggers backward? Well, that’s the kind of reaction I’d have when this guy smiled.

He just looked kind of, well, goofy. Go all serious again and I’d melt. Laugh, grin or smile and I had second (and third and fourth) thoughts. I know this makes me sound shallow and superficial but that’s what I remember thinking during our time together. His smiling face was definitely NOT an attractive face. Off-putting in a huge way. It’s just that he was so much better looking when he had that somber (dare I say, smoldering) look about him.

So, things did not turn out well for our relationship – we just weren’t a good match whatsoever for a number of reasons – and subsequently we both moved on. He married, I married and over time the bad vibes between us, well, they just didn’t matter anymore. At least, not for me. I ran into him at a wedding a few years back and we had a pleasant enough conversation but standing there chatting with him, for the life of me I have no idea how I ever got past that dopey smile of his in the first place.

 

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The Julia Roberts film, Sleeping with the Enemy (in theatres in the early 90s, coinciding with the early courtship days for my husband and me) is about a wife who plots to escape an abusive marriage. An early scene in the film depicts soup cans in the couple’s kitchen which are shown lined up perfectly in the cupboard, the labels all turned just so. Another scene has Julia’s character hurriedly straightening bath towels that are ever so slightly out of alignment, the implication being that this will anger her husband who insists on things being neat and orderly. The movie, predictably enough, concludes with Julia being able to get away from her brutal husband and, we assume, living happily ever after with the new man in her life who saves her from a homicidal attack by her husband shortly before the credits begin to roll.

The point of all this – somber and important social commentary aside – is that my husband, while certainly not brutal or abusive, was a bit of a stickler for things being tidy and organized and otherwise ship-shape when we first met. In perfect opposition to his fastidiousness, I was a bit of a slob. In my defense, I think the word ‘slob’ is an overstatement although I will admit that you would be more likely to see dishes stacked up next to the sink and beds unmade at my place than at his. I prefer to describe my domestic outlook while we were dating as ‘relaxed’ and ‘laid back’.

Anytime Bill displayed his penchant for order and structure, evidenced by an oh-so-neat arrangement of tools or household cleaning supplies or personal hygiene paraphernalia, Wesley and I would snort and giggle and one (or both) of us would exclaim ‘Sleeping with the enemy!’ It was always done in good fun and Bill would laugh along with us.

Fast forward to our present day marriage…

It’s funny how our roles have reversed over time or, rather, evened out. Perhaps we’ve both just been a good influence on each other. I am now known more for keeping a tidy (or in any case – tidier) house and am sometimes chided by some in my family for it. Once, while hosting a holiday dinner, my mother was standing next to the stove when I noticed a kitchen towel hanging on the door was out of kilter. When I reached over to straighten it, Mom said ‘Julie, you’re scaring me.’

In the meantime, Bill has become more lackadaisical about things such as directly carrying recyclables out to the garage (99% of the time that’s exactly what I do while he prefers to just lay them on the counter by the door that leads to the garage). Another example is a continuing nag of mine about his habit of leaving dirty socks laying on end tables or on the floor in the living room.

Over the years, thanks to my husband’s example, I’ve become a better (read: not perfect!) housekeeper. I crave structure and order and dislike clutter. And apparently I’ve succeeded in getting Bill to focus more on what’s important and timely instead of hard and fast rules about a place for everything and everything in its place. Shrug. In any case, it seems to work for us.

Oh, but I do still enjoy sleeping with the enemy!

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Yes, I’ll shout it from the mountain tops! I love my husband more than I can say. He’s sweet, funny, sexy and wonderful. And my very, very bestest friend!

Quitting my job to go to school at the age of 34 paid off in more ways that one since not only did it put me on a healthier career path but it provided the setting and timing for the two of us to meet and fall in love. Hooray!