Locked Gates

I just finished reading A Country Road, a Locked Gate and Barriers to Endless Possibilites on the blog Just So You Know. Here’s the sentence that blew my mind: we often tear down fences but leave gates standing. (Go on over and read the post to get the context – it is worth it, I promise.)

This is something I want to meditate on in my own life. I know I have a tendency to put up gates that aren’t there. When it comes to projects or plans, I can be very linier. I go from A to B to C to D very methodically. If I am at point B and there is a reason I can’t progress to C, I can become stymied. The truth is that, frequently, the gate stopping me isn’t really there. I can go around – do point Q, M then V and come back later and do C when I have what I need.

But what the author of A Country Road noticed is how often we erect literral, and figurative, fences and gates to protect things we value – then time passes and the need for the fence disappears, but we continue to leave the gate. Think about old laws that are still on the books, outdated stereotypes, educational requirements that no longer make sense in our modern age – these are the types of figurative gates that seem silly once you look at them closely.

I suspect that there are a few of these gates in my own life – maybe more than a few. I am sure I have some mental barriers that once were logical, but just don’t make sense anymore. How often am I stopping myself for no reason? Is what is holding me back valid – or a construct from another time?  Definitely something to think about.

Coats of Arms, Family Mottos and Phrases in Latin

My recent post about my personal code took a couple of days to write. While I was working on it, I got interested in coats of arms and family mottos. Here’s a smattering of things I found:

The first was a list on Wikipedia of common Latin phrases. What a great find! Some of my favorites:

cacoethes scribendi – “the incurable desire (or itch) for writing affects many.” I think WordPress should make this their motto.

celerius quam asparagi cocuntu – Or simply, “faster than cooking asparagus.” Awesome. This is going to replace “in two shakes of a lamb’s tail” in my vocabulary forever.

in omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro – “Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book.” Quote by Thomas à Kempis. I need this carved into the wood above my bookshelves.

mea navis aëricumbens anguillis abunda – “My hovercraft is full of eels.” Exactly so.

clarere audere gaudere – “[be] bright, daring, joyful.” I love this. I may have to take this one on as my own motto.

Speaking of which, I also used Google Translate to translate my personal code into Latin. “Loyalty, Respect, Responsibility, and the Right to Tell Stories.” Responsibility didn’t translate, I probably have the syntax wrong. “Responsible” did, but it didn’t feel right. “The right to tell stories” made it pretty lengthy, so after fiddling with it a bit, I chose the word “Truth” instead. Afterall, all stories, even fiction ones, have their own truth. The result:

Pietas Respicias Veritas

That sent me on an internet journey researching coats of arms. I found this site that gives the meanings behing the colors, the animals and more: Fleur-de-lis Designs. So fun! I hadn’t known that the patterns are called “furs”.

Which of course, lead me to a page to make my own coat of arms as shown above. When I tried to add my motto, it was too big for their character limit, so I went with Respicias Veritas.  Respect Truth. I like that.

So, what does all of this have to do with anything?

Nothing, really. Except that I have a friend who was telling me about some life changes she’s been going through. She’s working with a therapist on a lot of the same questions I have – Who am I? What’s next? What do I want? Who do I want to be? Her therapist had her working on developing her own Personal Life Statement, and when she told me about it, it became the seed that got me thinking about my own. These are all off-shoots of that. Although it has been fun researching family mottos in Latin and making my own coat of arms for the blog, it hasn’t been frivolous. It is all a part of being very conscious of who I am now, and who I want to become.

Life Choices


“It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do. Otherwise, you will live your life as a prostitute, you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived. And you will not have a pleasant death.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross


And then there is this from Forbes: New Survey: Majority of Employees Dissatisfied

My Personal Code

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Crosby, Stills and Nash
“Teach Your Children”

A couple of weeks ago while driving around town, I was in the mood for something “singable” so I threw Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young into the CD player. Now, I’ve owned this CD since 1991 and it has gone on many a road trip with me, so I know this album inside and out, but for the first time, those particular lyrics hit me. Undoubtably resonating with me because of the journey I am on myself.

I think we all have our own codes that we live by. Our code comes from how we were raised, what we learned from the people around us, our own inner compass, our experiences and more. I think of my personal code as not only the big guiding principles, but as also the small rules I hold myself to. For example, here are a few of mine: never drop by uninvited. Always pay your bills, in full and and on time. Always use fresh garlic, real lemons, actual ginger root, and fresh parsley; there are no substitutes for any of these. Don’t discuss politics or religion. And here are a couple I use that I learned from my family: When in doubt, go left. (From my sister.) Buy good tools. (From my dad.) Buy good quality shoes. (From my mother.)

Those big guiding principles? I’ve been thinking about them as well. That’s lead me to thinking about family mottos, coats of arms and even branding statements. How would I define mine? I’m still working on it, but I think it would look something like: Loyalty, Respect, Responsibility and the Right to tell Stories. It’s a bit clunky, but it covers four of the truths I live by.


Honestly, I am not very good at the traditional conventions of friendship. By that I mean I am fairly terrible at calling people “just to check in” or even getting together on a regular basis. I tend not to get too deeply involved in other people’s lives, I don’t ask personal questions – I feel it is better to respect people’s privacy and let them choose what they want to tell me. (Although, that last one has lead to some awkward moments when people I have known for years assumed I knew things about them I didn’t.) The truth is, I am (and have always been) a bit of a hermit at heart. However, I am also cognizant enough of my own mental health to know that people are important. I am someone who really could live alone on an island, but it is much better for me if I don’t. At the same time, it takes me forever to warm up to “new” people and I don’t make friends easily. (This is mellowing a bit with age, but stills hold true.) Hence, I am very careful about the people I choose to have around me. There are folks I could lightly call friends, but the true deep core group is very small – and I like it that way. These are people who make my life richer, deeper and more meaningful. They consist of family and friends who I love with all my heart, and who I will give everything for. It is to them that my loyalty lies.


In general, I don’t think much of humankind. As I said, there are individuals that I love deeply, but when you get into the whole sticky, rolling, chaotic mass of mankind – I don’t think much of us as a whole. We’ve done some great things, but we’ve also done many more truly terrible ones. That being said, I still deeply believe in giving everyone respect. By respect I mean two things – the first is day-to-day respect and the second is more philosophical. Continue reading

Dog Walking Meditations

Hermes and I walking the trails at my cabin.

Since getting my dog, (roughly a year ago,) I’ve spent a lot of time walking.  I don’t have a fenced in yard, and he doesn’t like to chase balls, so for both of us, walking is the preferred method of exercise. I shoot for roughly an hour to an hour and a half a day. (Two to three 45 – 30 minute walks.) Over the last year we’ve walked in all kinds of weather: 100 degree plus summer days, blizzards, during tornado warnings, hailstorms, and through many a thunderstorm. The weather doesn’t really stop Hermes or I, though I confess to shortening the walks a bit this summer on those scorcher afternoons when I didn’t feel it was safe for either of us to be in the heat for too long.

In the beginning I always had headphones on while walking.  I love my npr podcasts: The Story, This American Life, Radio Lab, The Moth and more.  Podcasts make me very happy.  However, Hermes and I were going through the long process to teach him some leash manners, and eventually I realized that when I was listening to my podcasts, I wasn’t focusing on my dog.  They were distracting and causing a bit of interference.  I wasn’t quick to correct him and I wasn’t being consistent: basically I just wasn’t paying enough attention.  I realized that I had to leave the earphones at home.

And it made a difference.  The training was better on my end, and in the last few months Hermes and I have come to what I will call an agreeable impasse.  Oh, I still get frustrated when he occasionally pulls or stops dead in his tracks and he still gets frustrated when I won’t chase after rabbits with him, but we’ve found our own rhythm.  According to my dog training books and the websites I read, Hermes still has terrible manners and that bothers me a little.  However, I realized my “nose with paws” hound dog is never going to be an off leash dog, and it is just possible that we might never get past “good enough.”  I am okay with that.

Even though we have found a way of walking that works for us, I still haven’t added the headphones back in.  I have discovered that I really like hearing what is going on around me – it feels safer when we walk through traffic, and there is no more fumbling to find the right pause button when someone stops me to say hello.  More importantly, it gives me time to think.

I try to change up our route regularly so we see different things (well, I see them, the pooch smells them,) but naturally I pass through the same areas regularly. I like looking at the houses, especially seeing people working on their homes and yards: those splashes of white that show that someone is priming their wood siding, the big dumpster in the front yard, a handyman sign stuck in the lawn. I love all the possibilities. I also enjoy looking at people’s gardens: from the homes with carefully manicured lawns and flowerbeds to the messy, fabulous urban gardens – complete with corn and chickens.

Mostly though, when I walk, I think. I write blog posts in my head, (some of which actually get written, many of which don’t.)  I ponder work problems, life issues, and all manner of big questions.  Sometimes, I even come up with some answers.  But then, eventually, usually as I am in the last part of the walk, all that goes away and I just walk, enjoying the silence in my head.  I feel my muscles in my legs moving, the solid feeling of my feet hitting the ground, and notice my breath as it goes in and out of my lungs.  I don’t want to say that it is zen, after all the slightest thing can disturb it – people walking by, my dog finding rabbit poo, a passing city bus – but I do feel very “in the moment.”  It is my own form of meditation.

Owning a dog has been both a joy and a royal pain in the keister, but as much as I dream of a fenced in yard and a full time dog walker, I have to say, these walks are some of the most peaceful parts of my day.

Success and the Art of Mistakes

Last week, I watched this video about a mother and daughter who hand crochet beautiful jewelry.

Handmade Portraits: Ayşegül & Sebahat from Etsy on Vimeo.

I think the point of the video was supposed to be about the relationship between mother and daughter (it appears to have been posted near Mother’s Day) but that wasn’t what caught my attention. What interested me was something the mother days:

By using my mistakes, I developed these techniques.

Isn’t that beautiful? Embracing the act of making mistakes. The same week, I read an article called The Success Myth, written by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. The article discusses how we tend to attribute innate ability to those who succeed – believing that someone is successful because of a talent or special gift they were born with. In fact, Dr. Grant Halvorson tells us, success is really more about people who can accept that they will make mistakes, but who also believe that they can improve. Here’s an excerpt:

When you study achievement for a living, as I do, one of the first things you learn is that measures of “ability” (like IQ) do a shockingly poor job of predicting future success. Intelligence, creativity, willpower, and social skill aptitudes like these are not only profoundly malleable (e.g., they grow with experience and effort), but they are just one small piece of the achievement puzzle.

So, what does predict success? Research tells us it’s using the right strategies that leads to accomplishment and achievement. Sounds simple, but strategies like being committed, recognizing temptations, planning ahead, monitoring your progress, persisting when the going gets tough, making an effort, and perhaps most important — believing you can improve — can make all the difference between success and failure.

I kind of fall in the middle. I do believe that some amount of innate skill is needed to be very successful at something – whether that talent is brains, brawn or the ability to sing. We need a touch of talent to get us started. But I also believe that there isn’t much out there that can’t be learned, if one is determined enough. While it is true that someone who is practically tone deaf like myself will never be an opera singer, I do believe that with lots of hard work and lessons I could be… well, not completely terrible. I believe that the two cliches of mental power – brain surgery and rocket science – could be learned by most anyone, if they really wanted to learn it. The problem is, of course time, effort, and money – and the willingness to make mistakes.

I think we lose our ability to make mistakes as we get older. When we were kids, it was pretty accepted that we’d screw up. No one expected that we would ride a bike perfectly the first time, or that we would draw like Michelangelo the first time we got a box of crayons. We expect children to try things – and we expect that they will fail.

When we get older, however, that expectation goes away. As we become adults, we are far more likely to try something once, and if we aren’t good at it, just give up. It takes a great sense of humor and determined spirit to keep on trying.

Personally, I have a sliding scale for my tolerance with mistakes. I am more tolerant of them when they are in private – in public I am mortified (even if I have no reason to be.) I am more tolerant when I expect something to be hard, but can be tough on myself if I perceive that the task is easy. I have a limit of times I will try something – the number changes, but when I hit it, I tend to give up and walk away. (Although honestly, that is usually because I have found that I am much less likely to succeed when I am frustrated. If I give myself a chance to cool down, I am much more likely to succeed.)

Today, I read this by author Neil Gaiman:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

I feel like the universe is telling me something. I love those magical moments where things seem to be converging – a phrase, a photo, a song – something repeats itself in various ways and causes me to take notice. Synchronicity. It feels like the universe is telling me that it is okay to take a giant step – to go ahead, make a few mistakes. Learn and grow your talent from them.

Maybe it is time to add a few more risks in my life.