Let Us Eat Cake

I just took a cake out of the oven.  It smells like heaven (Assuming heaven is a bakery…. Which isn’t a bad assumption…) It’s a bit of an experiment, this cake – A plain vanilla cake mix, adulterated with mango and coconut water. I have plans for a coconut icing on the top. My mouth is watering at the scent of it. It smells like celebration. Like party. Like happy. And it begs the question, “What’s the occasion?”

I have a number of answers i can give to that question.

I’ve been on my back most of the week with a wonky neck. Today i managed to spend most of the day on my feet without a painkiller. That is worth celebrating.

I have young family members and important friends who have graduated this week. That is worth celebrating.

My son did great on his (Freshman year of high school) report card, and my oldest, the florist, pulled off the flowers for a wedding on a very limited budget – And still made them look rich and gorgeous. Those are both things worth celebrating.

It is Pride Month. Everyone who is gay (or just  “not straight”) is celebrating the gradual obliteration of closets.

It is Ramadan. My Muslim friends are celebrating their holiest of months.

I went to the store today with no makeup on. (That is HUGE for me – and worth at least a small “You go, Girl!”)

In spite of steroids, i only consumed one “normal” portion of ice cream today.

In spite of 5 days of steroids, and many obscene portions of ice cream, i have not ballooned.

It’s Robert Fulghum’s birthday.

My oldest is coming over to have dinner with me tonight.

On this day in 1919, congress passed the 19th amendment.

Betty White is still alive and kickin’.

I would like to say that i managed to make a bundt cake that came out of the pan totally in tact. That would truly be a monumental feat and worthy of celebration. But it has never happened. For anyone. Ever.

Regardless of the evil of bundt, give me some time and i could come up with lots of other things worth celebrating. But the truth is, sometimes the cake itself is the occasion. Sometimes you just have to celebrate living . The sounds of birds in the morning. The smell of roses after a rain. The perfect cup of coffee.  The joy of baby goats. Or puppies. Or kittens. The feeling of accomplishment when every towel in the house is clean and folded and in its proper place. It’s just life. Nothing special. And yet, special enough.

Special enough for cake.

Come, friends… Celebrate with me.

 

Looking Out On The Morning Rain

In my quest to eliminate extraneous chemicals from my life over the years, i have tried more than my share of “natural” products. I was less than thrilled with most of the results. Lately, tho, there have been a slew of advances in natural products, brought to us by advances in science. Go figure. As the scientific community bridges more and more of the gaps between the old arts and the newer needs and discoveries, natural products improve tenfold. Because of that, i have found some things that truly work, and still fulfill my quest to not unnecessarily poison myself, my children, or the environment.

To note: I phrase it that way because there are certain harmful chemicals, some strong medications, for example, that are sometimes necessary to correct problems. And i have yet to find a natural remedy that does indeed keep bugs out of the house – And i promise you, i have tried them all. (Please don’t bother to suggest that i learn to live with the bugs and share my space. Not gonna happen.) But other than that, i have been able to eliminate quite a few known culprits in the toxic wars.

First off, i do make some of my own stuff. I have a balm that i make of cocoa butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, evening primrose oil, glycerine, vegetable wax, and essential oils… And i use it on EVERYTHING – It goes on my skin, on my lips, in my hair (It makes a great pomade). I make sugar scrubs. And i make my own perfumes. But there are some things that i don’t make, for various reasons: Cost, time, availability of ingredients, etc. And i wanted to share some of the products i’ve found with you.

One of the easiest switches i have made is from liquid to solid shampoo and conditioner. I had tried many types over the years, but i had never been satisfied. Most are soap based, which leaves a bit of a film. You can wash it off with vinegar if you wish, but that’s kind of a pain in the bum to me. And because i have terribly coarse hair, leaving a coating on it just makes it even more wiry. So tho it left my hair clean and smelling good, it wasn’t an option for me. Then i did a little research and found a solid shampoo that is made with a mild, environmentally safe, synthetic detergent. No, it isn’t truly natural, but thru science, it gives me the low-residue clean i desire without harming the environment. (If you dye your hair, SYNDET is safe for color-treated hair.)  Most solid shampoos and conditioners also come with minimal and/or recycled packaging, which is a plus. And it is easy to use: Wet your hair, run the bar over your hair three times or so, and rinse. The conditioner goes on similar, except it doesn’t lather. It is just a mix of more soluble oils that leaves my hair soft. (Side note: The conditioner bar also doubles as a shaving bar in a pinch.) If you travel a lot, this will save you space in your allowed liquids for air travel, and no more worrying about bottles leaking in luggage. The ones i have found that work great for me are from Scenter Square. I’m in love with the Dragon’s Blood scent, but she has many that are less gypsy and more mainstream. Give it a shot.

Next on the list: Natural deodorant. First off, to attempt making this change means to accept the fact that humans sweat. (I admit, i’m still getting used to that concept.) This is because, tho there are some who still argue the research, it does appear that aluminum is a likely contributor to many diseases, including cancer, (Since my mother died of breast cancer when she was my age, this hits especially close to home for me,) and aluminum compounds are the active ingredient in antiperspirants. That being said, it doesn’t mean we have to stink. I had tried all kinds of different natural deodorants in the past: The crystal sticks, the baking soda sticks, the clay sticks, the witch hazel sprays… I even tried making my own at one point. All of them were a bust. I smelled like a 19th century bear trapper by noon. The one that finally worked for me, i’m a bit miffed to admit, came to my attention thru an ad on Facebook. I forget what it was about the ad that made me look, but i did. And the concept piqued my interest. It contains Acidophilus. Yup, yogurt culture. Good bacteria to eat the bad, stinky bacteria. Now, it advertises 24 hour protection. Not on me. But at least i’m not stinky, except up close, in the morning if i don’t reapply. Of course, everyone’s body chemistry is different, so i can’t guarantee that what works for me will work for you. But the one that is working for me is Native Deodorant .

Something that i did learn about transitioning to natural deodorant that might be helpful… Before your first use of a non-antiperspirant, use a sugar scrub on your pits. It helps unclog all the skin and glands and makes the transition go faster. It still takes a few days for your body to get used to sweating again, and then it kind of learns to deal with it, and you don’t sweat quite as much.  I have also noticed that when i don’t drink enough water, my sweat smells stronger and the deodorant is a bit less effective (Makes sense when you think about it.) An extra perk: Even tho i sweat, my clothes don’t stain. This is because the staining culprits aren’t actually your sweat, they are the chemicals in your pit stick. Anyway, if you are trying to reduce your absorption of aluminum, give it a shot.

Next: Makeup. Yes, we women should be comfortable without it. Yes, all artifice has its price. But i do enjoy coloring myself up a bit, even if it isn’t to the Cyndi Lauper / Boy George heights of my youth. And while it is true that there are a number of natural makeup companies out there now, there is one that i am partial to because they actually customize colors as well as having an extravagant choice of ready-mades.  Elea Blake is a cosmetics company that is truly unique and a whole lot of fun. If you enjoy color and color theory, this is heaven. That perfect shade of red lipstick that you have been searching for? I promise you, you will find it here. They even have these cool lip (and eye and cheek) drape kits where you can test different tones of the same color to see which spectrum you fall under.  But my favorite part of their products is the versatility. All of the powders (Which are talc free) are made to the same standards, so they can be used anywhere on your face. And you can mix them together to create your own colors. (You can tell a true EleaBlake fan by the fact that we all have small mirrors on our makeup tables that look disturbingly like something you’d find at a coke party, but are actually for blending bits of color for the distinctive look of the day.) I have even added some of the powders to my homemade balm to add sparkle to my hair or skin. And those of my sisters who have skin colors that rarely show up at the department store? I promise you, EleaBlake has your color. And if they don’t, they will make it. Just for you. And you will be surprised how affordable it is, especially considering that, because their powders are pure minerals, they never go bad. Oh, and one more thing about this brand…

If you ever didn’t believe that the beauty industry ignores us seasoned women, try finding an eyebrow color for someone with grey or white hair. You might as well look for a chicken that speaks Greek. But there is one company who has a color that matches. I don’t care if your hair is the color of chrome, or the pale strawberry of a baby Viking, they either have it or will happily make it. And it makes a huge difference.

Soaps, scrubs, lotions… I am a sucker for good bath products. There are lots of great local companies who make these things. And if you have one local that suits you, i urge you to bring them your business. If you don’t have one local, i will suggest my friends at Divine Purity . Cassandra makes some lavish products with care and love that are free from toxins. And she’s a wonderful and inspirational person to boot. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. Plus, small businesses like hers are important, politically, socially, and karmically. Purchase from them when you can.

Some final thoughts:  If you have ever tried to make your own toiletries, etc, you know that ingredients aren’t cheap, so very often, these natural products are more expensive than the mass-produced stuff you get at the superstore. And believe me, for budget reasons, i still buy a lot at “regular” stores. Ok, some of it is for vanity, too…. I mean, what if this really IS the miracle cream that will take all my wrinkles away??? And if that is the case with you as well, that is ok. No one is a perfect eco-consumer. At least no one with a normal income and/or the usual unreasonable beauty hopes. But do what you can. Every little bit makes a difference.

I have many more moves to make in my quest to find products that help me make peace with my own wellness and the wellness of my environment. (My next foray will be with Dropps , a company that makes eco-friendly laundry and dishwasher detergent pods. If you have tried them, please let me know what you thought!) But i feel like i am on my way, and every little bit helps. Reusing bottles, cleaning mostly with vinegar mixes, buying locals meats and produce… Each a step on the road towards clean living. And all these little steps, they make me feel…. They make me feel… They make me feel like a nat-u-ral wooomannnnnn…..

Going the Right Way for a Smart Bottom

I remember once, a long time ago, when i had made a colossal mistake and my family was worried that i had blown my future, my grandmother looked me beyond-angrily in the eye and said, “For a smart girl, you did a really stupid thing!” Then she took a few moments to compose herself and said, “Now, what are we going to do to make it right?”

It wasn’t the first time i had heard a riff on the “How can someone so smart do something so stupid??” bit. I was  a smart kid, but i didn’t always make the best choices. I’d get caught up in a moment or a thought, and next thing i knew, i’d be getting the “What were you thinking???” speech from family or friends. Or, most often, from myself. And i rarely had a good response. I could tell myself that i got goaded into it, that i didn’t really have a choice, that it wasn’t my fault… But most of the time, it was one of those “It seemed like a good idea at the time” kind of things. Yes, that would include the time i read an article about the acidity of strawberries being good for stains… And came up with the brilliant idea to brush my teeth with them.

They were pink for days. I looked like some kind of dental albino.

And there have been times when i made mistakes that, in all fairness, should have done me in.  Or at least sent me to a penalty box in the 8th circle of hell or something. These mistakes are ones i should have known better than to try. The things people warn you about, and you do anyway. And no, i’m not talking about my marriages. (Well, not most of them anyway.)  I’m talking about things that harm ourselves and others. Drugs and alcohol. Self neglect and abuse. Lies to loved ones. Those mistakes really hurt. And as much as i wished for a Zamboni to come along and smooth the surface,  the only way to right the wrong was to take my punishment and use it as a ladder to help me climb out of the self-made hell hole.

Mind you, i’ve dug many more of those holes than i care to admit. And i finally grew so tired of climbing ladders that i learned to stop digging holes. (Well, i try, anyway.) (I get points for trying, right?)

Anyway…

Life is a set of cabinets from Ikea. And it doesn’t come with an instruction book. So you do your best to put things together in the right order, facing the right direction, with the right screws. Sometimes, you make a little mistake, and you have to remove the shelf you just attached because it’s upside down. You get frustrated, you bang the screwdriver on the counter, and you curse all of Sweden… But you unscrew the board, fix it and move on.

Sometimes,  you think you’re doing a decent job until you’re halfway thru and you realize you have already used up all the “A” screws, and the “B” screws don’t fit. This takes longer to fix because now you have to search in the bottom of your toolbag, as if searching for the last french fry, to find a few more screws of the correct size. But you do it, even if it means going to the hardware store to buy more, because you’ve got so much time and money invested now. You might as well.

But the worst is when you are nearly finished and you realize that you built the whole damned thing backwards and upside down. It is easy to want to give up, throw it to the curb, and let the scavengers have it. But if you do, all the effort is wasted. So take a moment, shake off the anger and disappointment, refocus and begin again. It may take more screws, some duct tape, and a whole lot of wood putty; but you can fix it. It won’t be perfect, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you didn’t give up. You put in the effort to make it right. It might always be a little wonky in that back left corner, but you did it. You finished it. You made it work.  And you’ve learned your lesson: From now on, no more cabinet kits from Ikea.

My point is, we all make mistakes. Silly little ones and big bad ones. We can’t help it. We humans, we are smart… But sometimes we do really stupid things. It’s part of life. In the end, all we can do is try our best to correct what we can and learn from the experience. Turn them into ladders. And forgive. Forgive both others and ourselves for screwing up.  For making mistakes. For being human.

 

I Wanna Be a Starfish

We learned it in some of our first science classes as kids… If a starfish loses a leg, it can regrow a new one. Lizards can grow new tails. Some worms and the often-spoken-about-but-rarely-seen sea cucumber, if you cut them into pieces, each piece becomes a new animal. Regeneration after amputation. Amazing stuff. Scientists have been studying forever in an attempt to put this information to medical use. There have been some successes, but there are still things that, once removed, never return. But not for lack of trying.

As humans, we regenerate constantly. Skin, hair, nails. blood… All constantly regrowing and replenishing themselves. The bigger body parts that we can’t regrow yet, those we can replace with transplants and prosthetics.  In one way or another, they heal. In a similar vein, the loss of face and erosion of confidence from the occasional foot-in-mouth, undone zipper, or escaped flatulence… That kind of wound to our metaphysical limbs will heal in short order. And usually with only the slightest scar.

But there are times in life where circumstances, events, or the words or actions of others cut the limb of our soul clean off. Our spirit legs taken clean out from under us, we lose propulsion and become stuck… dead in the water. Most of the time, if we wait it out, whatever aspect of our soul was cut, it will regrow. It is painful. It is difficult. But it is worth it. The regeneration process, for all its visceral discomfort, is quite simple: God/Goddess/Universe provides the first cells by surrounding us with opportunities for growth. The food of encouragement comes along and we are on our way to repair. Even if the push is small and we start out at a slow pace, we will move again. The post-amputation stumps of spirit, of confidence, of clarity… Even if the injury was near fatal at the start… Those things will eventually regrow given time.

Unless we fight it.

If we have a limb cut from us, be it the limb of trust, of motivation, of love; and we don’t want it back… Well, we will forever be crippled by the loss.

It’s not usually that we enjoy being bereft of whatever virtue was taken from us. Most of the time, the barrier is fear. Fear that if we got it back, it would only be taken again. Over and over. An endless cycle of loss and torment. And for many of us, when we think we have finally come to terms with it and are ready to move on, the phantom pains of the amputated spirit remind us of what could happen, and the little green bud drops off. We are tail-less once again.

Sometimes, that fear is a healthy thing. Sometimes, by delaying the regrowth, we strengthen the rest of our constitution. Helpful when, in fact, our fears come true, and our regrown hope is cut from us again… We are better able to handle the time without it. But if we delay the growing of the new optimism for too long, we grow accustomed to living without it. We forget how much we need it. Because unlike an actual arm or leg, as was said in Scent of a Woman, “… There is nothing like… an amputated spirit; there is no prosthetic for that.”

While it is true that we can live without an arm or a leg, or even a prosthetic for one; living without a part of your spirit is a different matter entirely.

So if you have found yourself, like i have, fighting the regrowth of something you lost, be it trust or faith or love… Try to give in. Try to give up the fear. It won’t be easy. We’ll probably lose a few tail buds in the process. And there is still a chance that, once regrown, it will get chopped again. And there will be pain. And we will have to face the fear again. And it will suck. But practice makes perfect, right? We will learn and grow and move on again. We have to. We can live without limbs. But a life without trust, or faith, or love, is really no life at all.

 

 

 

Girl Power

When i was a kid, if i had handed an alien my U.S. History book as an insight to our country, they would have thought nearly everyone of importance was a white male.  From Columbus and his male crew meeting the (male) chief of the local tribe, to Captain John Smith, to President George Washington (And every president up til this decade)…  3/4 of the book was white men. Yes, we learned about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Eleanor Roosevelt. We learned about George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King Jr. We learned about Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. We learned about Pocahontas and Sacagawea. But that was about it. The only person i remember being called out as specifically Jewish was Einstein. And if there were people of any other ethnic persuasions, i don’t remember any time being spent on them. Sad, really.

Granted, some of it is due to the fact that, until fairly recently, generally speaking, white men held the seats of power. The status quo was a European Christian male as the leader of… well.. pretty much everything. But times, they are a’changing. Every day this country becomes more diverse. And as a result, more groups are getting a chance to partake in the type of history that gets documented in textbooks. I mean, we all have always been a part of history… Just not the part that gets into the popular public record. But even that is starting to come around.

I went to see Hidden Figures  yesterday. To my surprise and delight, my son was eager to see it as well. If you somehow haven’t seen the trailers, it is the story of the “human computers”, specifically, a group of black women, who were responsible for the calculations used to get men into space. Now, i have made it a point to study women’s history for nearly 30 years, but i can honestly say that i didn’t know anything about these women until a few years back when  my daughter and i had the pleasure of hearing Dr Mae Jemison speak, and she talked about some of the women who came before her at NASA. One of the things she said about those women, women like herself, has stuck with me – They were black, they were female, and they were “nerds”; so they had three strikes against them when it came to public impressions. Thankfully, Dr. Jemison’s parents never bought into that. They encouraged her, even knowing how difficult the path would be. Becoming an astonaut is hard for anyone. But at that time, for a black woman, even more so. She did it anyway. And now it is easily conceivable for a woman, of any ethnicity, to go to space.

We need to put women like these into the history books. Important, significant women of all types to help further the aspirations of our weedlings. Lets make it easier for them to spend less time reading about the Kardashians, and more time reading about  Madame C.J. Walker, Wilma Mankiller, Maya Lin, the Notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, to those not in-the-know). And lesser known, but still historically significant women like Deborah Samson, Ann E. Dunwoody, Dr Helen Rodríguez Trías,  and Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. By including women like these, we show that it is possible for ALL girls, and by extension, ALL children, to grow to become people of historical significance.

Lets face it, folks, it wasn’t that long ago when independent women were burned at the stake as witches. When black women were thought to be little more than oxen. When intelligent women were thought to be anomalies. When conventionally unattractive women were considered to be hopeless. And on and on. And heaven help you if you had more than one of those strikes against you.

Yes, i am fully aware that i am soap-boxing. But this is important to me.

Also of note, we need to make sure that we don’t go overboard and infringe upon those who take paths society deems “backwards”. The woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mom is important, not because of some misogynistic fluff, but because she CHOSE to be that in the face of small-minded feminists who don’t see the value in it. The woman who becomes a Catholic nun or Buddhist monk is important not because she is sheltered from the world, but because she CHOSE to dedicate her life to something she cared deeply about in spite of others finding it old-fashioned. The young woman who attends an all-girls’ school, or an all-black school, or any separatist institution is doing so BY HER OWN CHOICE, and that makes it significant. Even if it is something that others might feel is a step back. In this context, a free choice is a step forward, even if the result is not one that seems progressive to the masses.

My daughters have never felt fettered by notions of what women are “supposed to do”. At least i don’t think they have. I hope they haven’t. I’ve tried to instill in them the belief that society’s notions are not a code that needs to be followed. I try to be the same with my son, as he, too, will find gates and fences that will try to block his path along the way. Teaching our weedlings that there are endless possibilities in life is most important… And should be followed closely by the teaching that “endless” does not mean “easy”. The norms we frequently have to buck against require effort to overcome. Swimming against the tide, literally or figuratively, is much more labor intensive than going with the flow. It is not for everyone.

And that’s ok. We don’t all have to be trailblazers. It takes all kinds of women, of people, to make the world the wonder that it is. Being a “regular Joe” (Or Josephine) is nothing shameful. The important thing is not the life you choose, but that YOU choose it. Yourself. Freely. Knowing that any choice was allowable. President or Preacher. Entertainer or Inventor. Mayor or Mother. Any choice you make freely with the conviction of your own heart is a good choice. But the only way we know that is to read and learn about those who came before us. The choices they made, the goals they set, and what it took to realize them.

These women, they were remarkable.

And so are we.

 

Wishin’ and Hopin’ and Thinkin’ and Prayin’

The first day of the new year. It always makes me contemplative, nostalgic, and, dare i say, hopeful.

It’s been a full year for me. A new career. A new house. A new half-century. Ok, maybe that isn’t really full… I mean, there’s no new love, no new children (Thank God!), no new all-encompassing issues… But it was plenty full enough. And i got thru it mostly unscathed. Even when including the loss of so many wonderful icons and the election of the anything-but-her-and-pray-for-the-best, i can’t really say that i have too many personal complaints. My health has remained mostly good. My weedlings are all doing well. I like the new job. And the new house. I have time to read again. My finances are improving. My therapist says i am most definitely mostly sane now. And my SiriDog still thinks i’m The Shit. Life is good.

This past week, i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the year ahead. The responsibilities. The possibilities. I want to learn to play the bass guitar (Truthfully, i’ve wanted to learn it for more than 3 decades, but i’m only now in a place to do so.) I want to become more socially active – I will find one area that i care about and can help, and i will devote effort to it. And after a recent epiphany that showed me what hole i can help fill, i will finally publish a real paper-and-print book. (Granted, the book has been on my list every year for the last half dozen, but now i have an idea worth selling.) Only the Universe knows whether i’ll actually accomplish these things,   but i have hope. And not that shiny silver hope of the holiday, but the polished brass hope of longstanding vision.

Now, there are other things that i am not laying hopes on for the coming year. I have no hopes of becoming a hard body. I know what it would require, and that ain’t happening. I have a faint wisp of a hope of dropping the 5 pounds i gained with the new job, but it has the solidity of morning fog, so i certainly can’t count it. I am not putting any hope in Liam Neeson (Or my latest crush, Karl Urban) appearing at my doorstep to profess their love, or  even just to beg for a night of naked debauchery. Nor do i have any hopes of winning a lottery (Because that would require me playing it.)

See? I’m a realist. Sort of. So there’s a good chance that the things on my list for the next year will actually come to pass.

And to add to my hopes and determination, i have a renewed sense of being blessed. I spent my New Year’s eve watching the HUMAN movie. (If you are interested, here is volume 1 of 3… HUMAN ) I had seen a couple clips from it, but had never gotten around to watching the whole thing. Until last night. It changes you. All these people, of all ages, from all over the planet, from all walks of life… Many with issues that i’ve never had to face and lives far harder than i have ever had… Their eyes, boring into the camera,  holding sadness, hunger, frustration, joy, love, and hope. The same things we all hold. I could feel my hands reaching out to them as my eyes swam with tears, and my mouth spread in smile, right along with them. These people, complete strangers, with raw emotion and honesty, became part of my heart. Reminders of what it means to be human, and how advantaged i am, even in the worst of times. If the most accursed of them can have hope, then how can i not? And if i know that these damnable conditions exist for them, as they do for so many others, how can i not do something to help?

I hope the makers of this movie know what they have achieved, because i am sure i am not the only person so affected by its contents.

And with that, onward into this new year. Holding myself accountable to a short and reasonable “to do” list of accomplishments both great and small. I am not the woman i was a year ago. I have grown. And maybe because of that, my list is shorter and simpler. And, i think, more achievable than ever before. I will fulfill it all. I will learn. I will help. I will write. And i will hope. Always, i will hope.

You Are Here

On my Pinterest board labeled “Just for Laughs” i have a great meme. It’s a picture of the Milky Way. Near the center is a small arrow with the words You are here just below it. It is a reminder to me that, no matter how important each crisis seems, in the grand scheme of things, it is merely dust.

Over the years, i have sent that meme to many people. Friends and acquaintances who are overwhelmed with work, family, or just the day to day of everyday life. Meetings, deadlines, appointments, bills, obligations, politics, illness, aging… Adult life is fraught with reasons to stress. And each day we are bombarded with more. Realistically, most of these anxieties aren’t sentinel choices. Yet we worry over them as if they all are. I wonder why.

Far too many of us are pumping out the cortisols because we feel pushed to gain power at work. We must come early. We must stay late. We must get it all done, on time, perfectly, and then some. At the expense of family dinners and ballgames and recitals and relaxation. Because we are worth nothing if we are not a wealthy boss who runs the world. I’m not sure where the idea came from. When it became more important to succeed at at work than to succeed at life.

We stress over our looks. Too fat. Too old. Too ugly. Too bland. The pressure to look perfect is real. But as Cindy Crawford once said, “Even don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.”  Yet, without those looks or that Photoshop, we don’t think we make the cut. We feel so unworthy that, when joining dating sites, we lie about our age, post pictures from the best body of our lives (decades ago), and hope to God that they don’t notice we lied when we meet them. Because we think we’re not worthy of being met as we are. Why? Who’s opinion is so all-powerful that without it, we are nothing?

We aren’t the CEO, so we failed at business. We owe money, so we fail at providing. We have pooches, so we failed at body. We let our kids eat McNuggets, so we’ve failed at parenting. We are 50 and look it, so we failed at beauty. We failed. At everything.

That is how it feels sometimes.

Those arbitrary standards… Where did they come from? I mean, yes, we all know that the media puts it out there, but we don’t have to buy it. Regardless of what we see on TV and the movies, we aren’t required to accept the notion that we are losers because we aren’t rolling in the dough. Or dating Halle Berry. Or running the free world. We don’t have to accept those notions any more than we must accept the notions of talking dinosaurs, altruistic politicians, or zombie apocalypse.

My friends, especially those of you who are stretched so tight that you feel you’re about to break, it’s time to ditch the media benchmarks and come up with a new definition of success. Things that improve the tiny speck that is your position in the universe. I’ll bet if you sat down and made a list of all the things that prove you haven’t failed, you might surprise yourself. Not just because you are able to make a list, but because of what the items on that list have in common.

You have raised weedlings who will share their lunch with someone who has none. You organize meals when a friend has surgery. You smile and talk with people who look lonely. You always put change in the Veterans’ collection cans. You’ve managed to stay mostly happily married for over a decade. Or two. Or more. You give out the good candy at Halloween. You bake for your coworkers. You compliment little old ladies. You make people smile, even when you don’t feel like smiling yourself. And someone, somewhere, feels better because they know you.

Those things are harder to measure than dollars or titles or pounds, but they are the energies that  real success is built on.

Yes, money, fame, power… those things impact the people around you in a measurable concrete way. But they don’t send ripples thru the universe like love can. Or kindness. Or positivity. Those are the things that change outlook, and, therefore, actions. Those little existential protons are the building blocks of the good life. They compound themselves until they extend far beyond this third rock from the sun and become something glorious.

So tell a child something good you notice about them. Help the elderly carry their groceries. Volunteer for your cause. Share what you have. Make someone smile. And then later, when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, lost… Look to the center of the ripples you’ve created… And say to yourself, “You are here”