Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer Camp 1965

In a few weeks, schools will be closing for summer break and many children will be heading off to summer camp. This thought brought back memories of the summer of 1965 - the war in Vietnam worsened while the anti-war movement grew, kids were crazy about skateboards, women’s skirts got shorter while men’s hair grew longer, gasoline per gallon was 0.31, the average income per year was $6,450, Cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov took the first steps into space and I stepped onto a bus with my friend Lynn for my first visit to summer camp.

I had just turned 9 and while I was looking forward to a week at Camp River Ranch, I was also sad because I would miss a family wedding. Lynn and I were shy but were determined to make the best of it as we headed out for our first week away from home. We were assigned to the same canvas tent along with four other girls. On our first visit to the lake we were divided into groups by swimming ability. There were three of us who knew nothing about swimming. Lynn and I fell into that very small group. Instead of receiving lessons or guidance, we were asked to sit on the rocky beach during lessons and during free swim we were allowed to stand up to our knees and splash each other⎯fun times! After “swimming” each day, we would hang our wet swimsuits on the supporting ropes outside the tent to dry. Upon our return, Lynn and I always found our swimsuits in the mud below the ropes. We were continuously teased and tormented by those who thought they were better than anyone else. I became homesick but tried to make the best of it.

At the end of camp, the first thing out of my mouth when seeing my parents’ was, “I want to learn to swim.” I began taking lessons and didn’t stop. Along the way I joined a swim team, became a lifeguard and a water safety instructor⎯all by the time I was 16. Two years after my stay at Camp River Ranch I attended Camp Don Boscoe, which had a complex of outdoor swimming pools. Once again, I was not given swim lessons. This time I could outswim everyone including the instructors, so I helped out around the pool. The fact I could swim did not graduate me to the realm of most popular. It had quite the opposite affect, but I didn’t care.

While I missed being at my uncle and aunt’s wedding, I gained so much more⎯the human experience. I began to learn my own way in this world. I learned what it was like to be an outcast. I learned the meaning of focus and drive and setting goals. Two summers and endless hours in the pool later, I learned what it was like to achieve one's goal, and that it was okay to stand outside the crowd⎯for ME to be ME. It was my first major personal triumph.

I could have just gone on about my shy way in this world and may not have even learned to swim. I might be a very different person today if it wasn’t for the experience I gained in 1965. We may not always know the impact we make on our lives with the choices we make along the way, but one thing I know⎯you will not be happy unless you are BE-ing who you are. Take a look at your life today, are you making the right choices? If not, today can be a new day for you, set your goal, focus and drive even if you are driving outside the crowd. Take the first step⎯you may just make a splash!

Photo courtesy of AlexanderY
© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark

Monday, May 23, 2011

Technology the New Grindstone

Are you one of those goal oriented types that forgets to look up from the grindstone once in awhile to stop and smell the roses? Perhaps it is time to not only look up but also unplug the freaking thing.  Remember this⎯there are no replays here, and life will march on as they say, with or without you.

Welcome to the 21st century where the new grindstone is technology. Since my brain is now connected more than ever, thanks to my smartphone, I am finding being connected at all times to be a brain sucking habit that takes over until you find yourself addicted to constantly plugging into something. This constant plugging in zaps my ability to think clearly.  For all the wonderful things being plugged in provides, it seems to take more time away from what is truly important.

Being one of those highly organized, goal oriented types, a smartphone seemed like a perfect fit for me. BUT like setting goals⎯goal is set, work like a dog to attain the goal, then what? Sometimes, many times, attaining “that” goal is not what I expected, and can be downright disappointing! Being connected all the time is not what I expected and is disappointing because it is such a time drain. It seems to speed up an already faster pace of life. ENOUGH ALREADY! This is not a place where happiness resides. Nose to the grindstone leaves us feeling empty and searching for something more, and that something more is⎯LIFE! This is true whether plugged in or not, but unless I unplug regularly I start to lose my sense of self, my place in the hierarchy of constant connection to everything but ME.

So today⎯unplug yourself. Begin by taking 3 deep breaths and  unplug for 5 minutes, then tomorrow unplug again and again until you can give yourself a day or a week of unplugged bliss. The idea here is to get into the habit of unplugging regularly. What does unplugging mean?

  • No projects
  • No deadline
  • No shopping
  • No cell phone
  • No texting
  • No emails
  • No radio
  • No television
  • No lists
  • No nonsense
  • No whatever it is you are normally plugged into!

Stop planning, stop worrying, stop thinking and DO something you would not normally DO:

  • Go for a walk in a garden, nearby park or arboretum, perhaps even your own neighborhood!
  • Go to the mountains
  • Go to the beach
  • Sit on your patio
  • Stare off into space
  • Breathe
  • Listen to the sounds around you
  • Find one simple, beautiful thing to focus on even for a few glorious seconds
Unplugging⎯here is where you just might find the answers to the emptiness, the something more, the something that is truly important and missing in your life! Stop and smell those roses and you may just find a new pace of life called happiness.

How do you unplug?

Photo courtesy of Juliana Coutinho
© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark

Monday, May 16, 2011

Happier Birthday to YOU!

You cannot stop growing older but you can celebrate your birthday by making it an event, even if it is an event for one. I know people do not like to make a fuss necessarily in front of others, but how about taking your birthday to another level and making it a special day for YOU. After all, you probably spend most of your time doing everything else for everyone else. You deserve to be “birthday girl” or “birthday boy” one day a year.

My friend Lynn had a birthday last week and was feeling a bit blue. When I asked her what she had planned she said, “Nothing out of the ordinary.” No wonder she was feeling blue. As for myself, I love being the “birthday girl,” opening the cards, receiving phone calls from family and friends and just making a point of doing something special for me. Here are a few tips for making a happier birthday for YOU!

First of all⎯if it’s a workday⎯take it off! There have been a few times I have worked on my birthday and I regretted it. Even if I was going out to dinner for the evening, working did not make my day special. I needed the WHOLE day.

Begin your day by opening a birthday card. I read them out loud even if nobody else is around. I feel the meaning behind the words expressed and the love and caring of the person sending me the card. I continue to open cards throughout the day. Between the cards and the phone calls I receive, I build on that “birthday” love until my head hits the pillow and I say one more time, “Happy Birthday to you girl!”

Don't forget the cake! Each year I bake my own cake. Yes, you heard me right. I made the mistake a few times by actually making my cake on my birthday⎯not advisable because that might be considered work and does not qualify as celebrating your birthday. So, I make the cake ahead of time. I start a month or so ahead planning what kind of cake I might like to have. I find this adds to the whole fun of celebrating. If you don’t care to bake the cake, pie or whatever yourself, perhaps you would enjoy ordering a special something from the bakery.

What I actually do on my birthday varies but the idea remains the same⎯something different from my ordinary day with the focus on ME. Perhaps it is…
  • A day of reading and relaxation
  • A favorite movie and snacks
  • Putzing around the garden
  • A massage
  • A day of shopping for me
  • A walk through a favorite garden nursery
  • Spending time with a special person
I’m sure you get the idea. You don’t have to spend a ton of money. Simple is best. It is in the simplicity in life where we find our best self. As for Lynn, I didn’t think she should have to wait a whole year before she could plan HER day so I suggested she pick another day soon, call it her re-birthday and plan accordingly. What have you got planned for your birthday? Don't let another one just slip by. There is only one you and I think you deserve to celebrate!

Photo courtesy of  D. Sharon Pruitt @ Flickr
© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark

Sunday, May 8, 2011


When I was a kid I always liked planning special things for my mom or dad on their birthdays, wedding anniversary or on Mother’s and Father’s day. I remember asking my mom when there would be a kid’s day, she replied, “Everyday is kid’s day!” I’ve never forgotten what she said because it really hit me⎯she was right. So much of everything parents do in their life is centered on raising their children. Of course a kid might say, “AND rightly so!”

Even though your mom may no longer have children at home⎯she still cares, worries and loves each one every single day. So whether or not you are planning something special on Mother's Day remember this⎯the love of your mother is like no other kind of love⎯today and every day. This is something we should all be grateful for!
Happy Mother’s Day

Polar Bear photo courtesy beingmyself @ Flickr
Rhino photo courtesy of walanbaker @ Flickr

© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark

Monday, May 2, 2011

How to Finish Something You Started

From the 1940s through the 1960s souvenir shops across the United States sold drinking glasses to commemorate where you have been. As roads improved to turnpikes and freeways, families began driving around the country on vacations. My friend Ann was one of many who collected these souvenir glasses.

Ann was telling me she recently was in an antique store and found two state souvenir drinking glasses she had been looking for. She told me that back in the 1950s she would collect a souvenir glass from each state she visited but had failed to collect the last four. Over the years she would look for the missing glasses from time to time when frequenting antique stores, but had not found them until the two she recently bought. Ann was saying she wasn’t very good at finishing things and this was one thing she really would like to finish; after all, she had been to all the states except one! We talked about looking on EBay and guess what she found⎯yes, the other two glasses she needed to finish her collection. The first glass she ever bought cost her 39¢. The last two were somewhere around $5 each and shipping cost twice as much. The other day Ann proudly showed me pictures from her collection. I asked if she was going to display them and she said she had boxed them up for her family to have someday, and that she was just happy to finally complete something that she started for a change.

It wasn’t so much about the collection anymore for Ann⎯it was something personal. I think it is the same for many of us. We may be good starters but how many of us have Ann’s perseverance and determination to see “it” through? How do we become better finishers? Here are a few things to consider:

  1. What is the purpose? Determining how committed you are to something gives you a chance to be selective. This may be hard to hear but YOU cannot do everything. It will only drive you crazy!
  2. Are you passionate enough to see it through? If the passion ain't there baby, forget about it!
  3. Is perfection getting in your way? Perhaps it is good enough! A little flexibility here goes a long way.
  4. Is it necessary to finish everything you start? NO! We all know how it is when you lose interest and motivation. So, I am going to give you permission to drop it, forget it or move on if you want to.
  5. Do you value whatever “it” is? If not⎯don’t start in the first place!
I loved Ann’s story and the excitement she expressed. She obviously valued what she started and was committed to seeing this project through. What may have started on a vacation long ago became a nearly 55 year journey. But the story is not over yet⎯she still needs to make one more trip to that one state she hasn’t been to. I think a trip to Alaska will be in her future.

Is there something you started at one time and never got back to? Perhaps Ann’s story would be a good launching point for you to finish on. I know it has me thinking...

Photo courtesy of Country Living

© Copyright 2011 Michelle Clark