Put Up the Lights and Lighten Up

Several years ago, in our pre-blog days, we took a “girlfriend getaway” during the first week of December. Our good friends thought we were crazy:

“How could you leave your families this time of year?”

“You’ll miss all the fun parties!”

“When will you manage the Christmas shopping?”

“Aren’t you too busy to take off work?”

Exactly our point.

While we did tackle some holiday shopping during the trip, without the benefit of frazzled crowds and piped-in Christmas music, we mostly just relaxed. Yes, we did miss a few parties and events, but our friends forgave us. And, somehow, we finished the pressing tasks at work and home in time.

Our great escape had the inverse effect of what our friends had predicted: it made our holidays run (and feel) smoother. Our stress-free break allowed us to enter those final hectic weeks of the year with calm and more open hearts.

We have since, separately, tried to continue the trend. This year we decided it was time for a reunion trip, ostensibly as a writer’s retreat.

Hemingway writer's retreatSo, here we are, sitting in Ketchum, Idaho, coffee shop, gaining inspiration from a larger-than-life photo of Papa Hemingway, But our best inspiration came during lunch on Saturday.

We kicked off our 48-hour retreat with roasted red-pepper soup at the Kneadery, a casual, local favorite, which features moose heads on the wall and a 10-foot stuffed grizzly bear by the door.

REd Hat LadiesOn this particular afternoon, the restaurant also boasted a boisterous tableful of lovely ladies, all wearing decorated red hats and purple coats or sweaters. We were immediately drawn to their laughter and positive energy.

We looked at each other and said simultaneously, “Looks like a great Permission Slip in the making.”

And it was.

“We’re part of the Red Hat Society,” the group’s leader, Poo Wright-Pullium, explained. “Actually, we’re the ‘Potato Heads’ chapter.”

Of course, we wanted to hear more.

“Our purpose is to have fun,” explained Wright-Pulliam. “We meet once a month, with the goal of just taking care of ourselves and not worrying about anyone or anything else.”

The ladies, wrapping up their meal, leaned in to tell us about their chapter and the international society – which we may be the last on the block to learn about.

Apparently the Red Hat Society was formed in 1998 by Sue Ellen Cooper, a Southern California woman of a certain age who was inspired by Jenny Joseph’s 1987 poem, Warning, with the oft-quoted line “When I grow old I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

The society “began as a result of a few woman deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor, and elan,” according to the society’s website. “We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together.”

Now incorporating more than 20,000 chapters in the U.S. and 25 other countries, the Red Hat Society is the world’s largest woman’s social group; its members strive only to take life a little more lightly. The society is open to any woman aged 50 and up, while younger gals can attend meetings if they wear lavender clothing, not purple, and pink hats, instead of red ones.

In Ketchum, the lively group we encountered meets monthly for lunch and social activities, such as last weekend’s trek through the area’s holiday bazaars.

Clearly, it is not a sisterhood of the traveling pants, but a community of clashing red hats and purple clothes, geared solely for friendship and fun.

Chapter Queen Wright-Pulliam explained that the Potato Heads have met regularly for some eight years. Many of the members were not acquainted before joining the now tight-knit group. The ladies often pull together between monthly meetings to entertain visiting Red Hat Society members.

During birthday months, members must wear their outfits in reverse – red coats and clothing, and purple hats. That’s one way to keep the celebration going.

On meeting days, the members’ ostentatious red hats and bright purple clothing announce that they are out for fun and fellowship, and that they refuse to take themselves too seriously.

Especially during the holiday season, with unyielding pressures on most of our time, patience and pocketbooks, we could all stand to lighten up a little.

Saturday afternoon, the holiday spirit our new red-hatted friends exuded was contagious. We walked away, across a snow-covered, slippery sidewalk, feeling inspired.

Not only did we remember the value of a “time out” during the so-called “most wonderful time of the year,” but we also took to heart the reminder to relax more and stress less.

Hats off to you, ladies!

–          Carol Lewis Gullsad and Linda Williams Rorem, 9 December 2013
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Just Another Day in the Life

Last Saturday started much like any other. Son #3 needed to arrive at the high school by 7 am to catch a bus for a cross-country meet. Sadly, we wouldn’t see him run, as we had committed to watching #2 son’s high school football game in Idaho, just across the state line.

So, at 6:15 I woke #3 and his friend, who had spent the night, tried (unsuccessfully) to interest them in breakfast, packed a bag of protein bars, water and cheese snacks, and delivered them to the school with 30 seconds to spare.

Then, it was back home to wake my daughter and get her to a mother-daughter charity-league meeting by 8 am. There, I ate a bagel, drank a cup of decaf and communed with friends. At the meeting’s conclusion, I passed my girl off to her aunt and cousins, who would take her for the day.

My husband met me in the dog park with “son” #4 (the Golden-doodle), so we could exercise him before heading for Idaho.

Next, it was off to the airport for our noon flight to Spokane (my husband wisely suggested we fly instead of drive; because he travels for work, we have plenty of frequent-flier miles).  Lunch was a bag of trail mix purchased in the airport gift shop.

We battled traffic en route to the field (some 40 miles away), arriving just in time for the game’s start. It was a beautiful, sunny day; the team played well, but lost. Our son played well, but not as much as we had hoped. We communed with the many parents who had made the trip the prior evening, ate soft-serve ice cream and popcorn for a second lunch, and at the game’s conclusion, rushed back to the airport for our 6:30 flight home – the last one out of Spokane that evening.

Back in Seattle, we collected our daughter, checked in with #3 son, played with the dog and settled in for the evening. I gave my husband “permission” to watch the Huskies game he had taped (the team played poorly, and lost); my daughter and I rented a movie (I missed most of it; very uncharacteristically, I spent most of the time on the phone). Dinner was… hmmmmm… I think I grabbed a yogurt at about 9 pm.

Did I mention it was my birthday?

Many years ago, I would have felt very crabby about spending my birthday in such a fashion. I always had high expectations for a fantastic day, but never knew how to let others know what I wanted or anticipated. Perhaps this was because I came at the tail end of a large family, or maybe because I lacked the skills and confidence to assert my wishes; at any rate, I almost always ended my special day feeling underappreciated and disappointed.

As a mom, it was worse. I soon learned that “special days” are a myth; our duties and pressures don’t cease on Mother’s Day and birthdays, despite the best efforts of spouses and kids. So, I often felt cranky about having to chauffeur, cook, clean up, cajole and cheerlead on those “vacation days.”

Over the past few years, Carol (my friend and blogging partner) and I have worked to practice what we preach. We spend our work time discussing and writing about how women need to give themselves permission for breaks; to take care of their own mental and physical needs, so they can remain happy and healthy enough to help others.

So, a while back, we started treating each other to an annual birthday lunch (her big day comes four days after mine) in a waterfront neighborhood about 30 minutes from our homes. We would dress up, drive towards the Puget Sound, walk along the beach, soak in the sunshine and clean, salty air (Septembers in Seattle are spectacular) and then stop for a long lunch.

The change of scenery and routine always made us feel that we had taken a mini vacation.

This year, we instead rented a two-person kayak near the University. We enjoyed a picture-perfect Seattle day, paddling in calm waters under sunny skies. Those few hours served to re-energize both of us, and our personal happiness cups were filled.

I didn’t stop there, though. Knowing that Saturday would be somewhat occupied, I booked a spa visit for Friday afternoon. In all honesty, I’m a low-maintenance gal; my friends say I should spend more time on my hair, makeup, nails and skin. I do prioritize time for work outs every day, but otherwise take a very “au naturel” approach to my appearance. So, the spa trip was definitely an unusual treat.

At a lodge northeast of my home, I soaked in an outdoor hot tub while sipping herbal tea, and then underwent an “exfoliating body wrap” and an “anti-aging facial.” I felt pampered, relaxed and rejuvenated. And so, between the spa and the kayak, time with friends and time to reflect, I had taken care of me.

Others would treat me later on. My husband and kids booked a brunch for the day after my birthday, and a good friend and her daughter invited my daughter and me to dinner Sunday night. Other friends scheduled a birthday lunch for later in the week.

So, while my actual birth date wasn’t all that special, I still felt happy and well-cared for (and my skin felt fabulous). Because of that, I was able to enjoy what the day brought, instead of focusing on what was missing. And, back at home, many wonderful surprises awaited: flowers, gifts, cards, emails, texts and phone messages, and a Facebook page filled with lovely notes from good friends from throughout the years.

Yes, it was just another day, but it was a wonderful one.

 – Linda Williams Rorem, 10 Sept. 2012
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River Time

The cool rush of water rolled over the bow of the paddle boat and hit me in the face for the 10th time that morning. The women in the boat giggled and squealed and the men let out a hearty laugh. We were all delighting in the fun adventure, great weather and good company on a trip through the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Anyone who takes this trip must relax and unplug metaphorically as well as literally. By virtue of the remote location, no standard electronic device will work in the Impassable Canyon. It is 99 miles of steep jagged-edged cliffs, soft sandy beaches and sparse forests.  There are no roads and no motorized vehicles allowed. The only familiar noise was a propane tank firing up to cook. It is the ultimate antidote to stressed city lives.

The only decision that needed to be made each day was the choice of activity. The river guides inquired, “Would you like to do the kayak, fish or paddle boat?” There was also the option to do nothing and sit atop a perch while the guide paddled — dubbed the “princess boat.” We also hiked and explored petroglyphs and long abandoned pioneer cabins. We heard stories about the indigenous Chilcotin people, “Sheep eaters” and Earl K. Parrott, “The Hermit of Impassable Canyon.” We even slept next to the tombstone of Whitey Cox at one of our campsites. It was the Old West in a remote part of the country. It was hard to fathom the survival skills and independent streak of those who had made that area their home. 

Realistically, I don’t think I could unplug if I wasn’t forced by circumstance to abide. For the second year in a row, I had the good fortune to be on a week-long vacation with no cell phone coverage, no internet and no electronic access. There was a satellite phone along for emergency communication and peace of mind but otherwise no news was good news.

After a few days on the river I asked the Idaho River Journeys guide what the plan was for the next day. He said, “We’ll get to that later, just enjoy.”  I replied, “You have been with me a few days now, I’m a planner, I like to know what’s coming up ahead.”  He smiled wryly and replied, “Just enjoy, you are on river time.”

I have been counseled many times throughout my life to slow down and enjoy the moment. I am a list-maker, I like to feel productive.  I like planning, “calendaring,” and crossing items off my list. “It’s the journey, not the destination,” has not been my mantra.  I like to know what might be ahead on the next river bend. Yep, I like control and contingencies.

However, as I get older, I am finding that I am getting a tiny bit better at savoring the moment. While I may never be a “journey” type of gal, I was able to enjoy more on this trip than ever in my past. I was not constantly anticipating and planning the next step. Although I needed a little help to accomplish a state of mindful presence, self-permission was a piece of the puzzle. While I won’t embrace Yoga or Buddhism anytime soon, I found my own way to transcend.

One of the hallmarks of the trip was the great big cooler of drinks that always greeted us when we stepped off the river into our camp site. As a fan of advertising jingles I could not get out of my head the 1970s Olympia Brewing Company ditty,”It’s the water and a lot more. ”

After this trip I believe it was a whole lot more.

Carol Lewis Gullstad August 20, 2012


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