The Thankful List
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!
Today is my favorite holiday, though I’ve come to realize that my “favorite” tends to be “whichever holiday is next”. Tomorrow, I’ll be a fan of Hanukkah and Christmas. By April, I’ll love Arbor Day and Easter. But the holiday of the moment is Thanksgiving and I am taking a moment to reflect on the things for which I am most grateful.
There seems to be a standard list of “Appropriate Things for Which We Express Thanks” – family, friends, the food on the table (if we are especially blessed), hope, faith, and love. I am thankful for everything on “The List”, but this year I’m especially grateful for… my enemies.
Enemies are few and far between in my world. I am one who believes that if we give love, we usually receive love in return. For the most part, the belief has proven to be true in my life. But a few months ago, I parted ways with someone who had been the source of an undue amount of stress. The shift in our relationship wasn’t because he had changed… I had.
He was doing exactly the same things he was doing in the days when we first met, before we were enemies. He would commit to being somewhere, and then simply not show up. After a while, he thought that making “tentative commitments” would be an improvement. He would show up if it was convenient for him. (Never mind whether or not it was convenient for me.) I couldn’t trust him to be true to his word and it was increasingly clear that our friendship wasn’t something that he valued.
Yet, my life has expanded in recent years to include wonderful people of integrity – who show up not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. They are truthful. They are trustworthy. And it is important to them that the people in their lives feel valued. With friends like that, what benefit could possibly be found in settling for less? I knew what I had to do.
In the days since cutting ties with my newest enemy, I’ve directed quite a bit of energy toward hating him and I enjoy it. I feel alive and invigorated.
Whoever said that “the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy”, probably understood my feelings fairly well. If I can hate so intensely, wouldn’t it stand to reason that I can also love with the same kind of intensity? It’s an oddly comforting thought…
Without enemies, there are no shadows against which our friends can shine. There is little incentive to look inside and examine the darkest parts of ourselves – the parts that secretly drive us toward our own destruction. Enemies have a special way of revealing our weaknesses and challenging us to become stronger. Friends affirm us by standing with us. Enemies tear us down and inspire us to find the power to stand on our own.
I’m thankful to have received the benefits of both friends and enemies. I’m even more grateful that the first group far outnumbers the second.
As for Mr. Tentative Commitments, you’re on “The List” and I am all the better for it.
The Precipice of Success
I usually like to think of myself as a well spoken young woman – confident, calm, and collected. But sometimes I have moments when there is nothing at all happening in my brain and everything is empty. No pressure, no pretense, just space. In my world, those are the rare moments when the magic occurs.
This summer was one for the record books… or at least it was one worthy of my diary pages. Following an especially strong performance in Hooters chicken wings, I experienced one of those magical moments of space. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for me, that moment occurred during a live interview with Playboy Radio.
Bob Guiney (Host): “So what’s next after Nathan’s Famous hot dogs?”
Me: “A handbag line.”
Hmmm. I had no idea that thought lived in my head! But there it was. My subconscious had made its way into my consciousness and I had blurted it out for everyone to hear. What else was possible?
I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
One short week later I was on the stage of the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, introduced to a broadcast audience of over a million people as, “a fashion designer from Dana Point, California”. (Fashion designer?! I studied architecture. Fashion wasn’t supposed to be part of the narrative.) My subconscious had apparently extended itself beyond my own knowing and made its way into the consciousness of Major League Eating’s announcer, George Shea.
Since then, my world has been turned entirely upside down. I’ve been doing more than a little bit of self reflection (aka. freaking out!) as I take the first steps toward bringing a new line of products into being.
I have enough sketches, photos, and clothes to fill a library and two walk in closets at Versailles. I am stopped and asked for photos, autographs, and business cards whenever I go somewhere with my handbags and hats. My friends are sorely disappointed when I show up at a party without a new fascinator. I’m surrounded by encouraging, wonderful people who are genuinely interested in my success and are willing to help me turn it into reality.
And yet, I feel like I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down at the canyon below thinking, “what if I fall?” My head knows that the thought isn’t really mine. It is a phantom that belongs to the fearful world around me – where risk is something to be avoided and conformity is the only safe path. The thought echoes through my brain like thunder.
Yet if I stop and listen, there is a small voice that whispers, “what if you fly?” At first, the voice sounded a little like George (or maybe Bob), but with each passing day it’s starting to sound more like my own. I can hear it reverberate through every cell of my body. I feel it in the depths of my soul. I can envision all of the beautiful designs I’ll bring into the world if I’m brave enough, crazy enough, to take a chance…
Not Your Typical Model, Not Your Typical Anything
I was twelve years old when someone called me “beautiful” for the first time. My parents had used the word for as long as I can remember, but from my perspective they were biased so it didn’t really count. I had never really considered myself even pretty before that point in time. I was proud of myself for making mud pies in the back yard and learning to play the piano.
For me, that moment represents a turning point between childhood and adulthood. It was the point in time when I realized that people are often judged by their physical appearance – even more than for their creative achievements. Even though I had been told that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, I was going to be “the best” at everything. I would be smarter, faster, stronger, and more beautiful than my perceived competition. By the time I finished college, I had already built quite the resume for myself in both entertainment and design, but I was both exhausted and depressed.
And then something wonderful happened… I gained twenty pounds.
Like so many women would do, I freaked out. So I did the only logical thing – I found myself a physical trainer. I stood on the scale and he laughed. I was initially horrified! But then he explained his laughter. “You’re here because you think you need to loose weight. And, well, you are overweight. Half a pound, to be exact. Did you drink water today?”
His laughter was like an alarm clock. After years of being asleep, I was finally awake. I could see the ridiculousness of all of the judgment I had allowed others to place on me. More importantly, I could see the insanity of the impossible expectations I had placed on myself.
Two months after my first session with the trainer, a photographer friend asked me to stand in for a lighting set up. Those test photos were put in front of other photographers for their feedback and before I knew it, I was being asked to model in my first runway show. My world hasn’t been the same since.
Beauty isn’t about what we do as much as who we are willing to be. Kate, Tyra, and Giselle are already taken. You are the only you on the entire planet. It’s time to ditch the list of “Things I Think I Need to Do to Be Perfect”. Perfection is already inside of you, just the way you are.
The World is Hungry for Your Song
In the world of competitive eating, it is easy to appreciate the incredible abilities of the athletes that play the sport. But what would happen to our collective world views around food and health if that appreciation were extended to everything and everyone?
When I go to the symphony, I don’t admire the violin more than the cello – even if I have a personal preference for a particular sound. The conductor is no more or less important than the composer. The composer is no more or less important than the musician. It takes talents of all kinds to make the music and the magic happen.
Eating is an orchestra of a different kind – it’s music for the body and the soul.
Few people in the world can sit down at a piano and play Chopin or Mozart without any lessons. There are also very few people who would demand that such talent would emerge without first playing a few sour notes. Sure, there are prodigies with seemingly un-human levels of natural ability. But even for the most skilled musician, talent is part of a continuous process.
So why do we demand immediate perfection when it comes to our eating habits? Furthermore, why do we so often choose to believe that there is only one path to success (and it must be the diet we are on)? Aretha Franklin would have had a disappointing career if she assumed that the only way to be successful was to sound like Elvis Presley. And Elvis would have sounded ridiculous singing Gregorian chants.
When it comes to food, everyone has something to bring to the table – a different skill, a different voice, a different experience. There are those who make things happen behind the scenes – moms whose recipes provide us with lasting ties to family history. There are superstars who take center stage – chefs whose theatrics capture the imagination keep us entertained. And there are those who sit in the audience and simply enjoy the show.
Just as there are varying styles in music, there are different styles of diet and exercise. There are infinite combinations of notes for the ears and notes for the taste buds. The pace can be fast, slow, or in-between. It can be spicy and loud, or sweet and subtle. Turn on some tunes, grab an apron, and see what inspires you.
No matter if you are a Beethoven or a Britney, the world is hungry for your song. Feed your talents and find out what happens. Who knows? You may just be the next prodigy.
This One is for the Girls: A Letter from Me to You
First of all, I’d like to say thank you for being you. You have inspired me, encouraged me, and brought so much joy into my life. I am grateful to see your smiling faces in the crowd at competitive eating events. It’s exciting to see your enthusiasm and beautiful energy! Even though I’m technically a grown-up, I’m still a kid on the inside. Seeing you there helps me to remember who I am. And you have so many cool things to tell me about! So many interesting questions!
Some of you ask silly questions:
Do you always wear hot dogs on your head? No, sometimes I like to wear French fries, or sushi, or ice cream!
Some of you ask practical questions:
How do you eat so much? I take one bite at a time. This is my approach with eating and life in general.
What’s your favorite food? I like almost everything. I try new foods whenever I have the chance. But if I have to choose a favorite it is probably spaghetti. Or maybe cotton candy. It’s hard to pick!
And some of you ask serious questions:
Do you throw up your food so you can stay pretty? This question made me really sad, but I’ve gotten it more than once and I’m glad you asked because I think the answer can help a lot of people.
Food helps me to stay strong and healthy, so I can be pretty on the inside and the outside. I only throw up if I am sick and I hate being sick because I feel crummy and it’s not fun. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. I like my body to be healthy so I can do the things I love to do – eating contests, modeling, singing, dancing, and hula-hooping. I would rather be healthy and having fun, than be sick and feeling icky.
I have fun with almost everything that I do. I get to play with my food, wear silly outfits, and meet cool kids like you. Sometimes people say mean things, but I don’t let it stop me from doing the things that make me happy. I know there are bullies who might tell you that you’re not smart enough, not fast enough, you’re too fat or too skinny. Some of them even lie and tell you that you need to do things that aren’t really healthy in order to fit in and to be better people.
But you know what? I’ve met you and I think you’re awesome just the way you are! Not simply awesome, but like, super-hero awesome! You are brave. I know because it takes courage to introduce yourself to someone new (like me). You are smart. I can tell by the kinds of questions you ask me. They’re thought provoking. And you are beautiful. I hear it in your kind words and I can see it in your amazing smiles. You make the world a better place, just by being here and being you.
Growing up can be tough, but so can being a grown-up. It’s okay though. We all have days when we are less sure of ourselves, when the bullies creep in, and we start to believe the lies. Even our parents and friends have those days – sometimes they believe the bullies too. But for every one person who tries to tear you down, there are hundreds, even thousands who will encourage you and lift you up. So if you’re ever feeling down or unsure of something, find someone who can remind you of the brave, smart, beautiful person you really are. Ask questions - no matter how silly, or practical, or serious. You might be surprised what you find out.
It’s so much fun to see kids like you growing to become healthy, strong, super-hero awesome beings. I am truly your biggest fan! I can hardly wait to hear more about all of the amazing things you are doing. Thanks again for bringing so much light, love, and happiness into my world. I’ll see you at the next contest!
Before my Grandpa Bowers went to heaven, he left his family with a beautiful gift. The sum of his entire life was lived as a story to be passed down to his children and grandchildren. When he finally felt that his tale was beginning its final chapters, he sat down with a pen in hand and wrote it down.
He told tales of a simple Kansas upbringing where he ran through fields and got ice cream from the soda shop. He wrote about leaving home to enlist in the Navy during World War II and how grateful he was to return home again. And he wrote about the love of his life, my Grandmother, Grace – “the pretty red haired, blue eyed girl who sat next to the water fountain”.
Two years of late nights, early mornings, and more than a few frustrated sighs from my grandmother later – Grandpa was finished with his draft.
Wanting to give his family the finest he could offer, he asked his best friend Ted to help him edit the work and transcribe it into print. Ted, being a true best friend, refused Grandpa’s request. At first, my grandfather was a little hurt, than confused. Didn’t Ted understand?
Ted smiled. “If your dad had done this for you, would you want it edited? Or just like he wrote it in his own hand?” To Grandpa, the answer was clear.
My bookshelf new holds a copy of “Down Memory Lane with Bill Bowers”, copies of my grandfather’s hand written notebook bound together – “warts and all”, as he would say.
The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree in my case.
Just like Grandpa, I’ve spent a great deal of energy trying to organize and edit my life into something perfect and presentable for the people who I love most. And generally speaking, I think I’ve been unfortunately successful at it. Everything at the office is checked and rechecked before it leaves the door. Everything at home is dusted and polished. There are fresh flowers on the nightstand every Sunday.
But if I really think about it, perfection is only worth so much. My family doesn’t love me more when the cookie jar is full than when it is empty (contrary to what they might tell you). My best friend won’t stop being my best friend because I didn’t vacuum before he arrived at my house.
Every so often, I pick up Grandpa’s book. The familiar handwriting takes me back to the birthday cards of my childhood, the letters he sent to me at summer camp, and the Christmas card he handed to me in person because he knew it was going to be his last.
Things don’t need to be perfect to be of value and neither do we. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give to others is the honesty of our imperfection. We all have good days, bad days, and days that are in between. The people who love us will be there no matter what kind of day we had. They love us for who we are – warts and all.
The Champion Within
The past week has left me reflecting on the role of sports in our world. It’s amusing enough to observe somebody when they are running, playing ball, swimming, eating, riding horses, or lifting weights. But let’s be honest. Nobody is going to win a Nobel Peace Prize for those acts. Wars aren’t won by crossing a finish line or winning a game. Yet there is something that compels us to watch, to feel the disappointment of defeat, and to experience the thrill of victory.
It has been one year since one of my friends, who is an avid surfer, went to the doctor for what he believed was water in his ear. After a round of testing, he received a diagnosis of cancer. The familiar, smiling face that brightened my office each day was suddenly missing.
We did whatever we could to keep his spirits up during treatment. We sent cards, gifts, email, and good thoughts, but it seemed like so little. What difference would those things make?
Fast forward twelve months and he is cancer free.
After a long overdue hug, the first thing he said to me on his first day back at work was, “I saw you! I saw you on TV with the hot dogs. I was on my second round of chemotherapy and I saw you! I was so excited. I was shouting at the cat, telling him that I knew you. It made me so happy that you were there with your hot dogs.”
For Moe, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t the fastest or the strongest person. What mattered to him was that I was giving it my best, even though the odds of winning were stacked against me. If I could hang in there, so could he.
Regardless of whether the game involves running 26 miles or eating 68 hot dogs, sports remind us that in spite of the sickness or sadness that exists around us, there is within every person the ability to keep moving, to push boundaries, and emerge victorious. When we cheer for our favorite athletes, we are really cheering for ourselves. If they can give it their best, so can we.
Winning isn’t about keeping score. Games will end and records can be broken. Names will be forgotten. Winning is the driving spirit that compels us to hope, to dream, and to love. It makes champions of anyone who is willing to live it. It is a spirit that cannot be broken.
Seize the day. Find the champion within. Be victorious!
My Super Duper Cotton Candy Adventure
Today is a holiday! Don’t worry. You didn’t forget your mother’s birthday (again). Today is special because it is the only today that will ever be. Yesterday and tomorrow will be different.
A few weeks ago, I was celebrating “Today” with a good friend. We went to a party and had fancy cheese and wine. We ate steak and cotton candy. I ate lots of cotton candy! I had my hair done especially for the occasion. Drinking straws placed end to end created a memorable look for a special night. I was princess of the universe.
At the end of the evening, I was looking unusually happy. Or maybe I should say that I looked unusually happy compared to the world around me. I like to believe I look happy most of the time. I am happy most of the time.
A stranger observed my happiness and asked what prompted my joy and my hairdo:
“Is it your birthday?” he asked. “No.”
“Did you get married?” he asked. “No. I’m just having fun.”
“Is your hair an artistic statement?” he wondered. “No! It’s just for fun!”
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t understand”, he said.
Sad and confused, the stranger walked away.
I’ve lived in the world of the stranger on my darkest days. It is a world where happiness takes work to create, a place where magic must have a reason for being and where great pain is put into making dreams real. In that world, dreams collapse under the weight of logical reasoning. It is a world that I don’t plan to visit again any time soon.
There are some things in life that cannot be explained. They simply are. We like to believe that joy, love, and happiness are the product of our efforts to create them. But what if being happy was as simple as choosing to find the joy in each beautiful moment?
There was nothing particularly special about my cotton candy princess day until I found a friend to share in my happiness. We made our own holiday, just for fun. No reasons, no explanations necessary. We did it “just because”.
For my part, I’m grateful to have people with who I can share the happiness of “Today”. No matter what “Tomorrow” brings, I know it is going to be a grand adventure. Are you in for the ride?
You Never Told Us Not To…
Several months ago, a colleague pulled his car into the driveway after a long day at work. Being the end of summer, his three children were happily playing in the sprinkler, laughing as they splashed water on each other to keep cool from the heat.
Still inside the car, my co-worker saw this scene and seriously considered backing the car out of the driveway and returning to the office. Under normal circumstances, he would have relished in the joy of watching his children play. The problem was that he was watching the children and the sprinkler through the living room window.
He counted to ten… Then he counted again a couple more times. He gathered his things from the car and walked through the front door, passed his children (who were using the tile floor as if it were a Slip-N-Slide), and went straight to the back of the house. His wife was quietly folding laundry.
“Honey, do you know where the kids are…?” he asked. “Yes. They’ve been playing in the sprinklers for about twenty minutes.”
“Okay, but where are the sprinklers, dear?”
Upon returning to the living room with his unsuspecting wife, my friend realized that water was not only coming from the hose and the sprinkler that had been dragged into the house. It was coming from the above, where water had been collecting on the ceiling fan. Water was on the floor. Water was on the walls. Water was on the furniture. And of course, water was on the kids.
After a few more counts to ten and a memorable evening of family mopping, he asked each of his children what possessed them to bring the sprinklers inside. “It wasn’t my idea…” said the first child. “I dunno”, said the second kid.
Though I think my colleague shared his story in search of some sympathy for what soon became an expensive living room remodel, I could only laugh. I was inspired by his youngest child’s explanation of the origins of their adventure.
“You never told us not to…”
I don’t know any grown-ups who make a habit of playing in the sprinklers, but I do know of many who have a creative idea or an exciting thing they would like to pursue. But instead of dreaming of the possibilities of what they can do, they become focused on the things they have been told they can’t do.
“You can’t play basketball. You’re too short… You can’t create something new because you don’t have money… You can’t have fun at this office. You have to be serious.”
It’s easy to let these types of statements control our lives, but are any of them actually true? And even if they are true, why can’t we do the things that the world never told us not to do?
If I can’t play basketball, what sport can I play?
If I don’t have money, what would it take to find an investor who does have money?
If I can’t have fun at this office, where can I go and what can I do that would be fun?
Having sprinklers in the house is now officially on the list of “Things Kids Should Not Do” (unfortunately), but I wouldn’t be surprised if my colleague soon has another wild story to tell. He’s going to have some adventures with his youngest kid for a while, but it won’t be long before he’s telling the story of how his daughter became one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.
At the very least, he is raising what is certainly a promising young attorney.
Chasing Fairy Tales
I am 100% convinced that my obsession with shoes began with Cinderella. As torturous as the idea of spending a night out dancing in glass shoes seems (never mind the ridiculous notion of singing mice), there’s a part of me that believes in the magic of the perfect pair of Jimmy Choos.
Forrest Gump’s mamma was right when he said, “…there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been…”
At the tender age of three, my pink patent leather Mary Janes with the little hearts stamped around the edges made me feel like the prettiest little girl on the planet. They made a “tippity-tap” sound that announced whenever I entered the room. My beautiful pink shoes were there with me on my first day of preschool and when I learned to climb a tree. I loved them so much that I didn’t dare tell my mother when they started to get too small. It was when she discovered tiny bruises on my toes that my secret was revealed and my shoes went to heaven – where all good soles go.
When I turned eight, my father correctly assessed that any self-respecting girl who was learning to ride horses required a pair of boots – red Justin ropers to be exact. They were my adventure shoes. In my boots, my forty pound body could go racing down the dirt road with am animal that was more than twenty times my size. My dusty ropers, Frank (the fast horse), and Shortcake (the gentle horse) showed me that by caring for all creatures, even the smallest among us can be empowered to go wherever we wish in the world.
I was wearing brocade Steve Maddens when Pomp and Circumstance played and I took my first steps toward life as a professional. Though my pumps were considerably taller than the pink Mary Janes of my childhood, they made the same “tippity-tap” sound as I walked across the stage to grab my diploma. The delicate patterns were an outward reminder of the sophisticated woman I wanted to be, even though I still felt like a precocious toddler on the inside.
Black lace stilettos brought me luck in San Francisco. I was wearing suede pumps when I did a face-plant in the streets of DC. And nothing says “I had the time of my life” better than carrying a pair of heels through the lobby of a Las Vegas casino.
Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother may have shown a serious lapse in judgment with the glass slippers. (If they fit so well, why did they fall off?) Yet every girl knows that when she loses her way, the perfect pair of shoes can remind her where she’s going, where she’s been. It turns out that the magic in the fairy tale comes from the girl. The shoes simply give her the power to choose what her next chapter will be.