You’re Always One Decision Away From a Totally Different Life... Choose Wisely

I love that my work gives me the opportunity to talk and interact with so many women. Because talking to women is just about my favorite thing in the history of forever! I love hearing their stories. Whether that story is about where they are now, where they’ve been or where they are going, it always fascinates me. Of course, the best stories are those that are upbeat and positive. That doesn’t mean those people have lived a charmed life. More often than not, it’s exactly the opposite. They are the stories of how women turned ordeals into adventures and turned trials in triumphs. They took setbacks and turned them into set ups for bigger and better things. Those people are my heroes. They are my inspirations and they empower me beyond description.

The saddest stories I hear, interestingly enough, are not the ones that share horrific, devastating details of illness, death or life shattering events. But rather it is those from people who, unbeknownst to even themselves, have chosen to live a mediocre life. They get themselves into a rut, anchor down and refuse to see past the dirt walls that entomb them. And the really interesting thing is that they don’t realize that they chose to live that life.

I decided to step back and try to understand the difference from these two groups of people I so often encounter. It became very apparent that economics had very little to do with it. Just as many of what I’d call “well off” people struggled with the same things as those who were challenged financially. And I found just as many energized happy people who lived paycheck to paycheck as I found people living in the lap of luxury who described their life as boring, miserable and unfulfilled.

Bottom line, here is what I learned. Mediocrity doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of decisions we make over a period of time. We are what we settle for. And, let’s face it, even though past choices we made probably seemed like the right thing to do at the time, things change. And at any given moment, we’re always one decision away from a totally different life. But we must be willing to change and see the cup as half full and not half empty.

It’s easy for us to come up with excuses around why we don’t or can’t change. Time and money are good ones. But don’t we define what is important by what we dedicate our time and resources to? Could we work harder, get up earlier, or stay up later? Could we shun our mobile devices or turn off the TV? Could we, gasp, cut back on retail therapy or fancy lattes???

The challenge is deciding what is really important and then go for it. Keep your eyes on the goal of what you want your life to look like and feel like. Once you understand that happiness is s state of mind and not a place or destination, you’ll realize the journey is a lot easier than you thought. And once you muster the passion to take charge and broaden your horizons to encompass those things, nothing will stand in our way. You’ll live a life that is not only worth living but one worth loving as well.

You’ll find that the process will affect others too. When you are bubbling with the excitement of life it’s hard for anyone to be a “Debbie Downer” around you. Becoming who we were always meant to be and living a life of fulfillment empowers those around us. More often than not, our evolution inspires others to reach for their own happiness, lean on others less, and blossom wildly in the process. By raising the bar on our own life, we raise that bar in the lives of others too. As they watch our success, they reach for their own potential as well. Our decision to go for it very well may be exactly the change our circle of influence needs to make life better not only for ourselves… but everyone around us.

Go ahead. Take the chance. The possibly of an incredibly wonderful life awaits you.

My Life is Forever a Work in Progress

It’s back to school season, and my mind can’t help but wander off to the years I readied my own kids to start the new school year. As old as I am, it’s not hard for me to remember walking into a new classroom the first day of school, checking out the kids, teacher, and classroom and wondering what the new year would hold.
I was blessed to be raised by parents who stressed education… but not always in a formal sense. Although I went to college, I was encouraged from a young age to expand my learning not only vertically but horizontally as well by progressing scholastically through many diverse classes. My mom also encouraged me to sign up for as many after school programs as I reasonably could handle. free. (My mom was big on all the amazing free opportunities our community offered and I still do too!) My summers were way fuller than the school year when it came to experiencing new things. Hula, ballet, art, pottery, weaving, sewing, theatre, swimming, surfing, book club, language classes, piano, ukulele and guitar are just a few of the fun opportunities offered where I grew up -- and I did them all.  Some of those introductions stuck, and I still do them over 50 years later. Others did not. But regardless, they opened my eyes to the wonders of education and the fun of learning.
During the summer she’d sign me up at our local Community Recreation Center and local library for anything
Today, I still sign up for every workshop and lecture offered. It doesn’t even matter the subject. I’m just addicted to learning. A few years ago, after doing an art show next to a stained-glass artist, I became fascinated with her work. I had a great show and decided I wanted to own a piece for myself and carefully picked one out. She explained in detail what went into creating it. Well, I was hooked. After hanging the piece up in my home, I straightaway looked up a night class offered at the local college which offered a course and promptly signed up. For 14 weeks I learned to design, cut, solder and complete a lovely piece of stained glass. I loved every single minute of the class. I met new friends and learned way more than I expected as I completed a beautiful work of art. At the end of the class I came to the conclusion that despite the fact that I had an absolute wonderful time, I never ever wanted to make another piece of stained glass again! Did I regret taking the class and “wasting my time?” Heavens, no. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. And every time I look at the magnificent piece of art I had purchased, I now have such an overwhelming appreciation for what was involved and the artistry she had executed. I also learned that even though I had fun and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, it’s just not my thing. But absolutely no regrets.
My husband, Al, has a Ph.D. in Speech Pathology and was a college professor for ten years.  He was one year away from being a full, tenured professor when he decided it was just not his thing either. Without hesitation or regret, he quit to go into business for himself.  Simply put, he changed his mind and followed his heart... towards me!  His life has been a wild roller coaster ride ever since.  I'd like to think I'm one of the high points.  And now "Dr. Toronto" is selling Wonderful Wacky Women paintings on the street corner with me and loves every minute of it. He is also the brains behind the marketing that launched my business into an international brand and handles all the licensing, trademarks and left brained business stuff I don’t want to deal with. I may be Suzy Toronto but it was Al who created the Suzy Toronto brand.
Does Al regret the eight years of school to get a doctorate degree he doesn't use?  Not for a second.  He values his education and time teaching as some of the best and formative years of his life. Because he believes that education is not simply the learning and memorizing of facts, but true education is that of teaching the mind to think.  It made him who he is and is a vital part of his success in life.  And it is part of why I married him.  He was obviously very smart, and highly driven.
The point is, education is a springboard to the rest of your life, no matter where it takes you. It gives you the skills and discipline to launch your dreams and follow your heart. It ignites the fire within you and fuels your passions.
I hope I will always be a work in progress and never, ever stop learning.

get organized

Yes, it's true. I have a dirty little secret... a serious personality flaw that those closest to me are forever chiding me about. And since I have always felt that the best way to keep people from throwing all my own dirt back in my face, I decided to toss it all out there, here and now for all the world to see. So here goes...

I am the most unorganized, totally forgetful, lose everything, walking tornado you will ever know. And I am not exaggerating. My studio is always in a whirlwind, my purse, if I can find it, is either busting at the seams with all the crap I'm hauling around since 1978, or completely empty with me having no clue where all that stuff that was just in it has suddenly disappeared to.  And... heaven forbid, if you give me a piece of paper with information on it that is critical for the salvation of all living things on the face on the earth I will promptly lose it... along with my iPhone and wallet just for good measure.

My husband said he really believes it's not a personality flaw but rather a "lifestyle choice" and that if I really wanted to, I could change.   We'll, I am tired of it. So in my effort to be teachable, I am going to change this year. (I had the  word try inserted before the word change but decided that I needed to be very affirmative and took it out!  I'm not going to just try...I'm going to do it!)

So my new years resolution is to get organized. And not only am I going to clean out and dig out the cobwebs of my life, but I am going to make a conscience effort to put things back where they belong immediately after I use them. I am going to start writing down appointments and deadlines so they don't fly by me, giving me both whiplash and a salon blow dry in the process.

Now don't get me wrong... I'm not going to do this so I can cram even more stuff into my day. I'm going to do this to stop me from running around like a chicken with its head cut off, confusing my own chaotic busyness with the idea that it's producing a forward motion. Because it rarely does! Usually it starts a circular motion that forms the above mentioned tornado!)  So everyone who knows me, be warned...a new Suzy is emerging.    

Just Three Things

My husband, The Left Brained Wild Thing, says everything important in the world can be broken down to three things. I got to thinking about that and although I don't think this is what he meant... here is my interpretation.

Three things I love... (not people..things!):
  1. Chocolate, the dark expensive kind (hate cheap chocolate)
  2. The Beach. Any beach. I just love the ocean.
  3. Dancing the Hula. It is my life. I eat, love, sleep and breathe it. It's hard to explain unless you too hula. For me, at least at this stage of my life, hula is my life.
Three things I seriously do not like:
  1. Paintings hung too high
  2. Windshield Wipers that don't work.
  3. Bananas. Seriously the very thought makes me want to gag. I could be stranded on a deserted island with no food or water and only bananas to eat and I'd starve to death before eating it.   I could ever be on one of those reality game shows where they dare you to eat a caterpillar or some gross live bug, honey, pick me! I'd do it in a heart beat as long as it doesn't look, smell or taste like banana.
Three things I'd want if in fact I was stranded on that on a deserted island:
  1. My iPod filled with my hula music with inexhaustible batteries.
  2. Endless supply of bubbly sparkling water and that ice that is in little round snowy balls
  3. A library of good books. Not digital ones. I want real one. I love a real "Page Turner" and the older the books are, the more I love them. They just smell good to me.
Three things I miss most of all:
  1. My mama's look when she was proud of me. Does anyone ever get over the loss of their Mama? Although I totally get it that life moves on, I miss having my own personal cheer leader always there to encourage me on like only a mother can. No one in this world ever "got me" quite like she did. The cool think is that I look just like her and the older I get the more I look like her.
  2. The sound of my dog, Lucy, snoring. (Lucy crossed the rainbow bridge in 2018 and I miss hearing her snore every single night. for me, she was my white noise that made me feel that all was right in the world when the lights were off.)
  3. The smell of a newborn baby. Seriously, why has no one figured out how to make a scent like that??? Whether it's just the smell or the pheromones  or the combo of the two, it's  something as a 60-something year old woman that I still miss.

Everyone Should Be Passionate About Something

I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have commented to me about how lucky I am to have a business built around my hobby. I feel blessed beyond measure to have my artistic and literary talent blossom into a career that has been very successful, and I do in fact love every minute in my studio. There is no denying that. It has not only been a lucrative business but a wonderful way to express myself and my creativity. My art and writing are a drive that I believe is genetically fused to my DNA as it was to my mother and her father, my grandfather. It no doubt defines who and what I am. But it is not my hobby or passion.

I dance the hula.

Now before you immediately think of the luau themed parties with everyone wearing plastic grass skirts, coconut bras and fake flowers or the little wiggle dashboard dolls of the fifties, let me clarify. It’s nothing like that!

I was raised in the islands.  I was taught that hula is the very heartbeat of the people of Hawaiʻi. It tells the story of their hopes, dreams and history.  It preserves their language and culture in a way nothing else can. Growing up in the islands, I was always mesmerized by the hula. I was enrolled in classes after school as a kid and danced in programs my whole childhood under the direction of some amazing Kumu (teachers). Every time we had visitors come to town, my mother would take them to the Kodak hula show, and I’d beg to go with them. I remember laughing at the joy Hilo Hattie showed as she comically danced for the tourist.  But more than that, I was brought to tears as I watched the kane (men) and wahine (women) dance Kahiko style chants with such skill and precision that it took my breath away.  My favorite was never the young, pretty girls dancing in their coconut bras but rather it was watching the older women, the tutu or grandmothers, slowly and gracefully sway as they told their stories through ‘Auana style dance. I can actually remember thinking that when I became a grandmother someday, I wanted to dance like the tutu.
Fast forward 40 years and a lot has happened. I moved to the mainland, went to college, marriage, kids, and successful career. And with that rich, full life came more fun, little hobbies than I can even count. But none of those hobbies stuck. A while back I got into scrapbooking. (Didn’t everyone?)  I came across a photo of myself dancing the hula as a young woman and I swear my heart skipped a beat. Just as when I was a child, tears formed in my eyes and I was overcome with emotion, and it took my breath away for a moment. What was this all about? As a child I was so confused being raised in what many told me was not my culture. What did that mean anyway? After all, I was being raised in that culture, I was embracing that culture, the land, the people and even the language and yet I was continually being told I was an outsider and I didn’t understand. My first knee jerk reaction to my swell of emotions as I looked at this picture was to slap some glue on the photo, press it into place, turn the page and move on. Instead, I sat down at my computer. Still choking on my own emotions, I typed into the search engine: Hula Halau near me.  What happened has changed my life ever since.

That search led me to a get-together where a bunch of local dancers would gather each month in Daytona Beach, FL. I was stunned to see the room filled with a bunch of haole (Caucasian) women, my age and older. They were all laughing hysterically and having a great time. There was a live band with three Polynesian men playing island music and two of the women spontaneously jumped up from their seats to the stage and started dancing. Feeling a bit like I was intruding, the lead band member, a man I later came to know as Uncle Rudy noticed me, and waved me in. At about the same time, the kumu, a then 91-year-old woman in a walker, named Waneta DeAngelo, stood up and started making her way towards me. She threw her arms around me and welcomed me.
This was not what I had in mind. But it was exactly what I needed.

Since that day almost 4 years ago, I eat, live, sleep and dance hula. I dance in class. I dance on the beach. I dance in the kitchen and I dance in the shower. When I’m painting a new piece of art, or writing a new book and I hit a creative block, my feet start dancing. Hula is my world now. It brings me more joy than I could have possibly ever imagined. And I love it heart and soul. It’s brings back all that was good about my childhood and yes, MY culture and with a breath of kindness, blows the rest away. The women in my halau are from varied walks of life and each brings a richness to our sisterhood and my life. The hula and this sisterhood have filled a void within me I never even knew existed and for that I am forever grateful.

This past weekend I participated in a Polynesian dance competition in Orlando Florida called “Hoʻike Hawaiʻi.” It was my second year to compete and I swear I didn’t sleep the whole weekend. It was absolutely magical. As I walked to the stage on the arm of my youngest son, also in costume, I glanced down to the front row of seats in the big ballroom which was filled to capacity.  There sat my kumu, my hula sisters and my husband. The look on their faces was priceless and I knew they loved me as much as I loved them. As my band strummed the first bars of my kaʻi (Entrance song), it was all I could do to not cry as I danced my solo. Not because I was scared or nervous… I absolutely was not. But rather because my heart was so full of joy, I couldn’t contain it… and I danced my heart out.
Recently when my Kumu turned 95 (Yes, she is still teaching!) I arranged for birthday wishes from other Kumu and students to be sent to her from all over the globe. One of the Kumu I asked to send a note was a woman named Nettie Armitage-Lapilio... someone my teacher greatly respects and admires.  As part of her note, she said something that resonated with me at a level that so touched me, I struggle to find words to express.  To paraphrase her comment, she said, “Hula is life… you must live it well.”

If hula is your life, you get it. If not, it’s hard to explain.
(Auntie Nettie, I think I am beginning to get it.)

As a footnote, the competition was so magical. I was honored for the chance to even be on the stage and to share my hula with those I love. My goal was to dance my best and “give my hula away” to those dear friends of mine on the front row with all the love and respect hula deserves.  Bottom line, both figuratively and literally, I won. I was awarded the first-place finish by the judges and fulfilled a bucket list dream. But as sweet as that victory was, it pales in comparison to the win I feel of having hula back in my life.

Big huge thanks to my Kumu, Waneta DeAngleo, my hula sisters for their love, support, example and patience. Big Mahalo to the sweet “boys in the band.” These men are top notch pros. They patiently listened as I told them I wanted an old-school-kanaka-vibe. Wayne Fonoti, Roland Galindo, Elika Kawai, Rudy Batista. Thank you for sharing your talent.
They instantly smiled and one of them said with his island accent, “Good news, we old school kanaka!”  I was honored to be dancing to their music. After my dance, while still on stage, I gestured to them my thanks. Fun boys that they are, they all gave me fist pumps and shakas. I love you guys:

Video link to my performance: