Einstein’s Slippers

I couldn’t help laughing when I saw the photo. Helmeted and harnessed for the occasion, a friend’s sister had thrown English caution to the winds and was celebrating a local festival by zip-lining past the village church.

What caught my attention and made me laugh wasn’t so much the pair of lines stretching down from the steeple, or the absurdity of what seemed to be less-than-hefty pulleys. It was the woman’s footwear — ankle boots, with high heels.

Questioned about her sister’s decision to combine high heels and zip lines, my friend explained that her sister is shorter than many women, and wears heels everywhere. “In fact,” she said, “she may even have heels on her bedroom slippers.”

I can’t remember the last time I wore high heels. I do have two pair for weddings or funerals, but once I’d left them behind to travel a different path through life, I never looked back. Today, if I’m not in boat shoes, I’m in sandals or hiking boots.

Of course, even when you take a girl out of high heels, you can’t always eliminate the impulse toward shoe collecting, and I’m ready for any occasion. 

I tend toward white or ivory shoes for work, since colors can fade onto my toes when I get shoes wet, and I often have wet feet.  I keep wash-off-the-sawdust-and-go-to-town shoes in fancy colors like salmon, turquoise, and grass green.  I have summer boat shoes (with cute little vents) and winter boat shoes (sturdy and enclosed, with no vents).  I’m old enough to carry a vestige of the “no white after Labor Day” rule hidden deep within my psyche, so I have brown,  hunter green, and beige shoes to mark the fall season and carry me through until spring.

Unfortunately, no matter which pair of shoes I’m wearing, I can’t keep the laces tied.  They work themselves loose and drag the ground, streaming behind me like the snapped leash of a too-rambunctious puppy.  My mother used to fuss continually, saying, “You’re going to step on those shoelaces, fall down the steps, get a concussion, and kill yourself!”  Friends offer suggestions for keeping them under control. Strangers stop me in the grocery store and ask, “Do you know your shoelaces are untied?”   

Most of the time, I don’t know, but I’m never surprised. The fact is that I’ve tried every known method to persuade them to stay tied, and failed miserably. Since they’re leather, I’ve wet them and let them dry, hoping they’ll shrink into a nice, secure knot.  I’ve double and triple-tied them.  I’ve cut them back and tied the newly-shortened laces into square knots.  I’ve dipped them in varnish (not my best idea) and I’ve dripped super-glue over them, all to no avail.

One sultry afternoon, sitting on the stern of a boat and glaring at the untied laces I’d re-tied only an hour before, I suddenly remembered some advice my grandmother had given me, decades earlier.  “If you want to be wise,” she said, “you have to learn the difference between a problem and a fact of life.” 

Looking at my shoelaces, I began to ponder.  For years I’d considered untied laces to be a problem in need of a solution. I’d put significant thought and energy into finding a solution — partly to keep the laces tied, but mostly to prove I was at least as competent as the average second grader.  But with Grandma’s words echoing down the years, I saw those shoelaces in a new way and thought, “What if those straggly pieces of leather aren’t a problem?  What if they’re only a fact of my life?”

After all, through years of untied laces I’d never tripped over them, stepped on them, or suffered injury because of them.  Others may have fussed over them continually, but they’d never caused me a bit of trouble.  

Looking at them with new eyes, I felt my burden falling away. I didn’t need to do anything. I didn’t need to find a solution. If I noticed my laces were untied, I was free to re-tie them, but the need to obsess over them was gone.  They weren’t a problem. They were a fact of life.  And while I don’t remember Grandma saying so, I reached a natural conclusion on that hot and humid summer afternoon — there’s no need to solve a fact of life.

It certainly is true that many of the so-called problems of life aren’t “problems” at all. Gray hair and wrinkles come to mind, along with the rest of the aging process. We can choose to see gray hair as a fact of life, or we can buy into billion dollar  marketing campaigns designed to convince us the “problem” should be solved with this product or that. 

Birds nest in boat sheds, and perch on spreaders and masts.  Is it worth throwing daily fits about their feathers, twigs and droppings? Is it worth spending hours rigging up everything from artificial owls to water cannons to dislodge them?  Or might it be better to accept them as part of life around a marina, and learn to use a water hose? 

You see the issue here.  Mis-identifying one of life’s realities as a problem can lead to enormous wastes of time, energy, and resources, as we try to “solve” something for which a “solution” is impossible.

Sometimes, it goes the other way.  One of the best ways to avoid real problems is to define them away as “facts of life,” as though taking that attitude absolves us of any responsibility for finding a solution.  The homeless fellow who walks his bicycle through our streets and spends his afternoons under our bridge becomes “just part of the scenery”.  Low voter turnout during elections is “the way things are.”  Governments who continue to “disappear” their citizens are “beyond our ability to control.”  The unwillingness of nations and individuals to overcome their own violent impulses is “part of the human condition.”  Or so we say.

Distinguishing between a problem and a fact of life isn’t necessarily easy. One person’s fact of life may be another person’s overwhelming problem.  Hurricanes and other such natural disasters are perfect examples. For those directly affected, they are terrifying, life-changing and absolute problems.  Those who watch events play out in comfortable homes, hundreds or even thousands of miles away, will have a  different view.

Even in nature, context is critical. Watching a hawk soar against a cerulean sky, I admire its flight as a lovely fact of life, a bit of undeserved beauty meant to be  treasured and enjoyed. Watching that same hawk cruise into their neighborhood, blackbirds, sparrows, and doves see only a problem on the wing, and join forces to solve their problem as quickly as they can.

It seems that Grandma was one smart lady. Each of us is confronted by problems demanding solutions, but we also live surrounded by realities we needn’t worry over. Our task is to distinguish real problems from the simple realities of life as best we can, then respond to them appropriately — coping, solving, accepting or ignoring, as we choose.

It doesn’t take a genius to do that. It only takes courage — and a little creativity.

Albert Einstein, with one solution to the Shoelace Problem

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88 thoughts on “Einstein’s Slippers

  1. When I was about 16, one of the semi-retired farmers that worked for my dad drew me off to the side after listening to me unleash another tirade of dirty words about something that had ticked me off. “Doug, he said, you need to start making a distinction about things that are worth getting angry about, and what isn’t” Wow, 40 years later, I still remember that conversation.. Your grandma’s words take me right back there.

    1. What’s that old saying about “so soon old, so late smart”? It’s been interesting to find my parents’ and grandparents’ advice, aphorisms and tips bubbling to the surface over the years. As I’ve aged and gained experience, I’ve found their wisdom confirmed, time after time.

      As for your farmer’s advice, he was right in a couple of ways. Figuring out what deserves our anger is a first step. Then, deciding how to express that anger is step two. One thing’s for sure – farmyard (or office, or dinnertable) tirades may make us feel better, but they’re no more effective than internet flame wars.

      Of course, you already know that, now.


    1. Great picture. Yes, some things aren’t solvable. But even when we intellectually know that is true, we aren’t always emotionally ready to accept them as facts.

      1. That’s right. How well I remember a certain girl who cut me out of her circle of friends – in 8th grade. I tried every which way to “solve” that problem, but it wasn’t happening. I was devastated, until I came to the point of understanding that nothing I could do was going to change what had happened. But it took a while.

    2. You’re right about the importance of decision, Jim. I haven’t met anyone who considers the sun rising every morning to be a problem, and I don’t know anyone who would say that having no food in the pantry is only a fact of life. But more often than knot not, we’re the ones who have to decide whether we’re facing a problem, or simply living.

      Of course, circumstances can change, and something that’s been a perfectly ordinary reality suddenly becomes a problem. I’m thinking about my mother, who coped perfectly well in her own apartment, until she didn’t. What had been nothing more than a convenient living arrangement morphed into a problem, and the search for solutions had to begin.

      That photo’s an absolute delight. Thanks for sharing it.


    1. My gosh, Ruth. I’m so far removed from that world I didn’t know there were cute little shoelace holders with bells. I’m not sure I’d want to be jingling my way around the dock, but it might be that the bells could be removed.

      More exploration is required. Just think — with those shoelace gizmos, I could tell people I’d be coming to meet them on the dock “with bells on”!


      1. They have cartoon character ones now as well as the plain white ones. And Disney Princess. Then it looks like there are options for adults, too, without bells. :-) Google Lace Locks.

  2. When I’m traipsing through the underbrush, which I do often enough while I’m out taking pictures in nature, one of my laces sometimes get caught on something and pulled loose. If I don’t retie it I run the risk of stepping on it and tripping—the very thing your mother warned you about. Under “normal” circumstances the problem might not exist, but on rough terrain I already can have trouble keeping my footing, what with a 14-lb. camera bag slung over my shoulder and throwing me off balance. In summary, context can make a difference between a problem and a non-problem.

    For some years now there have been shoes that fasten with Velcro straps, and in fact I have a pair. Have you ever tried that approach to your perhaps-not-a-problem?

    1. Here’s a puzzlement, Steve. The laces on my own hiking boots never come untied unless, as you mention, they get snagged by something. Then, I retie them and all is well. It’s only my boat shoes that give me fits.

      Your mention of the boots does suggest yet another solution: removing the leather laces from the boat shoes and substituting the sort found on hiking boots. On the other hand, given the number of grommets they’d have to be threaded through, the phrase, “more trouble than it’s worth” comes to mind.

      Boat shoes are a necessity (white soles that don’t mark fiberglass, channeled soles to eliminate slipping on wet decks), and I’ve never seen velcro-fastened boat shoes. But I just had a look, and discovered my favorite brand, Sperry, does provide velcro fasteners — on shoes for infants, toddlers and children.



  3. Oh, such resonance. Today, home alone, sanding the deck and painting, my rolling apparatus broke. Come on, I thought. You have to FINISH this before it rains. Second thought: problems, always problems.

    Then I realized my error in thinking: of course; that’s life, little setbacks all the time, but I think growing older has revealed a greater degree of impatience and, I hate to say, “crabbiness.” Then I thought, geesh, I’m just happy I HAVE a deck, and gosh, look up at the mountains all around you. Yes, attitude adjustments.

    Regarding high heels: my mom used to say, “why don’t you ever wear heels? You have beautiful legs.” And standing there, in my combat boots and patched blue jeans, I’d say, “because I have to WALK! Oh, the things I put her through.

    1. Monica, your painting story called to mind my last week, when the little pest we call love bugs were swarming. They love the smell of paint, so there’s nothing to do but try and get varnishing done before they wake up in the morning, or after they go to bed. Otherwise, they act like someone decided to provide an open bar, and they fly straight to any wet varnish they can find. Of course they get stuck and die, but no one said life was going to be perfect.

      Which is to say — those constant attitude adjustments are part of my life, too. There’s always something. A favorite screwdriver goes into the water. I discover that sitting on a brand new, stainless steel scraper isn’t such a good idea. And so on. Soon, the heat and humidity will arrive in force, and the decision — problem? or fact of life? — will need to be made hourly. At the other end of the climate scale, I think of your fishermen, and the conditions they often face. For most of us, those conditions would be a problem. To make a living, “fact of life” is a more useful category.

      Our mothers were much the same. For mine, giving up high heels was fully as traumatic as no longer driving. Eventually, she figured out that accidents were just as likely with heels, too, and she came down to earth. But she never was happy about it.


  4. And then there are politicians who are fond of constructing elaborate and very expensive solutions that have no conceivable problem that they might solve.

    1. Oh, isn’t that just the truth? And the marketers, too, who reverse the old saying about “necessity being the mother of invention” and live by the hope that their invention will be the mother of our necessity.

      Whether it’s the latest iGadget or that 4-in-1 chopper that’s available for only $9.95 (plus shipping and handling), we’re constantly being sold on things we don’t need — which is to say, things that don’t solve any real problem.

      The good news is that most hucksterism can be safely ignored — except for some of those politicians and self-appointed community leaders. Who knows what they’ll solve next?


  5. Excellent post which gives your readers much food for thought. As I’ve aged, I learned to accept many things in life and one of those things is don’t turn anything into a problem when none exists.

    Too many people turn mole hills into mountains and waste energy on getting to the core or making things work that just take up to too much time to resolve.

    When all is said and done, I say “get a life” and then there’ll be fewer things to complain about.

    Thanks Linda, for the nice post. I liked this one a lot.

    1. Yvonne, isn’t it remarkable the trouble we can cause for ourselves when we begin building those mountains? Over the years, I’ve come to realize that life itself is going to present us with quite enough challenges — no need to invent a few more for ourselves.

      I don’t know why your comment about “getting a life” should have reminded me of this, but it did, and I think it will make you smile, too. Navy Admiral William McRaven was the commencement speaker at UT Austin this past weekend. He had a lot to say, but what really struck me was his advice that, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

      I suppose in a sense, that’s how we get a life — by tending to the concrete realities right in front of us. That’s surely how our ancestors made their lives, and they turned out to be pretty good role models.


      1. My mother used to say, “however you make your bed you’ll have to lie in it so you better make a good one.”

        I think Admiral McRaven is a very wise man. I like the idea of start “with making your own bed.”


  6. Yes heels are sexy and add height. (I’m 5’2″ but they’ve always hurt my feet.) But the truth is they hobble women. Yet every woman in every movie or TV show is walking around doing her job in them (along with ample cleavage or button-down shirts two sizes too small) whether she’s a detective or a lawyer or a doctor. If it’s a job where heels would be extremely ridiculous, like a uniformed cop, they never show the feet. (I know it’s a silly interest but I always look!)

    So it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job, you’re still supposed to look uncomfortably sexy if female. This is the message, mandated by magazines and celebrities and mall window displays. So why are they so sexy? Who decided that? Even I agree that they are. But they render a woman who has to move around rather useless in real life, yes? I’d be happy to wear them lying down though!

    1. FAO, you always make me laugh, and now you’ve made me curious, too. I’ve been trying to remember my own early professional days, and what kind of footwear was considered de rigueur. I know I had my first pair of truly high heels for my senior prom, but that kind of shoe was considered a party shoe, and not at all appropriate for the office. Or so I remember it. Maybe that just was true in the midwest, land of the sensible pump.

      Today, I’m pretty far outside the orbit of the fashionistas, but I do catch occasional glimpses. There’s nothing quite like watching someone try to toddle down a dock in 5″ heels. Context is everything, of course. Heels don’t belong on a dock, but I wouldn’t wear my boat shoes to the symphony. There are ways to be feminine and well-dressed without having to resort to extremes.

      I can remember those days of anguished feet — and there’s nothing worse than being nervous in high heels! I’ll take a low profile in my life and my shoes, every time.


    1. Well, Terry, the truth is that when I lived aboard, I couldn’t afford multiple pairs of shoes. Two pair were the limit: one pair for work, one pair for not-work.

      Now that I’m on land, with a closet and a little more disposable income, I keep more shoes around. Besides, I’ve paid as little as $10 for Sperrys on eBay. Whenever a pair in my size is listed, I get an alert. If they’re of interest, I keep my eye on them and if the price is right, they get added to the collection.

      There’s some practical value to all this, of course. I’ve learned my lesson about slick-soled boat shoes. I go through at least two pair a year – when I can’t trust them for work any longer, they get sent down to the “reserves.”


  7. Linda, a post as wonderful as Einstein’s slippers! It nicely complements a radio interview I heard this morning. A young and successful entrepreneur who said his strategy is always to concentrate on the ‘what is” and not ‘the should be”.

    I struggle with shoe laces too. I prefer to wear slippers (not like Einstein’s) whenever I can. As for heels….last pair given away about 10 years ago! I kept them for “in case” but ‘in case’ just wasn’t happening so I let them go.

    1. I do appreciate that young entrepreneur’s perspective. I had a mother who tended to focus on “what if” rather than on “what is,” and it could cause no end of difficulty — not to mention unhappiness and angst.

      Of course, those “shoulds and oughts” can be just as pesky. A few years ago, I kept a little journal for about six months. Every time someone said to me “You ought to…” or, “Why don’t you…”, or “You really should…” I wrote it down. It was remarkable to see at the end of six months how many suggestions I’d been given — or how little I cared for most of them!

      I can’t say for sure, but I have a sense that gallivanting is much easier with your feet planted firmly on the ground.


      1. Gallivanting does work well with feet on the ground but I do a great deal of gallivanting in my head as well. A ‘should and ought’ diary would be a revelation. I can imagine how it would fill up. In my earlier days, half of the shoulds and oughts would have come from myself and I hate to think how many I imposed upon my children. :(

  8. Another beautifully written post. Love it. That photo of Einstein is great, and I loved the story. The perspective on a problem really is the most important thing in the end, isn’t it?

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Alex. I was quite surprised when I found that photo of Einstein. It not only provided a perfect ending, it gave me a better title, too.

      And yes – perspective’s important. A little distance often helps us achieve solutions for what appear to be even the most intractable problems and, if no solution is possible, it helps us to cope. I think that’s a win/win for perspective!


    1. Isn’t it a fun photo? When I was trying to assure myself that it wasn’t photoshopped, I came across a comment from someone who’d been a neighbor, back in the 1950s. He said Einstein had some foot troubles, and constantly was trying to find really comfortable footwear.

      Maybe we could title the photo E=mChilled2.


  9. I think I really love your grandma! She was the original “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” kind of person — and it has served you well. I try to follow that mantra — with mixed results, to be sure. But try, I do. And I’m pretty darned successful at it, too. I confess — retirement has been so good for me in terms of kicking those realizations into actualizing and as much as I tried to live that earlier in my life (for many years), I still realize I did it with varying degrees of success. Now, it just flows. And when you let go, the energy DOES flow.

    Heels. My nemesis. I haven’t worn a pair of heels in years. And now I have a bit of a dilemma — namely, a wedding in four weeks and no shoes. I’ve tried ordering online, trying on everywhere I can. So far, no luck. They don’t even have to be tall — an inch is fine. Something that doesn’t look like I’m headed to the gym or the beach. I have Herp’s curse on my feet. And somewhere in the great beyond, Mrs. Herp is laughing at me as she did my mother and aunt before when the curse was made…

    1. When I was a kid, I used to think Grandma was — well, not very accessible. She wasn’t the emotional, effusive sort. But she would come out with these little sayings that always seemed to be Pronouncements From On High. I suspect now she was more deeply reflective than any of us realized. Heaven knows she had a lot to ponder, and her own problems to solve. Always, she was practical, and most of her decisions were solid.

      Oh, you’ve got an upcoming wedding, too, and a “difficult foot.”I can’t believe you haven’t found something. I imagine you in the very midst of out-of-this-world shopping. But maybe all those cupcakeries and tea rooms and gift shops you’ve been showing us don’t carry shoes.

      Have you thought about a trip to Paris? I hear they have great shoes there!


  10. There is so much wisdom in what you have written here, from the crucial need to re-evaluate (my personal favorite mantra in a world gone crazy) to savoring the snippets of beauty that fall across our daily paths. Wonderful counsel and sage advice.

    1. Re-evaluation’s important just because life’s always changing. I used to watch my pet squirrel do it on a regular basis. There were times when something caught his attention and he went on full alert, to see if there was danger lurking. But sometimes, he’d just stop, sit up, and look all around, for all the world as if he were thinking, “OK. Everything going according to plan?” And then he’d be off again, ready to bury pecans in my shoes.

      The world’s not just filled with beauty. It has lessons to teach, too.Beauty and truth in one delightful package — what could be better?

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story!


  11. First, terrible admission, I don’t know what zip-lining is, so will have to look that one up!

    On the shoelaces issue, I’ll have to weigh in on problem to be solved, as I have tripped over my shoelaces, and as we get older, those falls become more worrisome. So I spent time with a local shoe repair shop to get to the bottom of it. (Not that there is one . . . )

    It seemed that, for the type of sturdy walking shoes I’d been buying, they changed the material for the shoelaces to something slippery like nylon, where even a double knot can untie itself in seconds. The old cotton ones might break, but they never untied themselves. The shoemaker gave me another kind of lace. I think it was leather, but very thin. They work much better, only now the problem is finding them in the right length. The ones I have now are way too long, so even with triple knotting, too much hangs over the side of the shoe! I do love Einstein’s solution–that has to be photoshopped! But then, he was one smart guy.

    1. Susan, I’m delighted to be able to report that the photo of Einstein isn’t photoshopped! I tracked it down to the Historical Society of Princeton, which had an exhibit last year called “Einstein at Home.” The photo’s shown about halfway down the page, with credit to the photographer, Gillette Griffin. The photo itself was taken on the front steps of Einstein’s own home.

      There may be some reason this wouldn’t work in your situation, but when it comes to that new style of laces — the ones that are too long, even when triple-tied — what about just cutting them off to the right length? You could even recycle the remnant portions by putting them outdoors for birds to use in their nest-building. I remembered to put out some dryer lint this year, and was amazed to see the birds find it and carry it off so quickly.

      I presume you’ve figured out zip-lining. Heels or no heels, it falls into the category of things I might have tried twenty years ago. No more!


  12. Oh the trappings of womanhood, the high heels you mention and lipstick too, come to mind. As a young woman I longed to wear high heels but my 5 1/2 sized foot never grew to the what seemed to be the minimum size 6 required for heels. Oh yes, I found some but it necessitated a trip into the downtown shopping district of Orlando in FL and the Galleria area of Houston, not to mention the price tag to go with it. So first I settled for almost none, and then I discovered and came to prefer dress flats, colorful slippers. moccasins, boots and loafers. Just as you possibly find tedious the comments of “Your shoes are untied,” I found tedious you’ve got lipstick on your teeth…so I just didn’t wear it. Problems at first just became choices that I didn’t need them.

    I can’t help but think television and film relish problems, making mountains out of molehills, i.e. a culture focused on drama that surrounds us. “How much impact can I make in a soundbite” pervades on fb and twitter. I’ll stop short of saying it’s their reason for being.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful comparison in distinguishing between a problem and fact of life. I like reading your voice of reason and it exudes here crafted from memoir, humor, practical experience and a choice of how to interpret culture and life.

    1. It’s funny how life itself shapes the way we live it. Sometimes, as with my shoes and your lipstick, it’s comments from others that affect us. Other times, just the practical necessities of life lead to new choices about our appearance. Nurses who spend twelve hours on a shift aren’t going to be wearing high heels to work.

      I no longer wear any jewelry at work. Rings were the first to go, for safety reasons. Then, I realized I was more comfortable without earrings. That may sound truly weird, but I swear the metal heated up enough during the summer to make a difference. I feel cooler without them, anyway, so that’s what counts.

      One of the great side benefits of more and more women foregoing those heels is that shoe manufacturers have noticed, and made a wonderful variety of dress flats available. They’re a gift, for sure. Another friend with a tiny foot has noticed that even in the children’s section the selection is better these days.

      There’s no question that television and films relish “drama” that’s little more than hyperbolic distortion. Weather/disaster films come to mind. But the internet’s a rich lode of such stuff, too. A friend and I were talking yesterday about “click bait,” the sort of articles designed to raise anxiety, distort perceptions, and earn money for advertisers. Chicken Little’s alive and well online, that’s for sure.

      I do wish my mother still were alive. I’d take your observation about my having a “voice of reason” straight down to her and say, “See there?” Thanks for saying so.


  13. It also takes a good Grandma.

    Well said, thoughtful, careful, compassionate. Many fortunate people don’t know what they don’t know and one thing they don’t know is that coping skills are taught.

    1. She was a wonderful Grandma, Martha, especially since her cooking skills equaled her wisdom. She was the best pie-maker in the world, and her cookies weren’t bad, either.

      I agree that coping skills are taught, but they’re (perhaps most) often taught informally and obliquely, by life itself. Or, to put it another way, perhaps we observe how others, like parents, cope, and then put those lessons to use when life presents us with our own personal “learning lab.”

      One thing I am sure of. Most of my experiences with increasing my own coping skills have begun with a thought like, “OMG. Now what am I going to do?”


  14. “We can choose to see gray hair as a fact of life, or we can buy into billion dollar marketing campaigns designed to convince us the “problem” should be solved with this product or that.”

    Always a challenge.
    But one I’ll gladly take.

    1. I’m up for the challenge too, Dani. I suppose the truth is we always have “a perspective.” The challenge is to examine the way we’re seeing the world, both for usefulness and truth.

      My mom used to pick up my reading glasses from time to time, thinking they were her regular glasses. Then, she’d panic, thinking she’d gone blind overnight. When she put on the right pair of glasses, all was well. End of analogy.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always nice to see you.


  15. Oh, this is a hoot! I know the lady with the high heel wearing, zip lining sister and saw the photo.

    There was quite the discussion about shoes going on, for sure.

    You can’t keep rawhide laces tied. There ain’t no way, no how. Hubby hates the things and it seems like so many work boots come with them. When he buys the boots, he buys new cloth laces and tosses the rawhide.

    When it comes to problems vs facts of life, I think George Carlin summed it up with “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

    Maxine touts another version: “In a hundred years, this won’t matter. It barely matters now.’

    Love that photo of Albert in his fuzzy slippers!

    1. Face it, Gué. Some photos are flat memorable — and not only because she ought to have been wearing “flats” of some sort.

      I’ve been thinking about my laces. It occurs to me that, by the time my shoes are no longer serviceable for work, the laces are just getting soft and pliable. If it weren’t for the difficulty of threading them through the grommets, especially around the heel, it might be worth taking an old pair of laces and using them on new shoes. But that puts me back in problem-solving mode, which I’ve foresworn — at least in this situation.

      I’ve never heard that line of Carlin’s. It’s a good one. And I thought of another corollary at work today. There are facts of life, and there are problems — and then there are facts of life that are somebody else’s problem!

      We’ve had a huge fish kill here, perhaps because of red tide or low oxygen levels in the water. Down in Galveston, some big fish were on the beach, but in the marina where I was working yesterday and today, there were hundreds of thousands — maybe even millions — of dead glass minnows. They were a problem, all right, but they were a problem for the guys out with their booms and dip nets and who knows what, trying to clean them up. I’m praying for a wind shift or a good tide overnight, or that particular fact of life is going to be pretty ripe by tomorrow.

      I was so tickled to find the source of the photo of Einstein, and to know it wasn’t photoshopped. It’s just too good not to be real.


  16. Well, Linda, high heels are just another reason why I work for myself, ha! I used to wear heels Every Single Day, and now I have the bunions to show for it. While I can still wear sneakers, sandals, flats, and most anything I want, the pain at times is excruciating. If someone had told me when I was 20 that this would happen, surely I’d have listened (or maybe not?!)

    Your grandmother sounds like a wise woman. We do need to keep things in perspective. About a year or two ago, I learned I was tying my shoelaces “wrong.” No wonder they kept unfastening on my walks with Darling Doggie! Anyway, here’s a link if you’re inclined to try just one more thing to keep yours tied, and I can vouch for the accuracy!!

    Love Einstein’s fuzzy slippers!

    1. Do you know what’s most amusing to me about that video, Debbie? The fact that it was the very first TED talk! Somehow, that fits right in with Einstein and his fuzzy slippers.

      I see his point, and in fact I do tie those “weak” knots. I’ve mastered the new way now, and we’ll see what happens. If it works, we’ll just have to score another one for instructional videos!

      Part of the chagrin I feel from time to time is that, when I was twenty, there were people telling me some very important things. Did I listen? At the time, not so much, although it’s become clear over the years that I absorbed more than I realized. Sometimes, I even surprised my mother, who would say, “Well, for heaven’s sake. I never thought you were listening when I told you that.”

      I never knew I was listening, either. But I must have been. I except you’ll experience the same with Domer as time goes on.


  17. Another delightful post, Linda … Humans can create so many obstacles to the flow of life … this supports the mindful perspective I am working on!

  18. Linda, I loved the photo of the worn shoes and also the painting of the shoes. We’ve crossed paths on the subject of shoes, our faithful friends, before. This post adds another layer.

    I always look forward to following the meandering pathways of your posts. Once again you segued into deeper waters — much to think about problems vs. facts of life. I think about so-called problems that couples fight about again and again. Neither life nor people are perfect, and some of these arguments seem like a fruitless striving for perfection. We never learn!

    1. Like your photos of your dad’s hat, and the gloves you showed us, there’s something about old shoes that’s compelling. Like empty rooms, empty shoes and hats and gloves seem to carry human presence with them. It’s not just that they remind us of someone — they’re almost an extension of the person.

      I’ve been sitting here thinking about those arguments you mention. Some I’ve experienced have involved my own defects (“Can’t you ever remember to turn off those $&%* lights?”), but some have been plain silly. And isn’t it so human to think, “You know, everything would be perfect if you’d just do things my way.”

      I think we do learn, albeit slowly and sometimes painfully. But we never learn perfectly.


  19. Rolled back into ‘home turf’ at sunset,and it’s great to read your post and have a few chuckles. The photo of einy y his slippers was a great finale!

    I do not remember when I last wore heels, but gasp, there’s a family wedding later in the year, so I’m going to have to saddle up I suppose and hope I’ll remember how to walk gracefully!

    Your grandmother was a wise woman, and the fruit hasn’t fallen far from the tree! As always, you’ve entertained us well!


    1. One of the best things about my grandmother (and grandfather, too) is that they raised my dad. My mother gets more mention here because she lived thirty years longer than dad and was with me for her last years, but in my childhood, there’s no question Dad was the more influential parent.

      I laughed at the thought of you saddling up. “Head ’em up, move ’em out” works as well for weddings and such as it does for cattle drives., after all. As for gracefulness — everyone knows that the zebra’s one of the most graceful animals on the plain. I’m not worried!

      I’m happy you’re home. I hope all’s well on the river.


  20. I don’t wear boat shoes much anymore (workboots being the norm for me now) but they used to be my shoes of choice. Impossible to keep tied. I came to believe that they’re not supposed to be tied. Not only was it OK for them to be untied, it was cool.

    I think it would be a really bad idea to try to do farm work with my boots untied. But boat shoes? No problema.

    1. I feel better, Bill. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s had the “problem” of untied shoes.One thing’s for sure – untied laces on boat shoes are far less dangerous than street shoes on boats. I just heard today that a fellow who wasn’t a boater and who was wearing street shoes went into the water at one of the marinas where I work. It can happen to anyone (as I so well know!) but it’s far more likely without the right shoes.

      If you went out among the goats with your boots untied, they’d probably have your laces eaten before you even noticed it.


  21. Well, not only are the ISP providers in the UK stopping me posting to your WP entry, I had deleted the word document when I ‘thought’ it had posted correctly the second time.

    I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like this.

    Bravo – to get from a high-heel-wearing-zip-wire-flying sister through loose laces, to the conundrum of what is a problem or a fact of life, shows your wonderful word-smith skills!

    My everyday shoes have Velcro straps, just like the kiddies shoes, but mine are serviceable black! I do have the self-same style in wine red, which I sometime wear in the summer, but black is my colour of choice, as it goes with black denim jeans I wear 90% of the time.

    PS – she said, if she had known she was going to descend from the 100 foot tower, on a wire, when she left home that morning, she might have worn her walking boots – which have a smaller heel!

    1. There’s always something, isn’t there? I was glad to find those references on the forums about what was going on. Of all the things I enjoy about WordPress, those forums rank near the top. Problem-solving may take some time, but finding the people who are having the same problems is easy. That helps!

      I just loved that piece you wrote — not only the photo of your sister, but the information about the history, too. I just now realized what a wonderful (albeit slightly gruesome) the analogy would be: keep your shoelaces tight, but your ziplines tighter. I’m still amazed that such things were going on in the 1700s.

      It sounds as though your sister amazed herself that day. Tell her to keep some practical boots in her boot, so the next time such an opportunity presents itself, she’ll be ready!

      And thanks for the inspiration!


  22. “If you want to be wise,” she said, “you have to learn the difference between a problem and a fact of life.” How I like this piece of wisdom from your Grandma! It takes a lifetime, and even then we don’t always make the distinction correctly.

    Something else I – as a very active, problem-solving person by nature – have taken a LONG time to learn is this: there are times when it is best to do nothing, be passive. In recent years I have managed to rid myself of people who I eventually recognised were ‘vexatious to the spirit’ but with whom I felt I had to maintain relationships out of a sense of duty, simply by stopping taking responsibility for maintaining those relationships, and doing nothing. Lo and behold, they disappeared…..

    1. Isn’t it true, Anne? People talk about the learning curve as though it’s one long, easy lean, but I’ve always thought of it as hairpins through the mountains.

      This is the season when my ability to remain passive gets sorely tested. It’s chaos out there right now, with ducklings getting separated from their mamas, and so on. Those tiny, lost babes can make a lot of racket, and the urge to “do something” can be overwhelming. I have to remind myself that they know much more about being a duck than I do, and too much intervention isn’t necessarily helpful.

      Even though I’m not on Facebook, I occasionally find an interesting piece about people’s experience with the site. You might find this one intriguing. It sounds as though the fellow was following a bit in your footsteps.


  23. Love your boat shoes Linda! Foot coverings can cause lots of problems aside from untied laces. Remember the lovely extremely pointy toes and gravity-defying heels? Pages have been written about how they deformed women’s feet. One woman I know actually had her little toes amputated because of those shoes. My own feet have become deformed probably due to those shoes, my years of being a dancer, and/or a few other things. We have to put the blame somewhere. But we do have to roll with the punches. Things usually are what they are. Don’t mess with City Hall.

    1. I do remember those shoes, Kayti. They weren’t comfortable, that’s for sure — but the history of women’s fashion is a history of uncomfortable garments. Whalebone corsets, anyone? How about the standard girdle of the 40s and 50s? Good grief.

      I do remember pausing when I first learned about foot-binding in China. I suspect it might have been in a Pearl Buck novel. I remember drawing a connection between foot-binding and what we did to ourselves with our shoes, although high heels were a far cry from that practice. I just went over to Wiki and had a read about the process. Even reading about it isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

      All of our little deformities are just part of the process of living, as you suggest. The first joint of my right forefinger cants off to the left a few degrees, and I suspect it’s from years of holding a varnish brush. Do I worry about it? Not at all.


  24. Thank the good Lord for grandmother and other wise women who help us to see life differently. I love the way you spin the motif in the opposite direction. I suppose these two ways of erring have some internal connection. At any rate, I should simply note that my wife and mother-in-law both like to rib me about my propensity to buy shoes. My line, and I’m sticking to it, is that shoes are less expensive than a tank or two of gas and do me and the world both a lot of good.

    1. I don’t know why I’ve never thought of it before, but there’s a very real sense in which I grew up with the kind of Elders you speak of among the native peoples – functionally, at least. One of the things that always made Grandma’s pronouncements so memorable is that they seemed to grow out of silence. She didn’t nag, she just observed. Then, when she’d observed long enough, she spoke.

      As for your shoes — well, they’re a necessity for a dedicated walker. Thoreau understood. He said, “The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”


  25. Einstein’s Slippers:
    I’m a frayed knot.
    It did inspire me to start wearing the moccasins from Tuctoyaktuk that I was given a few years ago though.

    1. A frayed knot, Ken? Why Knot? And every other variation of that one that’s shown up on the stern of a boat.

      Your mention of Tuk brings to mind a wonderful blogger who lives in Yellow Knife. She’s a doctor, and has made some trips even farther north – you can read about one of them here. Her blog is a pleasure to read.

      I’ll bet you could two-step in those moccasins!


  26. Linda,
    I’ll be repeating your grandmother’s words to H next time he chases a squirrel away or tries to stop the moles from eating our plants.

    I have a fashion minded cousin. She had a bad sprain and was on crutches. She had a date to go to theater. She asked how in the world she was going walk in high heels with crutches. She looked at me like I was deranged when I suggested that some people would consider choosing comfortable, safe, flat shoes.

    1. When it comes to squirrels and moles, there’s not much question in my mind how H would categorize them.I suspect they aren’t the only things on his list, either. I remember his dedication to that yard.

      Crutches and high heels? That’s a combo I’ve never come across. I have seen someone fall off her shoes, though. That was pretty interesting. She was wearing something like this. Talk about an accident waiting to happen.

      I know, I know. I shouldn’t have added that link. Now I’m going to have a full week of ads for really spiffy shoes.


  27. Oh, I love that nugget of wisdom from your grandmother! Wisdom, indeed.

    I’d much rather be barefoot or wear sandals than anything requiring laces so I don’t have many theories about your mysteriously anti-knotting laces. Good thing they’ve been designated mere facts of life.

    I was listening to someone talk about the silliness of “you can be whatever you want to be” type of advice given to students and how it doesn’t contain any of the wisdom in your grandmother’s words.

    1. Nikkipolani, what’s most amusing is that, after following the advice offered in that TED talk posted above, my laces haven’t budged. Granted, it’s only been 36 hours, and I was asleep and not wearing the shoes for a few of those hours, but they’ve been through one work day. If they stay snug for a week, we may have a solution.

      And there’s another corollary — sometimes, deciding not to worry about something allows a solution to emerge!

      Students today certainly could use Grandma’s advice. After reading about some of the recent foolishness in places like Oberlin and Vassar, I suspect she might add, “Get over yourself” to whatever other advice she’d have. One thing I’ve noticed is that people who’ve been spared real problems can be tempted to invent problems for themselves.


      1. I think “Get over yourself” would wise words, indeed. As Jane admonishes Lizzy, “We must not be so ready to fancy ourselves intentionally injured. …It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us.”

  28. Seeing those “two sides of the coin” like that is just so wise, Linda. Wonderfully put. And I just love Einstein’s slippers!

    1. Aren’t those fuzzy little gems great, Andrew? They made me curious, and I started searching for other photos of the good Einstein. There are some wonderful ones out there – clearly, he would have been a fun person to be around.

      And isn’t it a truth that we so often forget — every coin has two sides!


  29. You now make me think of adding Einstein to the short list of people from the past that I would like to be able to meet. (Number one on that list is JS Bach.)

  30. Wow. Universal agreement on how bad stylish shoes, hair dye, make-up and other accoutrements of style are for women. Whew.

    Surely whatever works for each of us is OK. Some of us like to wear heels (and can) and others of us still color our grey hair. Is that OK?

    Of course it is. Each of us will reach that time in life where, for reasons of health or safety, we forgo high heels and high lights and low lights, but for those of us who still enjoy dressing up and looking as young as we can somewhat naturally, then I say “Go for it!”

    Is this vanity? Or spirit?

    I sometimes think that we women are our own worst enemies. Those of us who are grey and wear Birkenstocks seem to condemn those women who are still wearing Jimmy Choo and putting glitter in their “brown hair.”

    1. Ladybugg, I don’t have a sense of anyone here condemning others for their choices. I just went back and looked, and I don’t see hair and makeup even mentioned.

      When I was living life in a professional setting and socializing differently, I made different choices. As someone whose life now is centered around boats and the outdoors — well, so are my footwear choices. Now, I’ll grant you I laugh from time to time at the things I see on the docks, but there are some things in life that are funny, and laughter is appropriate.

      And believe me — those who choose not to color their hair, or opt for hiking boots or boat shoes, aren’t necessarily frumps or unfeminine. Everyone’s free to do as they choose. I simply was telling my story, not making general statements about what women “should” do.

      It does occur to me that I haven’t seen anyone in Birkenstocks for years, and I haven’t a clue who Jimmy Choo might be, so there may be arguments going on elsewhere I’m not aware of.


    1. Heavenly days, Cheri, there’s nothing to be sorry about. I just got back from a full day of rivers and Gulf of Mexico, and one thing everyone agreed on at the end of the trip is that, whatever our choice of shoes, bare toes covered in fine beach sand may be the best footwear of all!

  31. I love this post Linda. What a fabulous reminder of what is important in life and what is not. Letting the facts be simply facts, and not problems, is immensely liberating. Freeing. Thanks for the great reminder.

    1. Living where you do, Tandi, I suspect you might be practiced in the fine art of accepting the realities of life. I still remember my first night in Liberia — over 100F on the tarmac at midnight, not a breath of wind, no AC or fan at the hostel because the electricity was out again in Monrovia. The woman who met me said, “Whatever you do, don’t think about the heat. It will just make it worse.” I suspect that might be true with cold, too, although we didn’t have whatever the opposite of those wonderful furs would be to help us out.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!


  32. While I appreciate the main thrust of this post, I really get with the shoe talk! Once able to sport stilettos with the best of them, I also left them aging in their original boxes when I chose a different path.

    For some reason, though, boat shoes and I never clicked–probably because Sperry’s were the only brand to start with and too costly for my budget, but mostly because i didn’t like the way they looked on my feet. But when we met, I admired the fact that you could so stylishly wear boat shoes, and they were attractive on your little feet! (insert a big smile here)!

    I never fell into the croc fad, though, because I just knew I would slip in the boat, fall, crack my head and get a concussion, as was foretold for you. Now my closet is full of sandals, flip flops in many colors (no safer on the boat than crocs but easy enough to kick off and go barefooted, which is my preferred footwear in the summer anyway!)

    I will ponder on which things in my life are problems and which are facts. Seems I have mis-categorized some of them. Gray hair, for me, is a fact of life that is a problem that must be remedied—at least until the ratio is 75:25 in favor of white hair!!! Carry on!

    1. BW, I smiled at your comment about preferring bare feet in summer. I do, too, but there’s a short window in spring and fall for bare feet. We’ve already reached the point in the year when boat decks and docks are just too hot for bare feet. Besides, my toes appreciate a little protection, especially from sailboat rigging.

      LIttle feet? Me? I’ve never thought about it – I think of them as average. For years I wore 6-1/2M, and now it’s 7M. The good news is that I can order without having to try on, and that’s what makes sites like ebay so useful.

      One of the best things I found are the Sperry sandals. They’re comfortable, and have those same great non-slip soles. I know what Crocs are, but they didn’t seem to catch on much around here. At least, I remember them in stores more than on people’s feet.

      One of the things I find interesting is how certain realities slip back and forth between “problem” and “fact of life.” Weather is like that, especially when hurricanes, extreme heat or extreme cold are involved. One thing’s for sure. The better we’re prepared, the less of a problem those realities are — even when they’re awful. Personally, I’m going to make my preparations early this year — I decided that when they said it was going to be a “light” season.


  33. If you watch any television at all, and I watch very little, you know there’s a medication for every conceivable condition, syndrome, and disease — both real and imaginary. Solving problems is big business, profitable enough that the process often includes inventing the problem in the first place.

    For most of my life, I believed my introversion fell into that category. It was a personality defect that could be fixed with the right self-help book, video program, or even hypnosis. Now I see it as one of your facts of life, a personality trait that’s an essential part of who I am. I bet your grandmother could have told me that.

    By the way, I can’t keep shoelaces tied either.

    1. Charles, you’re exactly right about our over-medicated society. Not only are the pharmaceutical companies trying to sell us their products (“Ask your doctor!), behavior that for generations has been accepted as natural now is a target for medication.

      Little boys, especially, are being “diagnosed” with conditions such as hyperactivity, when the only real “problem” is that boys are active, assertive, and easily bored in boring classrooms. Far too often, the point of medicating children is meant only to make them more tractable.

      It happens at both ends of life. When my mother was admitted to an extended care facility, I couldn’t understand what had happened to her. It seemed as though she might have had a stroke. A nurse tipped me off to the truth — they administered Haldol, a psychotropic drug, to every patient admitted, to make them less demanding of the staff. Since I had seen fit to have a medical power of attorney drawn up years earlier, I was able to withdraw the drug — and got my mother back for a time.

      Your mention of introversion reminded me of another “condition” that’s hot among the self-help sorts these days: the only child. They even have a new name for us — “singletons”. Whether there’s a drug that could cure me, I’m not sure, but you can bet there is a slew of therapists and gurus ready to help me with my only child traumas.

      However! That TED talk video up the page? I think it’s the real deal. My regular boat shoes have stayed tied since I tried the new method, and yesterday I dug out a brand new pair of shoes with stiff rawhide laces. They’re still tied, too. Gotta love the internet!


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