Sunday Dinner

Back in my early single mom days when the boys and I survived on boxed mac and cheese, I realized that even though money was tight, I still enjoyed inviting friends and family over for dinner. It didn’t matter if the meal was simple and the dishes didn’t match. It was the fellowship that was important. I began with jarred spaghetti sauce, and then eventually graduated to more complicated meals. I tried new recipes and, yes, some were epic fails. Laughter and conversation ensued as the children played beneath our feet. Love was present.

Gathering over a meal became a tradition among my family and friends. Sometimes it was Friday nights, but Sunday soon became the evening when we would meet over a warm pot of chili, roasted chicken with potatoes and gravy, or spaghetti and meatballs. Sunday dinners meant a newfound recipe or an old favorite. Often it was a last minute invite, inspired by a drop in the temperature or the discovery of a tempting new dish or the desire to whip up a delicious dessert. The table was set. Pots bubbled on the stove. Bread was warmed up in the oven. We showed up.

After grandchildren graced our lives, Sunday dinners meant stacking blocks or playing horsie on the living room floor. Oohs and ahhss were expressed over colorful drawings. Cupcakes were eyed, but not distributed until a few bites were coaxed from the main meal. Kisses and hugs abounded. This was our heaven.

Now that we have moved to a new state and a new community, our Sunday dinners had been on hold, waiting for life to settle itself. Yet last Sunday we decided it was time to resurrect the tradition. Daughter and son-in-law sat around our cozy table as we shared stories and reflections. Talk ranged from our favorite music to holiday plans to the preparations for their new baby due in the spring. I looked at these faces around my kitchen table and instantly recognized love in its purest form.

A meal shared is a simple way of offering up your heart. Fancy table settings or matching serving bowls are not required. You don’t need to have a perfectly clean house. Just clear some space and you are set. Don’t worry about whether there are dust bunnies or the bed isn’t made. Light a few candles, heat up a pot of your favorite soup or order pizza, and crowd around the table. Coming together over food will strengthen your bonds and enhance your life. If family doesn’t live near, invite friends or make new ones. Life is infinitely better when you gather together, (especially if there is pie.)

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“Eating is so intimate. It's very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you're inviting a person into your life.”  - Maya Angelou

 

Come to the Table

A group of friends gathered over coffee and muffins. The conversation turned to a political hot topic that exploded over the weekend. The tension in the room rose immediately, knowing there were opposing views. Many thought to themselves, “Is this wise? Should we be talking about this? What if someone gets upset? What will happen if I offer up my opinion? Will I be judged? Will this fracture our friendships?” Instead, the group allowed civil debate. No one yelled or threw names around. Each view was heard. It was honest, open, and a bit startling. There was grudging acceptance of conflicting beliefs. The friends concluded that this type of raw communication is vital in order to heal our nation’s brokenness. We must all come to the table with honorable intentions.

But how do we do that? In this fractured Twitter/Facebook-enabled world in which we coexist, it is easy to upchuck vile words with the tap of our fingers. We immediately shut down other viewpoints with an ugly phrase or hateful name-calling. It’s safe to live in our own little world, convincing ourselves we are right and the other side is wrong. With arms crossed, we block anything that doesn’t fit into our own definition of certainty.

What if we upend it all? What if we decide to tune out all the electronic sonic buzz? What if we all decided to have hard and often delicate conversations with open minds and open hearts?

According to the American Bar Association, “One of the hallmarks of a democracy is its citizens' willingness to express, defend, and perhaps reexamine their own opinions, while being respectful of the views of others.” In order to do this constructively, the ABA offers certain rules that must be honored by the group:

    1. Show respect for opposing viewpoints.

    2. Do not monopolize the discussion. Allow others to talk.

    3. Direct comments to the group, not to individuals.

    4. No name-calling, bullying, or shouting is allowed.

    5. Do not interrupt.

    6. Remember to listen and really hear what others are saying.

The School of Thought International requests that everyone contributing to debate adhere to “The Rather Nice Rules of Civil Conversation.” A few of their rules include:

    1. I will try to reach a shared understanding rather than ‘win the argument’.

    2. I shall endeavor to not commit logical fallacies in support of my claims.

    3. I promise to remain genuinely receptive to changing my mind if presented with compelling arguments or evidence.

    4. I promise to try and see the merit in what people are saying.

    5. I will seek to clarify that I understand their point of view.

A few personal additions:

    1. Be aware of your own body language. Nonverbal communication speaks volumes. How are you sitting? Are you crossing your arms? Have you rolled your eyes at a comment? Think about what you are communicating through facial expressions, gestures, and posture.

    2. Do not attempt this type of discussion if alcohol is involved. Nothing productive will come of it.

    3. Do your research. Read credible sources. Do not begin if you do not know the facts. Be an informed citizen of this country and of the world.

None of this is easy. We will trip over missteps and cracks in the sidewalk on our way to understanding, but the journey will be worth all the bruises obtained along the way. Let’s open our minds and our hearts, and begin to see what brings us together instead of what breaks us apart.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” - Albert Einstein

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” - Marie Curie

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” -John Steinbeck

Photo: pinwords

Photo: pinwords

 

Sources consulted:

“Ground Rules for Ensuring a Civil Conversation.” American Bar Association. americanbar.org. 2017.

“The Rather Nice Rules of Civil Conversation.” The School of Thought International.. 2017.

 

For the Simple Love of the Game

On Sunday evening after finishing a dinner of hearty soup and apple cake, my husband and I settled in to flip through television channels and happened upon Field of Dreams on MLB Network. We had missed the first half hour, but it didn’t matter. 

After a tumultuous weekend of divisive rhetoric concerning protest, what constitutes respect, and American sports, this gentle movie offered us a little peace and it got me thinking. 

I am not an athlete. Far from it. I can’t throw or spike or bat a ball. No one wants me on their team. I have no coordination and little competitive spirit. Yet, I spent years on worn benches in humid ball parks, rainy soccer fields, and freezing ice rinks. I have seen the power of sports. I have felt the visceral connection players have with their coaches and teammates. I’ve experienced disconnect when irate parents questioned an official’s call or dominant teams were encouraged to run up the score. Despite the conflicts, sports allowed my boys to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They learned the rules. They wore their jerseys with pride. They looked up in the stands when they made a goal or hit a line drive, just to make sure we were watching. 

Field of Dreams isn’t about politics. It is about something deep in our national psyche, our fractured and complicated relationships, and our innate love of the game. Not the fanfare or the spectacle, just the simple pared down freaking love of the game. The snap of the ball. The hush before a putt. The thump of the ball hitting the back of the net. The squeak of shoes on a wood floor. The look of triumph after crossing the finish line. These are the moments that fill us with awe, no matter who or what we root for.

My husband has told me he watches sports for the story. Not the personal anecdotes of players, but the actual drama played out during each match or game. He claims it is better than any scripted movie or television show, because one never knows how it will play itself out. This is the beauty and appeal of sports, he says.

Late last fall, an entire nation (and parts of the world) held its breath as a team who hadn’t won a World Series in over a hundred years came back after a power outage and won the title. I knelt at the edge of our bed, knowing my oldest son was also watching, and I could feel his joy halfway across the country. This is the connection of sports. These are the significant moments we hold in our memories. 

My dad was a huge Chicago Bears fan, even in their darkest years. On any Sunday we would find him in the basement family room, dressed in his blue Bears sweatshirt, and often down on one knee in front of the television, hoping the tide would turn and the Bears would score. This precious memory has been on my mind during the past crazy weekend: my ultra conservative father, taking a knee during a professional football game. 

Terence Mann, the character James Earl Jones plays, has a moving monologue at the end of Field of Dreams, and as I watched it again, my heart filled with tentative hope for this fractured country of ours. Even as factions want to divide us, most clamor for peace, for good, for justice. When my husband and I head to one of the final St. Louis Cardinal games of the season this Friday, I will remind myself of all that is important and basic as the players take the field. America has heart, even if we disagree. The flag and the anthem are symbols, but it is our goodness that will prevail. That hope is my own personal field of dreams.

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“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.” - Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

Stand in Love

Love presents itself in a multitude of forms. I truly believe there is no cap on love. With everyone or everything that touches our hearts, we grow and learn. Love prepares us to give, to be brave and strong and fierce. It also guides us toward forgiveness, of others and ourselves. Love is scary, but it is the greatest of all teachers.

But before exploring the different types of love, what about the science of it all? What makes our hearts beat faster, our eyes widen, and our palms sweat? After a short Google dip, I found hormones and neurotransmitters play a big part in this process. Testosterone and estrogen fuel the beginning stages in both men and women. These are the hormones that guide us to one another. Soon adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin fire up the transmitters in our brains. Our blood circulates as our breathing rate increases. We feel a strong sense of euphoria. We can think of nothing else. We lose our minds as we fall “madly in love.” One article I read stated that parts of our brain literally shut down during this stage. Later we attach with the help of oxytocin and vasopressin. We cuddle. We bond. We nest.

The ancient Greeks honored love in many varieties. They believed in the importance of defining and sharing all types of love.

1. Eros - sexual passion

Eros was the Greek god of fertility. Eros, the fiery and irrational form of love, is that loss of control. It is dangerous and often fleeting.

2. Philia - deep friendship

The Greeks valued true friendship above all other forms of love. A good friend is loyal, self-sacrificing, and generous.

3. Storge - family

Storge is the natural affection between parents and children. Most of us feel it at birth, and then it develops through the years. Many of us struggle with storge as we grow and fly away. We begin to question lessons taught us. Some find storge later in a strong circle of friends.

4. Agape - love for everyone

Agape is a selfless love, given to all people, especially strangers and those different from us. Empathy and sympathy come out of our sense of agape. C.S. Lewis called it “gift love,” and believed it is the highest form of Christian love, but other religions embrace some form of agape.

5. Pragma - longstanding love

Pragma is mature love. It is that level of understanding that evolves throughout the years. Compromise, patience, and tolerance are the major tenets of pragma. Longstanding marriages and friendships practice pragma every day.

6. Philautia - love of self

The ancient Greeks believed in order to love others you first have to love yourself. Self-compassion widens our capacity to love. It is important, though, to not think of self-love as narcissism, which is a self-obsessed focus on fame and fortune. Narcissists do not share love with others, they only “love” themselves.

Erich Fromm, the renowned psychoanalyst and psychologist, once stated that we humans need to learn how to “stand in love.” I believe this means instead of focusing on the process of “falling in love,” we should focus on love itself. What does love bring to the table? How can love save us? How do we incorporate all these different types of love into the fabric of our life in order to make it more vibrant, more tactile, more generous?

Standing in love is a practice, not an end goal. We must train ourselves to embrace, not turn away; forgive, not judge; and love, not hate. None of this is an easy path. Love exposes us, makes us susceptible to heart break and agony, yet it is a gift beyond any sane explanation.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

photo: i.pinimg.com

photo: i.pinimg.com

Love Is...

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
— James Baldwin

I found this quote online the other morning and it touched me, because it speaks the truth. A true love is never a straight road. It’s a never-ending battle. It is chaotic and often bruises the heart.

Love changes us, molds us. We learn from love. Forgiveness is born from love, and so is pain and worry and loss. Love teaches patience. it gives us wisdom, but it isn’t always clear. Love gives us a picture of our desires. It can lead us to joys we have never known.

Love is hard. It’s worry and tears. It is heartache. It’s sleepless nights. It is a constant pounding of the chest.

Love is a puzzle that never gets finished. Even as we find the last piece, something comes along to knock part of it on the floor.

Love is a growing up. We wind through tribulations and then discover our strength, our gifts. It makes us strong, but is also bring us to our knees.

Love is new. Love is old. Fighting for love is a struggle. We claw. We brawl. We step back. We embrace. We disagree. We’re silent. We start all over.

Love is trusting the unknown. It is believing there is hope, even when the darkness permeates our souls.

Love is letting go. Love is hanging on. Love is our destiny.

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.
— Neil Gaiman
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A Serious Thing

It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in a broken world.
— Mary Oliver

Simple words with simple truths. It is a serious thing to be alive today. The sun is breaking through the clouds on this fresh morning. Strong coffee. Good pens. Clean pages. Perfect ingredients close at hand. Yet. What about the brokenness? 

So much of our world is broken. Massive floods. Angry mobs. Inept leaders. War. Fear of war. Bombs. Young sailors lost at sea. Frightened immigrants. Road rage. Judgment. Hateful words masked as religion. Division. Bitterness. Marginalized people. Marginalized souls. 

Still recovering from a fall, I feel broken. My hip aches. My leg throbs. Torn muscles silently shriek. Tears are small comfort for my whiny ass. My usual activities are stifled with pain. Every night is a challenge. Every morning there is optimism in the mending.

Is my fall indicative of this broken world? Can we get through the darkness? When do we recover? Even though every step brings misery, is there hope in the healing?

I cry. I whine. I wallow in disgusting self-pity, yet…I cling desperately to hope. I continue to believe in grace and dignity and the dream I’ll be able to walk across the room without looking like a peg-leg pirate. Aargh.

This personal pain gives me a crooked kind of perspective. There are times when we have to own our hurt, sit with it, and acknowledge its existence. Even though we are broken, every morning still offers up a wispy belief of a better day, and we declare, “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in a broken world.”

Even though there are storm clouds in the distance, hope leads us home.

Even though there are storm clouds in the distance, hope leads us home.

“If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is."

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” - Kurt Vonnegut

Since I retired two years ago from teaching, I often find myself scurrying to fill my days with activities. Lunch with a friend. Errands to the grocery store or post office. Yoga classes. Day trips to new places. Scribbling out a blog post. Writing more of my book. If my days aren’t packed with all types of endeavors, I feel guilty. I need to be busy. I need to be productive. I shouldn’t waste these days.

But there are also days when I spend all morning in my pajamas and robe (today). The car never leaves the garage (Hey, I’m helping save the ozone.). I cuddle on the couch and read an entire book (It can be done.), or find a show to binge-watch on Netflix. (Personal recommendations? Anne with an E, Friends from College, Girlboss, and Grace and Frankie. Guilty pleasures? The Ranch and Fuller House.)

What I need to pack away is the guilt I sometimes feel on these days. It is not critical to have every moment crammed. Every item on my goal list does not need to be checked off. Sometimes quiet is the answer and for that I should be grateful.

Busyness does not equal happiness. After all these months I still struggle with this concept. When my husband comes home I love to report to him all I have done. See, honey? I’m not a total slacker. I do things. I contribute. But here’s the thing: he never judges. If my days are packed with stories, he listens. If I’ve sequestered myself at home, he smiles. 

I am slowly learning to smile at myself. I am grateful for these muted days when I slowly sip coffee while a cat purrs on my lap. I shuffle around in my ragged pink robe, not planning a thing. I put aside “I shoulds and I need tos” and bask in “whatevers.” There is solace in throwing out lists and relishing in simple joys.

And I whisper, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Sweet summer evening, hot wine and bread
Sharing your supper, sharing your bed
Simple joys have a simple voice:
It says why not go ahead?
— "Simple Joys", Pippin
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Forgiveness Doesn’t Come With a Debt

Yes, forgiveness doesn't come with a debt
I take my chances
I take my chances ev'ry chance I get
I've crossed lines of words and wire
And both have cut me deep
I've been frozen out and I've been on fire
And the tears are mine to weep
But I can cry until I laugh 
Or laugh until I cry
So cut the deck right in half
I'll play from either side
I take my chances
“I Take My Chances” artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter  songwriters: Don Schlitz and Mary Chapin Carpenter

We hang on tightly to resentment. We don’t want others to steal it from us. It makes us feel safe and smug. it justifies our anger at the betrayal, the theft, the wrong. We sit with it as it festers.

Bitterness is easy. We cast blame. Unhappiness is not our fault. It lies within the misdeeds of others. They are the reason for our suffering. We wallow in our victimness.

Forgiveness is difficult, because with it comes reflection. If we forgive, we must let go of the grudge we have harbored for so long. If we release resentment, what is left?

Oprah Winfrey tells of a moment she had on her show back in 1990 when a man told her that forgiveness is letting go of the past we thought we wanted. She calls this her “transcendent moment.” She states, “He said forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” She then adds, “It took me to the next level of being a better person. I don’t hold grudges for anything or any situation — and neither should you. [Forgiveness] is letting go so that the past does not hold you prisoner.

“So the past does not hold you prisoner.” If we let go, we are free. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the chains of the past. So here’s the truth: we cannot change history. It has been written. Some wrongs were self-inflicted, others possessed malice toward others, and a few unintentional burns still smolder.

I have discovered that offering up forgiveness to others and to myself is a daily practice. When the rage begins to seep into my psyche, I say a simple, silent prayer, “I forgive.” And when I do this, I feel lightness appear. This quiet thought gives me pause. I begin to let go of hurt and pain and remember the line in the song, “forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.” 

Forgiveness is love. It is loving yourself, embracing all that is flawed. It is loving others, acknowledging we all stumble. I’ll take my chances.

hoffmaninstitute.org

hoffmaninstitute.org

“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is not forgiveness without love.” - Bryant H. McGill

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” - Mahatma Gandhi

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” - Bruce Lee

"Pack Codes and Tribal Laws"

I grew up in an old green house with a pitched roof that was located near the top of a steep tree-lined street. We played games in the road while one of us was on look-out. “Car!” When hearing this alert, we would scramble to the grass, waiting for the driver to pass, and then tumble back to resume whatever ramshackle competition we were playing.

This is just one of hundreds of stories my siblings and I have tucked away from our childhood. Each of us may have a different perspective. My recollections as the oldest are much different from my youngest brother’s, yet we hold a connection, a bond, a book of tales from our youth that is uniquely ours.

These stories wire us together, despite the arguments, the betrayals, the loss, the misunderstandings. Families are complicated. This is why so many novels center on them. From Thomas Wolfe to Pat Conroy, authors continue to write about these fragile units and how our families frame our psyches.

Families, especially our relationships with our siblings, remind me of spider webs, and how they are both delicate and a force of nature. They are spun into complicated designs with intricate details. They are mighty, yet with a flick of the hand be flung away across the yard. But…but the next morning they can reappear, bigger and more dazzling than the day before.

If you grew up in a family with brothers and/or sisters, you get this. We were the troops, with our parents the generals. Even in the worst of fights, we came together with a silent understanding of our loyalty.  We could be vicious to one another, but if someone else said or did something to hurt one of us, damn. Watch out. That tenuous filament became the strongest of steel beams.

What happens to these connections when one of us stumbles, loses our way, or even dies? What happens to the stories? Where do they go? Only our siblings know the real family secrets, the cracks, the nightmares that still keep us awake. Without them, where does the history go? Is it tucked away and stored in a dank closet or thrown out to the wind?

I have friends who have lost sisters and brothers, and when asked about it, they say it is like losing a limb. They still feel the presence, but are still shocked it is gone. Many of us say, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a brother or a sister,” but I think it is better phrased, “I can imagine.” I can imagine the loss, the emptiness, the ache. I can imagine and it breaks me into fragments. I can imagine life without my siblings and it is silent and gray.

Most families are grimy and convoluted and tangled up in our unreasonable expectations of what we want from one another, yet we desperately cling to the frayed rope that leads us to our crazy family tree. When we discover a branch has suddenly snapped, we gaze down with a dizziness we have never known. We teeter on the edge, not knowing whether to turn back or jump.

A good friend of mine just recently lost his brother, and I can imagine his grief. I know he is lost, but what he still possesses are the stories, the family lore that now only he truly understands. These anecdotes will be shared with others, stories most likely told amid raunchy laughter and salty tears. 

This is how our webs remain mighty, despite everything. Despite the silences, the harsh words, the broken promises, and the elusive definitions of family, we tell our stories, no matter how fractured or imperfect or disfigured they may appear. And with each anecdote, we disclose where we came from, what we really are, and who we wish to still become.

"We know one another's faults, virtues, catastrophes, mortifications, triumphs, rivalries, desires, and how long we can each hang by our hands to a bar. We have been banded together under pack codes and tribal laws." - Rose Macaulay

"Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk." - Susan Scarf Merrell

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Jenny Josephine Fisher Warner, and her sister, Edith Fisher Ludwig. I know nothing of their “pack codes and tribal laws,” but I’m sure they were fierce. I see my sons’ faces in these young girls. The power of family...and genetics.

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Jenny Josephine Fisher Warner, and her sister, Edith Fisher Ludwig. I know nothing of their “pack codes and tribal laws,” but I’m sure they were fierce. I see my sons’ faces in these young girls. The power of family...and genetics.

Room for Big Mistakes

Right after I graduated from college back in the early 80’s I was adrift. I had majored in a crazy degree called Speech Communication which was a potpourri of speech, English, theater classes, and education classes. Teaching jobs were difficult to obtain, and at this point I wasn’t even confident it was my calling. I had a friend who was moving down to Louisville, Kentucky, and without much pondering I followed her down there. After five months of failed attempts at sales and waitressing, I ended moving back home where I spent a semester substitute teaching before I was offered my first full-time teaching contract up in Northern Illinois.

For years my dad would often talk of the mistake I made when I moved down to Louisville. He felt this decision of mine was errant and foolish, and I should have stayed home and looked harder for a teaching job. But you see, I never thought of it that way. Louisville was my mistake, yet I had no regrets. This decision was one of the first things I did all on my own. I was able to live for a short time in a beautiful river town, and it also helped me realize teaching was what I wanted to do with my life. I never lamented that move, not for one moment. Yet my father’s words burned. They whispered, “I had failed.” Even now, almost 40 years later, his words still sting. He didn’t mean to hurt me, my kind and practical dad, but he did.

Now that my children are grown and making their ways in the world, I am reminded of this story. I want them to have their own “Louisvilles,” their own big mistakes that will give them insight to their desires, but I don’t want to be the whisper in their ears they hear for years. They may fall, but man, they may also soar. 

This is not an easy endeavor. Allowing my adult children to travel their own roads has been one of the most difficult tasks I have ever tackled, and I have stumbled…shit, have I stumbled. I am covered in bloody bandages from all my falls, yet I keep getting back up and reminding myself they are grown now. No longer are the days when I could nag them about school work and manners and cleaning up their rooms. I am learning that I can’t fix things for them. Their lives…and their decisions…are their stories now, not mine. 

Yes, I still worry. That’s what mothers do. And yes, I have opinions, but I’m trying so fricking hard to keep them to myself. They will learn from each stumble. I know I did. Shit, I’m still stumbling and still learning. If they come to me, I’ll be there, but mostly I want them to find their paths, because these are their journeys, full of glorious messes and brilliant triumphs, wide open spaces and big mistakes.

“Who doesn't know what I'm talking about

Who's never left home, who's never struck out

To find a dream and a life of their own

A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow

A young girl's dreams no longer hollow

It takes the shape of a place out west

But what it holds for her, she hasn't yet guessed

She needs wide open spaces

Room to make her big mistakes

She needs new faces

She knows the high stakes”

“Wide Open Spaces” lyrics by Susan Gibson, sung by Dixie Chicks

The Tending of Friendships

At the end of the 9th episode of season 3 of Fargo, two police officers meet at a bar to discuss the case they have been working on together. Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon, tells Winnie Lopez, played by Olivia Sandoval, about her frustrations. Her superior officer is condescending and sexist. He doesn’t believe her theories on the case involving the murder of her step-father. She’s exhausted and ready to resign from the force. On top of that, she admits to Winnie that automatic doors don’t open for her. She can’t get the hands free faucets or dryers to work. The sensors don’t recognize her. In a wrenching moment, Gloria confesses to Winnie she often thinks perhaps she doesn’t really exist. Maybe she is invisible. Winnie then tells her to stand up. Gloria rises and Winnie embraces her in a giant hug that lasts for close to a minute. At first Gloria stiffens, but soon melts into Winnie’s inviting arms. When they finish, Winnie suggests Gloria head to the ladies’ to freshen up. In the next scene, Gloria is getting ready to wash her hands in the restroom and the faucet turns on immediately after she waves her hands in front of it. She looks up and smiles when she sees herself in the mirror. Winnie’s mighty hug sparked Gloria’s energy. She is not a ghost, a flimsy specter with no voice. She’s Gloria Burgle, a woman with a fierce sense of honor and justice.

When I watched this scene unfold I felt myself audibly gasp. Gloria was there, but she had lost her confidence. Winnie’s human contact renewed Gloria’s voice. This scene reminded me of the power we women have when we reach out to one another. Our connections solidify our foundations. We keep each other upright on that flimsy tightrope spanning the raging falls. We scream, “Don’t look down! Keep your eyes on me!” We then hold out our hands, and pull each other to the safety of solid ground.

We are there at bedsides, church pews, poolside chaise lounges, and bleachers. We ride shot gun, with the windows down and Bon Jovi blasting from the radio. We cry. We listen. We hold hands. We nod in understanding. We argue. We make up. We can lose through neglect, yet sometimes we find each other again and it is precious.

During this move of ours I was worried about leaving friends behind. I needed their support, encouraging words, and hilariously dirty stories. Would I ever find women who could hold my deepest secrets close to their hearts? Would I be adrift?

I quickly discovered I wasn’t leaving anyone behind. These women are forever with me in texts, Facebook posts, phone calls, and quick trips back to my hometown for coffee or lunch dates. And now, I am slowly tiptoeing into new friendships. I am searching out fierce women who aren’t afraid of the mess, who celebrate their flaws, and who love whole-heartedly. I’m open to expanding my tribe.

Yesterday I invited a dear old friend over for lunch. We once knew each other in high school when we spent our evenings crammed into cars, cruising the streets in search of excitement in our sleepy town. We worked together at the local pizza parlor where she ran the front desk and I assembled the pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. Throughout the years we have sporadically stayed in touch, yet life and children and husbands and grief tugged us in different directions. Now we live within miles of one another. We spent the afternoon sharing stories. I was amazed at the honesty. Nothing was glossed over as we talked about the sharp edges of our lives and how we have travelled parallel paths. I am grateful for this woman and our commitment to nurture our new-found connection.

This is a lesson I have learned as I’ve aged. I can’t expect friendships to materialize out of nothing. I must make an effort, reach out to forge and maintain relationships. Sometimes it is hard and scary, yet necessary. If someone is important to me, I will send that text, make that phone call, offer an invite to lunch, because my women friends make me stronger, and I hope I offer them the same. Just like Winnie helped Gloria retrieve her mojo, my friends give me innumerable gifts for which there will never ever be enough thank-you cards.

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” — Jane Austen

“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.” — Gloria Steinem

“I’m so thankful for friendship. It beautifies life so much.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

“Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people! In other words, friendship is the most important thing―not career or housework, or one’s fatigue―and it needs to be tended and nurtured.” ― Julia Child, My Life in France

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s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

 

 

 

 

 

My Gift of Imperfection

In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she begins her chapter on cultivating self-compassion with this quote by Anna Quindlen, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Brown, a research professor, has studied the paralyzing effects of shame and fear, and continues to research how to practice resilience in order to embrace our true selves. Every day we are slammed with doubt, especially on social media. Look at everyone. This friend travels the globe. That one sees her grandchildren every day. Wow, another lost 50 pounds! Her house is immaculate. He runs 10 miles every day. They seem to have the perfect marriage. How can my life compare with these images and posts?

The answer is in the Quindlen quote: “…embrace our true selves.” All of us, in order to learn to take care of ourselves, need to tattoo this on our foreheads. “Embrace our true selves.” Our crooked teeth, lumpy thighs, thinning hair, quick tempers, and dry skin are all integral parts of who we are. When we accept our “flaws” make us unique and fascinating, that is when we begin to love what we see in the mirror.

In my case it is learning to embrace my fibromyalgia. What I have discovered over the years and through major and minor flare-ups is to be compassionate with myself. This doesn’t define me. It is not who I am, but when the aches creep up and every nerve in my body tingles, I know it is time to slow down. I cancel plans. I rest. I read. I watch episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I acknowledge this is something I can’t control. It is my gremlin, but not my defect. As the Leonard Cohen song says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

Through this crack I have learned much about myself. I am allowing the light to flow through the windows. It is my gift of imperfection.

“Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough.” - Brene Brown

Image: www.greenaldercoaching.co.uk

Image: www.greenaldercoaching.co.uk

Patriotism, the Magic of Hope, and the Power of Pie

As a remedy for the overabundance of that which is the celebration of 4th of July, I ponder patriotism, the magic of hope, and the power of pie.

Patriotism - devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty

Hope - the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best

Pie - a baked food having a filling of fruit, meat, pudding, etc., prepared in a pastry-lined pan or dish and often topped with a pastry crust

During this past holiday weekend displays of patriotism were everywhere. There were parades and festivals. Families gathered for cookouts. Copious amounts of beer was consumed. People donned red, white, and blue clothing. Flags hung from porches and balconies. Fireworks filled the skies.

The 4th of July is our nation’s celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a document written by Thomas Jefferson and subsequently ratified by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia that announced that the thirteen American colonies were not longer under British rule and were now independent. It was a brash act, changing the course of this new country. These words set our nation on a path of independence. The past 241 years have been rocky, divisive, and fraught with constant struggles, and yet we still optimistically hang onto the simple phrases put to paper in this original document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Right, that amount these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our forefathers knew patriotism was not blind loyalty. This was evident in the heated discussions over whether or not to break from England. Our nation continues to disagree on vital issues, yet deep down in our collective psyche we channel John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Like all of us, these were not perfect men. They had deep flaws, but they chose to put their trust in the promise of this new America. 

Despite the hateful rhetoric, discordant politics, and contentious leadership, there is still hope in this fractious country of ours. It lies in all of us. We want what is best for our families. We believe in honor and truth and an abiding sense of justice. Hope is why we continue to live each day with fire in our hearts. We take care of one another in small ways. We show up. 

Where do we find our power, even when our voices aren’t heard? All of us have unique gifts to give the world. We need to dig deep and use them for good. Perhaps you are a teacher guiding young souls or a father showing his children what is decent and honorable. With each small act we change the direction.

Me? I write rambling words of hope. I ask questions. I read words that both encourage and enrage me. I bake pies for family and friends, hoping the depth of my love is felt with each sweet bite. These are my super powers. What are yours?

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”         – John Adams

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” - Benjamin Franklin

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”             - Thomas Jefferson

(Definitions from dictionary.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Now What?

Since last December our lives have been a series of “We can’t wait for’s.” We can’t wait for the house to sell. We can’t wait to find a new house. We can’t wait for the inspection to be completed. We can’t wait to sell what we don’t need. We can’t wait to pack everything. We can’t wait to close on both houses. We can’t wait to unpack everything. We can’t wait for the wood floors to be installed.

Now, suddenly, the “can’t wait for’s” are no longer. Pictures are on the walls. The new floor is beautiful. Plates are in the cupboards. Glasses are displayed in hutch. This house has become our home.

But…but, now what? My husband has been ensconced in his new job since January. He is comfortably settled into his position and his routine. I, on the other hand, am staring blankly out into the future with no real plans in sight. Yes, I have been retired for two years, but these past 24 months have been bumpy, uncertain, and slightly nauseating, and now that we are settled into our new community, I ask myself, “Now what? What do I do with this life of mine? What does the universe want from me? What do I want from the universe? What is my path? What do I want to be when I grow up?”

As I ponder these questions, I realize the answers aren’t clear. Everything is slightly foggy. But you know what? This is okay. At the moment I am comfortable in the mist of unknowing. It is as though I have a deck of possibilities laid out on the table in front of me, yet there is no rush to pick up the cards. I gaze upon each one with careful consideration. Do I continue writing? Should I attempt to monetize my blog? How about freelance writing? When do I continue writing that young adult novel I began last fall? What about a side business proofreading and editing? How do I market myself? Should I look into volunteer work? If so, what is a good fit for me? What about my love of baking pies? Could I turn that into a part-time business? Or do I just write about pie? 

All of these cards beckon to me. I breathe. Now is the time to meditate, to contemplate, to examine. Where do I land? With each moment comes new promise. Stay tuned.

“The beginning is always today.” - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” - T.S. Eliot

“Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” -L.M. Montgomery

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. 

Buddha

 

 

The Intention of Softness

At the beginning of most yoga classes, the teacher asks the students to set an intention. This is supposed to be a short-term positive goal for the practice, such as “I intend to bring peace to myself” or “I will clear my mind during the next hour” or even “I hope to not fall on my face when moving into warrior 3.” A good intention doesn’t require dramatic change; it just calls for authenticity.

Today as I flowed through a yoga class in a new studio surrounded by strange faces, I pondered intention. What if instead of just one yoga class, I set a weekly intention for my life? Something simple to follow, yet challenging for my normal thought processes. As the yoga instructor told the class to soften our faces as we held warrior 2, I knew what my intention would be. Warrior 2 looks simple. You line up your legs and stretch your arms to the opposite sides of the room. As you bend one knee you look to the hand in front of you. Every muscle is in use, but when she said, “Soften your face,” I felt worry and strain leave me, even though I was in a strong pose.

What if I soften this week? What would the world look like with a soft gauzy filter, like the ones used in old movies or Instagram? What if the harsh lines blurred a little? What would happen if I judged less? Whenever things get hard could I soften my face and let go of my shitty self?

The world can be a crude place. Bitterness creeps in with every bit of news and each piece of malicious gossip. We all are judged and we then kick back with a vengeance. Everything has hard, brittle edges that leave scars. No wonder many of us struggle with anxiety and depression. It is as though we can’t catch our breath.

This intention of softness does not mean ignoring our desires or letting weakness overcome us. Softness is a conscious effort, just like the class did today while in warrior 2. We are strong, yet we forgive, we embrace, we try to understand, we love.

So my challenge this week is this: soften. When I feel myself clenching or condemning or looking at things with a sense of damnation, I will soften. When the politics of the day hurt my soul, I will soften. When worry consumes me, I will soften. It is a quiet yet powerful intention, a softening of the heart and mind. I will let you know how it goes, especially when that inevitable distracted driver swerves in front of me on the highway as she carelessly texts, sips a hot coffee, and attempts to light a cigarette at the same time. Soften.

“Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel.” - Beau Taplin

photo: http://img11.deviantart.net/5446/i/2013/123/7/1/windows_8_wallpaper_by_dtafalonso-d5y1jaf.jpg

photo: http://img11.deviantart.net/5446/i/2013/123/7/1/windows_8_wallpaper_by_dtafalonso-d5y1jaf.jpg

Swimming Away From the Shore: Practicing Courage

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue.” - Maya Angelou

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses what it takes to be courageous. She states everyone wants to be brave, but that most of us believe heroics are only in the superhero stories, individuals with great strength and capes and magical powers who save the day as they zip across the sky, but true everyday courage, “is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Brown writes, “The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart.” Isn’t that sublime? Our courage lies in our hearts. This reminds me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. He didn’t think he had courage, but as he defended his new friends against the Wicked Witch, his spirit took charge. All three of Dorothy’s new friends believed they didn’t have brains or heart or courage, but during their trek down the yellow brick road, they discovered their intellect and love and bravery was always there in their hearts. It is in all of us. We just need to dig deep and pay attention.

As I navigate my new town I am practicing courage. No, I haven’t saved any lives or rescued puppies from wells, but I do believe it is a small act of bravery to reach out to strangers, to show vulnerability, to desire connections. Courage does comes from the heart. I am trying not to hide away, but to walk into scary situations and for this introvert, that is indeed an act of bravery.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” - William Faulkner

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future, and every day I will be practicing courage as I learn to swim away from the shore.

The Key to Our Lime Hearts

Over the weekend I finally made my first pie in our new home. It didn’t require an all-butter crust or sliced apples or even piles of sweet fruit. This easy recipe is sweet and creamy and full of zest. 

Key Lime pie is special to us because Key West was where we had our “wedding moon” over eleven years ago. Along with crazy chickens, fine cigars, and Coronas with shots of tequila, our adventures down there also included tasting the local delicacy - Key Lime pie. Every piece was a slice of lovely lime-induced heaven. 

The crazy thing about Key Lime pie is it is not difficult to make. The filling only requires four ingredients: egg yolks, lime juice, lime zest, and sweetened condensed milk. Some recipes call for a traditional butter crust, but I prefer a graham cracker crust. You can purchase pre-made, but homemade is easy and you also have control over the ingredients. Fresh whipped cream is a must. No fake stuff for this concoction!

Key Lime pie is just like our marriage: tart, sassy, simple, yet perfectly complete. Our new house is even Key West inspired, so this recipe was an excellent pick for a Saturday evening dessert. Enjoy!

Ignore the dead tree. We are hoping it is cut down soon.

Ignore the dead tree. We are hoping it is cut down soon.

Christie & Rock’s Key Lime Pie

Graham cracker crust:

10-14 pieces of graham crackers 

4 tablespoons melted butter

Break the graham crackers into manageable pieces and place in food processor. Pulse until ground. Drizzle in melted butter and pulse until it begins to stick together. Pour into pie plate and press the mixture evenly on the bottom and up the sides. Place in 350 degree oven for ten minutes. Let cool a bit.

Filling:

1 can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup key lime juice (Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice is the best! You can juice those tiny key limes, but, goodness, why?)

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zest and juice from one lime

Mix the egg yolks with stand or electric mixer until thick and creamy. Add lime juice and zest. Mix. Then add sweetened condensed milk and mix until smooth and creamy.

Pour into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate for two hours or even overnight. Slice and serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Whipped cream:

1 small container heavy whipping cream

1-2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Whip cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar and continue to whip until it peaks. Extra cream can be stored in the frig for a few days. Perfect for leftover pie or fresh fruit!

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future.

Our Front Porch

For years now I have wanted a big front porch. Not a puny one with just a few steps and barely room for a potted plant. A porch with comfy furniture, big pots of herbs and flowers, and, of course, a swing. A place to gather, to contemplate the day, to nod at neighbors, to just be quiet. That has been my dream, and now, finally, it has come to fruition. 

American architecture of homes has evolved over the years. Once upon a time the front porch was a staple in most houses. Before air conditioning, families gathered on the porch after dinner to catch a cool breeze and visit. Even after WWII when suburbia creeped outward, children played games in the streets as their parents gossiped together over coolers of cold beer. Eventually, though, houses became fortresses where families locked themselves in against the world. Two car garages now faced the streets while large decks were built behind fences, and high tech security systems protected the ones inside against the evils lurking beyond the front stoop.

In all the homes I have inhabited the porches have been small, nondescript cement blocks I attempted to beautify with pink begonias and tinkling wind chimes. These spaces welcomed visitors, yet did not invite people to stop, sit, and share stories. When we knew we would be moving to a new town, I had a wish list and a spacious front porch was among the important items. I looked at dozens of places, yet nothing spoke to me. I knew it was out there, this new smaller home where we would live and love. I would feel it as I walked in the door. And then I wandered into this community where almost every house has a front porch, some even two. I saw stately Adirondack chairs facing quiet ponds and wicker plumped up with colorful pillows. But most importantly, I noticed the porch swings. Somehow, this was where we were intended to live.

This past weekend my husband and I assembled four vintage looking metal chairs, two small tables, and, of course, a swing. Last night we sat on the porch, sipping drinks, and relaxing in the beauty that is our cottage. Even this morning I spent time on the swing with my journal and a cup of coffee. Later this week I will make a pilgrimage to the local garden store for flowers and herbs, but for now this porch fills me with gratitude and simple joy.

“I return to my front porch to find a place where the air smells sweeter and the sun feels warmer than at any other bend in life’s long road.” - John Sarris

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

 

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

I am a Midwestern girl, and my husband is a Midwestern boy. We were born in the center of this country. We spent our childhoods and college years living within driving distance of soybeans, corn fields, and giant tractors.  When I completed my degree I lit out, promising never to return. But four years in Texas and seven in the Chicago area sent me running back to the town that nurtured me. My husband stayed close to home as he raised his two girls. Our lives collided seventeen years ago at a backyard party, and now after five years of dating and almost twelve married we are about to embark on a new adventure.

After a layoff and temporary employment that left him empty, my husband found his dream job down in the St. Louis area. The boxes are now packed and loaded into the POD. Our cars are filled with random items. Calls have been made. Services have been cut off. Tomorrow we place the cats in their carriers, wave goodbye to our brown house, sign papers, and then head to our new home in a neighboring state. 

Before we head south on I55, though, I need to reflect on what this town has given us. We are leaving fabulous friends who listen and laugh and love. Our family members who still reside within the 217 area code are torn. They know this move is a great opportunity for both of us, but their hearts are a little sad with all the change. We understand. Ours are too. We will miss our breakfast place, our butcher, and our Mexican restaurant. Rock’s best golfing buddies will be lost without his inconsistent long game and his sarcastic patter on the course. I will have tears for my yoga friends, kindred spirits who have guided my body and heart and soul.

The past few weeks have been littered with goodbyes: lunches with old friends and family, last golf games, long hugs, heartfelt gifts. We keep saying we’ll be back for visits, but we all know it won’t be the same. Our relationships will evolve, and the ones that are enduring and true will stand strong despite the miles we are apart.

Our hometown has a reputation that isn't always glowing, but this place is quirky and funky and full of tenacious determination. It will always be our home, even as we settle in a new place. Now is the time to discover how we will adapt to the novel, the strange, the unfamiliar. We can’t wait! And to all we love, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

 

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.