I had something else in mind for a post this morning but I’m not feeling it.
Friends and family who are staring down Hurricane Ian are on my mind…much like the folks who’ve suffered already as it careened through the Caribbean, leaving devastation behind. Sending heartfelt wishes for safety.
When dear daughter was small, one of the most mind-numbing tasks was the constant fetching of errant ‘stuff’. She was an only, so as a party-of-one, parent-wise, I felt terrible when I complained. I don’t know NOW – nor did I THEN – how to magically locate stuff.
I am not blessed with GPS-like tracking skills. Socks? Shoes? Lost Bunnies? Dolls? Trucks? Pokemon whatevers? Nope. Unless I tripped over them and hurt the bottom of my bare foot, I generally had no clue.
A parent’s favorite reply to ‘where’s (fill in the blank)?’
I dunno – wherever YOU left it.
To be honest, though, this is bigger than an overdue parenting rant. Our girl is way grown at this point, so why the sharing now? It seems the Hubster has the same trust in me…that I can close my eyes, put a finger to my temple, thoughtfully, and mull….and I’ll know wherever said-missing-in-action item might be holing up. Nope. Still don’t know.
I think pandemic togetherness pushed me over the edge. He’s relaxed and easy going. Me? Wound. Too. Tight. Don’t bug me with a question about where your favorite screwdriver is. Don’t you have 99 of them? 😊
And yet, I get why both dear daughter and Hubster have faith in me. I am the Patron Saint of Lost Stuff. I did it to myself. See, I’m the one who’s in perpetual pick up mode in these parts. Yessiree. That’s me.
If I’m a-pickin’ it up, I might as well be a-puttin’ it down — where it belongs.(I don’t know where the Western twang and sheriff swagger is coming from. Sorry about that. My mind is wandering and I’m having an out of body moment as I see myself roaming through the tumbleweeds, err, piles in the house like I’m leading a search party, complete with a badge and ten-gallon hat. I think I need sleep.)
So what? I do have a point here. Getting to it! 😉 Even when I’ve lost track of something and I’m in search mode, there’s a tidbit of wisdom from my papa that rolls in. It’s a surefire (wink!) way of calming me down when I’m rootin-tootin’ mad.
I have learned. I am unlikely to locate anything when I’m steamed. The more Zen, the better and this phrase helps, self-talk style:
‘I don’t know where (fill in the blank) is but what I DO know is everything is somewhere.’
And with that bit of wisdom, I plop down and sit-a-spell 😉 until inspiration strikes and I pick up the trail. I don’t want to say it works every time…but it kinda does.
And that’s that. A Tuesday rant, and a tip of the hat, from me to you, partner.
Do you have a favorite childhood food memory? A smell so potent that you can blink and travel back in time?
I’ve got one of those and it involves an old Pyrex yellow bowl. It was the biggest of four in a set passed down through a couple of generations, starting in the 40’s with my grandma. The only thing I ever saw grandma use old yellow for was her weird “salad” that was truly a sugary diabetic bomb containing canned fruit cocktail, marshmallows, grapes and cottage cheese. Well, I guess the cottage cheese wasn’t so bad, but the rest of it was bizarre – at least to the picky eater I was then (and now).
When mom inherited the set of bowls, including old yellow, she never used it for the aforementioned ‘salad’. Instead, she christened the big Pyrex vessel with meatballs – and plenty of them. Learning how to perfect the secret recipe from my dad’s family, mom created new uses for the entire set of bowls. Old yellow was for rigatoni and meatballs. Other pasta variations? No! Always rigatoni.
Little blue was used exclusively for sliced radishes. No, not to accompany the meatballs. It didn’t get to play on Sundays. Little blue appeared when dad wanted a spicy snack and for him, sliced radishes were his thing – especially if they floated in a salty ice-water bath. Head scratcher, I say.
Red was a Sunday staple. Red’s role was important because she held just the sauce (or gravy if you prefer). The bounty in old yellow – glistening meatballs and pasta – often required an extra ladle or two of saucy goodness, once plated. Especially true for those of us who dove into the crusty bread. That was red’s role.
Green? You guessed it. EXTRA meatballs. Overflow central and for reasons I never understood, green’s meatballs were typically doused with a serious snowstorm of parmesan. Like a lot. It melted and added a salty and savory punch unlike the meatballs mixed with the rigatoni. Almost like another dish entirely.
Sundays were the best with meatballs on the stove. One of my earliest (and happy) memories is about meatballs. Kneeling on a stepstool and learning how to smack and roll the raw meat, mixed with heavenly spices, egg and toasted breadcrumbs. I know I’m not alone.
The mostly-vegetarian in me goes off track to make this meal today. No recipe required – it’s all about eye-balling the ingredients and remembering to smack those little suckers hard – between both palms to scare any air pockets out of them. Big baseball fans, always, I remember imagining my hands were two big catcher’s mitts, tossing the meaty mixture with authority, like playing catch.
When mom passed away, the bowls became mine and although I’ve wanted to use them – especially old yellow – to ladle it full of rigatoni and meatballs – I haven’t been able to do it. Not yet. But I think I’m building up to it. The combination of the olfactory memories…the scents of my favorite meal served in that bowl combined with flashbacks of family drama? Mixed memories, but I’m almost ready.
Why the hesitation? Hmmm. While I associate old yellow with happy stuff, mixed in, there were just as many maddening moments of another sort. The kind that were punctuated by Sunday scream fests and bad behavior.
Old yellow saw it all and has a teensy chip on the bottom to prove it…collateral damage during one of mom’s meltdowns. The meatballs weren’t the culprit. But I suspect the bottomless wineglass was. Still, I’ve put it into perspective. Every Sunday wasn’t that way, and the meaningful meatball memories remain, as does old yellow.
Do you have a favorite childhood food memory? (Hopefully one that’s less messy than my meatball story?) Let me know – and thanks so much for reading. I think meatballs will be on the menu this Sunday. Yes – in old yellow.
The photo of the distinguished lady is hubby’s great grandma, circa 1900. She married into a family of haberdashers:
Three things are remarkable to me about this photo, unearthed in the family trunk of long-forgotten stories:
First – LOOK – just LOOK at the hat. I’ve discovered, after a bit of vintage sleuthing, that over-the-top ornamentation using fake fruit and flowers was au courant and high fashion at the turn of the last century. In addition to the hat looking uncomfortable, I’m fairly certain great granny could’ve been airborne, should a strong breeze arrive. You know – Mary Poppins style.
Second – While the tailoring on the jacket and handiwork looks like the refined work of a master, the whole ensemble – jacket, gloves and high-necked blouse scream discomfort. Great grandma’s visage, though? She looks proud and proper. Not a hint of “I can’t wait to get out of this to hop into something comfy” (which in truth, was probably an equally uncomfortable lumpy cotton, full-skirted ‘day dress’.)
Third and last – and most important. As I rummaged through the trunk, I learned this hat pic was part of an ad campaign for the local newspaper – promoting the small-town millinery and haberdashery store, which her newlywed husband owned. Excavating the tidbits uncovered more fun and fab family history. Despite great granny’s time and place, she pushed her new husband to go beyond the traditional ‘furnishings’ for men only and branch out to offer equally well-made goods for women. And she was the first model and spokesperson. 😊
No, no – I’m not talking about “Wreck It Ralph’ – the 2012 animated comedy. I’ve got my other favorite Ralph on my mind – the one I affectionately refer to as “Rescue Ralph” – better known to you, perhaps, as Ralph Waldo Emerson. 😊
His catalogue of brilliance is numbing. How could that much ‘smart’ reside in one human? Of all the thought-provoking quotes and encouraging nuggets attributed to Mr. Emerson, there’s one that stands out to me:
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
Blunders, absurdities, old nonsense? Oh my! Just the morning kick-in-the-butt I need (most days, at least) to rescue me from my swirling, circuitous thinking. I love it…and yet…
I wonder, what if I add the typical Vicki accentuations to his work – a little bold here and there, maybe an emoji or exclamation point…or two. I’m not reserved, like my guy Ralph. I’m me and I overly enthuse when spot-on wisdom speaks directly to me.
My edits, should I be so bold (wink!) might look like this:
Finish each day and be done with it! You have done what you could. 😉 Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; FORGET THEM as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day! 😊😊😊 You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. ❤
Crossing a line? Too much creative liberty? Yes – but it’s all in fun.
Thank you, Ralph (although I understand you preferred to use your middle name). In that case, Waldo, you’re the best.
There are days…when I long for a do-over, a ‘take two’. Why? I tend to labor over bits of conversations and snippets of experiences…replaying them in my head and critiquing myself. Did I say the right thing – the right way? Too much, too little? Did I do all I could to convey what I was thinking/feeling?
What’s the problem, you ask? There are people in my life who place too much confidence in me, assume I’m chock-full of solutions – something for everyone in my hip pocket. Not true…not even close.
I can be a pretty good listener, but I’ve learned to avoid full-on problem-solving for others, for a variety of reasons (mainly that my high empathy tempts me to take on every issue in my orbit). In my efforts to empower and encourage a friend recently, I disappointed her instead. She didn’t use words – it was all over her face.
My friend wanted an ‘easy button’ and I didn’t want to ‘Vicki-splain’ to her (no one needs that) 😉 and tell her why my solutions to HER problems really wouldn’t help her. Instead, I tried to convey that she should mull and reflect; certain that the right step would become obvious, apparent.
Maybe my delivery was bad? She took my reluctance to ‘solve the problem’ as disregard for her, which gave me heartache in the form of another sleepless night. Sigh.
My friend is the driver. When she knows which road and destination are right for her, I’ll be right there – ready to rally with her as her co-pilot and compadre. Not the navigator.
It’s the first day of fall around here and the auburn-bordering-on-coral daybreak stripe seems to proclaim the change – with delight!
However, not everyone is welcoming the 48 degree temps this morning. There are two grumbly bears (hubby and pooch) who are mock shivering and fussing. Seriously? Cream puffs, I say, cream puffs. 😉
Me? I know I’ve said this before, but comfy apparel-wise, nothing beats a well-worn sweatshirt and jean shorts…ahh…on a day like this one.
It’ll warm to the 70’s later which means today’s weather bridges the best of summer (not too hot, definitely not humid) with the first taste of brisk breezes to follow (minus the snow that will come…sigh).
Wherever you are today and whatever the weather, from me to you, take care!
My mom was a walking conundrum. I learned to work around her moods, but one wacky episode popped to mind this morning – prompted by an unassuming and lovely bloom. A singularly determined late summer stunner nestled behind our garage. This vibrant hollyhock – pictured above.
Its brethren have long since pooped out but this guy? He’s still got stage presence, demanding attention. So, I give it. And as I’m looking him over, wondering why I’ve assigned male pronouns to a flower 😊 I realize why I dislike hollyhocks. In one unsettling wave, I remember.
I don’t recall the year, but sister (Lisa) and I were old enough to walk to the Rite Aid drugstore to do a little shopping for Mother’s Day. We bought a bouquet of mixed flowers and a fresh box of chocolate covered cherries. (Lisa and I sometimes wondered what “fresh” candy was – nothing was dated in those days and we guessed it just meant it was better than the stash mom not-so-secretly-hid in her nightstand.)
We felt triumphant as we woke mom with her gifts, along with a cup of black coffee and her cigarettes. Yeah for us! Almost. Funny how you can block a slice of unpleasantry for decades, isn’t it? I shelved this story in the way, way back – at least until the show-stopper hollyhock said hello earlier today.
Mom’s reaction to her Mother’s Day gifts? She looked at the bouquet of flowers, prominently showcasing both hollyhocks and gladiolas (I didn’t know their names then, but I learned…) and tossed them on the floor with an angry, “FUNERAL flowers? FUNERAL flowers? It’s Mother’s Day! I hate them” followed by a testy grab of the candy and a more softly muttered… ‘But these are okay”.
Lisa, given her sweetness and emotional vulnerability was a puddle in an instant. I tended to her first – trying to smooth over and re-contextualize the hurt. Usually this: Mom didn’t mean it or Mom’s just tired followed by It’s not your fault. Distracting Lisa by nudging her along to another activity also helped. That day we made pancakes. Food as the solution – again. Sigh.
Just the same, like other nasty bits, for my own sanity, I shut the door to the memory – quick as I could. Years later, I’m amazed that these scenes are still powerful enough to swim into everyday life. Life with mom wasn’t always a train wreck…but when it was, it was.
My take-away?NOW I know why I’ve never liked the hollyhocks 😉 that hubby’s been nursing back to health in our yard. I’ve been indifferent to them – never cutting them and plopping them in a vase. I’m still not sure about mom’s crazy claim that hollyhocks (and gladiolas) are ‘funeral flowers’. Anyone who’s more in the know can fill me in on that.
Oh – and why the sharing? No, no — not because it’s sad. Quite the contrary. For me, it’s a proof-positive example that remembering, while unpleasant, can breed resilience, if you dare to let it.
Thanks for reading. The boisterous and bold Mr. Hollyhock says hello.
I love the film “Begin Again”. Yes, it’s a little salty and true to its “R” rating…but still. I just love it. Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden and Adam Levine? Sigh. Maybe I love it because it’s already a little vintage-y…the story from 2014 about musicians…knowing their worth and protecting it…and the impact on self, relationships. Maybe I love it because the title is endearing. Yes, always, to ‘beginning again‘. Ahh…
Beyond the title 😊 there are three parts of the film that speak to me intensely – prompting joyful tears about the magic of creativity and the power of music:
The first? Near the beginning when Mark Ruffalo’s character envisions – sees, hears, conducts – an imaginary arrangement of instruments to enhance Keira Knightley’s subdued vocals. In real time. It’s a fantastic out of body experience (alcohol-induced, but I’m disregarding that) and I can only imagine this level of musical genius. It’s one of the best depictions I’ve seen; a cinematic attempt to showcase the continuum that is music and madness. (Sadly, it’s a family storyline, too. The burden of brilliance for the musically gifted…personal sharing to come, perhaps another day.)
The second? I adore an endearing dad and daughter storyline. In a rooftop recording session (near the 1:20 mark or so) Ruffalo’s character realizes his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) is a gifted, yet tentative musician. Dad’s got skills, too, but is reluctant to pick up a guitar himself. When he does, his act of bravery encourages and ignites confidence in his dear daughter. Right there on screen. Magic.
The third? James Corden is a goofball in the film (maybe that’s his natural state?) and there’s a scene, following the rooftop recording, where he DEFIES partygoers to NOT dance to a beat that’s hypnotic and powerful. Who can resist? I love how this was captured on film. It felt authentic, silly and it aligned with one of my core beliefs: good music makes you move. Maybe just a little – toe tapping or finger thumping – or whole-body ‘cutting loose’. You can’t stop it.
And so…this past Friday night was movie rewind time in our house. “Begin Again” offered food for the soul, alongside a monster bowl of popcorn. Whether it was the popcorn or the movie, a satisfying and fulfilling sense of happy still lingers.
Caution I’m no master baker, food blogger or photographer. I just like to eat and bake and if I can do it in a semi-healthy way, I’m all in. 😊
It’s that time of year for many of us – time to get creative with apples in abundance. I have a tried-and-true recipe for apple walnut bread – dating back to my foray into 4-H as a kid – and I figured it would work just as well if I made muffins, so I decided to bake a big batch and ‘health it up’ just a bit.
How? I used whole wheat flour and rather than PEEL and chop the apples, I just chopped them. What’s wrong with the extra fiber and a little ‘tooth’? Seems to complement the overall chewiness of these dense delights, along with the walnuts. But hey – you do YOU and change it up as you like. The recipe itself is pretty fool proof (yep, even for me).
3 cups flour(choose what you like – I used whole wheat, but I’ve made this recipe with almond flour with pretty good results – same for basic all-purpose and gluten free flour. I recall I needed to lighten up on the oil a little when I used almond flour, but other than that, it worked fine)
2 cups sugar (or – go ½ and ½ – 1 cup sugar and your choice of monk fruit, stevia and/or brown sugar)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (pumpkin pie spice is awesome, too)
½ tsp salt
I cup vegetable oil(or go ½ and ½ and use ½ cup of applesauce to replace ½ of the oil – yum!)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups finely chopped apples(peeled if you must – use Granny Smith if you’ve got ‘em)
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, sure, or pecans — or no nuts)
Mix the dry stuff in a big bowl. Separately whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla and combine with the dry stuff. Add the apples and nuts. This will be a thick batter – don’t worry if you need to thin it just a bit with some water.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or so for muffins; more like 55 minutes if you’re doing loaves. Makes 2 dozen muffins, or two small loaves.
The batch in the photo is from earlier this morning. I love when I can load up my favorite vintage breadbasket with something fresh and wholesome. That sweet wicker serving piece has been in the family for at least 80 years – passed down from hubby’s granny to his mom…and happily, to me.
So – here’s to Monday and the magic of muffins. If I could, I’d send you a few. Let’s figure out how to share via the blogosphere. If not the actual muffins, maybe the aroma, at least? Not gonna lie; our house smells pretty good right now. 😉
Hypersensitivity to sounds when in an anxious state? Oh yes – nailed it! That’s me. Whether it’s the metal-on-metal scraping sound that makes me tense up whilst unloading silverware from the dishwasher (not kidding) or the screeching, high pitched sounds of car collisions in movies, tv shows – I am an HSP (highly sensitive person).
Violent noises aside, being sensitive is a yin/yang kind of thing. I don’t mind that my HSP-self can be thunderstruck by beauty and kindness – prompting intense emotion and mountains of empathy. Feeling deeply? That’s me.
Anxiety disorders are common in the DNA gumbo that defines my family. Result? I’m forever keeping an eye out for resources that mesh nicely with my chief coping tools: exercise, meditation, and mindfulness.
I’m grateful to have been both a recipient of care and then professionally, a source of support for others. The Calm Clinic article caught my eye because of the straightforward attention it pays to sounds as anxiety triggers. Not all inclusive – but these four buckets seem like apt categories to me, summarizing the challenge:
Quick Startle Reflex
Hypersensitivity is fluid and ever-changing, but it IS possible to manage it. My greatest nemesis lately?
TV VOLUME…TV VOLUME…TV VOLUME
On my tombstone the words “Thanks for turning down the volume” should appear. (But to be fully forthcoming, it should probably say “Turn the *%X#!@* sound down!” because that’s the true-to-life delivery of my, um, request.) However, cussing on a tombstone is probably a no, no. Hubby will need to noodle on that once I’m gone.
Mellow Vicki – who appears, on occasion 😉 – might not mind the cacophony so much…but it will depend on my mood, state of mind and being. If I’m relaxed and not solving the world’s problems in my errant, wayward thoughts, sure – turn the volume up. No prob. But it DEPENDS. (See #1, 2, 3 and 4 above – my bugaboos.)
Am I alone? Chime in (see me smiling?) with your thoughts, support, heckling. I can take it. Just don’t shout.
When hubby and I were first married, we bought a ramshackle condo in need of – everything. It had ‘good bones’ (which is what we kept repeating to ourselves, to avoid the other pervasive thought – holy crap – we’ve made a HUGE mistake).
We did the newlywed nest-building and except for vacations where we’d tag along with my folks, or follow his family to the great Northwoods, we spent our time, funds, and energy on our home. We learned heaps and heaps of lessons about DIY do’s and don’ts and mostly, looking back, those were good times because we were compatible about our goals.
HOWEVER – it was stressful at times as we were mindful of the magnitude of owning real estate. Mistakes can be costly, and we made a few. (Note to readers: Do not attempt to install parquet hardwood flooring if you’re a beginner. It was nearly a marriage buster. That and wallpapering the smallest bathroom in the world. Just don’t do it.)
Given all of that, our families thought we were nuts when we’d save and scrimp in order to buy art for our condo. We adored our art-loving friends who’d tip us off when something REALLY cool was available. Learning about artists and their process was exciting and it felt very ‘adult’ to the two youngsters that we were.
Our friend Anne introduced us to Robert Kipniss and his lithographs, and we fell in love. Four decades ago, these seemed like foolish purchases, but we needed to bring these two prints home:
They’ve been fixtures in every house since the condo and for random reasons recently, I wondered if the artist was still alive. In Googling him, I found his website and learned he’s 91 years-old and still doing his thing. I love that. I also learned he started his creative life as a poet. Why am I not surprised? His loving landscapes ARE poetic.
Cheers to Robert Kipniss for the joy he’s brought this married couple for many years.
I’ve tried to put this out of my mind for the past two weeks, and I’m struggling. See the cabinet? I don’t know how to explain this, but the dumb piece of furniture is talking back.
Have I lost you already? Sorry. See? This is why I’ve been trying to shoo this story away. Well, there are really two reasons:
I don’t want to scare you.
I’d rather you not think of me as entirely crazy (a little crazy is good, I think).
If we rewind to seven years ago, right about now, we were tending to my mom, Sue’s passing. It was rough in every way, especially for lovely Lisa, my disabled sister, but she was comforted when we brought mom’s urn home – to nestle it next to dad’s.
Our pops died many years prior, and Lisa became accustomed to seeing his urn in our house – sometimes chatting and shooting the breeze with him. Not creepy – sweet and endearing.
Eventually our parents want their urns buried together in a plot already picked out in their hometown, but for now, Lisa enjoys her periodic visits and communing with them. All good because it gives her peace.
When mom died, we brought her urn home and placed it next to dad’s and that’s when the shaky stuff started. The two cabinets in that room hold old china, glassware, and crystal and twice after Sue “came home” we had early morning issues with unexplained broken glass on the floor – with the cabinet doors flung open.
I’m a pretty meticulous person about order and neatness (more so than spotlessly clean – don’t come over and expect to eat off the floors) and I know I didn’t leave the doors open, nor did I place crystal or crockery in tipsy positions. No ma’am.
Okay, you might be thinking, it was an oversized truck rumbling down the street – you know, creating vibrations resulting in the shaky, shaky. No – we live on a dead-end street. No one goes by unless they’re stopping for supper, which is always nice. I make too much food anyhow.
Fine – not a chubby truck. Okay – it was a tremor – you know, those tectonic plates are a-shifting. Earthquakes happen everywhere – even in the Midwest. No. No seismic shift. I checked. Scratch that off the list.
How about a prankster? No. Unless hubby is the most colossal liar on the planet, with ninja-like magician skills. He can’t be in two places at once, no matter how cool he is.
This nonsense continued until I separated the urns. Mom went in one room, dad in another and the shaky stuff stopped. Just stopped. Since then, we have the occasional odd door slamming episodes (which we attribute to breezes…um…even when the windows are closed) but it’s been quiet in the crockery department for several years. Until Labor Day.
The cabinet in the picture is the culprit – the one that wanted to chat a couple of weeks ago. We had friends and family over for a BBQ and at the end of the evening, I washed and dried the serving pieces – cheese trays, platters – that were used for our feast and had the two middle doors open, returning items to their spots. Awesome. Task completion.
EXCEPT this: As I turned to walk away, the loudest possible rumble of broken glass and smashing crockery blew out of the cabinet. LOUDLY. I’d stepped back – maybe a foot – and when I turned, I expected to see everything in the cabinet in a heap on the floor. But what did I find? Nothing. None of the vases on the left (all sitting on glass shelves) or the serving pieces on the right and in the middle had moved one inch. Not a single thing was broken.
Sister Lisa was nearby and hustled over to help me and we just stood there – looking at each other, then the cabinet, sharing “I heard it too” while looking again and again to see what was broken. Hubby was upstairs and came flying in thinking the whole cabinet had toppled over. Now three of us stood in front of it with our mouths hanging open.
For Lisa’s benefit, I finally said – oh, it must’ve been something outside, or something that fell upstairs but I knew better. I just did. Why? Right before the crash Lisa was around the corner – saying goodbye, one last time – to mom’s urn before we drove Lisa home. Which leads me to conclude mom “replied” shake, rattle and roll style. If it was a nudge to remember her, I think we got the message. Loud and clear.
But still, I’m pondering; seeking other explanations. Nothing’s come yet – and maybe that’s okay.
My dad was no philosopher. His exterior and public persona were die-hard business dude. Crisp, tidy and in control defined his personality (oh – and an obsessive fondness for white shirts – learn about that here).
Appearances aside, he had a very squishy marshmallow cream center and from that warm and caring core, he offered endless witticisms. Some were altogether goofy and clearly made up – in the moment – by this man who was rarely at a loss for words. I’m sure he “borrowed” from other great thinkers – never knowing exactly who he was quoting or the context. Didn’t slow him down, not even a beat.
The common denominator? He was wired to help and encourage and on occasion, his advice came in the form of a verbal guard rail – a gentle warning that I might want to steer clear, move along – lest I’ll suffer the impact, the outcome, the collision. His years of married life with mom surely helped him craft this gift. Battle scars and strategy can do that.
None of these meaningful morsels are written down – anywhere. If asked to recall and catalogue them – I just can’t. They appear, oddly when I need them the most, and that too is a reminder to my often-wayward spiritual self to RECEIVE without overthinking.
Here’s an example. As a kid, whenever I found myself noodling on issues outside my sphere of influence (daily dramas and annoyances – the things that are oh-so easy to crab about) he’d see the look on my face or hear the venomous tone and offer a low, monotone message, in a wonky, put-on Southern drawl:
“Mm hmm…best to keep your eyes on your own paper, missy” and that was it.
Just like that! He conveyed that he heard me (win #1) and offered advice to move on – quit the twisting and fussing (win #2).
Eyes on my own paper, indeed. Advice that still works, years later. If I embroidered, I’d consider putting that on a pillow.
Our sweet Sadie took a tumble yesterday and must’ve landed on her already arthritic back legs. We’re not sure what happened but one way or another, she ended up on the floor, wandering with a wonky leg. The pic I’m sharing is from yesterday morning – sweet Sadie nestled in my lap – after her unexpected gymnastics. Even though she can’t talk to us, we knew she was hurting. Pain was in her eyes.
We took her to the vet to check her out, explaining when we called that although she’s not ‘voicing’ that she’s hurt, we can see it. Likely the result of an unintended dismount from our bed. Good news? Nothing’s broken. After a full body massage and evaluation, our dear vet said, “Sadie’s a tough cookie” and while she’ll be achy – on account of her age (she’s 13) – no harm done. Whew.
Still, I feel terrible about how it happened. Our senior girl LOVES the ‘big bed’ (yes – we talk to the dog like she’s a small human). The ‘big bed’ is our king-sized bed and it’s a reward that Sadie relishes after a long day of, what, exactly? Napping in the sun? No matter – the point is that she’s thrilled when it’s ‘big bed time’.
Prior to Sadie, we knew nothing about small dogs, Chihuahuas, and burrowing behavior. Golly, IT IS a thing. Even when it’s hot and humid, this wonder ball of fur still loves her blankets and lots of them. Our best guess is that her accident occurred as she got tangled in her beloved blankies and fell overboard – yikes – onto our hardwood floor, softened only by a sisal-like rug.
While perusing news feed this morning and snuggling Sadie, this sweet resource surfaced, and I melted. I love when well-timed tidbits FIND US, don’t you? Yes indeed, puppy dog eyes and this:
“…our human connection to dogs, cats, and other pets is similar to the bond between a mother and a child. This bond, in part, is formed through oxytocin, the hormone associated with love, attachment, and trust.”
Cuddle muffin Sadie says good morning and reminds us of the power of touch, connection – and the importance of well-landed dismounts, with or without your blankie.
Once upon a time, I sparkled with newness as a fresh-out-of-grad school professional, working alongside many seasoned and smart colleagues in higher ed. To a person, I’d say, we adored our counseling and therapeutic roles, even the stalwart veterans who could’ve been cranky and inflexible but were savvy and nimble instead.
As a team, we did it all – psychotherapy, career counseling, personal and mental health – and the satisfaction that came from being a part of a high functioning team WAS priceless. Ah, the lessons I learned. As the youngest, I felt I’d been gifted with newfound family – older brothers and sisters – bonded by the dedication and drive to help others.
We were boisterous, bold, creative, and unrelenting in our advocacy for students. Looking back, I understand NOW how blessed I was to work in a culture that promoted student success while tending to team cohesion and individual excellence.
When was this? Oh…the very distant 80’s my dear readers. I had the spikey punk hairdo (periodically dyed burgundy red) to prove it. 😉 Now that I’ve said adios to my career in that venue (and that brand of bad hair) my rear-view mirror provides a spectacular wonder wheel of moments that matter. Many scenes from those days have magnified in importance over the years – giving a second wind to sage advice. SO good that it only gets better with time.
One such pearl came from a veteran counselor named Lena. Lena and her husband had grown children and as they considered retirement options, they focused on relocation ideas to maximize their hiking and outdoor lifestyles. Lena and her hubby traveled every weekend, it seemed, to scope out possibilities and size up trails and atmosphere.
No one would’ve guessed Lena was in her 50’s. She wore Reeboks when no one knew what they were and would lace up at lunch and take a lap or two around campus. Returning to the office, she’d retrieve her salad and mixed nuts and fill her water bottle, often joining the other younger professional, Carly, and myself in the break room.
What did Carly and I eat for lunch? We were the babies in the department and thought nothing of eating pizza every day while we watched one of the daytime soaps. (Carly had a fondness for “All My Children”, broadcast in the pre-cable and DVR days at noon sharp.)
Lena was the healthiest eater, but other colleagues would join in with their tuna salad, PB & J on whole wheat or tofu – which was just becoming a thing. For a semester or so, Lena and the “elders” never commented directly on the Pizza Hut and Dr. Pepper noshing that Carly and I dug into. Daily. We were just ‘the pizza girls’.
Why did Lena eventually comment on our choices? Hard to say. Not wanting to offend, I’m sure she had unexpressed thoughts about our awful, repetitive lunches. We always offered leftovers and extra slices to anyone who wanted them, knowing the fridge would receive the pizza instead.
Once, instead of just saying ‘no thanks, girls’ Lena added, “You know, I would LOVE to eat like you do. It smells so good but I know my body. One day, yours might talk back to you, too. Enjoy your pizza parade now – it won’t last.” And then, “You’ll learn”.
Carly and I made faces at Lena and laughed. A day will come when we won’t want pizza every day? We heard her, but it didn’t register. It bounced – and yet – the message was sticky enough to boomerang back – decades later.
How has Lena’s guidance helped me? I remember how sincere she was – not wanting to be preachy, hoping, I’m sure, that her plain-spoken observation about nutrition might take hold – eventually. It did…I just needed my aging metabolism to see it, but I got there.
Along the way, I recalled another one of Lena’s daily health habits. She carried a notebook and logged her food. Not in an obsessive way; just for accountability. Two years ago, I picked up my phone and started a daily food diary, along with walking and Pilates every day. Loving advice from Lena, across the decades. “Know my body”. It finally stuck!
I can’t think of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that I DON’T like. One, in particular, popped to mind recently when I was (yes, again) at Costco:
“Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn life around.” – MLK Jr.
Let me set the stage. Costco was jammed and it struck me that it was the first time I’d seen that many people shopping in close proximity – without masks (mostly) in ages.
Toward the front, near the checkouts, there were loads of fresh plants – perennials and mums on six-foot tall, massive rolling carts. It looked like a makeshift greenhouse – one that created a Tetris-like maze for shoppers to navigate. Get the picture?
Despite the tight quarters, folks were navigating prettywell with their laden carts, except for one sweet mom. She was attempting to push a flatbed with a wonky wheel with one hand, while holding onto a toddler with the other. On her hip was a round-faced, wide-eyed baby enjoying his pacifier while looking me over.
Mom’s flatbed load was substantial. Diapers and towels, cases of juice and jugs of milk. I suspect she settled for the flatbed because carts were scarce – all in use on a busy day.
As she tried to turn a corner, the front edge of the flatbed made contact with a display of nuts and then ricocheted forward into a cart with plants. Wowza. I was behind her and I could slow-mo see what was happening but couldn’t stop it. Stuff was flying – but no one got hurt.
Mom held on tight to the baby and the toddler knew to duck behind her – which is where I was. Good thing my hands were free because her little dude jumped in my arms to avoid the cascade of cashews.
Oddly, I wasn’t surprised. It was a mutual move – he jumped up and I scooped at the same time, synchronized-like. After the clatter and confusion, mom turned around and began apologizing to me, to everyone around her and then stopped – realizing a strange woman (me!) was holding her oldest.
She was colossally embarrassed and stressed. Creating a scene in a public place does that to some of us. Been there; done that – but it’s been a while since I was in her shoes. Wanting to hide but needing to tough it out, because, you know. You’re the mom.
The Costco folks reset the cashew display and removed the plants and dirt that landed on mom’s flatbed, mixed in with the diapers and stuff. They were so sweet – ushering her to a closed checkout lane to speed things up, get her on her way.
As I walked behind her, still carrying her big boy, he announced, “You’re a nice lady and you smell good.” Mom heard this and laughed – apologizing to me one more time. “No problem”, I said. “Right place at the right time. Moms stick together, you know?”
I doubt I’ll ever see them again, but it was a sweet reminder of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote. Cheers to simple stuff, like the smallest act of caring when the opportunity arises, at Costco. Or anywhere. Right up my alley – and yours, too. I just know it.
If you’re reading this and thinking – Gah! You already posted something today – what’s this!? Keep reading. Please. 😁
So…. this happened. Yesterday, I posted a comment on a terrific blog – I don’t know the blogger in any way, and this was a first-ever bit of chiming in on his thoughtful post.
Seriously…I need to slow down and proofread what I’m doing…or WordPress needs to come through with comment ‘edit’ capability – maybe just for me? No – this was not the first time I’ve served up a typo or sent a comment with words missing….and typically, I’ll reply to MY OWN goofed-up message just to acknowledge the typo or the whoops.
Yesterday? I couldn’t bear to do it. Enthralled by my own stupidity, my mistake prompted deep belly laughs (with a snort or two mixed in) as I wondered what the sweet blogger thought of my, umm…odd comment.
What did I do? In trying to offer an insightful thought (first mistake, Vicki?) I had the imagery of a playground teeter-totter in mind – you know, related to the push/pull and polarity of our crazy lives.
What did I type? Teeter-TOOTER. Yes, friends. When I caught what I’d done – of course after I hit ‘submit’ – I succumbed to a tidal wave of giggles. Childlike recollections of fart jokes and epic bathroom humor. TOOTER???
Then came the stern, self-talk moment: Victoria – WHAT did you just do??? TOOTER? You just typed TOOTER to this man who’s disclosing, sharing, inspiring. Shame on you! And then – fix it, fix it, fix it.
As I regained my composure, more or less, I noticed he responded with a simple ‘like’. More self-talk: Maybe he didn’t see the goof? But what about the broader audience? Others who will see – and hopefully laugh, too?Maybe not?
It required restraint but you know what I did?Absolutely nothing. Well, other than continuing to guffaw at my own expense. Oh – and I guess write about it now.
I know I’m partly molded from my mom’s madness. Aging creates inevitabilities and as much as I’d like to deny it, my mom’s penchant for critical, caustic commentary often simmers just beneath the surface, within me. Especially when I’m stressed.
My mom, Sue, could be unrelenting in her expectations of those around her. Every now and again when I’m zooming around the house doing too much at once, my dad’s voice surfaces – one of his periodic tirades directed at the hurricane that was Sue. He’d say – ‘Slow down, Sue, just SLOW down’.
Her frenzied, nearly out-of-body movements prompted him to utter, more quietly and with resignation ‘She needs to stay in her body when her head moves too fast’. Yup. Getting ahead of herself. Driven. Compelled.
Later in life she’d receive a diagnosis of depression and then the more defining manic depression. Eventually, heavy layers of additional issues (anxiety, alcoholism and more) were catalogued but it was her urgent, tempest in a teapot cleaning binges and spur-the-moment, 911 household projects that stick with me today. Sometimes, I do the same. Take on too much at once, putting a premium on “busy” for the sake of busy? For the sake of task completion?
Sue would wrangle all onlookers into the fray and then make everyone around her feel guilty for taking a break. Sometimes she was fun loving in her ability to manifest a near party-like atmosphere because of her charisma but invariably, she pushed too hard. Drama time would arrive. Predictably with tears and flying crockery (plates, lamps – whatever was within reach).
As an adult, I recognize that her maladaptive behavior was borne from her demons and insecurities…constantly evaluating and critiquing those around her – benefitting from the short-term lift in her own self-esteem but at what cost? Long term anguish, most assuredly, along with fractured relationships within the family. One daughter especially.
There are days when forgetting is liberating. I can still love and admire aspects of her. If nothing else, I can marvel at her ability to morph from wildly funny to destructive – in a blink. She was a sight to behold. You know, in the I paused to look at the car accident kind of way. You couldn’t help yourself.
I learned I could step back, remove as much emotion as possible and observe her more objectively, adjusting my regard and expectations for her. It made it easier to be empathetic and less angry. Occasionally the heat is still there, though, and I work my way through it.
This week I learned that my near year-long effort of unwinding my mom’s story – painful as it’s been – will come into the light in 2023. I have a publisher willing to showcase the twisty-tale of my mom’s life and I’m grateful. Over the next two months I’ll be doing a bit more editing to polish up the near 300 pages and then I think I can finally say goodbye to her – despite the fact that she passed seven years ago.
Every bit of this journey was insurmountable in my eyes…without my best friend Linda encouraging me. “You can do this. You should do this”, she would say, as she read one chunk after another, offering the gentlest of nudges, motivation, and love. I wish I could bottle Linda’s patience to sprinkle around. I was a lot to handle 😊 – especially when I retreated into the painful globs of life with mom.
What else? These two thoughts guided me as I struggled to keep writing:
“One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”
“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”
-Sir Winston Churchill
And my dad…who loved her no matter how hard she made it — and helped me find my way, too. Writing about mom’s madness helped me open a window to see her with forgiveness first.
You know that desert island question? The one where you mull over which food item you’d enjoy if you’re permitted one edible delight ONLY – and that’s it for the rest of your natural born days?
What’s your answer? Me? Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Although I worry – if I ask for pizza and that wish is granted, will my lifetime supply come along with proper refrigeration and an oven? Just thinking ahead about food safety. If I’m stranded on an island I don’t need food poisoning on top of everything else. Can you tell I’m not the outdoorsy, camping type? 😊
If I CAN have anything I want, let me be more specific. Ordering! Pepperoni pizza, please, which presents a number of issues. I know it’s not good for me and don’t bother trying to sell me on turkey pepperoni swaps. Don’t mean to offend anyone, but ick. Just ick.
My love of pepperoni pizza is ancestral, genetic. My dad knew I hated eggs so he’d sneak a little side dish of pepperoni my way so I could mix it into the scramble. You know, to zhuzh up those bland (invariably runny) huevos. Even so, I know my favorite cured meat is a guilty pleasure – despite the conjuring of pleasant ‘pepperoni with pops’ memories.
My discovery? My lifelong love of pepperoni is really about the spice and seasonings and I can recreate that yummy taste without the nasty health implications (nitrites, fat, salt, preservatives) and the whole “how the sausage is made” imagery that I struggle with.
This pic from my kitchen this morning shows simple veggies – almost a fridge clean out – of yellow onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spinach. Mixed in – a little salt, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and olive oil.
Et Voila! I bring you pepperoni flavoring in a veggie sauté that makes a delicioso pizza topping. Or bruschetta topping…or flatbread topping…or a pasta mix-in. Heck, I ate it on some leftover crackers just a bit ago. Don’t judge.
This blend has become my new favorite utility player in the kitchen because it’s the best-ever fresh topping to a boring frozen cheese pizza. It’ll take whatever you’ve got — a few mushrooms if you have those on hand. Peppers? Sure. I’ve even done this with finely shredded carrots and while I know that sounds ridiculous, you don’t notice them from a taste point of view but they do add a little crunch and color. What’s wrong with that?
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I still want pizza as my desert island food, but if that’s not possible (with or without pepperoni) I’ll run through my other favorite foods in the “P” category: potatoes, peanut butter, pineapple. What about you?
Yes, in the title of this post, I’m borrowing from Paul McCartney and Wings, but I’m inspired by Mark Twain. Quite a combo, right? 😉
The Paul McCartney & Wings 1979 hit, “Goodnight, Tonight” includes a catchy chorus of “Don’t Say It…Don’t Say It” and I confess, it’s the musical score that bounces in my brain when I’m biting my tongue, resisting the urge to respond – typically with a jab. Good to get the last word in, right?
Earlier this week I spent a meditative moment mulling over creative compulsion – my need to express myself, use my words.
Today? I’m noodling on the importance of knowing when to shut up, Mark Twain style:
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
Yes! A short and sweet lesson that I need to remember – especially related to interpersonal communication. (Or for that matter, INTRApersonal – the maddening inner dialogue that runs continuously between my ears.)
Interpreting Twain’s quote, I feel this:Don’t respond, take the bait. Let it roll…it’s okay. Pauses ARE good. Time to reflect, consider our words. Yep.
But I also think it’s okay to do more than pause. Not engaging at all is the best course of action, at times. A lesson I’m still learning, punctuated with an ear-worm of a soundtrack, courtesy of Paul McCartney. Sing along with me, “Don’t Say It, Don’t Say It”…
In the late 60’s my sister-in-law Patty worked in downtown Chicago as a journalist. Fresh from her graduation at Marquette, she became a REAL city girl, with a big-time job at a news station nestled in one of the skyscrapers.
Patty described it as a bustling, creative time for writers and artists of all sorts and she made a friend in Jud, who, despite his day job in graphic design, longed to JUST be an artist, a painter. And he was! Photo evidence above.
I believe this is the only piece he ever let go of. Admonishing his own skill, faulting his technique, he scoffed at Patty’s praise. Still, she wrestled it from him, insisting on preserving and framing this bold, black and white depiction of the Chicago financial district, circa 1968.
Since then, it’s logged more miles than some humans 😉. It’s a shared treasure. Residing first in Patty’s closet-sized apartment in Chicago, then migrating to the suburbs, eventually to Alaska and then back to the Midwest.
It’s a beloved piece, in part because of Jud’s humility. There’s been fake-family-fighting for years about who takes possession and for how long. We just referred to it as ‘the Jud’.
Today when I passed “the Jud”, nestled nicely in a picture-perfect spot in our entry way, I smiled. Patty jokingly said, maybe two years ago, “It’s time – I want MY Jud back” and we did the fake fighting and verbal tussling about it, telling her if she wanted it, she’d need to fly in from Alaska to fetch it. All in good fun.
I wrote about the importance of family mementos a few weeks ago, right after Patty passed away unexpectedly. Take a look at that post if you have a moment. The loss of her still stings; seems unreal.
My point? Remember those who’ve passed – however you can. Even if it’s just a city scene, painted by a dear man who will forever be an artist. Thanks to Patty.
I’m not an artist or musician. I’m an okay cook and baker (attempting Snickerdoodles at five was a mistake, but hey, they looked good in the Betty Crocker cookbook with the glossy photos). I’ve improved since then – at least creating edible cookies w/very few burnt batches. 😉
And so, I’ve devoted a bit of introspective time over the years to the ‘why’ behind my need to create. The thread that’s continuous back to my childhood is the need to express myself. Using words because that’s where my individuality resides. It’s never mattered whether it was in written form or interpersonal expression. It never mattered whether it was vocational or avocational, paid, or unpaid. Expression related to home décor and design sit equally alongside the work-related satisfaction I’ve found as a helping professional. I’ve loved it all. The visual and verbal just go together.
The blogging experience so far has been a revelation. If left unattended, I could endlessly obsess about the quality of my posts, especially because I’m able (now, anyhow) to write every day without feeling pressured. My too-busy brain is continually cataloging a topic, based on a discovery, a conversation, or a memory. These snippets are just THERE – bouncing around needlessly – so I might as well use them as blogging fodder.
In grad school I met a lightning rod in the form of a beloved professor. Decades later, his wisdom is still a touchpoint for me, even though we lost track of each other long ago.
Why? Professor Plum 😉 (not his real name) vaguely resembled the beloved Clue character, minus the purplish fuchsia sweater. Other than that, spitting image, I say, spectacles and all. I often wanted to greet him with a candlestick and ask if he’d been in the drawing room but I knew better. Keep it to yourself, Vicki. Besides, given my bad hair days – then and now – he likely regarded me as a blend of Marge Simpson and/or Cruella.
But back to Professor Plum and creativity. His overstuffed office carried the stink of woe begotten ideas with a whiff of something spiritual, magical. Soothing, almost. I realize now it was an atmospheric mix of hope and the joy of creativity. The odorous intrigue also included a pungent tobacco punch. He smoked – something – in his cave/office and more than once I imagined the potential fire tragedy. If only he’d open his window…he had one…but it was jammed to the top with stacks upon tipsy stacks, eclipsing all light and the potential for fresh air.
He offered mumbled, stooped-over apologies every time a student entered. “Sorry, sorry” he’d say – scraping away a layer on the lone side chair in his office. “Here, sit here.” He’d stand for a minute or two to ‘reconnoiter’ his back with his legs. “Too long, I sit. Good to stand” he’d say.
I’m still embarrassed about my non-verbals the first time I visited. I know my face conveyed shock and despite my unkind visage, he did his best to welcome me. In explaining the mess, he surveyed the piles with outstretched arms, sighed and said: “Some of us are compelled to create. This is me. Everyday — thinking ‘write or die’ and it’s all here. It’s me.”
Ah. Comfortable with self. His declarative ‘It’s me’ was liberating to hear. Excessive worrying about the quality of a creation – whatever it is – gets in the way, muddles the magic. He knew that and managed to share, in little slices and interludes, how he made peace with it – and forged ahead, just the same.
Summoning his perspective helps – especially when I’m feeling critical of myself. What else? I appreciate this piece about the ‘science of creativity’. More than once, it’s helped to normalize and quiet the inner critic, enough to let the creative juices flow freely:
Despite the widely held belief that some people just aren’t endowed with the creativity gene, there’s not really any evidence that one person is inherently more creative than another… creativity is something that anyone can cultivate.
How do you get to your creative place – that spot of ingenuity that’s uniquely you? Sometimes just by doing. And then “doing” some more and shushing the gallery. Kudos to Professor Plum – write or die, indeed!
My all-time favorite quote about introspection comes from Carl Jung:
“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”
This is how I feel as an extroverted introvert – otherwise known as an ‘ambivert’ the personality type that rides the middle lane.
I think my personality is a by-product of moving ten times in twelve years as I grew up. Forever the ‘new girl’ I needed to survey the social nuances – quickly – in order to make friends and connect. That’s a tall order at any point in life, but when you’re an unsure, lanky, awkward young dork? Tricky – so I built the skill of fast-friend making. How? Ask questions and be prepared to pivot, as needed. Morph, baby. And listen, listen, listen.
I suspect those skills framed my future career nicely – both in higher education as a professor and Dean and as a counselor/therapist in my own practice. I could be extraordinarily extraverted, when needed. No problem. Got it. BUT – I learned quickly that a recovery period after a long day of leading, listening, supporting – even when I loved doing it – was essential.
What else did I learn in the process? Despite rampant and easily-applied labels, understanding personality types is complicated. Nuanced. Personality is not binary. We’re fluid, malleable and flexible and can present aspects of our true selves across the continuum of ‘extraversion vs. introversion’.
How did I manage as a card-carrying introvert in a mostly extraverted work world? Just fine. My only issue was remembering to tune into the need to refuel. I often joked (then and now) that I need to ‘reload my words’ when I’m tapped out. Give me five or ten, family, friends and I’ll be right back with you. Right now, I’m fresh out of words.
There are a gazillion different tests – some shady, some reliable – if you want to delve into whether you’re more extraverted or introverted. I think it’s helpful info, but it probably won’t tell you much that you don’t already know. Is one type better than another? No, of course not, despite this cheeky article lauding the merits of introversion.
I still see myself as an ambivert because of my people-pleasing tendencies and high empathy. Consistently, my thought process is this: What do YOU need me to be? Let’s go with that. And that’s how I live my life, unapologetically, but with awareness of the self-imposed fatigue.
Nasty fatigue. It’s my nemesis more than anything else. This past weekend provided a pointed reminder. Sweet sister Lisa tested me during her visit over the weekend (check out this post from a few weeks back for more detail about my lovable, disabled sister).
Lisa lives in a terrific, well-staffed group home with lady friends with similar disabilities. Whenever possible, we love having Lisa with us over a weekend, especially if family festivities like a barbeque are on deck. Such was the case over Labor Day.
In addition to packing too much for a short stay (a genetic problem in the family) Lisa delights in bringing juicy tidbits and gossipy fun facts about her housemates, along with whispered shade about staff, programs, services. She’s disabled but she’s more emotionally intelligent and verbal than most folks of normal IQ. 😉 AND she loves recounting all of it to me.
See where I’m going? I love Lisa but after non-stop listening – and not the half-listening that involves just a nod of recognition – she’s looking to chat – I begin to lose steam. Not wanting to be short tempered with her, I find things for us to do and that works for a while as a distraction.
This past weekend as I was teetering toward snapping at her, I remembered how funny she can be if lighten up and play along. She wasn’t the problem, I realized – it was me. I had too much **other** on my mind and Lisa sensed it, thinking I was upset with her. My introverted self needed refueling for the heavy (but fun) impending BBQ socialization and that, coupled with my preoccupation with cooking and prepping, ramped up Lisa’s non-stop storytelling. I made her nervous.
Oh golly. It just took a few minutes of slowing down over a bowl of brownie batter (with two spoons) to prompt silly reminiscing about childhood cooking disasters. There were plenty, typically swirled together with outrageous things our mom did. The laugh track that was our childhood.
As I ruminated about Lisa last night, my summation thought yielded just this: Extraversion, introversion, ambivert – whatever. I needed to send out a search party to find my funny and laughter brought the pieces back together. It usually does.
Labor Day Weekend is the big, splashy end-of-summer hurrah where we live. The farmer’s markets are slowing down, pools are closing and, if last night’s temps were any indicator, the heralding that fall IS here was unmistakable. I don’t mind. My favorite September outfit is a pair of well-worn jean shorts with a comfy hoodie. Nothing’s better.
So – yesterday we hosted a bbq and it was great fun. It’s mostly about the company we keep, right? Food-wise, though, a barbeque is a little tricky for me because I rely on the substantial sides – baked beans, corn bread (yes, all the carbs) because I’m an almost vegetarian. 😉
I know for some that’s against the rules; you’re either in or your out but I confess that an occasional well-done burger or piece (or two) of bacon still tastes good. If I can shut down my brain. Yesterday was not one of those days. I could not self-talk my way through eating a bratwurst. No amount of ‘eat, enjoy and do better next time’ was going to work.
Everyone else in our family/friend group? Meat eaters – all of them. Fine, I say. Just know that I won’t be enjoying those overstuffed, homemade brats from the local German meat market. Hard pass.
And you know what? Yesterday I was reminded that delight comes in other forms. Yes, I enjoyed other items on the menu, but it wasn’t my best eating day (aforementioned carbs followed by double chocolate brownies).
The non-edible delight? A friend arrived with the most spectacular bundle of lettuce-edged roses – pink at the curly outer edges – and it made my day. Given the option, I’d trade brats for blooms any day!
Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it’s restorative and peaceful – however you get there. Me? I’ll be admiring the roses. Grateful for friendship, home and hearth.
My husband descends from a pioneering family that settled in the small village near our current home. Immigrating from the Alsace region of France and Germany in the early 1800’s they were part of a small pack of persevering souls who established the quaint town that’s now more tourist destination than residential. A haven for those who relish the opportunity to travel back in time, shop, nosh and recall simpler days.
We knew snippets of family history from my mother-in-law, Maxine, but believe the surface-level storytelling and limited sharing was the result of embedded, gender norms – favoring the retelling of patriarchal tidbits of family history much more than the matriarchal. Sigh. It was his mother’s family – not his father’s – who literally blazed a pioneering trail but her legacy and history were sidelined as less important. How irksome; but that’s not the point – at least not at the moment.
Maxine’s great grandparents arrived on the plains and brought traditions from their wooded homeland. Evergreen trees were plentiful in heavily forested Alsace and one of most endearing stories was the tale of the painstaking transport of three small evergreen saplings across the Atlantic. I can imagine some arguments about this – a sentimentality vs. practicality tussle – but how lovely that sentiment won, I say.
We often wondered if all the human travelers in the family made it to America safely, because the ‘tree tale’ was more vibrantly recounted. Records are spotty, at best, even with the dynamic search engine tools like Ancestry.com. At least three family members – the husband and wife and one child – arrived safely and a few cousins, it seems.
Piecing together facts from decaying photo albums and journals, along with the family Bible yielded one fantastic find. A simple red frame home that still stands in our tiny community was the homestead. Built by the grandparents, three times over, and identifiable for years as theirs because of the three stalwart and regal trees that stood in their modest front yard. Evergreens.
Maxine, before she passed, acknowledged the ‘little red house’ built by her distant elders but she never mentioned the story behind the trees. A local historian helped to fill those gaps using records long forgotten about the family. The sweet crimson structure still stands – now converted into retail space. Sadly, only two of the three trees remain. One wonders what happened to the third.
Discoveries about family history can come in large lumps or in tiny waves. Learning about the house and the trees was like the latter – ancestral echoes that, once summoned together, created a spectacular story. If only we’d drilled down more with Maxine to better understand the oral history, to supplement the archival tidbits stitched together.
Time was not on our side; she passed AND years passed and it wasn’t until we bought a nearby home that the a-ha moments arrived. Of all the remarkable aspects, one especially stands out and it’s about the three trees.
Across many years of married life, we’ve lived in several homes – fixing them up and moving on – but with heavy hearts each time. As much as we knew we’d miss certain features of each home, the greatest lament always involved saying goodbye to beloved trees.
Without knowing it (at least in any conscious way) every home we’ve ever lived in was improved upon, landscape-wise, with the addition of three or more trees.
Most received a cluster of three evergreen trees for decorative screening, shade, or wind control. Often we planted more than three but always three together, somewhere on each lot.
There’s more. When our daughter was born, we wanted to instill a love of nature and conservation and decided an annual tradition of planting a ‘birthday tree’ (yes, an evergreen) would do the trick. And we did. As she grew, we finagled and fretted every spring…where will the next tree go? An homage to family, in ways we never suspected. Three trees, please.
This photo amuses me so. It’s a blast from the past that I felt compelled to share.
Birthday celebrations for one-year olds are typically memorialized with a frosting face – capturing the enjoyment and glee of a first-ever birthday cake. Not so with our “DD” (dear daughter).
She commemorated her first birthday by sampling another delicacy – potato chips. Ruffles, to be precise. Instantly territorial over her find, she made it clear she found the simple bag of chips to be far superior to the cake and candles routine. Oh, and the singing? Hands over her ears with an imploring look – why, oh why?!
If you look closely at the pic you’ll see the bag of Ruffles in the background, which included the tag-line “Get Your Own Bag”. In DD’s first foray into chip-dom, I’m not sure she needed the encouragement. Her face did all the talking. Agree?
Right now, it might be hard to fathom, but I’ll share a truth with you. The one that kept me (more or less) sane during the roller coaster ride that is parenting: The highs and lows will suck air from your soul. This is not a drill. Despite the resplendent, breathtakingly shiny moments – those that are gloriously joyful – you can’t linger there because the valley is waiting, too.
The valley is where you’ll question everything – especially yourself. In those moments you might fret that you’re incapable, ill-suited, or too impatient for the rigors of parenting. I don’t care how old your children are – whether newbies in onesies, toddlers, or teens – they will rock you with the unexpected as they morph and grow. Developmentally pre-destined, this push-pull of parenting.
When your babies return after the miracle miles of maturity, you’ll see them, still, as your squishy newborns, but they’ll be disguised in grown up packaging. Even as full-fledged adults, their needs for attachment are still there – but in new wrappers.
Parenting is maddeningly unscripted, unpredictable (and, I found, in constant conflict with my plan-ahead personality) but you move through it, relishing the sunny days and smooth roads when they arrive. They come and you remember: I am nothing if not resilient.
Take care of yourself, my parenting compadre. One day you might look up and see a little being who once ate crayons (“Just to try them, mom”) as a near-peer, standing before you. Still needing you, same as ever, just taller, and less sticky.
My dad was a master of oddball phrases. He passed many years ago, but he still pops up in wacky, wonderful ways when one of his quirky ‘bon mots’ surfaces in my brain. I smile when that happens.
Scratch that – it’s more of a full-teeth grin. Cheshire cat like. The spontaneity of these witticisms catches me off guard and more than once, I’ve imagined an onlooker (driver in another car, man in front of me at the post office) assuming I had ear buds in – maybe talking to someone who made me laugh. Sort of. Yes – let’s go with that. Talking to my dad; the low, low-tech way. 😉
Here’s an example. This one occurred in the privacy of our kitchen, where I found myself talking to the dog again. Sweet Sadie. She puts up with a lot. DH (dear hubby) made a massive batch of his signature guacamole. It’s delicious but it’s a use every bowl and utensil and all the counter space production. Inspiration strikes when he fishes out the best bag of ripe avocados at Costco and that’s all the warning we get. Look out. Fresh guac coming soon!
One way or another, a healthy dollop of freshly made guacamole ended up on the floor. It was chunky enough that it surely made a ‘splat’ sound but the humans didn’t hear it. I turned around and Sadie was having a best day ever – gobbling the guac and licking the floor clean.
Did I mention that DH puts extra jalapenos in his concoction? Yep. We like heat and a sweaty brow with our chips and guac. Sadie, however? This was her first ever fire-roasted tongue experience. And this is where my dad popped to mind.
Anytime someone complained of overly-spicy food – demanding a glass of water – he’d laugh and ask, “So you’ve got hot pipes?” And as water was guzzled, he’d continue: “Holy Toledo – were you ‘down a quart’ or what?”
While tending to Sadie and offering her yogurt and water to cool her hot tamale mouth, those silly, heckling-like phrases from my dad kept swirling. So much so that I started asking her those questions. Ya got hot pipes, Sadie? Wow – look at you drinking all that water – good girl – were you down a quart? OMG. Hello, papa. Thanks for joining us. I have now taken over the color commentary role when it comes to overly spicy food…and I love it.
I love this pic of my favorite “Dad and daughter”. There are days when I’m flummoxed by my good fortune. How did I get so lucky? I found a partner who’s put up with me for decades while reserving just enough patience to be a doting, loving papa.
What I enjoy most is the connection these two have around tools and knowing how to fix stuff. Me? In the face of full-on armageddon, I won’t survive because I have zero skills. No hands-on capacity whatsoever unless it involves cooking or baking. When the apocalypse comes, I’ll be whipping up a batch of brownies, just so you know.
Fixing something? Home repairs? Understanding anything about mechanicals, engineering? Nope, nope and nope. These two, however? The gene pool richly rewarded our “DD” (dear daughter) with all of the how-to skills the world could offer – in the form of do-it-yourselfer DNA from her papa.
I suppose I contributed to some of her other talents (she’s the best negotiator I know 😉) but this photo speaks to me – especially now. She’s old enough to demonstrate that she has the blessed combo of people skills and smarts about ‘things’.
“DD” is a strong young woman with a caretaker heart and while I feel a sense of pride in her academic abilities and accomplishments, the fact that she knows her way around a toolbox means just as much. Maybe more? She’s my independent, step back and let me do it girl – no matter the task.
After a job well done, she also knows how to kick back and relax. Her papa showed her how to do that, too.
I love it when home décor is simple and books – especially lovely (albeit musty) old volumes – come to my rescue.
Here’s a snap of a fireplace mantel in our house. It was an empty space that drove me batty because it’s narrow and nothing I envisioned worked. I left it barren for a long time because I was annoyed. How could such a teensy space be so difficult to address? And so, for a few months I gave that ledge my side-eye, considering possibilities.
Eventually I relented – trusting that whatever was supposed to rest there would rise up and declare its intentions. Hey Vicki – over here – see us? We’re the antique books imprisoned in the storage tomb…err…tub…with the silverfish! Get us out of here…we’d like to get into the light and we know just the spot.
Oddly, that happened. Except for the part about the books actually speaking to me, of course. 😉 In another of my periodic forays into forgotten family bins and boxes, these little guys appeared. And I knew where they belonged.
Such a satisfying moment – dusting them off and placing them on the mantel. I suspect one or two might be first editions, but their value is in the sweet visual they created, not their market value. Home, finally. In their spot.
When I help others with home décor conundrums, I encourage patience. The need to do a rapid-fire retail spree – buying everything at once – might be tempting. I get it; I am a ‘task completion’ kind of girl. But when it comes to your precious safe space, your home, your haven, I prefer slow over speed.
And don’t get me started about shopping in your own house. Often all you need is a little reset – not the acquisition of anything shiny or new.
This is a tricky time of year for me. I’m flooded with mommy memories of back-to-school transitions – both the tears when it was time for kindergarten and the weightiness of saying a final goodbye after a college move in.
I think about parents crossing those symbolic divides when August turns to September. Sure, there’s joy and excitement, but there are so many other emotions. Sorrow sits in the mix along with anxiety but increasingly more palpable is fear – worries about protecting our children when they’re beyond our reach. Back-to-school traditionally summons a woozy, unsettled feeling for some parents, but this is different.
Why? Generations of parents have done this dance. I’m one of them. But there’s much more at stake today. Have you seen this piece, written by Katie Gutierrez for Time? Reflecting on the compounding fears for parents she writes:
If having children can sometimes feel like a radical act of hope, entrusting them to the world can feel like the stupidest act of faith. I do not trust this world. And yet, what is the alternative?
I feel that. Especially today when safety cannot be taken for granted. Whether it’s senseless gun violence or the savagery of a global pandemic, Katie’s lament “I do not trust this world” is painful to read. But I understand it. And my heart hurts for parents like Katie who are doing their best to move through the back-to-school transitions with as much grace as possible. If that’s you, know that I’m sending love.
I don’t like eggs, unless disguised as a key ingredient in a cake or another sweet treat. 😊 (Oh, that’s a lie. I’m okay with them in the family recipe for mama’s meatballs. But that’s where I draw the line.)
Especially for breakfast, I eschew eggs. Not scrambled, fried, poached or lovingly baked in a casserole with sausage, hashbrowns and cheese. No – just no. There’s a childhood trauma story associated with being force-fed undercooked scrambled eggs that’s stuck with me for years and although I probably would like them if properly prepared, I’m sticking with my stance. No thank you. Save your ‘give eggs a chance’ speech.
What do I like? This morning I bring you banana pancakes. With a little crunch. There’s a local restaurant known for their spectacular banana crunch pancakes. Actually, just pancake – their artisan crafted creations – not joking – are delicious but they’re served one, singular and solitary flapjack at a time. Presumably because the chef is painstakingly tweaking the recipe, watchful as every pancake makes its way from griddle to table. Whatever.
I’m no food blogger or photographer. I’m an eater, so as you look at the pic, bear that in mind. It might not look like much, but oh baby. I nailed it! In dissecting the restaurant version and inspiration, I figured the ‘crunch’ came from a little granola and a soupcon of maple added to the batter.
Hubby felt courageous and said ‘sure’ when I mentioned the pancake experiment. What won him over, truth be told, was the wafting smell mingling through the house. All the windows are open this morning and the aroma snaked through every room.
How were they? Yum. The basic batter was a box of our favorite protein pancake mix (no egg needed!) and it welcomed the tweaks of banana and granola. Success! Now I need a nap.
Have a wonderful day. Delight your palate with something you love.
This morning I peeked at pieces I’ve written recently (and some that are still ‘in the pipeline’) and remarked (yes, talking to myself) that three words seem pervasive: LOVE, MAGIC, WONDER.
No, I didn’t do an official search and count…I’m not going for precision here. But still, I spent a meditative moment (followed by some necessary self-talk) ruminating about being repetitive and boring.
Yep – there’s the self-evaluator in me surfacing. I hollered back, ‘So what? What’s true, is true!’ And then I remembered this from Persian poet Hafiz:
“The words you speak become the house you live in.”
Taking a little liberty and swapping out ‘speak’ for ‘think’ or ‘write’ offers the guidance I needed. It’s okay. Go forward, Vicki, and use “love, magic, wonder” endlessly, boldly, authentically.
And so…I send those three things to you today. Love, magic and wonder – in abundance!
I’m thinking about the power of play today. The importance of connecting with the child that’s still tucked within us.
Tucked – where, exactly, you ask? I know what you’re thinking! I’m an overburdened, card-carrying ADULT with all the, um, rights and privileges….and mountain of never-ending duties to prove it.Time to play? Stop, please.
Yeah, yeah. Heard. But still. Take a minute, will you? Close your eyes and trust me. I know there’s a memory, a family memento or a long-forgotten photo that’s so powerful, it’s capable of triggering a rush ofI remember; guiding you back to a moment when you felt lighter, invincible, capable, GOLDEN.
Childlike wonder can be reclaimed, but you might need to coax it into the light. Wonder is everywhere. If not in our comforting memories, perhaps right in front of you – at this very moment. Be encouraged to look for it as Madeleine L’Engle suggests. Be open:
“I am still in the process of growing up, but I will make no progress if I lose any of myself along the way.”
My mom-in-law Maxine understood that play was a priority. The photo of her with two of her granddaughters on a sunny summer day conveys that. She relished time with ‘her girls’ and would cancel everything on her busy-lady agenda just to spend open ended days with her granddaughters. No one knew she would be gone just a few years after. No one ever knows.
What to do, what to do? She’d ask in her sing-song, joyful refrain. Pool? Sure! Baking? Absolutely! But most of all, the girls loved fetching the musty old box of board games. Relics from other generations – hidden like treasure – disguised in a faded brown file box. Simply marked “GAMES” in Maxine’s signature block printing.
Where’s the box now? In our basement – unopened for a decade, at least. I haven’t had the courage to peek into it since Maxine’s passing but I might one day soon. Wonder sits within. I know it.
I’m predictable. It’s my affinity for black and white art and symmetrical architectural design – the more monotone and classic, the better. Over the years, I’ve filled my head, heart and home with imagery reflecting that aesthetic. Destined? Unavoidable? Genetic?
I’ll explain with a photo tour.
Top Left: A cryptic, archival rendering of a 16th century home. See the architectural details? Peaked pediment, symmetry in the placement of windows? Last year I was wowed to learn of distant ancestry in France. The trail goes back 10 generations to a grandfather who painstakingly built this home. News to me! My father’s patched together family history was like many immigrant stories: He’d say ‘We’re a mix of this and that’ anytime I asked about heritage and homelands. Family roots in France? Unexpected. When I tripped over this nugget of family history I began to wonder if my love of antiques, Renaissance design and black and white images are snippets of my genetic code. Why else would I – unknowingly and on repeat for decades – make choices that mimic and align with this tidbit of family history?
Top Right:As a teenager, I bought this pen and ink drawing from an artist named Bruno in Montmartre. I was captivated by the whimsy of the street scenes, the cozy homes and cafés and the fact that Bruno sketched himself into every nook and cranny. In a long story I’ll tell another time, I was nearly stranded in Paris when I ditched my travel group so I could circle back to Bruno to negotiate a price low enough to take this piece home. It was an altogether epic adventure involving an angry chaperone, a lost passport and a sprint through the airport to board the flight, but I did it. I got it. And it came home with me.
Bottom Left:At a flea market, maybe 20 years ago, I nearly tackled a lady who was perusing a stack of mis-matched plates and crockery. Why? Scanning the teetering piles, I spied ONE lone black and white piece that I needed to examine more closely. The plate had a hand-painted image of a house. A house that looked familiar and I gravitated to it. Not pricey at all and because it was woefully out of place with all the floral and pastel plates, I figured I did the vendor a favor by buying the oddball item. For years, it’s migrated around the house as a favorite object. It’s been used as a landing pad for remote controls, a serving dish for small bites and occasionally a candle rests upon it. I love it.
Bottom Right:Mind you, as I give you this chronological overview, I’m building to something. What’s this last pic? It’s the fixer upper house my husband and I bought several years ago. Notice anything – despite the snow that’s in the mix? The style of the house – design, placement of the windows – the symmetry. We bought it – and that’s a story, too – because the house waited for us, languishing on the market until we were ready for the challenge. We’ll be the weary couple remodeling for years to come, but we don’t mind. Cue the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young music: “Our house, is a very, very, very fine house….” Or it will be one day. Between now and then, it’s still HOME.
Patterns repeating. I wonder if the things I love are a mix of “me” plus ancestral roots still pulsing across the generations? Hard to say but worth pondering.
I confess…I am a shallow girl who loves a good decorative bowl. Would I diagnose this as a malady? Preferring form over function? Style over substance? Maybe. I know I walk that line.
If I’ve learned anything about myself, I’ve come to terms with some inevitabilities. I’m that person who hates clutter and it’s not a just a neat-nick kind of thing. It’s about visuals and overstimulation. Of all my senses, sight is the most acute and I’m plagued with a need to tidy and straighten and I hate things out of place. A little compulsive, sure, but I’m okay with it.
I was the child who couldn’t do homework until my room was organized and I’m the grown up who will sweep into every space to remove errant bits of this-and-that before I tackle any sizeable project. Oh yes. Self-imposed detours.
Am I easy to live with? Let’s not address that here (wink!). I’ll probably need a family member/guest blogger to volunteer if we really want to ‘go there’. 😊
For years I despised the tray of vitamins that sat on the kitchen counter. It drove me nuts. Altogether, the humans in the house TRY to take eleven different supplements – every day. The doggo? Hers are easy – just a once a month chewy that smells like liver. Easy to stash in a cabinet.
I looked at every incarnation of pill organizers and hated them all. The easy fix was to plop everything in a cabinet, but when we tried that, the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ aspect resulted in day upon day of skipped vitamins. Not good.
My solution? A covered jar that I think was intended for sugar? I don’t know for sure, but it’s domed enough that we can sort a week’s worth of colorful supplements into it if we nest a smaller bowl inside – double decker style. It works! Vitamins in plain sight but disguised just enough that I’m not visually disturbed. How’s that for disclosure you didn’t need?
But there’s more: The ceremonially clattering of ceramic-meeting-ceramic when the lid goes back on? So satisfying! The clanking sound proclaims, ‘well done and good for you!’ It’s a wellness signal for me – paving the way for more good decisions, all day long. And it matters. A day or two without my regular regimen results in noticeable changes in how I feel, move, sleep. Add the additional, emotional layer of generational issues with eating, described in this post “Angry Eaters”? I am a motivated woman on a mission to make good choices.
Hey there – you! Yeah – YOU! I’ve got a newsflash for you. No, I’m not the first person to make this observation but I believe in the philosophy. Even when it’s one of those mornings and you’re dragging yourself into the day, there IS something magical about taking the two or three minutes needed to make your bed.
It might involve a simple fluffing of the comforter or propping up the pillows. Simple stuff. Or, you might have a more elaborate set-up with pillow shams, decorative pillows – maybe even an extra blanket at the foot of the bed. Maybe, for those of us who are like that (yep, that’s me) the total time investment in bed-making is still less than five minutes. So what, you might say?
Well…if you’re plagued with non-stop stream-of-consciousness thinking – when you should be sleeping – you might wake up feeling the weight of your ever-growing to-do list. You know – the unfinished business from the day before…often swimming with fresh-on-the-scene issues that must be tackled du jour. 😊 Taking the time to make the bed seems counter-intuitive when you’re stressed but in truth, it sets a bit of order amidst the chaos.
The straightening and smoothing involved in making a bed are restorative; symbolic of setting the stage for a new day. I’m not alone:
“It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.“
I love that. Little things that matter. Even if all you accomplish is making your bed, cheers to you…and meow.
It’s so easy to remember the critics in our lives – the reprimands and challenges and the heaviness that rides along. One of my least appealing personality characteristics is a tendency toward judgement. I don’t mean to but if left unattended, I might spend my entire day thinking about feedback I’d love to offer but don’t dare deliver. There’s nothing worse than unsolicited input. This I know to be true.
My sometimes judgey-attitude and needless filtering…the quickness to classify and label is a by-product of neanderthal needs for safety. Adopt the group mindset. Don’t stand out. Birds of a feather…flocking together…Except all of that group-think nonsense is counterproductive to being our best, unique selves and celebrating individuality.
What nurtures growth and promotes positivity? An honest, heartfelt compliment which calls out what’s special about each of us. With all the ‘likes’ and ‘following’ going on in the world, an old-fashioned I see you and you are fabulous…goes a long way toward soothing the bumps and bruises we all collect. Just by living.
As I mulled this over today, I challenged myself to summon an impactful compliment – offered honestly, authentically, freely and it took me a minute. Not gonna lie. When my roundabout memory finally sifted out the clutter, I recalled a colleague who offered praise a few years ago. As I think about what he shared, I can’t help but smile. His exuberance – about me – lifted me up – at least three feet from the ground. I floated for a few hours after.
Let me set the scene. “Rob” (not his real name) and I volunteered at an employee barbeque. You know the type; intended to promote team spirit and boost morale with a spread of ribs, chicken and burgers. (Side note: This was a terrible job for me. I ‘over-portioned’ every single plate and was the messiest ‘guest chef’ ever, which created the unintended entertainment portion of the event: Watching Vicki juggle plates overly laden with grub.)
Rob was my ‘guest chef’ partner and we met just once or twice before. He was the newbie and I was the long-tenured veteran…with the aforementioned sloppy serving skills. After he repositioned my lopsided chef’s toque (fancy name for the big stove-pipe head gear, I learned) the good time vibes were rolling and they didn’t stop.
Why? Rob could not believe I knew each person in line – by name. Maybe we served 100 folks, give or take. I served “the meats” and Rob did the sides and as colleagues moved through the line, I greeted each and introduced Rob (because most had yet to make his acquaintance). It was easy. It was fun.
But part way through, Rob pulled me aside while the actual chefs were restocking the steam table and said, “Who are you? Never in my life have I seen someone handle introductions the way you do. You know everyone by name plus tidbits about their families, their jobs, where they work, what they do. You’re like magic and I want to be you.”
We were pretty sweaty at this point. Did I mention it was an 85-degree day? The combo of the hot food, the steamy weather? I was already a wringable, soppy mess and Rob’s sweet and heartfelt comment triggered more moisture – tears. As they rolled down my cheeks, I imagined (hoped) it looked like more sweat than emotion, but inside, I was flying. The sincerity of his compliment shook me. Not because it was necessarily true but because it WAS my intention to acknowledge and connect as many people as possible that day. And he saw me.
I took this photo of my dad while on a family vacation in Mexico – decades ago. It became a favorite – for both of us – but possibly not for the reasons you’d imagine. Yep, it’s a handsome pic of a handsome man but the binding between us had nothing to do with mutual admiration for his face (or his swanky mirrored shades).
It was all about the shirt. Take a look. What do you see? Pretty buttoned-up, right? Indeed. Even on vacation, my dad was tidy and scrupulous about how he dressed. Known for packing more outfits than my mom – by a mile – dad loved his white dress shirts for any and all occasions.
Did he tote along typical beach duds? Sort of. If you’d call a slew of short sleeve 😉 white button downs “casual wear”. Any tropical board shorts in his suitcase? No, no, no. Only plain (and seemingly starched and pressed) navy, knee-length swim trunks. Two pairs – so one pair was ever-ready, dry and good-to-go.
He was fastidious to a fault and endured a lot of ridicule (yep, from me) for his ‘board room’ vs. ‘beach’ attire but he was also generous and charming. As tightly wound as he was about his appearance and apparel, he was equally loose and loving with those he cared about. I think his white shirt rigidity made it easier for him to be spontaneous in other ways.
My dad knew how to make everyone around him feel like a big-time winner. How? He never wanted or needed eyes on him. I suspect he’d had enough of that along the way. At 6’ 4” tall, he towered over most folks and by size alone, was cast as a caretaker. The solid one.
In an unguarded moment once he told me he suspected he was a mighty oak in another life because people so willingly trusted him and admired his strength. Sometimes, he said, strength he knew he DID NOT possess (or was in short supply). Still – he rose and served – but when he could manage it, he mostly wanted to be in the background and not center stage. “All the better to have eyes on who needs help the most”, he’d say.
He’s been gone for many years and yet he’s always nearby. I figure nuggets of my heart and soul – the cosmic soup that is ME – came from pretty good stock. His. And that’s sweet comfort for me, every day.
I am so tired of itchy, watery, puffy eyes. Where I live the pollen count is high – weed, grass, trees – and even though I know it’s super stupid to have every window in the house open, I can’t help myself. Soon, the cooler days and closed-up feeling of winter will arrive and I’ll long for the sneezy, breezy fresh air.
Yep – I have my favorite and allergist approved over-the-counter meds and they DO help with the sniffling and such but my best-ever-morning-hack involves an ice cube. One tiny sliver of icey-cold goodness, swathed over my puffed-up eyelids. Once around my undereye area and swooping up to the eyebrows, too, for good measure. Heaven. Heaven, I tell you.
Sure, I have one of those fancy-ish ice roller gadgets from Amazon. It sits, unused – but ready – near the ice cube tray in the freezer. I can’t bring myself to use it because it looks more ridiculous (is that possible?) than the ice cube trick. It reminds me of a teeny-tiny paint roller and the one or two times I used it, it was way too big for the job of soothing my allergy eyes. But still, it sits in the freezer.
Sometimes simple is best. I’ll keep using a cube or two in the morning and I think I’ll ditch the plastic roller.
Who shows up for you? Some people aren’t meant to linger in our lives. They pass through, leaving a trail or an echo. Sometimes without warning, they’re gone. Chance encounter? Short term, mutual benefits? It happens. But…
I worry about the increasingly popular ‘work family’ conflation. This article is appealing on that topic. Truth? Work friends may never be more than that and investing ‘as if’ may be destructive in the long term – stage-setting for grief and loss when work relationships end. They do. It’s work.
Worse? The overuse of ‘family’ lingo can be a manipulation; playing on emotions to push productivity: Author Eleanor Tweddel: “The layering of ‘family’ creates an expectation of maybe going the extra mile, tolerating each other no matter what, in this together.”
Whether work-related or personal, opening yourself up to others is an unfolding, at best, and it takes time. Especially for those of us who identify as introverts and relish the opportunities for depth as we explore relationships. It’s okay to be pragmatic and enjoy the sharing, learning, laughing without worrying about labels, definitions or duration.
I love thinking about those who’ve moseyed through my work and personal life. Not regretfully but with gratitude. Life is wonderful in the randomness of it all. And yet…I imagine every person on my path is/was there for a reason, even if it’s beyond my comprehension.
Spending a few minutes considering who we let in…and who we can let go of…is time well-spent. Especially if you feel out of balance. Lots of giving…little in return? Hmm….time to ponder. I’ll be right there with you, doing the same.
These shoes. Oh…these shoes. They saved me one summer when I was ‘studying’ abroad in France (and I should probably confess that the “studying” part is open to interpretation).
Packing light – backpack only – I foolishly wore my favorite Frye boots and took no other footwear. None at all. Now – know this. I come from a long line of boot-wearing, Texas-loving, cowboy-wannabee lineage. Boots are (and were) the shoe of choice in my family. Especially the first pair gifted to me from my dad – right before my first trip to France.
I don’t think actual cowboys believe Frye boots count as ‘western wear’ but I wore those babies proudly for two months. Were they hot when my travels sent me to the coast – to Nice and Marseilles that summer? Indeed.
Which is where this pretty pair of ultra-soft leather sandals surfaced. I needed relief. I spent my last bit of fun money on these wedges which meant I ate baguettes and not much else as my travels winded down. At first touch I loved these shoes; handmade AND they truly DID feel like ‘buttah’. As much as I adored my boots, I switched over and marveled at how happy my feet were. Is this what custom footwear feels like, I wondered?
That trip was decades ago, so I figure I can share that my well worn and loved ‘south of France’ sandals are a treasured keepsake. Yep – I’m old enough to have my very own ‘vintage’ and antique apparel!
In my closet, shoes come and go but these will forever hold a place of privilege because of the memories they hold – no matter how bedraggled they look.
The boots? They were resoled several times but my sweet papa kept buying new ‘shit kickers’ for me anytime I asked. I wish I’d never let that first pair go. They were discarded in a frenzied closet clean-up. Silly girl. Why did I do that? Consolation? Yep. These shoes. 😊
I confess. The pandemic pushed me to admit I’m not wired for buttoned-up fashion. Time spent working from the comfort of my favorite pajama pants propelled me toward cush.
Cushy fabrics, forgiving waistlines and silhouettes. But wait – there’s more! 😊 I love all black outfits. I know what you might be thinking. Whatever it is, I’ve heard it. You’re such a happy, positive person – why all the black? Oh – black again, Vicki? Shocker! Do you own ANY color? Maybe a print or two?
I admit. My choices may not be popular but you must admit there are benefits. Everything matches (wink!) and my occasional accessories – a belt or a scarf or a fun pair of shoes – stand out so much more.
There are down sides. My closet is…well…pretty dark. Thank goodness for good lighting (all the better to root out which of my nine favorite black turtlenecks I might fancy on any given day).
Do I care? Not so much. The joy of settling into my own skin and my love of black clothing is liberating. I’m not foregoing comfort for the stress of what-goes-with-what any longer.
Call me Steve Jobs if you must. I’m okay with that. Ah, the love of a good black turtleneck.
Let’s celebrate, not condemn the choice, if for no other reason than the fashion world’s loss of Issey Miyake last week. Miyake famously outfitted Jobs in an endless wardrobe of black t-necks and made Jobs the most recognizable and (I’m guessing here) the most comfortable CEO. Ever.
Cheers to what works for you. I’m off to buy more Woolite dark laundry detergent. Need to stock up!
I suspect we’ve all been there. Where? In the self-defeating cycle of insecurity where we become dependent upon acknowledgement from others. Might be a new-found friend in the blogging world 😊 or a spontaneous interaction with a stranger. It’s true! A positive nod or word of encouragement is a gift.
Revel in it – whether it’s a compliment from someone near and dear or a person you may never see or hear from again – many of us are hungry to be seen, heard, recognized. Especially true for those who identify as achievers.
But that’s okay, right? Yes, I think so. It’s truly what makes the world go ‘round. People taking care of one another by offering praise and recognition nurtures love – for the greater good. I’m a fan.
Except…when you are incapable of acknowledging and celebrating your own successes (small or large) because the only praise that “counts” comes from the outside. That might be a sign that your need for external validation is dragging you down.
The fix is straightforward but requires a wee bit of practice. Being mindful of your unique gifts and talents is a good first step. Yes – you have them. Make a list if you need to.
Be ready to celebrate and ‘high five’ yourself at every opportunity. Be the first…not the last…to offer praise and give yourself the gold star.
Visual imagery can help. Take a minute or two to connect with your breath. The simple act of breathing in…and out…while allowing your head and heart to peruse the things that make YOU feel good about you is restorative.
Don’t go spelunking around for heroic acts of bravery here. For some, getting out of bed is praise-worthy if the day dawns bleak and gray (whether actually, metaphorically or emotionally). Hurray for YOU! You’re up!
If you make it a practice to celebrate the little wins, it will become less and less necessary for you to feel good only if praise comes from someone else.
My wish for you? Don’t let ‘external validation’ be your only (or main) source of ego strength. You are fabulous. You always were.
This snap came from a visit to a gorgeous and lush botanic garden last week. High atop a hill, the view of the horizon seemed to mimic the look of sea – not sky. It reminded me of this Roald Dahl quote:
“Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
I’ve been thinking about this photo for years. It’s a snap of me – maybe at five years old – sitting alongside my mom and grandma. Three generations of stressed out, angry eaters. Mom is the one in the striped sweater, sucking on a hard candy, frustrated and desperately trying to avoid the tray of cookies on the coffee table.
I don’t remember the holiday or occasion but it was one of many forced celebrations that did little to cloak layers of unresolved conflict. My mom and grandma didn’t get along and yet they saddled up for holidays and birthdays and pretended to be okay with each other.
Mom was angry at grandma and it always seemed to be food related. Desperately trying – for decades – to be anything OTHER than what her food obsessed mother became. Grandma hated photos and always pulled one of the grandkids close to her. Not in an affectionate way but as a shield. Helping to disguise her size or just buffering her from the animosity with her daughter?
I learned to sit with my hands folded, knees together, like a prop, but I tuned into the undercurrents between them. Curious and sometimes fearful of their rage and rules about food. Questions about quantity. Quibbling about overeating…whispers of purging.
You may be thinking, ‘Thanks Vicki, but why the disclosure? I’m learning that my family is far from unique and sharing is helpful to others. Families and generational food issues? They are endlessly intertwined and when you add the individualizing sprinkles of perfectionism, competition, compulsion and fear that drive disordered eating, it’s clear the narratives are layered and complex. There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions. What matters most? A listening ear, a helping hand. Attention and love in order to help empower and normalize. You’re not alone.
If we could wrap one another up in bubble wrap, maybe the road to recovery would be more straightforward. Unrealistic, I know because the media assaults and ignorance about disordered eating are rampant and at their worst, they offer overly simplistic solutions that often result in shame, recoil and withdrawal for those suffering. Understanding the destructiveness of social media and reality tv is crucial. It’s unrelenting and it’s not gender specific.
Check out the National Eating Disorders link at the end of this post for comprehensive resources, but if you’re in a “TLDR” mood 😊take a gander at these five tips from NEDA to inspire critical thinking and active dialogue to challenge unrealistic portrayals of body ideals. Let’s encourage more natural and diverse body images in media.
5 TIPS FOR MEDIA SELF CARE
Choose and use media mindfully. Be selective about your media use and choose media that supports your values and builds self-esteem and body confidence.
Limit screen time and social networking. Researchers studying body concern issues have found that the more time we spend in the media world, the more we are exposed to body perfect images, and the more vulnerable we are to compare our appearance to unrealistic body standards. Protect your self-image by monitoring the quantity and quality of your mainstream and social media time.
Test the message for body positivity. Use media literacy strategies to think critically about messages you consume and content you create on social media. Test for body positivity by asking key questions: Are the body depictions realistic or digitally altered? What does the message really mean? Why are they sending it? How might it affect someone’s body acceptance? Who created and profits from the message? Before you text, tweet, post comments, and share photos and videos, ask yourself why you are sending the message, who you want to reach, and analyze its body positivity.
Talk back to media about body image. Tell people who profit from media and establish policies what you like and don’t like about their body representations, why you feel this way, and what you plan to do about it — take a stand and refuse to read, view or listen to media or buy advertised products until they make changes.
Advocate for positive body talk. Use your social media capital to inspire others to use their voices to compliment authentic and diverse body messages, criticize unrealistic body ideals, and report body shaming. Shout out to media outlets, retailers, advertisers, and celebrity product endorsers who celebrate natural looks, healthy body size, and diverse body shapes, and call out ones that continue to promote unhealthy and artificial body norms. You can make a difference!
As much as I enjoy the escapist fun of the “Real Housewives” franchise on Bravo, the onslaught of disturbing blame-laying and shame inducing in Crystal Kung Minkoff’s storyline as she discloses her history of disordered eating is destructive: “Hey Crystal – why dontcha go to therapy to fix yourself”. Worse? Whispers that her reveal must be driven to juice up her storyline and garner sympathy and attention. Yes, yes. It’s a tv program and we can turn it off but it’s the narrative – reflective of broader social norms – that is disturbing.
But there’s hope. If you haven’t read Valerie Bertinelli’s “Enough Already” you might want to take a peek. Refreshingly honest. Our bodies are amazing and splendid in their differences. Most of us know what habits to embrace and which to break when it comes to eating for health. Retreating into family history showcases the sometimes deeply entrenched, generational issues with food. More reflection = greater perspective and less shame.
I appreciate this article for the direct, absolving attention to the label ‘emotional eater’.
Need a nutritional booster shot? This piece from the Cleveland Clinic is excellent because it’s comprehensive and encouraging. Check it out.
And this from NEDA to access the helpline and screening tool – with links to so much more.
I’m a glass half-full kind of girl. I try to think positively, even in the face of super squirrely circumstances – the shaky ground that’s typical daily living for most of us.
What’s the culprit? You name it. Despite good intentions to look for the bright side, even the most stalwart smilers😊amongst us can lose the resolve to remain positive. We’re tested. I’ve been tested. I know you have, too.
Not long ago, as I merrily moved through the routine cadence of my life, a loved one suffered a traumatic twist in the form of a health crisis. Is it better to see it coming? Worse when it smacks you in the face versus tinkering with your stomach over time – creating what-if anxiety? I don’t know – we don’t get a choice, do we?
The good news is that my cherished loved one will recover. Circling the depths of hell was both jarring and liberating for both of us. What matters most? I’m still mulling that over. Certainly not the same tiddly-widdly-this-and-that that preoccupied my head and heart before.
I’m grateful to friends and family for the periodic distractions, thoughtful and insightful sharing, and for the opportunity to embrace collective wisdom, advocacy, and humor. It’s made all the difference and it’s filled my bucket so I can be ready to help others roll with the unexpected.
If you’re reading this and your world has also taken a turn, know that I’m sending cosmic support your way. Just because.
My love of family history is like an undertow, pulling me further and further into discoveries.
The deeper I go, the more consuming the journey. Fascinations with lost (or forgotten) objects. Photos – some framed but most neglected; yellowed and ragged.
Recently I found several small silhouettes of distant relatives and a few delicately framed family photos. I wasn’t sure why, but they belonged together so I rustled up a small tray and gave them a place to cluster and be seen:
Maybe I’ll rotate other discoveries through. Maybe not. For today, I’m happy they’re in the light, nestled together.
Which reminds me of a favorite Churchill quote:
The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.
-Sir Winston Churchill
Honoring family treasures by displaying them does that for me – provides clarity for the road ahead by acknowledging those who lovingly came first.
Sweet Sadie says hello – and good morning! She is one ultra-happy pup gazing into the backyard with her stuffed Easter bunny.
Sadie is a very maternal 13-year-old who never had pups of her own but treats this raggedy rabbit (see pic above) as her most prized possession and best buddy. She sleeps with bunny, grooms bunny (which is gross – bunny needs a good toss in the washer) and worries when bunny is out of sight.
This morning as I zoomed around the kitchen I tripped over Sadie several times. Underfoot. Too much! Annoyed with her, I shooed her away only to realize I was at fault. Sadie’s too old and arthritic to jump into her favorite chair WITH her bunny and I’d forgotten to scoop Bunny up to place her there.
Am I the only one who apologizes to the pooch? I felt terrible, awful, neglectful when I realized I skipped one of the essential early morning tasks involving bunny. A few kisses and snuggles later and all was right with the world but I’m fairly certain Sadie was annoyed by the fuss. I imagined her thinking ‘Knock it off already – I’m ready to sit with my bunny – don’t you have something to do?’
And so – good morning to you – from sweet Sadie and her absent-minded human. Moi.
My mom-in-law, Maxine, passed away in 2009 but her trademark gingersnap cookies live on – satisfying rumbling tummies of all types.
The recipe is modest – see above – jotted down in her trusty notebook in her schoolteacher’s tidy cursive. Not too many ingredients and the steps are straightforward.
Were Maxine’s gingersnaps delicious? Yes, indeed! But it’s taken my husband and I years of tweaking to figure out why our efforts were never as good as hers – despite our diligence in following the instructions exactly. Maybe too much so…
It’s great to have this connection to her. The heavenly smell in the house brings her close every time – the comforting mix of cloves and cinnamon summon her. BUT — we were flummoxed and frustrated by our creations: stiff little bricks masquerading as gingersnaps. No fluffy, spicey treats.
Accusations flew…we must’ve left out a key ingredient. Oven temp too high? Too low? Didn’t ‘cream’ the shortening and sugar enough? We drove ourselves batty. So much so that we almost gave up.
Until…I realized Maxine methodically planted herself on her yellow kitchen stool to watch the cookies. Every time. She didn’t multi-task by doing a few dishes or throwing a load of laundry into the washer. Nope. She watched those little buggers and knew they needed to depart the oven – speedy quick – just at the point of puffiness. Was that 9 or 10 minutes? I suspect it was often at the 8-minute mark which explains our gingersnaps-disguised-as-hockey-puck efforts.
The good news? A little edit – striking out “9 or 10 minutes” and noting “check at 8 minutes” made all the difference. I imagine Maxine chuckling in the great beyond. “Yes of course. Don’t you remember? I told you they’re still baking a bit after they’re pulled from the oven!”
Here’s the recipe. Perhaps easier on the eyes than Maxine’s handwriting from the photo:
3/4 cup shortening (softened)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light molasses
1 beaten egg
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsps. soda (baking)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp ginger
Cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg; beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients; mix well. Roll small ball, dip balls into sugar, place 2″ apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake in modest oven (375 degrees) about 9 or 10 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.
I didn’t understand my big sister Lisa’s magic when we were little. She just confused me. Here’s photo evidence. It was Lisa’s fifth birthday celebration, and I was three – not quite four years old:
How would you describe the look I’m giving Lisa? Cold stare? Quizzical? Curious? I think it was all of those. I didn’t know enough to censor my gaze. Lisa was taller, older and I expected her to embody show me the ropes, please, traits. I expected her to be my guide and trailblazer. Maybe she could teach me a thing or two about managing my toddler tantrums and avoiding mom’s wrath? I expected Lisa to show me how to finagle more candy or cake or negotiate a later bedtime. Lisa did none of those things and that year when her birthday rolled around, I began discovering secrets. Sweet Lisa’s secrets.
Although older, Lisa couldn’t run with me or play on the swings for very long. She stumbled and apologized a lot and was afraid of falling. I didn’t know she was blind in one eye. I didn’t know her left leg was shorter than her right.I didn’t know she was a miracle – born at six months old – severely brain damaged and oxygen deprived – but she survived. I expected her to be my playmate. Ready, willing AND able.
That summer my curiosity escalated when I demanded to know “What’s wrong with Lisa!” as our mom stood at the kitchen sink. Lisa and I were at the table, pawing through our treasure – a stash of donated books from a soon-to-be-closing one room schoolhouse down the road. I was an almost-reader and I expected Lisa would be an absolute reader – maybe reading to me?
When I looked at her across the yellow tabletop, sticky with grape Kool-Aid residue, Lisa was holding her books upside down.UPSIDE DOWN. If there were pictures, she knew to flip things around, but as I crept behind her, I didn’t understand why she was “reading” up-ended books.
As our mom turned from a sink full of suds, she answered my question, angrily: “Lisa’s different and special.You need to be nice.” It took me two more years to fully understand the trauma of Lisa’s birth – pieced together, one nugget of hushed and whispered intel at a time as I eavesdropped and snooped on grown up conversations.
Growing up with Lisa taught me how to care. To look at differences with a so what attitude. For all of the things Lisa couldn’t do well, she had big sister magic of her own. Lisa – still – has the most accurate, savant memory of anyone I know. Her recall is amazing – details from decades ago about specific celebrations, events, classic tv programs or everyday dinners.
Most conversations with Lisa start with, “Vicki, do you remember the day we….”and she’ll summarize, in exquisite detail, a meal or a moment. A conversation long forgotten. I love that about her.
More importantly, Lisa, despite her disabilities and the mounting reality of aging, is thoughtful, kind, and gracious. Always asking what she can do for someone else.
Caring for and learning from one another is everything. Notions of “ability” and “disability”? Lisa taught me to see how fluid and beautiful life without labels can be. She still isn’t much of a reader but her knack for seeing the good is her superpower.
I continue to be fascinated by language. Especially brief bursts – words and phrases, strung together that can be interpreted in endless ways. Knowing the source, considering the context IS essential because often, the words themselves are bare and lacking. What’s the tone and intent? The distinction between supportive and dismissive can be subtle.
In conversations, we can typically tease out the nuances. Friendly or fierce? Helpful or harried? Short messages – whether they’re missiles that come via text or an email (or a blog post!) can be hastily written. Tone, intent, context. They matter.
“Do what you’ve got to do” is such a phrase. This week, those six words in a text exchange started a relationship tussle for a couple I know and it took them several days to unpack the hurt.
Why? “Do what you’ve got to do” is tricky. Is it an endorsement? Go forth – with my blessing? Hard to say. Offered with a nod and a smile, it might convey just that. I’m supportive. You’ve got this.
Offered with a shrug and a prickly ‘I don’t care’ overtone, it’s dismissive. A conversation closer for sure and that’s how the receiver took the message. “I don’t matter” she thought. Channeling past hurt because she was tired, she spiced up the intent and added tone to the text message that wasn’t intended.
How are they now? All is well. Just a blip for them – all smoothed over. Me? It gave me something else to ponder. Words matter. Communication clarity. We’re all a work-in-progress, eh?
I’m not sure how I feel about this – the notion of Quietly Quitting – continuing to do your job while ‘sheltering’ and being protective, avoiding undue stress.
From a mental health point of view, I’m all-in. And yet…my hope is that everyone finds purpose and passion. Continuing to do the minimum, laying low in a less-than-fulfilling position might be pragmatic and practical in the short run BUT life is too short to hang in a vocational space (borrowing from Marie Kondo) that does little to ‘spark joy’.
Let me know what you think. Definitely on my pondering list.
I love this book – A Decent Cup of Tea by Malachi McCormick. Nothing’s better than a tiny volume which dispenses good advice (and a few tea-time recipes) tucked within engaging cover art. It’s enchanting as it sits in the ‘top of the stack’ location – displayed prominently in my office because it feels like art. A beloved book for many years and yet…I only recently deciphered why it appeals to me so.
The swirls on the cover and the tendrils of steam from the teapot speak to me. The natural movement. Organic and calming. As the author intended, I’m sure. That must be why this book has held a showcase position on top of other volumes.
Inspired to drink more tea, especially green tea for the health benefits, this book serves as a gentle nudge and a reminder to brew a pot. Every day. Enjoy it later, over ice, or with a sweet treat, but make time for tea.
I also understand the broader, symbolic appeal of the natural swirls and steamy tendrils on the cover. A friend recently confided that she’s struggling a bit. Too many interlopers demanding her time and attention. Inviting her into their swirls of stress and (sometimes) manufactured messes.
The antidote?Slow down to consider who and what is worthy of our time and attention. Many of us are wired to respond to calamities and crises but jumping into every swirl presented may be unwise.
I’m learning lessons about time. It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve found my footing.
I suppose each of us travels a path of discovery as we navigate our ‘wins and losses’ and consider how best to use our most valuable asset. Time. Just time. How you use it, share it, hoard it, celebrate it, count it or consider it, time is an unrelenting force.
Me? I’m giving into the instincts that lead me to light. Toward positive people, efforts, influences. Away from the tired and repetitive roads and the people who frequent them. The people and perspectives that add nothing – just take away dignity, respect, kindness. Demonstrating ignorance even while (or especially while) many valiant voices try to counter the gaps and lend a hand.
Tick Tock. Being of service to others matters most but it’s okay to think twice about how you use your time and the worthiness of the recipients.
Everyone needs a ‘thinking chair’. A place to plop and ponder. Not just the kiddos who embraced the popular children’s show “Blues Clues” where a comfy chair became a plot line – the landing spot to decipher clues and solve mysteries.
Daily life is complex, no? This morning I was struck by a wave of gratitude as I gravitated to my spot. My ‘thinking chair’:
It’s unassuming. A little worse-for-wear, like many things that I love, but it’s also comfy and familiar, especially welcome as I sort out questions – large and small – and craft the game plan for each day.
I hope you have a spot, too. It doesn’t need to be grand but it needs to be yours. Lessons from the little ones. Thinking chairs.
This frame is a favorite. I love the sculptured lines, the vintage glass.
It was a gift from a dear friend – I don’t know – maybe twenty years ago? While dusting the shelf it sits upon (not as often as I should) I remembered when I broke it.
See the crack in the glass on the bottom, toward the right? Moving too quickly as I dumped a stack of books next to it (on a too-small table) the fragile frame flew to the floor where it made an insanely loud cracking noise.
At first I didn’t see the damage because the tiny fissure blends in so well.
When I realized it was cracked I was heartbroken. At first.
But over the years, my love for the frame, the flowers and the friend who gifted it to me have only grown, in spite of (or because of) the fracture.
Irene’s a best friend and a sweet soul sister. She’s been in my life for over thirty years and always makes the best iced coffee. Irene’s coffee.
I never tried to duplicate it – I figured it was her magic touch. And that was good enough. Until recently when I paused to watch her when she said, “Hey, are you ready for a coffee this morning?” Who says no to that, especially given the aforementioned tastiness of her brew?
This time, I watched as she retrieved macadamia milk, a coffee pod and ice. Standard fare. But as she fired up the Nespresso I saw her reach for the bottle of Kahlua and laughed as she ceremonially swirled it into the freshly brewed coffee. No wonder “Irene’s Coffee” is always better than mine!
I get it.Really, I do. Life seems like a pressure-packed existence with no room to exhale. Everyone I know is on the run – in a perpetual state of DOING.
Learning to lighten up, ease up and let go of things that may have mattered…once…but are just weighty anchors now might be wise.
But yeah, you’re right. I know what you’re thinking. That takes time, too. Time to process, mull and let your heart speak so it can guide your head.
Summer is the best time to take stock. Do a little personal inventory of priorities and it’s easier than you think. Two steps:
Grab your favorite cold beverage (I’m partial to iced tea, extra lemon) and stare at a few clouds; ruminating on how you use your time.
Reconsider obligations or activities that aren’t productive — aren’t even a wee bit fulfilling. Maybe it’s a recalibration of your expectations – for yourself or others?
You have my permission – and encouragement 😊 – to shut down and listen to your always smart and savvy inner voice.
I know I’m not telling you anything new. Wisdom comes from the little ones, too. The pic of daughter Delaney is evidence. At three she understood the objective – live large and laugh as much as possible!
I also love the wisdom from Ferris Bueller. He said it best:
“Life moves pretty fast.If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
I’m not a nature photographer. Not much of a photographer, generally, but when something captures my attention, I feel compelled to snap a pic – even if just with my trusty i-Phone.
This morning? A feathery ball of fluff caught my attention. A tiny newbie – not bigger than the length of my thumb. Clumsily, she landed on the back of a deck chair.
Bird Mom was nearby as she frantically attempted to shoo and scoop the little one to a higher perch. Maybe their nest in the nearby shrub?
Mama swooped in, time and again, but baby just shook. Scared and unsure. How did she land there, she must’ve wondered.
I figured I should keep watch. And I did. For over an hour. Sometimes baby bird would look at me, not afraid (as I sat just two feet away) but curious. I spoke to her. Did my “it’s okay, she’ll be back” whispers mean anything? Provide any comfort? I imagined I looked ridiculous, but I kept it up.
Bird Mom gave me an extra angry wing flap when she circled the babe. I’d lean back – hoping she wouldn’t see me as a predator. Just an early morning cheerleader and inquiring mind. Will baby fly and leave the chair? Can she fly? Is she hurt? How will the story end? Hoping for a reunion, of course, I wanted to see it.
But I was foolish. Greedy, even. I had a front row seat at a natural wonder. That was enough. Or that’s what I told myself. A quick trip to the microwave to warm my coffee resulted in some sort of resolution. When I returned, both Bird Mom and baby were gone. And I smiled. Reunited, I’m sure.
I wish I understood dreams better. They can be simultaneously maddening and obscure…yet comforting. I had one of those experiences last night. My father’s sister – my Aunt Betty – came through loud and clear with a message. The imagery was hazy – just my subconscious recalling this photo, I suppose, taken in her prime when she was 20, I think.
This was her message – coming through on the eve of the 51st anniversary of her death. I jotted the nuggets down hurriedly in my trusty teensy bedside notebook, while still rousing myself awake:
You were so young when I died. It was 51 years ago today. Incredible. July 22, 1971. I know it’s hard to understand. I changed that day, but I’m always close. Just remember me. Close your eyes and I’m near.
I know you wonder about your dad. He’s here. He knows you see him in the clouds and stars. You’re right – he IS the whisper you feel when a breeze kisses your face.
We’re okay. It’s not what you think – we’re energy in free form. We float and gravitate away from and toward one another.
Your mom is here, too, but she’s childlike. Your Dad acknowledges her but keeps his distance. What happened to her?
And that was it! I woke up and had the feeling of jet lag. Restless sleep and not enough of it. Foggy. Headachy.
Do I think about my long-departed father A LOT? Yes. Every day and I do sense him when I look up – toward cloud formations, especially, and I imagine he’s near in the soft breezes.
And – the message about my mom: She’s here, too, but she’s childlike was poignant and painful. Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s and became increasingly incapacitated on her quick descent toward death. Aunt Betty’s query – ‘What happened to her?’ was hard to hear, yet so loud in my early morning recall of the dream. I understood. Aunt Betty didn’t recognize her, and we scarcely did – especially toward the end.
Gratitude this morning for messages. Whether it’s a channeling of dear Aunt Betty on the anniversary of her death or my active dream state working out conundrums and emotions, I’m in a mood to receive.
I love creating little vignettes and I know what I like. Hard wired, I swear.
I was the tiresome teenager constantly rearranging furniture – not just in my room but in the whole house if I had the chance (which wasn’t often – my mother had a penchant for baby blue shag and moving her objects d’art was off limits – no matter how offensive her style).
The opportunity to reflect my love of black and white with nuggets of neutral is captured in this pic – near the entry way in our home.
Some items are found objects. Some are keepsakes handed down (the print of the weathered old sailor and the dresser – vintage pieces from grandparents).
I love the punchy black and white floral vase. I think it cost $2 nearly twenty years ago – salvaged from a clearance pile at Hobby Lobby – but I LOVE it. The graphic, large scale lotus-like flowers look perfect, to my eye, nestled in this setting.
Why does this matter? It makes me happy and I as I pass by this tiny space (dozens of times, every day) I smile. I know I’m in Vicki’s space. I’m home, I’m safe and I’m grateful.
It’s hot outside and yet my sweet little Sadie still wants the comfort and security of her magic blanket. The one she snuggles in – no matter the weather. Today, those soulful eyes spoke to me:
Slow down, Vicki. What’s the rush?
She’s thirteen – which I guess equates to 91 in doggie years – so I figure she knows more than I do. She’s certainly cornered the market on ways to relax and chill – even when the summer temps are rising.
Wherever you are and whatever challenge awaits today, take a little bit of Sadie along for the ride and let her whisper wellness reminders to you, too.
I’m a little ashamed of myself. I ignored and maligned Billy Joel’s music when it was new and popular. Why? I’m not sure. I think my musical preferences were grittier, way back then. I pooh-poohed his tracks and plopped what I thought were syrupy-sweet songs into a category of easy-to-ignore background music.
One of the things I love about getting older is my delight in calling myself out – realizing when I’ve screwed up. If I owe a friend or family member an apology – I try to be quick to offer it – even if there’s a lag between my ‘oops’ and owning up to it.
On more than one occasion, my “sorry” was laughed at, dismissed. You are so silly – you didn’t offend. I get it. But still…acknowledging errors of omission or ignorance is important to me. Never do I want to offend without intending. (Offend with intent? Sure – there are times I’ve relished that. I’m not saying I’m perfect or a doormat.)
During my morning walk today, Billy Joel’s 1978 track, “Honesty” popped up on my Sirius XM app and I believe I listened to the lyrics – really listened – for the first time ever. Especially this verse:
“I can always find someone…to say they sympathize…If I wear my heart out on my sleeve. But I don’t want some pretty face to tell me pretty lies.All I want is someone to believe.”
Yes.When we’re vulnerable, we want authenticity, honesty. Not a quick pat on the head but sincerity. Do you have a die-hard human you can depend on? Someone who supports you, gives you truth without a sugar coating.
I hope you have someone like that in your life. As for Billy Joel? I’m grateful today that his impactful lyrics and artistry finally registered in my head and heart. Better late than never. I’ll offer up a cosmic apology in the form of this wee little blog post. Sorry, Mr. Joel.
This is going to be a little bit of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ experience – and I know it.
With permission, I’m sharing a snap of husband Paul’s workbench. It’s his homebase and the launching pad for projects and his ‘thinking space’. Let me give you a tour – you just need to zoom in and I’ll walk you through the memento map of Paul’s hangout. Possibly his favorite roosting spot in the house.
Top left – Family Mementos:
The clock his dad made from scratch. Chimes and all. A treasured keepsake and memory of his father who could fix ANYTHING.
Delaney puzzle. A sweet reminder that our very grown-up daughter was once a tot who loved nothing more than ‘tool time’ with her dad.
Flashback Ale Sign: Fun times touring breweries in Boulder during Delaney’s college years.
Just underneath the “Delaney” puzzle – mementos that keep his parents nearby in spirit. A favorite from his dad’s workshop – words he lived by – with a wink and a smile:
‘When in charge, ponder; When in trouble, delegate; When in doubt, mumble.’
Next to it? His mom’s favorite little sign – reflecting her love of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan:
‘I’d rather be UP NORTH’ Yep. Declaring her truth. Hung over the sink in her kitchen for at least thirty years.
In the Middle – Wanna-Be Cleaning Tools:
Two varieties of small, yet mighty, DeWalt power tools for clean-up and vacuuming and an old school dustpan and hand broom. Accompanied by spray bottles and gloves. Note how spic-and-span these tools are. Good cleaning intentions but (I say) not used much! Thankfully the fire extinguisher hasn’t been used either.
Paul and Vicki – the Early Years. Standing proudly in front of shelves he made, a framed pic of us circa 1985. Yep – we’ve been married a LONG time and I love that this pic earned a place on Paul’s pegboard wall.
Remembering My Dad: Paul was close to my father and the salvaged license plate with his nickname on it, “Solatio” reflects it. I love that Paul’s kept it as a reminder of my papa who’s been gone for years. This keeps him close, I think.
The Workbench Itself:
You don’t need to zoom in much to see the interesting mélange of small tools, notes, wires, and cables. There’s a little room to work and the combo of the I-pad and camo Bluetooth speaker help to keep Paul’s “thinking time” upbeat.
What you can’t see in the pic is a substantial whiteboard to the right where he doodles and designs. You also don’t see his comfy shop stool. A little cushiony, too. You know, none of us are getting any younger.
Why does any of this matter?
I think places speak to us – reflected in how we create our nooks and alcoves. Me? I have a compelling need for neat and Paul’s workbench and pegboard, while quintessentially HIM would never work for me. I like tidy piles and feel drawers were made to be used, but hey, that’s just me.
Our spaces should reflect who we are and it’s where my love of design comes from.
Your nooks should be yours. Take the time to clear the clutter but do a little curating. Mull over and sort through meaningful mementos and be sure some are nearby. Especially in our thinking spaces. Inspiration is near – sometimes in everyday objects and keepsakes.
Not sure where to start? It’s easier than you think. Trending at Atkinson Group is this very need – rethinking spaces to create nooks and inspiration alcoves. It’s the latest wellness revelation – craving and creating comfort in a corner of the world we can call our very own. If you don’t have it now, make it so. And…most importantly…
What do you do when an unexpected loss rocks your world? The urge to retreat is palpable. I think it’s a survival instinct for some of us. We all handle grief differently. Some are soothed by community and connection immediately, softening the hard edges of loss. Others of us? We need solitude and time to listen to the quieter voices – often within us – to help guide our heads and hearts – gingerly and softly, through the pain and permanence of a loved one’s passing. It’s not a long-term shutdown. Just an interlude.
These sketches of Paul and Patty surfaced during such an interlude. The two depicted are siblings. My husband, Paul, sketched at 12 years old, sitting side-by-side with his big sister, Patty, the summer before she headed off to college. With a substantial gap of eight years between them, they were independent spirits growing up – often remarking that each felt more like an ‘only’ than part of a sibling pair because of their age gap. And yet – they were terrific friends who became good adults. Marrying and establishing their own families but still attentive and loving to their parents and each other.
Their mother, Maxine, commissioned the drawings from a close family friend who was an artist. Immediately these 18 x 20 portraits became Maxine’s prized possessions – always displayed in her home. She often remarked that Paul and Patty could be separated by years and great distances, but she could summon both close to her as she relaxed in her living room, admiring their sketched images over a cup of tea or her evening martini (two olives, please).
When Maxine passed away thirteen years ago, Paul and Patty’s portraits were a conundrum. Each asked the other – “Do you want mine?”“Do we keep them together?” Unable to decide, the portraits sat for over a decade in our basement. Not forgotten, exactly. The sketches were chock-full of melancholy reminders of their mother and how much she loved both of her children. Easy to leave the portraits parked for a while.
Until a few weeks ago.Unexpectedly, Patty passed away. It was shocking and sad and oh-so swift. Processing pain? There’s no formula. No timeline. Friends and family are a blessing but in the quiet, uninterrupted interludes, clarity waits. This time it came in the form of a memory. The sweet recollection of the “Paul and Patty” portraits. Dusting them off in the basement and hanging them – this time in our living room – helped Paul and I both with our grief.
Paul and Patty – together again. Keeping loved ones close through memories and family mementos means everything.