Category Archives: Stressing Me Out

Are You Ms. Letters?

Are You Ms. Letters?

“At Midnight, even bad days come to an end.” —MsMoem.com

 

Ninety-nine percent of the time I am not naked when I write my blogs. I guess that begs an explanation.

With meticulous detail, I dressed this morning, a new blouse, my cutest crème colored jacket with the cool belt that ties in the front, and my best Antonio Melani slacks. I took extra time with my eye makeup, careful to enhance my blue eyes. I even wore my best bra, not that anyone ever sees one of my bras, but I just wanted that extra confidence boost you have when you know the girls are up in the general vicinity where they belong.

When I arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting my manager for lunch, I jumped out of the car eager to be on time. The only parking place was on Sheridan Avenue, after all, it was Bricktown, Oklahoma City; there is never any parking. A man in a big truck squeezed into the last shaded spot; I inched into the last sunny spot.

West 50

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Where We Came From

Where We Came From

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”
― Robert Frost

 

In the late afternoon I walk out in the garden and step under the Weeping Balsam trees; feathery very low hanging branches brush my skin and I marvel the trees do not fall forward. True to form, the Morning Glories have shriveled back into themselves and the Hydrangeas look like they could use a long drink.

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The little red, citrine, melon, and blue, glass garden lights are glowing.  They bring a smile to my face, primarily because they are so pretty they make me feel like I have entered Fantasia, but also because I have failed twice at setting the timer for them to come on at night as they should.

I was well into my thirties before I ever planted a single plant. I used to kvetch to my Mom that she always wanted me to “grub in the dirt” with her. Gardening was just not my thing back then.  I was my thing back then.

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Shall I Go or Shall I Stay?

Shall I Go or Shall I Stay?

There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits. Robert Southey

There have been strangers in my home for the past few weeks. I hate it. Just hate it.  My house has been on the market.

Have you sold a house lately? If not, I can tell you that the process has changed a great deal in recent years, so have the buyers.

To start with, they expect you to surrender your common sense and will to them.  This pisses me off to the absolute highest degree of pissivity.

You love your home, right?  You have updated it a little and meticulously combined styles to create the décor and ambiance you crave. When something breaks you repair it, when furniture needs moisture you polish it, when the pool needs paint you paint it.  When the carpet gets old-well we pretty much ignored that.

Everyone thinks their home is splendid; I know.  But mine really is.

I did not want to sell my house in the first place.  Draped in sunlight with windows across the entire south side-it has given me so much pleasure. I can see the garden, pool and wooded area in the back from any seat. The moment I walked into this house I knew it was the right one.  I feel grateful and blessed to have lived here. I am scrambling to find another solution, before I go broke or exit the sane world.

It has only been the past couple years since I began blogging that I recognized how necessary visual beauty is to my daily routine-how it feeds my spiritual life.

My folks were the same way. Mom had a very distinct sense of style; the artist in her needed to be surrounded by beauty. Dad positioned his easy chair right by the glass door to see the sun come up each morning over the pond and the grazing horses in the pasture. My sister also finds inspiration in her habitat; she and I both seem to need water nearby.  What would I do without that beautiful view out my back door? Yes, I would miss the beauty of this house, this treasured home.

Nothing quite prepares you for the rigors of offering your home up for public scrutiny. Nothing.

You can’t see the pool from the kitchen. What is that spot on the celling?  You have too much furniture. You have too many plants. What is wrong with that window sill?  Do you know you have discolored carpet? I think you need a new roof. Too bad the kitchen is not wired for gas. These steps really limit the number of potential buyers. You can’t have your dogs in here while we show the house. That cat food leaves an odor in the room. Take down all these Asian things. All these family pictures have to go!

My house looks like an exceedingly clean, very sterile hotel. I have no idea where my bras are.  My clients have begun to wonder if I only have three outfits. My neighbor has all my jewelry.  And, I can’t find my checkbook.

Rock Sidewalk

The house showing drill would exhaust Michael Phelps. Scrub everything that can be scrubbed. Dust anything that can be dusted. Leave nothing out on the cabinets, take out the trash, vacuum all carpet, take that stack of books off the bed, take jeans off elliptical trainer, and while you are at it-straighten the closets. Turn on all the lights in the interest of “full disclosure”. Take dishes out of sink, take shoes off coffee table, put all office files in cabinets-or clothes dryer, clean oatmeal off office desk, and sweep front porch and around pool.  Go on poop patrol in back yard. Go on poop patrol behind couch for that matter. Hide anything that could be easily taken including checks, cell phones, TV remotes, paperwork and jewelry.

Do your best to make your house smell like it is not a wild animal sanctuary.  This is very shaky territory.

Put the cat dish up, heat up the car. Did you know that when it is five degrees outside no amount of car heat is sufficient for a Chihuahua? Get the dogs into the car and go somewhere to wait for time to pass while the house is shown.  Pray. This is about as comical as it sounds.

This winter has been record cold.  So, I put sweaters on the dogs, which sounds like a simple task. For Gus it is; he actually helps by putting his head and feet through the holes for you.  Marley on the other hand, falls over on her back-feet straight up in the air in frenzied contractions. You would think I was giving her an enema!

This scene has been repeated over and over the past few weeks. My cat has taken to hiding in my underwear drawer. My dogs hate me.  We all hate the freakin cold.

I’d just as soon be stripped naked, flogged in the town square and made to sing Copacabana, as have to prepare this house to show even one more time.

The Chihuahua has chosen this particular time to become incontinent in some manner of subversive protest. One day just before a showing she peed in the living room.  Not a dainty little Chihuahua dribble,oh no, a bear-down-and-squeeze-that-tiny-sphincter-with-all-my-might pee.  Just the household aroma I was going for.

The offers are interesting too.  One was for the same price paid for the house nine years ago.  Another not only low-balled me but had the temerity to ask for one of my Asian antiques as part of the contract.

A middle aged buyer offended everyone in the cul-de-sac by using profanity that would make Richard Pryor blush, as he  made out with whom he broadcast as his “baby momma”,  pressing her up against my retaining wall. I am not making this up.

Finally got a good offer, accepted it, and the buyer backed out two weeks before closing. I grew weary and took the house off the market to recapture my dimming sanity. A little angelic intervention perhaps.

One day the pilot light went out on the heater when it was about twenty degrees; I thought the heat had gone out.  I was without heat all afternoon so I lit the fireplace which has a gas starter.  About an hour later I came back in the living room to find a haze of smoke.  I had forgotten to open the flue.  For this offense I was gifted with a thin layer of soot on the white fireplace.  Have you ever cleaned soot off a white brick fireplace?

And the stupidamnshitty vacuuming-I swear the carpet has aged from it.  I know I have. When I do move, I am not vacuuming for a year.  Just before the open house I was vacuuming when I smelled burning rubber; I had run over one of the dog toys which was smoldering in the corner. I now must borrow the neighbor’s vacuum. And, buy a new T-O-Y!

I am exhausted. My nails are nubs from incessant cleaning.  I have construction worker hands, my back is jacked up, I am in an exceedingly volatile mood, and I think my neighbors are just a tad afraid of me.

My brother tells me that I am no longer a cucumber. I have been deeply dipped in the vinegar; I’m a pickle now.  I can never go back and be a fresh cucumber. I am worn, and changed by this comedy of blunders, a worn wrinkled little pickle who loves her home.

You are home this night
Home of stillness
Your home of spirit
Being and bliss
You are home this night
Abiding home
Forever home
Your forever home

–“Sleep”, Donovan

Ten Years and a Road Trip

Ten Years and a Road Trip

“A vacation is like love-anticipated with pleasure., experienced with discomfort, and remembered with nostalgia.” ~Author Unknown

What’s brought me to this state of double vision, painful hips and feet, constipation, migraine, and generalized pissy attitude? The thing we Americans call vacation. It is very poorly named.

My enormous Random House Dictionary, unabridged, 2nd edition (which I sold when I worked for them) defines vacation as A: “a scheduled period during which activity is suspended” or B: “a period of exemption from work granted to an employee”. I can state with absolute certainty that Random House is mistaken! The term I would use to define this particular vacation is masochistic labor while trekking through the Torrid Zone.

It started with high hopes, great planning, ambition, sites to see, foods to try, friends to visit, time for contemplation and writing, but more closely resembled emergency rescue and heat stroke.

The idea was to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Yep, next month will be ten years since our surprise wedding. Yes, I know this is a bit odd, but as I’m told-so are we. We had planned to get married on September second, just go to the justice of the peace and get er done.

My friends Lisa and Leigh Anna weren’t having any of it. On August sixteenth ten years ago, the three of us were getting a pedicure when I noticed they were extremely cheery and conspiratorial about something. When I pressed them for the reason they replied “Guess what? You’re getting married tonight!”

It was actually lovely. I already had my dress, a good luck dress that seven other women had been married in and all were still married! In fact, my high school singing partner and confidant Cheryl had been married in it too. Sweetie had the rings and his suit. Lisa and Leigh Anna spared no detail. The minister, Curtis, was a friend of mine; they had a beautiful bouquet for me and boutonniere for Sweetie, rose petals for the ground, a picturesque spot at Cole’s Garden, a photographer, and music. Just Sweetie and I, the minister, and two couples who went out of their way to make a wonderful memory for two old friends.

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We chose our first road trip together for the ten year celebration. This was wrong on so many levels. As we headed out west to our first event, the Marine Corp reunion, we came to a complete stop in the desert where we sat for three hours while a wreck was cleared-during a record heat wave. So much fun.

We turned off the car so it would not overheat or run out of gas. We played “I spy” to forget about the heat and the waiting. It was a short lived game as we spied a rock, some sand, the sky, blacktop, and the two trucks in front of us. Not much to “spy” in the desert. I shed my shorts to stay cool and the truck driver who walked up to keep us updated on the possibility of movement had quite a surprise. I on the other hand did not give a flying fig. That empty Planter’s peanut can came in handy after drinking multiple bottles of water to stay hydrated!

I am a contract sales rep; I make sales or momma eats spam-so I am diligent. But I really needed to completely get away from the laptop, the clients, the phone, and the stress. This did not happen so much. Sweetie is a chef and feeds two hundred college kids three meals a day, many of whom have quite a sense of entitlement. He needed to be away from the little….darlings and the daily assault of food service issues. His happy little dream did not materialize either.

While we sat in the desert, my clients continued to call and email me, despite the fact that I had notified them all twice that I would be on vacation during this period, and had an auto-reply on my email reminding them I would be unavailable. I worked all day long the first four days of “vacation”.

Sweetie was likewise harangued by faculty from the university with this issue and that. A “period of exemption from work”, right. At this stage we morphed into Clark and Ellen Griswold; I threw myself down and did the really big ugly cry-snot everywhere and mascara running down my face. Come on, you know you’ve done it too. It wasn’t my finest hour.

Sweetie, Grand Canyon

I opted to visit my sweet aunt who lives in Lake Havasu while the Marines reminisced, guzzled beer and swapped “Desert Storm” stories. That drive from Las Vegas, Nevada to Lake Havasu, Arizona in middle of the summer is not for the faint of heart. With a record heat wave, the mercury topped out at an astounding 122 degrees and God help you should your car break down because there is nothing and no one on that road but you.

It was my first time to drive between the two points so when I came upon a sign that said “Welcome to California” I melted down the rest of the way. I felt like one of the Andrea Gail crew until my Dad happened to call. He told me that you indeed pass through a smidge of California (still rescuing me after all these years) on the way.

I had visions of wandering the dessert for weeks, a crude turban made from my blouse atop my head, drinking the contents of my planters peanut can. This is such a desolate part of the country; I can’t imagine the endurance it took to settle there years ago. I would clearly not have been one of them.

The Grand Canyon portion of the trip was a surprise too; they also were having a record heat wave. It was so hot the first day we went to our rooms, stripped off the clothes, fell on the bed and didn’t stir. The next day we got up when the sun did so we could trek down into the canyon without heat stroke. Going down was an adventure, scenic and surprisingly easy with fantastic views and interesting terrain to explore-really fun. Going back up, not so much. To add insult to injury, after we huffed our way back up we realized we had only gone down one mile!! Must step up the fitness routine.

Things improved, sort of, the weather gods finally smiled upon us on the way back and it went from 117 to 52 degrees within hours. Upon entering New Mexico we almost slid off the road because a storm we encountered left six inches of hail on the road. The last couple days a little grace found us, a great time in Albuquerque and enough fiery hatch chilies to make us forget the rest!!

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

The Big Wind-After

The Big Wind-After

May 20th,  2013 is a benchmark day, one we’ll mark time by from now on. They’ll say “It was the month after that second F5 tornado hit Moore.” or “Nothing will grow in that spot since the F5.” and “He was born the year of the F5.”

 

When I report to the volunteer center in Moore I assume I will be assigned one of the cushier duties, organizing donations, distributing meals and water or making boxed lunches.  I am not the most robust appearing individual. But no, they take one look at me, thrust a shovel toward me and announce “debris pick-up”! I don my work gloves and sun visor, exchange the shovel for a rake, and get the debris bags ready. I am assigned to work at Little River Park in Moore.

As I step down off the bus I stare out over the terrain and a feeling of utter hopelessness pours over me.  We all feel it. How can the little we are able to do possibly make a difference? We stand and survey the landscape of splintered trees, bricks, metal, tattered clothing, insulation, broken furniture, boards, dirty toys and broken glass. With miles of debris ahead; there is nothing here that resembles a park.

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Except for the large plastic jungle gym rising out of a massive mountain of rubble no one would recognize this as a place where children played the week before. Every tree is splintered; every home in the surrounding area is in ruins. No one is there now.

I rake piles of rubble, fill my big bags and deposit them onto one of the enormous piles of debris that line the landscape. This debris is so embedded, sticks, boards and metal sticking upright out of the ground, just layers and layers of it, some of which I can understand.  But, I get the feeling I am raking layers from the 1999 tornado also.

I choose to think that our group and others like ours will be of help; I keep raking. Something shiny catches my attention; it is a rearview mirror. How far did this tattered mirror travel? Whose was it? What did its owner endure? And, did they make it? We’ve learned not to stay in our vehicles, but to get out and take cover elsewhere because a vehicle not only fails to protect you, but can kill you in a tornado.

I keep raking and something that looks like pale dirty flesh tumbles out of the pile. It’s a fatally injured Barbie.  I know this is sacrilege in this part of the country, but I’ve never been a fan of hers-you don’t want to hear my rant.  Seeing her here though, headless, her skirt torn and dirty, and missing a leg, I feel sadness for the little girl who wonders where she is. Maybe a tad of empathy for poor Barbie too.  Most everything else here is hard to recognize.

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These victims must start over in the most basic way.

Can you really grasp not having any clothes to wear or even a coffee for the next day?  No cup to put it in? In 1985 I all but burned my condo down and the next day I had no clothes to wear. I do know how this feels. I remember the sinking feeling of wondering how to put my life back together and make a living at the same time.

Mother’s day at church our guest minister spoke of her childhood.  Each day as she left for school her mother would shout out after her, “Mary Kathryn, go out and find your greatness!” Her mom knew small steps each day yield a river of strength and resilience. There is a time that each of us must reach down into the rubble and find our greatness. It waits there for our courage and resourcefulness to grasp it. These victims are reaching down to the bottom of their endurance.

Can you feel the horror and ache of families missing loved ones for days?  A few years ago my beloved cat, Hootie, was missing for five days.  I lost my mind.  He was a cat. I cannot begin to know the heartache of that father whose child was taken from him while he prayed. Natalie Grant’s lyrics say it best, “This is how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.” Yes, this is how it feels-and you are different from then on.

Hope is often born of suffering.  One news reporter showed us a huge pile of twisted rubble and metal; on closer inspection it proved to be multiple twisted vehicles-unrecognizable.  Inside one of them a light still burned several days later.  Sometimes greatness is just a flicker.

Oh God, we thank you for the gifts in our lives.  Open our eyes to see them more clearly and help us to be willing to extend ourselves for those who have lost theirs. Move us from our comfort zone to do some good today. Wrap your arms around those sad families; hold them until they know it is you. Amen

 

 

Waiting for the Big Wind

Waiting for the Big Wind

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  ― Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living

It is incredibly hot, I am sweating profusely, and I am afraid. My muscles are taut and my back aches from the strain. The sweet little dog in my lap senses my anxiety and stares at me with a knowing look. Our storm shelter is very crowded but eerily quiet; all the adults are praying.  The fear is palpable.

I’ve been in this shelter built under our garage floor before, but this time is different. This time the sweetie is with me, his first time to be in the shelter. Typically he is working twenty seven miles away so I tackle the ice storms, blizzards, earthquakes, 80 mph straight-line winds, destructive hail storms, and the horrific tornadoes that wreak havoc in central Oklahoma.

Another reason this time is different is because this tornado is two blocks from our home, and we can hear it howl.

You gain new respect for your own personal space when you are in a metal box underground with three other adults, four children under the age of ten, (two of whom are crying) an 80 pound Labrador retriever, a 24 pound terrier who has left a gift on the floor, a trembling Chihuahua, and one very nervous cat. Did I mention she still has claws?

It was not our turn this time, but tornadoes strike so often here you feel that sooner or later your number will be up. Tornadoes have begun their yearly rampage through my state; it’s practically a rite of passage. This is something I loathe, dread, and take damn seriously.

Oklahoma City is the epicenter of “tornado alley” in this country. Yep, just south of OKC, in Norman, the Oklahoma University School of Meteorology and the National Storms Laboratory pioneered state of the art tornado forecasting and tracking.

We have storm chasers reporting with moment to moment updates like nowhere in the world.  When I was in England I met a man from Spain who asked where I was from.  When I said Oklahoma he replied “Oh, you have big spinning wind?” Yes, that would be us.

May  is different here. We huddle in front of the TV frequently in the spring; glued to the screen waiting, watching, and listening for news of a new mesocyclone descending with the potential to leave devastation in its wake.

We totally get the meteorology lingo; we know what the “dry line” is, what “PDS” means, what a “sink drain” refers to, and the difference between an F-2 and an F-5.  We surely know a wall cloud when we see one and we keep an eye out for circulation.

And, we know precisely what that moment feels like when you must make a decision about what you will do, where you will go.  You have about fifteen minutes to gather yourself, your family, and pets.  It is not a drill;  it is the worst reality.   We central Oklahomans do this over and over again in the spring.

The meteorologist points to a graphic showing that at 6:30 the tornado will be four miles away, at 6:45 it will be three blocks way, and at 7:00 the stupiddamnshitty thing will be on top of you! So you gather the pets, wallet, water, boots, bike helmets, blanket, iPhone, iPad, flashlights, and head for a windowless room to put as many walls as you can between you and the funnel.

Before we got the storm shelter I would announce (despite Sweetie’s protests) that we were packing it up and heading to Baptist Hospital. Under Baptist there is a long underground tunnel locals take shelter in during tornadoes. There you’ll find people of all ages and their pets lining the halls, waiting, listening and wondering what will be left of the life they have built when they emerge.  Just a typical spring day in Oklahoma City.

These non-relenting tornado strikes are like episodes of atrial fibrillation that keep knocking the breath out of you time after time. Folks show the stress; they now have that post-tornado face. Locals know the look; these are the faces of grave loss, whose lives are forever changed. They go through their days unable to come to grips with what has blown their lives to bits. Whether or not your home is hit, the big wind opens a wound of uncertainty in your spirit.

We never dreamed that horrific 1999 scenario would be repeated May 20th, 2013 to practically the same degree, same location, and same sad path. In-ground shelters are selling like hand warmers in the tundra.  And, the brand new neighbors who just moved here from Hawaii and shared our storm shelter last Sunday—-they have already installed their own underground shelter.

 

“…I’d been caught up in some wild cyclone, like Dorothy throw into Oz, with not a good witch in sight to save me.”  ― Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

Head in the Oven?

Head in the Oven?

“They don’t seem to understand, I’m too far gone to try. Now these lonely memories, they’re all that I can do. And I’m down to seeds and stems again too.” –Bill Kershen

Sometimes life is difficult. Days stretch out ahead with unrelenting demands, some you care about, others not at all. Somehow you will yourself to put one foot in front of the other and keep trying. I have the urge not to.

Drained from years of striving I want to sit right down and refuse to do anything, it’s too much stupiddamnshitty work! You know other people do it-give in to consuming weariness and forget how to try. I want to fall in the floor and whimper like a four year old who’s been told they can’t have McNuggets. This is not the same valley I always crawl out of but a deep trench that has me trapped.

While I’m at it I’ll stop choosing to keep myself emotionally stable. It’s my turn to go round the bend, just veg for a while, refuse to communicate, live in my own self-absorption. I’ll stop digging down to the bottom of my soul to find something worth salvaging. Get in the car and go-just anywhere! Other people go that route, why not me?

I won’t vacuum either; I loathe vacuuming. You push a heavy, deafening, incredibly awkward metal sucking machine around until you jerk your arm out of the socket and ten minutes later the floor looks just as it did before you sacrificed your rotator cuff. I’ve run out of parts to injure. Maybe things are looking up.

Weariness strains your endurance repeatedly to combat a new symptom, new syndrome, new injury, or another body system gone awry; unwept tears flow unrestrained. Coming so frequently that your lashes fall out, you are truly the bluest girl on the block.
“The tide you never valued has gone out.And you are marooned on unsure ground.Something within you has closed down;And you cannot push yourself back to life.” –John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

Life has not been a tidy pleasant picture. It’s been the full catastrophe complete with struggle, omissions, grand mistakes, fear, poor judgment, lies, resentment and anger. But, for twenty two years now I’ve come out swinging time and again if only in the twelfth round. Why? Because of the gifts.

Living with years of unrelenting physical pain gifts you with tender gratefulness for good days. Loss of control gifts you with reliance on God. Years of heart breaking physical struggle gifts you with uncanny empathy for the struggles of others. Inability to continue treasured activities gifts you with new talents. And shared feelings shine the brightest light on those who truly love you.

Years ago after a painful back injury I cried (whined actually) to my ever supportive loving sister that no one understood my physical problems. Her response was one of the best gifts I have ever been given. She said “I want you to start at the beginning and tell me-all of it. Don’t stop till I understand”. I did.

Those who reach the finish line in a car or on cycle do not earn the distance walker’s lessons. I am blessed, not everyone gets gifts like these and there is no short cut that allows it-just suffering.
‘Meg’ Magrath: “Why’d you do it, Babe? Why’d you put your head in the oven? Babe: “I don’t know … I’m having a bad day.”— (Crimes of the Heart, 1986)

Culinary Nirvana

Culinary Nirvana

“I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself “well, that’s not going to happen” ― Rita Rudner

It started as far back as junior high school. My brother and I baked a cake for Mom for mother’s day; we chose angel food because it looked easy. When it began to rise we were horrified, would it run over the pan getting gooey cake all over Mom’s oven? We would surely incur her wrath for that, so we took a fork and pushed the cake back down into the pan-hard. For those of you who have never done this, I can tell you that it produces a white rubbery disc that doubles as an bowling ball. We all knew the sad truth then, I would never be admitted into Le Cordon Bleu.

Besides, kitchens will hurt you-damn near every time you go in. Before Sweetie and I got together the kitchen and I had an agreement, I would use it only for storage and it promised never to hurt me. After thirteen years together my kitchen terror has lessened, but I still don’t trust those sinister jagged objects! I typically emerge with a singed hand, scraped knuckles or sliced fingers and to add insult to injury, there is something very wrong with everything I make. I was quite content when the items in my refrigerator consisted of a few containers of yogurt, fruit, nuts, vegetables, wine, milk and cookie dough! I’m no Donna Domestic, but I got along quite nicely—until I met Sweetie.

The dilemma is, my husband is a chef. He insists I didn’t cook a thing for him for six months after we met. He’s probably right, I was panicked to cook in front of him much less FOR him! There is no end to the litany of culinary disasters! It is soooo much less expensive to dine out- when as much goes into the trash as into the tummy!
I don’t get it; my Mom was arguably the best cook in the county. My entire life the woman was stocked up for impending famine; she could have fed the entire Lewis and Clark expedition crew at a moment’s notice. People from everywhere called her routinely for culinary advice. My brother is a super Cajun cook, my sister performs one culinary feat after another and my nieces and cousins are great cooks too-evidently the cooking gene is recessive and not uniformly passed down!

It aggravates the snot of out me to hear “Anyone can follow a recipe!” Folks, I am living proof that everyone cannot! I try to emulate Mom’s cooking skills using her recipes, follow each step and focus. To my chagrin these efforts produce miserable concoctions. It seems to be cyclic; for a couple weeks I am totally frustrated with my efforts and resolve never to cook again. Then I’ll rally, channel Mom for a few weeks and cook five or six things in a row that don’t give us indigestion.

All this commotion does not go unnoticed by the Sweetie. He is very tolerant of my culinary inadequacies and God bless him, he’s appreciates the effort. But the man has actually eaten some absolutely dreadful things, like enchilada pie that tasted more like wet tortillas and tomatoes. There was the Key Lime pie that produced an instant pucker the minute you put it to your mouth. And, then there was the time I cut the end of my finger off. I started with a large Band-Aid, progressed to several Band-Aids with gauze and ended up walking around the house with a mini pad taped to what was left of my finger!! You can’t make this kind of thing up!

When it comes to culinary arts, yes to some degree you can acquire skill. But for the most part it’s like boobs, either you got em or ya don’t. Well, I guess you can procure those too. So it’s more like singing, which I can do quite nicely, either you have the chops or ya stink. In the kitchen, I’m as stinky as they come.

“I ate her cooking for eighteen years,” he whispered. “You get used to it.” “Oh yeah, when?” “I think it happened around the seventeenth year,” Henry said.” Michael Buckley, The Everafter War

Interstitial Anxiety

Interstitial Anxiety

“Mattie sat at the table, obsessing, orbiting around herself. She was sick of her worried, hostile mind. It would have killed her long before, she felt, if it hadn’t needed the transportation.”  ― Anne Lamott, Blue Shoe

I could be having a sweet dream about Jude Law right now, but no. Instead I’m lying in bed wrestling with an unwelcome visitor, worry. I’ve about reached the grand mal hissy fit level-over things that will resolve without this trauma. I feel like I’ll spontaneously combust. There is no word in the English language that adequately describes how I hate this sporadic reoccurrence. Evidently there is a genetic predisposition in the Valentine clan for my reaction to this; it was also passed on to my eldest niece. When she was little Gramps bought her a tiny dapple Shetland pony whom we named “Hissy Fit” in her honor. Is it just me, or some manner of collective anxiety passed down to me through generations, or passed down to women, or to Americans?

Each time I wake in the night and worry myself into heartburn, headache and enough generalized anxiety to warrant a high dose cocktail of anti-anxiety meds I ask myself, why are you doing this? Again? What we give our energy and attention to grows, multiplies. If we study something we are interested in most likely our attraction to that subject will increase as our knowledge of it does. Similarly, if we dwell on problems they will take on lives of their own. Unless you are extremely fortunate and your life has been a bed of roses or you are the grand puba of peace and all things spiritual, you know what I mean. Worry raids our quality of life, steals our moments, makes us ill and complicates our relationships.

Even as a grade-schooler I had the worry cloud over my head at times. I remember our speaker at sixth grade graduation saying “The past six years probably went by very quickly for you. The next six will go by even more quickly and the six after that even faster.” I think I’ve obsessed about how I use the time I have on this earth since then. There is a condition that affects the bladder causing tremendous inflammation called interstitial cystitis. This occurs when the area between the cells becomes inflamed. I believe many of us have interstitial anxiety, worry that creeps in between the fabric of our lives, between our thoughts, between our moments.

But how do we move past this habit of worry? I use the word “habit” because I do think to some degree our brains become trained to worry. I know this because when I wake in the middle of the night unworried my brain seems to search the database to FIND something to worry about! Jesus, who was spectacular at cutting to the chase, said “Therefore do not be anxious about your life. . . but seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

In 1998 through 2000 I gave particular time and focus to deepening my spiritual life; I placed this above everything else in my life. About this time I had a dream that I was seated upon a huge pile of paper and wondering what to do with it all. As I sat there I realized I was seated on a stack of worries! It finally dawned on me that they were just paper and I could burn them.

What do you think happened during this three year period? Worry just about ceased and life fell into place in astounding ways. I know this, lived this and still fall into old habits. I don’t mean to channel Pollyanna; my life has not been without tremendous struggle and this process is not easy. But if we heed the advice of Jesus and keep refocusing on God, the nights and the dreams can both be better. I’ll see you on the other side Jude.

Grumpy Pants, Holy Summons

Grumpy Pants, Holy Summons

“I ain’t no porcupine; take off your kid gloves. Are you ready for this thing called love?” Bonnie Raitt-Thing Called Love

Fatigue and pain make you grumpy, and clumsy for that matter. Sweetie has grounded me from drinking from any receptacle that does not have a wide bottom. It seems my spill frequency is not at an acceptable level. It’s not so much that I am clumsy, or not careful enough; it’s that as my body glides along my limbs don’t seem to g-l-i-d-e with it. They are painful, stiff and tired and this contributes to the clumsiness. Sweetie disagrees with this theory, but let’s assumes I am right. Anyway, presently I am grumpy. This condition is not terminal and usually no one gets hurt. It is rare for me to remain in this state for more than a week; but the neighbors are grateful I have prayer, meditation and writing so God can coax me out of it.

Planting your words in black and white for the world to see is a daunting process. There is nothing like getting naked in front of hundreds of people some of whom you have known for years, but also folks you’ll never meet-from Germany, Malaysia, France, South Korea, the UK and Russia. My intention is to write honestly but nothing has actually prepared me for the vulnerability you feel once your undressed words are out there. I have to rely on prayer, the years of journaling  I’ve done and those little serendipitous events that direct me and nudge me forward, in the right direction.

I am a strong proponent of having a spiritual practice in your life. I grew up in the church; I am grateful my parents gave me substance I could build on. I don’t believe that you should adopt the religion or spiritual practice of your parents without assessing what is right for you. I’d have missed so much if I had. I’m a spiritual seeker and have been since I was six; I remember deciding that relying on God made more sense that relying on people. I do attend church, but have gone for long periods of time when I did not; I had my own church service at home. On days when I don’t feel well or lack motivation to actually take off my sweats I still do. Daily and weekly spiritual practice is the bond that holds my life together. My practice generally includes prayer, reading, meditation and journaling –in that order. I’ve been doing this for twenty two years now and I do find renewal from this practice, courtesy of God.

Yes the disenfranchised and the grumpy can rejuvenate with consistent spiritual practice! If you don’t have a daily spiritual practice I recommend meditation; you simply shut up long enough to hear God’s voice. Many of us pray, pray, pray a litany of unending petitions to God. I’ll bet he wants to turn his iPhone to mute. Meditation requires no special knowledge or training and it can change your life in ways you can’t imagine. When we go within we can begin to focus on what really matters. Just start with five minutes each morning. Remember, I do rise but I am not proficient at shining, so if I can do it you can do it. Get your cup of Dark Ethiopian java blend or Oolong tea and get awake enough so you don’t go back to sleep–or to bed. Actually, I do my longer meditations in the afternoon or evening.

Put on some light instrumental music (white noise may be better for you) and make sure you have uninterrupted time and space (to start, 10 minutes or so). There are fantastic meditation CD’s out there; you may have to try two or three before you settle on one that is conducive to meditation for you. Get comfortable in an upright seated position and close your eyes. Very deliberately bring your attention to each part of your body, slowly relaxing each part and focus on the in and out of your breath.

To the degree you can, empty your mind (you’ll have to do this over and over.) Then, invite God to be with you and just listen. It is a simple process, but not necessarily easy. It may be helpful to use a guided imagery meditation CD or download to start. I highly recommend those of Belleruth Naparstek, psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer. You can check out her series at www.healthjourneys.com/. Just to name a few, the gifts you will receive for consistent practice are peace, clarity of purpose, blessed quiet, relaxation, ideas, love and the awareness that thousands of other grumpy people will be collectively listening to God at the same time.