Finding Loveliness in the Simple Things

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This morning God had me reading The Dance of Life by Henry Nouwen. I always just open the book and let God tell me what I need to hear. It works like a charm. This morning’s salve was a journal entry where Father Nouwen reflects on his propensity for drama. He talks about a friend who always talks about the small things in life that are beautiful and joyful while he likes the “newspaper news.” He laments that he’s not more focused on the joys of life as a natural inclination.

Yesterday,  I was thinking about how everywhere I’ve lived, there have been wonderful things that I love. People ask me all the time which city I loved the most. I can never really say. I can say that I loved Seattle because it was so over-the-top beautiful with its snow-capped volcanoes and watery backdrop. I loved Knoxville because of its proximity to the Smoky Mountains and my girlfriends I knew there. I loved Memphis because of its music, its healing community and the downtown area. I loved St. Joseph because of Lake Michigan and the quaint Victorian neighborhoods. There is so much beauty in this world. No one place has an advantage over another. I had a fiancee when I moved to Michigan from Seattle. He couldn’t adapt because he thought Seattle was the only beautiful place in the world. He was looking for beauty that was in his face every minute of the day. I remember telling him that if Seattle was the best place in the world, Chicago wouldn’t haven any people in it. They’d all be in Seattle. He laughed, but I could tell he just couldn’t pick out loveliness in less obvious things.

I had a really rough day at work yesterday. All of the BS got to me, and I wanted to flee. I literally did flee for a couple of hours, but I had this really strong desire to get the hell out of Baton Rouge and the higher education system with its much slower pace and financial problems. I longed for the world of corporate America where the pressure was on, and people who aren’t performing are weeded out pretty quickly. I wanted to be working in a place where there was plenty of money to get the things done that needed to be done. It was just too much to overcome for the moment. I took some time, and I got my head back into the game, but I’m still working really hard this morning to find the good. I know I’ll get there, but I had reached the point of completely giving into the fantasy of escape, and it felt like a huge relief. I could see Arkansas in my windshield and Louisiana in my rear view mirror as plain as day… and I was in sheer bliss. But, escape isn’t really that easy, is it?

Individually, they are tiny and ordinary, but in a field, they are fabulous.

Individually, they are tiny and ordinary, but in a field, they are fabulous.

So, this morning I have this message about finding the joy and changing my focus. Sunday as I was driving home from my sister’s house in Cottonport, I was enjoying the ride. Cottonport is in Northern Louisiana (sort of), and it is country almost all the way to Baton Rouge. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the trees were dressed out in that beautiful new leaf limey green. Country music was playing on the radio, and my dog was snoring next to me in the passenger seat. I noticed field after field of these lovely little yellow flowers. The entire field would be covered with them giving the blanket of green this lovely yellow glow. When I first got into recovery, and I was in so much emotional pain I could hardly bear the day. I started running in the trails in the Indiana Dunes State Park. In the springtime, the forest was covered with yellow wildflowers much like the ones I saw Sunday. I saw them then .. and now .. as symbols of the sunlight of the spirit. They remind me of God … and goodness … and the promise that our world has a much deeper meaning than is evident at first glance. Sunday, I watched field after field of these flowers pass by.  I talked to a good friend who had been in a terrible car accident a few weeks ago. It was so bad that she had this really peaceful knowing that this was it…. this was how she was going to check out. But, she woke up – amazed to be alive. It made me realize how sad I would have been if she hadn’t made it and the fragility of our existence. I found myself pulling off the road for a minute to really take those flowers in.

Life is short. Even though my heart feels a bit heavy this morning with work issues, I’m going to try to find the joy in my work today. There has to be something that drew me here to this job that is more meaningful than the everyday BS. I might go pick up some yellow flowers to put on my desk. That might just be the ticket. I forget that escape can look like a complete escape, or it can just be a minor tweak in perception. I pulled up that pic of the yellow flowers that I took yesterday. Just seeing them gives me the connection to spirit that I need. Thanks, Father Nouwen for following up with your very obvious reminder to find the simple beauty in life. Loveliness is not only evident in snow-capped volcanoes and obvious over-the-top beauty, but it resides in simple little yellow wildflowers. Beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder.

Come on, Y’all!! I’m Behind by 2% … WHERE ARE YOU? :)

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Okay… you’ve had a few days off for the holiday, it’s time to get back to work. SOMEHOW Midlife Moments Blog has fallen to second place in the Vibrant Voice Blogger contest. That is unthinkable. You can vote EVERYDAY! From every DEVICE! If I have ever made you laugh, cry, think about yourself differently or even irritated you, I’ve made you feel! Please help me get this … I’m getting new readers everyday because of it! It’s fun. Have a great Monday… even if you don’t vote for me.

https://www.facebook.com/replens/app_303561899745219

 

Another Voice: Bisque, Baskets and Blogs

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My sister asked if she could blog about our family tradition of making crawfish bisque at Easter. Frankly, I thought this was tradition was from her husband’s Cajun family. I didn’t remember until this morning that this was our Fair family tradition. I remember every Easter going over to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house along with the Fuglers and the Bentons and hiding and hunting Easter eggs in the lilies that lined the circular drive in front of their house. I can see the old Live Oak trees clear as day with the Spanish Moss clinging loosely on their branches as we climbed over the roots to look for eggs. Those beautiful lilies would have been in full bloom as the bisque gravy bubbled in large black pots outside. I’m glad she was paying attention to what we ate for lunch those many Easter Sundays or I wouldn’t be eating bisque today. Enjoy my sister’s blog. Happy Easter, y’all!

By: Susan King Gremillion

Pics by: Laura King (2012 bisque-making) Click on the pics or hover over them to see the captions.

When I was a child, every year my entire extended family on my mama’s side would get together for Easter, and Grandma and Grandpa Fair would make crawfish bisque for everyone. Everyone in the family looked forward to that: deep brown gravy served over rice with crawfish heads stuffed with ground up crawfish tails. It was delicious. The kids had a great time; we would run and play and have fun while all of the adults slaved over the gravy. When it was declared ready, we would all rush over and fill our bowls with the bisque. Life simply did not get any better than that. My grandmother passed away when I was just twenty-four, but the bisque did not stop there. My grandfather, mother, and aunts kept the bisque tradition alive. However, a few years later, when Grandpa passed away, I knew the bisque tradition was in danger.

My husband, Gary, loved the tradition that my family had, and, being the cook of the family, he felt the tradition must go on. Just a few months after Grandpa’s passing, he called my mama and asked her if she would be offended if he began making bisque for the family. My mama quickly agreed, and a new tradition was born: Gary and I began making crawfish bisque for Easter. Over the years we have had to change the tradition a little. We no longer live in the Baton Rouge area, so the family has to travel to our house for Easter weekend. Of course, my family members like to go to their own churches on Easter Sunday, so we moved the bisque extravaganza to the day before Easter. Each year, my brother Terry, and his wife, Laura, and their family comes to spend a few days. Mama and Daddy also come early. Sammy and his family come on Saturday and spend the day. Sharon has always lived to far away to attend, but now that she’s back in Louisiana, we’re going to make sure she gets involved as well.

Everybody gets involved in stuffing the heads.

Everybody gets involved in stuffing the heads.

On Good Friday, Mama, Laura, and I get busy stuffing heads for the Saturday feast. Gary is in charge of the gravy part of the bisque, so he makes the gravy while we work at the dining room table stuffing heads. Although the conversation is not in French, as tradition would have it, we still laugh and have a good time preparing the heads. In the old days, a crawfish bisque took three days to prepare: On Good Friday, families got together for a crawfish boil. Saturday was spent chopping the crawfish tails, the onions, celery, bell peppers, and all the good stuff that goes into the gravy with the leftover crawfish tails, as well as cleaning the crawfish heads. Easter Sunday, it all came together, and the bisque was enjoyed by the family. We have a much easier job now. We buy bags of Louisiana crawfish tails (Please note: LOUISIANA tails are a must; the Chinese version is much less desirable.), run them through the food processor along with all the seasonings, and stuff the heads. The heads, which used to be cleaned by my grandparents by hand, are now processed by inmates at the prison where my husband works. You can also buy cleaned heads at some south Louisiana seafood stores. At any rate, the job is minuscule compared to what it used to be. What used to take three days can now be done in three hours, and it is just as delicious.

Saturday morning everyone arrives, and we do all of the things that all families do on Easter: we sit around and laugh and talk and catch up, the children hide and look for eggs, and then lunch is served. At this time of year, I think of my grandparents daily, and Easter is my favorite holiday because of them. People outside of south Louisiana may not understand our peculiar eating habits, but anyone who has ever tasted the dark rich goodness of a bowl of crawfish bisque knows that we have what others can only dream about. I think my Grandma and Grandpa look down from Heaven every Easter weekend and smile. I know they would be proud that we carried on their tradition. And I hope that when I’m gone, someone in the family will say, “Let’s keep the tradition going. We can do that.”

Crescent City Classic 2014: 6.2 Miles of Fun

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“This is not normal,” I overheard a woman say, “People die doing this!” I laughed out loud on the race course as I passed her. We – the Varsity Running Club of Baton Rouge – arrived at the Superdome about 45 minutes before the race start. I had forgotten to eat this morning. I was in such a rush to get out of the house for the 5:15 bus, and I didn’t realize I had not eaten until I got halfway there. It was a novice mistake. Some people don’t eat much before a race, but I have to eat. A fellow runner had some cinnamon rolls, and my friend Tracy gave me some yogurt. It was hardly the high protein meal I needed, but it would have to do. There was nothing open where I could get a bite, and I had to wait in line at the porta potties. I’ve decided that the next photo essay I’m going to do is going to be snapping candid shots of people as they exit porta-potties. The expressions are priceless.

NOTE: Click on the pics for captions and zooming. :)

Before the Start

The 10 K (6.2 mile) race course for the Crescent City Classic runs from the French Quarter down Esplanade and into City Park. It was absolutely fabulous. I had decided to snap pictures the whole way and enjoy the race route since this was my virgin voyage. I had waited 30 something years to participate, and I wasn’t going to spend it worried about my time and looking at my GPS. I wanted to stop and smell the roses – literally – along the way. When we arrived, one of the guys on our bus gave the newbies some pointers. “If you take anything from any of the locals, it’s probably going to have something in it. Don’t take it unless you are looking for that.” Another person added that the fireman hand out straight vodka instead of water. “Oh, and please pace yourself … I’m talking about the party afterwards,” he added with a laugh. It was going to be a beautiful morning, and I was really looking forward to the race… except for the fact that I was starving – before I started running.

The Quarter & Esplanade

New Orleans streets aren’t that wide at some points, so the race course was crowded. These big races remind me of a microcosm of life itself. People show up on the race course like they do in life. Some are flamboyant in their tutus and costumes, drawing attention to themselves. Others just want to be comfortable. Some are prepared for the challenge, training and educating themselves on what to expect. Others show up with no training and just gut it out. Some want to speed by to compete and win while others just want to enjoy the journey. If you think you know what a runner looks like, you’ve never been to one of these races. Runners are as diverse as the population as a whole. Some are big. Some are small. Some are blind. Some are young and fit. Some limp all the way through in ways that make me wonder how they can get through a race with a gait like that. Some just run for the beer while others run for their health or for their time. There are even superheroes who stride past with their capes and masks like they are flying on the wind. Others run for God, their deceased friends and relatives or their Moms. A crowded race course is filled with charity runners for every major disease and some very rare ones. I find myself laughing, sometimes crying and often motivated by the people I see moving before me in a river of bodies.

Entering City Park

Today’s race snaked through the beautiful City Park in New Orleans among the ancient Live Oak trees. You could see runners everywhere, moving like ants marching through a picnic. And, speaking of a picnic, I made it to the finish but was famished by the time I got there. I was never so glad to see an orange in my life. The race culminated in a massive party with red beans and rice and jambalaya accompanying the main attraction … beer … and lots more beer. I’ll leave you with some pics of the day. I’m tired. I feel very blessed to be healthy enough to run among old friends and new. I’m full of good food and replenished with a massive dose of vitamin D …. I know I’ll sleep well tonight.

Happy Easter, y’all! I saw several Easter Bunnies at the race today. I hope they are not too tired to get with it tonight.

 

NOLA Indulgences: Shopping, Eating and Topless Driving

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Tomorrow is the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans. I’ve been wanting to run this 10K race in New Orleans for several years, and now that I’m back living in the area, it’s do-able. The race course starts in the French Quarter and ends at City Park, two of my favorite locations in New Orleans. The year I graduated from high school was the inaugaural year for this race, and the website says it was the original “party” race in the country. Tomorrow’s race has 20,000 runners registered. I registered for it last October, and I was really sweating my ability to run it when my injuries started cropping up and continued to hang around from November to early March. But, I’m healthy, and I’m ready to run it tomorrow. I ran the 6.2 mile distance last weekend, so I know I can do it. It probably won’t be my fastest 10K ever, but I plan to enjoy it and post photos to Instagram the whole way. It should be fun.

The Expo

My friend Jo Ann and I have both been so busy that we haven’t been able to hang out much since our Mardi Gras plans got frozen out. So, I asked if her if she wanted to drive over for the Expo. She offered to drive her convertible when I got to her place this morning, and I said of course! It was too chilly to go topless this morning, but we certainly could do it on the way home. We arrived 5 minutes before the Expo opened, and, within 5 minutes of walking in the door, we made our first purchase. We tasted a vitamin drink that tasted just like a Dreamsicle, and they had a hell of a deal for the Expo. Little packets that you pour into bottles of water contain a multi-vitamin, caffeine and electrolytes. The company called 4D Supplements is out of Harahan. In fact, most of the vendors there today were local companies. That was a nice surprise. We shopped running stores, local jewelry-makers, the New Orleans Advocate, local race planners and everybody’s favorite Louisiana coffee, Community. Since I’ve given up coffee, I had decaf – I’m so good -  and it was really, really good. I even signed up for the Louisiana Marathon in January – the half marathon, actually. I said I wouldn’t do another this year, but they offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse, and I really liked the people that were running the race. So, why not? 13.1 miles… here I come, again…. gotta stay healthy.

The City

We picked up my race bib and shirt, and, on the way out, I made an impulse purchase and bought a tank from the CCC official merchandise table. We headed out of the hotel… getting lost and adding another 20 minutes to our exit … and turned toward the French Quarter. We ran into Carl and Jennifer, tourists from Chicago. Jennifer was stoked about the race tomorrow and said she’d probably sign up and run it since she has to run anyway. They were friendly folks, and we walked with them all the way to the French Quarter, swapping stories about visiting New Orleans, Chicago and riding the City of New Orleans between the two cities. We parted ways on Bourbon Street, and we set out to find muffaletta sandwiches, pralines, flip flops and a summer purse for me.

More Expo

It was cool most of the morning. About 12:30, we both immediately got too hot and started whining about needing to find cooler shoes and cooler clothes. That always happens to me in New Orleans. I’ll feel cool in the morning, and in one sharp second, I feel like someone lit a fire under me. Finding something cooler to wear becomes an emergency. Or, it can be vice versa. The last time I was down, it was hot all day, and then it turned sharply cold, and I had to buy a sweatshirt. But, I digress … I was starting to get really hungry, so we went to Central Grocery to get a muffaletta. There was a very short line which was a treat since I was starving. I got a half for us to eat at lunch and a half packed for home. The meat and cheeses on a muffaletta are really good, but the bread is to die for. It is just the right crustiness with sesame seeds that push it right over the edge from good to delicious. I laughed and said that it was probably good because it soaks up the olive oil from the olive salad like a sponge. I not only ate my quarter, but I ate the top bun from Jo Ann’s quarter, too. I don’t know which was better – the sandwich or just the bread. On the way out, I asked one of the counter folks how many of those sandwiches they serve a day as the line was now spilling outside, and every person in the store had a muffaletta. It’s as if there is nothing else on the menu. “Hundreds,” he said, “hundreds…” and he turned around to take the next order.

The Coffee Oasis

We shopped in the French Market and found some bargains on my flip flops, a little dress and a summer purse. Jo Ann indulged on flip flops and a red summer dress. We both went into the ladies’ room and stripped out of our warmer clothes and put on our pretty dresses and sandals. We decided to ditch the long walk back and ride the trolley to the hotel parking lot. Oh, yeah… we had to have our praline fix, and we got some original pralines from Sally’s. It was the perfect end to a French Quarter indulgence. We visited on the trolley with a couple of ladies from Killeen TX who were heading out on a cruise tomorrow. Jo Ann and I had discussed going on a cruise later this year, so I thought we’d probably look like them except about 20 years younger. We joked earlier in the day about being Thelma and Louise, but, honestly, I think those two crazy gals were a little younger than us, and I don’t think that trip ended so well anyway.

The Loot

 

We went topless all the way home. We hit traffic on the way out of New Orleans, but after we got some open highway in front of us, we both got really quiet. The wind was blowing through my thick, curly hair like the wind on a desert tumbleweed, and the sun was warm on my skin. The breeze made things chilly, and, at one point, Jo Ann reached over and turned on the heat so that my toes and legs started to get toasty warm. I was lost in a kaleidoscope of thought as we crossed the Bonne Carre Spillway. What should I wear to a race that will be in the 50s early but we’ll be hanging out into the afternoon with temps in the upper 70s? Should I pack long pants for after the race or shorts? Or both? ….. I hope I’m not uncomfortable traveling with a group of people that I don’t know….. I thought back on the walk through the French Market and my purchase of sandals from the Jamaican man who said his brother made them… I wondered how much water Middendorf’s got when Katrina hit and how long it had been closed for repairs … intimate scenes from an afternoon with an old flame danced through my mind’s eye… memories of sitting in the sun at Southeastern’s Spring Game last weekend flitted past in a slideshow … oh, yeah … I got sunburned…. I hoped that wouldn’t happen again, and I checked my arms to make sure… I wonder if my iPhone will stay charged all day tomorrow …

After being lulled into a trance of thought for about half an hour, Jo Ann and I talked about our day and some other personal things. It had been a great day. The weather was perfect. We had no plan when we left, and it all worked out just right. We indulged enough …. but not too much. We met some cool people, and we enjoyed the outdoors. I picked up my dog and headed home, needing to eat a healthy meal before my run. On the way home, I had to hide my half muffaletta from Ashok lest she take advantage of my focus on the road. I think my favorite part of the day was riding home in the car. It felt so good to just sit in silence and let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go. It’s fun to have friends that will just hang out and go with the flow even if that means being quiet and listening to the wind. I feel connected this evening … grateful to live across the swamp from the great City of New Orleans …. filled up with happiness from a fun day … and ready for a great, fun run tomorrow. And, I’d better be. I have to rise at 4 AM to catch that bus that will drive me back to the Quarter. I can’t wait to share it with you. Night, y’all!

 

 

The Art of Being Single: Cultivating Gratitude for What Is

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Every walk of life has it’s pros and cons. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have this human predilection that the grass is always greener on the other side. That “grass is greener” longing bites me by keeping me focused on the cons of my life and the pros of others. The truth is that I’m here in this walk of life of being single for a reason. The dirty little secret is that I actually love being single. It doesn’t mean that I can’t lose my focus when I start longing for what I don’t have. The other night at a running club I was talking with a woman about running and moving to Baton Rouge. She came back home after a long period, too, and she doesn’t like it here. For one, she’s terrified of the crime. I grappled with fear of crime when I moved to Memphis, and I learned to find a happy balance of letting go of fear and living my life and knowing when not to be stupid. I shared the way I thought about it, and that I had just made a decision not to limit my life out of fear. She said, “Do you have kids?” After I answered no, she said, “I can tell.” I have no idea what she meant because it threw me off guard, but I think she was saying that I had more freedom to feel free and be a risk-taker than I would if I had kids. Maybe so… probably so … I’m not sure. I know big risk-takers who have kids AND spouses. I don’t think it’s a “single / no kids” trait.

I have been told many times by other people that I am the person I am because I’m single with no kids. They are probably right. That’s true with anybody, right? We are who we are because of our life experiences. But, there’s always an insinuation that I somehow took the easier, softer route by not having children. Maybe I did… but that’s not why I did it. I never said to myself that I didn’t want to do all of that hard work, so I’m not having kids. My interests – and my spouse’s interests – were more focused on work and other things. I have been quite blatantly told I was selfish for not having kids. I actually have lots of friends who don’t have kids – some by choice, some by lack of opportunity or ability. Sometimes we whisper to each other about how grateful we are that we never had kids. We say it with a giggle because we know it’s considered unthinkable by most of society. There is an idea that the world is full of married with children people, and that’s the “path” that we are supposed to live. Any other choice we make is because we are defective, selfish or alternative. Honestly, this is the most difficult part of being single…. this stigma that I am in a holding pattern …. waiting to get married.

I’ve been shopping for a cruise. Cruises are set up for double occupancy. So, if I choose to go on my own, I have to pay lots more money to go alone. I am financially penalized for going alone. Churches have “singles ministries” as if we need a ministry. I met some friends here who had started a Meetup group for single Moms. I asked why they had decided to start a Meetup group. One of the women from California said that she was finding it really difficult to find other single Moms. She said people get married here so fast. “They don’t know how to do single,” she said. Baton Rouge has plenty of singles, but I do feel the pressure to be looking … or to be wed … much more intensely. I don’t get invited to events precisely because I’m not coupled. It’s a couples thing. There are plenty of singles here. I’ll add that there are plenty of happy singles, too. But, as one friend said, “We’re here ..you just have to find us. We’re hiding under mushrooms and rocks.”

The great thing about being single is that I am able to have a large community. While married folks with children are busy with their relationships within their families, they just don’t have the free time that single people without kids have. My relationships can take on a different flavor, too. Yes, we are more self-centered. I don’t mean that in an unhealthy way. The center of my life is me. I would also argue that the center of eveyone else’s life – married, with kids or without – is themselves. Your choices in life may provide you less time for yourself, but those were still your choices. You … the head of your life … made them. Single people … me … get to have relationships of choice for the most part. So, they take on a different flavor. I spend more energy reaching out and cultivating community. It may appear that single people are doing things all the time on Facebook, but we’re no different than families. They do things together all the time, too. There is effort involved in every interaction that single people have with others. No one else is living in our house. We can’t just walk in the next room and say hi. We have to get our bohunkus on the phone and reach out. It allows us to have a broader community out of necessity.

I love to travel by myself. For one, I don’t have to worry if another person is enjoying the trip, and I can do the things I most enjoy. I truly get to vacation doing the things that relax me and energize me most. I was married for 17 years of my life, so I shared plenty of vacations. They were fun, but they were usually a mixture of what each one of us enjoyed. But, the really fun part of traveling by myself is that I get to talk to everybody. I meet new people. I talk to the rangers in the state parks and national forests. On one trip, a woman invited me to join her family at a local bluegrass concert. I said yes and tagged along. I can change my mind on a whim. If I meet somebody that tells me about something interesting to do, I can change my plans and do it. I get to meet and enjoy lots of different people.

I think being single rocks. If I want to have some dates, I can sign on to a dating site and meet some people for that possibility. If I want to do nothing on a weekend, I can close the doors and shut the world out. If I want to make new friends, I just pick a place to go and hop to it. It has its downsides to be sure but they only get me down if I focus on what I don’t have. Yes, I have plenty of love. It just comes in different packages than romantic love. And, honestly, when I was married, I didn’t have that much romantic love anyway. Being married isn’t a guarantee of romance. So, in answer to the woman at the running club, if you “can tell” I don’t have kids, I hope you mean that my life is full, and I am open to all kinds of relationships and experiences. This morning, that’s the way I see it.

Finding the Meaning Behind Emotions

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A new friend of mine asked me about my pet peeves. “I know I have them,” I said as I tried to think of one. “I blog about them all the time.” The only one I came up with right away was my pet peeve about the little creamer containers they bring out with coffee. I hate those things. Good thing I’m not drinking coffee anymore. I can enjoy tea without half and half, so that particular pet peeve isn’t much of an issue at the moment. A bigger pet peeve is the one I have when people tell me how I SHOULD feel…. or SHOULD NOT feel. Talk about a boundary crosser! When someone does it to me or I see someone do it to someone else, I want to tell them they SHOULD mind their own feelings and mind their own damn business. How in the world does one person know how another person should FEEL?

I know that people mean well when they do that. They don’t want their friend to feel bad, so they tell them to just not do it. That’s easy, isn’t it? Just stop it!! Stop feeling that way! Emotions are energy, and you have to let them move through. I had a particularly bad nightmare one time about my ex. It brought me back into all of those old feelings of being discounted, unloved and afraid. I was right in the middle of a huge trigger. I called a friend and started to tell her about it and how I was just reeling in those feelings. “Sharon, you are going to have to get over this,” was her answer. “Everybody has things they have to deal with, and you have to learn to deal with this.” I was in such a vulnerable place and in a lot of pain, and this comment made me further feel like there was something wrong with me because I was feeling pain. I felt like she knocked the wind out of me. I sucked it up for the moment – until I could hang up with her and call somebody that was not afraid to hear about feelings. In 5 minutes of me saying how I felt and being encouraged that, given my history, of course I would feel those things, I was back on track. But, there was one phone number I removed from my phone for support.

In my journey of learning about addictions and codependency, I’ve learned that most of us who deal with those afflictions don’t want to feel. There’s a saying in recovery: The good news is you have your feelings back. The bad news is you have your feelings back. Feelings can be great, and they can be painful. Ultimately, each person’s emotional response to anything is based on their interpretation of the event. I think that’s what people are getting at when they say you should or should not feel a certain way. They are trying to help you reframe it so that you feel a “good” emotion. Here is a list of feeling words. I love that they label them Pleasant Feelings and Difficulty/Unpleasant Feelings. There is no Good/Bad label. That list hung on my refrigerator at my house for many years. When my ex and I would be trying to communicate and some feeling was tripping us up, we’d go over and pick the most appropriate word for how we felt. It helped us talk about what was going on behind the emotion. It helped us talk about our interpretation of the emotion we were having. This is the thing… it IS the interpretation behind the emotion that matters. It is that interpretation that allows us to move through the emotion. It has to be the feeler’s interpretation. It is the quickest route to change a feeling… moving through.

Tonight I had a call from a friend who was struggling with a family issue. After she told me the story, I asked her first how I could be most supportive. In this case, she wanted me to reflect what I heard in her story and to help her figure out the next right step.  I laughed and said I wish I could pull out a chart that had some columns where you could go down two rows and over three columns and it would tell you what you need to do. Life just isn’t like that. The most important thing I wanted to help her understand is her INTERPRETATION of these events. That’s what had her feelings all over the place. I told her I heard that she felt afraid, pissed and disgusted. She said those words. Well, pissed and disgusted are anger words, and anger is usually a protective emotion hiding a more vulnerable emotion. So, I checked out “afraid” and asked what she was afraid of happening. When she told me, I merely said that I would feel afraid if I thought that might happen, too. That’s all. It’s so simple. This may have happened to her a million times but it’s never happened to me once. Of course I wouldn’t be afraid of it happening… it’s never happened to me. That’s where interpretations come from… our life experience.

From my training in my women’s circles, I’ve learned that there are a few key questions to help people unravel their interpretation of events and to help them move through their emotions.

  • Ask them to name their feelings specifically. Once they pick them out, they can usually pinpoint the main issue.
  • Ask them if this feeling is familiar. If it is, ask them about that old story.
  • Validate their feelings. This helps them tap into their own power to solve their own problems because you validate that they are not on the wrong track.

I don’t ever tell anyone how they should feel anymore. I have heard so many stories about people’s lives. Many are unbelievably different than the stories I’ve lived. I know I have absolutely no clue how they should feel in any given event. What is an easy “mind shift” for me can be an enormous trigger for someone else that may take weeks to move through. The kindest thing I can do is to help them talk through it and figure out their own interpretations. If I start giving advice on how they should interpret something, I can make matters worse.  For me, one of my strongest wounds was being told that I was irrational. This effectively told me that my inner compass was flawed. Think about it. If I’m irrational, how can I trust myself? That is a very scary place to live. If I believe that label, then I can’t decipher the world and make my own decisions. So, when another person tells me that I shouldn’t feel a certain way, that old “irrational” stuff gets triggered, and I can go right back to feeling that I cannot trust myself. It brings up deep, deep fear about my ability to survive.

I actually love having these intimate conversations with people. I think it’s how God wired us to come together. He wired us for connecting, and connecting about emotions is one of the most intimate things we can do. To understand and validate another person’s most vulnerable and intimate journey creates bonds that run incredibly deep. I know the friends who walked with me through the darkest nights of my soul, reflecting what they saw and building me up by validating me along the way. Those are my soul sisters. They taught me that I am rational. They taught me that my interpretations of events are exactly what they should be given my history. They taught me that my emotions are not facts but they are barometers that warn me I am getting into dangerous territory. These conversations about emotions were the foundation of learning to live authentically. I believe that even though the bad news is that I have my feelings back…. the REALLY good news is that I have my feelings back. And I will not give them up again.

 

 

 

Springtime Rituals in the Land of the White Pickup Trucks

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I love my first year in a new place. I’ve lived so many places, and each place has its own set of rituals that drive its calendar. For instance, the Southwest Michigan area will kick off it’s Springtime festivities in May with the Blossomtime Festival. The Knoxville Area has the Dogwood Festival with its auto-trails around town highlighting well-groomed yards with dogwoods and red buds in full bloom. Northwest Indiana had a European Market that kicked off in May with all kinds of weekend exhibitors. The State Parks and National Lakeshore opened, and all of the little towns around Lake Michigan hosted events almost every weekend. After being in any of those places a few years, I started to mark the seasons by the festivals and the crops. In April, Michigan has fresh asparagus. It grows wild, so it’s all over the place. The rest of the country pays a pretty penny for the buttery stalks, but you can drive by any old house and pay $1 a pound at a self-serv stand in St. Joe … or Three Oaks … or Buchanan. The first year I was there I ate asparagus almost every day. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The blueberry and cherry seasons were milestones, too. Most people don’t know that Southwest Michigan is the second largest fruit-growing area in the country next to California. I awaited each season with unbridled gluttony.

I’m finding Louisiana has its own rhythm for the spring. We thaw out quicker than most of the country, so by the time our azaleas are gone, the rest of the country is just greening up. I didn’t remember that crawfish had a “season”. Two – three weeks ago I started seeing signs that proclaimed Boiled Crawfish popping up. My friend Sha called and asked if I wanted to go eat boiled crawfish one night last week. I was waiting for an invitation because I see it as a social event not just a yummy treat. So we went to Sammy’s for crawfish. I thought we’d run in and eat and leave. No…. this was an event. They told us it would be an hour wait, and I thought for sure we’d leave. Not hardly….. The restaurant was packed, and we stood around with two men from her work and waited to take our seat in the house. They brought out our platters, and we ate and ate, spending the time catching up on our lives and talking about how good they were.

“These aren’t spicy enough.”

“The ones on the inside are still hot.”

“These claws are really big.”

“The ones I had the other night were not as good as these.”

“This second batch is much better than the first. They are spiced just right.”

I’ve often wondered how you spice them just right. It seems to be a moving target, and every person has different tastes, too. These comments are ones I’ve heard over and over the last few weeks. I overhear people in the office proclaiming they had some, “but they were really small.” Someone on Facebook had some that “didn’t have enough salt, but that’s just me.” Those red crustaceans, I’m seeing, are the reason to celebrate in the spring. We not only celebrate in the eating, but we celebrate when someone else is eating by asking them to tell us about it. A good time is had by all … vicariously or in person.

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It’s strawberry season, too, in the Land of the White Pick-up Trucks. Everywhere I’ve been in the last couple of weeks, I see trays of the beautiful red berries laying out. They, like the crawfish, fluctuate in price according to the demand, the time in the season and their size. My friend Gretchen and I checked some out in Hammond yesterday. “They aren’t very big,” she said. She speculated that the big ones were probably being sold at the festival in Ponchatoula this weekend. We looked for strawberry pie. I settled for buying a half flat and made strawberry shortcake with whipped cream when I got home. I used those tea cakes that I purchased at the Farmer’s Market. It was delicious. I’d say that “they were small, but they were still juicy.” I’ve heard people say that the strawberries … and the crawfish… aren’t as good this year .. or as plentiful .. or as big … because of the winter we had. I haven’t been disappointed yet on any front. So, if this is not good, I can’t wait until it gets good!

When I was in the bar waiting on our crawfish, someone in our party asked the waitress if they had char-grilled crabs. No… she said they would start getting crabs right around the time the crawfish ran out. I began making a mental note to get over there for char-grilled crabs for that season…. some time in May. I walked out on the levee yesterday evening with my dog, and she had her first taste of crawfish. I saw her chewing on something, and I could see the red claw hanging out of her mouth while she chomped down on it. It seems she will fit right in here for crawfish season. I could smell crawfish wafting on the breeze while the barges and the tugboats pushed their way upriver. I looked around, and there were two or three groups of people huddled around pieces of cardboard piled high with crawfish. They took their time watching the sunset and peeling the tiny tails. I basked in the ritual here … this ritual of eating crawfish. It is not just the arrival of a good food, but it’s the arrival of spring.

A friend told me that they are pricier before Easter because of Lenten fasting on Fridays. It gives people something good to eat that’s not classified as meat. So, along with the celebration of Easter, there are crawfish and strawberries to gather around. My family will be gathering Easter weekend to stuff crawfish heads with stuffing to put into crawfish bisque. This is an annual ritual passed down through generations of Cajuns in my brother-in-law’s family. When I drove up to my house Saturday night, my new neighbors’ yard was full of cars, and I could smell the spicy crawfish aroma before I saw them gathered around a table set up in the driveway. I wondered how many gatherings there were like this in town… pricey or not… big or small … spicy or bland. These orangey-red-clawed bottom-dwellers boiled in a pot of spicy water were a signpost on the calendar that said Welcome Spring. It’s crawfish season, y’all. Won’t you come sit for a spell and peel some tails?

Grappling with Worn Out Dreams of Pleasing Others

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I had a nightmare Friday night. When I think of nightmares, I imagine those dreams that include violence, abuse and terror. I wake up in fear.. heart pounding …. relieved that it was just a dream. My emotions and reactions to my emotions are escalated as if the events of this dream really happened. It takes awhile to relax and get back to sleep. I’m grateful that I don’t have nightmares very often. I had a lover who had nightmares every night. He described his dreams, and they were always about groups of people chasing him with knives or guns and often he was killed in a bloody battle. He grew up in a very abusive environment, and I’ve always believed his nightmares were a symbolic reliving of the torture that he endured. He would describe those dreams as if they were normal, and I would be absolutely horrified at having dreams like that every night. His  inner world terrified me. He was numb to it.

My nightmare didn’t involve blood. It had no violence. By many people’s measure of nightmares, it would have been silly. What I know about dreams is they are our subconscious trying to work something out, and, for me, my dreams usually mirror something that I’m grappling with emotionally. That’s what makes dreams so real and scary when they come in the form of nightmares. Some deep-seated fear that I have is being tapped in real life, and I’m either pushing it down or have not dealt with it. The nightmare brings it home in shocking images. I’ve learned to look at my dreams’ messages. The sooner I actually process the real life drama, the sooner I can sleep peacefully.

My nightmare was about not being liked… about being left out … being excluded.  I dreamed that I showed up at my college, and all of my college friends were there. I could see their faces plain as day. When I showed up, I was shocked into the realization that there was this big party going on, and I had not been invited. I walked up to talk with them, and they looked at me as if I had three heads. They would hardly speak. I would ask questions, and they’d give me short answers and turn away. I was so hurt and confused and I was in enormous pain. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t they invite me to the party? Why don’t they LIKE me? I woke up in a sweat … crying …. my heart was racing, and I had this deep throbbing pain in my heart. For a moment, it didn’t even relieve me that it was a dream. I just knew it was real. I just knew that some life was going on without me, and I was intentionally being excluded.

I’ve grappled with people-pleasing … the desire to be liked … to be someone that people approved of … all my life. Recovering addicts say that it’s a part of an addictive personality to have this feeling that we somehow don’t fit. I’ve actually found that many people who are not addicts feel the same way. I would almost argue it’s a very normal part of the human condition to think we don’t fit. We see our insides. We see everyone else’s outsides. There are very few people  – if any – that we ever come to know in a transparent way. What I love about 12 step programs is that we share very intimately in meetings. It helps me to see that other people have these same inner demons that I do, and they are okay. They are likable. They have lives which have meaning. And, yet… they struggle with many of the same fears I do.

For me, the most difficult time I ever had with self-image and the fear that I wasn’t liked was in high school and college. However, there has always been an underlying desire to be liked and to fit myself to what others thought I should be. It’s been interesting to be back here in Louisiana where my worst people-pleasing fears were fertilized. The same faces and places automatically bring me back to those paralyzing fears that I was somehow a misfit. With many, I’m getting a chance to work it out and realize I wasn’t a misfit at all.  Back then I had a drinking problem, and I’ve had to deal with the remorse and embarrassment of that, and I’ve learned that most of them really didn’t even notice. They had their own stuff going on. For so many years, my actions associated with my black-out drinking haunted me, and I’m sure it was one of the reasons I wanted to stay away. I was scared my early behavior had somehow made me a pariah.

The other day I was overwhelmed with a fear of not being liked. I don’t even remember what event brought it on, but I’m sure it was also related to my feeling a bit depressed. Depression always overlays that filter that says I’m not lovable. I was walking my dog, and I was going over the list of people in my mind that didn’t like me, and I was trying to determine how I needed to BE in order for them to like me. All of a sudden, this angry voice rose up inside of me that said, “Why the hell do you care if they LIKE you?” I don’t know if it was God (yes, I believe God curses on occasion) or my inner wisdom, but it really jerked me back to reality. Why do I care if they like me? I know the deep-seated reasons I care. I’m afraid that if I’m not liked, I will be abandoned. It’s an early belief that in order to be cared for, loved and safe, I need to be good. Otherwise I will die….because children depend on others for their very life. I carried that belief into adulthood, and it doesn’t work for adults. I should have shed that belief much sooner than I did, but I used addictions to numb me out. It kept me from learning life skills at an appropriate age. So be it … that was my path… that was my real-life nightmare … this obsession with people-pleasing. And it haunts me still at certain times. It paralyzes me.

My nightmare was a short trip back to my core fear of not being lovable. It’s MY FEAR. It has nothing to do with reality. It’s an old shoe that doesn’t fit any more. I try it on for size every now and then because it’s comfortable. Sometimes it’s more comfortable than putting my real self out there and letting the chips fall where they may. It’s often more comfortable than developing my own talents and gifts and being who God made me to be. But, those shoes are ugly and full of holes, and they hurt me. They sit in a closet in the dark among other old lifeless shoes that are turning into dust among the cobwebs. I don’t need to go back there. There are new shoes to try, and I have to get out there and put them on. Some I will like, and some I won’t. I can try on dancing shoes …  hiking shoes … comfortable shoes .. running shoes … sexy shoes .. and shoes that I’ve never even seen before that nobody else wants. They are just shoes. Who cares if anybody else likes them? They are my damn feet … and my damn walk! If you don’t like my shoes, go get your own! :)