HURRICANE IRMA & ME: It’s all about the STUFF!

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I am among the millions of folks who have been evacuated in preparation for the landfall of  Hurricane Irma.  I have posted before about the fact that I try to find the silver lining in every cloud.  So, of course, I am searching for things to be happy about as I hunker down here in a small hotel in a small town on the Mississippi border.

First of all, I am declaring this Irma-cation 2017.  That certainly puts a positive spin on it, right?  It isn’t really a “-cation” of any sort, but Irma-cation certainly sounds better than “mandatory, forced evacuation”, at least in my thinking!

I am a very reflective person most of the time, and this has certainly given me time to slow down and think about what’s going on in my life.  The first thing I needed as I prepared to evacuate was the reassurance that those I love would be with me ~ my fiancé, my son, my daughter-in-law, and our pets.  The rest of the family live in New Mexico, Connecticut, Ohio… far from Irma’s reach.  Yes, a big sigh of relief that everyone is out of harm’s way.  But now, on to the topic of this post: STUFF!

My “stuff” gave me a great big headache, for sure.  I remember years ago George Carlin did a hysterically funny bit on “stuff”.  I still laugh every time I think about it.  The gist of his routine was that we surround ourselves with stuff.  We keep all of our stuff in a “box” called an apartment, a condo, a home.  Then, as we accumulate wealth, we buy more “stuff” and then have to buy a bigger “box” (house) to hold all of our stuff.  We sit happily in our “box” surrounded by our stuff until something out of the ordinary happens and we have to travel!  YIKES!! That is when the trouble starts! Now we are faced with the horrible decision about which pieces of  “stuff” are important and must accompany us and which pieces must, sadly, be left behind.

And that is exactly what happened to me!  I sat in my house last week surrounded by my  “treasures”; I am certain that my collection is much too valuable to be referred to as simple “stuff”. I know, go ahead, it’s okay to giggle; I’m giggling now too, but at the time there were some tears involved. Anyway,  I kept wondering how in the world I was going to walk away from my lifetime’s collection of treasures.

We are traveling in a small sedan.  I can’t take my grandmother’s china hutch or the antique tea cart. I have to leave my mother’s grandfather clock behind chiming for no one to hear. My father’s desk, the pictures from my trip to Russia (taken before photos became digital)…the list goes on. So I stood with an open suitcase filling it with the non-negotiable “stuff”. Clothes, underwear, nightgown and slippers, make-up, shoes, laptop (a MUST for me!), snacks, and a bottle of wine all made the cut and came with me. All the rest was left behind.

Now I have a choice to make. I can either sit and worry about the fate of my “treasures” left behind while I listen to endless hours of Irma coverage in the hotel coffee shop, or I can focus on celebrating the fact that I am in a town I have never visited before, meeting new people here sharing my evacuation experience, and enjoying time with my family. I choose the latter.  So, here’s to Irma-cation 2017.  Indeed, I am richly blessed!

I Keep Tripping Over Gratitude

Let me share a few examples…
First, there was the stand up comedian I spotted while flipping through the channels one evening. It is a nightly ritual. I pay a lot of money to have about a gazillion channels and then complain every night that I can’t find anything on TV to watch. Well, I paused my channel surfing routine when I spotted this comedian. He was one of those chubby, overweight Southern boys who can usually get a laugh out of me. Here’s the part of his monologue that I caught. It went something like this…
My buddy Bubba was told by his doctor that he had only six months to live. In shock, he asked if there was anything that could be done. He was still a young man and had many things left to do in life. The doctor thought about his question for a bit, and then finally gave him a solution. The doctor told him to go out and find the ugliest, most cantankerous woman he could find and marry her. He told Bubba to be sure that he found a woman who would nag him constantly, and complain about everything he said or did. Next, he had to go out and buy the most beat-up old pickup truck he could find, preferably one that would spend most of its time broken down in the yard. Then he needed to buy a run down old trailer and a dog that wouldn’t come to him even if he hung a pork chop around his neck. Well, my friend Bubba was real skeptical; he said, “Doc, are you sure that this will help me to live longer?” “Not at all,” replied the doctor, “but it sure will make six months seem a lot longer!”



I was laughing, but it dawned on me that our human nature just loves to complain. In fact, I’d just been enjoying my nightly ritual of complaining about the choices on TV. A few days later I was surfing the internet looking for something I needed to buy for my cousin’s wedding. As I clicked here and there, somehow I landed on an advertisement for Gratitude Rocks. Yes, you heard me, rocks. People are making money selling rocks. But, it was the idea that struck me. Put a gratitude rock in your pocket, each time you touch it you are reminded to take a moment to thank God for your blessings.
I was cleaning my home office and came across a book of poetry by e.e.cummings. In it he wrote, “I thank You God for this most amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirit of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”
Finally, my Oprah magazine arrived in the mailbox. There was a little blurb about how Oprah keeps a gratitude journal. Well, I knew this was true because she had inspired me to do the same thing. I have been journaling my gratitude for a few years now. Do you remember being little and having your mother lean down and whisper, “What do you say”? You knew you were expected to say, “Thank you”. My gratitude journal is my way of reminding myself to say “Thank you” for the blessings in my life. I was feeling pretty smug; yup, I had gratitude covered with my journal. In fact, I picked up my journal to read some of my entries so that I could pat myself on the back for what a really fine and grateful person I am. I flipped through the pages and began to read some of what I have written. Well, I wish I could report to you that what I found reinforced my belief that I had gratitude all taken care of, but unfortunately I can’t.
I’m so old that when I was in elementary school we could actually pray. I remember the “Johnny Appleseed” prayer we used to recite daily before we ate our lunch: “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed.The Lord is good to me.” Did you have a prayer like that? Sort of the “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food.” plain brown wrapper kind of prayer that you recited without ever really thinking about it? Well, when I looked at my supposedly marvelous gratitude journal, that is pretty much what I saw.  My entries were basically, “I am thankful for my home, my family, my friends, and my health.” And I just sort of recycled those themes over and over again in one form or another over the years.
So, okay, this had all gotten my attention, but I was still questioning: Is gratitude just some New Age, touchy-feely thing, or am I really supposed to remember to say “Thank you”? My answer is that I believe that a purposeful act of gratitude will enrich our lives, make us more connected to each other and to God. Now, the question becomes, “How do I take this and apply it to my day to day life?” Dr. Wayne Dyer is quoted as saying, “With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself, or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.”
Wow! That is an aha! moment for me. I have the power to choose. If I let my human nature control my thoughts, I may choose to be grumpy rather than grateful. Yes, it is our nature. People like to complain and they like to listen to others complain. I can’t remember seeing people at work sitting in the break room talking about all the things they are grateful for, I usually hear them complaining and griping. It is up to me to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I hear people just like me saying things like:
“Why me?”

“My husband doesn’t listen!”

“My wife never shuts up!”

“I deserve more respect!”

“They can’t do that to me!”

“My boss doesn’t appreciate all the work that I do!”

I guess I’m telling myself that I need to stop, step back. Life is a divine appointment and there is a plan for me, and that plan is unfolding each and every day. And so, I have made a new entry into my gratitude journal. I made a list of all the things that upset, frustrate, or sadden me. Then I have begun thinking about ways to turn them into an opportunity for thanksgiving and gratitude. For example, I hate that I am overweight. However, I realized that I should be grateful that over my 46 years in education, my weight has provided many children a soft place to land in times of trauma. I really, really hate to pay bills. I put it off as long as I can before they are past due. This month, I gathered the bills in my lap and took a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to have a life style that creates bills. You know, I didn’t mind paying the bills nearly as much.
How many grumpy thoughts can you transform into grateful ones?

In my Father’s Footsteps

From Generation to Generation:

My father loved to cook. I remember him standing in the kitchen over a hot stove with a cold beer in hand. He spent many an evening pouring over his collection of cookbooks and foodie magazines looking for new recipes to try. And try them he would. Today my parents have passed away and I am living in their home and each time I walk out into the kitchen I can see him standing there chopping, dicing, or stirring. I miss him. 

My father invited my son to join him in the kitchen. They stood side by side while performing culinary tricks and today that passion for cooking has been passed along to a new generation of chefs. I find great pleasure in watching him stand in his kitchen looking so much like my dad. Not only does he like to cook, but he’s very good at it! 

One of the things I like to do occasionally is pull out one of my father’s recipes and recreate it. We all sit around enjoying the food and our precious memories. Here is one of his favorites. I made it recently, and it is just delicious.  Here in Coastal Georgia we have access to wonderful wild caught local shrimp. Give it a try!
Shrimp with Tequila Dipping Sauce
Shrimp:
Lay 1-2 pounds of medium to large shrimp out on a roasting pan. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees until the shrimp have just turned pink. Watch them carefully. If you overcook them, they get tough. Cool them and arrange them on a platter. You may peel them for your guests or leave them in the shell. If you peel them, leave them in the shell until just before you serve them so they won’t dry out.

Dipping sauce:

1 large whole egg

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup vegetable oil (canola is good)

1 7 oz. jar of pimentos, drained

¼ cup tequila

¼ cup bottled chili sauce

1 dash of Worcestershire sauce

1 dash of bitters

1 dash of hot sauce

In your Vitamix, blender, or food processor with the steel blade, blend the egg and the extra egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, and salt. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream. It is important to pour slowly so the mixture emulsifies and thickens, almost like a mayonnaise. Add pimentos, tequila, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bitters, and hot sauce. Blend until well combined. Chill until ready to serve. 
Put the sauce in a bowl and top with a pretty sprig of parsley and a few lemon wedges. Surround the bowl of sauce with the shrimp. Your guests will love it! 

In Loving Memory

Manley Woodward Clark

1913 – 1997

Happy New Year?

celebrate!The Happy New Year that Wasn’t…

I was looking at my FaceBook memories they share each day and it got me thinking about what it means in our lives to look ahead and look back.  I found a jubilant post I shared out at about 11:45 p.m. on December 31, 2013.  In it I shared pictures of highlights from the year. “Join me as I bid farewell to 2013 and eagerly welcome 2014. Each of you has enriched my life and I am so thankful to be sharing this time and space with you. Let’s take time to look back on the year past and reflect on what was…learn and grow from those experiences. Now let’s look ahead to all the adventures awaiting us. May 2014 be a wonderful year filled with friends, family, and fun!”

I was so happy that night sitting beside my husband of 43 years, sipping champagne, and toasting the new year. At midnight I called my sister and spoke with her and my mom just as we had done every year.  I didn’t know at that moment that I would lose both my mother and my husband that year.  Yet, in the space of 12 weeks, they were both gone. So, 2014 turned out to be a most difficult, sad, and challenging year.

None of us know what awaits us. Yes, we have control over much of what happens in our lives, but most pivotal events are orchestrated by God’s hand, not ours. I have always believed that not knowing protects us from fear and sadness.  I suspect that if I had known what was in my future, I would have been frozen, awaiting the inevitable, rather than living a life filled with laughter and giggles.

Today I am in a new place.  I miss my mother, but losing her has helped me realize that even though my child is an adult, I can continue to be the best mother possible.  I miss my husband and will always hold him in my heart, but I have found joy again in a new and loving relationship. This relationship is stronger because of what I have been through. Tragedy forced me to examine who I am and how to move forward. I had to get tough – pump my own gas, eat alone at the sushi bar, overcome my fear of heights and climb the ladder to change the lightbulb, balance the checkbook, wander through the maze of Social Security…the list goes on. Today, the woman I bring to all my relationships is changed, more confident, more resilient, more balanced because of the struggle brought about by loss.

So, knowing what I know now, would I change the post from 2013? Come midnight on December 31, 2017, will I still look ahead with joyful anticipation? The answer is unequivocally YES! I will treasure each moment, each person, each relationship, each adventure.

I encourage you to stop for a moment and flip through the pages of your life. Look at your mental snapshots of the places, the family, the friends, even the pets who surround you. You and I, we are richly blessed!

 

 

 

 

Turn that frown upside down…Smile!

Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” I blogged about faces yesterday, and have continued to think about the power of our expressions. So, today I want to explore a bit more…

Don’t you just love it when someone smiles at you? Smiles are like the bubbles in a soda – they make your face sparkle! When someone smiles at me, I just automatically smile back. And then, as I walk away, that happy feeling follows me. 

One of the first things a baby learns to do is to recognize the important faces in their lives – momma, daddy, grandma or grandpa, brother, sister. Remember the first time your baby smiled up at you and you knew they recognized you?  That is such a special memory, isn’t it?  Smiles never lose their value; they are important to you and to your child.

Now, let’s do a reality check.  You work all day and afternoons are terrible for working moms. I remember when my son was little, I referred to the time between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. as “Arsenic Hours”. There were days when taking poison seemed like a good alternative…kids crying, homework battles, dinner burning on the stove, phone ringing, toys all over the floor.  You know the drill. Looking back, I got so caught up in “getting things done”, I forgot to stop and enjoy my time with my child.  Before I could really relax, it was bath and bedtime and a new round of arguing began.  I mean, how many times do you really have to remind your child to use soap?

So, what is my message today?  I guess it is that I want to encourage you to welcome your child home each day with a genuine “I’m so glad to see you!” smile.  Focus on the positive.  The toys won’t be littering the floor forever; and I promise there are days when I can’t wait to have a grandchild so I can spend time stepping over toys again.

I was watching TV one afternoon and heard Dr. Phil say that we teach others how to treat us.  In other words, we create the atmosphere we live in.   Smiling makes that atmosphere so much more pleasant.  When we smile, people smile back.  We can’t resist; it’s human nature.  Maya Angelou said, “If you only have one smile in you, give it to the people you love.” So promise me you’ll take a second to give your child a big grin and see what happens.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

FACES…When children first begin to express themselves through art, the biggest element of the person they draw is the face. Why? Because that is most important to them! Yes, from the time we are born, we respond to the faces around us. I often wonder why I respond so warmly to some faces.  I think it is because when those faces appear in my line of vision, I feel like I belong. Some faces just make me feel loved and safe; those faces belong to the people in my life who bring me joy.  

Faces are the canvas of our soul, our emotional billboard. Emotions don’t happen in isolation. My emotions are a direct result of my connections with those around me. If my best friend forgets my birthday, I feel sad. When my child gets a promotion, I feel proud. If one of my students masters a difficult task, I feel joy. But my emotions are not one-sided, not just about me responding to those around me. I want others to respond to me too!

And I am not alone…social media exists because we want to share our feelings with others. Glance through those posts, pics, and tweets on your device. What do you see? I see a collection of events my friends hope I will react to. I know when I share something, I check back to see how many “likes” or “retweets” I have. Somehow, lots of “likes” validate my feelings. 

When I think about my emotions…joy, disdain, grief, excitement…each is reflected in my facial expression, which in turn impacts those around me. So, my face and my expression plays a big part in how my life unfolds. My children, my friends, my students, my pets all look carefully at my face to get feedback on how they are doing. It doesn’t cost anything to smile, and the reward is great. Have you realized that it is almost impossible not to return a smile you are given? Try it. Then take a moment to think about the faces you love and celebrate the joy they bring to your life. Indeed, we are richly blessed.