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!

 

 

 

 

Within each of us, greatness resides

IMG_1032If you are one of the 25 million or so who have viewed the YouTube video of Susan Boyle’s amazing performance on the show Britain’s Got Talent, you know that she is living proof of this. When this unassuming, slightly frumpy, and somewhat quirky middle-aged woman from a village in Scotland walked out onto the stage, she walked into the hearts of viewers all over the world. We all assumed we were in for a terrible joke of a performance. Yet, when she opened her mouth and sang, we all got goosebumps. Her choice of song was so perfect – I Have a Dream – from Les Miserables.

So, today my question is, how do I recognize and tap into the talent, gifts, promises that have been given me? Oprah (she doesn’t even need a last name, does she?) and I have a lot in common; we are close in age, we’re both female, both spiritually curious, love to read, enjoy talking, like to figure out what makes people tick. Yet, look at how different we are! Hmmm…

I believe that God did not plan for me to live my life as an ordinary, plain, generic version of myself. I also believe that within me resides something greater, but I’m not even sure where to begin looking. I was in high school and college in the sixties. The Vietnam War was at its peak and the world was in upheaval. Many of my “hippie” friends dropped out to “find themselves”. Well, one thing I know for sure is that I don’t have to look far… where ever I  go, there I am.  And yet, I was telling a friend the other day that “just being me” is a huge challenge, because I am constantly struggling to define who “me” is!

Just like our one-of-a-kind appearance, each of us has been gifted with unique abilities and talents. There are folks out there making a fortune writing psychology books and self-help blogs for people like me. Millions of us are spending countless hours trying to develop our spirituality…that essence of who we are that connects us to God and the Universe.

Is there a “one size fits all” formula for this? No. I think one thing that makes the difference is an unwaivering belief in self. Greatness doesn’t just happen – it is cultivated. People who have successfully tapped into their gifts will tell you that they never doubted themselves. They totally believed that they would win, achieve, succeed, invent, become. Recently I watched a biography of Oprah. One scene stands out in my mind. She often talks about her grandmother. She recalled how her grandmother was attempting to show her how to wash clothes. My “aha” moment came when Oprah said she wasn’t paying any attention because somehow, deep within herself, even at the age of four, she knew she would not need to know that.

So there’s the rub. It begins with belief. I have spent a lifetime doubting myself. I doubt my intelligence, my worthiness, my appearance, my skill. I have been a chameleon – being and doing what others expect of me. My challenge now is not to develop my talent, but to believe that it is already there.

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. 

Sushi? or S-eeewww-shi?  Which one are you?

 When I say “sushi”, most of the time the reaction I get is, “EEEWWW!” Actually, I love sushi and have been eating it for years. If you dig down into the bottom of my purse, you will find that I carry my own chopsticks with me everywhere I go. I associate sushi with family, friends, and fun, but more than that, sushi is such an interesting reflection of Japanese culture. 
I love peeking inside someone else’s refrigerator. What I find there tells me so much about the person who owns that fridge. It is one of life’s unspoken messages. For example, everywhere in my life I am compulsively tidy. EXCEPT inside my fridge. That is my secret … my fridge is full of stuff, messy, and occasionally has food items growing penicillin on them. I think that because I can’t see it, I allow it to get a little bit out of control. Besides, I’m busy controlling the rest of my universe! But, I digress; let’s get back to what this blog is really about…
Food reflects culture. Looking at traditional national dishes is like peeking inside an entire nation’s refrigerator. For example, England, famous for fish and chips, is an island where fish is a plentiful food source. Scotland, the home of haggis (eeewww!), has rolling hills spotted with sheep. The Parma region of Italy has the perfect grass to feed cows who produce milk that becomes that famous Parmigiana cheese. The leftovers from making the cheese are fed to pigs who eventually become an equally famous Italian export, Parma ham. 
So, what does sushi tell us about Japan. Well, Japan is an island with very limited fuel sources. Hence, quick cooking stir fry and raw foods are common. The Japanese culture is one of great refinement. When a guest is invited into the home, it is important that the guest feel honored. It would be unthinkable to expect a guest to prepare his own food. Cutting food is considered part of the preparation process and therefore it would dishonor a guest to expect him or her to cut food on the plate. Hence, small bites are the norm; both stir fry and sushi are served in bite sized pieces. Another way that Japanese chefs honor their guests is through beautiful presentation. A well-prepared plate of sushi is exquisite, looking almost like stained glass. It is colorful, enticing, and appetizing. Eating with chopsticks forces me to slow down and savor the flavors and the conversation. 
Unfortunately, American culture is synonymous with fast food picked up at drive through windows: hamburgers, greasy fries, and carbonated drinks. What does that say about our life style? My life isn’t so different from anyone else’s. Yes, I have been known to take advantage of the fast food option on more than one occasion. However, when doing so, I end up gulping down food at red lights and I most certainly don’t feel calm or relaxed. So, when I sit down at the sushi bar with friends around me and a beautiful, colorful plate of sushi in front of me, I am honored and excited to be taking part in an ageless tradition of Japanese culture. But more importantly, I am creating a mental scrapbook of happy times and good memories. So, help me take the “eeewww” out of sushi by remembering its honorable history and tradition.

Summer Insanity!

All the fun with none of the smell! 😂
This has been the summer of Hay Day! Okay, I admit it, this may be one of the silliest things I have EVER done! Yup, it’s right up there with licking the frozen flagpole (don’t you just LOVE Christmas Story?) and sticking your tongue in the electric socket! “So, what is it?”, you ask. Hay Day, by SuperCell, is an addictive opportunity for people like me to care for a variety of cute animals. So, this summer I have spent a whole lot of time tapping my iPad while caring for a huge farm full of virtual pigs, chickens, goats, cows, and sheep. I am also growing acres and acres of virtual crops. 

Yes, you read this correctly…virtual. Now, virtual or not, farming is hard! I have animals in all colors, shapes, and sizes. They need to be fed and loved. Crops need to be harvested every day. Sheep need to be shorn, eggs collected, cows milked. A virtual farmer’s work is never done! I am busy doing all of this in order to make big virtual bucks selling milk, eggs, goat cheese, wheat, and corn, just to name a few.

Last summer I made a trip to the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, and the Petrified Forest. This summer I farmed. My niece commented that she had a virtual pet when she was in the third grade. Emphasis was on the fact that she was nine years old. I’m slightly older than that, so what’s my excuse? No excuse; I just find it fun and relaxing. So here’s to my summer of Hay Day!