Coping with the Holidays

My beloved Granny died on Christmas day many years ago. I remember going to the hospital in the morning, as we were visiting Al’s family later than afternoon. I walked into her room and she wasn’t there. I’d seen the flowers I’d sent out at the nurse’s station, so I had a foreboding feeling, but not trusting my intuition I asked a nurse if she’d gone for tests. Although there were no more tests and we all knew it. Granny was DNR and under hospice care.

Driving home, I wondered why I hadn’t gotten a call from my mom. I told Al I couldn’t face a party and he stayed home with me. We tried calling everyone in my family but nobody was answering phones. We went to my grandparents’ home, where there had been so many wonderful Christmases, and my grandfather answered the door. He looked dazed but stoic. Before we left that day, I had a much better understanding of how far his dementia had gone. Granny had kept that to herself.

Since then Christmas has been hit or miss for me. Some years it’s wonderful and some years it sucks. This year it was more better than bad. I saw all my grandchildren. I saw my kids and my folks. I had trees in Florida and Michigan and Al was with me. He’s had most of the month off, saving all year to have this vacation time together with family. I could not have done any of it without him. My anxiety for whatever reason goes into hyper mode during the holidays. As much as I love them, I can’t navigate them alone near as well as I can with Al handling the tough stuff.

I’m blessed and I know it. But I’ve had awful Christmases alone and with others so I think about those people who may not be doing so great, for whatever reason, this season. I can’t speak to the horror so much of the world has to cope with right now, I can only tell you how I lightened a dreary mood upon my return from Florida. This is something anyone who has a tree, holiday decorations, and ornaments can do. It really helped me and maybe, when you start taking down your wreaths and angels and candles, it will help you too.

A few years ago there was a wildly popular book about the magic of tidying up. That might have been the title. I didn’t read it but I heard about the premise: take each item you own and hold it while feeling the emotion it evokes. Does it bring you joy? Is it useful? Keep it. If it doesn’t, donate it. I did that in a small way with my tree ornaments this year. We didn’t have any on the one in Florida, just lights. Then the kids came and we got two very special ones. I decided I wanted every ornament that went on my tree to give me joy. (Much easier than doing with every possession you own!)

So over the course of two days I whittled my 300 ornaments down to less than a hundred. What I found was that joy didn’t come from expensive ornaments. They didn’t have to be shiny or beautiful. Joy came from remembering who had given me the gift. My granny gave me an ornament one year when I first started teaching. When I held it, just as I held the ornaments from my children and grandchildren, I felt joy.

I donated the rest of the ornaments to Salvation Army in the hope that someone will find joy in all the dazzle that just didn’t spark for me anymore. And that’s my recipe for a little Christmas magic. It doesn’t work half as well if you just put the joyless ornaments in the basement. You need to give them away. Only then will your joy be complete. Until the next disaster. We all have them. But this year, I hope your burdens are light and your joy shines.

Nature’s Way

photo-12Yesterday, Al and I had a quiet adventure. We went into the world and explored our surroundings. We have been caught up in too much work, too little time together, and a couple of other things pulling at the fabric of who we are together. Just because we’ve been married for 29 years doesn’t mean we don’t have to work on our relationship. I think sometimes you need to do that even more the longer you are together. Sometimes you take each other for granted. Sometimes you need to fall in love all over again.

One of the things we did when we were dating and then continued all through our married lives was visit a cider mill every fall. It’s a little thing, right? But if you start dropping the little things, they can turn into a big deal. I mentioned to Al that we had not done our annual cider mill visit in a few years. So what did this guy do? He not only took Friday off to support me at my beloved cousin’s memorial, but he also took Saturday off and devoted the day to us. Two days of no work for both of us is highly unusual. I’m more busy than ever and so is he, but that’s just present circumstances. We can choose to change how we operate. We can choose to slow down.

We recently moved and it really changed our world, in good ways and some not so good, for me at least. I was disoriented for awhile. I lived in my last house for over 25 years, so this new place took some getting used to, but little by little, I am making it not just a new house, but my home.

One of the best things about our move was that now we live in the country. It’s like a dream, because I love nature and here there is so much green space, so many meadows and trees and trails and tiny wild creatures. Also horses. We have both been so busy working that we have not explored much of our new environment, but death makes you stop and think about life. After a week of grieving the loss of my beloved cousin, we needed a day just for us.

And yesterday was sunny and crisp, perfect for a cider mill. We decided to take a walk, too. There’s a little town just north of us I wanted to explore. When we got there, we found a trail that goes on for miles and miles. The trees are turning and the entire path was arched with golds and reds and greens. We walked for an hour and saw maybe three people. Quiet. Secluded. Peaceful. Then we left and went to a new cider mill where the donuts were still warm and the cider was sweet and cold. About a thousand bees joined us under a tree. That’s the way it always is, and we laughed about those predictable bees.

We’re nearly at the end of harvest season, but we snagged some tomatoes and fresh bread for BLTs. I have not been cooking much, and don’t fry bacon at all anymore, but yesterday was special in an ordinary way, so yes, I made bacon! Didn’t eat any of it myself … but Al enjoyed it so much. The tomatoes are still juicy and you know what? So is life.

Jesse (1954-2014)

peace.imagesAn old friend from my past died a few weeks ago, and he’s been on my mind a lot since then. Jesse and I knew each other as teen and new adults. Friendships in those years meant more than family to me, and it was the same for my friends. We were family to each other, because our families of origin didn’t work.

Many of our gang, dubbed the Pranksters by the slyly intelligent Doug Beeler years before I read Ken Kesey, had fathers who drank, parents who were divorced, mothers who hit us, and so on. Some of us had been forcefully evicted from the family home. Jesse, in this merry band of long-haired freaks, was the coolest.

Jesse’s family seemed fine to me, but he fit right in with the rest of us misfits. Jesse wasn’t much taller than me, and I’m 5’3. He had shoulder length black hair and a tidy mustache that didn’t ever grow over onto his lips. He had black framed glasses when wire rimmed specs were the rage. He was damn smart, and those glasses suited him. He was unique. A character. A charmer with braces and an easy smile. He was a peacekeeper and a positive force in our band of gypsies.

One of the things I really loved about him was his vocabulary. He spoke with ease and assurance in long sentences designed to provoke laughter. We always wanted to laugh back then. Laugh and listen to music. And if we could, get high.

Jesse called weed things like sweet leaf and smoke. He called cigarettes “tubes.” When he had to leave, he’d say “Gotta book” and when he loved something, it was “cool” it was “far fucking out.” We all loved the F word as adjective, but Jesse said it first.

He wore plaid flannel shirts and jeans with holes, not patches. He had a style about him, a bandana around his forehead and crown, with the rest of that dark hair in disarray to his shoulders, no farther. Worn boots that looked like Doc Martens before there were Doc Martens.

Jesse taught me to beg with class. He had a loose-limbed stance and a totally relaxed walk. He was relaxed when he pan-handled, too. The world was a different place then. We were too young to work and too old for an allowance. Some of us didn’t have addresses, most of us walked or hitched by way of transportation. On rare occasions, Jesse’s dad would let him drive the ‘Cuda.

On those days when we wanted to be high, which was every minute of every day, and needed money for beer or weed, Jesse taught me to stand casually outside the party store at the Crossroads (also named by Beeler, Jesse’s best friend) and instead of holding out a hand and saying “please can you buy me some beer and also can you pay for it?” look a person in the eye to get a feel if they would give me their loose change.

Then, still not holding out my hand, say two words: “Spare change?” Only when I heard the jingle of silver coming out of pocket or purse, did I hold out my hand for the offered coins and say thank you. Jesse always added “peace” so I did, too. So this job of pan-handling for substance abuse purposes had two parts: part one, gather “bread” part two: find a buyer for beer or a seller of pot.

Later, when I was on the road and hungry, I didn’t panhandle much. I’d rather go hungry and only felt comfortable begging with Jesse safely tucked somewhere close but out of sight. Also, I did not like the taste of beer, but drank it only for the buzz. Jesse taught me how to do that, too. Drink as much as possible in one swallow, then pass the GIQ.

Jesse could roll a joint with one hand, hanging from the limbs  of a tree in the “Living Room” (another DB coinage) deep in the woods at the state park where we sometimes hung out. He’d spark a match and inhale with aplomb, that sweet smile on his face as he held the smoke as long as possible.

When I got the news of Jesse’s death, I hadn’t seen him in forty years. Our paths diverged as I got straight and started a family. I have heard through mutual friends, though, that he went out the way he was then. Still seeking the next high, still smiling.

Seeking Skinny

xmas 09 064Bikinis and me are over for good and I’m good with that. However, The End of Dieting by Doctor Joel Fuhrman is so outrageous and eye-opening that I just might be scared slim. Fear isn’t really the right word for how I feel reading this book and taking in its messages. More, I feel hope. For the first time in a long time it’s sinking in about what exactly I must change for optimum health.

I don’t mind getting old, it’s actually pretty fun and interesting, but looking into the not-too-distant future, I do not want to be a sick 60-something.

Fuhrman’s investigation into the myths of the standard American diet shock me. He’s got the data and he is not afraid to point the finger. One of the more outrageous claims he makes (and I paraphrase) is that if you are slim and eating the standard American diet as dictated by our government’s food guidelines, you are either a smoker, a drunk, a drug addict, or have a disease that is quietly killing you.

Whether he actually comes out and says the dairy and meat lobbies in this country have a huge impact on what those government food guidelines say, I’m not sure. But it’s implied and anyone with knowledge of how Washington works can connect the dots. Sounds cynical, but I tend to believe him about the meat and dairy folks colluding with lawmakers, even while Michelle Obama, with best intentions, champions better health.

The last time a book had a significant effect on the way I eat turned me vegetarian seven years ago and this former filet mignon and cheeseburger lover has never looked back. I dropped twenty pounds when I stopped eating meat, but soon, I began replacing my old favorites with more cheese, butter, bread, crackers, pasta and other refined carbs. I also opened the door to dessert, and I’m not talking fruit and an ounce of dark chocolate.

What I learned over time is that vegetarians are not necessarily healthy eaters. Chips are vegetarian. So is dip! And cake! I’ve known forever that I consume too much sugar and don’t exercise enough. Until this book, I was okay with that and with my big middle. Yes, photos can be painful, but I don’t feel fat unless I actually grab my love handles or glance in the mirror just after a bath. As with pictures, that’s when I can see the truth, even if I don’t feel it.

But now I’m learning not just what my problem is but WHY I still have this issue. It’s not about calories, but also about where those calories come from and how they metabolize in the body. As my old Weight Watcher leader used to say “Nobody ever got fat eating vegetables.”

So far, the nutritional science in this book makes sense to me. I don’t really think slim people who eat meat and dairy are secret addicts or have a disease. I know many slim people who eat the standard American diet and are not addicts. Yes, they’re dying, but aren’t we all?

For  me, it comes down to wanting more control over how I live out the later years of my life. And yes, how I die. I want to travel,  feel energetic, keep a sharp mind, be free of disease for as long as possible. Doesn’t everyone?