Tending to Bloom

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. Growing up, I saw myself as a fat, smart, teacher’s kid whose social skills were somewhat lacking. I don’t know how others saw me, but I always saw myself as Less Than. Most of the time, I could just muddle along without what I believed was my weirdness and unattractiveness being called out in neon letters. Except on Valentine’s Day. That was the day when the pretty and popular girls got flowers, balloons, gifts, etc., from friends and/or boyfriends. I didn’t get those. To be fair, lots of girls didn’t get those things, but it didn’t hurt me that they didn’t get gifts. It hurt that I didn’t get them. I saw it as just one more way that my being Less Than was publicly noted.

Except one year.

That year, the student council sold carnations just like every other year – red, pink, and white. Red was for love, pink was for secret admirer, and white was for friends, I think. And just like every other year, there were girls walking around with bouquets of blooms and other girls with book bags – mine was blue, heavy, and the only thing I expected to carry all day. But, then, when a student council representative was delivering blooms to one of my classes, he had one for me! A pink one! I was convinced it was a mistake, frankly, but he said it wasn’t. Someone had bought a secret admirer flower for me.

All day, I felt like the Ugly Duckling that was suddenly a swan. I wondered who could have sent it, hoping it might this guy, afraid it might be that one. I spent the whole day feeling special. Like the flower in my hands, I bloomed.

As it turned out, the flower was from my sister Chele, who was away at college. She and I share some of the same insecurities and she wanted me to feel special.

I’m not going to lie, at the time, I was 17 and little bummed that the flower was from my sister and not the guy I had a crush on. But, you know what? I can’t even remember who I had a crush on anymore, but my sister is still here.

For the most part, we are like chalk and cheese, my sister and I. We don’t look alike. We think differently. We have different priorities and tastes. We fought as children. We have fought as adults and we will likely fight again. But, she is my sister. When I needed to feel special, she did that for me.

For the last couple of years, my sister has been my roommate. The last time I lived with someone I hadn’t birthed was nearly 30 years ago. It takes some adjusting to live with another adult and, for the most part, I think that we have done a pretty good job. I believe that she is a gentler person than I am and that living with her makes me a nicer person. I have to be more aware of what I say and how I say it. I have to be more mindful of my thoughts and of the attitudes that I allow to take root in my mind.

Family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, marriages, all require work on the parts of every party involved. I have said it before and I truly believe it: relationship failures are never the fault of only one of the parties involved. We have to be honest with ourselves and own our own parts in the failures. For many years, I was careless with my relationship with my sister. I was careless in my words and in my attitudes, and I did a great deal of damage to our relationship. I am still working to repair that damage and to avoid doing further damage. We are our parents’ only surviving children and she is important to me. I try to show that in small things, but I could do better. All relationships need to be nurtured.

This Valentine’s Day, it is my goal to think less about how others see me or whether others love me. It is my goal, rather, to give love to them, to tend my relationships to help them bloom – in red, pink and in white.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Keep Your Prayers

We’ve got work to do.

I’m sure that I’ve mentioned before that my son and I lived in New Orleans when Katrina hit. We left before she made landfall; but, we lost nearly everything we owned in the storm. A renter, I could not afford renters’ insurance; so, when I say that we lost nearly everything, I mean that we lost it.

An experience like that really colors your view of things afterwards. It becomes a watershed moment of your life and you are forever changed.

I became angrier. Well, not angrier, in general, but certainly angrier about particular things – hypocrisy and sanctimony to name two.

A friend of mine asked her brother whose friend owned a climate controlled storage unit to call his friend to see if he had a unit available for her to rent. She didn’t ask her brother to ask for a donation or a discount, she just asked him to make a phone call. She would have done it herself, but she was elbow deep in vat after vat of the reconstituted sewage that she was washing from the belongings she had actually been able to salvage from her house. Let me reiterate: she asked him to make a phone call. That’s it. A phone. Call.

You know what he said? He couldn’t. He had to go to his church to participate in a prayer walk to pray for all the victims of the hurricane.

Say what?

His sister had lost nearly all of her belongings – a victim of the hurricane if ever there was one – but he couldn’t actually help her by making a phone call. He had to go pray for a bunch of strangers.

Right.

This week, I shared a GoFundMe page benefiting a former colleague whose fiance had an aneurysm nearly a month ago. He has been in neurological intensive care ever since and the prognosis is not especially good. Between them, this couple has five children. They both work hard at unskilled jobs, but are living paycheck to paycheck. Now, their income is 40% less than it was a month ago since he is on medical leave in the hospital and she is on intermittent leave to be there with him. In my post, I tagged about 80 people – some of whom worked with her, some of whom didn’t. (Honestly, I couldn’t remember who had and who hadn’t.) Several people commented that they loved her and were praying for her; but, guess how many contributed. That’s right. None. Not one of the people who said that they loved her, were praying for her, were sorry she was going through this, etc., had five bucks to send her way to help her keep the lights turned on.

I was, and am, livid.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that people have to contribute to every little thing that comes across their screens. I don’t think that people have to contribute to everyone they know. I don’t think people are required to do anything, really. Don’t want to give? Then don’t. But don’t claim to love someone while you turn your back on their need. You can do something – babysit, make dinner, clean their house or maybe you’ve got an extra five bucks laying around somewhere. If 50 people gave just $5 each, that’s $250. That’s the electric bill and maybe a tank of gas. Trust me, when you’re down to your last $10, you are thrilled with anything someone chooses to give you.

While my experience after The Storm certainly made me angrier about some things, it made me more grateful for other things. I am so grateful to the sweet friends and strangers who saved me from bitterness by reaching out to us – those people who prayed for us, but who also made sure we had food and clothing and shelter.

Sure, pray for people, if that’s your thing. Pray for the Afghans who are reeling from yet another bombing in Kabul. Pray for our country with its idolatry of ignorance and malice. And, yes, pray for people you know, but help them. Prayer is all well and good, but when you’re drowning, you need a rope or buoy. When you need to keep the lights on, you need a little more than “thoughts and prayers.”

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and :thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20

 

 

Perma-Snoozed Pledges

All of you that have displayed mature judgement throughout your lives really need to stop reading now because I’m about to confess that I have failed to do that – sometimes in spectacular fashion.  Usually ethanol is involved (mmmmmm! Raspberry cosmos.)

For those of you that are with me in the Alternating Thursdays Chowderhead Club, you may be familiar with Porcelain Throne Pledges – “I swear I’ll never drink again!” You and I both  know that those pledges are as binding as those of Thomas Stanley to Richard III – valid only until Henry Tudor showed up. Mine were valid only until my Party Goblin did. (That’s what Iliza Shlesinger calls it and, frankly, I think that’s a perfect name for it. If you don’t know what a Party Goblin is, then you’re probably one of those people I told to stop reading in the first paragraph. But here’s a clip anyway: [profane language warning] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS8NdCtOrM8).

But, Porcelain Throne Pledges aren’t the only ones I don’t honor and My Party Goblin isn’t the only thing that breaks them – sometimes it’s the snooze button.

At the end of any particularly wasted day spent binge-watching Scott and Bailey or reading some formulaic mystery novel, I find myself in bed, pen and paper in hand, making a list of all the things I’m going to do the next day to make up for being such a slug. I go to sleep with a feeling of resolve knowing that I am going to atone for my sloth! (That bit should be read like a Shakespearean actor.) Then the alarm goes off. I can choose to get up and honor my resolve, or I can hit the snooze button and kill it.

Guess which one usually happens.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Dr. King had a great many wise things to say, one of which was, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means keep moving.” Such simple advice; but, I’m struggling with it mightily these days. It’s not like I’m setting myself tasks like resolving world conflict or solving the mystery of disappearing socks. My lists include basic things like “clean the bathroom” or “take off the recycling.” These are not difficult tasks, but I can (and do) find a million reasons not to do them. My intentions and resolve are great; but, I kill them with the snooze button time after time.

Is it just me?

Listen, my Party Goblin is old – like Bette Davis old, like dusty mummy Valley of the Queens old – and she hasn’t been summoned in a very long time. She’s really not much a threat to me anymore, but, the snooze button – now, that is still a big problem. If you’ve found a way to consistently defeat it, please share your secrets with me. I could use a little help.

The Struggle is Real

I haven’t posted since mid-October which might lead you to think that I failed in my OktoberFast mission to avoid ice cream and dirty dishes. I am super proud to announce that I did, in fact, successfully complete my OktoberFast and, although I have since eaten ice cream, my sister and I have continued to keep our dishes washed and put away. You know, like grown-ups and stuff.

My office is in the home of the couple of work for. Their home is always very neat and clean which has led me to be more diligent in keeping my own home neat and clean. Well, maybe “keeping” isn’t the right word. A better word would be “making.” As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been much of a housekeeper. I’ve been better at it some times than others; but, I’ve never kept my house Company Ready. But I’m getting closer and that feels really good.

I have believed for a long time that the state of my house often reflects the state of my spirit. When I am depressed, my house is VERY messy. When I am up-beat, my house is more presentable. The correlation really isn’t accurate right now because, although my bed is made daily and my house is vacuumed and dusted weekly, my spirit is struggling. I spend a lot of time alone. I’m fat again. I’m out of shape. My ankle/foot hurts almost all the time. Finances are always a struggle. It has gotten me down.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been down like this, although I wish the last time had been the last time! I know that I have a history of beating times like this 100% of the time; but, I’m just so sick of fighting, you know? The struggle is real and, frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it and that doesn’t help anything, either. Yesterday was particularly bad.

Then I talked to a friend.

I’ve shared with you all that I have been treated for depression since I was in my early 20s. For more than half of my life, I’ve had a monster living in my mind – a monster that tries to destroy me on a daily basis. I tell with absolute conviction that without a handful friends over the years (you know who you are), that monster would have won. While the monster is not threatening my life at the moment, it’s certainly being a pain. I don’t like to call on my friends with every episode for fear that they’ll get tired of hearing about them. (I know I get tired of experiencing them, for sure!) So, I was reluctant to tell my friend what was going on in my head yesterday. However, the man reads me better than nearly anyone I’ve ever met. When I finally told him what was going on, he said this:

“…you’re on my team and I’m on your team.”

It humbles me and amazes me every time someone chooses to like me. I’m hard to get along with. I’m hyper-critical. I procrastinate. I’m often full of shit. I try to be better. I am rarely successful. But, I try. I struggle. My struggle is real.

So is my team. I thank each of you.

(Team t-shirts coming soon!)

 

There’s Always a Reason to Cheat

On your diet, that is.

Last week, I told you that I had given up ice cream for my OktoberFast. I don’t really know that you can appreciate just how big a sacrifice that is for me. I used to say that Little Debbie was my homegirl; but, y’all, Debs ain’t got nothing on Ben and Jerry. If you don’t understand that, then I can safely conclude that you either: 1. don’t like ice cream (and what kind of mutant are you?) , or 2. have never tried either Phish Food or Karamel Sutra. (Side note: this Spring, I started cheating on my boys from Vermont, though, by taking the High Road. Their Aztec Chocolate is transcendent. Seriously.)

But….that’s not really my point, plus I’m drooling on my keyboard.

My point is that I love ice cream and that I notice its absence acutely. In spite of this – or rather, because of this – I gave it up for OktoberFast…..totally not thinking about my friend’s birthday being in October.

Traditionally, what do we have for birthday celebrations? Cake and ice cream! Yes! So, when discussing his birthday dinner, we agreed that I could take a “time out” just for that one night. After all, it was just one night. And it was his birthday, for pity’s sake!

Right. It was still cheating.

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of October that I would keep the sinks clear of dishes and that I would not eat ice cream. Neither commitment really matters to anyone else but me; so, who really cares if I lapse? No, not lapse. Cheat.

I care.

We were celebrating. That’s a good reason to have something special, right? Sure. It’s as good an excuse as any to cheat. So is having a bad day, having a good day, or Thursday. There’s always an excuse to cheat if you look for one.

I’ve regained 80 of the pounds I lost six years ago with just that kind of thinking. “I can have it just this once.” But it wasn’t just once, was it? That one cheat day became a cheat weekend, then a cheat month, then fat pants with elastic waistbands.

It’s just like several of the times I quit smoking. I would go for months and even a couple of years without a cigarette. Then I would be with a group of smokers and I would think that I could have just one. BAM! I’d soon be back up to a pack a day on regular days and over two packs a day on the weekends. The truth I had to face was that I couldn’t have just one. I was (and still am, I suppose) a nicotine addict. One hit of that Camel Light and I was hooked again. Intellectually, I know that my body responds to all addictive substances in basically the same way – the pleasure centers of my brain go nuts. And my brain doesn’t really care if the cause is a cupcake or a crack pipe. It just knows that it’s getting something it likes and it wants more of it.

Ultimately, my addiction isn’t to ice cream. It’s to sugar and to casein, the protein in milk that, when broken down during digestion, releases opiates called casomorphins. To be fair, there is some debate on how much of an effect casomorphins have on the human body; however, sugar is still there so my issue remains. In the end, I have to break my addiction to sugar by drastically reducing my intake of refined and added sugars. Ice cream is just the first step.

And, just so you know, I bought the container pictured above for my friend to enjoy ice cream with his cake while I limited myself to cake. Hey, it was chocolate ganache and I never claimed to be a saint. I obeyed the letter of the law. Obeying the spirit of the law will come later when I’m a little stronger.

As for OktoberFast? I’m still faithful and going strong.

 

Disorderly Conduct for OctoberFast

Y’all, I’ve finally admitted to myself this week that I have skid row self-discipline. Every night before I go to sleep, I make to-do lists and swear resolutions like a drunk with her head over the toilet. I promise to do the laundry and actually get it all put away on the same day (!) just like that drunk promises to never touch another drop of alcohol. And just like that drunk pops a cork the next day, I’m sitting on the couch on the next day with my feet up, eating popcorn, and watching Game of Thrones while the laundry sits unfolded on the kitchen table.

And, frankly, I’m getting on my own nerves with it.

My house is NEVER ready for company to just drop by. I stop at fast food places for dinner, meanwhile salad ingredients liquify in my refrigerator. I drink WAY too much Diet Coke because I just don’t like to drink water. I still can’t walk for exercise; but, I don’t haul myself to the pool, which I could do. I have such a huge list of things I need and/or want to tackle, I don’t get any of it done.

My boss was talking the other day about something she does – OctoberFast. For the month of October, she gives up one unhealthy thing – like Lent, but in the Fall and without Mardi Gras parades. So, I’m tackling my list by giving up two things: 1. ice cream, and 2. leaving dishes in the sink.

no-ice-cream-for-youNow, for a reasonable person, giving up ice cream might mean no dessert for two nights a month. Not for me! The ridiculous truth is that I eat ice cream at least four times a week. (I told you it was ridiculous.) And I just haven’t made myself give it up; so, I’m doing it for October – 31 days with no ice cream. I’m not giving it up forever, but I can handle 31 days. I can handle a finite period of time without my favorite treat and with a new chore.

My dishwasher died several years ago and I’ve never replaced it. I lived alone for much of that time and it just wasn’t that important to me. Now, however, my sister lives with me and the dishes pile up faster since neither of us are big fans of washing them. I get annoyed with her when she doesn’t wash them when I think it’s her turn; but, the truth is, I don’t do them like I should when it’s my turn, either. I’m currently saving up for a dishwasher; however, it’s unlikely that I’ll have the money for it before the end of the month So, for the 31 days that are October, I will wash the dishes every day and put them away before I go to bed. That’s such a basic adult thing to do, it really looks like that would be a non-issue, doesn’t it? Well, whatever. It is and I’m dealing with it this month.

This October is a time to tackle two places where I display no self-discipline. I’m hopeful that I’ll notice a change in my motivations by the time the month is over. I’d say that I’m looking forward to it, but that’s not really the truth. (Didn’t you hear me? I’m giving up ICE CREAM!) But, I know the process is good for me; so, I’m doing it. I just OctoberFast really is…..er…fast.

Clearing Space

Twice this year I have helped move other people. As I packed their belongings, sometimes I wondered why they kept some of the things they did. Sometimes, I wondered, but only sometimes since that kind of question leads to uncomfortable introspection in my experience; so, mostly, I just kept my mouth shut and packed.

At the best of times, I am not a great housekeeper. Knick-knacks give dust a place to settle. Knick-knacks also create an obstacle course for dusting, making an unpleasant task even more unpleasant. So, I rarely do it. The cooling temperatures motivated me to do a some Fall cleaning this weekend which has lead to a little introspection on why I keep so many things.

I have books that I bought 10 years ago intending to read.  I still haven’t read them. My guess at this point is that I’m not going to. I have bowls that belonged to my grandmother. She used them daily. They have been in the back of my cabinet for 12 years. I have two 32″ CRT television sets. One hasn’t been turned on since December. The only has been dark for 5 years. I have enough mismatched wine glasses to have 30 people over for cocktails and canapes. I don’t even know 30 people I’d want to have over for cocktails and canapes! I have shelving units and storage furniture that does nothing but store things I don’t use –  things are weighing me down. They are cluttering my space, making it harder for me to keep an orderly home that feels good to be in. So, I started boxing things up, listing them for sale and giving them away.

It gave me a stomach ache.

Can you believe that?! I actually felt physically ill when I delivered a reproduction ice box to a woman who wanted it. I felt panicked putting books into a box to go to the library. How silly is that?

Every item I identified as useless, the hoarder in my soul identified as something with priceless memories attached. “You can’t get rid of that book on felting with cat hair! Think of all the projects you are going to make with that!” I felt like a child with a toy I’ve long ignored until someone else wanted to play with it. Suddenly, it was the Most Important Toy Ever.

Organization experts say to keep only those things that make you happy. Get rid of things that you are keeping out of guilt or habit. Keep useful things that contribute to your positive sense of well-being. As I sorted through things to keep, my Inner Hoarder said that everything makes me happy – in fact, I might need a few more things! My Inner Hoarder talks too much, contributes nothing to the bills, and won’t dust for love or money.

So, I have these useless things all around me, clogging my space, draining my energy, hiding dust that makes my nose stuffy and, still, I am reluctant to give them up. I know that it is wasteful for me to keep them when someone else can actually use them; but, still, I hesitate. I know that I will feel better physically if I get rid of the dust that hides in all these extra books and knick-knacks, and yet…….

They are familiar. They are tradition. And I don’t like change even when it’s good for me.

From the looks of all the storage facilities lining the highways,  I’m not the only one.