Tuesday, December 31, 2013

6-Word Resolutions to Write on the Clean Slate

Here it is, folks, the clean page, the empty slate, the fresh start. A brand spankin' sparkly new New Year with all its hope and promise. Every year I make resolutions because they do serve me. I print them out , I repeat them in my journal and I write them in a fine hand to go on the refrigerator. I strive to keep them. Often, they form the basis for my Lenten Sacrifices and my Advent promises. 

I checked to see how I did last year. I am pleased with the results.

2013 6-Word Resolutions
Quiet: Take time every day to listen 
Exercise: 2 hours, 6 days, every week 
Nourish: Food that feeds me body and soul
Play:  Time each day with each one
Love:  Notice resistance, be myself, embrace vulnerability
Serve: Offer what I have freely, frequently


 I was very successful with Quiet, Nourish, Love, and Serve. Exercise fell apart in late March when I had my "spa vacation" at Seton. I had a tough time starting up again vigorously after the excitement in July but am full steam ahead now. At present, I'm doing an hour a day, 6 days. I will build up slowly from there.

Play also suffered some. I have shown some improvement with school out for the holidays but I do want to be mindful of each member of the family needing my undivided attention, even briefly, every day. 

Over all, it was a successful year. I feel sure I'd have not made this much progress without my resolutions to remind and guide me. I thought about just re-running them for this year, but instead took a fresh look.

I love the 6-word resolutions because they force me to think about what matters most to me. I hope you will consider some categories for yourself and give it a try.

Without further ado, here are my resolutions for 2014:

Health and Body - Fight hard every day, eat sustain-ably
 Education and Spiritual Growth - Bellarmine, de Montfort, reading, meditation and prayer
Vocation/Work - Learn Spanish, dream big, be daring
Relationships- Love with passion, live with forgiveness
Money and  Possessions -Acquire less, give lots, save more
Service - Choose and serve with care;  stay connected

So how about you? Any resolutions this year? My hope is that your 2014 will be filled with love and light and your resolutions be kept! Blessings.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts on Suffering (aka The Refining Fire)

There are two kinds of suffering, the physical kind that attends us through pain or illness and the emotional/spiritual kind. I do not think the source of the suffering matters that much; I think what we make of it is what transforms us.

I have a friend, Bea, who is in the midst of a cycle of suffering that many would find intolerable. What completely amazes and inspires me is her incredible faith in the midst of it all. She has what could be characterized as a "difficult" marriage. They have had a lot of challenges over the years but have chosen to work through them to keep their vows to each other. She is so sweet in her approach to her marriage, often asking herself, "Will this make my husband happy?," and then rejecting immediately any course of action to which that answer is either "I'm not sure" or "no." This sacrifice, this approach to partnership, is almost unheard of today. We are such a self-centered society; few of us would lay down our ego in this way.

Once I was speaking to her about the stressors in her family and we had a life-changing conversation. She said that she had scoffed at someone who stated that her family "was under spiritual attack." Within weeks, Bea found herself in the midst of such an attack and the choices she made in that brief period would rewrite the course of her marriage for many years to come. She said this, not as a way to bring sympathy to her plight, but in the tenderest and humblest way; she took on the suffering that resulted form that period as a kind of atonement.

I can imagine that people reading this are thinking now, that I have lost my marbles.! Are you thinking that I am advocating oppressive or abusive marriages in which an individual has no right to happiness or healthy or well being? Rest assured, I am not suggesting that anyone stay in an abusive situation. I am, however, pondering for myself the value of re-purposing the marriage relationship. What is possible if I am not so often putting my own happiness -- or what I think will make me happy -- at the forefront?

I am inspired by Bea because she has chosen to put her husband's happiness a the center of her life and choices and in so doing, has embraced suffering. That is an incredibly hard thing to do! She has given up relationships, turned away careers, sacrificed time with friends, chosen humility over "being right," and bitten her tongue -- all because doing so protected the sanctity of her marriage. She has truly -- and rarely, in my opinion -- embraced a different kind of marriage relationship, one that I have written about before. That is an inspiring lifestyle choice. Moreover, it is a transformative choice because it has ripened her into a person who truly knows what it is to love and to put oneself under discipline.

I do not know if I possess the steel will required to transform my life in like manner. What if I weren't so selfish? What if, instead of working so hard to avoid suffering, I embraced it? What if I were really able -- and willing -- more of the time to put another's needs before my own? It is an enticing experiment.

It's food for thought. I am so very grateful for the gift of Bea in my life; she is truly teaching me to be.






Tuesday, November 5, 2013

21 Days of Gratitude

Several years ago I developed a little program called 21 days of Gratitude. The idea is to spend the 3 weeks leading up Thanksgiving celebrating the people who have had profound influences on your life. (It's beneficial to anyone - not only Americans about to celebrate a holiday).

I am embarking on this year's journey tomorrow and am inviting you to come along. Yes, you! You with your busy schedule and your hectic plans for Thanksgiving. You with your nine kids and never a moment to call your own. You with the demanding job and crazy schedule.

This journey is more fun shared with others. It takes a few minutes a day and it will change your life. If you are ready to remember who you really are, please join me. It's free, it's fun and it will open your heart.

Contact me through any means - if you want to join the fun:
www.facebook.com/dreenamelea
dreena@gmail.com
+1.512.983.1390

We start tomorrow, November 6, but if you are seeing this late, it's not too late!

(Related post: The Assist)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seven Quick Takes - Happy Hours, Memes and Cattle Drives

Fall is here. I'm so happy. It has been rainy and gloomy and cold and I could not be more joyous. Well yesterday it was sunny and cool which is even greater. It's fall -- so life is busy with 5 kids in 4 different educational settings so I've fallen behind on blogging. Hence today's foray into Seven Quick Takes (which as it turns out took 13 hours to get published and are now practically "out takes.")

One:

I tried to re-institute Happy Hour around here. My dear friend Laura reminded me that "running shoes and wine" are Mama's sanity savers. It seems, however,  that through all the dieting and heart stuff of the last year, I've lost my tolerance for a half-glass of wine. It just makes me want a nap. So Happy Hour lasted one day and has been replaced by Coffee Break. (Funny, writing this I realize I'm not allowed to drink alcohol with my heart meds. Oops. That explains the need for nap!)

Two:

In an "oh, duh" moment, I read an article on Web MD reporting a study that said doctors need to address lifestyle issues like obesity and sedentary lifestyles with their patients instead of just addressing the symptoms like high blood pressure and diabetes. Seriously, we needed a study to tell us this?  It shores up another study I read recently that said your physician is unlikely to mention weight to you if you are overweight but not very obese. It was kind of a "nice" thing. That jives with my experience for sure. It looks like it's still on us to manage our health and not wait for the doctors to tell us we need to exercise and lose weight. Oh it's so much easier when we have someone to blame. "My doctor didn't SAY I was overweight."

Three:

It had to be said, "What's the deal with Memes?" I know I am old, very very old. Okay, I'm 54. I see a lot of Memes. Very few amuse me. I mostly enjoy the ones where Ryan Gosling "talks" to the ladies:

I don't know why I love this so much. It's just ridiculous. But seriously, is it just me or do a lot of Memes miss the mark? Oh, and do I have to capitalize "M"emes? In case you are a funny person though, here's a "build your own Meme" site.

Four:

I would like to learn how to count money in Spanish. I am starting to get along with my customers quite well in Spanish, but I have no idea how to count money to them. I am not talking about the actual words for the numbers -- though I could brush up on them -- I am wondering what's the proper way to do it?  In English, if we're counting hundreds (of dollars) for instance, we'll say, "$500 coming back to you: One, two, three, four, five hundred," or "four, five, . . (ETC). . nine hundred, one thousand, eleven-hundred, twelve, thirteen, fourteen hundred." So you see my dilemma. In Spanish (at least the Texas version) is it permissible to leave off the hundreds or do you have to say them every time? My coworker keeps promising to show me but on the days we both work, we're too all-fired busy for remedial Spanish. If you know these things, please help me!

Five

Passive aggressiveness can be so subtle. I actually prefer the guy in the church parking lot blaring his horn at me to the lady who thinks I took her parking spot so parks so close to my car I can't open the door. (Blanket useful fact here: I have a lot of distractions in the car; I probably never even saw you.) 

So here is my "coach tip" of the day: How do you know if you're passive aggressive? If you don't like your neighbor's kids playing basketball at midnight and you ask the HOA to ban basketball hoops in driveways, you might be passive aggressive. A more useful approach is to ask the neighbor kids not to play after 10:00 PM because it is disturbing your sleep. I'm sure they aren't keeping you awake on purpose. Being direct is a lot more likely to get you what you want, even though it is more uncomfortable at first. Try asking a friend to support you by letting you practice with them first. If you really, really just can't say the words, write a note that begins with "I'm a little shy but I want to tell you . . ." and deliver it with a plate of cookies and a smile. In the long run, people will love you for it.

Six

I'm really worried about boys playing football. Those head injuries can have such long-term consequences. I think every parent of boys should be required to watch this Frontline specials, "League of Denial." Even if not all the conclusions they draw are 100% correct, there is enough there to make me say, "Sorry sons. No football for you."  We just can't risk it.

Seven

Tomorrow is Chisholm Trail Days in Georgetown. I'm going to "encourage" Daddy to take the kiddos - I think it would be fun if the weather cooperates. I'm telling you this so you'll go check it out too! It's the time of year to get outdoors, people. They have a cattle drive at noon!

Have a great weekend!  






Sunday, September 15, 2013

Missing Sharon and a Lesson on Grief

Lately, I have been missing my dear "sister" Sharon. She's been gone for 7 -1/2 years now, but in the last weeks, the longing for her has returned with an acuteness I'd not felt in some time. The "longing" is an actual feeling in my chest, a heaviness; it's tears just behind my eyes; it's a tendency to pout.

It seems everything reminds me of her. Someone gave me a book called The Good, Good Pig. I cannot even look at the cover without smiling and thinking of her. She'd have loved the cover and the book and it reminds me that we sure shared some laughs and some good reading!

I play my iPod on "shuffle" and all the "Sharon" songs seem to come on. Yesterday, I made a genius list of one of my silly songs -- "Don't Fence Me In" and there were a couple of those songs in the mix. The one that had the tears flowing was "Life A'int Always Beautiful" by Gary Allen. It is a truly lovely song and it's one that came across Pandora in the weeks I sat in the hospital with Sharon. It has ties to that time. Still, I wondered at this sudden renewal of a sense of loss. Something about it just didn't ring true.

The song that really busted me up, though, was "My Sweet Lorraine." Oh, my goodness, this song (and it's story) just has me crying every time. And yet . . . there is also something in the song that has caught my attention. It was this line: "I wish we could do the good times all over again." Isn't that how it is with grief? We blissfully remember mostly the sweet times and we somehow believe or think that if we had a second chance, it would be all those good times.

Finally, I had a speck of insight into my grief! I do miss those good times with Sharon; the twice daily phone calls, the way we told each other the whole truth, her honesty, her sweet smile. And though I'd have given anything to extend her life even a day, I learned so much from her death. This is true not only for  me, but many others as well. We have all evolved, so to speak, in a way that might have been much different were she still living.

I can see that it may not be mainly Sharon that I miss, but "the way we were." I sent my last "Little" off to school this year; there is grief there. My bestie is on a year long sabbatical traveling the country with her family. I'm so happy for her yet I do miss her so. My oldest "big," Alli, is in her senior year --our relationship is a close one but bound to change in the coming months as she traverses her first foray with true independence; it is a beautiful and heart-breaking time. I have gone back to "outside the home" work for the first time since Alli was born. There are a few unresolved guilty thoughts lurking there.

Life is changing, as it always does. Wishing Sharon back from the dead will not shield me from this truth. My part is (as always) to stop resisting and ebrace what is, to live my "yes" to the gift of this moment. 

In fact, when Sharon was dying, I was able to be present in the moment. I was able to say , "This is the truth of her life. I will be with her in her truth." That is how I want to be in the truth of my life this moment. I want to truly enjoy my friend's travels, to savor Alli's senior year without holding on too tight, to enjoy Bennie's first steps away from me, and so forth.

I do miss my sweet sister, and I am equally grateful for all I have learned, both from her living and her dying. Sweet Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

You May Not be as Good at Multitasking as You Think!

I used to think I was a good multi-tasker and, honestly, it still says so on my resume. I know it's a sham though. Recently I heard a couple of UT professors (Two Guys on Your Head) speaking about multi-tasking and was reminded that I can't actually do it. To put it bluntly, they said something to the effect of: Humans don't multitask. We only have processor. We can do exactly one thing at a time.

Younger folks are apparently better at looking like they're multi-tasking because they can switch between tasks with less effort and more easily remember where they were on the last task. My teens, for example, texting a friend while working on homework, can remember both where they are on the homework and where they are in multiple conversations. Is it the most efficient way to study? No, but it can be done. Nonetheless, it is still not multi-tasking in it's true meaning; it's actually doing one thing at a time in rapid succession. (There is an exception: behavior that has become automatic - toileting, etc.)  At my age (over 50), I'd have to be re-reading the texts to remember where I was and marking the homework in some way so as not to lose my place. 

This was all too obvious yesterday when I was working in the drive through at the bank by myself for a period. We had 5 lanes open so I had to keep speaking to customers as I worked on other's transactions, remember what each person needed and keep all the tubes in arrival order. I did this better than I thought I could but it was very challenging. I kept hearing myself say, "Where was I?"

So did I just write all this to ruin your day? Not at all. I am actually proposing (for myself and you) an alternative. Maybe it is not necessary to keep so many balls in the air at once.  Our rapidly growing technology may have lured us into thinking we have to stay in touch with all our "friends," take phone calls any hour of the day and night, respond to every text and stay caught up on email and Facebook, but it's not actually true. There is something to be said for driving my car without talking on the phone. There is something to be gained from sleeping, uninterrupted by text. There is preciousness in giving my family my undivided attention.

You get the idea. Some attempts at multi-tasking are crucial. No matter what you are doing, you can't take your eye off that toddler, right? However, a lot of it is not only unproductive and unnecessary, it's stealing quality from my life. When I get home from work today, I'm going to turn off my phone, leave my computer stowed, turn on some music and just enjoy Saturday with my peeps. How about you?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Choosing to Love

19 years ago when I met Paul, we chose to love each other. It was definitely not love at first sight. We were both in our mid-thirties, committed to settling down, hopeful about building a family; we each had a vision for a relationship and therefore, we chose to love each other.

Love is always a choice. Sometimes it comes easier than others, but it's always a choice. The last three years have been stressful ones around here. They have been "good" years, for sure, but some of the hard choices we've made have meant that things are more stressful than at other times. I come from two long lines of hard-working people, so when I am under stress, my natural instinct is to put my head down and work. If I do that for too long, I start to close my heart. The work becomes my focus and I forget to let in and out the love I have for the very people one whose behalf I'm working.

That realization is what started me on my quest to open my heart back in February. Since then, I have been allowing myself to remember how much I love the people around me. For the most part, my expressions of love have been met with appreciation. The "side effect" to being closed-hearted is that it tends to make the people around me closed-hearted too. So when I remember love is a choice and open my heart again, they don't always do so instantly. Sometimes, they have to learn to trust again. That part is not my purview. All I can do is offer, sincerely, what I have to offer. Part of the process of opening the heart is to notice and remove my demands that others accept or reciprocate that love.

There have been many sweet moments of love, lately, and one awkward one. A sweet moment came in reaching out to a younger relative and she reached back to say, "That is just what I needed to hear today." Another sweet moment was my open-heartedness toward a total stranger at the bank led him to say, "I am coming in here everyday. You make me feel so good about myself."

The awkward moment came in the ER during an unplanned cardio-version on Tuesday. Though all the ER personnel had said he wouldn't, my kind, amazing cardiologist showed up (off-call) to check on me in person. He got there at the exact moment they began administering my phenterol and I was a little --well -- drunk. I looked at him and said in a gushy voice, "Dr. Vaisman, you're my superhero." It was a a little awkward, but he took the complement with grace.

I have just ended yet another unplanned heart-related hospital stint -- only 4 days this time, in two different hospitals, with two different cardio procedures -- and I have added a lot more "loves" to my life-list. So many kind people cared for me in the past four days and so many people near and far have reached out to me with love and care. I am grateful that  my heart is open to receive it!

Hey, Dr. Vaisman and Dr. Sanchez, maybe that's why my heart keeps beating so fast!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sound Track of my Life

I'm a "morning person." I used to be quite sadly alone in the morning and, in fact, if I go in to wake up Dear Hubby or "the Bigs," they've been known to shout, "I'm up, I'm up -- don't sing."  Then along came the Littles and like most youngsters, they're morning people too.  We quite often use the radio on the kitchen stereo in the mornings to listen to music, but just as often we're listening to a playlist on my iPod.

Music has been such an important part of my life and, dare I say it?, has become even more since the advent of the iPod and MP3 player. Being able to have the music of my choosing that fits my mood any time I want it -- I love that!  My iPod has songs that remind me of both happy and sad times in my life, songs from high school all the way to present; I have playlists for going to sleep (when that's challenging), lists to inspire exercise or reflection and playlists from special events and trainings. These songs immediately bring to mind loved ones far and near. They are a kind of soundtrack of my life. Sometimes hearing one of these songs reminds me to write a note or send an email to reach out and say, "I see you. Thank you for being in my life."

Recently I noticed I had quite a few cheery morning songs amassed and decided to put together a morning songs playlist. Our new tradition is to start each day listening to our "Good Morning" soundtrack. It's an eclectic mix of songs that make us smile. Since we started the morning playlist, I've noticed that we are all cheerier and things go more smoothly. It may not be a pretty sight, but anytime you can get Mama dancing in the kitchen, it's going to be a better day. Also, I can't help but wonder when the kids are grown up, will hearing one of these songs remind them of home? Will they remember somewhere there is a mama who still loves them, will they crave  eggs or oatmeal, will they call their siblings?

 Here's the list; let me know if you have any suggestions for additions. Maybe it will inspire you make your own good morning list -- and then share it with us, of course!

Good Morning (LP Version) Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor & Gene Kelly
Good Morning (feat. TobyMac) Mandisa & tobyMac
First Day of My Life Bright Eyes
Good Morning Beautiful Steve Holy
Good Morning The Kiboomers
Good Morning Good Morning The Beatles
Holy As a Day Is Spent Carrie Newcomer
Good Morning Lionel Richie
Good Morning Aaron Zigman & Alexandre Desplat A
New Day Corey Smith
Good Day Sunshine The Beatles
You Are the Sunshine of My Life Stevie Wonder
You Are My Sunshine Gene Autry
New Day River Valley Church
Day By Day Anna Maria Perez de Taglé & Godspell Ensemble

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dad 5.0

When I met Dear Hubby (aka Paul Tischler) in 1994, we were both idealists in our mid-thirties. At the time, I lived in Houston inside the loop in  a bright and tidy apartment with a bright and amazing roommate (Peggy Jarrett).  I worked, I played, I volunteered, I read, I exercised, I drank socially. I lived a fulfilling, ordered life. Paul, however, swept me off my feet and before I could blink, I was married, living in Austin, and designing our future.

Our plan was basically:  Get married, get pregnant, have 2 or 3 kids (one at a time, of course), raise the kids perfectly, retire early and rich, die happy.  Turns out that this design didn't even make it to Beta.

Here is what actually happened:  Make a few attempts at repairing my infertility, seriously impact my health, I have a hysterectomy, we amend our vision to include adoption, adopt two girls a year and a half apart, travel a lot, wait several years, become foster parents, adopt three at once, and forget that early retirement!

So the version  of "Dad" our family "released" has changed quite a bit since we met.  And it looks a lot different than what either of us thought being a dad meant when we grew up. Yet this is our story and we are writing it this way.

Paul is "that" Dad who takes his kids to sports. We started in gymnastics when the girls were 4 and 2.  A few years later, Dad and the girls had a 2 or 3 year stint in Tae Kwon Do. Several years ago now, first Pepper then Sunshine started fast-pitch softball and that's the one that stuck. We are down to only Sunshine playing right now but Dad is in charge of practices and early arrivals for games. In the fall, all 3 Littles will also play ball.  Paul is "that Dad" who goes to every practice and game, shags balls in the outfield during  practice, runs the scoreboard and shops for cleats.

He is also "that Dad" whose job, as he says, is to "drive, carry and pay."  He has to do more "carry" than most since that stint of trying to cure my infertility left me with a serious lack of cartilage  in the knees and not so great hips and shoulders. All that carrying he does helps me preserve my joints for the long haul and I so appreciate it! He (fortunately) loves to drive because all of these sports and their practices require a lot of driving. We also made an early decision that "the journey is the destination" so most of our trips are road trips and we have traveled about 200,000 miles in the last 18 years, most of them with Paul at the wheel.

He taught the oldest three to ride their bikes, the oldest two to roller-skate and everyone to use a fork and knife. He's the dad you see in the neighborhood on Saturdays, riding bikes or skateboards with the kids. He's also the dad that has taken a half-day off work every Valentines Day for the last 12 years to go "Valentines Bowling" with our kids. As a result, my kids think Valentines Day is a major family holiday.

Now that I am working outside the house for the first time since having kids, he is also "that Dad" that picks the kids up from daycare, takes kids to appointments, wrangles them every Saturday morning while I work, and empties the dishwasher or feeds the kids when I get home late. He's the Dad who goes to Kindergarten awards (a sacrifice greater than you realize).  He is the dad who doesn't comment on the expense when every Friday's dinner seems to be takeout and who also understands that Taco Bell is sometimes an actual necessity.

It takes an extraordinary person to decide to father 5 children. Is he perfect? Of course not. He yells, he threatens, he's overly serious at times -- but he's their Dad and they are getting a good start in life. He loves them and that's what truly matters. He's DAD 5.0.  I am grateful to share my life with him.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Internet "Doctor": A Cautionary Tale

I started to write a post about my recent experience with Atrial Fibrillation (Afib for short) and well it was just too boring. So instead, here is what I really want you to know:

Do NOT go the internet "doctor" if you think something may be "wrong" with you. Go to the EMERGENCY ROOM or at least the REAL doctor.

Otherwise, this may happen to you:
  • 7 different doctors and 20 or more nurses will be astounded at your stupidity
  • You may get 9 days of "vacation" you did not count on
  • Your family may alternate between high levels of concern and high levels of abject hatred for you while you are on your "vacation" (but they'll hide both well)
  • If you are lucky, you will get "stuck "only a few times.  If you are unlucky, you will get stuck 19 times, not counting the last- resort "pick" line when you run out of viable places to poke.
  • You might get to take more different meds (at once and every day) than in your entire life to date.  
  • You may get to swallow a tube so they can take a look at your innards. But if you are really lucky, you won't remember much.
  • You will get a whole new medical vocabulary
  • You might learn more about the ICU than any conscious person should know.
It's not all bad news:
  • I met a few dozen highly caring, warm and extremely professional nurses, doctors, aids, and housekeepers; I have never received finer care.  
  • I didn't have a stroke. I can't say that enough. And I will likely be fine. This could have been far, far worse.
  • I found a "bonus" physician for my daughter; a wonderful internist since mine isn't taking new patients.
  • I discovered Seton Williamson County has delicious food; really. 
  • I actually did get to read a lot of books and, this is important,
  • My nails have never looked better! There is nothing like a vacation from housework and untying shoelace knots to improve your manicure.
  • My family and I were showered with love and support, especially from our church family. Karen, Anna, Gina, Candace, Leonore, Roberta and Denise (and back to Karen again) - thank you for loving my family in this way; you know how much the ministry of hospitality means to me.
  • I was treated to some wonderful visits; no matter how dull I seemed, those visits meant the world to me. Bless you.
  • And last but not least, I received last rites for the first time (ha, ha). Father Dean dropped everything to get there before my "procedure" while on his way to a very important Holy Week Chrism Mass. I was not nervous a whit and even though they didn't get to shock my heart, all went well.
So it could be worse. But in truth, a lot or all of this trauma may have been avoided by not self-diagnosing my heart's regular Watusi. Don't do as I did. See a doctor.  The end.
(Photo credit: Mary Chanelle)



Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Few Good Books

I've been reading an eclectic but fascinating series of books lately so thought I'd share the list . . .  with one caveat; you have to send me some of your favorite books too!  Three of these were sent to me by two of my favorite readers, Father Sam and my sister, Darinda Huntley. They never steer me wrong.


Novels
These first three were all new authors for me and I will be reading more by each of them!

 Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
This is my favorite kind of novel with many layers of stories within a story.  A fairly contemporary story, the main character is an eclectic single woman who unexpectedly "inherits" two very damaged young children. I could not put this book down and my house is proof!

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
This is a "man's" book. Historical fiction set just at the end of World War I, Lehane weaves a fascinating story of the intertwining of three characters, Babe Ruth, a good, poor black man trying to eek out a living, and an open-minded Irish cop of means. I loved this book but be warned, there is a fair amount of violence and no romance. Suffice it to say that I had a couple of nightmares in which the events of the story wound themselves into my life. It's a good read that can occupy your imagination even in your sleep.  Lehane authored a follow-up to this book, Live by Night, that I will be reading next. (By the way, this is NOT a book for teens.)

The Incredible Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
I suspect this novel is technically classified as Sci-Fi, but that part does not come into the story early. It is a completely fascinating tale of a couple of young adults who had a perfectly normal (aka challenging) upbringing. The story is built around a lemon birthday cake and the memories it conjures for the narrator. This book is a true page-turner with a very surprising ending.

Non-Fiction

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz.  I fell in love with this Pultizer Prize winning journalist when I was assigned Confederates in the Attic for a class on The South. (Thank you Sydney Duncan!) I love history and this is my favorite kind of history. Horwitz begins at Plymouth Rock and digs into the rich history of exploration of our country before the Pilgrims set foot on the famous rock. What results is an amazing -- and sometimes bloody-- story of Conquistadors, ne'er do wells, slaves, native peoples, priests, Vikings, tricksters and quite a few bumbling fools. I had the happy accident of spraining my ankle while reading this book so I had an excuse to neglect my family and read it!

Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
Just as the title proclaims, St. Francis de Sales instructs the reader on how to live a devout life. Written in the form of a letter to a homemaker, it is intended for the layperson. It is a very meaty book so I could only digest a few pages at a time, but it totally reformed confession for me! And I would venture to say that although there are definitely parts of the book that would be most meaningful to Catholics, a protestant could definitley glean a lot of useful things from his writing. And at 99 cents for the kindle version, you sure aren't taking much of a gamble.

Why do Catholics Do That? by Kevin Orlin Johnson. This is an older book that I originally read while in RCIA. I decided to re-read it as part of the Year of the Faith. 14 years into my Catholic faith life, I definitely benefited from the review. Johnson does not attempt to reconstruct the Catechism (which he encourages every Catholic to read and reference) but rather gives simple explanations of some baffling practices of the faith from the artwork and icons in our church buildings to transubstantiation. Some of the things that people told me were "a mystery of the faith" are actually explained in this book. Most people would probably learn a thing or two from this book -- and since it's interestingly assembled and easy to read, you'd probably enjoy it too!

There are so many more but this ought to put something truly worthwhile in your hands for a day or two!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Eatin' Irish

Growing up, my family didn't really celebrate St. Patrick's Day -- except the pinching part. When I moved to Texas in 1978, a sweet friend invited me for St. Paddy's Day . . . and served Corned Beef and boiled cabbage.  The smell alone cured me for a while.  I'm not a big drinker and even if I were, green beer hasn't really appealed to me, so that let out the celebrations in local bars.

Only 35 years later, I decided to cook a Saint Patrick's Day feast because I may not be Irish, but I'm a foodie.  My family are fantastic eaters and we all enjoy cultural food adventures.  After extensive research, I came up with a few authentic (sounding, anyway!) dishes and one not authentic but yummy sounding desert.

Here's our feast.  Enjoy! The links to the recipes are below the photos.


Our "starter" was Guinness Rarebit.  It was very rich and should not be served with a meal!  But we did it anyway.  I cut the butter in half and do not be fooled; this makes enough sauce for may more than 4 pieces of bread.  I am freezing the leftover and will resurrect it eventually as fondue.  The leftover Guinness did not go to waste!




Homemade Pork Sausage, Colcannon, and homemade Apple Sauce.

Oh my goodness, this was delicious. I used parsley, not marjoram, in the sausage and added salt and savory and it was so delicious.  But truly, every dish was delish and we will not wait a year to have this combo again.  (That said, "full fat" sausage is an extremely rare occurrence in our home so the next time around, it will be half ground turkey or chicken breast.)  I halved the sugar in the applesauce, too.

Here it is all together on my plate.  I meant to serve English peas, too, but just plain forgot.

We topped it off with a Skinny Shamrock Shake with a secret ingredient.

[My photo is not the best because it was hot in our kitchen! ]  I avoid using food coloring in our kitchen except very rarely because I just don't think we need it. Real food is lovely, anyway.  But a Shamrock Shake just needs to be green so I followed this recipe to the tee, including the avocado.  This was so tantalizing.  I love that the fat is from avocado and not super-rich ice cream.  If you try it, be sure to add the ice because the added volume is lovely. Every one loved it and we did not tell them about the avocado.  A "must repeat" desert!

Finally,  finish off your own St. Paddy's Day with a little fun. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Gram" - a Word for Love

Today is the birthday of my maternal grandmother, Agnes Timmons Leeper.  I lost both my grandfathers when I was very young, and "Gram," as we called her, was the most active grandparent in my life. Beset by tragedy in the prime of her life, she lived many years in our family home.

Gram was from the "old days."  She grew up riding horses and a visit to the nearby city (40 miles on mountain roads) was a rare adventure that took at least a couple of days by horse and buggy.  She worked hard as a young adult, cooking in logging camps and hotels and I've often said my love of cooking for crowds was genetically pre-determined as both my grandmothers were legendary group cooks!  She finally got to settle in as a housewife when my Granddad landed a good job as the manager of the grain warehouse.  A lady of her time, she never wore slacks until the 1970s or maybe 1980s and even then, wore them with stockings and under duress in only the coldest of weather; it was scandalous to her.

When I was 4 or 5, we drove the 1000 miles or so to visit my grandparents.  Gram was relatively young back then, in her 40s, and she showed us a good time.  Before the state had cut paths through the ancient, glacier formed mountains and  leveled all the roads, the roads in that part of the country were very hilly.  Gram took us to the county seat by back roads in her standard car; she'd shift into neutral on the way down the hills and the car would speed up faster and faster.  When we hit the bottom of the hill and started up the other side, our stomachs would flip just like on a roller coaster.   Just before the car slowed to a crawl, she'd shift the car into the gear, the car would roar to life, and climbing the next big hill, we'd start all over again. I credit Gram with my love for the thrill ride!

They lived in their family home still, and had chickens running around outside. I was a city girl --we lived in Boulder, Colorado back then -- and this was my initiation to rural life.  Grandma went outside and caught a chicken for a special dinner. She worked efficiently but learning where my dinner originated made a lasting impression me. That was a wonderful visit; I can still see her making pies in her kitchen, the counter covered with flour, the window vining with plants; I can smell the bread rising and see her standing shoulder to shoulder with my mom, then in her 20s, both of them adorned with aprons and laughing together.

Shortly after our visit, the unthinkable happened. My grandfather committed suicide. Grandma, unable to cope with her loss, was eventually given a common mental-health treatment of the day, shock treatment. Seen with today's lenses, the treatment seems primitive and cruel.  Back then, it's just how things were done.

After her treatment, she came to live with us. I know this was hard on my parents as she was like a toddler afterward; she had to re-learn all her adult skills, including self-care, and it broke my mother's heart. That said, this was back in the day when parents protected their children from adult problems and nothing my parents said or did ever indicated to me that they were struggling. For me, Gram living in our house was pure joy. She was fun and silly and all love to me. Grandma had not been raised to hug a lot or say she loved you, but she showed it in myriad ways.  We had adventures together and having her in our home was a great joy of my childhood.  When she moved back to Idaho, I thought my heart would never heal.

She was a woman of character too and fiercely defended all her grandchildren and grands-in-law. When word reached me that one of my cousins was getting divorced, I mentioned it to Gram. She said, "Well, no one had better say anything bad about her (my cousin's spouse). We loved her when she was married to him and we will love her now." That stuck with me.  I am sure I personally disappointed her many times but she showed nothing but encouragement to me.

When I was a young adult and lived for a time nearby, we had a number of adventures together. I loved spending time with her because she was a hoot!  Just as my kids love toast with jam because it is a treat my parents share with them, I love toast with cinnamon sugar and coffee with milk and sugar because Gram made it for me every time I entered her home. When I moved back to Texas, I missed her terribly and I felt so guilty for leaving her. I was a selfish 20-something then but I realize now, it must have hurt her so.

It's hard for me to believe she's been gone 15 years.  The last time I saw her, very shortly before her death, she had been confused and unreachable for several days. I lived 2200 miles away so had not seen her in a couple of years. She lay in the nursing home, unmoving and mostly unresponsive. Mom warned me that she had been very confused and likely would not recognize or remember me. When I walked into her room with 1 year old Pepper in my arms, she reached for my arms, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, "I never thought I'd see you again."  It melted my heart.

While I'm past old enough to be a grandma, I haven't reached that stage of life yet. When I get there, I hope I can be as loving to my grandkids as Grandma was.

Happy birthday, Gram.  I miss you every day.

[The cute 11 year old on the left is my grandma.  I now see how much my cousin Kelly has her smile!]

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Still Learning - Resolution Reboot

It's almost 4 weeks into the new year and time to check in on my New Year's Resolutions.  If you are now smacking yourself in the forehead and saying, "Oh, yeah, New Years resolutions," maybe it's time for a resolution reboot for yourself!

This year I made a new set of 6-word Resolutions, and 4 weeks later, I still think they fit:

Quiet: Take time every day to listen
Exercise: 2 hours, 6 days, every week
Nourish: Food that feeds me body and soul
Play:  Time each day with each one
Love:  Notice resistance, be myself, embrace vulnerability
Serve: Offer what I have freely, frequently

I am rocking my "quiet time."  I have some specifics to my plan which include a minimum of 10 minutes each for meditation, life-giving reading, and journal writing, as well as structured processing and daily Mass 5 days a week.  If this sounds like a lot to you, just imagine how noisy my world is and you can imagine that I may need a bit more structured quiet time than some do. 

I am doing stellar with "Serve" right now - and all it implies - and am pleased at my sudden willingness to be very discerning about the ways in which I serve; I am focusing on what is most in line with my purpose in life. I am hitting about 80% on "play" too and have a good eye on my stumbling blocks so I am on track for improvement.

Exercise and nourishing food are my current sticking points. It's not that it's too much for my body, it's my mind that is struggling. My (false) mind talk is, "You shouldn't have to work this hard. It's not fair." And the very dangerous and alluring, "You deserve a break. You've been working so hard." Yes, this is where I get into trouble. It's a vortex and once it has sucked me in, I have to struggle against the inertia to get back out.  You are familiar with Newton's First Law of Motion, right? Each day I am recommitting and looking at what happened this time. I keep reminding myself, "It's one more time, it's not too many times."

I am closing in on the false beliefs that are tripping me up, but I'm still a bit in the dark about it. As a child, I visited Mammoth Caves, a National Park in Kentucky. Our guide led us deeper and deeper into the dark and cold cavern and then at one point, all the lights were extinguished. At first, I could not see my hand (literally) in front of my face.  Eventually, though, my eyes adjusted and I began to see the light. I could not make out what I was seeing, at first -- it was just a series of grayish blobs --but soon I recognized that it was the far end of the "gallery" in which we were standing. As I relaxed and put some breath in my body, I was able, slowly, to know I was seeing some formations on that far wall, illuminated by some source of daylight beyond the corner.

That's about where I am in untangling those deeply rooted falsehoods that are keeping me down.  It  ties to my fifth resolution, especially, "embrace vulnerability." In my work, I can see how as a very young child I made a determination to be self reliant. While self-reliance can be an admirable trait, in can also be what deludes me into thinking that "I am in charge" and that I can control things which, frankly, are beyond my control. I'm getting closer to that source of light and can sense a breakthrough right around the corner.

In the meantime, I am very grateful for my resolutions. For me, it's not about being 100% all the time; I'd probably be thinking they were too easy were that the case! Some years, I find they are too ambitious and need to course correct; for now, that is not the case. Instead, these resolutions -- conscious choices, if you will -- are the way in which I am discovering my opportunities for growth.  Trying and succeeding, as well as trying and failing, are the proof that I am alive, still learning, still growing, on an onward course of discovery.

No matter what happens today, that knowledge will be enough tomorrow to "pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again." Ah.