Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Whitney, Amy, and Amy Ride with Me...

Crowded Car
Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse
Sing to Me This Morning

“Bittersweet memories, that is all I’m taking with me . . .” Whitney Houston’s voice filled the car as I drove to the store this morning. I’ve been so judgmental of Whitney Houston and didn’t mourn a moment when she died earlier this year. All I could think of was the wasted life, the wasted talent, the wasted opportunities. All that judgment fell away as I listened to her sublime voice. I realized in a heartbeat that such an expressive voice can only come from having experienced deep loss, deep pain. And I began to forgive and to see her experience that pain, because I’ve experienced deep loss and pain in my life as well.
I put the car windows up and increased the volume until Whitney and her voice were the only presence in the car. I allowed myself to feel what she felt, to wish love to those who I have left and who have left me, to know that I would always love them.
Those few minutes in the car opened my heart to the reality of so many lives, that we all suffer, but we suffer in different ways. We all blow it and waste so much, but in different ways. To be fully human, I need to recognize that reality in everyone, the rich and famous and talented, too.
It’s probably no accident of the cosmos that the next song was by Amy Winehouse and that I found some compassion for her as well.
As I drove home, I recalled Amy Lee of Evanescence. Because Amy’s family once lived across the street from us, I am one of the few who know that Amy’s sister died at age four. Amy’s expressive voice carries that anguish in many respects and I hear it and feel compassion for her, for anyone who suffers.
We all will have great moments of joy in life, but we also will have great moments of loss and suffering. Looking beyond the glitz, the glamour, the wealth, and all the trappings of fame, I was able to see the human aspect of Whitney, Amy, and Amy during my morning drive, because there are people in my life that I, too, will “think of every step of the way.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Creating Your Own Travel Mercies--And Rest Stops

Boots, Bucket, and Skirt—
The New Travel Essentials

My new travel essentials will help prevent a different kind of accident.

Jumper cables? Check. Portable compressor? Check. Extra oil? Check. Spare tire? Check. Something to drink? Check.

Stuck on the side of the road for a few hours?
You might need more than jumper cables.

Boots, Bucket, and Skirt? Previously, no check. After a recent blow-out on I-95? Check.
Surprise! Even good tires blow out. Who knew? I do, now.

Think you’re good to go if you have the minimum safety devices in your car? Think again. A few weeks ago, I had a blowout on I-95 about 40 miles south of my home, so I spent about 90 minutes waiting to be rescued. It’s my worst nightmare to be stuck on the side of an interstate, so I pulled way off the road, into the grassy area beside the highway.

Any farther off the highway, and I would
have been in the pond.

The Florida Highway Patrol dispatcher did little to alleviate my fears when she advised me to stay in the car and keep my seatbelt on so I wouldn’t get thrown from my car. Nor was I comforted to find out that the Road Rangers don’t work on Sunday—the day I was traveling. During my waiting time, I figured out that by staring at the rear and side view mirrors intently enough, I could prevent any vehicle from veering to the side and smashing me. That worked quite well.
My super stare kept these vehicles away from my car.
I had a full tank of gas, so I could run the air conditioning and keep cool. I also had a drink, so I wasn’t thirsty. I had the opposite problem. When I started for home, it was morning, so of course I had coffee. We know what happens about an hour after that cup. That wouldn’t have been a problem because I was supposed to be home, but I wasn’t home. A quick glance outside showed no trees, no place to hide, no place to pee. There was no way I was going to walk to the exit, even though it was close. I wouldn’t even have a seatbelt to protect me from errant vehicles.

Sometimes, there is simply nowhere to hide.
What to do? What could I do? I waited and waited and waited. By the time I arrived home three hours later, my bladder had swelled to the size of a beach ball. I resolved to never put myself through that again.
I have added a few things to the must-carry items in my car. If I have to pull off the road and there are no trees, I will have a long skirt. That will hide everything. Because highways are not the best-groomed areas of nature, I will have boots. That way, I will avoid ants and snakes. The bucket? We women know what happens when squatting to pee. The stream spreads everywhere and pretty soon we’re a wet mess. I now carry a bucket.
I’ve got my bucket, my boots, and my long skirt. I’m ready for drive time!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stalker in the Compost

Celery Is Stalking My Compost Pile

Celery: It’s a perfect food to add crunch to potato salad and chicken salad. After it’s sautéed, I most often use it as part of stuffing ingredients. Snack food? No! If I want to floss my teeth, I have some white thready stuff in my bathroom cabinet designed for just that purpose. Unlike when I take a bite or two or three of a celery stalk, I can pull that floss right through my teeth, minus the gouging, and tugging. And floss is not green.
I can’t call celery a vegetable, even though it is, because it’s mostly water, with a hint of a green tint. Not what I’d call a nutrient-dense food, a 12-inch stalk has ten calories, one of them from fat, no protein, a few carbs, a bit of fiber, negligible vitamins A and C, and negligible calcium and iron—one percent of your daily value, and that one percent is a surprise. It’s not true that chewing celery burns more calories than the celery itself contains. It that were the case, I’d start chewing Lindt truffles.
Celery is a part of excellent soup stock, but I have a household of two most days. One of those never eats soup and Central Florida’s mild winters mean soup days are rather low in number.
I buy celery for a sauté or the aforementioned potato or chicken salad. After I use a few stalks, I put the remainder in the crisper drawer, along with my good intentions to use it . . . soon.
Soon doesn’t come soon enough, and when I next need celery, it’s on its way to becoming compost. The parts that aren’t brown and gooey are as limp as the noodles in that soup for which Andy designed the label. My good intentions turn to guilt when I realize I’ve wasted yet another clump of celery. It’s a few dollars at most, and I am guilty of wasting other things; however, the celery is particularly distressing because I have never used a whole head of celery. I sometimes think I should use what I need, skip that whole refrigerator, brown limp goo phase, and toss leftover celery directly in the compost pile.

Will it grow, or will it turn to more compost?

It’s that time again. I cleaned the fridge last night and found yet another green gooey mess. It was headed toward the compost, but I recalled a recent article on growing celery from the ends. I cut the end and put it in a bowl of water near a sunny windowsill. It’s May in Central Florida, far too late to start a cold-season vegetable, but, hey, I have good intentions. Maybe I can plant it in the semi-shade once it starts growing. If it fails, there’s always the compost.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I'll Take the Love

Mother’s Day, Capitalism,
and Love

Journaling is something I do that helps me work through my feelings. It often moves me from one emotion to another, just the act of writing changes things, as it did for me this morning. I wrote the following in my journal this morning:

“[Future-son-in-law] is coming this weekend to get some papers and if [one of my daughters] doesn’t have to work, she’ll come, too. That will be nice for Mother’s Day. I know it’s a Hallmark holiday—a created one—but I still want to be honored that day and it hurts when I am not and it’s just like any other day. How can I celebrate my own self and my years of mothering and honor what I’ve done? If I want that so much, am I willing to give it to myself? To provide some high-fives, some extra appreciation?
“Can I look at the things they [the kids] do every other day to honor me? Can I say okay, why do I want special recognition one day when really—I get it throughout the year? I imagine many moms would trade my day-to-day interactions with my kids for their rare moments of being honored.
“I have fallen prey to capitalist sentiment for this holiday—and that’s the plan of merchandisers—if you don’t spend and do X, then your Mom is ‘less than’ those moms who are lavished with gifts and dining. And Moms—you see what is available for those kids to buy—you see where you could be taken for dinner—you see the jewelry from that foul smooch jeweler, the flowers, the chocolates—if your kids don’t get all of those for you, then you’ve failed. So be sure to feel bad on Sunday if your day doesn’t begin with coffee and a long-stemmed rose brought to your room, on a tray, followed by breakfast, lunch, and dinner at your favorite restaurant after which you’ll return home to be feted with mounds of gifts. And—why not? A red carpet should be rolled out for you pretty much wherever you go that day, and violins should play unobtrusively to sweeten the atmosphere as well.
“Maybe you should be carried aloft on a sedan chair, like the royalty you’re supposed to be, if not, then certainly rose petals should grace your path.
“I know this has moved to the absurd, but in our culture, the absurd sells—it either makes you feel magnanimous as the giver, or deficient if you aren’t the receiver.
“After exploring these elements of a greeting-card, jewelry-store, fine-dining Mother’s Day, I’ve changed my mind. A handmade card, a day in the garden, and a walk on the beach will be just fine.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spring Hang-Ups

Putting It On the Line

I love to hang clothes, sheets, towels, and even undies on the clothesline. It looks so friendly, homey, cozy, and in the case of some of those undies, brave. I’d rather spend an hour hanging clothes than 20 minutes editing and proofreading a boring book, even though those 20 minutes net me more income than any savings I get from less use of the dryer. It’s a simple, rewarding pleasure, and the scent of air-dried laundry is one of the sweetest that exists. Another of life’s little blessings to cherish.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Throwing Money Away--Literally

Throw-Away Culture

Find a penny,
Pick it up
All day long,
You’ll have good luck.

As I walked the dog earlier today, I spied two open penny wrappers spilling their penny contents and saw pennies scattered in and on the side of the road. “They’re just pennies,” said my son, dismissing the copper coins cooking in the Central Florida sun. I disagree. It was no embarrassment to me to stoop and pick up the almost-empty rolls and carry them inside, making a mental note to fetch the balance later when the metal no longer steamed from the heat of the day.

Dust-covered pennies on a shell-rock road

I’ve seen coins tossed aside like so much fast-food litter—pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters. I’ve yet to see paper money flung to the breezes, but I suppose one day it won’t surprise someone when they hear (or utter), “It’s just ones,” as they see several Washingtons flutter by or lie in a dust-covered heap at the side of the road.
Several hours later, I ventured outside to see if the pennies remained. They did. Passing cars had pressed some into the shell rock, but they were visible nonetheless. No one had bothered to pick them up and gather luck. I did.
Several pennies for my thoughts . . . 
I picked up close to 100 pennies. Does that mean I have a store of good luck? Or does it simply mean that I know 100 of those pennies equal a dollar, five of those dollars equal a five-dollar bill, two fives equal a ten . . .
It pains me to see so much devalued in our culture. A clean roadside has little value to someone who opens a car window and uses the world for his or her dumpster. A bulging landfill is most often out of sight, out of mind for those who mindlessly consume, toss, consume, and toss some more.
But money? Who throws away money? Pennies are money. I hope I never reach the point where I look at a copper coin on the ground and say, “It’s only a penny . . .”

After soaking and washing, these guys will find a home in my bank

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Compliments to . . .

Fill Your Heart With Joy—
By Filling the Hearts of Others

Oio naa elealla alasse' – Ever is thy sight a joy
(Elven Language Compliment)

Compliments—we love them when expressed with sincerity. I’m not talking flattery, which often has dubious intent, and is more in line with “what can I get from you” rather than “what can I give to you.” I’ve received many, many compliments in my life, but a few stand out. My sister gave me one of the finest compliments I ever received.

Compliments on my gardens made me realize the joy they brought to others.
In turn, I received joy from those compliments.
I was speaking to her about my admiration for one of my professors at Florida Atlantic University. I shared that I heard the professor could speak Middle English and she was a Tolkien scholar. A few weeks later, during another conversation, my sister related the following: “Chris, I know you’re impressed with your professor’s language skills, but I’ve traveled through Europe and heard many languages. I watched all the Lord of the Ring movies and listened to the Elven language. However, the most beautiful language I’ve ever heard is the one you used when talking to your babies.”
That compliment still gives me chills. English major I am and editor and proofreader by trade, I make my living choosing the precise word, the exact phrase, and putting verbs and adjectives and clauses and other parts of speech too boring to name in their proper place, be it a sentence, paragraph, chapter, or entire book. I’ve stepped away from the staunch grammarian role in my personal life because it makes me seem angry and judgmental. But I always used correct grammar and “big words” with my children when they were learning to talk. Their extensive vocabularies give most people pause: “Where did that child learn to speak like that?”
But my babies? Oh, that was a whole other story. When I held those babes in my arms, I spoke silly talk. I made up words. I made up phrases. I gooed and cooed and giggled. I created rhymes and songs and names for things. If one of them called something a zany name, we kept that in our “family speak.” Little do most people know that “bargool” is garbage or that “hangrahan and makersholtz” are a hamburger and milkshake. “Molly Magoo” was a pet name for Alexa because as a toddler she most reminded me of Mr. Magoo, bumbling and stumbling through her days. Sometimes, I just laughed with my babies and spoke gibberish. Of course, this was during playtime—or Mommy and baby time. The rest of the time, I simply spoke to them the way I’d speak to anyone else, proper sentence structure and advanced vocabulary in place. Looking back, I’m happy for my gibberish time with my babes. I'm grateful that  my language gave my sister joy and that she was touched enough to give me one of the most lovely compliments I ever received.

Giving is as good as getting when it comes to compliments. I often think of giving compliments, but then I shy away from sharing that compliment out loud, especially when it regards a stranger, someone behind the counter in a retail establishment, or someone I meet in passing. Why is that? I know how kind words can brighten my day. I know that when I have given compliments, the recipient has been so pleased and that pleasure has been reflected back to me. It’s part of the holding back that is so endemic to many aspects of our culture. We may write it on a Facebook post or send a text, but the spoken word often eludes us.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Who can you compliment today? What can you say aloud—and not as a comment on a Facebook status—to brighten someone’s day, to make them feel valued, admired, cherished? Today, look for a way to compliment someone, to bring them joy. You likely will receive joy in return.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Put a Little Joy in Someone's Mailbox

Fill Your Heart With Joy—
By Filling the Hearts of Others

Love It and/or Hate It, Snail Mail Can Spread the Joy

Snail mail—we hate it. Junk, bills, credit card offers, mattress sale flyers, coupons for bad pizza, and home security system ads that scare you enough to run as quickly as you can from the mailbox to the door and lock it—deadbolt, alarm, heavy furniture pushed against the door—as quickly as you can. Keep the recycling bin at the door next to the baseball bats and whatever else you have to protect yourself because almost everything you fetch from said mailbox will go into that bin.

Snail mail surprises
Snail mail—on rare days, I love it! Few people like to send snail mail—it’s too slow, stamps are a pain, bill payments don’t arrive on time—but almost everyone loves to receive real mail. I was surprised and blessed, yes blessed, with two pieces of real mail yesterday. It filled my heart with joy—really, it did. One letter was from a friend, and just the act of someone sending you a letter reminds you that you are thought of, that someone cares enough to put something in an envelope for you, address it, stamp it, and put it in the mail. My other real mail was an unexpected gift from another friend. Receiving a gift—an unexpected one at that—for no particular reason except that someone loves you and wants to let you know is one of life’s treasures, a gift in countless ways.
I’m focusing on joy in my life. Finding that joy can be a singular experience—a lone experience—although being aware of life’s joys in turn causes me to put on a happier, more grateful face for the world. However, I realized that it isn’t enough simply to be aware of joy; I want to share it.

Today, to share the joy, I turned to love-it/hate-it snail mail. I gained so much joy from yesterday's mail that I decided to send some snail mail myself. Yes, it’s a pain. You have to find paper, an envelope, something to write with, take the time to write, and then there’s the stamp. Who has stamps? Most of us have stamps. And if we don’t, it’s easy enough to get them.
I set my timer for 15 minutes. In that time, I wrote two short notes, stamped them, walked to the mailbox, put them in, and lifted the red flag. Now it's your turn to write a note, only one note. Think of someone you want to contact, to reconnect with, to send some love, to share a bit of joy. Set aside 15 minutes—you probably spend at least that much time several times a day on Facebook and e-mail—write a note or a letter, stamp it, and mail it. Imagine the surprise and the smile on the face of the person who, in a few days, will get snail mail that they love. Imagine that they experience a moment of joy.

Did you write a note today? Please add a comment and let me know how you felt about writing and sending a note. How do you feel when you receive real mail? Can you find some joy in the mailbox?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Filling Your Heart with Joy

“This Music Fills My Heart with Joy”

A joyful sunrise
What fills your “heart with joy”? When The Lord of the Rings, the Return of the King was released on film in 2003, I took my 10-year-old son to the movie. We had spent countless joy-filled hours as I read and he listened to The Hobbit and The Trilogy, so we eagerly anticipated each movie’s release. Not long after we saw The Return of the King, to recapture some of the film’s magic, he bought the soundtrack on CD.
It was late fall or early winter, and it was cold as we started our drive home from Barnes and Noble. The seat heaters in the Subaru Forester took the edge off the car's frigid interior until the car heat kicked in and we stopped shivering. It was dark and quiet in the car as we navigated the twisting New England back roads. My son unwrapped the CD, put it in the player, and we began listening.
As we listened, he turned to me and said, “This music fills my heart with joy.” Hearing him say those words filled my heart with joy. Each time I recall the sweetness and innocence of that poignant moment, my joy well is filled again. I don’t remember the exact cut on the CD; it had played for only a few minutes, so it was either "Hope and Memory" or "A Storm Is Coming." Music created that moment, but such moments are not limited to music. Moments that “Fill My Heart with Joy” happen often. What’s important is to notice them—to give whatever fills our hearts with joy the attention it deserves.

Gardenia joy comes from fragrance and beauty 
What fills my heart with joy? Flowers, bread just out of the oven, butter dripping across its surface, dew sparkling on leaves and blades of grass early in the day as the sun rises and turns that moisture into the most precious diamonds that exist. An infant’s laughter is perhaps the most joyful sound I’ve ever heard. My children’s laughter as I hear them from another room. The ocean’s roar as well as gentle waves that lap the shore. Putting every leaf in the dining room table to accommodate the family gathered there. Simple joys fill my heart as wellan hour curled in my rocking chair with a treasured book. A heart-to-heart phone call with a friend.

Passion flowers are a joy to behold.
What fills your heart with joy? Notice your joy and savor it. It is one of life’s most precious gifts.

You can listen to a sample of “Hope and Memory” here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0018APCSQ/ref=dm_dp_trk2?ie=UTF8&qid=1335877556&sr=1-9
You can listen to a sample of “A Storm Is Coming: here:
You can get The Lord Of The Rings 3-The Return Of The King CD and listen to other cuts here: