Survival Skills 101

 

Weights

“Don’t forget to breathe.” This is Cristy calling out. She’s the trainer at my local SNAP fitness, where I spend seventy-five minutes of my day, six days a week.

Cristy sits twelve feet away from me as I push out 48 repetitions on the biceps press machine this rainy afternoon. I had noticed feeling light-headed earlier in the week after a session on a different machine. Chalked it up to hormones or lost sleep or the weather.

But Cristy’s prompting catches me up short. I am focusing only on counting down my presses. But doesn’t breathing just come naturally? Apparently not. Once I start consciously inhaling with reps one and two and exhaling on reps three and four, I can feel the difference immediately. Increased oxygen to my brain. Improved stamina. Even a little lift to my mood.

And wow, what a difference it makes. No more light-headedness. No more boredom with the counting regimen. No more feeling like I am just putting in my time.

I got to thinking about this incident on a recent dog walk, as I watched my never-in-a-hurry furry companion sniff her way around the same small patch of clover for the fifth time. This pup loves to stop and concentrate on the moment. Nose seeking out the breeze, she scoops up plenty of fresh air as we meander the neighborhood on our morning, midday, and evening strolls. Don’t have to encourage her to stop and smell the roses, or whatever. And I never see her lying awake at night, fretting, either.

So how often might we all benefit from just taking a deep breath? From pausing to reset our rhythm to a more natural pace and reprogram our minds toward a more prayerful approach to life.

Care to join me in the count-down?

-When your worry list expands past a fingers-plus-toes count of friends and family who face dire health challenges or tormenting personal relationship issues . . . don’t forget to breathe.

-When your own ties to dear ones are suddenly severed by forces and circumstances beyond your understanding . . . don’t forget to breathe.

-When visiting the past starts to seem preferable to living in the present . . .  don’t forget to breathe.

-When false accusations get hurled, your words twisted and used against you, your character subjected to brutal assaults . . .  don’t forget to breathe.

-When the world appears to be turned hopelessly inside out, with common sense declared “controversial” and so many falsehoods declared to be truths . . . don’t forget to breathe.

The buzzword these days is intentional: Intentional eating, intentional parenting, intentional relating, intentional needlepoint. Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. The concept translates to consciously tailoring our choices and our actions to ensure that they reflect our values, our goals, and our unambiguous understanding of right and wrong behavior.

So these breathing lessons? Let’s call them intentional refocusing. And let’s remind each other.

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May 16, 2017 at 8:05 pm 2 comments

An Ode to J.R. Revisited

Our_Wedding

            An indulgence, if you’ll permit, to honor what would have been my dear husband’s 69th birthday: This condensed version of a 2012 post commemorating our 25th wedding anniversary—which I noted at the time was “a stark reminder of how quickly time scoots by, and how precious is each month, week, day, and hour, to be wrung limp with an appreciative squeeze.”  

An Ode to J.R.

            Fear not. There will be no declarations of devotion to a certain Texas-based, primetime soap opera character here. The focus of my devotion is the husband with whom I recently celebrated a 25th wedding anniversary–an occasion that smacked me right in the kisser with the awareness of just how much I have to give thanks for, and to cherish. I will, of course, elaborate.

            First of all, I am blessed with a life-mate who ignores, guy-like, the fact that I haven’t dusted in weeks, but listens intently as I ramble on about the specific kind of tank-top I’ve been searching for and then shows up a few weeks later, having hunted down six perfect matches.     

            A guy who waits patiently as I make multiple stops shopping for an allergy-elimination diet, then later sacrifices his lunch hour driving to the one health food store that carries Rice Dream dairy-free frozen dessert, to replenish my supply. Who seems not to be fully tuned in while I describe in tiresome detail what I am looking for in a watch, and then surprises me with the ideal model at the next appropriate special occasion, i.e., Happy Friday! 

            The man—and this will never cease to impress me—will patiently troll Kohl’s clothing racks looking for items he thinks I might like, while I’m locked in a dressing room, slogging through the tedious process of Trying On Clothes. And, while I am an animal lover, my husband is an animal liker. Yet he welcomed the feisty felines I brought into our marriage, supported me through related bereavements, and once back-tracked several blocks in the family vehicle because I saw a confused-looking kitty wandering around a commercial area and felt compelled to try to rescue it.

            His capacity for indulgence extends to rushing me to Wal-Mart to buy a cage and seed for the injured bird that had bounced off our front window and landed in the flower bed, only to discover on our return home that the stunned critter had recovered and flown away. U-turn back to Wal-Mart to return the emergency items. No drama, no recriminations, just a tolerant tending to the needs of the situation. My needs.

            While my sweetie and I are very much aligned in all the important areas, on some smaller issues, there is an occasional Venus/Mars split. I am pretty fanatical about conserving things, while my honey takes a more reasonable approach. Still, when he is finished with a shaker of body powder, a bottle of liquid soap, a tube of toothpaste, or a jar of mustard, he will open another, but leave the carcass behind for me to shake, scrape, dig, squeeze, or swoosh the very last drop from, knowing that it satisfies something within me to use the last drib and drab of anything.

            Then there was that phase I went through where I was reassessing how much toilet tissue I was reeling off the roll, and would sometimes lay the excess squares back on the dispenser for later use. Lesser men might have seen this as material for ridicule. My J.R. saw it as material for bathroom art, creating a Cottonelle sculpture gallery of the remnants that ranged from paper dolls to elaborate, three-dimensional palm trees..

            Ah, the everyday stuff. My guy always walks on the traffic side when we take a stroll, insistently offers his jacket even when I’ve foolishly rejected his pre-walk suggestion that I might want to wear one myself, and unquestioningly restaurant hops until I find a menu that suits my mood.

            After two-and-a-half decades, you’d think we’d know all there is to know about one another, but  just a few weeks ago I learned the reason he always insists on going with me to run errands. “Because I would never forgive myself if I was here and available to take you but didn’t, and something happened to you when you were out.”  Talk about a silver anniversary present to remember.

            Indeed, my multi-faceted husband continues to present new sides of his quiet self. Like the side that spends energy helping a reclusive neighbor with household challenges or time, polishing his Spanish to better communicate with our new friends down the block.

            And who knew he would become a fan of Bollywood cinema at this stage in life, and through that budding interest discover some true gems of touching, values-based entertainment that we can enjoy watching together—our own unique in-house date nights, no makeup required.

            What is no surprise is that he allows himself to be used by God in so many ways, as when the Lord led me-of-lapsed-faith to this decent, forgiving believer, and changed my life forever—and for eternity.

            Simply put, generosity is his heart. Cars, computers, an unexpected check; re-gifting all of his birthday cash to help out a struggling co-worker. This man of modest means has, without a second thought, carried on his parents’ legacy of giving to others whose need is greater, and we are both the richer for his servant’s spirit.

            I have a friend who is fond of saying of her husband, “He lets me be me.”  I am similarly blessed, but alas, all these years later I am still learning to be the wife God meant for me to be. Meanwhile, I recently came across the following crossword puzzle clue: Name which translates to “gift.”  Answer: Isador.

            My J.R. He is not perfect, of course; that would be intolerable for both of us. But he is my Isador, and that is definitely something to celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 5, 2017 at 7:59 pm 1 comment

The Heart Remembers

 

 Heart figure In memory of my dear husband, I am republishing a blog I posted two years before we moved to Texas to retire. In the preface note I address him as Hank, a nickname earned when—ever the gentleman—he offered me his handkerchief after I spilled my sparkling water at our 20-year high school reunion. And it’s signed Hanes, his pet name for me—earned or not—because he rather liked the look of my gams. (For all of you post-baby-boomers, those would be legs.)

 

            I offer today’s post to you and yours with the sincere wish that, on this day dedicated to romance, you hold your beloved close to your heart, if not in your arms. The flame of true love is eternal, after all, even though providence may separate us for the time being.

 

February 14, 2013

 

Dearest Hank, 

 

I entered us in the local paper’s “Greatest Love Story” contest, but alas, the biggest vote-getter in that competition was a young whipper-snapper of a couple who I seriously suspect stuffed the ballot box with multiple votes from multiple computers. (But maybe that’s just me choking on sour grapes.)

 

Anyway, this is what I said about us. It is my Valentine to you this year.

 

Love,

 

            Hanes

 

            My husband Jack and I live in Fridley, which is where we first met in high school. We came close to dating back then, but ended up going separate ways, with separate spouses, until—both single again—we re-met at a reunion years later.

 

            Even after 25 years of marriage, it seems a bit presumptuous to claim to be the world’s greatest romance. We didn’t exchange love letters across a war-torn continent or have the honor of donating a major organ, one to the other. But we did give each other that cherished second chance to discover true devotion—the kind that survives rebellious stepchildren, career disappointments, the loss of loved ones, and personal health crises; the kind that hangs in there for the ebb and flow between passion and friendship.

 

            And that particular blessing may just translate to the best gift this earthly life has to offer: someone who will always, bottom line, invest the time and effort to figure you out, to help you over the rough spots, and to guide you toward your better self.

 

 

 

February 14, 2017 at 5:24 pm 3 comments

Staying Afloat in a Leaky Boat

phone-photo-182889569

 

If you know anyone who has lost a loved one in the past six months, or even the past year, please do this: Write them a note. Let them know you are thinking of them and praying for their peace of mind. Or call, even if you have to leave a message. Or email or text, anything to gently reach out as the weeks slide by. You see, when the hubbub surrounding a major loss subsides, the void looms even larger and sometimes feels unfillable.

As I passed the one-month marker for my own personal crisis, a feeling of desolation crept back in, crowding out any sense of peace. It was as if the grieving process had started all over again. With prayer and regular physical activity, the patient ear of my treasured sister-in-law, and the promise of a visit from a childhood friend, the indescribable yearning—knowable only to those who have shared it—slowly made way for eruptive moments of hopefulness.

The next few days brought answers to my unspoken pleas—follow-up calls from thoughtful friends and relatives, a few late cards. Just the right doses of attention and sympathy at just the right moments of aching need. One well-timed note from my sometimes errant third grade pan pal back in Minnesota, so poignant in its simplicity, brought immediate relief to my anguish-numbed soul:

            January 11, 2017

            Dear Mrs. K,   

            I am sorry I have not written to you. I hope you still want to be my pen pal.                                                  I am sorry about your husband. But you and me both know he is happy in heaven. You will see him again in heaven. I wish I could be with you but I know how you feel.

            One more thing, merry Christmas and happy new year.

            Love Naomi

            (Flip side of note paper: be happy the Lord is with you [smiley face])

So the answer to the question, should I check in again a few weeks or months later? is a resounding yes! Email, text, snail mail note, phone call. Any form of contact. These can be the mourner’s lifeline to a world that now seems surreal and frightening. If you’re thinking of them, let them know. And if you live close by, set a firm date to meet for coffee.

You never know. God may just be using you to help another through the quicksand of a particularly rough day, to be His angel on earth. And it could make the difference between your friend feeling lost or feeling loved.

 

 

 

January 25, 2017 at 7:14 pm 4 comments

Goodbye, Sweet Prince

 

Four days after my birthday, I lost the love of my life to a sudden heart attack following 30 years of marriage and became intensely aware of the effect that such a tragedy has in temporarily dimming the light of this hallowed season. In my effort to refocus on the True and Everlasting Light, I reach out to others and feel lifted in prayer. One dear family friend gave me permission to post my exchange with her. I hope that it will be a comfort to others, as it was to me–especially others who know the pain of marking a sad anniversary during this season of joy.

                                         ____________________________________

Hello Anne,

 

I am assuming that you have heard that my husband Jack passed away very unexpectedly on the morning of the 12th  from heart failure.  Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous but I know you went through this with Chris and as the waves of grief ebb then flow, I find myself wondering how long it will be before any flicker of joy returns.

 

I know it is very early, but I am feeling rather like a wimp, and I thought you might have some words of wisdom you would be willing to share. 

 

Thank you for listening. 

 

 

 

Sue Anne 

 

Oh, Sue Anne. I am so very sorry for your loss; what a terrible shock. 

 

Looking back over the almost five years since Chris’ death, there have absolutely been ebbs and flows of both joy and sorrow, peace and anxiety, gratefulness and anger, inclusion and loneliness. But through it all, I’ve been able to know in my heart that I was – and am – greatly loved: by Chris, by our friends, families, and even complete strangers, and by God.  

 

Surround yourself with loving and caring people, be comfortable accepting help from others, and immerse yourself in as much beauty and light as you can. 

 

Losing Chris was the most horrible thing I’ve ever experienced, and I miss him terribly every day. I feel his presence with me, though, always; and whenever I’m unsure of what to do or have an important decision to make, I know he is with me. I find immense comfort in that.  

 

In these next few days and weeks, please take good care of yourself: talk as much – or as little – as you want to about Jack; know that it’s OK to accept – or decline – offers of help; and know that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for what you need. People will be honored to help. 

 

Wishing you strength, comfort, and peace. 

 

Much love,

 

Anne

 

December 19, 2016 at 7:24 pm 2 comments

Under Texas Skies

            I spent four years in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-seventies. It was not a happy experience. A half-inch of snow one January, and the whole city closed down. Then there was the headache-inducing summer humidity.

            Working there, I found the coy, syrupy, Southern belle sweetness of some of my co-workers phony and hard to stomach. Add in the fact that—according to the matriarch at the family-owned building supply company I worked for—I remained “That Yankee Girl in th’ Office” for my entire 44 months of employment, and my discomfort meter got nudged toward its limit.

            By the time I moved back north, I had heard enough racist and sexist references from the locals that I was ready for a frontal lobotomy just to stop the screaming in my head that I didn’t have the chutzpah to level at the guilty parties.

            So, when my husband and I moved from the Minneapolis area in Minnesota to the Dallas area in Texas 18 months ago, I expected to experience full-fledged culture shock. South is south, right? Not so, I quickly learned. We have felt nothing but welcomed since day-one of our time here, and I find myself more in-tune politically, philosophically, and spiritually with my new friends and neighbors than I could have ever hoped to be.

            Having said all that, there are things I don’t like about being here. I don’t like endless summer any more than I liked endless winter. And as much as I whined about having to bundle up head-to-toe every time I set foot out my front door from November through March, it really doesn’t seem like Christmas without a crisp, white blanket of snow covering the front yard.

            I also dislike the idea of “outside dogs.” Sure, they add to one’s sense of security, but aren’t canines social creatures? Don’t they need attention from their owners, even if they have a dog-buddy fenced in out there with them? And don’t the neighbors deserve not to be awakened at 4:00 a.m. because the guard pooch mistook a squirrel for an armed intruder?

            Ummm. The local drivers. They seem to be of two extreme types: the ultra-polite person who wants to wave you through the four-way stop even when it isn’t your turn—dangerous in its own way—and the idiot who screams down the George Bush freeway going 25 miles over the posted 70 m.p.h. limit, cutting between you and that 40-ton semi that you were starting to pass on the left.

            But the things I love about life in Texas far outweigh the things I don’t love. People are exceptionally friendly. They chat with you in line at the checkout counter. They wave and smile from their vehicle as they pass you walking your dog, or they stop weeding the garden to come down and shake hands and chew the fat for a spell.

            Here, we have discovered an abundance of good ol’ common sense, which dares to defy political correctness when rational thinking contradicts conventional wisdom. Closely related is the courage of the faithful. Our two favorite restaurants—one a fast food taco joint, the other a fabulous barbecue establishment—both flash Christian witness in neon red on their roadside signs. We’ve seen similar joyful proclamations other places, too, from the local Chamber of Commerce to the receptionist’s desk at the closing company that handled our house purchase. I feel bolstered on all sides by these unabashed efforts to promote faith; I’m no longer on the defensive within a civic environment hostile to and debasing of my beliefs.

            And the skies. I don’t know the scientific explanation for it, but there is something about the chunk of heaven that hangs over our little corner of  northeast Texas. Almost every sunset is a delight and a surprise, with its ever-changing variety of cloud formations and soul-inspiring natural tints that you want to scoop into a jar like fireflies, and bring back inside with you. Hard to capture in a photograph. Even harder to describe. This glorious daily treat—sometimes delivered at sunrise as well—sits near the top of my list of things to appreciate about our new location, right under being close enough to kids and grandkids to gather together at the slightest excuse for a celebration.

            In fairness to Memphis, I imagine things are different there now. New generations, cleansed of the infectious bigotry and regional snobbery of their predecessors, have no doubt changed the feel of the place. But there’s no way they’ll ever be able to compete with the view of the firmament we are blessed with here in Cattle Country, U.S.A.

            I’ll remind myself of that the next time I’m awakened from a sound sleep by the howling mutt next door. These indescribable sky-views are probably worth that trade-off.

October 28, 2016 at 12:06 am 1 comment

It’s a Jungle Out There

This is a photo of our “green space” in Texas. The yard isn’t very big, but we’re thinking of naming it Heinz Acres, since it accommodates at least 47 varieties of indigenous fauna—only one of which even remotely resembles what you could call lawn grass.

According to a guy at the nearest Home Depot whose name tag proclaims him a Master Gardener, the 60 dollars’ worth of product he sold us to lay down according to a rather complicated application schedule should do the trick in taming this overgrowth wasteland of ours. But if anyone out there can offer hints about gardening in the southern climes, we’d sure appreciate hearing them. (Locals call the clay soil hereabouts “gumbo.” Anyone with no allegiance to the area calls it “impossible.”)

And speaking of Home Depot, but in a completely unrelated vein, here’s a handy tip for wives who occasionally find themselves staring vacantly at mile-high racks of lumber while their husbands meticulously sort through the bins for that perfect four-by-eight: Three laps around the outer circumference of a full-sized Home Depot is equal to a mile walked. (And yes, I actually counted out the paces. Don’t mock.)

Several of these circuits, completed at a brisk pace, and you can easily get a mini-workout ticked off your to-do list while dear hubby is engrossed in researching the latest Ryobi drill offerings. Now, everybody goes home happy . . . not a claim I can normally make after 45 minutes of following my beloved down interminable aisles stocked with guy-gizmos and hardware.

Felicitous fall foliage prep and happy hiking to all.

October 15, 2016 at 4:18 pm 1 comment

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

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To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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