Monthly Archives: October 2016

Give Me Rest

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I had a little cold last week, with cough and sniffles and sinus headache. I don’t get sick often, and I’m not very good at it. Don’t get me wrong, I like laying around doing nothing just fine if I’m feeling well. Laziness is one of my strongest personality traits. I just hate feeling lousy. And if I feel too rotten to write, read, draw, play word games or watch movies, I’d might as well get off the couch and do something productive.

So, my strategy, when I’m sick, is to plod through it as well as I can. It usually involves drugs: a non-drowsy capsule to eliminate the symptoms during the daytime, and a heavy-duty night-time cold medicine at bedtime. Add to that lots of hand-washing, hot tea and cough drops, and my life goes on pretty much like normal. Until the virus goes away, and I have no reason to continue to take the night-time cold medicine, and I discover that I have forgotten how to fall asleep without it.

I know…it’s scary that I could become dependent on a simple over-the-counter medicine in five days. Six, because that last night I convinced myself, after lying awake for two hours, that I still had enough of a sniffle to warrant it. But enough is enough. If I had the inclination (or the income!) to live my life in an altered state, I bet I could find something that would bring me better results than just a drug-induced sleep! And the fact is, I’m not crazy about drugs of any kind.

I take two prescribed medicines daily. When I feel my back going into spasm, I am quick to take ibuprofen. I don’t hesitate to grab the aspirin for a headache. If necessary, I take stronger, prescription medicines when my back goes out, or when other ailments demand it. That’s it, though: what I need, only when I need it. I know that all drugs have side effects, and they often out-weigh the benefits. If it alters my state of being, I don’t trust it.

I don’t like being in an altered state. Well, a glass of wine now and then, with dinner, sure. A beer, when I’m doing yard work. I’ll even have a cocktail or two, occasionally, with friends. Never, though, to the point of intoxication. I don’t like that feeling of being out-of-control. I hate it when my back gets to the point – not often – when I have to take the strong, prescription pain medicine and muscle relaxers. They keep me groggy when I’m awake, and make me sleep most of the time. I think any sleep that is brought on by drugs or alcohol is not a truly restful sleep.

So, now that I’m over my cold, I am determined to get back to a “normal” sleep routine. Which involves enough middle-of-the-night work and worry sessions already, thank you. Now, added to my usual restlessness, I am fighting the difficulty of not being able to fall asleep without my nightly dose of cold medicine.

I go to bed at my regular time. I force myself to stay there. If I must do something, I turn on the lamp and read for a bit, before going back to tossing and turning. I am thrilled if the dogs need to go outside, as it gives me an excuse to get up and pace for a few minutes, to try to quiet my mind. Usually, in the early morning hours, I finally fall into a deep sleep. I wake up reluctantly when the alarm goes off, and plod through another day, tired from lack of sleep. It’s just a matter of time, I know. Eventually, my body will readjust, and I’ll be able to get some good rest!

The 52 Lists Project #44

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List the words that warm your spirit:

  • Peace
  • Mama. Though my daughters are all grown up, when a child calls out “Mama,” I still look around to see if someone is calling for me. it’s not the name I grew up with, but the name I identify with most.
  • Gramma…rolls off the tongue easier than “Grand-ma” and is usually what I hear when my grandchildren address me, no matter what their intent.
  • Soup…warms from the inside out.
  • Dinner…evokes thoughts of a big Sunday meal, with family and friends around the table.
  • Dearest
  • Sweetheart
  • Safe
  • Shelter
  • Courage
  • Suppose
  • Water
  • Welcome
  • Rest
  • Easy
  • Hello
  • Lullaby
  • Slumber
  • Comfort
  • Joy
  • Christmas
  • Family. That one came to me as I stumbled down the stairs this morning, with two dogs at my heels. “Come on, family,” I encouraged them.

Ninety

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Most of my childhood memories of my Dad involve a little bit of fear. He intimidated by his size, his temper and his quickly changing moods. He was never mean, and  was judicious and fair when he was in a position to decide punishment, but we saw little of that. Mom did most of the rule-making, enforcement and discipline in our home. When she was overwhelmed, Dad was her weapon. “Wait until your father gets home,” she’d say, or, “If you keep it up I’ll have to talk to your father,” and we would fall into line. We never wanted to have to answer to Dad!

Dad had a big voice, and a volatile disposition. He had a long stride, broad shoulders and a wide grin. He’d toss a child over his shoulder, or dangle them upside-down by the ankles. He’d rub a child’s scalp with his knuckles, or grab them by the knees to hear them squeal. He could go from chuckling at a child’s antics to a stern and loud, “Now cut it out! That’s enough,” in the blink of an eye, without warning. He was a big tease, but he did not like to be teased himself. He always seemed unpredictable, and that kept me on edge.

The trepidation I felt in his presence stayed with me right into adulthood. It lasted all of Dad’s life. Though I always loved him, we had a cautious relationship. If I sensed irritation in his tone or his manner, I’d be quick to change the subject, get my children under control or alter whatever it was that seemed to be irritating him. It wasn’t fair to  him, probably, that I walked on eggshells around him, but I rarely had the stamina to stand up to him. It was easier to just avoid conflict, or upsetting him in any way.

Dad had a quiet side, too, though, and that’s where I most relate to him. Driving, he kept his eyes on the road; he leaned against the door, and rarely spoke a word. Getting home from work at midnight, he’d fix himself a simple snack – sometimes bread, torn into a bowl and covered with milk – and read all the way through The Flint Journal, the newspaper that Mom had left on the kitchen table for him. Mornings, after tackling his gardening jobs, he could be found at that same table playing solitaire.

Dad’s mother died when he was thirteen years old. I used to marvel at how he’d never seemed to stop grieving the loss. I’d wonder at how his life would have been different, if she’d lived another twenty years. It’s not such a wonder to me anymore. My Dad died in 1998, when I was forty-six years old. I have never stopped feeling the loss, never stopped missing him. Today would be my Dad’s ninetieth birthday…I wish he was here.

Give Me Joy

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Yesterday at work, I told Kathleen about a page in my journal titled “One Good Thing.” The title is in a circle, and rays go out from it, each one numbered one through thirty-one, for every day this month. It encourages me to find something, every single day, that made me feel good. It might be a phone call from a friend, a walk down the Hannigan Road with my dogs, or a package in the mail.

“Yesterday, the good thing was that I worked with you,” I told her. Then (for fear we should get too maudlin at work), I added (and we both laughed), “It was kind of a crap day…that was the best I could come up with.” It was a nice day working with her, though, and if I hadn’t been writing those things down, it might have gone unnoticed.I’m trying to be more mindful of the things that bring me pleasure. For many years, I did just the opposite.

As a creative person – a writer and a visual artist – and as someone who always likes to have one cause or another under her wing, I used to resent my middling, “white-bread” life. “It would be so much easier to be creative if I were Black…or at least Native American,” I would mourn (with obviously very little knowledge about what could actually make a life easier!). Why did I have to have to grow up in a family that was only barely poor and mildly dysfunctional? My marriage wasn’t good, but it wasn’t “Burning Bed” bad, either. Where was a creative person to get their material?

The other side of that issue is the desire to do creative work that is personal to me. I could – and sometimes do – embrace larger causes: world peace, hunger, poverty, women’s issues. If I stretch beyond my true knowledge and sincere interest, though, it not only feels false, it is insulting to the cause. I’d may as well be trying to paint landscapes that I have never seen, or write about civilizations that I know nothing about.

Reluctantly, I took my own ordinary life with its average experiences, and let my ideas flow from that uninspired base.  I discovered that, with heart, the ordinary becomes special, and the common makes room for the common bond. And I learned to find satisfaction in creating from what I could glean from my own run-of-the-mill life.

Still, I tend toward melodrama. I lean toward pessimism. I expect unfavorable results; I dwell on worst-case scenarios. Though I have a million good things in my life, I’ve never been very good at gratitude. I’m trying to do better. On my daily pages, I put a little heart in the margin next to accomplishments that made me feel good (as apposed to just “accomplished”). And now I have my “One Good Thing” chart, which forces me, even on a bad day, to find something joyous.

That, alone, is one good thing!

Timeout for Art: Collage

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I like emptying my pockets at the end of the day. I will find there bits of paper, scraps of packaging and tag-ends of envelopes: things that caught my interest, in the moment, for color, shape or texture. I am like a crow, attracted to sparkle and brights.

I like going through the trays and shallow bowls that hold these scraps. I enjoy moving them around on a painted surface until the shapes and colors start communicating with each other. I keep the conversation going: I add other shapes and elements, maybe a bit of rubbed color or a stamped or stenciled image, perhaps a wash of translucent watercolor.

Eventually, everything transcends its humble beginnings, becoming better than any of the elements that went into it.

That’s what i like about collage.

Give Me Shelter

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A few years ago, when it seems I had more time for things like that, I sometimes made my own greeting cards. I have a good assortment of nice papers for cards and envelopes. Sometimes I’d make a collage for the front; other times I’d cut a section of a drawing,  painting or print and glue it in place. Inside, I’d write my sentiments. Often, I’d choose a quote or a bit of poetry to compliment my good wishes.

Once, for an anniversary card for friends, I chose a couple lines from a poem by Carl Sandburg:

It is good to be Warm…

and sure of Tomorrow

At first, it seemed like the perfect sentiment. Then, I worried. Did that sound cynical? Bland? No talk of love or romance; no hints at passion. Was this even appropriate for an anniversary card? In the end, I went with it, hoping it would be taken in the spirit that was intended.

Personally, when I think of the beauty of a long-term relationship, and the things that I lack having been alone these many years, these are exactly the things that seem important. I am a stubborn, “bull-headed” woman, set in my ways and probably unfit for living peacefully with anyone. My marriage was clearly not working, and I’ve now been divorced for more than thirty years. It has been a decade or more since I’ve been in any kind of committed relationship. I am not unhappy with my life.

Still, there are times when it would be nice to have an arm around me, or a hand to support me. It would be such a pleasure to have another person to turn to when something doesn’t work, or something needs repair. Someone to talk to when everything seems right, or when things go wrong. I am fortunate to have dear friends and family who are often there to fill in the gaps in my life. I am also lucky that I truly like being alone. I have to admit, this has become a greater concern with age.

There is a calmness of spirit when there is someone beside you, who has shared enough life and experience with you to create a deeper bond and mutual understanding. To be fully known and accepted for who you are is a blessing. There is an ease of words and movement then, that never quite measures up when you’re on your own. That’s my experience, anyway.

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #21

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Here I was, with two requests for my recipe for the Cashew Chicken that I mentioned in my Sunday list, happy to share the recipe but too lazy to look for it and then type it out, when I opened Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. The random page offered this prompt:

Write about a meal you love.

Okay, then! I’ll admit, right off, that – though I know I followed this recipe from a book, originally – I cannot find the recipe. I have made it often, over the years, and altered the amounts based on how many people I was serving. Everything is approximate.

Plan to have about three cups of rice cooked and ready to serve with this dish. I have a rice cooker, which gives me one less thing to worry about when I’m in the middle of stir-frying.

As with any Chinese cooking, do all the dicing and cutting up ahead of time. It also helps to have your thickening ingredients already mixed up, the chicken broth measured out, and any cans and packages opened and drained.

  • Two whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It’s helpful, in cutting them up, if they are partially frozen. Cut them lengthwise into strips, then cut each strip into 1″ pieces
  • One package of mushrooms, cleaned, stem ends trimmed, sliced
  • One box of frozen pea pods (you know, like the Green Giant sized freezer box). You can use fresh if you’re up to cleaning, stringing and blanching them. It seems like the frozen are more predictably fresh, and a lot easier.
  • One can (just the flattish, tuna fish sized can) of bamboo shoots, drained.
  • One bunch of green onions. Clean them, then slice the white part into narrow slices, the green part into wider slices. Don’t use the dark dry part of the greens, but the tender lighter parts. If you are up for it, you can make several cuts down from one end of the green parts (which are kind of tubular, like a short straw) almost but not all of the way through, so that they open up like a flower when they are heated. I never do this.
  • One cup of chicken broth
  • One quarter cup of soy sauce, combined with two teaspoons of corn starch, for thickening
  • One cup of cashews
  • Peanut oil, or another bland, flavorless oil for frying

Assemble all ingredients, all sliced up and ready to go.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat (A wok definitely needs high heat, especially over an electric burner. If you use a skillet or a flat bottomed wok, or if you have a gas burner, a little less heat may be better. You don’t want things to burn, but cooking quickly is key) and add about a tablespoon of oil.

Add the cashews and cook, stirring constantly, until they are just toasted. Remove them and set aside.

You may need another bit of oil in the pan at this time.

Toss in the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until it is white.

Add the mushrooms and continue stirring for another minute or two.

Stir in the pea pods, bamboo shoots and chicken broth. Cover. You may need to lower the heat slightly at this point. Simmer about 10 minutes.

Add the soy sauce/cornstarch mixture to thicken the broth. As soon as it thickens, you’re done. Scatter  the green onions over the other ingredients. Remove to a serving dish, then scatter the cashews on top.

Serve over rice.

That’s it!

I used to try to double or triple this recipe, but things take longer to get hot/cook, and the results aren’t as good because things steam rather than fry. From my friend Huey Chu, I learned the Chinese way, which is to add another dish. That is rarely an issue in my household. This will serve four to six people, depending on appetites. I’d count on plenty for four. Once, I had a dozen people for dinner. I made Cashew Chicken, Stir-Fried Beef with Broccoli, and Sweet and Sour Pork. Amazingly, everything got done in a timely fashion and tasted delicious. I will never try that again!