Cup o’ Joe ~ by Sam

You know those mornings when you wake up and, suddenly, you are a hardcore coffee addict?  I mean, I always love my coffee ~ and not only in the mornings, either ~ but I’m talking about the days when you wake up like a junkie.  Is that just me?  Because it’s not every day ~ in fact, it’s rather rare, and I get through most mornings entirely without coffee.  Some days, I get kids to school, stop at the grocery store ~ my other addiction, apparently, since I am there at least once every single day of my life ~ drive home and brew a pot before I have my first cup.  There are even days when I don’t have coffee at all.  I know.  Life without coffee?  I’m a mad woman.

Anyway, it’s not that I am actually so addicted to the caffeine in my coffee that I can’t function without it.  Most of the time, I do just fine, with or without; and a cup a day is usually sufficient.  I’m not even one of those “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee” people.  Most of the time.

Why, then, are there days when I wake up jonesing?  Jittery, single-minded ~ “COFFEE.  Where is the coffee?” ~ I stumble to the kitchen to scare up a cup.  And, ‘though I truly enjoy an excellent cup of coffee, I will take anything that even remotely qualifies on these occasions.  I’ll drink instant coffee.  Instant coffee isn’t good.  I’m not even convinced it’s coffee.  People should be selling this crap from under their trenchcoats ~ “Pssst.  Psssst!!  Hey, you, lady, over there!  Want some…coffee?  It’s the good stuff.  Just add water!”  And, really, adding water is just a formality.  I think, if I didn’t have a shred of self-respect, I might just snort it.  Well, you know…provided there weren’t other people around…and my nose wasn’t stuffed up, which it always is…But, IN THEORY, I would.

So, this particular morning, I stumble upstairs at the lakehouse ~ you know, because, thanks to our friends, we are briefly living the lakehouse life again ~ grumble good morning at someone, pour my crappy instant coffee powder into a large mug, and just add water.  Hot water.  I had to wait for it to boil, but, in the meantime, I just stood there, inhaling powdered coffee fumes.  So, that helped.  After reconstituting what I can only dream must have been coffee in its past life ~ the package boasts that it contains “instant and microground coffee,” so there must be actual coffee in there ~  I add a little (non-dairy) creamer, stir, and, finally, get my first taste.  It’s crappy, as I suspected, but, oh, so good.  God only knows why.  It’s too hot, too strong, and not delicious, but I drink the whole steaming, awful mess as if it were the nectar of the gods.  What is wrong with me?

For the record, I have not been on a bender.  I’m not coming off a weeklong drunk ~ or even an evening-long drunk, for that matter.  I slept magnificently last night.

Ah.  Maybe that’s it.  I haven’t slept well since…well, geez….when was that?  I was gonna say “1984” (the year, not the book ~ I just put it in quotes because I was gonna say it), but it occurs to me that I have been sedated.  So, when was the last time I was sedated?  I think it was when I had my broken nose repaired.  Come to think of it, I probably didn’t sleep well ~ and no one should ever tell me what happened during that particular sleep, by the way.  So, I’m gonna go with 1984.  It’s a rough estimate.  Probably there have been other good sleeps, but I don’t remember them, because I was sleeping.

Whatever the reason, I awoke in desperate need of coffee this morning.  And desperate times call for desperate measures.  So, here I sit, drinking my second cup of gross instant coffee.  I oughta be ashamed.  I think, maybe, I am.  In fact, I am reasonably certain someone has now brewed actual coffee, but I am still drinking this garbage.  I must be punishing myself.

BadCoffee

 

Think, thank…thunk. ~ by Sam

Lake12:15This afternoon, I find myself sitting at the pass-thru bar at the lake house ~ not our lake house, but the lake house of the family of dear and generous friends of ours, who routinely invite us to tag along for a couple of vacations each year, thereby enabling us to pretend we are the type of people who have fabulous lakefront property when, in fact, what we have are fabulous friends ~ while everyone else (and that means 11 of the 12 of us still here) is engaged in some game or book, or other entertainment.

(Was that whole first paragraph a single sentence?  Wow!  Do I get a “Giant, Convoluted Sentence” Award for that? Is it shiny?!)

I have done my PT, read my book (kindle, because now I am finally beginning to catch up with the times…you know, the times that were several years ago, because I catch up slowly), bathed luxuriously (and almost uninterrupted), practiced my banjo, made breakfast and started dinner, gone for a walk with my firstborn, and exhausted every other solitary pastime I can currently fathom.

So, now, I am thinking.

It’s a thing I do.  You know, when I have run out of other things to do.  I think, sometimes, I should try to do it more often; but then I usually decide I am “overthinking” things, and go back to my usual devil-may-care lifestyle.  (And, f you believe that, I’ve got some waterfront property in Florida that might interest you. In truth, there is probably not enough Ativan in the world to counteract some of the thinking I do.)  The truth is, I think.  Boy, do I think. Sometimes, I think I think more than I act.  And so, I start to think I should plan things, do things, be PRODUCTIVE.

Isn’t that how we’re supposed to be?  Go-getting, gung-ho, productive autobots. Because we are defined by what we produce, aren’t we?  And yet, I seem to get all wrapped up in how I feel, and what I think, and I think that’s where my real substance is: all in my head.  So, then, what mark will I leave on the world?  Maybe these young humans I’ve spawned?  Maybe my students of yore?  Maybe just that quiche I made this morning. Because I made something, and people ate it, and it sustained them, and a little part of something I made ~ something I created ~ became a part of someone else, fueling all of their endeavours.  So, maybe, that’s the way I work.  Maybe that’s how I create.  That’s my contribution to the world.

Often, when I find myself thinking, I start getting all of these grand plans of things I want to do, or make, or be; and then I turn around, and I’m still just sitting here, thinking about it.

As the new year approaches, I think, “Maybe this will be the year.”  Maybe I’ll do something truly, deeply meaningful this year.  And then, I think, “Eh.”

Really.  That’s it.  That’s all I’ve got.

Because, see, enacting all my plans and schemes seems so complicated, as compared to just sitting here at the pass-thru bar, thinking about them.

Today, I found myself saying to a kid, “If wishes were horses…”  I say that.  You know it, right?  “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride!” They say that (I say that) like it’s a preposterous thought.  Beggars?  Ride?  The hell, you say! But why?  Why is it so hard to believe that beggars should ride?  Should beggars just shrug, and remain beggars?  That’s not how the world works, is it?  Give up on your dreams, kids ~ there’s no point in deluding yourselves!  I mean, seriously: WHAT THAT HELL?  Why do I say this?  Do I believe it?  Really?  Fuck that.

Yeah, I said that.  And I meant it, too.  Not the wishes thing.  The “fuck” thing.  Sorry.  Totally meant that. Because the thing is, wishes, dreams, aspirations, they are the things that keep us moving forward, aren’t they?  They keep us striving for something beyond what we have, beyond what we are.  And so, this year ~ THIS year! ~ Well, couldn’t it be the one in which all of us beggars finally ride?

See, this is why I shouldn’t be left on my own for long.  You know what started all this thinking?  You know why we’re here?  (Brace yourselves.)  It was Pinterest.  Complicated braided hairstyles on Pinterest.  Next thing I know, I’m thinking about growing out my hair, and how great it will be to have the opportunity to DO ALL THESE THINGS with my glorious, long, magnificent hair!  Except that my hair drives me insane.  There’s just so much of it.  And let’s be realistic: what I “do” with it is wash it, brush it, stick it in a bun.  Because, again: So.  Much.  Hair. I don;t know.  Maybe I will grow my hair, and maybe I won’t.  These are, obviously, important life choices.

The thing is, all that thinking about hair got me to thinking about other stuff.

So,  now, I’m thinking again.  And thinking almost always leads me to trying to do things.  And doing things is HARD.

But it’s too late, now.  I’ve already started thinking again.

Fine.

Bring it on 2016.
I can take you.

Disorderly Conduct ~ by Sam

Let’s talk about our obsession with weight loss.  I don’t mean MY obsession with weight loss, which is, on most days, a thing of the past.  I mean ours, as a culture.  I mean, let’s talk about the messages we send, especially to women and girls, about body image, weight, and the constant need to count calories, exercise, reduce, reduce, reduce!

Based on the ads seen in magazines, television and the internet, heard on the radio, and emblazoned on the sides of public transit vehicles, billboards and bus stops, the spam emails I receive on a daily basis, and the “suggestions” that pop up on my Pinterest and other online accounts, we, as a culture are all, presumably, obsessed with the idea of losing weight and achieving the elusive “ideal body.”  If we believe the ads, we can assume it’s all we ever think about:  “How can I get through this Holiday without gaining weight?  How can I cut the calories in my favourite dishes, so I can still eat them, but not gain weight?  How can I lose those extra pounds I put on over the Holiday?  What exercises can I do to sculpt my abs, lift my bum, tone my thighs?  What should I wear to look my best?  How can I use makeup to achieve a flawless, chiseled look?”  If we aren’t careful, the ads go to work on our fragile psyches and, in a twisted example of self-fulfilling prophesy, we become those body-image obsessed creatures to whom the advertisements speak.

And it all leaves me thinking, “When will this stop?  How can we learn to just be healthy, and to see the beauty each of us already, naturally, exudes?”

I am inundated on a daily basis with messages striving to convince me that I am not thin enough, not toned enough, not pretty enough, not sexy enough, just…not enough.  It’s not a hard sell for me, because my ego is still pretty fragile in the body image department.  When I see these topics popping up as “suggestions,” based on my internet habits, I have to wonder, “Why?”  Is it because I search health and fitness topics?   Recipes?  Special diets (not weight-loss diets, but vegetarian, dairy-free, anti-inflammation…)?  Is it assumed the only way anyone would want to improve their overall health would be by losing weight?  Do we only strive to improve our health in an effort to look “good enough” in the eyes of others?

Some people reading this might be thinking to themselves, “Why would all that stuff bother you?  It doesn’t even apply to you ~ you’re thin!”  It’s true, I am.  I am also an eating disorder survivor, which, again, is a bit like being a recovering addict.  I think I will always be in recovery.  There will always be a switch in my brain, just waiting to be flipped to trigger those disordered thoughts and behaviours.  And I can’t be the only one.  Do we all have that switch, and is it merely a matter of waiting to see whether or not it is flipped?  Let’s pause for a moment to consider how being inundated with those messages affects children growing up in our society.

I’m not saying the advertisement industry is responsible for my eating disorder.  There is so much more to it than that.  But think, for a moment, about being a young girl, and being inundated with images of seemingly “perfect” female bodies.  Imagine (if it has not been your experience ~ which, if you live in the U.S. and are exposed to the media, I am willing to bet it has been) being fed subliminal messages your entire life about what it means to be beautiful, and that you will never measure up.  Because that’s the message we are sent, constantly: “You aren’t thin enough.  You aren’t pretty enough. You aren’t toned enough. You just aren’t good enough”  We are constantly spoonfed this idea that we must need to “improve” our appearance, which, just by its very nature, has a tendency to convince us that we must.  That we aren’t there yet.  And, see, we will never be “there,” because, if we are ~ if we attain that “ideal” ~ they have nothing left to sell us.  We are their market.  “Buy our product, so you, too, can be perfect!”

Does this happen to little boys?  I think it must, to some degree, and I certainly see it happening to men, too, but there does seem to be a tremendous focus on body image in marketing to girls and women.  I don’t want to discount the male experience of the same images and messages.  I know it’s there.  I can only speak from my own experience, however, and it occurs to me, as I write this, that all of us have a narrow view of the world that is specific to our own experience.  So let’s not say this is just a problem for girls and women.  Let’s say, “people.”  Because, even ads that seem to be targeted at girls and women are having a negative affect on the ideas men and boys have about fitness, attractiveness, and what is and is not a realistic goal. Then there are all the ads targeted at men in which the models are svelte, chiseled (probably, also, with a photoshop assist).  It’s all sending the same, negative message.

But then, companies making ads exist to sell a product or service.  They want us to buy into their ideal body image myth, so we will buy their goods and services.  I get that.  But, why can’t the ads reflect something closer to reality?  I see some companies moving in that direction, and that’s a good thing.  But how do we turn off those negative responses inside ourselves.  How do we strike that delicate balance between being healthy and responsible in the choices we make about food and fitness, and being obsessed?  How do we learn to look in the mirror and see the beauty that’s there, no matter who we are?

I’m not saying no one ever needs to think about fitness or weight loss, because those can be healthy goals.  I just want to know how to keep that negative body image and self-destructive behaviour switch in my own brain firmly in the “off” position while outside forces constantly threaten to switch it “on” again.  More importantly: How do we keep it from ever turning on in our youth?  I’ve got a pretty firm handle on how to beat an eating disorder, I guess, even if it remains, for me, a daily battle; but how can we change the messages we send, particularly (but not only) to children, so that switch never flips on in the first place?  Maybe by placing the focus more on our intrinsic self-worth, our intellect, strength, ingenuity, talent, humour, kindness ~ all of that great value with which each and every one of us is born.  Our uniqueness.  Our ability to overcome adversity.  Our silliness.  Everything it is that makes us who we are.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?  If we all learned to base our self-worth on who we are, inside, rather than how we look, would our whole world view change?  I know there are people out there who do this already, and I so admire them.  How do we, as a culture, make that standard our norm?

I don’t think there is any escape from the idealized, artificial, manufactured “perfect” that is being sold to us, but I think there is hope in the way we deal with it, the things we say to our children and youth, to each other, even to ourselves.  I think it is important to start a positive monologue inside ourselves, reiterating that we are, in fact, good enough.  We’re strong.  We’re beautiful.  We are better than “good enough,” and we always have been.  I think if we can change the way we talk about (and to) ourselves, maybe, just maybe, we will change the way we see ourselves ~ and maybe, with that small change, will come a change in the way others see us, and, ultimately, in the way they see themselves.

So, yes, strive to be healthy.  Do make responsible choices about food and fitness.  But start our knowing that you are already perfect, and beautiful, just as you are.

Counting My Blessings ~ by Sam

Today, we went Christmas shopping with the girls.  Almost every year (we’ve missed a few), the five of us go to the mall together.  We separate into small groups ~ or, now that the girls are older, we might all go our separate ways ~ to shop for each other.  Before splitting up, however, we like to spend some time shopping together for grandparents, friends, etc.  It gives us a chance to see what the others like, enjoy the decorations, music, maybe a snack, and to shop for our little “Christmas Angel.”

Each year, we stop by and pick an angel off a tree at the mall.  These are little cards, hung like ornaments on the tree, each with the name and age of a child, the child’s clothing sizes, interests and/or gift requests.  Shoppers can take a card, shop for gifts for the child, then return the card and gifts to be wrapped and given to the child.  The girls usually like to choose a little boy to shop for, since they don’t have a little brother.  It is one of our favourite traditions, and, no matter how lean things might be for us, we always manage to find enough to buy a gift for one of these little angels.

This morning, on our way in to Mass, we noticed a similar tree there.  We decided to choose a card from that tree, and the girls selected a 2-year-old girl this time, since they hadn’t shopped for a little girl in a long time.  We were excited at the prospect of shopping for a couple of adorable little outfits and a toddler-appropriate toy  to brighten a little child’s Holiday.  After Mass, we drove to the mall, and, as soon as we walked in, there was the tree, with more little cards hung all over it.  The girls decided to look, just in case they wanted to shop for another child.

We were finding a lot of older kids, asking for things like bicycles, which we weren’t sure we could afford, but kept checking the cards, just in case there was something we could manage.  We were just about ready to leave when we came upon a card that was written for a 1-month-old boy.  The card asked for a stroller and diapers.

A stroller and diapers.

We just couldn’t walk away.  This tiny baby needed a stroller and diapers for Christmas.  The girls all offered to pitch in, and we took the card.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a store in the mall that sold diapers, so we got a stroller and two tiny outfits ~ one with suit pants, a matching vest, and a tiny button-up dress shirt, and one with a sweatshirt and pants, and a little warm puffer vest.  When we returned to the tree with the gifts and tag, we explained that we hadn’t been able to find diapers, and the woman working at the table said she would get the diapers and add them to our gift.  We also found an adorable sweater and leggings set for the little girl, as well as a gorgeous, sparkly silver dressy dress and sweater set.  We have another week to find a little toy to go with it.

When we got home this evening, the garage, which we just had fixed, was leaking again, as was the bathroom ceiling.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do about these new little bumps in the road, but a baby boy will get a stroller, a couple of snazzy outfits and some diapers for Christmas, and a little girl will get a dress fit for a princess, some play clothes, and a little toy.  And me?  There’s a roof (albeit, a leaky one) over my head, and food on the table.  If that’s not enough, I get these sweet, tender-hearted girls, and this generous, kind-hearted man.

Already, I got my wish.

Musings ~ by Sam

I have found myself very contemplative lately.  Reflective.  It’s not a place I usually go.  I think…hmmm…maybe it’s the season for that sort of thing ~ reflecting over things past, looking toward things to come…  It’s been…  Well.  It’s BEEN.  I think, sometimes, I must be a very shallow person.  I live on the surface.  There’s is so much going on that is background noise.  Past hurt and disappointments, failure, challenges ~ some of which feel like, maybe, for a time, at least,  beat me ~ endings, beginnings, in-betweens.  It all starts to run together, and, I think, at a certain point, we start to realize that we are all of those things, all at once, and that’s what life ~ what reality ~  is.  It’s all just this massive consciousness, you know?  We travel through this journey that is our life, and we just keep picking up cargo as we go, and it’s all just…assimilated.  It becomes part of our “whole.”  The people we know, the experiences we have, the things we feel ~ it’s all part of whatever is that essential truth that is ~ what?  Us?  Or life?  Reality?  The soul?  God?

I think about God a lot, lately.  Is that weird?  I do.  I have watched people I love stare down death, and I think that gives you pause to consider large questions.  I think about this belief I have that there is some…thing…or some…I don’t know, exactly, to be honest, but…well, there’s just something in each of us that makes us more than just an individual. I mean, of course, we are individuals: but, somehow, I feel we are part of something larger, something whole, and important. There’s some…I don’t know…some intrinsic value in not our existence alone, but our existence here, at this time, among these people, in this place, as part of this corporal experience.  It’s meaningful, and, I guess, whatever that thing is, it’s my God.  That’s how I understand it.  I think it’s my belief in the Holy Spirit ~ in the idea that there is a little part of God (or whatever you want to call it) in each of us that makes us part of some common wholeness ~ that makes me feel safe and secure in the world.  I can move forward, because I know I am part of something that is more than just my own experience of the world.

I’ve had people ask me how, being intelligent, I can believe in God. If science can explain things like our origin, for instance, why believe in God?  I get that.  It’s a valid question.  I guess, for me, science is the very proof that God exists.  I mean, the fact that I can find answers, that there are answers to find, is part of what I understand as “God.”  I remember, years ago (we were teenagers), when a friend of mine was talking with another friend at a party about this very subject.  They talked way back through the Big Bang, and she asked him what caused the conditions to exist that made that happen the way it did, and he replied, “There was…some… force…”  “May the Force be with you, Luke Skywalker,” she replied, “I call that God.”  And I thought, “Yeah.  That’s it.  Me, too.”  It’s the fact that things CAN be explained that makes me believe in God.

Sort of.  It’s that, and…well, to be honest, it’s a choice. I choose to believe.  I want to live in a world where there are angels and saints and a commonality that binds us together and makes us one people, no matter what we call it.  I want to be live in a world where the reason I treat my fellow man well is because we are all part of the same thing.  Because, no matter how different we are, there is an essential sameness that overrides all of that and makes us one.  It’s that oneness that is my God.