If you've read the book The Alchemist then you've looked into the heart of this man, Paulo Coelho. Krista Tiippett's interview allows you to hear him talk about crafting a life that is full of joy. He truly makes life sound like an adventure that we can all craft and experience in our own way. Have a listen at On Being...Paulo Coelho-The Alchemy of Pilgrimage
Colorfully whimsical are the words that come to mind each time I look up from my computer to see the print by Brian Andreas hanging on my wall. I like to think that I am one who goes as the wind goes without a care in the world. But under the harsh stare from the woman in the mirror, I know this to be an illusion. I like order. It's satisfying to be in control and fun to wake each morning with a to-do list as a map for my day's journey.
Now keep in mind, there is one caveat to my love of order and control; I must control my to-do list. After working for someone else most of my adult life, I started my own company so I could be in control. This too is an illusion but one that is more palatable than the other option.
Since Matthew's accident, I have returned home to organize and control. I have cleaned and rearranged closets, kitchen cabinets, personal and professional files, flower beds and even the basement. Not so subconsciously I've worked to wrestle control from the chaos that hovers on the periphery of life by organizing my physical world. This too is an illusion but one that results in a clean house and basement.
Quite frankly the real marvel in this world is not how many things go wrong in our life but how many things go right. Billions of people go about their business each day without a major mishap and while the minor ones are irritating, they are only as irritating as we allow them to be. So I have returned home to create an illusion that includes color, whimsy, gratitude, a clean house and letting go of the irritating stuff.
Want to know something that really annoys me? Bloggers who disappear with no hug goodbye, see you in the funny papers or explanation of why he or she went silent. I mean, I thought we were friends, I signed up for your newsletter, laughed at your jokes and even tried that high calorie dessert that you said was fabulous and then puff, you were gone. My attitude toward that blogger was less than charitable. I am here to tell you I got an attitude adjustment the hard way.
During the wee hours of August 17th, I got THE phone call that stops the heart of every parent. My son, Matthew, had been airlifted to the Atlanta Medical Center. AMC is a Trauma One facility that is in the business of saving lives and my son needed the expertise of its doctors and surgeons. He had been training for the Lake Tahoe Ironman by cycling through the Appalachian Mountains near Dahlonega, GA. As Matthew descended one of the mountains, a local man hit him with his car, breaking 4 or 5 of his vertebrates, 7 upper ribs, both clavicles, right scapula, his C1 and collapsing a lung.
The moment I heard that Matthew had been airlifted, I stood straight up and starting packing for a flight to Atlanta from New York. Marty and I received the call at 2:15 AM and by 8:00 AM that same morning I was by his bedside. I have not been home since. I sat by his bed in ICU for 6 days and watched him go through one surgery and the installation of a Halo. I caravanned with Marty and Matthew to Brooks Rehab Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida and witnessed him learning of his limitations for the next 12 weeks. Since being released from Brooks, I've been with Matthew and his 4 children at their home, washing clothes, caring for Halo pins and generally doing whatever I can to support them during this time of recovery.
I tell you all this as part of the explanation for my silence. I am not the only one to help my son and his children during this time. It has truly been a family and community effort but this event changed my life. I had grand plans for Footsteps this fall. My energy level was high after my sabbatical year and I was ready to blog about my new raised herb beds, fall in the Hudson Valley and my training schedule for Run the River 5K in October. But to quote Allen Saunders: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. My son and grandchildren need me and I love them, so here I am.
I am still going to blog about the raised bed but I will now be sharing with you the ins and outs of coming back from a major health trauma. Some of the lessons I learned I want to pass on to you with the prayer that you will never need them.
Hugs to you all,
Time travel is possible. I can attest to that reality because each time I smell newly mown grass or fresh peaches, I am transported back in time. I am delivered to a place and time when thunderstorms were a daily "happening" and summer vacation lasted so long that returning to school was welcomed with anticipation and a new pair of shoes. The challenge with time travel triggered by smell is you can't control it.
Yesterday afternoon moments after a brief rainstorm, I was transported to the South of my childhood. Steam rose from the asphalt as the cool summer rain struck the hot road releasing the smelly fragrance of water, chemicals and dirt. With the first intake of the odorous smell, I was gone. I found myself playing chase in the rain with my red-faced, sweaty neighborhood friends; a game that abruptly ended with the first rupture of lightening against the livid and menacing thunderclouds. We took cover in the carport until the storm wore itself out and a rainbow signaled the all clear.
All this brings me back to peaches. Peaches are the quintessential summer food. Eat one plain or whip up a peach cobbler for a perfect summer dessert. My favorite is peach ice cream. At family gatherings the adults would take turns at the hand crank keeping the dasher rotating in the can. My cousins and I would take turns packing ice and salt in the tub working hard to make every ice cube count. Today I use a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker; the process is easier but not nearly as much fun.
Do you make homemade ice cream? Do you have summer smells that release strong memories? How about time travel, been anywhere fun lately? Don't be lulled into thinking summer will go on for ever, it's not long before school starts again so go outside and play.
Peach Ice Cream
1 cup of well chilled, whole milk *
3/4 of cup granulated sugar
2 cups of well chilled, heavy cream
2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
3 cups of diced and mashed peaches **
1. In a medium bowl combine milk and granulated sugar.
2. Whisk to mix until sugar is dissolved.
3. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.
4. Pour into freezer bowl and churn
* Fat is what makes ice cream rich and creamy. The higher the fat content the richer the ice cream. But sometimes I use skim milk and it is tasty too.
** Some recipes call for sliced peaches or chunks. I've found that large pieces of fruit in homemade ice cream freezes hard and isn't all that flavorful. I mash my peaches to keep them from becoming tasteless ice balls.
Growing up I remember clearly my mother saying, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all". That maxim along with her belief that you don't talk politics or religion at the dinner table was the core of her life philosophy. My mother was a nice person who was gracious and kind to all her friends but she was not open to sharing much about herself with others. Her philosophy, while workable at dinner parties and bridge parties, didn't leave much room to discuss the struggles that touch us all at some point during life on this planet.
I don't hold to Mom's hard and fast rules about not sharing with others the events that shape life but I do worry about joining the TMI (Too Much Information) Camp. I am not that person whose life dream is to spill all on the Jerry Springer show or weep affectionately with Oprah on TV. Nope that's not me but I have learned that as human beings we share common experiences in life and that we can learn from one another. I'm not ready to discuss religion or politics but I will chat about what drove me to take a sabbatical.
I was burned out. I was burned out on life. It wasn't just my work; it was everything. Why did I think I was experiencing burnout? I had several of the ten classic symptoms. They are:
Lack of Motivation
Frustration, Cynicism and Other Negative Emotions
Slipping Job Performance
Personal Problems at Home and at Work
Not Taking Care of Yourself
Being Preoccupied with Work...When You Are Not at Work
Generally Decreased Satisfaction
The most concerning symptom was the negative emotion I was feeling. I was angry. It is uncomfortable even now to admit but I was. I had been diagnosed with and treated for cancer, hit by a car, watched my mother's health fade as she walked her end of life journey and sat by helplessly as my ex-daughter-in-law walked out on her marriage to my son. And all this happened in a 5-year time frame. I was tired and I was just plain pissed off. As a 5-year old I might have packed up my favorite stuffed animal and run away but adults aren't allow to do that so I went on sabbatical.
Giving myself permission to reorder the priorities in life allowed me to regain the balance needed to recharge and energize. I am blessed that I was able to take the time to rest, create and spend time with people that I love but it was necessary. I didn't want to become some bitter old woman chasing kids and dogs off her lawn because they were getting too near her gnome collection. (I don't really have a gnome collection but I might one day.)
What do you do when you feel the symptoms of burnout and can't take a year off for a sabbatical? Start by making sure you are taking these actions. First, get enough sleep. Sleep helps you replenish your energy and allows you to manage the stress in your life effectively. Next, unplug. Set boundaries for yourself and your family. As a teenager, I was bummed that we weren't allowed to take phone calls during dinner. As an adult I understand. Third, get serious about relaxing. You must relax during periods of high stress. Illness, caring for aging parents and work all require your attention but without periods of down time, life becomes burdensome and burnout may result.
Have you experienced burnout? If so, how did you handle it? I would love to hear you solutions to managing burnout.
A year ago I shared with you my desire to take the time and dedicate the energy to delve into goals that were not driven by work. To that end, this past year I did just that. The outcome was not as envisioned, it was better. My sabbatical year allowed me to decompressed and refocus on the people and "work" that I cared about and helped me clarify how I want to live the Fourth Quarter of my life. My time has been well spent. If you're thinking of taking a sabbatical year, here are a couple of things to help you with your planning.
First, make a plan for the year but be open to unplanned opportunities. Everything I read before committing to taking a sabbatical year stated that having a plan would help make the most of my time. I found that my willingness to follow the path where ever it would lead me to be the most rewarding and enlightening part of the journey. Don't let adherence to "the plan" take over your sabbatical.
Next, be prepared for friends and family to be confused by the term sabbatical. Sabbaticals are traditionally the purview of college professors and eccentric designers, not small business owners. The idea that you may deliberately take time to do something other than work is foreign to others and in my case always ended with the other person saying, "Oh, you are retired". No, I am on sabbatical.
And finally, there may be no ta-da or grand fanfare at the end of the year. In my case, I will make a few changes in my life based some of my experiences from the past year but I am not running off to join the French Foreign Legion or start skydiving. An example of a change I am making is spending more time out of doors everyday. I will no longer be tied to a computer for hours on end without a "go outside and play" break.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing with you some of the other changes I am making. So let's chat and catch up!
[Sunday morning rain showers]
The count down is on and today is the last Thursday my grandchildren will attend classes for this school year. I headed south to be part of the moving up ceremonies for the preschoolers and 5th graders. To be part of the waning days of school uniforms and homework as they give way to sleeping in, water shirts and summer camp is a special treat for me. Preschool graduations and 5th grade moving up ceremonies are amusing and candidly a bit overwrought. The preschoolers are baffled at the rows and rows of parents, grandparents and siblings seated in the auditorium as they march into the room but quickly get into the event once they realized that cake is at the finish line. There was even a preschool no adults allowed "Prom"; we passed on that event.
My poor 5th grade grandson had to listen to his Principal talk about adhering to "core values" and committing to a path in life "if they didn't want to end up nowhere". I felt for the 5th graders seated in the room because those were some heady admonitions for 11 year olds particularly since I know some 40 year olds who still are looking for their path in life. The most depressing speech of the day was delivered by the Assistant Principal who stated "if you think 5th grade was hard, just wait until 6th grade!" And oh, have great summer. For a moment I thought the only wise thing to do was buy an island and scoop up my children and grandchildren and run away. But them I remembered I don't have enough money to buy an island...even a small one so the best I have to offer is help developing organizational skills and be willing to answer really, really easy math questions.
Being part of my grandchildren's school life has taken me back to the basics in education. Almost every day I am asked what a word means and truthfully I have to pause to gather my thoughts so that I can clearly and succinctly define a word. The more basic the word the harder it is to define; I've even had to say, "we need to look that up." My mother used to do that to me and I was convinced that she was holding out and just trying to get me to use the dictionary. Now I wonder if she too was struggling to be a good teacher.
All this musing about grandchildren, education and words brings me to Footsteps. I started writing this blog as a tool to help me as I struggled with my mother's failing health and her death. I very much wanted to share what I learned with others going through a similar journey. I was hoping for a dialog that would educate and enlighten and many of you shared your journey with me for which I am grateful. I have been thinking about the evolution of Footsteps and as has been my pattern over the last couple of weeks, I looked up this word to learn if I had inculcated it correctly. I was surprised to find that the specific meaning of evolution is the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. I do want Footsteps to gradually develop but I don't want to go from a simple to a more complex form. At this point in life I understand that complex is not necessarily good.
I am no longer posting weekly about aging parents, health insurance, hospitals and funeral homes. The Footsteps archives houses helpful information on all those subjects and please feel free to look at past posting. In the future I will be writing about Living in the 4th Quarter and how to make the most of that time in life. I've always had eclectic interests and you will see in the future that I will blog about assorted ideas and themes. It could be anything from living alone to second or third marriages later in life to how to make the perfect Southern dessert. I hope you will share your thoughts on these posts.
Finally, social media can be overwhelming and time consuming. I write this blog to authentically share ideas, themes and information. I know many of you look for my blog updates on my personal FACEBOOK page. I will no longer be putting the link to the blog on my personal FB page, it will only go up on the Footsteps' FB page. So much of the FB feed these days is made up of Upworthy, Buzz and other "informational" threads. I don't want to add to the clutter. I have a personal FB page because I want to keep up with people I care about and who care about me.
The very best way to keep up with the Footsteps post is to sign up for the newsletter. The newsletter has been redesigned and can be read easily on your phone. I subscribe to several blogs that now use this format and it's great. I find that if I am waiting to have the oil changed in my car or picking up the grandkids from school I can catch up on my reading on my phone. Sign up for the newsletter in the upper right hand corner of this page and please know I will not give or sell your email address to anyone. Also, if you would prefer, sign up for Footsteps on FB to keep up with the post updates.
I was not a big chocolate person growing up. I hear the gasps of astonishment but it's true. My favorite ice cream was strawberry; I preferred the licorice jellybeans in my Easter basket and always chose caramel over chocolate when given a choice. The same can't be said for Marty. He loves chocolate. He loves chocolate ice cream, chocolate bars, hot chocolate and chocolate cake. This is one of those opposites attract clichés but truthfully it is the reasons we can't share a dessert when dining out. I want the dessert made with caramel or toffee and he wants the rich chocolaty sweet treat. Compromise is not in the forefront where chocolate is concerned so in the interest of relationship harmony, we get one of each.
As I was mulling over which pound cake to bake next, Marty came up with an idea. How about a chocolate pound cake? So chocolate pound cake it is! Before sharing the recipe with you, I have 3 suggestions to help make your chocolate pound cake the envy of every true chocolate connoisseur. First, use the best cocoa you can afford. I used Hershey's Cocoa power because it was in my pantry but the chocolate lovers in my family wanted a deeper chocolate taste. Hershey's is now making a dark cocoa that blends natural and Dutch-processed cocoas. Since venturing into the world of cocoa, I have learned all cocoas aren't the same. If you want to know the difference, read Joy the Baker's post on Natural Vs Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder.
Next suggestion, give coconut oil a try. The first thing I though when I opened the jar of coconut oil was "this looks like Crisco." Coconut oil is the same color and texture of Crisco but has additional health advantage. The coconut oil will make your cake moister.
Finally, serve with hot fudge. Yes, I know you've heard me say a dozen times that a good pound cake doesn't need add-ons but the one thing chocolate people love is chocolate with their chocolate. Hot fudge drizzled on this cake is the perfect topper. I conducted a little taste test between two hot fudge brands, Mrs. Richardson's and Smucker's. The adult vote went for Mrs. Richardson's because it "wasn't as sweet". What the vote tells me is that the kids will go for the Smucker's brand.
So that's it. But one last thing, what is your favorite brand of cocoa and hot fudge sauce?
Chocolate Pound Cake
2 sticks of butter plus more for greasing pan, room temperature
3 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of cocoa
1/2 cup of coconut oil
3 cups of sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°
Grease a 10-inch tube pan with butter
1. Bring butter and eggs to room temperature.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa together. Set aside. *
3. Cream butter, coconut oil and sugar until fluffy.
4. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg.
5. Add flour mixture and alternate with milk, beginning with and ending with the flour mixture.
6. Add vanilla.
7. Pour batter in to tube pan and bake for 90 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.**
8. Cool for 30 minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
* I use salted butter so I don't add additional salt.
** Check the cake after 60 minutes so you don't over bake.
"When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes." ~Desiderius Erasmus
I'm a book person. Books are my friends, mentors and teachers; every book that entered my home found its own special place. I didn't loan out my friends or give them away. My books were always at my fingertips in the event I wanted to research a favorite passage or look for an illusive quote. Well, before on line bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Amazon, I discovered a marvelous bookstore in London. I was attending classes at Cambridge University and I was euphoric over the ideas and concepts being discussed in my classes. On my return journey home I bought books instead of clothes and accessories. I stuffed my suitcase with so many books that I had to pay an overage fee when checking my bag.
As with most things in life, my attitude towards my books evolved. I started to feel selfish that all my books were just resting on a self or stacked on the floor collecting dust. My enlightening and stimulating friends had transitioned to the role of interior decor joining the ranks of the lamp and sofa. I made the decision to start giving away my books and the first one to go was Reader's Digest Complete Do-it-yourself Manual. My anthropomorphic feelings about that book gave way to guilt that I had sent my friend away. That was the one and only book I gave away until my mother died.
My mother and father didn't collect books on the scale that I did. They read a variety of novels regularly, particularly after my dad retired, but instead of purchasing books they borrowed them from their local library. Mom was a docent at the Jacksonville Art Museum* and she collected large, heavy and stunningly beautiful coffee table art books. As my sister and I were closing down my parent's home after my mother's death, letting go of the books because a struggle. We took more than we really wanted but we did let many go.
The introduction of the iPad and Kindle helped start me down the path of letting go once again. In my research to find a good home for my friends, I learned of several outstanding opportunities to share my friends. Here are a few ways to find new homes for your books if you are ready to let them go.
BookMooch-These guys let you give away books in exchange for books you really want. There is no cost to use the site.
The Home Based Bookstore- You can sell your books on Amazon, eBay or on your own website. The highlighted link is a book that tells you how to get started.
More Than Words-is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless or out of school to take charge of their lives by managing their own retail and online book business.
Donate to your local library- Not all libraries want donations all the time. The American Library Association keeps a running list of who is accepting books. Also I would encourage you to just call your local library and ask about their donation policy.
Books for Troops-was founded to send "care packages for the mind" to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by providing a variety of books.
International Donation Programs-This program looks really interesting because it helps institutions and programs that have little or no money to post their need for education material. Textbooks and other hard to place books might find a home here.
bookcrossing.com- This is a kooky but engaging concept. Put a BCID label in your book and then release it into the wild. Leave it on a table in a restaurant, on a park bench or give it to a friend. Then plug in the BCID number in the bookcrossing website and watch your books travel the world.
Finally, my daughter shared this idea with me. Kathryn and her friends have a book exchange. They meet over a glass of wine and exchange books. They are all young mothers whose budgets are tight and this is the perfect way to keep a new book on their nightstand.
I would love to hear any ideas you might have about finding a new home for your treasured books.
*The Jacksonville Art Museum has been renamed the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art.
Spring fever has a grip on me. The browns, blacks and whites of winter have been replaced with the primary colors of spring. Lemon yellow tulips, azure skies and spring green leaves lift my spirit and call to me to head out of doors. After such a long, cold winter it's good to see the return of milder temperatures. I hope you forgive me for putting on hold our discussion of life in the Fourth Quarter while I share with you my Monday musings.
Have you ever read a book whose ideas and characters stay with you for days or weeks after reading the last word? Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz is just such a novel for me. The book is a thriller that explores the stories that the heroine Grace Reinhart Sachs tells herself about her perfect husband, her perfect job and her perfect life. Korelitz brilliantly shows Grace's journey as she confront a terrifying truth putting an end to life, as she believed it to be. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a good read and engaging ideas. Should Have Know got me to thinking about the stories we tell ourselves.
My company helps organizations tell stories to their key constituent to achieve a goal. Now a story isn't necessarily a falsehood; it's an account or a vision of a real or imaginary event. I love the work because I love telling stories. I even volunteered one year to tell stories to elementary school children. Stories frame who we are and what we believe about ourselves.
I do wonder about the stories that bombard us daily. TV shows about murder and mayhem, news reports about the heartache and disasters in the world that seem to have no solution or end and the constant narrative that success is celebrity and extreme wealth. Is this who we believe we are now? Maybe the media are the modern day Brothers Grimm sharing cautionary folk tales that warn of us the evils of the world. But I do long for stories that bear witness to (wo)man's successes as individuals and as a group. I worry that we, like the fictional Grace Reinhart Sachs, are mono focused but unlike Grace, our stories are not about perfection but about a world is so horrific and despairing that it's deadening. I believe we need stories that highlight the best in humans so that we can hold on to our humanity.
What do you think? What stories are we telling each other as a nation? What stories do you tell yourself? Do they lift you up or tear you down? Let me know what you think about the stories we tell ourselves.