Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Completing a Puzzle

2016-Painted paper collage on board

I love mulling over ideas! Lately, I have been thinking a lot about creativity: how is it defined, what does it look like, and what are the ways in which we use it? In the past, I believed that only artists were creative. If you weren't making something such as a painting or a piece of pottery then you weren't creative. It's only recently that I have come to view the word "creative" differently. Being creative can mean more than making something with your hands. It can also refer to the ways in which we think. That statement may seem obvious but I think that we often overlook just how creative we can get when we put our minds to it, literally! Creativity, flexing your creative muscles, can happen in a number of different ways and in many contexts.  Just as there are endless varieties of people and activities, there are also many different ways to be creative.

Creativity shows up in our everyday lives more often than we think. The way we approach problem solving, the ways in which we view and interpret the world and the ways in which we cope with the ups and downs of life can all involve imagination. Creativity, in other words. The word can be much broader if we let it be.  Creativity, I believe, not only pertains to something that you might physically make or do, but it also can be used to describe a way of thinking. Things are not always black and white. Sometimes we need time to process ideas, to think about things. Very often, we haven't yet learned everything we need to know in order to make good decisions or to form solid opinions. Creative thinking helps us to work with many different and seemingly unrelated ideas. It's almost as if there is a kind of "storage basket" in our brains somewhere, holding these different ideas, waiting for us to sort through them and make sense of how they are related. It's when we bring these different ideas together, when we have different interpretations about people and events, that we really begin to think in creative ways.

The trick, I think, in accessing this storage basket of ideas in our brain, of bringing unrelated elements together, is to actively search out what we think are dissimilar ideas and to try and relate them to one another. It's kind of like working a puzzle that has no picture on the box top. You dump all of the pieces out of the box and try to organize them. Where do you start? What colors are alike and can go in one pile? This is what I think we do everyday to be creative. We are constantly looking at a jumble of puzzle pieces and seeing how they might work together. At some point, a kind of picture begins to emerge. It's a picture that we didn't see coming. Put in terms of something more concrete, we have gathered all of these disparate elements together, connected them, and we now have a new idea or thought about the world and the way it works. Maybe it's a new vision of a person we thought we knew. Or maybe we feel differently about a subject that we thought was settled long ago. I see it as a puzzle solving process that gets us making connections that previously did not exist. When we begin to make these associations we can have a real ah-ha moment. It's gratifying to know that you have flexed your creative muscles to create a new thought or feeling; a new way of looking at the world and the people in it. 

As an example of the above idea, of how we often make creative connections every day, let's look at a series of seemingly unrelated events. Maybe one day you are watching a news story about robotics (mechanization in an industrial application). Several days later you read an article about greenhouse gas emissions. Months later perhaps, you have a conversation with someone about food shortages. That conversation might trigger memories of the news story that you watched on TV and the article that you read. At first, none of those things seem related to one another (but remember they are all living in that basket in your brain waiting to be connected). But now they do seem related. You are digging around in that basket and pulling stuff out. Somehow, you begin to formulate an idea or opinion about world hunger and how mechanization of agricultural elements has shaped our global food supply. It's not a particularly revolutionary idea (others have already talked and written about this concept) but to you, it's a different way of thinking about feeding the world. The idea is totally new for you and it's exciting. To see the problem of world hunger through another lens is an eye opener. And it's a vision that you may not have gotten unless you took those seemingly random events or stories or conversations and put them together in a new and novel way. 

I realize that the above process is not new and that for some of you reading, it may not work or it may not feel natural. Like anything, it takes practice. I believe that if you are actively paying attention, you will see that this way of organizing thoughts and ideas happens more often than you might expect. We may not recognize it at first but in reality, this way of bringing things together happens quite a lot. I see these bits and pieces of information waiting in my mental basket as puzzle pieces. It's up to me to root around in that basket from time to time and fit everything together. 

This process of joining unrelated things together to get a whole new idea happened to me just recently.  I feel that this kind of process relies heavily on "mental flexibility." It's an important trait to me as I get older and one that I really want to cultivate in myself. It isn't easy because my thinking can be rigid at times, though in the last couple of years it has gotten more malleable.  It just so happens that over the weekend I read a quote in an AARP article on successful aging by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. His quote is this: "I try to learn something new about myself daily. Self discovery is one of the surest ways to develop a greater appreciation for your life." I really love this since it mirrors my own efforts to discover what and how I think. 

On the heels of what I read in AARP magazine, my friend, Carol, posted something on Facebook that really resonated with me. It's a quote from author, Anne McCaffrey: "Make no judgements where you have no compassion." I thought this was a wonderful reminder to practice compassion. How many of us rush to judgement without putting ourselves in the other person's shoes? I see and hear people do this all of the time and I myself do it as well. 

When I considered the above two things that happened back to back, a memory for me was triggered that I now believe is related. I remembered that while on vacation recently, I listened to a podcast given by the noted psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman. He wrote a book called, Thinking Fast and Slow. During the podcast he talked about concepts from his book. One of the things he discussed briefly and sort of at the end in an offhand way, was the fact that (and I am paraphrasing this) the more he knows about something, the less sure he becomes. He wanted to remain constantly open to new ideas, never wanting to be absolutely sure about anything. I took away from his words that being sure about something was a falsity; we just think we are certain something is the truth. The question here is whether or not a person should ever really be done with an idea. By remaining flexible in our thinking, we become open to new ideas and new ways  of looking at things. Making up your mind is important. Sometimes we need to think and act decisively. More often though, it's best to remain open minded and maybe just a little bit skeptical. Not cynical but just quietly questioning.

This flexibility in thinking, the willingness to learn new things about ourselves and others (even when we disagree with those new things), and our ability to take in good and informed information is crucial as we get older. I was reminded very forcefully of that over the weekend. I had a rather upsetting conversation with a casual friend. Somehow we started talking about homelessness and the COVID-19 virus. (Probably, in addition to politics and religion, we should add the Covid virus to the list of things not to be talked about!) My friend informed me that homeless people want to be homeless. She went on to repeat what I feel are some other misconceptions about people living on the streets. Her statements upset me and challenged my current opinions which I felt were pretty firm. I left the conversation feeling a little angry but also a little ashamed. Angry because her views, I feel, aren't informed and ashamed because I can hear my younger self saying the exact same things that she had just expounded upon; generalizations that are unfounded and based on fear and ignorance.

What to do when the apple cart of your thinking is upset? The conversation was disheartening. After I got home and settled down, I thought about things. I don't want to make myself feel better by bringing my friend down so that I can raise myself up. But I don't want to let my friend off the hook either. Her statements seem misinformed to me. As I considered the conversation, I absently rooted around in my mental basket for ways to approach the problem. I realized that I had three ideas to connect. How could I take those items out of my basket (self awareness, compassion, and mental flexibility as mentioned above) and create a new way of seeing things? This is where I think creativity steps in. The answer to the puzzle lies in the preceding question that I just asked. I want to let myself be guided by those three bits of wisdom. They belong together as pieces of a larger picture and by putting those elements together, I can do some things to help myself. I can continue to examine how I feel about homelessness and I can educate myself on the topic as best as I can. I can be compassionate towards my friend who may not feel the same as me (even though I very much disagree with  her) and I can realize that my viewpoints are not stagnate and that they are not the only way of looking at things. And maybe what my friend said to me is worth thinking about. That alone might be useful. By rooting around in my mental basket and pulling out three seemingly disconnected ideas, I came up with a solution when I needed it the most. There is now something new to think about; a different way of looking at a problem that I thought I had already solved.

Anyone can do this. Anyone can problem solve in this way. By being creative, by bringing several unrelated ideas together, a person can make a kind of new paradigm for themselves. Creativity isn't just for the artistic or the talented. It isn't something that is beyond any of us. Being creative just requires conscious attention and memory and practice. Those skill are present in all of us I believe. It's up to us to access our mental baskets, pull out each puzzle piece, and see how they fit together. And before long, if you work at this problem solving consistently, a whole new picture will emerge, one which you never even imagined. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

My Two Week Experiment: The Results Are In!

Well, I made it. Two weeks without visiting the grocery store. It's some kind of shopping miracle! 

Let me backup a bit to explain the challenge that I gave myself (and my friends on FB) two weeks ago.  I had been watching a press conference with the President and his medical advisors, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. The doctors specifically said that the upcoming two weeks (the ones that just passed) would be critical in flattening the curve. It was strongly suggested to not go out, limiting time away from home for essential business only. They specifically said that now was not the time to go to the grocery store. I took that as a real mandate and frankly, it made me a little fearful. I am a compliant person (mostly) and so I decided to follow this advice. It's hard to know how to contribute during this crisis and this seemed a very concrete way of doing just that. I want to share what happened, what I found out and whether or not I would do this again. I came up with this "challenge" and shared it on FB. People chimed in to say what they were doing and the types of problems they were encountering, such as no delivery time slots and products that couldn't be found. I want to share the results of what I learned during my time of "no in person" grocery shopping. Here goes!

As with any challenge, well, there were challenges. I have broken them down into categories to make things easier.

Fresh vegetables and fruits:
As to be expected, I ran out of fresh vegetables and fruits first. Items like kale, broccoli, and other leafy greens were used up right away. Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes lasted much longer. What I learned is that I should buy a mix of perishable and semi  perishable items. Leafy greens are eaten first but things like bananas, oranges and apples can all last longer in the freezer (bananas) or in the fridge. Berries can be frozen too for smoothies. Veggies are a little harder. You can blanch and freeze broccoli and probably green beans without too much sacrifice in quality. These suggestions are worth a try and some effort.

Corn gets a special mention here. I am nearly sick of corn-frozen, canned, or otherwise! Corn is a staple in my diet, it's true, but boy am I getting tired of it!

Frozen Vegetables: 
From the get go, more frozen spinach would have been very helpful. Unfortunately, every person around here must have thought so too because the shelves at the store were completely empty. Also, frozen green beans are not the best. They are palatable but not my first choice. The freezing process in general is pretty good. Not as optimal as fresh but second best I would say.

Canned Veggies?:
With the exception of beets and corn (obviously), canned vegetables are not my first choice. And before you get down on me, I understand perfectly that everyone has their preferences. I also acknowledge (and respect) that for many people, canned vegetables are the only option or canning vegetables might be culturally significant. Canning is also a good way to preserve food that you have grown yourself so I've nothing against it. It's just that the green beans were sad. Very sad. I felt bad for them being treated like that. But, any port in a storm.

Did I shop otherwise?:
Why yes, I did! Quite a lot! I bought dry goods only since we don't have a CSA delivery in our area. Let me say that I am set for rice! Many businesses were low or downright out of products and so I had to hunt around. I found a couple of small family style retailers that I am happy to support: a small farm in Southern Illinois and a Native American farm in Arizona. Intuitively though, I know that shopping online is a 50-50 thing. Me shopping and having things delivered (dry goods only), means that trucks and their drivers are on the road. It also means that people somewhere in some warehouse are working to pack and ship my goods-also a risk. This activity is good for the economy but also puts workers at risk of getting the virus. It made me (and still does make me) very conflicted. Shopping though seems to be part of my makeup. I seem to have to do it. That isn't an excuse; I am just being realistic.

How often is enough?:
I realized rather quickly that I am very dependent on going to the grocery store as often as I want and to get whatever I want. This probably isn't good. There is the impact on the environment by my car and I am contributing to general congestion. Once a week would be sufficient. My plan going forward is to have a designated grocery day and to stick to that. I realize though that each person probably has their own comfort zone for how often they go to the store. It's probably dependent on habit, culture, location, season, transportation, and the ability to pay. Most people I know, myself included, are blessed with the means to go to the grocery store when necessary. I was reminded of this a lot during this two week period.

Fear mongering:
I noticed some fear mongering online (looking at you, FB!) and in person regarding who was shopping where. Our neighbor told us that people from out of town had come to our little community and bought up all of the meat. (You can imagine my response to that!) On FB I saw that folks were worried about the same thing; people from "outside" buying up all of the supplies. There is a mentality at work here and one I can't quite put my finger on. I know that fear is often at the bottom of things. It's what motivates many of us to do seemingly irrational things such as buying mass quantities of toilet paper (and meat apparently). And I know that we instinctively fear the outsider. My feeling is that as long as people aren't ridiculous there is enough to go around regardless of where you choose to shop.

Creative cooking?
I am uncertain if I expected to get creative in the kitchen when my fresh veggie and fruit supply ran low. Regardless, I will admit that I just got tired of thinking stuff up to cook that didn't involve what I didn't have. If I was single, things would be different. I am married though and I can't give Rich a waffle for dinner. He doesn't cook either so although he was sympathetic I feel that he wasn't actually standing in my shoes, so to speak. Putting dinner on the table every night is hard work, in my opinion. It isn't the physical act of cooking so much as the struggle to provide variety. I found that to be the hardest aspect of "missing" some ingredients in my pantry.

There weren't any other real surprises other than what is mentioned above. I will say that after such a long hiatus, my trip to the grocery store today became kind of a big to-do. People were there shopping as if nothing was wrong. Some were wearing masks and observing the distance rule. Others didn't seem to care too much, which is disheartening. It's one of those things I think where stuff just doesn't get real for people unless it is happening to them personally. There were some gaps on the shelves. Who the hell bought all of the damn flour and what are they doing with it, other than letting it get stale? Other than that, the shelves were well stocked and the produce looked good. 

It was a good experiment and I am glad I did it. Will I go two weeks again without going to the store? Probably not unless it is specifically mandated. I think once a week is sufficient and likely safe for the time being. I hope. There is still so much we don't know about this virus. We just don't have a lot of data to begin with to draw any conclusions other than to implement the precautions that are already in place. Could I have continued on without going to the store? Probably but the meals I made simply wouldn't have been as varied. I like to think my pantry is pretty diverse but it's hard to get away from the fact that fresh fruits and vegetables are a really nice addition. I am not sure that I will do anything differently after this exercise such as plant a more extensive garden or have groceries delivered. (Safeway is evidently doing that now in our area but for how long?) If anything has come out of this two week period, it's that I feel grateful for what we do have. It might just be rice and beans and canned corn but I can work with that!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!

Joshua Tree National Park-Cholla cactus 
During the first part of March, I took a solo road trip down to Southern California. I had never driven anywhere that far by myself before. My goal was to see if I could really do it, drive myself 8+ hours somewhere and arrive safely at my destination without too much pain and heartache, i.e. getting lost!

Spoiler alert: I made it! And I didn't get lost. Well, that is a small fib actually. I took one wrong turn but quickly corrected myself once I saw that I was headed in the wrong direction (my car has a navigation readout on the dashboard). 

During the next several days there were actually a few moments like the above; moments where I sensed I was going in the wrong direction and had to stop. I would check my notes, the map, and my phone, and then reset my course. After awhile, I became aware that I was actually navigating on my own, getting a good feel intuitively for which direction I was headed in. (I am very directionally challenged as a rule though in the past few years, I have made an effort to get better.) 

Luckily, I did have some help in finding my way around. For one thing I had done my homework prior to setting out. I had paper maps, written directions, and routes loaded onto my phone. I also had the addresses of places where I would be going so I could easily look those up using my phone as well. (Isn't the Internet swell?) Lastly, a hiking friend has tried in the past to help me learn about the sun's position in determining both time of day and direction. I actively used her advice in conjunction with my car's location readout. It was fun to see if I was guessing correctly. (Most of the time I was close.) All in all, I had only a few missteps in getting around. It wasn't too hard to correct my course and get going in the right direction again.

Lately I have been thinking about my navigational experiences in Southern California. So much of our daily lives demand that we be able to spot missteps and regroup; to change our minds, our attitudes, and our actions. Sometimes this has to happen quickly, much as it did for me as I missed an off ramp on the I-10. Not to worry though and cause an accident by trying to catch that exit! There is almost always another chance coming up to get off of the freeway. There can be times though when you may be miles past the correct turn before you realize you have made a mistake. It may take some maneuvering, but you can almost always backtrack and find the correct route. There may even be multiple ways of getting to that destination.

My time on vacation, of navigating by myself, has made me thoughtful in some surprising and unexpected ways. For example, as I was cooking this morning, I considered that finding the correct route and maneuvering around a new city or town is similar to many things that we do in life. We often have to correct course. I realized that I have gotten a little off track lately with my eating habits. Too much added sugar has crept back into my diet. I also love the Veganaise a little bit too much! None of that is going to do me in (I hope!) but it isn't going to help either. I simply haven't been actively paying attention. As Ellen Langer might say, I have been mindless and not mindful. (I highly recommend checking out Ellen Langer, by the way. I listened to a podcast that she gave and it was an eye-opener!) Being mindful requires being awake and paying attention. It's noticing things and being aware. It's so important to do this; to be actively participating. That's a tall order, I know, but it's critical. We need to be flexible, to recognize that we are going in the wrong direction, and we have to actively cultivate those skills that are needed to self correct. You can't do any of that unless you are making an effort to really notice things.

There's no better time than now to hone these skills in a consistent kind of way. I felt that this morning I was really doing that, really paying attention. I am not making any big resolutions about that sugar intake or the Veganaise, but I am simply commiting to thinking about things. I am correcting my course just like I did in the car when I realized that I had made a wrong turn. And in the spirit of that self correction, I am not going to rid my pantry of the "no-no" foods (that would be too radical a move) but I will make some better, more conscious choices about "how often" and "how much". Same thing with the Veganaise. (It's hard to find this product in my area anyway now so that makes things a little easier.) I have a couple of hummus recipes picked out to try instead. It certainly can't hurt.

Big changes are not my thing. I can make small moves much more easily. I would never swerve off of the freeway from the left hand lane in an effort to catch that missed exit that is rapidly disappearing in my rear view mirror. It's more likely that I would calmly change lanes safely, and exit further down the road, all the while trying to pay attention (and not beat myself up for not paying attention). I'd rather catch myself and correct course than to just go cruising past the exit, never realizing that all the while I was heading in the wrong direction!

Good luck with your navigation today! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

And The Beat Goes On...

The New Social Visit:
This week my one "social" visit consisted of a trip to the cardiologist's office. (For those reading who don't know, I have coronary artery disease and a history of having had a heart attack and bypass surgery.) I see him twice a year for a check up. He tells me that the blockage in my carotid artery has not advanced and that he is happy with my lipid panel and liver values. I tell him about some anxious heart related problem that I have been pondering and he politely shoots my worries down. It's a pleasant time though because he is a really congenial guy, nice looking, my age, and possesses a very calm and reassuring demeanor. He usually enters the exam room and shakes my hand warmly. He is the only one who gets to call me "Liz." We chat, he listens to my heart and kind of checks to be sure nothing has changed in my activity level. Nothing ever changes in our routine. Until now.

As can be imagined, things were a little different for this visit because of the current pandemic.  No handshake from the good doctor and he stood crammed into the corner of the room opposite to where I was sitting. Still pleasant but not quite the same. I guess this is the new reality up close, so to speak, though 6 ft apart. I feel lucky to have been able to keep the appointment. I am waiting in nervous anticipation for my upcoming doctor appointment with my GP, hoping that it won't be cancelled. Selfish perhaps but true nonetheless.

After I finished up and went back out to the lobby, I ran into one of my trail buddies. (I walk every day at my local lake and there is a group of people that I see regularly-my "trail buddies.") I wasn't too surprised to see her (this is a small county and I manage to constantly run into people I know even though I don't know a lot of people) and so I said hello. I learned a while back that her husband has a pacemaker. I assumed she was there for his appointment and I asked after him. She said he was at home and that she was there for herself. Wow! She evidently had some trouble earlier in the month and was getting checked out. I said my goodbyes and walked out thinking that in the middle of a pandemic it's possible to have something normal happen, like running into an acquaintance at the doctor's office. Things are normal yet not normal. I continue to be surprised.

My New Old Routine:
Despite the colossal upheaval to life that so many are experiencing, my own routine and way of living hasn't been too disrupted yet. We are fortunate that Rich is still going to work for now and that our income and health care have not been affected yet. (I am omitting the stock market melt down here.) I keep roughly the same schedule that I always do and have been doing the same things, more or less. Last week I went on a hike (the above photo was taken on that outing) and I had another doctor appointment. I continue to go on my regular walks. The park that I use is closed to traffic and hence, no boating or fishing. No congregating in parking lots either. The bathrooms are still open, thank goodness, but everything else is closed. On my last walk I saw my regular trail buddies and we all stood 6 ft apart and talked. That was nice. I may start wearing a mask though just to be safe. We have 3 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in this county so far (small peanuts, I know) and I want to be safe. I also have alcohol wipes in my pack and use those until I can get home and properly wash my hands. For those times when I can't get out because it is too damn cold or it is raining too hard, I have added some aerobics DVDs and a yoga DVD to my routine. My art practice has slowed down a bit but I expect that it will pick up. It tends to go in cycles. There are no major cleaning projects in the works and I don't have big plans to learn a new language or to get together in any kind of a group online. As I said, my routine hasn't changed much. But it sort of has, really, since I can't go out as often. Like everyone else I am adjusting to this new reality.

It's The End of The World...Or is It?
Lastly, I had a really nice email exchange with an online "friend." (I put that word in quotes by the way because I have never met this person but consider her a friend. We are told though that people we have met online aren't friends since we haven't met them in person. Is this psychosocial parsing of terms and overkill? Let me know.) She sent me a wonderful article by an author called Craig Childs. He is a commentator for NPR and a guy whose ideas I can get behind. I am not normally a doom and gloom paranoid kind of person but consider myself a realist. Just recently I had a huge revelation about our collective mortality; our time on Earth and where our civilization and planet are headed. It was a huge comfort to me to accept that eventually, all creatures become extinct. And this includes humans. Childs's ideas dovetail, I think, with what I am beginning to embrace for my life. I bought one of his books and am looking forward to reading it. I have some time, apparently.

I mention all of this, including what I wrote about above, because the conversation I had with my friend revealed that she has similar thoughts to mine; that life is cyclical and never ending. It's really a smallish big world that is shown to us just a little bit at a time, through chance encounters and emails, visits to the doctor's office and an online chat with a friend. Everything is interconnected. If I sneeze I might kill someone. (Extreme but true.) You can't pull one thread without nearly unraveling the whole tapestry. This year will wear on, like it or not, pandemic or not. Time marches forward. We keep our appointments, reschedule them, postpone vacations, all the while dreaming about the future.  We cook dinner, go on hikes, and fantasize about an abundance of toilet paper for everyone. And the beat goes on.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Abundance and Scarcity: Two Sides of the Same Coin

A portion of my pantry. Don't judge!

This last Wednesday, I finally went to the grocery store. I had been putting it off. The first excuse was the rain. The next excuse was a doctor appointment. Then I was simply too tired. I knew that I was running out of reasons to not go. Finally, Wednesday came and that was my day. I girded my loins, got in my car, drove to the store, and guess what? It wasn't that bad!

Why all of the delay then? What would cause someone to put off a normal everyday kind of activity? The reason is that now things aren't normal. Things are very, very not normal. I knew there would be empty shelves. There might be a crush of people running around with toilet paper rolls in their arms, grabbing canned beans and packages of meat. There could be people walking around with a silent virus or worse, outright sick and obviously infectious. But, as I said, it was fine.

Mulling things over, for me, is a way to work through a problem. It was indeed a problem for me to not want to grocery shop. This is one of my duties at home. Rich goes to work and I do the grocery shopping, more or less. In examining my procrastination from the safe distance of my home, I realized that my real reason for not going was simply fear of the unknown. I experience generalized anxiety most of the time, you see, and now is no different. My current anxiety centers around something specific, something from my childhood, which is what I alluded to in the title of this post: the two issues of abundance and scarcity. As a country we have an incredible food supply; more than we possibly need and yet many people simply do not have enough. As a child, I worried about having too much and then, not having enough. Now, as an adult, I have more than I need and yet I still felt an urge to "stock up." Countless bloggers and websites told me that I needed to gather up the "essentials" so that I have enough. Numerous cooking sites suggested recipes to try for all of those newly purchased "staples." Everything that I saw on TV and heard on the news was directing me urgently towards the store. Now. ASAP. But the idea of having to stock up, of having more than is needed, makes me very nervous. It is indeed at the heart of what I often feel very conflicted about: we have so much but what if all of it was taken away? What if one day we needed something and couldn't get it? What then? And my current dilemma also contained an added layer of new anxiety. A previously safe activity was now potentially unsafe. Going to the grocery store meant taking the risk that I would have to face potentially infectious people. It also meant that I might find empty shelves. I just didn't know who and what would or wouldn't be there. 

Reason prevailed, and despite some misgivings, I did go to the grocery store. The shelves were a little picked over. That's all. Some things were not there: spaghetti sauce, pasta, some beans, and some grains. Oatmeal was in high demand evidently as well as bananas and onions and potatoes. I saw stacks of bottled water (will we never learn about those damn plastic bottles?) and an empty case where the eggs used to be. (Why eggs? Everyone here has chickens.) There was plenty of everything else. Seems no one wanted the kale (lucky me!) and the rest of the veggies and fruit were ready for the picking, so to speak. I bought a normal amount of food, paid for it, walked out to my car, got in and sanitized my hands. I then drove off with a reasonably clear conscience. 

Now, to the point of the story: abundance and scarcity. Where does my own anxiety come from and, possibly yours too? For many of us, the perceived feelings of having either too much or too little are two facets of the same anxiety coin. In my opinion, both ideas are based on fear. Fear that could be real but could also be imagined. An example of anxiety based in reality can be shown by examining the behavior of my husband's late father. He grew up during the Depression and WWII. Food and other supplies were indeed scarce. People learned to make do and to be thrifty. The lessons learned from having lived through those hard times were passed along to his children, most notably my husband who doesn't like to throw anything away. Anything. For us, living in current times, we really have an abundance of everything. We are used to buying what we need and scarcity isn't much of an issue. That doesn't stop my husband though from being influenced by memories of his dad being very conservative in his habits. It's critical to remember when examining the roots of an anxiety that we all have a framework from which we operate. Time and experience shape us to make us who we are today.

The example above is just one instance of  why some of us are anxious in this new age of pandemics, shortages, and other related problems. There are many other reasons surrounding the anxiety we experience because of a perceived threat to our settled way of life; our routine, if you will. I like bottom lines though and for me, I feel the common denominator to this old/new anxiety is fear. This fear might seem irrational but it's real. The idea of needing extra isn't always grounded in reality but it's what drives seemingly reasonable people to do unreasonable things.  In the simplest way, fear makes people hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer and to appear utterly unreasonable in what they are doing. Fear is what makes us worry about going to the grocery store. It's what makes us stay at home and not speak out. Being afraid draws us to the Internet for answers and makes us believe outrageous claims. Fear is a pretty strong force and it can be overwhelming and paralyzing. It's the underpinning of the unreasonable anxiety that we will not have enough even when that may not be true and factually when the items already in our pantries say otherwise. Anxiety is all about fear; fear of the unknown, the unreasonable, and the irrational. Resolution of that fear, getting rid of it and the only thing that will conquer it, is moving forward while feeling paralyzed. It's going forth, one small step at a time towards the unknown, minus the extra rolls of toilet paper of course.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Perfect In My Imperfection!

Recent haul from Sprouts market
The other day I told a friend that veganism is an imperfect way of living. At best, you can only hope to do so much. Each decision is fraught with a "good, better, best" type of mentality. It's OK though (even though it doesn't feel that way but it has to be for my own sanity) because I feel that in the long run, each day I am helping some animal somewhere to stay alive, even if my decisions aren't perfect.

I think my take on veganism can be extrapolated out to life in general. Life itself is imperfect. Living is imperfect. There is no other way. Take the above photo as an illustration of the point. (And bear in mind that this is just one example.) Today was market day for me and the above pic shows part of my haul. Do you see anything wrong with anything there? I do. I see stuff  that I hemmed and hawed over, grappled with a bit and then settled for the lesser of several evils in my choices. Let's take things apart, OK?

Packaging: One of my goals this year is to reduce the amount of packaging that I throw away (and buy to begin with). It's a tall order. Our recycling company won't take a Whole Bunch of Stuff! Plastic wrapping (like on the mushrooms) is one of the items that is a no-no. Likewise for the plastic bag that the slaw comes in. They will however take the plastic container that the lettuce comes in so that is good. Why did I buy those "bad" items then if they can't be recycled? The reason is because I am a work in progress. Remember I said above that life is not perfect? Well, I am not perfect either. I really wanted to try out that slaw. And next time, I am buying the mushrooms in bulk. I already decided.  My reasoning though for the lapse in judgement is that I tried to use my own bags for most items that I bought and I also did buy some packaged things that can be recycled (see the cans of beans?).

What about those beans?: I bought those beans in case of an emergency. An emergency could be as simple as I ran out of prepared beans from the freezer or as dire as our electricity has been cut off due to fires and I lost the beans in the freezer because they defrosted and I couldn't keep everything cold. The good news is that the beans are organic (yay, for good farming practices!), "lowered sodium", and the cans can be recycled. The bad news is that the beans came from a processing plant somewhere that probably uses a ton of fossil fuels and water to get the beans to market. So, bad news there. I don't even want to imagine about the workers picking and dealing with those beans.

How about those potatoes?: Most of that produce is not organic. To me, the organic designation makes a difference in two ways: how the land is treated and how seriously a company takes things. (Pesticide usage matters a lot too but in terms of eating the food, I don't worry too much. I do worry about the soil, water, and animals, however.) Now, there are plenty of companies that follow best practices and take very good care of their land and their product. I try to buy from those folks. An organic designation is very expensive though and time consuming to acquire. Many companies do without but also are very responsible. That designation is important though and I hope one day it won't be so expensive for small companies.

What about the rest of the stuff not shown?: I bought dry goods too and used my own bags. All of my produce, save the packaged items, went into my own bags too. So, that's a win. I did buy a bag of frozen vegetables (bag is not recyclable) and some tempeh (wrapped in non recyclable plastic). I bought some things in tetra packs and those are recyclable (Think almond milk and vegetable stock).

What about your car and the mileage?: Well, goodness! Now we are getting down to the gnat's rear-end aren't we? Yes, I drove round trip about 5o miles to go to this store. My town has a grocery store but the produce isn't always fresh. I will be making some ferments tomorrow and the produce needs to be good to begin with. (Garbage in, garbage out!) I do this sort of long distance trip about once a month. The rest of the time I shop at my local store which, by the way, is also a split decision. The prices can be higher on some items but I have used less gas and non-renewable energy to get to the store. I am also supporting a local business which feels good.

Honestly, I am not complaining about the decision making. It's a gift to be able to choose isn't it? Many people can't and so that is important to remember when you are stalled out in the vegetable aisle. As I said above though and as I have been saying a lot lately, life is not perfect. I don't mean that my life is messy or chaotic. I work hard not to have that sort of stuff going on. But the choices I make every day are usually a split of some sort and the split is not always super. I believe strongly though in "the lesser of two evils" concept when making decisions. If I didn't take this tactic I would never make any decisions! This kind of approach has developed as I have gotten older and I think it works well. I am not advocating that you abdicate a conscientious approach to decision making because it is the easier way to go but simply that some degree of reasonableness has to come into the process. My belief is that veganism and whatever way of life you want to adopt is an ongoing discussion. It can't be perfect but it can't be put off either. Quite frankly, the longer you wait to act because things need to be 'just right", the more animals will perish, the more things will stay the same, and the less impact you will have overall. Now, go chew on a Beyond Meat burger and eat some organic vegetables!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 20, 2019

How To Shop at Costco Without Losing Your Mind

Something positive to think of along with the tips in the article:)

Why is it that shopping at Costco leaves me drained and depressed? Is it the overwhelming and insidious quest to consume? Marketing mayhem gone mad? Packaging overkill? I don't really know. Whatever it is, it gets me down. And what happens when I get down? I reflect. Reflection can be the antidote for anxiety. So that is just what I did after my last trip to the store. I turned things over in my mind and came up with some reasons for why a trip to this store is so bothersome and then some solutions for making those trips a little easier. 

Costco really can upset me. Part of my distress has to do with trying to live a "healthy" life and the way I feel grocery stores  undermine those efforts. There are whole aisles to avoid in a grocery store because the food there simply doesn't carry much nutritional weight. Those aisles contain "treats" (things that are for once in awhile) or foods that we know simply aren't great for us on a long term basis. 

Other reasons for being upset have to do with portion size. What's presented to us as consumers in the way of pre packaged items is a very large package indeed! And before you say anything, I know that large quantities of items are the point of Costco-you are supposed to save money by buying in bulk. The problem is that people are notoriously bad about portion sizes, myself included. When left to our own devices we will almost always eat more than we intend and part of that has to do with pre-portioned servings. We suck at cutting servings in half or saving some for later. 

In addition to larger portions of things, there is also the excessive packaging issue. Our recycler here where I live won't take a bunch of stuff, a lot of which I saw on my recent shopping trip. That over packaging and use of unrecyclable materials creates another problem with putting things into the ever growing landfill. It makes no sense to buy beautiful, frozen organic broccoli which is encased in miles of plastic packaging that will only end up somewhere and never decompose.

It seems like the list of badness is never ending but there must be a silver lining somewhere. There are some positive points. Costco (and other stores like it) do help in a sense. They are good for people who resell items in a retail setting. Large families can benefit from bigger quantities. Multiple households can also team up to buy together. There are foods there with stable shelf lives and so in theory, a family could stock up on essentials. People who give parties or who host family or work gatherings might also find the store helpful since it stocks prepackaged items meant for those occasions. And there are other services at the store such as an optical department and a photo center. 

The store isn't so great for individuals or smaller families, however. There isn't much there that you couldn't get for a comparable price, say at a store like Safeway or at Trader Joes. One person doesn't really need a whole lot of food all at once to eat healthfully. Seriously, are you going to eat 12 breakfast muffins? Is that huge bag of potatoes going to last? How about 4 cantaloupes? Can you do that? Probably not. 

I am certain that others have done the math and that most likely, there are charts detailing why a store like Costco may or may not be more economical in the long run. Statistics like that don't really interest me. I don't mean that I have money to burn. Far from it. What I am interested in, however, is how to continue shopping at this store and not losing my mind. I should explain too that my husband probably would not give up the idea of belonging to Costco so quitting isn't an option. If you know me at all, I have some ideas on how to cope. 

First, recognize that Costco is simply a giant grocery store. Take the Costco-generated marketing uniqueness out of the picture and it becomes way more manageable. Remember how regular grocery stores are set up. Healthy, perishable items are frequently found in the perimeter of the store. Things like fresh fruits and vegetables (also frozen), some meats, some breads and some dairy items are usually placed in a ring around the store.  At my local Costco, there is one long section of the store that contains rows and rows of foods that are a mixed bag. This section is akin to the center aisles of a regular grocery store. These aisles contain snack foods, foods meant to be eaten as treats or in limited quantities, and foods that in general, contain lots of ingredients, many of which might not be so great for you on a long term basis. The big catch here is that there are also some pretty good items mixed in with the not so good items. Staple items like beans and healthy grains, plain pastas, canned vegetables, and some reasonably healthy snacks such as hummus and pre cut veggies. The drawback is that you are exposed to all of the other items while looking for the good stuff. You could get derailed. 

How then do you keep from going astray in the process of shopping? There are some ways to work the store more effectively. Some of the tips have to do with simple psychology or with being practical and some have to do with the foods that you select to buy. Keep in mind that this is my personal list and that I am a vegan. Everyone has their own definition of what "staples" are, what is "healthy", and what foods are for snacks, treats, and everyday consumption. 

1. Make a list and stick to it: 
It doesn't matter if it is electronic or written, a list is key. I believe firmly that you are less likely to overbuy if you have a list. Make sure to stick to the list. Cross items off as they go in your cart. (That also gives a sense of accomplishment and validates your list making efforts.) If something looks interesting and it isn't on the list, don't do a mind trip on yourself (Libby) about how you could use that item, just write it on the list and mark it as "saved for later." The strategy works pretty well. I only bought 3 extra items on this last trip (which is better than what I normally do).

2. Get psychological:
Part of the problem with Costco is FOMO-fear of missing out. Absolutely everyone in the store is consuming...and likely getting a good deal...and might buy what you are looking at too...and they are in a hurry. Somehow, being in that store creates a frantic sense of urgency. Maybe Costco pipes in some chemical through the air ducts that makes you crazy, I don't know. Whatever it is, it's bad news for us anxious types. In order to combat the above issues, I do a little self talk. It sounds like this: "I, personally, am not in a hurry. I can always come back for whatever I see and don't buy." 

3. Do not shop when hungry!:
This sort of goes without saying but we all do it. The store opens at 10 and it usually takes me an hour to finish. My lunch time is between 11 and 11:30. I have to have my lunch with me or all Hell might break loose! I also eat a snack on the way there so as not to be hungry when I walk in the door. Whatever it is that you do, don't go into that store hungry to begin with and certainly don't end your trip with needing to eat lunch. Go after lunch if at all possible. Just don't go hungry.

4. Focus on staples: 
If you look carefully enough, Costco has some great staple items. Apples keep very nicely in the refrigerator. Bread can be frozen. The store does carry some basic, unadorned grains such as quinoa, rice, and oatmeal. There are also canned beans and vegetables-just rinse them prior to use to alleviate some of the sodium. (They are also good in a pinch when you are pressed for time.) I also buy canned tomatoes (organic and very low in sodium). There is a good selection of unsalted nuts (may not be organic) and lots of dried fruit (great in small amounts as a snack or on top of that oatmeal). Costco now carries almond milk and they of course have regular milk and if you are into it, some cheese and plain yogurt. I don't buy the meat (except for Rich) but you can get salmon (of different origins) and skinless chicken. They also used to sell organic frozen chicken which I haven't seen in awhile. Organic peanut butter is another staple along with chia seeds and some unsalted spices. Please note that I am a vegan so these are all staples of my diet. As I mentioned above, everyone has their own staples. Make sure you know what they are.

5. Make up your mind about prepackaged food:
Many, many people eat prepackaged foods and for a variety of different reasons. They are convenient and do take the guesswork out of cooking. That convenience does come at a price, however. Prepackaged foods often have lots of additives which helps them to be tasty and shelf stable. It helps to look at the nutrition label when deciding. Many foods can fit nicely into an otherwise balanced diet. Some foods are special treats and some should probably be avoided. Only you can decide. I will say that I pass up whole aisles of food items because they just won't give me the nutrition that I want. I have the time to cook from scratch and that is what I do. Do your own thing please.

6. Don't be fooled by healthy food that is over packaged:
I mentioned above about the frozen broccoli. It seemed like a total win until I saw that within that plastic bag each serving of broccoli came in a smaller, microwaveable plastic bag. That's a ton of plastic that my recycler won't take and that will go into the landfill. That stinks! Back it went. Look for other packaging gaffs like this and pass them up, even if they might be organic and good for you. Try to get them at the regular grocery store fresh and bring your own bags, for goodness sakes. 

7. Know the reason for your visit to Costco:
This is another psychological view on things. Are you headed to Costco to shop because you are bored or otherwise trying to fill some empty time? Nothing wrong with this of course but if you find yourself making multiple trips in a month, maybe more than you want to admit to or that are necessary, then perhaps it's time to reexamine your recreational habits. My point here is that you may end up overbuying (and overspending) because you don't need to and are shopping out of habit or boredom. There could be something else to fill your time that would be less costly and cause you less grief.

It's likely that come January, I will once again make a trip to Costco. My husband likes the coffee that we buy there and shopping at the store is a deeply ingrained habit in my household. I have my list though and will be girding my loins for the psychological fight to stay sane.  I hope the above ideas will be useful for some of you that belong to Big Box stores. And if you don't belong to one of these outfits, good for you! Hang on to your money, your time, and your sanity is what I say.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Toast, Toast and More Toast!

BLACK+DECKER TO1950SBD 6-Slice Convection Countertop Toaster Oven, Includes Bake Pan, Broil Rack & Toasting Rack, Stainless Steel/Black Convection Toaster Oven

This is hardly a revelation, but everything you own and everything you do takes up space and time. 

I just purchased a new toaster oven. After years of owning a traditional toaster, I decided to try something different. My move was prompted by a bread recipe. I make this bread that doesn't contain whole wheat flour and hence, no gluten. Gluten gives structure to bread. I like gluten, nothing wrong with it, but I started to make this quinoa/oatmeal bread to broaden my nutritional horizons. The issue is that the bread tends to fall apart in a traditional toaster. It just doesn't have the wherewithal to stand upright and to be subjected to the toasting process. So, laying the bread flat in the toaster oven works really well. The toaster oven works great for this purpose but now, what do I do about that toaster? (My husband still wants to use the regular toaster so it has to stay.)

The answer is that I had to make room for it on the shelf in the pantry. That means that I had to move items on that shelf elsewhere which also means that I had to create space in another place. Furthermore, I now own two toasting appliances. Granted, they do different things but I own a traditional oven too. It uses propane. My toaster oven is electric. We pay a whopping amount of money to fill up our propane tank so using the propane powered stove for all of my cooking makes the best monetary sense. It just goes on and on. 

Many years ago I read a book about simple living. In it, the author discussed what it means to own a lot of things. Every time you buy something, you must care for it in some way. Make room for it, clean it, service it, etc. It's there, taking up space in your home and it requires your effort and time. The author's point is not just about dealing with your possessions. Her larger point has to do with how you choose to spend your time. The more things you buy, the more you have to deal with those things and the less time you may have to do something else. 

That broader concept of what you choose to spend your time and energy on has stayed with me. These days, I tend to ask myself this question: How would I spend my time differently if I wasn't doing ______? (Fill in the blank.) My purchase of the toaster oven reminded me of this idea and the need to question where my efforts go. Are the activities and tasks worthwhile to me? Are they going to further one of my goals? It sounds a little mercenary and maybe it is. Asking questions is OK.

Am I sorry I now own two appliances that do similar things? No. I spent time researching the toaster oven and I am satisfied with the results. It's a luxury to own two appliances that will toast your bread. The experience has made me think though about how I want to spend my time. I am reminded that time is precious and how I choose to spend it matters. Do I want to take care of one more thing or could my time be better spent doing something else? I think I know the answer.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Walk in The Woods...

Lots of wildflowers!

Seems peaceful enough...

Bad selfie taken shortly before incident

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been hiking regularly for about 3 years now and I have been lucky. Let me tell you what happened.

On Friday I took myself off to Big Trees State Park in Arnold. I needed some Libby-time. I know that I am home with myself all day and that should be enough time but really, I just needed some space not to think about the laundry and dinner and everything else like that. So off for a hike I went.

I have been to Big Trees State Park many times over the years and have always felt very safe. The park, particularly the North Grove where the visitor's center is located, is well populated. I haven't ever really been nervous. Yesterday was no exception. I hiked around the floor of the North Grove and headed up to the overlook. I got up there, slowly, and hiked out onto a kind of plateau/rock outcropping to eat my apple. I sat down, looked around, ate my snack and sort of spaced out. It's what I do when I hike by myself. I try to empty my mind as much as possible. I try to relax. 

In the midst of the peace and quiet, all of a sudden I heard a very loud air horn. That sound was followed quickly by the noise of a truck speeding off and going very fast down the road back towards the main parking lot. For the briefest of moments, I wondered if that sound was an air horn/bear horn sort of noise. (I even laughed at that expression!) People carry air horns to scare off wild life so that is why that thought entered my mind. My next thought, followed quickly on the heels of that one, was that couldn't possibly be the reason for that noise. I can't tell you how quickly my Rational Mind squashed my Speculating Mind. Kicked it to the curb in about ten seconds flat. That was that.

I finished my apple, got back onto the trail, and started down the hill for the rest of my hike. I hadn't gotten very far before I saw two rangers coming towards me. As they approached, I asked them both what that air horn noise was all about. The one ranger spoke up and said that there had been a bear sighting at the top of the trail (where I had just come from) a few moments ago. They (the rangers) were coming up the trail to see if there was anyone up there (presumably to warn them). I said, well yes, I was up there. Or had been up there. I have a knack for stating the obvious so I asked them if they were telling me that there was a bear in the vicinity. They answered that yes, that was true, and she was there with her cubs. Three of them. Wow. Just wow. The ranger went on to say that they have several bears in the park and the bears are all very safe. (Safe? Seriously? A funny choice of words I would say.) This bear, however, was kind of a problem because of the cubs. She evidently had taken to putting them in the trees, at which point I glanced nervously upwards and then back at the rangers. They assured me that everything was fine (right) and that it was safe to go back down the hill. They had just come from that direction after all (right again).

Down I went, in a hurry. The quickest way to get me off a hillside or mountain apparently is to let me know that there is a bear in the area. I made some good time and didn't trip over anything in the process of descending. I finished my hike and got back to my car, crisis averted. For now.

I say for now because as crazy at it seems, I am likely to go back. Maybe even alone. I can't always find someone to go with. People always wind these types of stories up with the fact that we live in the bears' territory and we need to get used to that fact. Duh!, is what I say. That isn't a consoling or helpful kind of comment. The fact that we have encroached on wild habitat is not new and that isn't what I was so interested in actually regarding the entire episode. What really got me going was how quickly Rational Mind squashed Speculating Mind. Rational Mind stepped right in and pushed all thoughts of bears out of the picture. I convinced myself in a heartbeat, without consciously deciding to do so, that the air horn sound had nothing to do with a bear. I wonder if that is some kind of survival technique? Sort of like if you fell over the edge of a cliff. Would you know for a very long time that you were going to die or would that part of your mind just shut off? I guess no one has lived to report on this question.

I am laughing about things now but in reality, I have been soundly shaken. Every time I hike I am in someone else's home. I am the visitor. Being negligent by not paying close attention because you have become complacent or because you think you have a "right" to be there is a very dangerous thing. I am lucky that I got off with just a slap on the wrist, so to speak. When I got back to the forest floor where all the visitors were walking around, I wanted to tell all of them to pay attention, to wake up! I can assure you that I myself am now awake and will be vigilant the next time I go hiking. Oh, and I am ordering an air horn/bear horn from Amazon.

Thanks for reading and commenting,
Libby PS-Happy Hiking!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

On Mothers, Mothering, and Memories

Carol Fahrbach, my mom
Photo by my Aunt Corliss

That is my mom pictured above. She sure loved her Red Hat Ladies and all of their fun events. Yesterday marked the five year anniversary of my mom's passing. I can't believe it has been that long. In many ways, the night she collapsed and was hospitalized and the following day that she died seem like things that just happened yesterday. Though there is an immediacy to my memories of that time, there is also a remoteness. The passage of time can soften the edges of things if you allow it to. There really is truth to the fact that there isn't a day that goes by without thinking about someone who you have lost. 

Wednesday was no exception. The days leading up to that day were kind of vaguely hard for me. I couldn't really put my finger on why though. The best I can do is to say that I miss having someone to "mother" me. The last couple of days I have been considering how most of us need some kind of parental figure regardless of how old we get or who that figure might be. Even when our own parents are gone or absent in some way, I think we seek out the company of others who will fill that missing role for us. 

Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with some people who became "surrogate" mothers for me. For a time, I worked at a bank and had a group of older ladies that kind of "mothered" me. They provided different examples of mothering, ones that I hadn't considered or perhaps didn't think applied to me and my own mom. One woman showed me how to both love and be pissed off at her family at the same time! Another woman showed me how love is something that can be elastic and can overlook deficiency; her love for her wayward daughter showed no monetary (or emotional) boundaries. My manager at the time, also a mom of three older, married men, was the master of diplomacy. She seemed to be able to test the boundaries with both her sons and daughters-in-law just enough to get her point across. She was also the same person who "adopted" another young woman at the branch whose mom lived far away. They really were like mother and daughter. I got to see up close too how a mom's idea of the parental/child relationship can be unrealistic and that a parent can be disappointed and sad when those expectations don't work out. As a group, the ladies that I worked with turned their mothering focus on me occasionally. I was included in after work activities, events that included socializing at dinner, going to the movies, and attending concerts in our local park. I felt "loved" in a way and like I belonged somewhere. This all came at a time when my relationship with my own mom was still pretty good. I did find myself floundering however with regard to having "family" and these ladies helped to fill in that gap.

There are also times when I have received "mothering" from women who are older than me but who aren't moms, per se. My oldest and dearest friend is seven years older than me. She isn't a mom (to a human child at least, she is a dog mom though) but her experience is invaluable and when she offers advice or observations, I listen. Additionally, my oldest sister-in-law has been a tremendous help, giving me some gentle prodding and poking when I needed it most. Her support of me through a very difficult medical time (and at all other times as well) is a true gift and one I won't forget. Over the years too, I have had women friends who are without exception, older than me. I find that the age gap helps me somehow and draws me to them. I pay attention when they tell me things that they have learned over the years. Their life experiences help me to fill in the gaps that are missing in my personal education. 

As I had a chance to reflect these last couple of days, I know in my heart that mothering can come from a place where you least expect it. When my mom was dying, my aunt (her sister) came to help my dad at the hospital. Because my relationship with my mom at that point had been strained for awhile I hadn't really seen my aunt much over the past couple of years. She was there though at the hospital and was a tremendous help to me. My mom's passing created an additional "hole" for me. There is some extra pain I think, an added layer of grief that exists, when your parent passes and you haven't always gotten on well with them. My aunt though stepped right in to fix things. I now meet regularly with both my aunt and cousin (my aunt's younger daughter) for lunch. We are frequently joined by my other aunt too. She is technically my cousin's aunt but I consider her to be my aunt too. The three of them have provided some real comfort to me over the past five years. They are a gracious crew; no one says anything to me about past transgressions. There isn't anything but love and kindness. Every time I drive away after finishing one of our lunches, I am so grateful for the blessing of their company.

As I mentioned above, the old adage of not a day going by without thinking of a loved one who has passed, is very true. Thank goodness that there are other people who are willing to step in, whether knowingly or not, to provide support, care and love; to fill the gap that a loved one leaves behind when they pass away. No matter how old you get, you still need a "mom" or "dad" to help you along on your journey. Thank goodness that families and friends are there for us when we need them.

Thanks for reading,