Saturday, November 21, 2015

Snowy November Days and Memories of a Child-like Faith

Not sure where it came from this morning, but my head has been in the past, dredging up memories of my kids as small children playing in the snow decoupaged over memories of my own childhood. I’m sure this song was just stored away up there somewhere. I haven’t heard it in years but I found myself belting it out in the kitchen as I stirred the tomato sauce.  Have a listen:

One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus

No, really. Click on the link and listen to the song. It’s an integral part of this.  I’m a sucker for the old Gospel hymns.
I can see my mom sitting at the piano, my sisters and I gathered round singing.  This one, and, The Old Rugged Cross, and Great is Thy Faithfulness.

Those were the days when faith was simple and true. Black and white. Jesus loves me. Church on Sunday morning and then, on snowy days like this one, bundling up in our 70’s era coats and boots and playing for hours in the snow. My sisters and I, and Jesus.

Where did they go? Those days. My children. My sisters. Jesus.

This must be nostalgia speaking. So forgive me if I trend sappy here. But sometimes I long for  the simple and true. For the cold, wet hands of a child fresh in from the snow. For that solid presence beside me, that person who knows me, hates and loves me simultaneously and knows the same old Gospel hymns as I do. Sometimes I long for Jesus.

We grow up. Our children grow too. Snowy days are different now. So much is lost along the way to this strange place. What remains of that childhood faith?

“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  Yeats

Can I trace back to when things started to fall apart for me? When that simple faith of childhood began to crumble away leaving a complicated mess of desire and skepticism.  One might try to blame my liberal arts education. I suspect that a strong sarcastic streak and my own sinful, rebellious nature is more likely the culprit.  I’ve never abandoned Christianity, but I’ve never fully embraced a church since reaching adulthood.

Leaving behind my solid Baptist upbringing and marrying into the Catholic Church at a young age set into play a habit that has been hard to abandon: that of standing just on the periphery of organized religion and making pot-shots at it.  That of course, at the same time as I was dutifully raising my children to be good Catholics.  It didn’t add up to a very satisfying spiritual experience, I’ll admit.  I attempted to get real some years ago, deciding to go all in.  I went through the process of getting confirmed and became a Real Catholic.  I’m sorry to say that it didn’t stick.  I’m sure that reflects a huge lack of commitment on my part. 20+ years of Catholic mass and there are a few things I really love about it....the rare times that they sing the classic hymns I grew up with, the sharing of peace, infant baptism (yeah, I know...but it’s symbolic and beautiful), and this: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and I shall be healed.”  Truer words have not been spoken and they resonated with me from day one: me, the little Baptist girl among the Papists.

Nowadays, I go to mass with my kids when they are around, and I go to one of those fluffy, feel-good Christian churches with Rob, if he’s home on a Sunday.  The music there is hard to stomach. I feel like I’m in a propaganda machine, the lights, the big screens projecting the lyrics, all calculated to enhance my emotional response. But the minister seems like an intelligent guy and I respect that.  He urges us to be better people, to love more purely, to put our faith into action: things we all want.  I listen to my grown children and watch them live out their own version of faith, hoping that their sharp intellect and wit is not a harbinger of faithlessness. I pray that I have not ruined God for them.

Yeats may have been prophetic. His verses speak so clearly of the troubled days we live in. I read the words of Pope Francis today, and my heart cries out at the truth He speaks as well: “Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes … it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path.”  When anarchy reigns and peace is nowhere to be found I feel overwhelmed at the scope of misery, fear and pain.  What is to be done? What is one lapsed Catholic, wanna-be Christian to do?

I don’t have the answers. But this is what I strive for: to be a better wife, mother and friend, to heal my own heart, to offer kindness to each person I meet.  I greet each baby born into my hands with these words,  “welcome to the world, little one,” and then, silently, a prayer.

It’s late November and snow is falling in earnest, the first snow of the year. Now it will begin to feel like the Holidays. There is always, with me, a wistfulness around the holiday season, when longing is intensified, memories are awakened and family members, long gone or distant are sorely missed.   Can I take my longing for connection and my helplessness and somehow meld them together into something? Something practical? Something that will bring meaningful good into this broken old world of ours? There’s a lot to do.

Here, on this blustery, Saturday morning, I’m not sure whether I’ll be in church tomorrow morning, but the music that stirs my soul is available right here on Youtube. I’ll be singing the old-time hymns and looking for strength each day, to do the things I have to do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Niagara Falls in one afternoon

Last weekend, we had a bit of business that took us to Buffalo, New York. So, we jumped on the opportunity to take a quick day trip to Niagara Falls with R and A.  With my call schedule, and Rob's flying schedule, we couldn't leave for Buffalo until Sunday morning, the day before Labor Day. We were on the first flight out and after a long layover in O'Hare, which we filled with a leisurely breakfast of omelets at Berghoff Cafe, we arrived in Buffalo at 1:30 p.m.

Our business was completed in short order and we made our way over to Niagara Falls State Park on what turned out to be possibly the busiest day EVER!

 We had one destination in mind and agreed in advance that no matter how long the lines were reported to be, we would wait.  We wanted to see Cave of the Winds: the one place where you can get closest to the falls.

We bought our tickets: $54 for the four of us seemed like a reasonable price.  Especially when you consider that the price includes these lovely sandals!

Yes. This photo took some coercion. 
The sandals begin to make much more sense once you reach the falls and find yourself walking on slippery decking in sometimes several inches of water.

The line to Cave of the Winds was indeed LOOOONG.  We waited for 2 hours and 40 minutes.  A little bit of ice-cream happened during that time to make it slightly more bearable!

Here is one of the views along the serpentine queue

Here we are nearing the end of our wait.

And now, for the good pics.  The Falls were....all the usual words and more.  Magnificent. Overwhelming. Awe inspiring.  You should go there.

They provide rain ponchos.  A lovely look overall, don't you think?

As we got closer. We got much more wet.

Eventually, I had to turn off my camera. It was drowning.  Here are some after pics. 

It was getting dark. The lights of the Canadian side beckoned. 

So, we walked across the pedestrian bridge, passports in hand, went through customs and spent about half an hour in Canada. Just enough time for a t-shirt purchase!

It was a short trip, but we made the most of our afternoon and evening!  The kids loved it and were, as always very pleasant traveling companions.  Even on the ten hour drive home the next day. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Guerilla marketing: World's Best Salsa

R, K and I took a spring break trip that will go down in the pass travel history books as a FAIL, but we ended up having a sweet little road trip adventure. Read about it here.

Then this happened on the way home. It needed a post all to itself. 

"Excuse me ma'am, would you like to try the world's best salsa? " It was 2a.m., an Exxon Mobil station 44 miles south of Birmingham. Very few folks about. I was walking in to get a cup of possibly the world's worst coffee, but my driving leg was about to start and I was sleepless. Which maybe explained my hesitation. But there, leaning out of a minivan was a fresh faced and grinning young man: Anthony Ingram. I glanced at the decal on the van, only to have it confirmed: Tony Tejas, The world's best salsa! So, Duh.
"Sure!" I said. Because what goes better with a 2 a.m. fuel stop in the middle of Alabama than the world's best salsa.
"I'll have a sample for you when you get out". Two young men, taking their salsa to Birmingham to a distributor. Eager, friendly and in possession of some serious salsa. Fresh. Not preserved. A shelf life, refrigerated, of 21 days. He brought a 4 oz deli container over to the car after buying a new bag of tortilla chips for us to sample with. The girls and I agreed. The fresh cilantro and lime flavor up front is slightly subdued by a smoky finish. One free 4 oz sample, a business card, and promises to like their facebook page were exchanged. A selfie was grudgingly agreed to by me. And we were back on the road. The salsa: as we were reminded twice, is like a party in your mouth. Order some today!

Tony Tejas Salsa 
Tony Tejas Salsa on Facebook

Drive til we find white sand: Spring Break 2015

We had planned to fly to Corpus Christi. It was a good plan.  It started with taking R&K's car to St. Louis and spending the night there, so that we could fly in and out of St. Louis.  I had planned that we'd hop on the first flight out Thursday morning and be on the beach in Corpus Christi by noon.

We got a late start out of town. Just. Because. Then K realized she'd left her phone in the house.  So, another delay.  But, eventually we were en route around 7:00pm.  R took the wheel.  I began checking and rechecking flight loads and realized we should have a back-up plan.  The flights, which had been wide open as recently as that morning, were slowly filling up. Why is it so impossible to catch a ride to Houston??

When we were about an hour from St. Louis, I broke the news to the girls.  It didn't look like we'd make the flights in the morning.  The good news was, they were up for a drive.

We just kept heading south and I was eating up my data plan looking for white sand and a cheap hotel.  Pensacola, New Orleans, Gulf Shores....we chose Fort Walton.

About 13 hours after passing St. Louis, having stopped for breakfast along the way, we pulled into our hotel, checked in early and hit the beach....beneath cloud covered skies.

Ghost pier

 We walked the beach in the gloom and fog, stopped at The Crab Trap for an appetizer, pulled up weather reports for the next few days, and formulated yet another Plan B for our mini-vacation. 

Our plan started with a trip to Barnes and Noble where we all picked out books.  We found a publix and bought snacks, ordered a pizza from Crust Pizzeria and picked it up on our way back to the hotel.

The next morning we braved the cool, foggy weather again, sitting on the beach with our books, just enjoying the sound of the waves.

When it started to rain, we packed up, and went in search of coffee and treats.  We found The Donut Hole.  And this:

And then we went shopping!

That evening we ate at Boshamps in Destin.  It has a low-key atmosphere, (imagine northwoods meets beach) and fantastic food. We all chose from the day's catch: grouper, snapper and swordfish and shared a fresh mango creme brulee for dessert.

Our last day on the beach, the skies finally cleared and the sun came out. 

It ended up being a long drive for one day in the sun, but we all agreed it was worth it. 

Tell me about your spring break trip.  Do you have any travel plans that ended up not as you originally imagined?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Six hours in St. Louis

I had been missing my girlies in a bad way.  I had been promising a visit down to SLU for weeks. Last Saturday, we made the trip, Rob, R and I, down for a quick visit. Do the math: the four hour drive down + the 6 hour drive home (through snow and ice) for a 6 hour visit?  It only makes sense if you are a mom missing your kids. And, if you have a fabulous hubs willing to do ALL the driving!

We arrived around 10am, picked R and K up from R's apartment and drove over to Rooster for brunch. Rooster!  So FUN and So Delicious!  If you live in St. Louis, you don't need me to tell you about it, apparently most of the city had the same idea for Saturday brunch as we did. But, if you are visiting, please brave the lines and the family/cafeteria style seating for the Rooster experience. Their specialty is crepes and they do them fabulously with locally sourced ingredients. The breakfast menu was so enticing, I already have plans to return to try more of this amazing food! 

After brunch, we took a leisurely stroll through Soulard Market.  It was sparsely populated with vendors, a shadow of its warm weather self but it was an act of hope going there on such a grey and blustery day.  Another "Don't miss" when visiting St. Louis.

With the weather being what it was: cold and grey. We opted for indoor entertainment to round out our afternoon.  After reviewing all the free venues St. Louis has to offer, we chose the Science Center.

It had been years since we'd been to the Science Center.  The last time, R, K and R were a more typical age, but I don't remember it being this much fun.   Everyone played with the hands-on exhibits:
Enjoyed the overpass: 

 and obliged me with some photo-ops:

After a few hours, we noticed that the snow coming down was heavier and so we decided to grab a quick early dinner and get on the road home.  R recommended Tortillaria in the Central West End, for their happy hour.  Our waiter was super attentive, the food was excellent and the happy hour prices were a great deal. 

Just a short day's sampling of all St. Louis has to offer.  If you haven't been in awhile, take your kids and enjoy a weekend.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On Jung, Vero Beach and conquering our personal demons

The picture above was taken at Vero Beach, Florida when Rob and I were down in early February.  I promised more details about our trip and the extensive dive training we underwent, but first I will digress. I came across this powerful quote this morning and had to dust off my Jungian psych knowledge to unpack it a bit. 

Jung spoke of integration and welding all of the different elements of one's psyche into a cohesive whole individual who would be unswayed by emotional shocks and life's common upheavals.  This quote speaks to the need for introspection in order to achieve that self knowledge and integration.  Isn't that what we all long for, the equanimity to roll with it, to have such a sense of peace that the waves just smooth us out like the sandy beach?  I had some introspective work to do when we were in Vero Beach.

I'll admit that I came a bit undone during our dive training. I went in with a particular hang-up. Mask removal.  Non-divers, hang with me here for a minute.  Divers, cut me some slack.  I KNOW it's a basic skill.  It's an Open Water level skill.  It's a skill I had never yet mastered.  Here's some physiology behind why some people struggle with it. 

The Mammalian Dive Reflex

There are two cardiovascular reactions that occur with submersion in water. The first is vasoconstriction, or narrowing of blood vessels which effectively reduces the flow of blood to "non-essential" organs, such as the limbs and reserving it for essential organs such as the brain. The second is bradycardia or a slowing of the heart rate. For this effect to occur, the face simply needs to be wet, one does not have to fully submerged. In the average diver, the heart rate may be reduced by 30%. This reaction is worsened by cold water. The Nasobronchial reflex is another component of the Dive Reflex, the one that really tripped me up. This reflex is activated, again, by immersion of the head into cold water and results in immediate apnea (suppression of breathing), laryngospasm and brochoconstriction (closing of the airways).

While the cardiovascular effects of the Dive Reflex are interesting and allow free divers to do their amazing deep dives, the nasobronchial aspect can make it challenging for scuba divers to learn to breathe underwater, especially when your mask is off, exposing your nose to the cold water. This was definitely true for me.

So, I managed to get through Open Water certification with my mask removal phobia fully intact, courtesy of training in 50 degree midwestern quarries.  On our 40+ dives since, my focus has been, not on overcoming that phobia, but on KEEPING MY MASK ON!  DUH!  I knew, as we began looking at advancing our certs and moving forward with our dive training that this would be an issue that would come back to haunt me.  I toyed around with the idea that my great fear of water in my face was from a past life experience or a near drowning experience as a child.  Now, these were both my halfhearted attempts to make it an issue that was beyond my control, something about my psyche that was unalterable.  I don't actually believe I had any near drowning childhood experiences, nor, as a side-note, do I believe I've lived any life but this one.

I toyed as well with the idea of seeking some counseling.  I took my mask and snorkel into the bathtub to practice.  I joked that when I became an instructor I wouldn't teach mask removal skills but rather Mask Retention Skills.  But I never did overcome that phobia, not by the time we left for Vero Beach.  In fact, my anxiety levels were so high, that I had begun have heart palpitations.  I was a mess. So, Rob and I got into the pool, with our full gear, and we practiced.  We practiced all of our basic Open Water Skills and each time I had to take off my mask, or even let any of the COLD pool water into my mask, my airway would immediately close off and I was unable to breath from my regulator. 

I knew what was going on.  I knew that I had so much anxiety tied up in this one skill that I was allowing it to have a much more powerful effect that the simple physiological reflex could explain.  So, I broke it down. 

First, I just took off my mask and took my regulator out and I put my face in the water.  I swam around under water and got used to that sensation.  Then, I put my regulator in, left my mask off and tried to lower my face into the water.  That took some time but I was able to do it.  Then, finally I took my mask in hand, submerged with regulator in, and put my mask on and cleared it.  Having accomplished that, over a period of about 45 minutes, I felt like I had gained a lot of ground. But, the anxiety remained. 

Over the course of two weeks, we did a lot of diving and I did a little bit of mask work.  I was gaining some comfort and had learned that by forcefully exhaling through my nose when my mask was off, I could circumvent the laryngospasm.  But, it was still a high anxiety task for me.

The end of the course began to loom ahead of me, for in order to pass our Divemaster course, Rob and I would have to perform the infamous "complete underwater gear exchange".  This involves just what it says, Rob was to don my gear, me his, and underwater, while sharing one source of air, we would exchange everything, snorkel, BC, and...mask.  Two days before our testing date, we were back in the pool and decided to practice the gear exchange.  By the end of that session, which I cut short, I was in tears, truly believing that this was something that was beyond my skill level.  My anxiety was compounded by knowing how my performance would affect Rob.  We were dive buddies.  We Both had to get this right and be able to do it well.  The next day was a full day of classroom and it was dark and cold by the time class let out.  Rob and I had been planning to get into the pool but I just could not make myself do it.  I know that I was in avoidance mode.  Of course I was! But I didn't have the self discipline to go out there in the cold, dark water and practice my dreaded mask skills. 

As I lay in bed that night. I began practicing a psychological tool that I'd learned years ago for coping with pain, fear or anxiety.  Tapping.  I knew that most of the remaining issue was anxiety.  It was a mind game.  So, I tapped on the EFT points and, feeling as foolish as I always do when I'm using tapping, I repeated the EFT phrase:  Even though I am anxious about removing my mask, I completely accept myself.  I did several rounds.  And then I fell asleep.

The next day, we rocked it out.  You can watch video of our gear exchange here, on our Facebook page.  We are back home, our new cert cards in hand, tans fading.  My heart palpitations are gone, not a hint of one since the skill demonstration.  I feel like I learned so much more than the syllabus had outlined.

Mask removal was my own personal demon. I let it have that power.  It took every tool that I had at my disposal to overcome it:  a cognitive approach to understanding the physiology, personal introspection, understanding of a supportive partner, tips from skilled instructors, exposure therapy, tears, avoidance and tapping.  And this, such a small thing! 

We all have them:  those things that plague us, that haunt our dreams, the anxieties that we have allowed to grow rather than face head on.  I knew that I would have to overcome this "hang up" in order to embrace the many adventures that lie ahead for us in the arena of diving.  

P.S. If you are interested in EFT, you can find plenty of free demonstration videos online.