Food, Fellowship and the Flag

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If you could have seen the sight I had from the Main Stage at the Lewiston Jazz Festival you would have an idea what I am talking about.

As far as the eye could see, on Center Street, the main street of Lewiston NY, people were everywhere. If it was a surface, they were sitting on it…bag chairs, railings, and even window boxes (awkward) provided a base to listen to amazing music and chat with friends. Those without any surface were standing; either trying to find a place to listen or they were trying to move to a place where they could listen to conversation.

Everyone was eating. And, they were drinking.

Local restaurants sold their signature dishes on the street and outside vendors served up everything from brick oven pizza (from a portable brick oven with visible flame) to sushi. There were IPO beers and local wines, red and white sangria and the most delicious Mojito’s that had so much mint you felt like you are getting your daily dose of fiber.

It was noisy, not always easy to navigate and there was zero personal space.

The cacophony of retail, music and conversation would be harsh if heard without context. It was just plain loud but few people seemed bothered. Actually, they seemed invigorated by it. The louder the sound, the more intimate the conversation.

Have you ever noticed how a shared pizza pie or a cold beer act like a binder, providing commonality until conversation can get to shared experience?

And, Western New Yorkers play that game better than anyone I know. We can meet a stranger but know that our Godmother taught their nephew in grammar school in record time. We love the connection.

As I stood on the Main Stage I knew the folks were anxious for the headliners to start their show. I was the last thing between the community service announcements and the music which brought them all together in the first place.

Who could have blamed them for being impatient with the lovely practice of honoring the flags of the two countries sitting side by side?

But honor them they did, standing at attention as I sang the Canadian national anthem. “Oh Canada” their “home and native land” stood just a mile or so behind me. Many Canadians come to our little piece of New York State heaven for this festival as they pour here every day to enjoy the retail and the strength of their dollar.

Clap clap clap. They are sweet with their recognition that I sang their beautiful song with few errors.

Then, as they continued to stand, hats removed and many covering their heart, I began the Star Spangled Banner. I waved my hand as a request for them to join in and to my surprise and delight, they did.

Oh, if you could have seen the view from the stage of bodies everywhere, stopped for just a minute to sing a song that binds us just as an egg binds a meatball, you would have had shivers.

If you could have seen their faces, rapt with pride and a sense of belonging, you would have truly appreciated how food, fellowship and the flag truly represent needs we have as humans to survive not only physically but in our hearts and minds, as well.

 

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It’s Funny about Grief…

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I have my Bachelors degree in Accounting, my Masters degree in Sport Administration and my PhD in Greif.

The first two I earned with hard work and money at an accredited institution of higher learning. The last I earned through life, no formal classroom training required.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s funny about grief…

To say you never get over the death of a loved one is true on the facts only. Of course you never get over the loss, how could you? But you do learn eventually how to deal with it and incorporate it into a full and happy life.

They say happiness is a choice, anyway, right? And I completely agree with that statement. We choose how we view any situation and equally, how we are going to react.

Each loss is different, as well. I have lost a child, parent, sibling and grandparent in that order. On its face that’s messed up, if you ask me. Leave it to me to start big…

It’s funny about grief…

We both lost our son…same person…completely different approach.

But there is no right and no wrong way to feel and react (except if you harm yourself) and I think it is actually brave to get help from someone who does not know you and is trained to guide you through the labyrinth of emotion.

It’s funny about grief…

For as many times as I have experienced it I have never really gotten good at it. And, I think that is good.

Grief, for me, starts with a light blocking Kevlar blanket covering me and shielding me from the piercing cuts of sadness that permeate from the outside. Under its cover I can safely deny the depth of emotion and reality in front of me. You are never actually protected but the impenetrable veneer gives me at least the pretense of safety.

Then the Kevlar makes me hot and sweaty and I can barely catch my breath. Its presence makes me remember the reason for its existence and I fall into a deep depression, often removing myself from any type of social situation which would make me uncomfortable…which would be all of them.

Then, eventually the Kevlar is gone and a heavy wool blanket takes its place, still covering me with heavy protection all the while allowing at least a glimmer of light. The wool is itchy and makes me angry. And, I’m angry with everything.

A clerk wishes me a nice day and I get angry. How can I have a nice day?

A friend is expecting a child and I have to go to a baby shower to celebrate. But how?

A father is teaching a child how to ride a bike and I am filled with rage. How can life be simply going on?

It’s funny about grief…

The sun comes up every day. And, it sets every evening. All around the world life is going on.

Then, one day, I notice I am bouncing down the stairs. When did that happen?

I notice I wish the clerk a happy day in return.

I look forward to shopping for baby things and showering the expectant mother with love and best wishes.

I appreciate the simplicity of a father teaching a child how to ride a bike and feel the warmth reaching my heart.

It’s funny about grief…

Then, on an ordinary day, many years later,

I hear Mike and the Mechanics sing “All I Need is a Miracle” while driving and burst into tear laden singing at the top of my lungs.

“All I need is a miracle…all I need is you.” In context I know it’s a love song (or a lost love song) but in my own context it represented my greatest hope for a miracle which was not to come.

I am singing so violently that people can not only hear me through the sealed car but start to look with a mixture of worry and fear.

But then…

It’s funny about grief…

It’s because as quickly as the song enveloped me with sadness and memory, the vicious emotion passes and the moment of malaise is over. I dry my tears, brush off and move on.

If I have learned anything these past 25 years it is to allow myself the luxury of these strong emotions because when I actually feel them, feel the grips of despair, I know they are as fleeting as the shape of a cloud on a windy day.

Eventually, if you get past the denial, get help for the depression and allow the anger to dissipate into acceptance and acknowledgement, you will feel happy again. Even that bouncy happy that fills your heart with joy. Choose to be happy. I know you can do it.

It’s Been 20 Fast Years, Dad…

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He wore leisure suits.

He played golf very well. And he played so fast we used to say he played polo with a golf cart.

He would clear his throat at a chorus concert so I would know where he and my mom were sitting.

He could dance like Fred Astaire to my mother’s Ginger Rogers. I never learned to dance but when I danced with my father he guided me with his hand on my back. Oh how I loved that.

He could tell a story better than anyone I knew. I could listen to him talk about his customers and staff forever.

He and my mom traveled around the world. My favorite story happened in Paris. They stayed in first class hotels. They came back to the hotel a bit tipsy and switched all of the shoes for shining outside the doors. They said it sounded like the UN the next morning as all of the gentlemen, wrapped in robes went searching for their shoes.

He couldn’t cook anything but scrambled eggs but could grill a steak better than any chop house.

He loved football. He worked tons of hours and when he was home on Sunday he was obsessed with the game. So, in order to speak his language, I learned football by the time I was six or seven. Twenty years ago when the Bills staged the greatest comeback he was in the hospital. I remember going straight there after the game, telling him every detail I could remember. It barely registered. I guess I should have known then.

Whenever I smell a cigar I think of my dad.

He could play billiards with the eye of a shark. When he was a boy he used to hustle at a pool hall on Pine Avenue. He used to store his winnings in the encyclopedia volume including the word Money.  Apparently he must have gotten his clever streak from his mother.

She found it. And, she kept it. Never a word was spoken.

dance at wedding

The only time I cried at my wedding was when I danced with my father.

He never met a stranger. When you met him he would make you feel as though you were friends forever. Then you would never forget him. He cut a very wide path.

20 years has passed but you are every bit as real to me today as ever. I see you in my son’s face. How lucky is he? How lucky am I?

August 1, 1927 – January 15, 1993

Love you Dad

In The End…We Cry Alone

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English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When was the last time you experienced deep emotional trauma and you instantly perked up based on what someone said to you at that moment? Likely never.

Our own emotional filters are built for survival. If they were not, we would be crushed under the weight of our experience.

Wakes serve several purposes, as I see it. They are to allow people to express their sympathy and to help the grieving experience support from those who care.

I remember talking to my husband on the way back from Children’s Hospital after our son died. Absolutely no wake. No way. Not happening.

Then we had a wake.

My uncle convinced me to do it and I will be forever grateful. He said that if we did not do it then we would be denying those who care about us the opportunity to express their sadness over what happened. Every time we went to the grocery store we would have to “receive” someone who is seeing us for the first time. That could last years.

He was right, however there are only a few moments of those days I still remember with clarity. I remember when his team of cardiologists came in. They were crying more than us. The impact of their emotions is something I will never forget.

I remember when the three wonderful priests who married us eight short years before offered to concelebrate Mass. It was a huge honor.

Last, and this is the part I share that still stirs my heart even after all these years, I remember the absolute peace I felt walking out of the church singing How Great Thou Art at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember a single soul in that packed to the rafters church. It was just me and my God. Who knew it would be seven long years before I felt bouncy joy again?

I pity those who don’t have faith in a greater power…although they may pity me…who knows?

We go to wakes and funerals to express kindness and love to those who are grieving but I truly believe the people we call on are actually secondary to our purpose. Yes, we hug them, buy flowers and express condolences in cards and gifts but our tears are way more personal.

We most often cry remembering our own loss…when a friends child passes its like my heart getting ripped out of my chest. I feel that cold sweat sickness and am zoomed back in time.

Sometimes we move on as quickly as it takes to stop for coffee on the way home from a wake. But there is someone in that room that won’t feel that same bouncy joy for sometime to come.

I also know the way someone passes only matters at the beginning of the journey. The shock and horror at what happened in Connecticut is indescribable. They made their child a sandwich and sent them off to school. Gone in a flash.

But, after the shock passes, the end is the same.

My son’s death was like watching a horror film in slow motion. I am here to say, however, you are never prepared for it. You may see it coming but you are never prepared.

In the end, you are alone with your emotions and the inevitable reality that somehow, sometime you must move on.

I am not pompous enough to predict how another person will feel as they go on their journey of grief. I know it took me seven long years to have the bounce of joy back. Others may come from a healthier place and progress more quickly.

The holidays are upon us. We can turn the TV off and move on. Those folks touched by the tragedy have years of sadness ahead of them. The cameras will move on to another trauma. Set a reminder to yourself in six months to pray for them. Pray that someday they get their bouncy joy back.

Joy does come back. Believe it will.

Meanwhile, we all cry alone.

Somebody Is Hungry

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ATTENTION WordPress Bloggers: please click the “Please Share” tab at the bottom of this post. Click on the WordPress icon and “Press This.” In the message add the link to your local Food Bank. Let’s see how many people we can reach in many countries. Somebody is hungry!

It’s sad. It’s also true. Somebody is hungry.

We waste. Food perishes in our refrigerator all of the time.

The scouts came to my house the other day and we filled a bag with canned items. While packing it up we noticed a few that had expired. We had to throw stuff away.

Shame on me. Somebody is hungry.

Check out the food bank in your area. Here is the link for the Food Bank of WNY

There are places of worship everywhere. They will gladly take your food.

There are bell ringers with their buckets from Salvation Army everywhere this time of year. Remember, people are hungry in February and August, too.

Today, send an email to everyone in your building. Ask them to bring in one or two cans of food. Leave a box outside your door or cubicle. Drop it off on your way home.

Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

Don’t brag about it. Just do it.

Somebody is hungry.

Can’t Have It? Then I Want It!

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This whole thing about Twinkie’s20121117-065615.jpg

has gotten me thinking…

The mind games we play with ourselves about food is absolutely crazy. And, to tell the truth, is likely one of the main reasons why it’s an obsession for so many.

We have given an inanimate object a great deal of power.

Take the Twinkie. Hostess has caused quite a stir, announcing they are closing their plants and no longer producing the iconic Twinkie along with other products like orange cupcakes

20121117-083036.jpg or Wonder Bread

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My sister’s favorite was the Ho Ho.

20121117-083653.jpgI liked it but always deconstructed it as I ate it…first nibbling off the chocolate coating (chocolate so waxy that it built up on your teeth), then unrolling it and licking off the cream filling (so sweet it sometimes made me shiver) and finally eating the chocolate cake. That was a lot of work for a thin slice of cake!

But, I digress. My Twit Feed and Facebook wall is filled with Lamentations about the closing of Hostess. Boomers like me are all going down their own culinary memory lane. With Thanksgiving looming we are all talking about food memories (or maybe it’s just that I have foodie friends…birds of a feather…) and over and over I hear about how bad Twinkies are.

You would think Twinkies shoved themselves into people’s mouths!

We give food power.

News flash: it has none. No food is completely good and no food is completely bad. As soon as I made up my mind that I could eat anything I wanted I took the power back.

If I want a Twinkie I would eat one. Bad example…I would never actually crave one but you know what I mean.

Reframe. Food has no voice…we are ventriloquists. If the food speaks it is really our words.

Just change your mind.

RIP Twinkies.

Have a yummy day!

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Don’t Be Disagreeable (dis-uh-gree-uh-BULL)

20121102-074848.jpgI just noticed that the end of the word disagreeable is BULL! How funny (and ironic) is that?

I read my timeline on Facebook and have concluded that half of my friends disagree with me and the other half, well, the other half do, too.

You see, social media has made it easy to perpetuate lies. And, I mean lies on both sides. The lies are presented to allow someone to justify being disagreeable.

But, I’m here to say, being disagreeable is not a lofty goal.

Since we now have a 24 hour news cycle, each hour on a cable news channel has some news but what you are really watching is opinion with a sprinkle of news. Again, on both sides.

Remember the “funny saying” years ago “I read it in the newspaper, it must be true!”?

Now we hear: “I read/heard/watched it in/on the newspaper/radio/Internet/cable news show, it must be true,”

How is it we have allowed strangers who are in many cases no smarter (or even better informed) than we are to whip up such frenzy?

We all bring our own opinions, perspective and, dare I say, prejudice to every decision we make.

Here is my desperate plea: be passionate about what you believe in. Take ten minutes a day to read/listen/watch the dissenting opinion. Give those with whom you disagree the same respect you would hope for yourself.

Practice the art of disagreement without being disagreeable.

Oh, and one more thing…

VOTE

Have a yummy day!

An Open Answer to a Recent Facebook Status

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Facebook Status:

“If you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen. *B…S…*”

There was a ton of agreement until a friend posted a perfect response. She reminded her that if we content ourselves with money we are surely going to be disappointed. But if we act kindly ourselves and show our strength of character everyday then things would be just fine. This lady was spot on!

Here is my take…

Life’s greatest leveling tool is our own attitude. The older we get the more negative crap we have to balance. My grandmother used to say that we all have a cross to bear. I agree with her. But I add a few more things.

Everyone has a cross to bear. Each persons cross is the heaviest because its the only one they know. It’s how we carry the cross that shows who we are.

When I was 30 I thought the world was over. My son was gone and my future dim. Everyone had healthy children, big houses, fabulous jobs and I had an empty room, four years of debt from his illness and lost my job when my father sold his dealership.

Everyone was happy but me.

Then I made a conscious decision to be happy. I seriously had to reframe almost everything I knew to be true. And, eventually I began to believe the stuff I preached to myself.

Today I work hard to see the glass half full. Even when I know others “have” way more than I do…bigger families, bigger houses and better jobs…I make the choice.

I am happy.

This I know about you: you are smart, you are determined and you are kind. Decide that you will be happy.

Mean people are all around us. They make more noise so they get more attention.

Kind people are all around us, too. They most often quietly impact everyone around them. Often we feel better around them and don’t know why. We usually credit some other outside force. But they are there.

And

You are one of them. Be kind. Look inside for your happiness. Content yourself on a job well done, a shared smile or affirming someone else’s kindness.

I believe in you. Believe in yourself.

Have a yummy day…pass it on!

Is A Temper Tantrum A Form Of Prayer?

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I think the only thing more controversial thing to talk about than politics is religion.

This post is not about politics.

Then again, it’s not really about religion, either. It’s about faith.

I have had a few more than my share of challenging glass not so full moments recently.

I miss my mother-in-law a whole lot. She may have been over the top but she had a heart of gold and loved me without reserve. She left us a few months ago and left a huge gap.

I miss my son a whole lot. Soon after his grandmother passed away he moved to New York City for a fabulous job at a Big Four accounting firm. It warms my heart that he misses me, too but doesn’t change the mist in my eyes when I think about it.

I miss my administrative associate a whole lot. My long time assistant transferred out of my department for a full time position somewhere else on campus. She was amazing and allowed me to do my work without worrying about hers. You don’t realize how much that means to you until it’s gone. She was replaced temporarily with another woman with a huge amount of institutional knowledge but was redeployed last month. So, now I’m doing one and a half jobs…woohoo!!

I know I’m not alone. A lot of my friends and family are going through similar things…aging parents, grown children and work place turmoil. But knowing you are not alone is sometimes not enough.

Yesterday was a turning point for me. It started with a bang and didn’t let up until I finally fell asleep (with the help of an allergy med and a PM).

At one point in the day, after several different negative experiences I banged my hand on the desk so hard I needed ice to sooth the damage. Several colleagues suggested that throwing things is a better outlet…perhaps so but I think the mom in me overturned that idea because I would have had to clean up the mess, adding to the indignity.

So, after getting the ice and writing two separate emails (which I am proud to report I deleted after reading them) I decided to take a walk to the chapel on campus.

My glass may have been half full but the holes in the bottom prevented me from seeing it. I’m not sure what I expected to find there. I honestly don’t. But I knew I needed to do something at least tangible to me that would break the fall.

As I approached the beautiful building I saw several people walking out. Oh dear God, I just wanted to be alone…

As fate would have it, I was alone when I entered. I walked up to the front pew and sat down. Never once while I was in that acoustically perfect church did I say a pray, at least not the prayers we chant mindlessly during Mass. No Hail Mary, no Lord’s Prayer…nothing but my own words, said through tears.

At one point I panicked because I thought someone was in there. I’ve sung in this church many times and it has perfect architectural amplification. A microphone is totally unnecessary. My own pleas where audible throughout.

Oh God, what if someone hears me?

Oh God, what if He does not?

Both of those thoughts gave me pause. I sat still and stopped crying. I dried my face on my coat sleeves.

I sat still waiting for something. Anything. My breathing restored to a reasonable calm.

Oh God, what if someone hears me? I’m in church. So what. People pray there, right? Isn’t a temper tantrum a form of prayer? Think about that one for a second. Replace any words during any tantrum with please help me and there you have it…a prayer.

Oh God, what if He does not? Really? How could I believe that for any second. He will hear me. Will I be open to His answer?

Then it happened. I didn’t want to believe it for a moment but the sound was undeniable. When it happened again I had to acknowledge it.

It was a text message from my husband. “Just let it roll off your back.”

Now I’m not suggesting to you my husband is God…no, not at all. But isn’t that message well timed if not divine?

“Just let it roll off your back.”

Ok, I responded. I put the phone back into my pocket, bought myself a coffee and donut (chocolate glazed) and walked back to my office. I only took a few bites of the donut and threw it away. I didn’t need it anymore.

I figured out what to do on my walk. I shared my thoughts with the people who needed to hear them, brushed myself off and went home.

Today the actual situation here is unchanged but I am completely ready to deal with it.

All because of my prayer through tantrum.

You will never know how honored I am you just read this. Have a blessed (and yummy) day.