Saturday, September 29, 2012


This week, I was asked a question about my emotional support network. How many people did I have in my life with whom I could talk about anything?

The first number that popped in my head was 30. I don't know why.  I tend to go with my gut reaction on many things and gave 30 as the answer.

The best answer most people give is five or six.

Maybe I have a disproportional share of friends who are clergy. Maybe it is because I am 48 and am truly blessed with amazing people in my life and have had many great shared experiences.

So far this year, I have made wonderful new friends, reconnected with childhood friends, college friends, and friends-of-friends... and it continues.

The benefits of a strong social support network are many and creating and maintaining those relationships is important work. For me, it is absolutely essential to my well being. Friends in my everyday life and friends I can pick up with where we left off, even if years have passed, are my treasures.

I want to challenge you to spend a little time every day nurturing those friendships with people in your life who are important to you. In today's world, it's not hard to just reach out with a text, an email, a handwritten note, a phone call, Skype, or *gasp* seeing them in person. Not only will you feel better but your friend will feel better, too.

There's so much in our society these days that perpetuates polarization, fear of the other, us vs. them, distrust... the list goes on and on... it's time to soften to all that hardness and to realize that division isn't the way to a rich and full life. It's being brave enough to open up to friendship, the courage to care for others, and to be strong enough to be willing to be cared for in return. It takes trust that others will value your friendship and who you really are as a person.

Once you allow yourself to be open and truly feel with your heart, a wonderful energy is born that is larger and more powerful than the people who have generated it.

"Here's the deal:  Love (or worth, or value, or esteem, or forgiveness, or reconciliation, or meaning) is not something you produce or achieve or acquire.
It is not something that you even have.
Love is something that has you."  ~ Terry Hershey

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ain't that America?

And in the midst of everyday life, America stops and has a parade to celebrate fall, kids, and school. Grinnell Homecoming 2012. I'm told that the homecoming parade isn't a tradition everywhere. For me in small-town Iowa, it's all I've ever known. We've lived here now in Grinnell for seven years this week and this is just one of the many reasons why.

It's a rule. No parades in Iowa without tractors.
This is how we roll...
All-American boy.
And an all-American old boy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Other Obesity Epidemic

I doubt there is anyone left in this country who hasn't heard about the severe health crisis of obesity. From the White House to my house and everywhere in between, we know about the dangers of carrying more weight on our bodies than our bodies are designed for.

Message received.

But there's another epidemic that we don't talk about and that's the weight we are figuratively carrying around with us. The weight of the world on our shoulders.

Did you know that stress is now considered to be as great a health risk factor as obesity and smoking?

There's no shortage of stress these days in the "Excited States of America," with credit to my favorite Canadian.

It is extraordinary the level of stress that we live through in our daily lives. For many of us, the stress is literally knocking at the door and we wonder how to make a house or car payment. I've been there and it is hell.

But for even more of us, our level of stress has crept up on us gradually and has reset our baseline that we don't know what it feels like to live without stress. It's our normal.

They say that if you are going to boil a lobster or crab, you should put it a cool pot of water and let the water heat up to a boil gradually. The crab or lobster doesn't realize that it is in danger because it has gotten used to the water and doesn't perceive the danger it is in. Trying to throw a lobster into a pot of rapidly boiling water is hard to do. It knows before it hits the water that it is in danger and puts up a helluva fight to get out of the pot. Chefs will tell you that if you do cook the lobster or crab this way, it will negatively affect the taste and texture of the meat. It makes what should be very tender into something that is more tough and rubbery.
We can still worry when we are relaxed...
Note to self: Focus on your heart.

I share that illustration because we are like that lobster... we don't always realize that the pot is getting hotter and that we are in danger. We just see it as normal. But, that increasing stress and pressure is taking its toll on us, too. Heart attacks, depression, addiction...

I struggle with feeding my stress with food and I wonder if the bigger epidemic is the condition of the weight of stress and worry on our hearts and minds. Would we do better physically if we weren't trying to solve our stress and emotional problems through self-medication? Would our brains begin to tell us to get up and go for a walk or a run or any kind of physical exercise as a way of dealing with stress rather than comfort food? There's research going on that asks these same questions. If we could get the health benefits of exercise in a pill, we'd all take it religiously. So, why don't we just exercise instead? Damn good question...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Not for the faint of heart

So many of us, myself included, have found ways in which we shunt our feelings so that we don't feel pain or hurt. It isn't just those who misuse drugs or alcohol to avoid their feelings. Anything can be misused to protect our hearts.... food, sex, exercise, hoarding, spending... anything that (temporarily) takes away the pain. 

Our feelings have a tremendous effect on our physiology. If our emotions are negative, we are flooding our bodies with cortisol - the stress hormone - causing all kinds of havoc in our bodies. Stress is now considered a risk factor to our health on par with obesity and smoking. We don't have to feel extreme rage or be furious in order for the cortisol release, we can feel worry, sadness, or concern.

Four years ago, I went back to a counselor to coach me through some serious work. Each session began with my counselor asking, "How are you feeling today?" I had no idea. I felt flat. I make my living as a writer. I work with words all day long. I had to look up various emotions in a thesaurus to access the words. I wasn't enraged or furious or even terrified. I wasn't feeling much on either side of flat. I was more like one of the Stepford wives. A self-induced coma, is how I refer to it. It was extremely effective in dulling any pain. I was, as they say, "comfortably numb."

When I realized that I was also sacrificing the feelings of joy, love, peace, calm, elation, bliss... I realized that my elaborate coping mechanism was keeping me  from all that life offers. I was missing was the wonderful.

Since then, I have taken the very bold step to allow myself to come out of my protective shell, to feel all of it and not shut down. And it is not for the faint of heart. We have plenty of good reasons why we choose not to feel the pain. Feeling the full impact of one's emotions after years of avoiding them altogether takes some fortitude. 

I learned healthier ways to feel them and not be overwhelmed and I have also learned that it is just as possible to be overwhelmed by the high of amazing as it is to be overtaken by deep despair. As I am learning how to do this, I am a little overwhelming myself... I say what's in my heart. I take opportunities to speak my mind and can overstep my bounds. I'm a little snarky at times, which is truly disarming to those still think of me as the Stepford wife. It takes a lot of work to allow my true self to emerge but it is worth all of it.

While they are powerful, feelings and emotions are only feelings and emotions. My challenge is to feel them, honor them, focus on my heart and breathe.... and then let them go.  And on some days, I can do just that. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fall is falling. Finally.

It's time for football games.
Summer started here in March and it is still flirting with 100 degrees on the last day of August, I'm looking forward to the change of season and a change of clothes. It is time for the air conditioner to take a long nap.

Last night, I noticed it was dark and it was 8 o'clock.

There's football on TV again and it is live, not reruns of old games. Who watches those reruns?

And it will be time to find the way out of the corn maze...
Fall is my favorite season, hands down. But fall also has a way of making me feel all sentimental, almost melancholy. Time seems to go a little slower in the fall. We have "evenings" again. Sunday isn't the only dinner that I plan when there are evenings...

And I am ready to savor all of it.