Posts Filed Under: Quasi Philosophical Mumbo Jumbo

11 May

My Southern Shrine

Posted by on May 11, 2017 at 9:42 am

There is something extraordinary about the places that evoke the remnants of childhood joy. My grandma’s house is such a place for me.

Beautiful antebellum homes can be found in unexpected places throughout the South.

Beautiful antebellum homes can be found in unexpected places throughout the South.

My grandma lives in a rural area of the South. Her small home, humble by adult standards, always thrilled me and my siblings as children. To her grandkids that house meant endless doting, plentiful food, innumerable hugs, rows of dress-up shoes- all the standard spoilings of proud and loving grandparents. We believed our grandparents were loaded, quite erroneously, because they offered us everything they had.

Bingo is a popular pastime in the South; my grandma plays it rather religiously.

Bingo is a popular pastime in the South; my grandma plays it rather religiously.

Running is not a popular pastime in the South. We ran into more rattlesnakes than runners during a 10-mile jog.

Running is not a popular pastime in the South. We ran into more rattlesnakes than runners during a 10-mile jog.

Recently, Jason and I took a trip to visit my outstanding grandma. This time, my sister and dad traveled with us. We toured the sites of my father’s youth, lost at Bingo, visited with living relatives and those no longer around, sampled Memphis barbecue, explored antebellum homes, gobbled catfish and hushpuppies, and enjoyed Easter gatherings.

We don't see our Southern relatives often so it was nice to catch up.

We don’t see our Southern relatives often so it was nice to catch up.

My grandma now suffers from some of the afflictions that get us all in the end and doesn’t have the energy she once did but visiting her still brings back a surge of memories and an onslaught of hugs. And that’s why her stout home, unremarkable to the rest of the world, will forever remain a shrine to unconditional love to me.

25 Apr

A Few Passing Thoughts

Posted by on April 25, 2016 at 9:31 am

My grandpa passed away recently so Jason and I traveled to a remote section of the South for his funeral. This experience made me contemplate the power of such rituals. Perhaps it is because the death of a loved one provides a somber, and often crushing, reminder of life’s fleeting treasures that these occurrences are able to unite families in a way that few other occasions can.

If I had lived a couple hundred years ago, I would have made a great professional mourner. Why, you ask? Because at funerals I am almost always that person who loses it. You know, the one sobbing so hard their chin twitches and their eyes swell up like caterpillars. My closeness to the deceased is irrelevant… it’s a little awkward when I’m crying more than the kids, spouse, or parents. My dad has always said it’s because I have a tender heart but you might say I’m a wimp, and rightly so. Nonetheless, even for those that don’t dehydrate as much as me at these services, funerals are never fun. Yet, they have a unique might.

Funerals bring families together. You will connect with relatives you never knew you had and reunite with ones you haven’t seen in decades. Since we live so far away, we met a lot of new faces at my grandpa’s service.

Funerals are a great time to snap a few family photos.

Funerals are a great time to snap a few family photos.

Another incredible thing about funerals is the support network they spontaneously create. A common purpose is suddenly formed that spans generations and locations. Work, school, and social responsibilities instantly become comparatively insignificant. My master’s program made attending my grandpa’s funeral quite difficult but there was no way I was going to miss it. It wasn’t a question of if Jason and I could make it work but of how we would make it work. My parents and a few of my siblings assembled despite the distance and the difference it made to my grandma was remarkable. The moment my parents walked through her door her entire demeanor changed; it was as if their strength literally began holding her up.

The last notable thing about funerals is the goodbyes they afford. Although these services may seem small compared to the people they honor, they often provide a solid sense of closure.

Goodbye, Grandpa. I am so grateful for the countless ways your jolly spirit positively impacted my life. I’ll love you forever!

25 Jun

Lambert’s Folly

Posted by on June 25, 2014 at 10:23 pm

There are posts that make their way onto this blog because of their “universal” interest and stories that show up here simply because I don’t want to forget them. This is one of the later and, like most enduring tales, it’s worth remembering because it involves Jason behaving like an idiot. And yes, I do plan on repeating this account as often as possible until the day I die, maybe even longer.

Jason is a very intelligent man. His brilliance is one of the many things I love about him. That said, being brilliant doesn’t always mean that you’re terribly smart. Allow an evening at Lambert Park to illustrate my point.

It all started on a delightful Friday. Temperatures were ideal, courtesy of spring, so we decided to go mountain biking at Lambert Park, one of our favorite spots for this activity due to its proximity and utter awesomeness.

Lambert Park was striking that day. Purple, crimson, white, and yellow wildflowers dotted the landscape and lush grasses flaunted their greenest hues. The trails, as they wound through tightly-packed oak brush, were just the right combination of tricky and tempting, as always. It was the perfect setup for the perfect evening until…

At one point, I noticed that Jason had opened his bike seat pouch and that he, for unknown reasons, didn’t seem to be in any hurry to close it. I, in my boundless wisdom, suggested that he should zip it up or he was going to lose something. Pretty exceptional advice, right? After we had spent the rest of the daylight cruising Lambert’s dusty paths and had returned to our car, we discovered that my cell phone had fallen out of Jason’s pack somewhere in our travels because he hadn’t heeded my excellent guidance. Drat! Sometimes correctness is a curse.

Since twilight was rapidly approaching, it was decided that Jason would ride back the way we had come on his bike and search for my missing phone while I would take our car on an intersecting dirt road and meet up with him. This would cut out the uphill part of his retracing. Jason, keen to redeem himself, sped off in such a hurry that he forgot his helmet, forcing me to chase after him. Once he had his safety gear properly in place and was again on his way, I drove down a gravel track to unite with him as planned. Unfortunately, when I got to our rendezvous point, I found that not only had Jason had no luck locating my phone but a whizzing sound was coming from one of our tires. Yes, in keeping with the general misfortune of the evening, I had run over a nail on that primitive lane and air was leaving the puncture in an awful hurry.

Lambert Park was ideal that evening. Between agreeable weather and happy plants, our ride couldn't have been more satisfactory.

Lambert Park was ideal that evening. Between agreeable weather and happy plants, our ride couldn’t have been more satisfactory.

Because Jason was still looking for my mobile and needed to complete his hunt before it got dark, which it already nearly was, I was stuck holding my finger over the tire’s gap in a pathetic attempt to discourage deflation as he continued to rummage. My efforts didn’t seem to be too productive yet I took comfort in the fact that we had all sorts of emergency gear in our hatchback: a pump, gauge, and Fix-A-Flat for starters. Something was bound to work for this particular predicament. That’s about when a nagging recollection surfaced in my mind. Somewhere in my recent memory, I saw Jason removing our emergency kit in order to fit our bikes in our car easier but, no matter how much I prodded, my memory couldn’t conjure up an image of him returning that gear. A quick check, for which I had to take a momentary recess from my fingering, proved that my disheartening hunch was correct. Our emergency kit was hanging out, rather uselessly, back home in our garage because Jason had decided it wasn’t necessary for this specific venture. Holy Hanna! Warning: Attempting appropriate amounts of eye rolling at this juncture without warming up your eyeballs first may result in optic strain.

Jason had been calling my phone in hopes of hearing it ring as he biked along. Although he had had no luck in that regard, after nearly a dozen calls, unexpectedly, someone answered. A couple of bikers had found my mobile and had taken it with them assuming that they’d be able to locate its owner. They had already left Lambert Park but were happy to meet up with us at a gas station to hand over my Blackberry. Great news! Except…our tire only made it to the terminus of that dirt road before it went too flat to travel any further.

By this time it was completely dark but at least, even without all our convenient crisis gear that was back home instead of in the back of our car, we still had our old-fashioned jack and donut to remedy the situation. As we began the jacking process, a vehicle pulled up behind us and a man in his twenties got out. He asked if we needed assistance and, before we really got a chance to answer him, he began working on our problem. He seemed a little gung-ho but who’d argue with help? As we continued our conversation with him, his eagerness made more sense. He was a mechanic and, apparently, interceded regularly to help those with car troubles out. With both him and Jason toiling together, our tire was changed relatively swiftly, minus one hiccup. Jason forgot to put on the emergency brake so as soon as one side of the vehicle was entirely elevated by the jack, it went lurching forward, bending the jack. Sufferin’ succotash! How many things can get botched in one night?

Here I'm just minutes from discovering that my phone was dozing in the bushes somewhere instead of resting safely under Jason's fanny. Yes, that smile shortly turned into a smirk.

Here I’m just minutes from discovering that my phone was dozing in the bushes somewhere instead of resting safely under Jason’s fanny. Yes, that smile shortly turned into a smirk.

FYI, I did eventually get my phone back. It had to be left with a gas station attendant but we were able to retrieve it after we got our flat issues resolved.

Apparently, in this story Jason is sort of the rogue and the strangers that acted with honesty and kindness are the heroes. Thanks John and random biking dudes for coming to our aid. This tale might have ended much more horrendously without you.

And that’s it folks, the story of how Jason, a certified genius, made a series of mistakes in a short period of time that could have been avoided through the utilization of common sense. His errors will now be immortalized through the timelessness of the internet. After all, how could I tease him with precision about the events of that evening for the remainder of my life if I couldn’t properly remember the particulars?

And for those of you that are a little dense or that don’t know my mannerisms, all this is meant in good fun. Jason will laugh at this post not cry in the bathroom. Unless, of course, today is one of his arbitrarily selected behave-like-a-girl days. Oh double burn! And yes, I am still joking.

3 Jul

The Happiness Factors

Posted by on July 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

For many people, happiness remains perpetually illusive. If I had a dime for every time someone complained on Facebook about how their life is the pits, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to buy me a gumball or two. I, on the other hand, am very content with my existence. Sure, like everyone else I’ve got my problems but, in general, I feel fortunate to be living the life I do. Recently, with all the research that I peruse at work, I came across a study that I found fascinating. It might explain why I delight in my days and how the downers of the world could find more joy in theirs. Hence, with the happiness of the entire universe at stake, I thought I better share this mind-blowing data.

In 1937 Harvard initiated the Grant Study, the world’s longest investigation of physical and mental health. More than 200 Harvard students have been followed over the last 75 years for this study. Their experiences have been used to ascertain the best means of adding life to your years instead of just years to your life. The lead researcher, George Valliant, has written multiple books on his intriguing findings. Although I can’t cover all the riveting topics of those volumes here, I do want to relay a few snippets that I thought were particularly interesting.

Based off the lives of these students and how successfully they aged, Valliant came up with nine protective factors that, when adhered to, increase health and happiness up to age 70, 80 and beyond. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Don’t Smoke: This is a no-brainer for most of us. With the taboo that cigarettes have become, few of us would touch tobacco but it’s never too late to quit if you’re the touchy/feely type.

2. Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Again, for me, this is a no-brainer. Alcohol abuse destroys both health and happiness and I actually like being in control of my faculties. (Yes, the term “control freak” does apply.) I have no need for liquor; I can make an idiot of myself all on my own, thank you very much. What’s excessive one might ask? There’s a big difference between having a beer or glass of wine with your dinner and getting totally sloshed every weekend. Do you drink like you’re still a college kid at a frat party even though you left the dorms behind a decade or more ago? I would say that’s excessive.

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight: I know lots of us struggle with this but, I assure you, habits and expectations can be changed. Too many people buy into the notion that they should look like a Barbie and then, when they realize this isn’t attainable, they surrender in frustration and end up looking like Jabba the Hutt instead. Where body composition is concerned, we should have ideal health not ideal “beauty” as our goal. I’m no toothpick but I’m very healthy and I’m perfectly happy with that. You don’t need to look like a supermodel to be in good shape. After all, supermodels only look the way they do because of some hardcore anorexia, boob jobs and extensive photoshopping. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a body like that’s advantageous or even real and don’t let the impossibility of that ideal make you give up on the attainability of real health.

4. Exercise: This one is a cinch for me because I go absolutely batty if physical activity’s not regularly draining my excess energy reserves. Getting into an exercise routine can be difficult but it’s well worth it. Along with a healthier heart and a toned physique, you’ll get a deserved sense of euphoria and accomplishment.

Exercise has been part of my routine since I was a teenager. Thanks to our running club, the R.A.C., it's become customary for many of our friends as well.

Exercise has been part of my routine since I was a teenager. Thanks to our running club, the R.A.C., it’s become customary for many of our friends as well.

5. Engage in Selfless Behavior: It’s little wonder that doing something good for someone else makes us feel happier. Not only are we changing another life for the better but we are also taking the focus off of our own troubles. Double win baby! Valliant put it very eloquently this way, “Don’t think less of yourself but try to think of yourself less.” I’m certainly no saint but I do hope, when all is said and done, that I can leave this world a little better off than it would have been without me.

6. A Strong Partnership: Having a spouse or partner you can count on adds greatly to happiness. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, except maybe Mr. Bobbitt. Jason and I have a fantastic relationship; I can’t tell you how much of a difference it has made in my life. Finding or keeping Mr. or Mrs. Right may seem out of our hands but we definitely do have a say in it. Only we can open ourselves up to a new love or improve our relationship with the love that we’ve got.

7. A Good Long Education: The more educated we are the happier we tend to be.

8. Stay Creative and Continually Learn New Things: Creativity and curiosity keep us young and engaged. I am an extremely curious person and, although I’ve been out of college for years, I still love to gain knowledge whether it’s in the form of a technical food science book or a dance class. The mysteries of the universe and the steps to the foxtrot uniformly fascinate me.

9. Good Coping Skills: Stress, strain, and conflict are unavoidable. We are all going to experience those through the course of our lives, some of us probably more than our fair share, but if we can laugh about our problems and maturely resolve our differences with others, we will discover a lot more joy in our existence. Valliant has said that good coping skills are related to emotional intelligence and that this type of intelligence, which helps us build better relationships, predicts happiness much more than IQ. I’ll admit that, out of all of these factors, this is the one that I need to work on the most. I tend to worry about some things more than I should and a few things much more than I should. But hey, I can still change; I’m not dead yet.

This study found that those that met fewer than four of these controllable factors were all sick/sad or dead by the time they were 80 while most of those that complied with at least a few more were still happy and well at that age.

You may have perceived from Valliant’s list that as we age maintenance becomes much more important than genes. (Sorry dude that had a grandpa that lived to 102, if you don’t exercise that heart attack is still coming for you.) You may also have noticed that some seemingly obvious contenders for creating happiness are missing from that list. Money and social prestige, commonly believed to be the building blocks of life enjoyment, didn’t make the cut.

For me, the take-home message in all of this is simple: we have much more say in the realization of our happiness than some of us would like to admit. We are more frequently the victims of our own hands than of circumstances beyond our control. Perhaps we should be a little less cutthroat and a little more caring. Perhaps we should foster new hobbies and habits. Maybe we should get off the couch and get on the trail. And perhaps we should remember that our relationship with our spouse is worth some effort and consideration.

Like I said, I am extremely content. I don’t wish to be any younger or richer or more successful than I am now. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I’m happy with where I am right at this very moment and I plan on continuing to be happy in every moment that I’m lucky enough to be alive.

8 Oct

Spoiling with Spookiness

Posted by on October 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Disclaimer: If you have a dairy intolerance best to avoid this post; the cheese is sure to give you indigestion.

Jason and I have been married for over a decade and in that entire period we’ve never become blasé about each other or weary of being together. We are as wrapped up in each other as two people can be and still just as ecstatic about our life as a couple.

What’s the secret to our marital success? Jason is awesome but that’s no secret and while my fantastic man definitely makes our relationship much easier, our happiness is the result of many factors, one of which is surprises.

If I hadn't been in the middle of a workday myself, I would have cocooned Jason's entire car. But, since my time was limited, I just webbed the inside and left him a bucket of horror movies and zombie Legos.

I love surprising my husband: bringing treats to his work randomly, making him secret batches of cupcakes, assembling singers for a sudden birthday serenade, or plastering his office with superhero paraphernalia. Those little unexpected gestures remind him that he’s still the center of my universe plus they serve as a benevolent outlet for my mischievous tendencies. Earlier this month, with it being the Halloween season and all, I decided to web his car while he was at work and leave him some cocooned goodies. Perhaps this scheme was a little reminiscent of a junior high prank but his young mind seemed to appreciate it. He drove around the rest of the day with his webs intact and now, weeks later, he still refuses to let me remove the last remnants of his surprise. If only cobwebs were always that thrilling, I’d never have to dust again.

I couldn't just entangle the car's innards and not leave a calling card.

So if you haven’t done anything nice out of the blue for your husband or wife recently what gives? When you were dating your spouse you made that extra effort to ensure that your special someone felt special, right? If now that they are your partner in everything, and supposedly the person who matters more to you than anyone else in this world, you don’t still make that additional effort then shame on you. I will never stop spoiling Jason because he will never cease to be the best part of my life. And, fortunately, my surprise tactics seem to be great marital bliss boosters; you may want to try some similar techniques yourself. Either way, may the river of cheese flow as freely for you and yours.