Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Weber and I went to see the movie Eat, Pray. Love tonight. As the previews concluded and the movie itself was about to begin, I leaned over to him and said, “It has been a long time since I have been to a movie with my husband.” He smiled at the realization that this was indeed the first movie we have been to since we were married. As the movie concluded, I thought to myself how ironic it is that first movie that we saw together as husband and wife is about healing the wounds of divorce.

This was a fantastic movie. I will admit upfront that my reaction has much to with its plot hitting close to home, like in the middle of the living room. As I think about Elizabeth Gilbert’s year of eating in Italy, praying in India, and loving in Bali, I realize that each of these places is a metaphor for stages in the healing process, places that I myself have been in the last two years.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert first visits Italy. Though there are many scenes with her indulging in Italian cuisine and one where she is convincing a friend she meets in Rome that the few pounds that she has gained eating spaghetti and pizza are no big deal, this first stage of her journey is less about eating to fill herself up and more about eating away all that is hiding who she really is. It is about reconciling who you have been with who you are now.

Gilbert’s next stop on her yearlong journey was an Ashram in India. There she learns the discipline of meditation, not just the formal practice but also its place in the tasks of everyday life. She learns that to find God, she must be open and living in the present.

In Bali, her last stop, all that she has learned about herself and others is put to the test. Has she truly learned and can Gilbert put into practice the ways that have been given to her by the wise companions she has encountered on her quest?

As I look back over the past two years of my own life, I can see that I too have had the opportunity to eat, pray, and love though not in the exotic locales that Elizabeth Gilbert experienced. That however does not make these things any less meaningful or powerful. The external is simply a backdrop for the places we visit within.

My eating took place right here in my everyday environment. I had to be willing to have my fa├žade eaten away in the surroundings where I built it and where I would continue to live once it was torn down. It is easy to recreate yourself in a place where no one knows you. It is much more difficult in the place where people have an image of you that is then eaten away leaving your core exposed much in the way that termites eat away at a structure. This was the most difficult step on the journey. There is much truth to the adage that the first step is the hardest.

Unlike Gilbert who did not have a prayer life before the crisis of divorce entered her life, I have always found comfort in my ability to talk to God. What I learned on the “prayer” leg of my experience of eat, love, pray was to be still and listen, not do all the talking. It was during the period right after I filed for divorce that I added Zen meditation to my daily discipline. This too happened close to home.

Elizabeth Gilbert and I did share one common destination in our journeys to healing – Italy, though she was primarily in Rome and I was in Assisi. However, Italy was the first leg of her journey, the place where she learned to eat. For me, it was the last stage, the place where I learned to love. The locales of the last stage on our journeys were different but the ultimate question was the same – “Are you willing to love again?” Though I ultimately said “yes” to this question, the ability to do so came from much eating (away) and praying.

One piece of wisdom that was given to Elizabeth Gilbert was that all people and all things are teachers. Neither Weber nor I are big movie fans; going to see a movie is never our default mode of entertainment. Choosing to spend tonight at the theater was a deliberate decision; one that I now know was guided by God.

I leave you with this: With proper care, the wounds of life can be healed. They may leave scars but those scars often add to one’s beauty rather than detract from it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sweet Dreams!

Today was my day "off". That means that I was at home working, where I don't have to dress like a grownup, rather than at school. I had a list of things to get done. At the end of this list was to write a blog post.
I am trying to be more regular with posts. I have had several ideas running around in my head throughout this week so I was looking forward to concentrating on this effort..

Before I started writing this afternoon, I decided to go get a cup of inspirational, or is it motivational, coffee. As I passed the couch on the way from my office to the kitchen, I glimpsed this.
I had my phone in my pocket and quickly snapped the picture figuring that it would not last long.

I was right. By the time I finished brewing my coffee and passed in the opposite direction, the picture had shifted to this.
Nothing I have to say compares to what Harley and Frankie are saying to us. So, that's all for today.
Sweet dreams!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Identity Crisis

Anyone who has even dabbled in psychology knows that phrase “major life events.” These include things like marriage, divorce, death, birth of a child, a child leaving home, a move, starting a new job, and so on. According to the experts, experiencing any one of these events can cause great stress in one’s life. If this is indeed true, I should be the perfect candidate for an all expense paid stay at a mental institution or at least deserving of some good drugs.

Today marks the one year anniversary of my divorce being final. Thankfully, that process went smoothly as has our life since that point. In fact, when Mike is in the states, we all still live together. I know that we are fortunate and under different circumstances things could have been much worse and thus very stressful. For almost a year I was a divorcee.

Now I am a bride. I’m not sure if it is the act of getting married or being married that is supposed to be the big stressor. Being married again has not been stressful. It has brought nothing but joy. I won’t deny that we did quite a bit of running around like chickens with our heads cut off in the week or two before the wedding, but we were busy, which does not always equate to being stressed. I think that much of the stress associated with weddings comes with feeling like you have to make too many different people happy with how the whole thing is executed. We were lucky that we didn’t have anyone to please but ourselves. Though I am not generally a self-centered person, in this instance, I made sure I got exactly what I wanted in terms of the wedding itself. We were very fortunate that many of our friends were willing to help make things perfect for us. Mike even came home from South Africa to take part in the wedding.

We took Offspring No. 2 to Tennessee last weekend to begin her freshman year of college. So now I am also an empty-nester – except that Offspring No. 1 is home for a month before beginning her final year in Chicago. Admittedly, it will be strange having no children around. The piles of laundry will diminish logarithmically. The kitchen will look the same in the morning as it did when I went to bed the night before. I can have black beans and rice any night for dinner. My shoes will be in my closet when I want to wear them. There won’t be chocolate chip cookies waiting for me when I get home late after rehearsals. My computer monitor won’t be decorated with Post-it notes that say “I love my mamma.” Okay, maybe this is a little more stressful than I thought . . .

I also started school this week. Though I am not really starting a new job, the beginning of every school year brings with it new challenges. It usually takes a full week of classes before I know for sure what I am teaching and who is in what class. This semester is no different. Fortunately, thanks to a new law enacted by the Texas legislature, I had to have my syllabi done in June for every class that I could potentially teach this fall. Though I was not happy about having to do this back then, it did cut down on what I had to do to get ready for this semester. When we arrived home from Tennessee late Sunday night, I simply hit print on all my syllabi and I was ready to go Monday morning. However, when I got to school Monday morning, I realized that what I had failed to do was change my name on them.

Because I was required to submit my syllabi in June, before Weber and I were married, I used my previous name. In my haste Sunday night, I never thought to change them to reflect my married name. That I didn’t even think about this change is kind of funny since I spent the entire weekend hoping that TSA would let me on the plane with an airline ticket with my new name printed on it, an official Texas ID with my old name and a strip cut off the top of it, and only a photocopy of my new Texas ID. I carried with me a copy of our marriage license just in case I had problems. I am happy to report that all airport officials seemed convinced that I had sufficient documentation to prove who I was or who I am and they allowed me to board the plane.

Back to school . . .

Because I teach three courses of a four course sequence, I have some of the same students from one semester to the next. That makes learning everyone’s names a little easier . . .or so I thought.

As my Theory III class convened, I was talking with a new student. In came a student whom I had had in Theory II last spring. He introduced himself as “Sam.” “Sam?”, I said. “Since when?” He was not Sam last year. He continued with, “You know my other name. Sam is easier; it is my middle name.” If he wants to be called Sam, I will call him Sam.

This discussion of changing names provided me with the perfect segue to clarifying my own name issues. I explained that I had gotten married over the summer and though “Sam” knew me as Prof. Elliott, my name was now Prof. Baker. Sam stated that he wasn’t sure that he could go with my new name. He allowed as how he thought that perhaps it would be easier for him if he could just call me “Maurice.” I don’t know why this is his preferred name. I didn’t ask. I just accept that it is.

I also don’t know where adapting to a new persona falls on the stress meter. I suppose I will find out.

For now, n theory only,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are You the One?

Sometimes you just have to wonder what motivates people.

Listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition while driving to church on Sunday, we heard the report of the death of a finalist in the World Sauna Championships. Who even knew that such a thing exists?

Simply stated, the contest is designed to see who can endure the grueling heat and humidity of a sauna for the longest time. According to Wikipedia, here are the rules:

• The starting temperature is 110 degrees Centigrade. Half a liter of water will be poured on the stove every 30 seconds.

• Use of alcohol is prohibited prior to and during the competition.

• Competitors must wash themselves beforehand, and remove any creams and lotions.

• Competitor must sit erect, their buttocks and thighs on the bench.

• Ordinary swimsuits must be used. Pant legs in men's swimsuits may be up to 20 centimeters long, and women's shoulder straps may be up to 5 centimeters wide.

• Hair that reaches the shoulders must be tied into a ponytail.

• Touching the skin and brushing is prohibited.

• Competitors must not disturb each other.

• At the request of the judges, competitors must show that they are in their senses with a thumbs up.

• Competitors must be able to leave the sauna unaided to qualify.

• A breach of the rules results in a warning. Another one results in disqualification.

• The last person in the sauna is the winner.

This year’s finalists were Russian Vladimir Ladyzhensky and the five-time previous winner Timo Kaukonen from Finland. As noted above, the rules state that the competitors must signal to the judges with a “thumbs up” that all is OK. As this year’s final round of competition progressed, it became obvious that neither of these men was able to respond to the judges. Paramedics rushed in a pulled both finalists from the 110 degree sauna. Though they performed lifesaving measures on both men, Vladimir Ladyzheusky could not be revived. At the time of this post, Timo Kaukonen is being kept in a coma in a Helsinki hospital.

I find this whole scenario very unsettling. The unnecessary loss of life is always sad; in this case, it is what motivates people to participate in an event such as the World Sauna Championship that saddens me most.
We have created a society that tells people that unless they are No. 1, they are not good enough. This is a hellish world to live in. There just aren’t that many No. 1 positions out there for all the world to see. Are those of us who don’t hold one of them worthless? Is this why contests like the World Sauna Championships are created?

In this day where high schools across the country graduate 600, 700, 1000 students per year are those who are not No. 1 destined to be failures? And ook at how we treat Olympic athletes – those who don’t get the gold medal have fallen short. We fail to look at all that they accomplished to get to the Olympics in the first place. Whether they stand on the podium and listen to their country’s national anthem or whether they finish last at the Olympic Games, these athletes have achieved.

Did these people who competed in the World Sauna Championships need to be No. 1 at something to feel validated? Sadly, had there been a decided winner in this obscure competition, in all likelihood, the world would never have known his name. It is only because of the tragic unfolding of this event that the names Vladimir Ladyheusky and Tomi Kaukonen are known to any of us. How much difference would it have made in the life of either of these men to have reigned superior? Obviously not much since the Finish competitor who now lays comatose in a hospital and who had himself won the competition five times previously still felt the need to compete. What does such a need say about the priorities of humankind?

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all strove to be a No. 1 spouse or parent or friend? What about being a No. 1 neighbor or listener? There is room for each of us to be No. 1 at one or more of these things. Being No. 1 on the podium of another person’s heart is the greatest honor that any of us can attain.

Take some time to get rid of all those faulty tools that you use to measure worth and success in yourself and others. Think about those people who are No. 1 in your life and tell them so. And, pray for those who so desperately need such an affirmation and cannot find it in a meaningful place.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The honeymoon is definitely over! No more nights of crawling into a freshly turned down bed made with crisp linens and gourmet chocolates waiting on the pillows. No more dozing off to the subtle flicker and gentle crackle of the fireplace. No more nights where we go to sleep at a reasonable hour and wake up at an even more reasonable hour after an uninterrupted night’s sleep. No more nights where the only ones we have to tend to are ourselves. Yep. The honeymoon is over. We are no longer in Vermont!

Now we crawl into bed with more or less clean sheets assuming that Harley has not pushed the decorative pillows out of the way so that she can burrow her way under the covers because Offspring No. 2 has turned the air conditioner down too low for her canine comfort. There are certainly no chocolates on the pillows. Occasionally there is an empty food wrapper that one of the dogs has so kindly foraged through the trash can to find for us. The flickering lights are due to the moths, which came in with the dogs after their last trip outside for the night, flying around the lights on the bedside table. And there are no crackling noises from a peaceful fire. At best, any crackling sounds are the voices of the hosts on some late night program on HGTV. At worst, they are our old and tired bodies.

We are still going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting up at a reasonable hour; well, reasonable by summer standards but we are in a lot of trouble when school starts in a few weeks! Uninterrupted nights of sleep are just a burred memory.

Because it has been so hot here, Adidas does not like to go outside during the day. His black lab coat just soaks up the 100 plus degree heat. He has decided that he would rather frolic outside it the cooler 85 degree temperatures of 1 or 2 am. Last night, Weber got up and let the dogs out shortly after 1. By the time he made a quick trip to the bathroom, Harley was ready to come in. When he opened the door, we were overwhelmed by the smell of skunk. Harley came running in. The last time we were met with such an evening odor, she had been sprayed. This time, it was Adidas and he had been hit good! He was two steps inside and the whole house smelled of skunk! I uttered a few choice words at him, which caused Offspring No. 2, who was working on her summer reading essays that were due today, to come flying out of her room to see what all the excitement was about. As soon as she smelled Adidas, she quickly disappeared back into her room with the hope that her door would create an odor barrier.

In the meantime, I have my hands on the collar of a seriously skunked dog. The kitten, Frankie, is in the bathroom where I usually bathe the dogs so I had to take Adidas up to the guest bathroom to bathe him. (Our bathroom has a shower and I was not going to get in that confined spaced with this awful smelling dog; it also has a whirlpool tub. Yeah right!) So, I had to take the #!*+ dog upstairs, which meant that more of the house was exposed to the eau de skunk.

Tomato juice is supposed to be the neutralizer for skunk. We didn’t have any tomato juice. I don’t like tomato juice, with or without vodka! I have used Oxi-Clean on a skunked dog. In a pinch, it works. That is what I used when Harley had her encounter with the skunk. But, I remembered that we had bought a bottle of some kind of miracle solution to get the skunk smell out of Harley’s collar. (She is a princess and had a collar worthy of being worn by a princess that we did not just want to throw away.) It didn’t work on the collar; I hoped it would work on the dog!

Poor Adidas! He knew he smelled terrible. When I looked at him I could see that all he wanted was for someone to make it go away. He walked upstairs and jumped immediately into the tub. He stood there calmly while I poured Nature’s Miracle over his entire body. When he got out of the tub he did not do that dog thing that requires shaking and throwing water like a priest baptizing the crowd. The poor dog did his best to spare us from his horrible stench.

The whole house still smelled of skunk but we could not tell if it was Adidas or if it was residual odor from our romp up the stairs. After a shower and a clean nightshirt, we all went back to bed. Several times during the night I awoke to the not so faint skunk smell. By morning, I had a sore throat and a headache. Without a doubt, the honeymoon is over!

Adidas spent the day suffering from PTSD – Post Traumatic Skunk Disorder.
He didn’t really want to go back outside and his head still smells. The other animals are not too sure that they want to get near him.

Finally, Adidas decided that he needed some rest to get over his PTSD.

Perhaps he will think twice about wanting to go out in the middle of the night. Night time may be cooler, but the daytime sure smells better!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's A Girl!

I finished a baby afghan yesterday and began a new baby project today. I seem to have a baby thing going on right now. Truthfully, it has been going on for a month or so. It is confession time for me.

Weber and I have been expecting since the end of June, but we didn’t want to say or do anything about this until after the wedding and the honeymoon.

It all happened late one Friday evening at the end of June while Offspring No. 2 was house sitting for one of her teachers. House sitting, in this case, required checking on the house, taking in the mail and feeding and medicating seven cats. On this particular night Erin called frustrated because one of the cats who required medicating hates her; he hissed, scratched and bit every time she tried to get hold of him to shove a pill down him. Another of the cats was dying of cancer and was not eating. Simply stated, she needed some help. Erin refers to Weber as “the cat whisperer.” She knew he could get everyone to take their medicine. As we arrived at the house at nearly 11 pm., we were met in the driveway by a beautiful orange and white tabby, a cat that did not belong to the menagerie of cats that were now under our care. This little guy didn’t hiss, bite, or scratch. He just wanted to be held, in my arms, on his back, so that his tummy could be rubbed. He also wanted some food and water. I was happy to accommodate him on all accounts. When all of the inside feline needs had been properly addressed, we left for the evening with the handsome orange and white tabby sitting happily on the front porch.

Said orange and white tabby was still in residence when the family returned home. It didn’t take long for them to call Erin inquiring about the fuzzy addition to their collection of stone yard gnomes. Before I knew what had happened, Weber and I had agreed to become the parents to this little guy. Where is “just say no” when you need it?

Like I said, this all happened a week or so before the wedding. We could not handle anything else in our lives at the point, especially the addition of a new baby. We agreed to officially become parents after we returned from Vermont. For three and a half weeks, this cat lived on the porch – he never left and no one came looking for him. On the Monday after we got home, we went and picked up this little guy and took him to our vet in Dallas.

The firs thing that the vet did was check to see if the cat had a microchip. Sure enough, he did. After several phone calls, his owner was reached. They said that he had been missing for a month. They also assured the vet that they did indeed want him. The cat was originally found about 20 miles from where the owners live – no explanation as to how he may have gotten to Erin’s teacher’s home. Or, why he stayed for nearly a month – outside and free to wander off.

We left the cat at the vet’s office where his rightful owners came and picked him up. They did come get him; we called back the next day to make sure.

Just as we were about to leave the office, one of the vet techs wandered in and said that if we were still in the market for a cat, they had a kitten that needed a home. Being the suckers that we are, we told her to let us see her.

This kitten’s story is that she was spotted by one of the vet techs out in the median of a terribly busy street in Dallas. Both the kitten and the woman who recued her were almost hit by a pickup truck during the rescue mission. At the point she was brought to the clinic, her temperature was 106 degrees and the pads of her feet were burned and raw from walking on the hot city streets. By the time we met her, three days after her rescue, she was a playful little kitten who was pretty sure she could conquer anything.

Weber and I looked at each other for a split second and in unison said, “We’ll take her.” Since she was a stray, the vet was obligated to keep her for ten days and do all in his power to find her home, if she had one.

We picked her up today.

Meet “Frankie".

She was so named by the staff at the animal hospital because she was found on Frankfurt Road. For several reasons, the name works for us so we decided to keep it. She is approximately three months old and weights 3.6 pounds.

We weren’t quite sure how Frankie would be received by her siblings when we got her home – especially Harley. Harley is our canine princess. She likes to be pampered and treated like the world revolves around her, but she also has a hunting streak in her. She has conquered several rabbits in her time. We wanted to make sure that she did not mistake her new baby sister as one of those wild rabbits. We weren’t too concerned about our Lab, Adidas. He is fairly docile and loves everybody.

We gave Harley a private introduction to Frankie. Much to our surprise, she went all maternal. She didn’t try to chase the kitten, or bark at her, or bite at her or anything. She just wanted to nuzzle at her.

Then came Adidas’s first meeting with his feline baby sister. Suffice it to say that he lacks any semblance of nurturing ability. He barked, and wiggled, and tried to chase the kitten. It was a sight very unbecoming. Harley was appalled by her big brother’s behavior. She decided that he could not go near “her” kitten. She has spent the evening keeping Adidas away from Frankie. We have to keep Frankie in a crate away from her feline big brother for three weeks, until she can be tested for feline leukemia and feline AIDS. Harley has spent the evening keeping vigil outside the bathroom door where we are keeping Frankie’s crate. It is precious!

Dad and baby are kind of precious too!

Our ark is now full . . .two cats, two dogs, two kids.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mission Accomplished

It was 105 degrees today in our neck of the woods. Texas is always hot during the summer but this is even hot for us. So what does one do to keep cool in 100 plus temperatures? Stay inside and knit.

Truthfully, the temperature had nothing to do with me staying home and knitting; the real truth is that I needed to finish a baby gift today. I am happy to report that the baby afghan is done and ready to be given to its new owner.
This is a very simple basket weave pattern knit with Lion Brand Wool-ease. I started this project at the beginning of June. It should have been finished long before now but I had other things to do. I had hoped to complete the afghan before its new owner was born, but I missed that deadline. He was born almost three weeks ago. However, did I mention that is 105 degrees in Texas? Even a newborn baby does not an need an afghan right now. That said, it is done and I will give it to his parents this week. They can pack it away until we have that one day in January or February where curling up under an afghan sounds like a good idea!

I haven’t knit much this summer. I have been a little preoccupied with other things. Now that the wedding is over and I have some time to sit still and relax, I am ready to get to work on the list of things that I “have been wanting to make for awhile.”

We did visit several knit shops while we were in Vermont. There was a small shop in Stowe that sold both yarn and quilting supplies. I think that their primary focus was on quilting but I did get a skein of hand-dyed sock yarn that was done locally.

The second shop we visited was found serendipitously. We were on our way to visit Dog Mountain (I will tell you about that in another post.) with somewhat sketchy instructions. We did OK getting to the right town, but beyond that we were . . .clueless. We were driving along the main street in this little town when we spotted this.
Surely these nice knitters will give us directions to Dog Mountain and there might even be an added bonus – yarn! We were not disappointed. The first thing we saw when walked into this shop was a print by the artist who created Dog Mountain. Goal 1 accomplished. We had directions. And after a few minutes, Goal 2 was also accomplished. We had yarn.

This yarn has a lot of green in it. Those who know me know that green is probably my least favorite color, especially for something that I am going to wear. However, it seemed appropriate to get something green while in the Green Mountain state. The colors in this skein of sock yarn, again dyed by a local artist, remind me of the beautiful scenery that enveloped us for our week in Vermont.

We have not decided which one of us will get the socks made from this yarn. At the current 105 degrees, socks are definitely not a priority!