Zen Baby

For those of you who have been reading my stories, you know that I have been on a quest to find some “Zen” in my life for quite some time.

The last couple of weeks have been challenging for me in the Zen department. For the first time in almost 20 years I had a patient tell me to “F%*K Off!”  What???? I was so shocked I didn’t have a chance to respond. In hindsight, that is probably a good thing. Later my staff informed me that they thought there was some alcohol involved. (Not me, just in case you were wondering.)

I am no stranger to the F-bomb.

I come from both an Irish and German/Danish lineage so there is some fire running through these veins.  It’s just that I usually use it around people I am emotionally connected to – like my family, friends and loved ones.  I would never use it on a stranger. Sheesh.

It got me to thinking…..

  1. Why is that all I can think of – when I had many other lovely patients these last few weeks?
  2. What can I do to manage the unmanageable?
  3. I am pretty sure that is why Zen masters don’t work with the general public.
  4. What would the Dalai Lama do?

It just so happens that I went to my Mom’s last night. I found an old Zen book in an abandoned bookcase. I started reading it and think it is right on target. It was written in 1995 and I have had it probably for 15 years. It is called, “It’s Easier Than You Think” by Sylvia Boorstein.   There is a lot of useful stuff in that book.

First of all, you need to know that trying to be Zen or Buddhist is not going to interfere with your other religious beliefs.  You can be both. Please don’t email me telling me I am going to go to hell. Thanks!

In a nutshell, the entire thing is devoted to one simple idea/plan. How can we manage the events in our life that are beyond our control? That’s it. Simple, right?

There are 4 Noble Truths in the Zen world.

The First Noble Truth:  Pain is inevitable.Buddha quote 2

We can’t control what happens, we can only control how we react to what happens.  Pain is not an option.  It is going to happen no matter what. Because my lovely friends, in order to experience a full life we will inevitably go through pain. Lots of pain. That is the human condition.  Everything will eventually change and/or die. Please don’t despair and go stick your head in the oven. It’s not that bad…. I have said this for years and I totally believe it….you get points for trying.  I think. Well, in my Zen World you get points for trying.

So once you have figured out that life is just a series of painful events…. Then you have to make a decision.  This is the important part. How you suffer is on you. Read that again. How you suffer is on you.

The Second Noble Truth:  Clinging To Attachment = Suffering

This is a tricky bit. Obviously, many things require commitment. Which in my mind is the same thing as attachment. So, what’s the problem? I think that sometimes we chase the fleeting moments that we have been lucky to experience and wish to make them into something permanent, expected, and certain. Clinging to that notion leads to suffering.

I have loads of examples of clinging leading to suffering. You probably do too.  How many times have you longed for the early days of a relationship when you couldn’t get enough of each other? You didn’t need to eat, sleep, breath oxygen… it was so good. So then you settle in to everyday life. Something happens and it’s not the same. While the relationship is still good- it’s not crazy good anymore and you can’t help but wonder what went wrong? Nothing is wrong. Clinging to the notion that the next moment should be like the first moment is wrong.

Looking in the rear view mirror leads to a lot of wrecks.

You need to focus on what is right in front of you.

How can we not want to want? Fundamentally, that means that craving anything is suffering. (That is in the book.)

I crave lots of things. I have some work to do in that department.

Maybe I can put together the NEW ZEN DIET PLAN and make a ton of money. Don’t crave anything. Eat whatever you want and whatever you think is good for you and see what happens. My sister says you have to wear structured pants (not yoga pants) at least once a week so that you know if you are still okay. Don’t try to be the same you as last year or when you were 27. (I picked 27 because those were some pretty good years… no wait! That is super un-Zen!) Anyway, let’s just strive to be the best we can be now.

Let’s talk about clinging some more.  There is a quote in the book that goes something like this, “My life happened when I was busy making other plans…”  Sounds about right. I am a list maker, a dreamer, and lots of other things. I have to say, the here and now just doesn’t work for me. I am always better in the future. Now that I think about it, I was better in the past too. I think this whole thing may be a Jedi mind trick.  It is THE FORCE! George Lucas is probably a Zen guy.

Remember the old school yard saying?  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?”

That is total bullshit. I have broken a bunch of stuff. The bones and ligaments healed. They don’t hurt me at all anymore. But words? Words hurt.

In the book, Sylvia used a little demonstration very effectively. How many of you have had bones break or other bodily injuries? Raise your hands. Now, ask yourself… does it still hurt? If so, keep your hands raised. Very few hands were raised. Next question. How many of you have been hurt by other people’s words? Hands go up. How long ago was that? In the last year, last five years, ten years or more? Lots of hands were up.  Words hurt.

Where am I going with this?

Forgiveness. That’s the ticket to addressing my issues with my patient who told me to F%#* Off! It happened. It’s over. Nothing more is going to come of it. Time to forgive and move on. It’s over.Buddha quote 1

I have to say, once you forgive someone it is kind of hard to keep caring if they told you to F%$* Off!

It just doesn’t matter! (Remember the movie Meatballs?) It just doesn’t matter… It just doesn’t matter! Yeah, baby!

So now that we have figured out that we have to forgive all the morons who hurt us in the past- we have to figure out how to handle the “Now” part.  Okay, we need to try to be decent human beings. In the book there is some discussion about how to live your life when there is the burden of knowing that every action has the potential to cause harm. Yikes! That is kind of overwhelming. Trying to avoid shame or dread is a good start. Uh oh….there goes my crazy dancing at my favorite band! Just kidding. Not that kind of shame or dread- only the real deal bad kind of shame and dread.

Instead of going through a whole list of Don’ts…. Let’s focus on the Do’s.

I am going to try to say, “Yes!” whenever possible as long as I am not going to die or do something harmful. I like that idea. That idea really works for me. A good friend of mine has a saying, “I’ll do anything… twice!” She’s living a very interesting life by the way!  She is pretty good at living in the moment. I’ll ask her what the secret is and get back to you.

There are two more Noble Truths but they will have to wait. It’s Sunday night and the Green Bay Packers are playing tonight. I have to go make a lasagna and some garlic bread (double carbohydrates) and go watch the game. It is a good place to start with enjoying the here and now! Nothing is happening in Wisconsin until the game is over.

Zen baby.

GGJ

Crossing Muddy Waters

Have you ever wondered what makes a relationship last?  Not just romantic relationships, but friendships as well?

Last night I had a great talk with one of my dearest friends.

We did not grow up together.

I met TR (The Rock) when I moved to Oregon to go to optometry school. I had met one other person at a summer class the previous summer, but other than that I was moving to a place where I did not have any friends.

I did not meet TR right away. A few months into the first semester I went on a group shopping trip into Portland with some girls. She was there. We both were complaining our boobs were too big and nothing looked good. We promptly whipped off our shirts and compared boobs.  A bond was forged.

For the following 4 years TR was the “THE ROCK” of our group. She and her husband had a great relationship, she knew how to cook and she was absolutely committed to her pursuit of optometry. She fed us, let us stay at her place to study and we basically did everything she did. We all passed with flying colors and had a pretty damn good time doing so.  Left to my own devices, the outcome may not have been the same. Twenty odd years later, we are still great friends. We have now been friends for more years of my life than we have not been friends. I like that feeling.

I think in life, people are either rocks or floaters. My friend TR is a rock.  I am a floater.

Rocks are solid, durable, permanent.  They do well on planet Earth. Gravity works in their favor. They are great planners, nurturers and have the ability to stay the course. They are happy where they are and don’t seek constant movement or change.  Rocks sometimes suffer when forces beyond their control erode them and put them into unplanned or unexpected motion.  Storms can be tough on rocks. Rocks can sink.

Floaters are different. Floaters go with the current and are in a constant state of change. Floaters can try to tread water and stay in one place, but it requires a lot effort and leads to fatigue. Floating is effortless. All you have to do is let go and rise to the top. (It’s those boobs.) When you float, it’s easiest lying on your back. It allows you a great view of the sky and the world of endless possibilities. Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination?” That was written by a floater. There is a downside. It is easy to lose sight of the shoreline unless you constantly look back or to the side… floaters can get lost.  That is both a blessing and a curse.

This summer I was on a boat with a group of people who were going to swim across Lake Butte des Mort in Oshkosh on the 4th of July. It was a motley crew… all ages and all abilities. The swim was in memory of a fantastic woman who used to swim across the lake every day.  It’s a big lake and the water is kind of brown. One of the swimmers lives in Copenhagen, Denmark and commented that the wake churned by the boat motor looked like “fine cognac.”

Initially I wasn’t sure I would swim. I was on the boat mostly for fun. When the swimmers started to swim I had to make a choice. My ex-boyfriend who is now a friend was doing a running commentary about the performance of the swimmers and their choice of bathing attire. I shed my shorts and t-shirt, jumped in and started swimming.

I guess when push comes to shove, I am not designed to sit on the boat and observe. I had to swim.

I wasn’t exactly sure how it would go… I am not in the best shape of my life. I was fairly confident I would not drown and just figured the rest would work out. I used a combination of breast stroke, back stroke and side stroke to get across the Lake. I stopped looking at the shore. I looked at the sky, the HWY 41 overpass with the semis going by, I looked at birds. I could hear the hum of motorboats and the weird tinkling sound water makes…it was a symphony.  Every once in a while I would look for my spot across the lake. I kind of got off course, but I would just make an adjustment and before I knew it I was across the lake.Swimming Lake Butte des Morts 2015

That is kind of how life works too.

Rocks and Floaters make great partners. I think that is why my friendship with TR has endured.

She has helped me more times than I can count. Her husband is kind of big so whenever my heart has been broken she tells him he needs to go beat that person up. I love that. She is my professional role model. What worked in optometry school still works 20 years later. I just do what she does. She said we should get board certified- so we did. It was a pain in the ass but it was good for me and for my profession. TR knows what to do.

I think I may be of some use to her right now. TR was recently diagnosed with a chronic illness. (MS) The sucky thing about MS is that is un-curable and unpredictable.  It’s not like cancer (which is horrible) where you cut out the bad stuff and kill it and get fake new stuff and move on.  You never know what the next day will be like. One day you are pretty good and the next day you can’t get out of bed.

She told me she fell yesterday. She got out of bed and her brain thinks she is normal- but her legs don’t work right and the next thing you know you are weaving around like a drunken sailor and boom, down you go. I told her that was okay, that I fall down a lot too. I like to wear slippery socks and my house has wooden floors. Sometimes I run to get a Diet Pepsi or go pee pee during a commercial break and boom, down I go. We laughed.

She is doing fine. One big thing that everyone who reads this should think about is this- It is absolutely imperative that you have proper disability insurance and financial planning. My friend is going to be fine in that department no matter what happens. That didn’t just happen- she had a plan.

(I was actually a little jealous talking to her – she is in a much better place than I am. When you are jealous of your friend who has MS and her disability plan- that is sick my friends.  Being single makes it even more important to have a plan. It’s a terrible feeling to worry about whether you are going to have to eat cat food when you are 80.)

OK, back to the story.  So we talked about that and then we got to the nitty gritty…..

The hardest part of having to deal with this illness is the unexpected changes. TR has a plan. She wants to get her youngest kid off to college, work really hard (because she likes it- crazy, I know!) and finally have the time and ability to treat herself and her husband to some traveling, adventures and really good shoes. And not feel guilty. MS is a sucky disease. I think it pretty much guarantees that you have to wear practical footwear for the whole rest of your life. WTF?  That is crazy.

She had her plan She thought that her next turn in life would be a turn to the right….. EXCEPT….. The road doesn’t go right. So now she has to go down a road that she’s didn’t choose, doesn’t know where it goes and …she has to cross a river. It’s a big river.

Now the river’s wide and deep and brown And she’s crossing muddy waters….–John Hiatt

The river is a scary place for a rock.

That is okay, she is best friends with a floater.

I don’t care if the water is deep, I float.  I don’t care if I can see the bottom or where I am going.  I will look at the sky.  She doesn’t have to do a thing. I have a strong grip and I will get us to the other side. It’s not going to be a straight line and it may take a while. That’s okay, it’s the journey not the destination.

Crossing muddy waters… it’s my specialty.

GGJ

The Outgoing Introvert

I don’t know about you, but I am glad that crazy “Blood Moon” business is over. Whew…. Last week was a rough one. The crazy chain got broken over the weekend and sure enough, a new story is born.

After running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I got a chance to do whatever I wanted on Saturday AND Sunday! Yippee! For those who read my blog, you know that I am an optometrist. That means that I talk non-stop all day. Which is fine… I was voted most talkative my senior year of high school. I can talk a lot. You would think that would make me an extrovert, right?

Nope. I was told once by a very intelligent human that you can tell if you are an introvert or an extrovert by how you re-charge your batteries. Do you need down time and solitude? Or do you need to blow off steam and surround yourself with people? I need some down time. I would classify myself as an outgoing introvert. I like people…. just not a lot of them at the same time or for long periods of time. Lol. I prefer the company of dogs.

That got me to thinking about being alone. The more I thought about it, the more I thought we should talk about it a bit. People, even if you don’t like to be alone you need to learn how to do it. And not suck at it.

Years ago I was in a relationship that was having trouble and I went on a vacation with a girlfriend to see her relatives. I talked about what was going on and I was asked, “Can you live without him?” I said, “Yes.” Aha! That is bad, right? I defended myself by saying that I could live without anybody… you know, breathe in and breath out, but I would prefer to not have to live without that person. I thought that the very idea of thinking you could not live without another person was absurd. My brain doesn’t work that way.

It is a very romantic and kind of neat idea to think you could not live without the love of your life. Until you have to live without the love of your life. Then it is a stupid idea. Here is some advice. If you find someone who really loves you then make him/her buy a long-term care policy and some good life insurance along with the ring. If you can’t find someone who sells these things let me know and I will hook you up.

My ex-boyfriend who is still a friend had both. I really liked that. He would say things like, “If you have to tie my shoes, I can pay you for that because I have a long term care policy that includes home health care.” I would smile and say, “Great!” Although in my mind I was thinking that we would pay a stranger to do that while I went golfing… but you know… you got to go with the flow. There was a big age difference too, 17 years, so you have to think about things like that as well as death. You have to make sure that there is someone or money to pay someone to take care of you when you are the last one standing.

I don’t think he would have picked me to take care of him anyway. I am too picky. He is a white guy who has had too much sun so he had some actinic keratitis…the scaly icky skin that is kind of scabby… and I would be giving him a back massage and suddenly pick that shit off his back. Ouch! No scabby icky skin on my watch. Like I said, I think ultimately he would have hired a professional instead of having to worry about what I would do next.

I have some older friends who are a mess. They have let their spouse do all of the cooking, all of the books and all of the decision making and when that person is no longer around they are not only sad and lonely…but kind of useless. That leads to either dying or hooking up with the wrong person so that they don’t have to do their own laundry. Listen up, people. If you are with someone like that you must teach them how to do some banking, laundry, and to cook a few basics like scrambled eggs and toast and how to make mashed potatoes and a pot roast. Sheesh.

I can’t wait to be old enough to get into ‘assisted living’. There is a great place in my neighborhood that has a killer view of the lake. It also has a bar with a big screen TV, a workout room, beauty salon and good food. I went to the grand opening celebration and they had a chocolate fountain! They stole a really good chef from town and his dinner was delish. It seems pricey, but when you figure out the cost of food and property taxes and lawn and snow removal and all of the stuff that comes with home ownership… it may not be that bad. Sigh, I will have to wait.

For those of you who are new to being alone and it freaks you out, let me give you some tips. The hours between 2am and 8am are for the alone.

For many years I would work 11-7pm. I would come home from work, spend time with people I liked or loved and would wait…. until they had to leave or fall asleep.

Then I would get to listen to music, read, think, take a bubble bath and go to bed late. It was awesome. (I have had to reset my natural clock with my new business because I have to get up early. The vampire days are gone and I miss it.)

I read an article in House Beautiful one time where a very talented designer said the best couples have separate bedrooms but no one wants to admit it. I agree with her… separate beds and separate TV’s may be the secret to relationship longevity. Snore….snore…..cough…. gasp….snore…… it’s not conducive to creative thought.

The early morning hours are great for exercising by yourself and not feeling bad.

Try it.

You will notice that most people are by themselves and are dedicated to maintaining their health and wellness. No one feels weird walking/running by themselves in the morning. I saw a couple walking together this Saturday and I passed them twice. The husband was talking her ear off and gesturing a lot. She looked like she wanted to slit his throat with a butter knife.

See, walking alone is a good thing. If you wear big headphones like I do, you don’t have to say a word. You can just wave if someone says, “Good morning!” I see the same people over and over again, so in a way we are friends – but not really. It’s perfect.

I was invited to a Blood Moon party last night and it was pretty neat. Great food, a few friends, some telescopes… it was a fun time. I am looking forward to the next one in 17 years 364 days…

It’s time to crawl into my big bed with a bunch of books and magazines, three clickers, two pairs of glasses (and usually a dog but she is with my Mom tonight) and watch The Green Bay Packers play some Monday Night Football. Be jealous! XO

GGJ

A Recipe for…

One of the Sisters had a birthday this last week. We all got together to celebrate and it was fun. I wanted to post a picture of the two of us on Facebook…. so I looked for a good one.

I found a picture of us on horseback riding the beach at Big Sur, CA taken quite a few years back.

Fantastic news….it is possible to get better with age.

I think we both look better now than we did then. It helps that fashion has evolved from faded Mom jeans and huge Badger sweatshirts to a more fitted look. That and hair straighteners….flat irons or my preferred method, keratin treatments, have made a world of difference.

It got me to thinking… almost all of the good stuff gets better with age.

Take bananas for instance. They are picked when they are green and have zero imperfections on the surface. They also taste like shit. Compare that to a fully ripe banana- cosmetically unappealing but full of flavor.

Why is that? I am pretty sure if comes from oxidation. (Flashback to science class…LEO says GER….loss of electrons = oxidation, gain of electron = reduction.) It’s complicated, but I think it has something to do with its reaction to oxygen (O2). Oxygen is important. Essential for survival. Okay, it makes us weather and age but adds flavor… I am cool with it.

Sometimes when I am mad (usually on someone else’s behalf) and I am being dramatic I like to say, “He’s not fit to breathe the same oxygen as you!”

It’s as close as you can come to cursing someone without worrying about bad karma.

The Sisters both come with curses.

My oldest sister has somehow invoked the wrath of the traveling gods and is destined to have late departures and arrivals, weird weather patterns (like inversions when it snows in the valley and fogs at the top of the mountain), demolished luggage and “lost” vehicles at the park and ride place. When you travel with her you better have a change of undies and a couple of mini-Bailey’s in your purse just in case.

The other Sister was the one with the birthday. Her curse is that she never gets what she orders in restaurants.

This came up on the ride to the restaurant to celebrate her birthday.

She said, “They can serve me a big flaming turd and I am going to eat it.”

The previous week they had gone out of town to a supper club that is renowned for its steak and salad bar. (How 80’s…) It’s also not cheap. Sister ordered a fancy steak with gorgonzola sauce. When all of the dinners arrived, her steak wasn’t what she ordered. She asked the server about it…and the server said, “This is a blackened steak” and she whisked it away before Sister had a chance to respond. She then waited 25 minutes for her dinner to arrive. Meanwhile, the other two people ate their dinners at the pace of a tortoise in an attempt to wait to eat with Sister. Sister ended up eating alone. It was sad. She said that she would have eaten the blackened steak but it all happened so fast that she didn’t get a chance.

This time she was determined to eat her birthday dinner with the group.

I said, “If they serve you shit on a shingle, will you eat it?” and she said, “Yep. With a smile on my face. I have to turn this curse around. I am determined to eat whatever is put in front of me.”

At this point Mom said we had to change the subject because if we kept going she might lose her appetite. We all laughed. The mood was set and we were all on the same page. We were going to have fun- no matter what.

It’s so bizarre…but I think the curse may have lifted. We got to the restaurant and it’s a crazy place. Basically, you usually have to elbow your way to the bar and stand three deep and hang out for a while. When we walked in I started to scout a place in the bar and found an open table in the corner. No way! We were just settling in when we got summoned to our table. Again, no way! Sister even got what she ordered. It was insane. We all got ice cream after dinner drinks. We thought the bartender might kill us for getting 3 different kinds… Grasshoppers X 3, a White Dove and a Brandy Alexander…but we didn’t get killed. They were so huge we couldn’t finish them all. It was awesome.

The following night Sister went out to a different fancy steak place and got…. exactly what she ordered and it was perfect. Very interesting!

This is kind of deep…. so hang with me. I think it might be a step in the step process…it’s the Serenity prayer and goes something like this (don’t quote me because I am not going to look it up but just wing it instead.)

Lord, give me the strength to change the things that I can change, accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Remember that the next time you go to a fancy super club.

All this talk about food has gotten me hungry.

I will tell you a secret. I didn’t come up with it…

A long time ago, a person who shall remain nameless, was at a Christmas work party and got snookered. He was sitting next to a person who was also bombed and they were both having surf and turf for dinner. You know, when you get the little candle holder with the butter dish suspended above it? That’s the one. So the other bombed guy said, “You’ve got to try this.” And he proceeded to dip his tenderloin steak into the leftover lobster butter sauce. They proceeded to devour the remaining turf. I thought they were seriously deranged… until I tried it. OMG.

I give my foodie friends permission to steal this concept.

I would recommend serving the little candles with suspended butter dishes as an extra and charge the heck out of it. I could see having a lobster butter sauce and also maybe some kind of Cajun butter sauce….

You can thank me with gift certificates.

Let’s get back to bananas, shall we? My Mom grew up on a big dairy farm. Her Mom used to bake all of the breads and sweets and make huge quantities of food. My Mom was her helper. I think all of that cooking early on kind of ruined my Mom for cooking later in life. She would conjure up dinner but I think she would have rather been golfing.

Anyway, she is good at making certain things. She likes to say that everything she can make can “serve a thrashing crew.” Which means that she is good at turkeys and pot roasts and mashed potatoes.

I asked her for her banana bread recipe as I have a couple that have seen a better day. She dug out her Mom’s old cookbooks and gave me this recipe. I hope you like it.

Grandma B’s Banana Bread recipe.

1 ¾ cups sifted flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1/3 cup butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs well beaten

1 cup ripe bananas (2-3)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat butter until creamy. Add sugar gradually and continue beating until lite and fluffy. (Grandma’s exact wording.) Add eggs and beat well. Add flour mixture alternating with bananas a little at a time until smooth.

Turn into a well-greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan and back in moderate (350 degree) oven about 1 hour and 10 minutes until done. Makes one loaf.

I hope yours turns out.

My Mom's old cookbook
My Mom’s old cookbook

old cookbook 2

Baby dolls, it’s not what you are having for dinner….it’s who you are having dinner with that matters. Butter goes with everything. When in doubt, use a recipe that has stood the test of time. Don’t forget the salt. Ever. Curses can be lifted. Going with the flow is easier than fighting the current…. most of the time. (Unless you are heading for a massive waterfall and are going to die… then swim at an angle for shore.) Keep breathing.bananas

GGJ