Just Do What You Can

You don’t need to tell me to call if I need something…just do what you can! It’s been a difficult past few weeks. We received news that my 18-month-old granddaughter has developed an unexpected complication that will require a 3rd open heart surgery. On the heels of that, my elderly cousin whose care I oversaw began to decline quickly and passed away. As this next season of difficulty for my family has arrived, so have the well meaning statements to call if I need something.

I appreciate it. I know some of you will drop everything to help. I also know some of you say to call, but in reality will most likely stay too busy to actually assist. This is the nature of the ebb and flow of relationships.
hospital
So, here’s the thing. What my family knows from the past year is that when hospitalizations grow lengthy and we all grow weary, many times it is simply beyond our ability to ask for something. Our silence doesn’t mean we don’t need help. It means we need it so much that we can’t get our thoughts together to articulate anything specific. We are barely able to put one foot in front of the other.

I’ve been in your shoes, wanting to help and hoping you’d instruct me, take the burden off me, and let me off the hook instead of having to take initiative and figure things out. I’ve wondered whether I’ll be perceived as pushy or intrusive if I take it upon myself to decide what you need. I’ve worried that I’ll accidentally do something that makes you feel worse.

In spite of those reservations, I have taken the initiative to buy groceries after a phone call in which I sensed the stress and overload a friend was feeling. She had moved her mother from a nursing home into her home to die, it was her husband’s busy season at work, and one of her sons was going through a nasty break-up and had moved back home. She mentioned she was out of milk and couldn’t leave the house.

I heard her. I did not ask for a list or permission. I went to the grocery store and bought some basics-milk, eggs, coffee, cheese, crackers, a rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, salad mix, bananas, muffins, a loaf of bread, deli meat, paper towels, and toilet paper. I didn’t worry whether I had chosen her brand of paper towels or coffee. I just delivered enough to get the family through a couple of days, hopefully giving them a chance to rest and rally.

Similar things have happened for my benefit. A few weeks after my mom died, I cooked lunch for a friend. After lunch, I felt really bad. My stomach hurt. I had no energy. All I wanted to do was recline. My friend checked to see if I needed to go to the doctor, then she told me to lie down on the couch and stay there. She cleared the table, washed every dish in the kitchen, and wiped down the stove. She saw in that moment what I needed and did what she could. It was a kindness I will never forget.

Last weekend when I got home from my cousin’s funeral, there was a bag of warm food sitting on my porch. The friend who I had taken groceries those years ago had roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower and steamed spinach with almonds and raisins then delivered them to my home. I had been on the road for three hours. Arriving to this gift warmed my belly and my heart. I am so grateful for friends who seem to instinctively know how to help!

But not everyone has this sixth sense. What if you don’t know how to help? I would say, just do what you can…

When you don’t have time or are too far away to clean the kitchen, call or text. If you wait for me to post something or send an update, it may not happen. It’s not that I don’t want to keep you in the loop. I’ll try, but sometimes my energy is directed toward processing the news that EM is being immobilized and put back on a ventilator or trying to get some work done in the few hours I have before picking up DJ from school. A message saying you’re thinking of us or wishing us a day without bad news is always welcome. I will respond when I am able.

If you want to help and texting doesn’t feel right, consider a gift card for an errand running service. During a 60-day hospitalization this spring, my daughter-in-law’s co-workers purchased a gift card from such a service that was well received. My DIL needed keys duplicated and distributed, but getting to the locksmith or hardware store seemed impossible. Suddenly, she had a solution!
pizza
When you live close but are really busy, think about piggy-backing on something you’re already doing. When you order pizza, pick up an extra one and drop it off at the hospital on your way home. A quick text and we can often meet you at the front door. You won’t even have to get out of your car.

Of course it doesn’t have to be pizza. If you know something specific we like, bring it. If not, when you eat out, carry away a Poke bowl topped chicken and other generally liked topping choices; a salad with a couple of dressing choices on the side; a loaded baked potato with all of the toppings on the side; a baked chicken breast with mixed veggies; a burrito bowl; muffins or croissants. Whatever you bring will be welcome. If we can’t eat it, we will share with another family. It will not go to waste.

You can do the same when you cook at home. You don’t need to prepare anything extra. Drop off leftover mac & cheese, pork tenderloin, squash casserole, chili, enchiladas, pot roast, stir-fry, or steamed vegetables. It doesn’t have to be a full meal. Your vegetables added to protein from the hospital cafeteria will still be a welcome change.

Another easy contribution is a few home essentials you can add to your regular shopping list. Choose things everyone needs or can use that can sit on the porch for a few hours without spoiling – paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags, facial tissue travel packs, zip top bags or snack containers in a variety of sizes, hand soap, hand lotion, body wash, dental floss, Tylenol, disinfecting hand wipes or diaper wipes if there are small children in the household, kitchen wipes, unscented laundry detergent, dishwashing pods, a snuggly throw, magazines, trail mix, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, instant oatmeal or grit packets, cereal, microwavable rice, or a variety of pre-made soups.

Last week, a friend brought me a couple of things I requested from the grocery store. She threw in a copy of National Enquirer. It was the perfect addition! It made me laugh and gave me frivolous reading plus sudoku and crosswords to distract me from funeral planning.

When you have extra time, lawn care, plant watering, or houseplant sitting can be welcome contributions. Present them as options you are going to do unless there’s an objection rather than asking whether they need to be done. Providing pet sitting, grooming, or transportation to the vet can also be valuable services.

Other ways to help may be to take a shift sitting with the patient at the hospital or taking the other children to the museum, making a Halloween costume, delivering or decorating a Christmas tree. Keep things simple and appropriate. If the family normally has a small, simple tree, stick with that. Don’t bring in a 20ft elaborately decorated monstrosity unless the family has expressed the desire for one.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is make time to listen. Long-term illness and hospitalization are isolating experiences. Very few people know what it’s like to be in ICU month after month. There’s no need to offer platitudes, cliches, or assurances that everything will be okay. You don’t know that everything will be okay and even if it is, we’re stuck in the current moment. That’s where we need you to hear us, now, not in the future when things may be less difficult.

You don’t have to try to make us feel better. Just be there, really there, able to hear and shoulder our pain and loss. That will make us feel less alone, more connected, and therefore better.

If you’re not up to that task, it’s okay. There are many, many ways to reach out, help, and show you care. Just do what you can.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-nourishment/201608/helping-friend-whose-loved-one-is-seriously-ill

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/five-ways-cope-life-feels-like-always-someone-else/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/id-tell-you-but-then-id-have-to/

Environment Affects Healthy Habits

new year
It is clear that environment affects healthy habits. I’m in my hometown for a holiday visit with family. Funny thing is, there’s not much family left here so I’m not running from party to party with no time to spare. I’ve had time to notice how quiet it is in this little town. It reminds me of a snow day when there’s no traffic and a blanket of white absorbs the noise.

There’s a wonderful new restaurant in town. I eat there every time I’m here. Last night when I finished eating, the manager walked me to my car. It was about 7pm, but really dark outside. There were more bright stars visible in the sky than you can imagine. The whole scene struck me as ironic. In a town so small that I can see every star in the sky, the restaurant manager is courteous enough to make sure I get safely to my car…at 7pm.

This stands in sharp contrast to a recent experience in the neighborhood where I live. After a concert at a highly touted restaurant, in order to reach my car I had to walk past two men who had rolled out a mattress in the parking lot where they were openly smoking crack and talking to the car next to them. The car was empty, but the alarm had gone off causing the men to loudly admonish it. There was no security guard and certainly no restaurant volunteer to walk with me.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered a crack-encumbered man outside of an upscale restaurant in my city. One night on the way to my car, another man who was flying high hugged me after I told him I wasn’t going to give him money. He could just as easily have shot me.

I felt pretty sure a gold-toothed man I encountered at a gas station was going to hurt me whether I gave him money or not. I don’t go to that gas station any more, but I don’t think my instincts were wrong. Four people have been shot and killed near that intersection in the past year. And so it goes where I live. In the past month, a two-year-old and a 3-year-old were shot and killed while riding in cars.

You might dismiss this as a large inner city problem, but I don’t live in a large city. The population is under 200,000. You might dismiss this as my choice of neighborhoods, but I live 5 blocks from the governor’s mansion. In an even more affluent nearby neighborhood, two women were recently robbed at gunpoint in a grocery store parking lot. My daughter-in-law had just left that store moments before.

Today I’m left pondering the contrasts – a small town that is often called ultraconservative, redneck, closed-minded, uneducated, bigoted, and the most racist small town in America where a total stranger wants to make sure I’m safe on a short walk to my car vs a small city that is considered more sophisticated, diverse, educated, inclusive, and enlightened where it is commonplace to encounter danger and uncommon to encounter concern for my welfare.

If I had grown up in the community where I now live, would I believe that I would live long enough for healthy habits to matter? Would organic produce seem important when I’m rolling off the couch into the floor to crawl away from external walls because I hear the rapid-fire shots of an AR-15 and the screeching tires of the car out of which it’s being fired? Would I be more likely to seek comfort in a high carbohydrate, endorphin releasing meal?

I can answer one of those questions. The most recent drive-by shooting at my house was within the past year. Nothing seems more important than hitting the deck when you hear gunfire outside. Period. You’re not going to make sure to grab your phone so you can call the police. You’re sure as hell not going to make sure you grab a salad while you wait for your heart to stop pounding.

If there’s a way to import the attitude of community concern I experience in my insular hometown, sans bigotry, to the city where I currently live, it’s sorely needed. Self-care begins by giving our bodies good nutrition, adequate sleep, plenty of movement, and enough stillness, but the feeling that we are worthy of self-care begins when we feel valued. That feeling comes when our environment provides safety and responsiveness to our need for food, warmth, comfort, and touch.

It is ideal when that responsiveness comes from our parents and extended family in our first moments, but it can be healing even when it comes later. The violence and divisiveness in my community exposes a huge need for healing. Extending a hand may require courage. It could make us vulnerable. But if we don’t begin to summon some courage to reach out, we all become more vulnerable anyway.

As I move into the new year, it is with an acute awareness of the unhealthy environment in which I live. No matter what I do within my household, I am still affected by my neighborhood and the community at large. I must decide how I can best take care of myself while best contributing to the larger community. It is the ideal time for reassessment and reevaluation.

The extent to which I am willing to face my failures, own my weaknesses, understand my limitations, enforce my boundaries, and feel my shame will determine the extent to which I am effective in contributing to healing, health, peacefulness, and joy.

In 2017, I hope you will join me on a journey to create an environment for ourselves, our partners, our children, and our communities in which we can all become healthier as well as more whole, peaceful, and joyous. We may not solve the world’s problems, but when we show concern and kindness one walk to the car at a time, we will make a difference.

Happy New Year!

Additional Reading:
http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/42878/1/924159134X.pdf
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12034132

Comfort Food for the Rest of Us

casserole
When generosity and kindness lead you to bring food to the celebrating or the grieving, it’s easy to include some comfort food for the rest of us. It’s been a tough few days. We lost my mom 3 days ago. My sister and I must travel several hours to get to her home. One of my sons lives more than 1500 miles away. Without the time to grocery shop or cook in advance of the trip, it can be comforting to know that the community will show up to make sure the basics are covered.

Unfortunately for those of us with allergies or food intolerance, an already draining occasion like a funeral can become even more tiring when the typical comfort food casseroles begin to arrive. Many are filled with pasta, topped with breadcrumbs or thickened with flour. Others contain cheese or nuts. And we can’t tell by looking whether they’re safe for us to consume. Sometimes our only option is to cook or go to the store to make sure that when we get hungry there will be something available.

If you know that your relatives or friends have some dietary restrictions, but aren’t certain of the details, it’s still easy to provide options that are helpful and comforting. Here are a few ideas:

• Don’t just bring a casserole, include a copy of the recipe on a pretty card that can be displayed on the table by the dish as well. It’s a lovely way to share your favorite recipe and allow those with restrictions to know whether it’s appropriate for them. Just remember when you add a pinch of this or that to the dish you need to add the pinch of this or that to the ingredient list. If you use any processed items in the casserole, bullion cubes or canned soup for instance, include a combined list of any noted allergens in those ingredients at the end of the recipe. (Labels in the US must note the inclusion of the 8 top allergens: Milk, eggs, fish (bass, flounder, cod), Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.)

• Grab a big basket. Fill it with an assortment of fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, cherries, strawberries, or blueberries. Add a variety of cheeses still in the package and perhaps some summer sausage. Throw in a box of regular crackers and a box of gluten-free crackers (Rice Thins are available in almost all grocery stores). Leaving the cheese, sausage, and crackers in the package allows the allergic to read the labels to determine what is safe to consume.

• Provide a deconstructed salad. Include some pre-washed greens – lettuce, spinach, arugula. Chop some carrots, celery, bell peppers. Dice some boiled eggs. Crumble some crisp bacon. Wash some blueberries. Scoop up some toasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or slivered almonds. Get a jar of olives or peperoncini. Make sure to package each item separately. Provide full jars of dressing so that a label is available or include the recipe for your homemade dressing.
veggues
• Keep it simple. Prepare meat or vegetables seasoned with nothing but salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Perhaps throw in a few fresh herbs. You can cook a delicious beef roast, pork tenderloin, or roasted chicken seasoned with nothing but salt, pepper, and garlic. If you decide to use herbs, provide a list of those included. Steamed broccoli with baby carrots is a tasty combo as is a sauté of summer squash and zucchini or onion, red bell pepper, and shiitake mushrooms. Any of these veggie combinations and many other possibilities require nothing but a sprinkle of salt to deliver full flavor.

• If you happen to know a family well enough to know their favorite locally owned restaurant, call and see if there’s a favorite dish or to-go order they enjoy frequently. If so, have the restaurant prepare an order for you to pick up.

While all of us want to relieve the burden of the grieving or enhance a celebration with our contributions, sometimes food restrictions can leave us wondering if it’s better to just send a card. If you love to cook or share meals with your friends, perhaps these ideas will help you think of additional ways you can slightly adjust and provide comfort food for the rest of us.

We appreciate and applaud your efforts!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Made with Love. Served with Kindness!

StuffingYou hear that the food always tastes better when it’s made with love! It seems to be true, but why mention it now? A lot of us are tying ourselves in knots preparing for this week’s Thanksgiving meal. In our heads, we hold an image of a large harmonious family gathered over a delicious meal composed of perfect replications of our great grandmother’s traditional recipes. We work ourselves into a frenzy to create a real world experience that matches this image. We focus on our expectations and feelings of obligation, then learn too late that along the way we have lost any feeling of connection and joy.

I’m thinking about this because I have a friend who just abandoned his car 2000 miles from home in a city where he was temporarily working, bummed some frequent flyer points and flew across the country to see family who had begged him to come home for the holiday. They picked him up at the airport and within five minutes began blasting him for not doing well because he doesn’t have as much money as he used to have before he lost his job of 15 years, his wife, and his large house. Soon after this berating, he called me.

For the first 8 minutes of the conversation, he mentioned none of this. He did not disclose that he was 2000 miles from where I thought he was, or that he was changing the plans we had made for this week. He accidentally let the story slip when I asked why he was breathing so loudly. As it turns out, he was walking 4 miles to get a ride from a friend. I was taken by surprise. He began explaining that he had made a last minute trip because his mom wasn’t doing well. I felt alarmed, assuming she must be in the hospital. Then he told me about the scolding she’d given him at the airport and how the guys at the gym were giving him trouble. Soooo, obviously, mom was well enough to go to the airport and he had been home long enough to work out. I felt confused. I started asking questions to try to make sense of the story. He still did not address our plans. As the details slowly revealed themselves, I was not pleased with him for failing to notify me of his change in plans and I may, or may not, have said, “There’s no excuse for that!” If I said it, I meant it. I believe I was right and I feel just fine about feeling angry with him.

At the same time, I recognize that it doesn’t matter how right I am, how disappointed, angry, annoyed, unimportant, or betrayed I feel. The bigger truth is that he is afraid and struggling, and, in spite of that, trying to accomplish the impossible task of pleasing all of the people he cares about. This often leads him to over promise and under deliver. While that could be called creating his own problem, my “no excuse” response did not make him feel loved, accepted, or supported. Reviewing the conversation, it seems clear that I have created a space in which I happily confirm for him that he’s not living up to expectations causing him to feel even more worthless and afraid to tell me the truth. That is a bigger problem than anything specific he has done. So while I may be technically right about the situation, I am woefully wrong at the same time.

This is a spot in which we often find ourselves. We are both right and wrong at the same time.
A coworker refuses to take on a task at work that belongs to a slacking worker and the company loses a customer because this task was left undone. What she did may have been technically right, but her choice was detrimental to the team overall.
A friend plans a move to Nashville to become a songwriter, but a mutual friend discourages him because for fear he may eventually have to move back home. Whether he stays home or moves back home isn’t really all that different, is it?
With her kids playing in the room, a neighbor screams to her best friend that her lousy husband cheated and she’d like to kill him. She may be right to feel the betrayal this strongly and to seek support from her friend, but expressing it this way in this situation, creates an environment of insecurity for her children. Can that be right?
A husband gets his kids every other Thanksgiving and it’s his year. He refuses to negotiate when the kids mom asks if he can switch out holidays this year so the kids can visit with her extended family that’s rarely together. Of course he’s within his rights to refuse, but is it the wrong thing to do?
Every time Uncle Paul sees his nephew, he reminds him, and the rest of the family, about the time he slept through Thanksgiving ’cause he was drunk. No matter that it was 10 years ago, then 12 years ago, then 15 years ago and he’s been sober 14 of those. Is Uncle Paul right about the facts, yes! Does it accomplish anything positive to bring it up now?
A woman in your Sunday School class doesn’t like her son’s girlfriend so she treats her politely while making sure to inform family and friends with a big eye roll that the girlfriend was once homeless, hasn’t finished college, uses bad grammar, and has been to, gasp, jail – all correct facts. She fails to remember to mention that the girlfriend has also had the same job for 5 years, is still in school, can sing like an angel, is an incredible artist, supports herself and the nephew she took in, and has never been charged with a crime. Does the portrait she has painted give the right impression?
A man misses his daughter’s evening wedding because his current wife’s daughter loses her house in a fire. Everyone lives in the same town, there were no injuries, and there is a 12 hour window in between events. Is it wrong to celebrate a joyous event in the face of a tragic one?
Aunt Betty never misses an opportunity to tell your sister she’s fat whenever there’s a family meal. She pointedly passes artificial sweetener when she asks for sugar and brings her an apple when she’s passing out pie to everyone else. Aunt Betty says she’s worried about your sister’s health. Your sister cringes every time Aunt Betty enters the room.

I’ll admit it’s sometimes difficult to determine when to challenge an affront and when to let it go because sometimes things that look the same on the surface are exactly opposite underneath, but let’s face it, most of the time it’s just easier for our egos to cling to being right, feeling angry, and lashing out than it is to admit we have been wrong or shortsighted. It takes insight, courage, and commitment to keep your heart open when loved ones let you down or make sure to let you know you’ve let them down. It may help to remember that we can all be right and still be wrong.

You’ll know you have a Thanksgiving made with love and served with kindness when:

• You feel no need to join the chorus when your mom and sister find fault with your brother’s wife who insisted on bringing cherry pie even though your mom told her not to. She also brought her big smile and warm hugs. The pie was just, you guessed it, the cherry on top.

• You notice that your grandmother always finds another place at the table for an unexpected guest without ever missing a beat.

• You discover that you want to forego a large menu and choose a few family favorites that you rarely have time to cook. If your husband loves slow-cooked ribs, you fix ribs! If your daughter has been raving about her friend’s mom’s chocolate lava cake, you forget the pecan pie and make chocolate lava cake. If your son likes pizza better than anything on the planet, you serve mini pizzas as an appetizer. And you make sure to include your favorite roasted cauliflower as well. You make these choices to deliberately show your family that you know and value their preferences. You feel at peace with your decision even when you happen to overhear a snide comment regarding the menu from a traditionalist cousin.

• You enjoy seeing your cousins so much that you hardly notice that your mom, who is angry with you, hasn’t put a single gluten-free item on the table other than turkey.

• You find yourself taking time to absorb the gratitude your family expresses for your efforts. You feel free to sit down and let your kids serve coffee and dessert or wash the dishes.

• You feel comfortable saying no to an 8 hour drive home for Thanksgiving during a time when you have been over obligated and feel that you need quiet renewal time. Will Aunt Helen say a few ugly things to your mother when you don’t show up? Possibly, but you know you are able to choose to let the bad behavior stop with her. You view your decision to stay home as a loving gift to yourself and your housemates.

• You feel more excited than disappointed when your mom encourages the family to volunteer at a shelter that feeds the community instead of maxing out a credit card to meet the expectation of a fancy meal.

• You find that you are beginning to show up for holiday events with your courage and boundaries intact and your defenses down.

• You feel free to gracefully let your reluctant relatives refuse your invitation to dinner and easily shift your focus to providing a fun experience for some close friends.

• You find that you are able to feel grateful for the gifts given you by your most difficult moments.

I am grateful for the insight I gained from the recognition of my shortsightedness. We wish you a holiday full of love, kindness, joy, gratitude, and delicious food!

Happy Thanksgiving!