Monthly Archives: February 2010

A laugh a day

I married my husband because a.) he made me laugh; b.) he liked to do the dishes, c.) he got a 100 percent approval rating from all four of my brothers and d.) he was as weird as I was.

Okay, so there were other reasons. He was kind of  cute. He liked to go shopping. To malls. He was cheaper than I was. And oh yeah, there was that little thing called love.

But the item lettered “a.)”. That was the biggie. He always made me laugh…without trying. Still does. In fact, after 30 years, just when I was pretty sure I’d heard all of his stories, he comes through with another zinger. This came up last night as we were traipsing from the coffee shop to the grocery store. Something about a tarantula and some bananas.  He says if I don’t believe him, I can ask his brother, Rudi. But you see, that’s the problem. I tend not to believe Rudi either. They’re two of a kind.

Anyway, so there was a big spider and a relative stepped on it and that’s all I’m allowed to say. In fact, I’ve told more than I was supposed to. Except for this. I’ve never understood his dislike of spiders. I thought all boys liked spiders and girls weren’t supposed to. But in our family, it’s the other way around. Spiders get no screams or shudders out of me. Centipedes, yes. But spiders, no.

As with the supposed tarantula tale, his stories usually involve some other member of his family. More often than not, Rudi is a part of them. Sometimes his sister, Mary, appears in them. Rudi had a habit of leading him astray. Here’s an example. Their dad sold Fuller Brush, and one day they went to Kenton to visit some friends. Rudi was in 7th grade, Fred not even in kindergarten. Rudi was sitting in the car with the key turned just far enough that he could listen to the radio. Fred — always wanting to be wherever his big brother was — went out to the car and had to sneak around to get into the car. In the meantime, Rudi got out of the car, little Fredy flipped the gears and the car began to back down the driveway. Luckily, it stopped on its own but the senior Steiners weren’t so pleased.

I’m probably not telling these stories quite right but it’s not my fault. He tells them a little differently each time. Rudi and Mary’s versions further complicate things.

One of my all-time favorites is one that still makes Mary and Rudi mad. I think it’s funny. Good thing they don’t live near me or I could be in trouble. Mary and Rudi liked to hang out with their high school friends at Lester’s up on Main Street. This was in the late 50s, early 60s. Their parents were not so pleased with this “hanging out” thing, so one night, they donned Halloween masks and put one on Fred and strolled uptown, passing the high school kids ever so slowly. Talk about embarrassing your kids.

In retrospect, maybe I married my husband because his whole family made me laugh. He comes by this storytelling honestly. His mom had a habit of doing things for a laugh. There was the time she borrowed Mary’s coat to walk uptown. Some high school guys were cruising and saw her. Thinking it was Mary, they pulled over, opened the door and said “Get in”. She got in. Surprised the heck out of them.

There are oh so many more. Not a day goes by that this guy fails to make me laugh at least once. I don’t know how he does it, but I don’t care. I hope he keeps doing it for another 30 years.

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Goats’ butts, outdoor ovens and life on the farm

My sister-in-law recently commented on her blog that her life must seem boring to those who read about it. I think she’s dead wrong. If only she knew how often I read her blog not just because she’s my beloved sister-in-law, but because I need to be entertained. Not a blog goes by that doesn’t get at least one laugh or “awwwwwwwww” out of me.

Her life usually sounds so much more fun than mine. Quite honestly, I’d much prefer gathering fresh eggs and checking goats’ butts to see if they’re ready to give birth than to sit at a desk all day long, trying to convince a student that chemistry will be a piece of cake and prospective students that our programs are better than the other ones. Which they are but that’s a whole other blog.

Anyway, back to the goats’ butts. She has four female (duh) goats that are pregnant. One has two due dates because she has an overactive male goat who managed to entice the female goat twice and therefore, doesn’t know when she got pregnant.

I can understand why she gets excited about the births of the baby goats. Have you ever seen baby goats in action? They look like those tiny wind-up dogs that jump up and down. Truly. If you don’t believe me, check out this video: http://s1019.photobucket.com/albums/af317/kpannabecker/?action=view&current=MVI_1642-1.flv

Living a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in a valley near Natural Bridge, VA., sounds eons more interesting that living in northwest Ohio where the nearest mountain — often covered with fake snow — is more like a hill in Virginia. She hops out of bed in her revived pre-Civil War farmhouse (which she renovated almost singlehandedly), and looks out the window from which she can see the James River. Which, by the way, their property fronts and on which they can kayak, canoe, tube and fish whenever they want. Well, almost whenever.

Then there’s that outdoor bread oven. And the pizza oven. Which she built and can now bake fresh bread outdoors any time she pleases. My bread machine can spit out some fairly decent loaves, but they don’t even begin to compare to hers.

Oh yeah, and then there’s that garden. Which is not technically her area — it’s my brother’s — but she gets to cook whatever he picks during the growing season and/or has preserved for the winter months. What they don’t grow or raise, they often get in gifts from neighbors…like fresh venison or fish.

Did I mention the goat cheese she makes? I want to learn to make goat cheese but since I have no goats I’ll just settle for the supply she sends me. And the goat’s milk soap? She must have finally tired of my ranting about how much I wished I could learn to make goat’s milk soap, because she sent me a supply for Christmas. Every time I take a shower, I think of moving to that farm and making my own soap.

I could probably go on all day, but my phone’s ringing. Gotta go. Oh, if you want to read more my sister-in-law’s “boring life” (her words, not mine), check out http://holesinmyjeans-kpannabecker.blogspot.com/.

None for me, thank you

This morning on NPR, there was a story about a baseball park that was going to offer a hot dog encased in a Twinkie and covered with Cheese Whiz. My immediate thought was that I must have misunderstood. But no, that was it. Hot dog-Twinkie-Cheese Whiz. Three counts and you’re out.

There is something so completely wrong about that combination. Think about it for a minute. The trans fat count alone is enough to put my cholesterol count on a par with Mount St. Helen’s in its most active stage.

I posted this as my status on Facebook this morning, and got more responses than I’ve had in a long time. All were in agreement with me, which renewed my belief that we are not a completely crazy nation. Of course, that might just be an indication of the kind of people I am friends with.

Later today, a friend announced that today is margarita day. I suggested washing down the Twinkie weenie with a maragarita. That brought on a whole new slew of comments including one that suggested perhaps the heart surgeons were behind it. Somehow I think not.

This got me thinking about food, which is not so unusual. I think about food a lot. Frequently. Have you ever noticed the more you think about food, the hungrier you get? It’s true. I was not at all hungry a few minutes ago. Then I saw a photo of my four-year-old niece eating a huge ice cream sundae. My brain somehow suctioned onto that picture and all I can think about is ice cream.

Unfortunately, a quick peek at my snack drawer at work reveals a walnuts, dried cherries, salted soy nuts, crackers, and an apple. No ice cream. No chocolate. Nada.

Why is it we always want what we can’t have? In my case, that usually involves food because there is this silly thing called high cholesterol that controls a lot of what I eat. Or don’t eat. It’s frustrating. The husband can eat all the Gouda and Camembert he wants and his cholesterol just drops. One bite and mine rises 10 points.

On the other hand, it does save me at times. I have a good excuse for turning down things I don’t like…like pie, coconut, cake. Not to mention the aforesaid Twinkie weenies. I hate Twinkies. And processed cheese. Hot dogs? Okay…I love them but don’t eat them anymore unless they’re the veggie versions. But those just don’t quite cut it and somehow I don’t think they’d be any better wrapped in a Twinkie.

It’s a good thing it’s almost 5 p.m. I’m hungry. But trust me…no Twinkies, no hot dogs and no Cheese Whiz. Not tonight.

A passion for cats, music and Bluffton University

Except for public schoolteachers and farmers, it is the rare individual who spends her whole working life at the same organization. Rarer still for one to remain at the same institution for 45 years. So at a recent annual President’s Dinner at Bluffton University, there was true cause for celebration.

There were the usual 5-10-15-20-25-30 year honors, but only one employee had reached 45 years. Ironically, she is the only person on campus who knew what previous employees had been there for more than 45 years. As she walked to the podium, President Jim Harder made the comment that she is the person he always calls to answer questions about the university that no one else can answer. Not even the history books can top her.

Sue Hardwick began working at Bluffton University soon after her graduation from business school. She’s moved from department to department, serving several academic deans and presidents. Over the years, she’s seen the movement from manual to electric typewriters, dial phones to the current (complicated) phone system, to today’s computer system. Through it all, she’s cheerfully learned the new skills that accompany each advancement in technology.

But watch her take notes. I guarantee you won’t be able to read them. She still maintains the one skill that most of us have never attempted (indeed, may not even be familiar with) — shorthand. Real shorthand. She jokes that she can write whatever she wants and no one else will know.

Sue has a wonderful, self-deprecating wit, and has a passion for music and small, fluffy four-legged creatures. An organist for longer than she’s worked at Bluffton, she spends her Sunday mornings at the keyboard of the organ at St. John’s UCC.

Clearly, though, she reserves a large part of her heart for cats. Not just one little cat, but many…so many that she’s a bit embarrassed to tell anyone how many actually inhabit the home she shares with her husband. More importantly, she rescues every cat that appears on her doorstep, as well as all of those who appear homeless on the campus. You can bet that every cat found on campus eventually gets dropped off on Sue’s desk — literally.

She spends countless hours posting signs, paying for advertisements, and making calls to find a.) the owner or b.) someone willing to adopt. She pleads, cajoles and begs others to take on the furry creatures. If no home is found — she takes them. Who knows how much of her salary goes into cat care — including vet visits, shots, even surgery?

We live in a small town. Word travels quickly. A few days ago, sirens sounded when a local business owner arrived at her store to find her ceiling threatening to collapse. Inside the store are two crates housing kittens waiting for new owners and a large bunny, the store’s mascot. Sue’s immediate question to me was whether the kittens and bunny were rescued. The relief on her face was palpable when she learned that the animals were first to be removed from the store — even before the expensive stuffed collectible versions

Therefore, it came as no surprise to those attending the dinner at which she was honored for her 45 years that Sue had requested nothing for herself. But tradition is tradition. One must be honored in some way. After 45 years, Sue knew that. So she told the administration to make a donation in her honor to the local pet adoption agency — which they did. But still. Sue didn’t leave the podium without one small but very appropriate item. A tiny gold cat pin, which of course made its way to work with her the next day — a reminder not only of her longtime loyalty to the university but more of her true passion.

Who do you want to meet?

Blame this on the Olympics and the fact that Scott Hamilton’s voice is prominent during the analyses of the figure skating events. Every time I hear him speak, it makes me wish I were at the Olympics. Not that I want to watch the athletes — which okay, yeah, I wouldn’t mind that — but mostly because I want to meet him.

When I was younger, Peggy Fleming topped my list of “famous people I want to meet”. Then in the early 1980s, Hamilton blew to the top of the figure skating charts and he replaced Fleming on my list. This was partly due to the fact that he was raised in Bowling Green, but probably due more to his ability to skate so well despite having lived with Shwachman-Diamond syndrome.

He was such a cute little guy and his flawless performance in the 84 Olympics mesmerized me. More than 20 years later, daughter number 2 and I were driving to her new apartment in BG when I noticed that the street sign said Scott Hamilton Way. I was so excited I almost drove off the road. She just rolled her eyes. Obviously, he wasn’t on her list of top celebs, which probably was headed by Audrey Hepburn and Jeff Buckley.

This just reminds me of my peon status and the minimal chances of my ever meeting him…not that we’d have much to talk about except the fact that I can skate backward and do a pseudo figure 8…but it did get me thinking about who I have met. There was that soap opera character…David B-something…who I interviewed during the 80s while working at the Lima News. I was not impressed but my boss was.

Then I was assigned the dubious pleasure of interviewing Dale Evans. I was dubious. My husband was ecstatic. He’s older than me, which is only important in that he grew up in the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans era so knew all about her. For two days, that was all he talked about. By the time she and I met, I knew more about her than I knew about myself.

As luck would have it (his, not mine), I locked my keys in the car in my rush to get to the interview on time, so the husband sped to my rescue with an extra key. In the end, he got to sit in on the interview. Easiest interview I ever did — the two of them chatted like old buddies.

In the early 60s, one of my brothers had a fix on William O. Douglas and was SO excited when our parents told us we were renting a house in suburban Boston from Douglas while our dad studied at Harvard. Poor James. He was so disappointed that the William O. who showed up to greet us was not the person he’d envisioned. Or maybe I just remember it that way — maybe James just told me that’s who it was but knew all along it was a different William. I was pretty gullible back then.

My mother told us that during her college years, she babysat for Phyllis Diller’s son. Of course, that was before she became the famous comedienne. But still.

Daughter number 1 “met” Harrison Ford when she was shooting photos for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Despite the fact that she (literally) grew up on Indy Jones, she was more impressed by her two profs at Ohio University who had worked for National Geographic.

 If you asked my husband who he’d like to meet, it would probably be Perry Mason or Hercule Poirot, but since they’re fictitious he might not admit that. He’s already met Count Basie, a story he’ll be only too happy to tell you. On his still-to-meet list is the late Cary Grant, and Spike Jones — not to be confused with Spike Jonze, the director/producer.

This is the late Spike Jones, a musician known for his satirical arrangements of popular songs such as “The William Tell Overture”, performed on kitchen implements using a horse race as a backdrop. I know this because in my basement is a sizable collection of Jones’ record albums. Real 78s.

Admittedly, this proves nothing more than each of us has our own dreams of who is important. But think about it for awhile. Who’s on your list?

On Valentine’s Day, true love, and chance meetings

In the early 1940s my parents were students at Bluffton College, a small midwestern liberal arts college. Dad was very shy, Mother quite the opposite. She knew him by name and knew of his family’s connection to the college. But she was a rural farm girl with a love for English and music. His heart was in the sciences. You might think that on such a small campus, everyone knew everyone else but apparently that was not so.

One day my mother told me how they met. I don’t remember how old I was at the time but to me, it was a classic love story of the white knight rescuing the damsel in distress. Our lovely Ohio winter weather means that the sidewalks on campus are often snow-covered and slippery. Treacherous in a word. So their story is simple. She fell on the ice outside the college library, he happened to be passing by, picked her up and that was that. They met, fell in love and married a few years later. They were married for more than 50 years before my dad died.

Since then, my brothers and I periodically tease our mother about “fixing her up” with some rich guy. She laughs good naturedly. One day though, she made it quite clear that while we could have our fun, she needed no other man. Her comment is one I hope I can say some day. “I think I had it pretty good the first time around. Your dad was perfect. I don’t have any need now for another man.”

It is by far, not the only love story I’ve ever heard. In fact, I love hearing how others met their spouse. My cousin (and longtime best friend) and I saw each other through many failed romances in our younger years. I realized recently that I never knew how she met her husband of (almost) 15 years. She and a coworker answered each other’s phones when the other was out of the office, so she found herself having frequent phone conversations with a male friend of the coworker. They ended up dating off and on and eventually married, blending their two sets of children.

I can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for sappy stories. They make me happy and who doesn’t like being happy? My favorite part of the Sunday New York Times is the feature wedding in the style section. The story of how the couple met, split up, re-met, and married is often humorous, sweet, silly, but always unique and therefore, entertaining.

Another friend met her husband through her mother. She was working in a factory, he in a bank. Her mother knew the guy and thought he’d be a good match for her daughter so she fixed them up. It worked, which is just proof that moms often do know their daughters best.

My sister-in-law met her husband in a free health clinic in San Diego. He was treating her kids. They’ve been married for more than 30 years.

My mother-in-law tells her story this way. We’re not sure if it’s true because she had the family trait of “embellishing the truth” (which by the way, is inherited). She was in high school and dating two different guys. One came from a wealthy family and was destined for wealth. The other was a poor farmer but was oh so good-looking. She chose looks over money. Or so she said. But when he died, they’d been married for more than 65 years so she obviously made the right choice.

My brother and his wife met in the sandbox, according to their parents. Both families were living in seminary housing in Chicago. They didn’t meet again for almost 20 years but that sandbox meeting set them up for life. They’ve been married for almost 40 years.

When people ask how my husband and I met, we laugh. I was his student, but that, of course, is not when we actually began dating. That came much later and a lot went on in between — most of which no longer matters. We’re in the process of deciding where to celebrate our 30th anniversary. I am, as he says, his “Number 1” wife, which you may translate any way you wish.

Sappy though it sounds, I love Valentine’s Day. It’s a silly, fun day and one to reflect on those we love — chance meetings or not. For me, it’s a reminder of why I married the person I did. Because, as we often tell our daughters when they ask why we got married, “No one else would have us.”

Friends at any age

My dear friend, Amy, is 20 years younger than me, making her just a few years older than my oldest daughter. From the perspective of age, her mom and I should instead be friends since we’re the same age. But by some quirk of fate, Amy and I met, quickly bonded over shared uncertainties of teaching first year seminar as adjuncts, and became fast friends.

Actually, we’d met about eight years earlier when she was a nontraditional  (i.e. “older”) student serving as a tutor in the  writing center. In part because of her age, we chose her to work with a graduate student. We had only two or three conversations and then she disappeared from my screen.

Our paths crossed again about 1 1/2 years ago when we sat next to each other in a meeting to discuss the course we were about to teach. I’d chosen as my student mentor as sophomore who was the one she’d thought of asking. For a minute, I thought there was going to be a fight but no…it was just the first of many shared thoughts we’d have over the next year.

I quickly learned that she was my comrade-in-arms, so to speak, in the biweekly faculty meetings of those teaching FYS. We were the “outsiders” because we weren’t fulltime faculty and therefore, had a shared sense of not really counting in the scheme of discussions. Instead, we ate our lunch, listened, offered a few cursory thoughts, and under the table pinched each other to keep from laughing. It was like 9th grade when you’re the newcomer to student senate and you know you’re only tolerated because the administration requires all grades to be represented.

But we took our teaching seriously and we shared pointers with each other. Having recently taught high school English, she was much more familiar with the foibles of first year students. She knew how to talk to them and with them, so I took my cue from her. That helped me develop a better relationship with students who — for the most part — were there because society expected them to earn a degree.

Later, when she began teaching students in my department, the tables were turned, and she sought my advice in dealing with the altogether different mindset of adult students. Because I was closer to many of them — agewise — and because I’d worked with them for more than 10 years, I was the one explaining how to understand their thought processes.

Then last spring, my health took a nose dive and I found myself housebound. Bored, depressed, missing the everyday conversations with coworkers, I was ecstatic when someone came to visit. The day Amy called must have been a particularly bad one because I remember crying on the phone. She announced that she was on her way over but that I should not try to “make nice” and be cheery. If I wanted to just sit, that’s what we’d do. She asked what I wanted. I couldn’t think of a thing, but the next thing I knew there she was in the doorway holding a freshly baked apple pie. Her explanation was that “this is what my family does when someone is down”.

It was that word “family” that hit me. That — despite our having been friends only a few short months — she thought enough of me to treat me like she would a family member.

In the weeks that followed, she checked in frequently and when I returned to work, we began meeting for coffee, then lunch. When my daughter got married in September, she and another friend took charge of the food, arranging flowers, and doing the dishes. Not even our lack of a dishwasher sent her running. 

These days we talk regularky by phone, text, e-mail, Facebook, and rarely does a whole week go by that we don’t communicate in some way. However, this week was remarkably long — but equally short — and by Friday I was exhausted and ready to be home for more than two hours. Late yesterday afternoon, I had a brief regretful thought that we’d missed our weekly lunch and hadn’t talked in nearly a week.

So when my phone rang this morning and I saw her name pop up, my first thought was uh-oh. I’d failed the cardinal rule of being a friend — don’t let that much time go by without checking in. As it turned out, she’d had an equally strange week and — like me — had suddenly realized we’d not connected.

We talked, or more correctly, we both whined because we know we can and the other person will listen. Once we finished whining, we laughed awhile over some shared joke, then scheduled lunch for the coming week. She went back to entertaining her three-year-old daughter and I went back to entertaining my three-year-old dog. In many ways, our lives are similar — in many, they’re not. But that’s okay. It’s the shared pieces that glue together our friendship.

No room for boredom in a small town

There are those who think that living in a small town is boring — just talk to those Bluffton natives who couldn’t wait to graduate and head out for the big city.

And then there are those of us who know otherwise. Boredom is simply a matter of being unable to create activity. Parents know how quickly their children can think of something else to do when, upon hearing the plaintive “I’m bored”, a parent suggests some unappealing chore.

In a small town, you learn to create your own fun, to find things that interest you and to find others who share those interests. When has no immediate access to on an assortment of shopping centers, children’s activity venues, cultural events or museums, one often finds fun in small pleasures.

In the summer, it’s much easier. There are places to bicycle, a local swimming pool, tennis courts, parks, even a restaurant with an outdoor dining area for families. But under our current cover of more than one foot of snow, one searches a bit deeper.

Snow offers its challenges, but it also allows for equal pleasure. Walking through a neighborhood, there are signs of outdoor play — tunnels through snow drifts, igloos, snow forts, and sledding in various forms.

But just for children? Nah. There were just as many adults out playing in the snow, rediscovering the joys of sitting inside a cozy igloo or taking a gleeful sled ride down the biggest hill. In Bluffton, there are a few — the ATT tower, various overpass hills, and the one behind my office in Riley Court. It makes me want to join the university students in the age-old fun-but-frowned-upon practice of “traying”.

After awhile, the cold begins to settle into the bones. Hot chocolate at the local coffee shop? How to get there? Walk. In a town of this size, one rarely has more than a 10-minute walk to the nearest restaurant.

In what I’d nominate as a “best idea” winner, Pete and Kim Suter, owners of the local theater, used e-mail and various methods of social media, to announce they were “quickly pulling together a 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM matinee at the Shannon Theatre for all of the local folks who are sick of being stuck at home! Come on up and see Tooth Fairy (PG)!”

My brother and sister-in-law live in a much smaller town and they never complain of having nothing to do. In a recent post on her blog, my SIL posted a video of them tubing with their college-age son and his friends.

Wonder what other small town folks are doing to keep busy…aside from shoveling and snowblowing?

Pink, Mary J. Blige, Pachelbel, and Mamma Mia

My son-in-law once picked up my iPod and glanced through my selections. His eyebrows rose and he started to grin. Nice guy that he is —  not to mention his own eclectic musical tastes — he said only that “you’ve got some interesting stuff on here”.

I’m not even sure why I got the iPod. Unlike many people, it wasn’t to entertain me while running. Truth be told, I like to listen to the sounds of the early morning when running, so the idea of music blasting in my ears was not my motivation. But I bought one.

Slowly, I began loading music onto it. My daughters offered to add some music to it, but I turned them down.  Not that I don’t appreciate their tastes in music. More likely, I was simply being stubborn and wanted to make my own choices.

Along the way, I’ve collected what others — like Nick — might term “interesting.” Other less afraid of my reaction would probably laugh. It is, after all, a murky mix of classical, pop, rock, doo wop, jazz, Broadway tunes, and yes…a little bit country. Very little.

After all, who knows what I might be in the mood for? A little Pachelbel to soothe me as I walk the dog? Some Pink and Mary J. Blige for a quick pick-me-up, and Margaret Cho’s “Asian Chicken Salad” to make me laugh.

In what I like to think of as a scientific experiment, I decided to try the iPod during a race. I hypothesized that I might run faster. That was one hypothesis that went south in about 25 minutes….my slowest time ever for a 5k. Thoroughly disgusted, I shelved the iPod.

Then a few months ago, when the ice and snow forced me to the indoor track, I dusted off the little Nano, charged it up, stuck in the ear plugs and headed out. Somehow it makes those hundreds of tiny laps pass by more quickly. If I listen to most of the soundtrack of Mamma Mia, four miles can zip by quickly. It also drowns out the silly morning chitchat of whatever radio station is playing on the speaker system.

Although I still prefer listening to the whistles and chatter of the early morning wildlife, until I can return to roads, I’ve got to admit there is something energizing in finishing up on Queen’s “Don’t Stop me Now”.

How do you define pleasure?

In her book, “Eat, Pray, Love,”  Elizabeth Gilbert talks about traveling to Italy to experience pleasure, a concept that she finds foreign. During her first few weeks in Rome, she struggles with coming to grips with what “pure pleasure” really is. Gilbert says that “pure pleasure is not my cultural paradigm,” explaining that she grew up in a family of hard workers who were not given to idleness.

She gets it right when she says that Americans have difficulty relaxing “into sheer pleasure”. This is true…at least of my family. Maybe this isn’t true of other people. Sure, many of us talk about being “couch potatoes” all weekend watching a marathon of movies or reality shows. But even that is not true idleness. How long has it been since you’ve just sat and done absolutely nothing? Can you just sit quietly and listen to the soft in and out of your breathing?

One of my brothers has had lupus for more than 20 years. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that is lifelong and can be severe. He’s been proactive in caring for himself, resulting in relatively good health. But that involves daily meditation — a period of time in which he sits quietly and stills his mind. Thought by many to be a “cult” practice, meditation can, in fact, be an important contributor to a healthy mind and body.

He taught me the value of meditation when I was facing my own health problems. Learning to sit and still my mind, to try to limit my wandering thoughts, was (and still is) sometimes difficult. It simply is not natural and therefore, takes time and patience. A few nights ago, at the end of a day in which I seemed to never stop moving, I suddenly realized that I had to find a quiet place to still my thoughts before I collapsed. Going to sleep wouldn’t have solved the problem, so I sat still, tried to quiet my mind and block out all sounds except for my breathing. In and out. It becomes somewhat of a mantra since I don’t like the idea of saying “ommmm”. Seems too 1960s Haight Ashbury-ish.

After about 10 minutes, I realized all the chaos in my head had cleared. Life went on and I began to think about Gilbert’s comments on what she defines as true pleasure. In Italy, she experienced pleasure in eating and gave no thought to calories, fat content, and all those things that prevent one from truly enjoying food. Despite the fact that she gained 20 pounds or so, she suddenly found herself truly happy.

That made me start thinking about how I define pleasure. Sitting in the sun with a mug of hot tea while watching the world go by. The smell of freshly baked bread. Deep, dark chocolate. A long run on an early spring day when the air smells so fresh you can almost taste it. A foot massage.

I thought it would be fun to ask some friends to define pleasure, so posed the question on my Facebook page. These are the answers I received:

*a good book like that one, pure pleasure and an experience

*for me it’s visual (sometimes) – a garden, a painting, an animal or pet. . .
*deep dark chocolate, one bite, savored. A tropical beach, light breeze, minimal waves, sun. A lovely glass of Malbec. (All of these made more perfect by being with someone you love.) Laughing uproariously with friends.Reading on my back porch in the summer (a really great novel).
*peace and quiet
*ice cream (lots of it)
*first cup of coffee in the morning

*hugs and massages

* no homework!

*getting a hug from the kids when I get home from a long day
*warm, dry, full tummy and no aches and pains on a winter day
*curling up with friends or family with a good movie or by myself with a book; getting a hug or hearing something awesome from one of my preschoolers.
*something that appeases your senses, or possibly something that increases our endorphins or serotonin levels.

Come up with your own list. How do you define pleasure?