Southern classic, Brunswick Stew

The Alaska days are getting longer. The sun is still up as I leave the clinic at 4:30, a nice change from just a few weeks ago. But there’s a hard frost on the ground most mornings, and we’re nowhere near spring temps yet.

So while spring is on the calendar’s horizon, it’s not quite here in person. I  wear my favorite cozy sweaters, and plan hearty dinners that feed the body and comfort the soul.

One of my favorites is an old traditional stew, one of those Southern staples that has a million different recipes, all labeled “Brunswick Stew,” but really representing a variety of  regional dishes, with everything from chicken to pork to beef to squirrel (does anyone eat squirrel now?) complete with a range of vegetables.

To be fair, I think the recipes with squirrel are mostly from a century or so back. 🙂 (My dad used to hunt squirrels sometimes, and he ate them too. He grew up in the country, and I guess squirrels were a delicacy in his youth.)

My version of this stew is one I inherited through marriage. My husband’s maternal grandmother, “Mom-mom,” used to make this dish, and I make it like she did. At least, I think I do. I don’t know that I ever saw the written recipe, but I watched her make it in my early years of marriage, and I try to re-create the flavors I remember from years ago.

I can give you a list of ingredients, and some general direction. After that, this recipe is  mostly trial and error, and personal taste is critical in finding just the right balance of seasonings and heat.

Brunswick Stew, from Mary Downer

  • Boneless beef roast (or I sometimes use good quality beef stew cuts)
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 cans Le Sueur peas
  • 1 or 2 cans premium creamed corn
  • 4 or 5 russet potatoes, peeled and small dice
  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Heinz Ketchup, to taste
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste

Method: I like to crock pot the beef until it’s fall-apart tender. Season beef with salt and pepper, add water to cover, and set the crockpot to high. I usually cook the meat a few hours, check to see if it easily shreds, and when it does, it’s done. You can section the meat and  pulse it a few times in a food processor if you want. If you use beef stew cuts, the beef will “self-shred” as you add the other ingredients and stir as the stew comes together. Either is fine, choose what you like, depending on how finely you want the meat to be shredded. (The shredded texture is one of the signatures of this dish, this is not a stew with the traditional large chunks of meat. Also, many recipes use a mix of beef and pork, or pork and chicken. I don’t ever recall this family recipe with anything other than beef, but you can mix it up if you like.)

After the beef is cooked, remove the meat and strain the broth, reserving the broth for the stew. If you’re shredding the cooked beef in a processor, this is the time to do that. Place the prepared meat in a dutch oven on top of your range, and add the other ingredients: celery, onion, canned vegetables, and the potatoes. I like to start with one can each of the veggies, you can always add the second one if you choose. (Usually I prefer fresh or frozen vegetables, but trust me, canned is perfect here.) I judge the amount of vegetables to add based on the meat/veg ratio; make your stew to your preference. You’ll see this makes a large quantity when you get everything in the pot. It’s a good choice for a group, or for a week when you want easy leftovers.

When all the vegetables are in, begin adding the Worcestershire sauce and the ketchup. You’re going to want a lot of ketchup, I have easily used a whole bottle, and probably a third to half a bottle of  Worcestershire. (Sorry, I never saw Mom-mom measure this…you have to taste your way through this dish!) You can add reserved broth from the meat to thin the stew if you like.

Here’s the reason for the ketchup: it’s sweeter than tomato paste or sauce, and the little bit of sweetness is perfect here. Don’t worry, it’s offset by the Worcestershire sauce. You’re looking for a reddish-brown color after you add the ketchup, this dish will not look like a red pasta sauce. You don’t want it to be too thick or thin, so add a bit of the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and the beef stock in increments, and give it a few minutes for flavors to blend before you sample. (You can add Tabasco sauce also if you like. For me, that’s an individual add-at-the-table option.)

When I think the seasoning is about right, I put the whole thing the oven, 350 degrees, to cook down a bit.

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I love to make this on Saturday, and let it just simmer away. Give it a stir now and then, add a bit more of whatever you think it needs, and wait impatiently for dinner. After a few hours, you have the perfect winter dish…delicious, hearty, warm, and all you need to add for a complete meal is a spoon. A crusty bread and salad are good too.

Here’s to winter feasting!

~ Sheila

 

 

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January gift

The new year brings re-focus, shiny months stretching out before me, just waiting to be filled with accomplishment.

My list is long.

It’s good, on January 31, to be on the other side of holiday travel and time away, to be caught up with my back-log at work, ready to re-engage.

It’s a familiar process, one I repeat often in my digital life.

Now in my seventh year of blogging, I no longer feel defeated by the gaps in posting, by my lapses of creativity.

I’m just happy to be here, thinking, reading, writing, doing my bit.

This year I’m planning another book, looking forward to the energy and the push that comes from the writing, the burst of words spilling onto the screen.

That’s the gift of the beginning of the year, looking ahead, planning it out, putting dates on the calendar…deadline dates, vacation dates, family trips and events.

Time isn’t promised to anyone. But we expect it, we hope for it, we plan for it. We hunger for it.

I’m hungry, eager for the coming year…for the time I’ll spend with family, for the long days of work and fulfillment.

What about you? What have you planned for the coming year? Will this be your time to thrive, to fulfill a promise you made to yourself, or someone else? Will you stretch yourself and be a bigger, better version of you on December 31?

What gifts will the year bring to you? And what will you give in return?

~ Sheila

Word for the year, 2017

It’s that time again. Time to decide what word will define and guide the coming year. I started this practice in 2012, and to date these have been my choices:

  • 2012 – Revision
  • 2013 – Momentum
  • 2014 – Consistent
  • 2015 – Hope
  • 2016 – Thrive

I like choosing a word that’s both positive and implies growth. Growth is a good thing…whether I’m learning something new, stretching my abilities to share with others, or just improving a skill I already have, growth is always my goal.

But desire for growth doesn’t exclude times of stillness, moments of contentment to look around and just be. 

In fact, I believe movement and stillness, growth and contentment, are essential to a happy life.

The happiest moments in my life have been the times I was still and reflective enough to realize, right in the moment, that I was happy…content with what was happening at that very moment.

Growth takes work, requires planning, thought, organizing, time.

Stillness allows me to evaluate and take stock of where I am, what I’ve learned, and what’s occurring in the moment.

Being intentional in my life is a way to express these two distinct states of being…growth-seeking, and being still.

By being intentional, I set the tone. I make the plan, I choose when to say yes, and when to say no.

I take responsibility for growth, and for times of stillness.

Being intentional means living thoughtfully, and that’s sometimes difficult to do. In a culture that moves at the speed of social media, and gets caught up in trends and likes, gadgets and the pursuit of “more,” it’s easy to live in reactionary mode, instead of choosing how my life will look.

I’ve not always done a good job of choosing direction…I’ve been far too passive, far too willing to let other things and other people set my priorities.

This year, I commit to living with intention, to choose how I want to grow, how I’ll serve others, and how I’ll take time to be still and reflect.

The easiest thing in the world is to live in the flow of whatever life we’ve found ourselves in, and the hardest thing is to stand in the middle of that flow and try to control it. Understand, this isn’t about a power struggle with anyone…in fact, to others, my life may look much the same as before.

Or not.

The desire to live with intention is about having an internal monitor, about being self-directed rather than being passive.

So, my word for 2017 is “intentional.”

What about you? Do you have a word to define your coming year?

~ Sheila

Happy 2017!

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January 1st, New York…we finally made it here for a New Year’s Eve celebration, along with 2 million other guests, gathered in the city to welcome the new year with shows, fireworks, food, and good cheer.

It was a beautiful night, cold enough to feel seasonal, warm enough to make walking the city blocks enjoyable. With the lights of Christmas still all around, the city was a-blaze in its festive look, mixed with all the iconic sites that are the everyday New York…the street vendors, food carts, world-renowned landmarks and retailers.

Magic!

I was so impressed with the good manners and order we found everywhere. I’m sure there were glitches somewhere…you couldn’t expect less with a record crowd of 2 million… but all we saw were happy people behaving peacefully, police standing by, providing a sense of security with their presence (thank you NYPD!), and merchants and restaurateurs serving with smiles.

We missed the Times Square events on New Year’s eve, though we saw some earlier in the day, and on Friday. By the time we got out of our play (Hamilton, but that’s another post) at 5:00, access to Times Square was blocked. We opted instead for Central Park, where a concert and fireworks were on tap for the huge crowd gathered there.

Loved it all! And if you’ve ever watched the Times Square scene and thought you wouldn’t want to be in that crowd, don’t worry, you don’t have to be. There are plenty of places to celebrate all around the city without staking out a spot at 10:00 AM on New Year’s Eve.

And now off to celebrate some more! Happy, happy 2017 to everyone! May it be a joyous and joy-filled year for all!

~ Sheila

Spirit of Christmas, through a child’s eyes

Yesterday, we were headed to the Seattle airport to fly to Denver. Christmas in Colorado is always a good thing, and Christmas with our son is even better.

This was a year to celebrate early with the Littles to accommodate shared family time.

I was riding in the back seat with Riley, watching her draw a holiday scene with six-year-old skill, the faces of her stick figures showing that charming combination of cartoon, and child-view of what humans really look like. (Hint, they have very big eyes.)

She was absorbed in her drawing, the others in the car were caught up in their conversations.

Something caught her eye, and looking out the window, she said, “I see homeless!” We were driving past the over-passes in the downtown of Seattle, and you can often spot tents and temporary shelters that homeless folk have set up. Riley has seen those tents before, has a child’s concept of what “homeless” means.

She looked at me with troubled eyes. “Are some children homeless?”

Yes, I was honest with her. There are many homeless children.

She grew quiet, looked thoughtful.

“I want to have homeless children come to my house for Christmas.”

I didn’t try to tell her that’s not really practical, or even possible. I saw it, in a flash of her six-year-old eyes. I saw awareness that she had more than some, and that awareness triggered a generous impulse. It was the impulse of a child, who doesn’t understand the complexities of social issues, or logistics, or the cost of anything.

She just wanted to help children who are less fortunate.

Like many Americans of my station in life, I worry a bit. Especially this time of year. I can’t help but wonder if Riley and Jack will be spoiled, the product of well-intentioned family and parents, who want to give them a good life.

It’s easy to give to the point of doing damage, and while my daughter and her husband are thoughtful about the gifts they give the Littles, they can’t control everyone around them. The reality is that many American children have too much stuff, but not enough of the right stuff.

Seeing Riley’s face, looking out the window, thinking about homeless children who will not wake up to a warm and merry Christmas, I felt reassured for her. She’s getting it, the real meaning of the holiday, which is all about giving…the ultimate gift.

And it made me think…what if adults could be more focused on just doing what needs doing, less caught up in the political / social / financial aspects of reaching out? Yes, I understand that it’s easy to talk about doing for others, but the moment you begin to think about how, you’re confronted with difficult realities. Which is probably why most people, myself included, are usually contented with giving money to charities, and tell ourselves we’ve done our part.

Riley made me think about that in a different way. This year, I want to be more hands-on. I don’t know what that could look like. But I think it could be good.

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You never know what seemingly insignificant moments will impact life. I couldn’t guess, sitting beside Riley yesterday, if that moment will stay with her, shape her in years to come. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I think it was a moment that will stay with me. It was a moment when a child reminded me, in the midst of Christmas travel and gifting and busy-ness, what we should really be about…not out of guilt or pressure, but because sharing with those who have less is the right thing to do. I know that, and I practice that. But Riley reminded me that at least some component of giving should be done in person. That’s when we know the real meaning of sharing…when we connect face to face.

I shared this story to encourage, not to guilt, and to promise myself that I want to give differently. So much of my giving is convenient, sanitary, impersonal. There is value to giving money, I don’t want to minimize that. But I want to acknowledge, it’s not really personal.

Thank you, Riley, for the Christmas lesson, though you weren’t aware it meant anything to me.

And I thought she was the one learning the lessons of life!

Blessings, peace, and Merry Christmas!

~ Sheila

 

 

Let the holidays begin!

December 19, and I feel like I’ve been waiting all year for this moment. After months of thinking, planning, and anticipation, a lot of things have come together.

This year is ending differently than I would have guessed in January. I didn’t foresee a lot of things then that have happened.

I saw the evolution of our lives, swinging from nomadic to settled, once again.

I watched the small clinics we work with lose providers, deal with changes, welcome new faces.

I saw the ebb and flow of relationships, friendships, and partnerships.

I witnessed growth, change, loss, and reality. Well, isn’t every year filled with all of those elements?

I poured my heart into a book, into a site, and into creating an online presence, that, so far, has mostly been a learning tool for me. I could say the same for the book…maybe one day it will be a best seller, but so far that fairy tale hasn’t come true.

And yet…it has done me good. This year has stretched me, surprised me, and humbled me.

I feel so blessed.

And now, after a year full of work and busy-ness, we’re spending the next few weeks with family, seeing the littles, marking the moments, doing it all one more time.

I can’t wait.

And then, on the very last day of the year, my Christmas present…a trip to New York to see a play that’s captured the imagination of many people. Rob surprised me with planning a trip to see the hit show “Hamilton.” And he capped it off with planning a cruise on the Queen Mary II, leaving New York on Jan 3.

We’re ending the year with a bang, and beginning the new year with an adventure.

We don’t own a home, we don’t own a car, and we still work part-time. But we travel, and we have family, and we’re able to do some good in the process.

It’s a rich life, most of which has little to do with money, and everything to do with intangibles.

Every year I feel like I’ve learned so much, so much that I didn’t know, just a few short months before.

This year I’ve learned, again, that life will surprise you when you least expect it. I was reminded that magic happens in the every-day as much as in the once-in-a-lifetime…the settings are so different, but the ingredients that create the magic are the same…love, people, good hearts, laughter…

I was reminded, again, how much I love to travel, and to explore. I’m a nester, and that need has been satisfied, now that we’re re-settled and mostly unpacked. But I’m so glad life gives opportunity to ramble, to trip-plan and day-dream, road-trip and fly.

It’s not the life I imagined I would have, but it’s a good one.

I’ve known holiday seasons that were less than joyful…those come to every life, for many reasons.

Because I’ve known the other kind of holiday, I appreciate what I have so much. To love and be loved, to have friends, to have hope…it truly doesn’t get better.

May your holiday season be filled with love and light, peace, joy, and acceptance…for what is, as well as what you hope for.

Yes, let the holidays begin!

~ Sheila

 

My mother’s table – Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m celebrating this Thanksgiving at my mother’s table, once again.

It’s not often, at this point in my life, that I find myself surrounded by family for the holiday. We often visit in summer, or at Christmas, but the Thanksgiving break is shorter, and makes for a harder trip.

But this year, the stars aligned, and we have a cross-section of ages and family branches, from multiple time zones and states, gathered to share the day and the feast, to tell stories and catch up on news, to snap photos and give hugs. We’ll hear about what’s new, remember what’s past, (and who’s passed), and talk.

Most of all, we’ll talk.

In my mother’s kitchen, around my mother’s table, we’ll talk. The stories will flow, and mostly they’ll be funny. Sometimes the talk turns to country and opinions, and the opinions are always strong, and strongly voiced. But no one is uninvited here, whatever is said. We’re family, and that’s that.

My mother has two tables, in side-by-side rooms. There’s a formal dining room, and we’ll have enough people in the house that both tables will be used.

But it’s the kitchen table where the magic happens.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, when we gather, we eat, we talk, and we laugh, often late into the night.

Like so many families across the country, we’ll do the traditional things, eat traditional foods, and mark another year.

There are some missing from our clan. Some just can’t be here, too far to travel, and too short a break. We’re missing others who’ll never sit with us again. But they’re here in spirit, and in stories, and in the recipes we use, the names we recall…”Papa,” “Mama,” “Daddy,” “Mother.”

The day will be full, and we’ll be full, stuffed with all the trimmings, and all the favorite dishes offered up to mark the meal, to say this is a special time, to remind us of tradition and occasion.

We are thankful, the lot of us. We’ve all known joys, and we’ve each known loss. We’re a cross-section of Americana, in so many ways…from careers to interests to where we live and how we talk. Some accents are southern, some less so. Mostly we’re united by common genes, common faith, and heritage of place and upbringing, though we’ve wandered far and wide from our starting points.

Thanksgiving is a day for many things…a national pause to say grace and peace, to thank and remember, to eat and celebrate. Mostly, to me, it’s about family. Purer than any other holiday for that focus, it’s a day that allows us to be together with no other motive than that…to be together. The food and the other traditions are really the extras. It was never really about what’s on the table.

What we’re really thankful for are the people, gathered around.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! May your table be full of food cooked with love, and the chairs be filled with faces you love. As you look around tomorrow, may you know who you’re thankful for, and find kindred spirits to talk and laugh with.

I’ll be at my mother’s table, and I’ll be thankful to see the faces, hear the stories, and feel the love.

~ Sheila

Re-entry to the world of stuff

I wrote recently about the decision to re-settle ourselves in SE Alaska, ending a two-year roving lifestyle, working and living in temporary clinic housing when we weren’t out of the state traveling.

In the past month we ordered enough household items from Amazon to start life again…we’d sold almost everything when we sold the Ketchikan house in October, 2014, so we had some restocking to do. I have to admit, until now, I wouldn’t have associated Amazon with furniture. But it turns out you can order quite an array…everything you need, in fact. And though what we bought isn’t heirloom quality, it’s solid and looks good, and that’s sufficient for our needs at the moment. I’m not furnishing my dream home with this move.

So this is how you move to Alaska…SE Alaska, anyway. You talk with the barge lines that serve SE Alaska and sort out their timetable, and the various options for shipping. You can use an entire shipping container, 20 or 40 foot (or as many as you need), or you can ship up on pallets. If you ship on pallets, you’re charged by weight, and per hundred-weight, it works out to twice the cost of shipping an entire container. For a container, you pay a flat rate, and whatever you can put in goes for the same flat rate. So that’s the better way to ship, at least for larger volume.

It turns out we had exactly a 20-foot container’s worth of belongings. I think that’s pretty good, actually, for 35 years of marriage. We’ve thinned a lot along the way, so even after replacing furniture and adding the household items I had in storage, we still kept it to a manageable level.

At least, that’s what I thought, until the container was unloaded into the two-car garage at our new place. It was full, with boxes stacked on boxes, three or four levels deep. Suddenly, after a two-year break from possessions, it was overwhelming to look at everything at once.

I can’t deny I’ve done a happy dance or two at the thought of having my kitchen set up again, and it will be lovely to have all my clothes in one place, to see familiar and homey knickknacks again. It will be nice to actually fully unpack my roller bags, and live out of drawers and closets for a change.

But I also can’t deny…there’s a part of me that’s a little suffocated, a little weighed down just looking at all the stuff.

I’ve happily collected and kept my favorite things, and as I get older, I’m pickier about what meets that standard. What is worth holding on to, moving around, and ultimately keeping throughout my life? I think a bit more these days about how much stuff I’ve accumulated, and what I’ll leave to my kids to deal with (one day, far, far in the future!)

When you’ve had an opportunity to live stuff-free for a significant time, as we’ve done the past two years, you see it all a little differently. Yes, the convenience and the comfort of having my own things is enjoyable, and I’m excited to revel in nesting again.

But I also have a wee bit of a feeling that my wings are clipped, that I’ll be more tied down than I have been. And I didn’t expect to feel that. Didn’t expect to experience any negative side to setting up a home again.

Me, the ultimate nester, feeling overwhelmed by my twigs?!

Maybe I just need to clear a few boxes, and get cozy again. But it makes me think about how consumed Americans are with stuff, and getting more stuff, and maintaining stuff. And all this makes me determined to keep some perspective…to be a little less thing-oriented, and see it all for what it is…pleasant filler that makes my day-to-day convenient  and comfortable.

But stuff is not so important to me as it once was. And maybe that’s the lesson of the last two years: I can actually thrive without a lot of it, and as long as the really important elements of my life are in place…health, and family, and nurturing relationships…the other stuff is just that…stuff that fills my garage, and will soften my life. But it doesn’t make my life. I never thought that it did…but coming full circle through all of this brings that reality home to me.

We’re about to enter the season of giving, and getting. I’m thinking more about giving experiences, and the types of gifts that don’t accumulate to pile in the garage or basement, that don’t need sorting and caring for.

This isn’t meant to guilt anyone…we all need things…but just to say, how much is the right amount? And how can we have a healthy relationship with the stuff, instead of being overwhelmed by it?

It’s one of the ongoing conversations I have with myself…what about you? Got a handle on this? Any wisdom to share?

~ Sheila

The day before the day – Election, 2016

It’s been a long hard run for all of us weary spectators to the blood sport of American presidential politics. Are you as exhausted as I am?

I’ve posted before about this sad chapter in American history. How did we get here? I know there are enthusiastic supporters for both major party candidates, but I can’t help but feel that whoever wins, we’ve all lost.

We’ve lost our collective dignity, and I believe, a large measure of world respect. I’m embarrassed for the whole lot of us. I can’t imagine where we’ll go from here. I think it will take a long time to rebuild faith in our process, in our system. So many charges of corruption and both major candidates being unfit to serve…it’s disheartening to think this is what we’ve come to.

I know elections from other eras also had a lot of mudslinging, accusations of dishonesty and scandal. Maybe what we’re experiencing isn’t unique. But it feels that way. It feels like we’ve stooped to new lows, as a country. I want debate discussions to be about issues that affect us all, not about salacious personal details or possible criminal charges. I’m tired of the national political figures seeming more fit to be in a soap opera than the next leader of the United States.

I want to believe. Maybe that’s just naiveté I never outgrew, but I want to be able to believe in our leaders. I don’t care if the president is man, woman, black, brown, white, or whatever ethnic background…I just want this person to be honest, and to try to do what they promise. I’m not looking for perfection. I am looking for sincerity.

And as important, I want to believe our system is honest. How can any of us feel good about anyone winning the election if we can’t believe it was won honestly and fairly?

I’ve given up hope for this election. I couldn’t vote for either candidate, though I did vote down ballot. But here’s what I do hope:

  • I hope we’ll see a grass-roots movement rise up and demand that both major parties clean house, clean up any whiff of corruption or dishonesty, and improve their internal processes to allow more access, and more transparency. It is disgraceful that we have two candidates who are widely disliked and distrusted. What does that say about us as a nation, that these are the best we could field for this office?
  • I hope we can have a national conversation about the lessons learned from this cycle, and what we can do better…surely that would cover almost everything that’s happened.
  • I hope we’ll find ways to require voter id from everyone, and at the same time ensure that process leaves no one out…voter id requirements should never be used to limit voting.
  • We need to talk about the pros and cons of early voting and any voting options that reduce voting on election day. I understand the value of absentee voting, but I also think all these voting options make it more difficult to ensure voting is fair and that votes are counted accurately. Whether I’m happy about any election outcome or not, I want to believe results are accurate based on actual votes. It demeans the process and erodes faith when we can’t believe in our system, whether the charges are that one party is trying to stuff the ballot box, or the other party is trying to suppress votes. We need clean voting, and we need to make it an easy task…in this era of brilliant technology, surely we could sort this out?
  • I think we need to redesign the process as to the way some states seem to matter, and others don’t. You see this during primary season, and definitely for the national election. So many states are really just taken for granted…maybe that’s inevitable given the known voting records and demographics, but still, it feels unfair and unbalanced that half a dozen states, or maybe even a single state, can be make-or-break for the winner. Another reason to require everyone, in both primary and national elections, to vote on the same day.
  • I think we need to shorten the election cycle, by law, so we end these never-ending runs for office that begin as soon as the last vote is cast in the current cycle. Enough! Give us a break from the madness! Spend some time doing the job, not simply campaigning to keep the job at the next election.
  • We need to limit the amount of money anyone can spend on a campaign. We need to find some way to both control the money that special interest groups throw at the process, and open opportunity to candidates who are not personally wealthy or come from political pedigrees…in other words, make it possible for “average” Americans to have a shot at political offices, even the highest one. When I say “average,” I don’t mean to dismiss education or pertinent experience…those requirements should be a given…but we definitely need new ideas, new blood and innovation.
  • I’ve read pros and cons about term limits. I think our system would be healthier if politicians could not become entrenched for life, regardless of job performance. Same for judges, at all levels. I particularly think Supreme Court judges should have service limits. Elected officials should serve and move on to something else, and I’d also like to see regulation of politicians moving into lobbyist positions…I’m not sure much good will be achieved with term limits if politicians can simply move next door and continue to be part of the process in the private sector. I really think we need some way to ensure that once a politician has hit term limits, he/she is required to return to civilian life rather than stay on in the political arena of influence.

I’ve said I’m less concerned about who wins than that the winner be a person of integrity and that they, and their entourage, be people of honor. I would like to think honor still exists among those who seek high office.

I’m not one to advocate for rebellion or violence, but I’m convinced after the travesty we’ve witnessed, with all the drama, name calling, and dirty tricks, we, the American public, deserve better, and should demand change before we go through another electoral cycle.

You have to be an adult to vote. I would like to believe I have choices of responsible, honest, and honorable adults to vote for. We have serious problems, and we need serious candidates to step up. But we, the voting citizens, have an obligation here too…we need to raise our voices to demand change, demand honesty, and get involved at every level to ensure that happens.

Maybe then we could get excited about voting again.

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Last summer we rented a house built beside a stream. The house wasn’t air-conditioned, and even in the temperate climate of Hawaii, it was stuffy without the windows open, and ceiling fan running. So we slept with open windows, and the sound of water running through our nights.

A funny thing, I noticed the stream didn’t bother me. I noticed it because running water at night usually does bother me. When the source of the water is a toilet that keeps filling, or a faucet that isn’t completely turned off, I hear the trickle of water and I can’t unhear it. It annoys me, keeps me awake, disturbs my rest.

What is the difference between the two? The stream was actually louder than a trickle from a toilet that keeps filling, or a leaky faucet.

I think the answer is how I framed the noise. The stream, I told myself, is soothing, natural, a white noise that’s calming and peaceful. It’s a good thing.

The leaky faucet or ever-filling toilet…nothing soothing about those sounds, and I feel like I have to get up and address the issue. To ignore it would keep me tossing and turning all night.

It’s all about the frame I put around the noise, and the story I tell myself.

Ah ha…

I wonder how else I demonstrate this principle in my life?

Some issues have to be addressed, have to be challenged, have to be sorted out.

But how many battles do I fight that don’t need fighting? What if I tried to re-frame the things that bother me, to see if re-framing changed my attitude?

It’s a question worth considering, and worth answering.

Can I see differently? Can I frame people in my life through a different lens? Can I use a filter of kindness and patience to help ratchet down frustration?

There was a time when I was impatient with life, a time when I wanted everything to be fair, and it bothered me a lot to see inequity. I saw life in a concrete way, with little tolerance or allowance for the realities of the in-between.

I thought if I complained about unfairness or things that needed improving, that would help. Instead, it mostly created conflict.

The reality is many situations are colored in shades of gray. Most relationships have their strong points and weaknesses. People are a mixture of great character and qualities, and habits that annoy, distract, and grate on nerves. Work is usually the same mixed bag…things we like, things we don’t, or maybe even things we hate.

Some elements in my life are less-than-perfect, and I’ve come to accept that. After all, I’m not perfect either, and I know it.

The challenge is always drawing the lines: what can we re-frame or accept…live with, if you will…and what issues will we dig in and fight for?

There are things worth working for, things that need to be changed. But a lot of what frustrates just isn’t important, in the big picture.

And yet, so much of the little stuff gets in the way of the good stuff! The irritants of life derail the day, shift the focus, sharpen tones.

I need to do a better job of framing. I need to recognize that the habits that annoy, or the things that go wrong in my day, are not worth angst, and certainly not worth spreading my frustrations to others.

Why do I let something insignificant be more important than the people I love, or the issues of real value? I think it’s because the small things are often the barriers of the moment…those “in your face” challenges that lead to a spike of temper, raised voices, impatience or unkindness.

That’s not who I want to be on any day.

And so I remind, and re-train, and ask myself, on a regular basis, “how does this help?” How does it help my day to bark at my husband, or tell myself a story about all the things that have gone wrong since I got up this morning?

Perspective, re-framing, choosing to live out of kindness and patience, rather than frustration…none of this makes me a saint. In fact, it’s hard work to coach myself out of these attitudes. But living with intention makes me happier and calmer. And that’s a gift to myself that’s worth the effort of re-framing.

I find it’s a lesson I have to re-visit often. I remind myself of the good things, the great people in my life. I practice gratitude. I ask myself what will matter in a year, or even in a week? Will it be this issue that flashes up to cause anger, or make me feel like I’m doing more than my fair share?

Please understand…in the words of Ann Voskamp, I’m preaching gospel to myself. I don’t do this well, or all the time. But I see it…I see how often I’m my worst enemy, letting the little things become big, and forgetting what’s truly important…the laughter of someone I love, health, opportunity to do something good with my day.

So, re-framing…perspective…gratitude…the lessons come packaged in different ways, but the bottom line is always the same. I have the ability to shape my life, my happiness, by what I focus on, by choosing the narrative I rehearse to myself.

I have the power. You have the power in your life. That’s the thing…we each have this amazing potential to frame our lives with joy and humor, or to frame our lives with anger and impatience.

Once more, for today, I promise myself to see differently, to show patience, and to ask my favorite question, “how does this help?” It’s a habit that requires daily practice, this effort at re-framing.

And maybe I won’t have to worry about that trickle of water I sometimes hear at night. 🙂

~ Sheila