Walking may be hazardous to your health

Walking…we take it so for granted. Just last Friday I was walking effortlessly, no thought required. No planning for how to get myself around.

In fact, in our current state of car-less-ness (that means we don’t own a vehicle) I walk more than I drive, or ride. It helps that we live about a five-minute walk from the clinic where we work, so walking to the office is simple, something I do in all weathers.

Last Friday I was walking to work, as usual. Laptop bag, phone, and coffee in hand, I was within sight of the door when I mis-stepped…tripped…slipped…something happened. Suddenly, I was flat on the ground, everything I was carrying scattered around me, and I got up with that stunned and shaky feeling of “what just happened?!” You know the moment when you’re not sure if you’re about to laugh or cry, or laugh and cry.

Well, you know how awkward you feel in these little situations. As I began to very carefully pick myself up, not sure yet if I’d done any real damage, embarrassment kicked in, and my initial shock turned to hope that no one saw my spill. I felt like a cartoon character with the wind knocked out of me and my dignity spilled on the ground with my coffee. You know the very flat version of a cartoon that’s suddenly one dimension? Yep!

Not that I have that much dignity to be concerned with…I’m not one to walk around thinking too highly of myself. But it’s never fun to be upright one moment, and splatted on the ground the next. It’s the shock factor, you know?

I gathered myself and my belongings, beginning to think about my technology and hope it was all safe (only a few months ago I dropped my phone and experienced the trauma of a shattered screen, and let me tell you, that left a mark!). I got inside the door and then hobbled to my office to inspect me and my things for damage.

Skinned knee, check. Cracked glass on my phone, check (though this time it was only a lower corner, so not quite as devastating as before). Laptop was ok, thankfully it was in a padded case. Coffee was mostly saved, thanks to my indestructible container! 🙂

The real damage was to my foot. There were no protruding bones, but it hurt. It hurt quite a lot, actually! I was wavering between “I think I’ll sit down and cry about this” and “no, no, I’m fine, really!” You know, that song and dance you do when you hope if you downplay a situation, it’s going to be ok without intervention. If you need intervention, that’s never good.

So x-ray? No, I’m really ok, thanks! Something for the pain? I’ll just grin and bear it, I’ll be fine! (Big smile here!)

I remembered I had a conference call scheduled that morning, so I decided to go back to the house and join the call while I sat with my foot propped up. I dug a bag of frozen green peas out of the freezer drawer and put it over the now-rapidly swelling part of my foot. Ahh…better!

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Ouch, that hurts!

I babied it all weekend. And it did feel a bit better by Monday. But wisdom said it would be best to have it x-rayed and know for sure if I’d fractured anything.

Peter, the x-ray tech at the clinic, was hopeful right along with me. He told me he’d x-rayed breaks that weren’t swollen at all, and injuries that looked terrible but were fine. So I confidently thought my foot would fit in the latter category…not pretty, but hey, I was walking on it, right? Well, limping, anyway.

Um, no, not right.

The radiologist’s read found a fracture in the 5th metatarsal. It’s the type that sometimes doesn’t heal well…you have a “non-union” of the fracture, and 20-30% of these breaks end with surgery to repair the damage. That’s a wee bit alarming to hear.

So this is my new look, for the coming weeks:

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My summer fashion statement

No cast, but a rigid-sole shoe that keeps me from bending my foot as I walk-limp around. I’m pretty motivated to be compliant. I have no desire to be in the 20-30% group and be meeting a surgeon later this summer! My hope is to be done with my new shoe by late July. I’m traveling then, and I really don’t want to be sporting this lovely look. I miss my heels already! And Riley and Jack are spending a week with us at the end of August, and I definitely need to be my fully-mobile self by then. Have you ever tried limping to catch a four-year-old?

Anyway, the whole experience reminds me just how much I take for granted. Like simple walking. The ability to go and do and manage life without crutches, boots, or hobbling around is so important.

After a vision of spending the summer in a cast, or on crutches, or needing a wheel chair to get through airports has sunk in, I’m mindful. I was told to have my foot x-rayed weekly for the next three or four weeks to keep a check on the healing progress, so I’ll do that. I was told to take calcium, so doing that. I was told not to flex my foot, so I’m trying to be very aware of that movement, and avoid anything that will stress the injury.

Who knew a simple mis-step could cause all this bother?! Still looking for the upside here. The best takeaway so far is to be more empathetic toward anyone limping around and dealing with injuries. (Not that I wasn’t sympathetic before…but now!) It’s definitely not fun, and puts a damper on life when you have to think about every step…is it worth getting up to do (fill in the blank)? And already feeling a bit off-balance makes me uncomfortably aware how easy it would be to trip and re-injure myself. I don’t like feeling limited, or lacking confidence to do the most basic thing we humans do…just walk.

If you’re walking around without having to think about it, be thankful! And be careful! Trust me, the slightest mis-step, and you too could be modeling the latest fashion in the healthcare shoe industry!

Well, here’s hoping to be done with this in a few weeks. Looking forward to wearing heels again, and having matching shoes!

 

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Freedom is not Free

Tomorrow Americans celebrate the birth of independence, the birth of country, the longevity of the United States of America. We’re old, by some reckonings, barely started by others.

We’ve had glory days, amazing stories that fill our history books, our movie scenes, fill our hearts with pride and nostalgia. We rightly remember the heroes, the brave ones, the  hardworking backbone of this country.

And we’ve had the other…the moments, many captured to live indefinitely online, that haunt and hurt and damage our national story. We’ve had days of sorrow, internal family feuding and fighting that’s hateful, and embarrassing.

We’re all siblings, of a sort.

National siblings. 

Lately, I’ve wondered…are we, the citizens of the United States, really worthy of the freedom we enjoy? Do we deserve the rights and privileges we’re so accustomed to having?

Do we take voting seriously? Do we know about the issues, take time to understand more than the sound bites and talking points that we’re already drawn to, by our pre-determined stances and opinions?

Do we look for candidates who will be leaders, or do we just check boxes when we vaguely recognize a familiar name?

Do we bother to learn about local issues, the unexciting realm of politics that influences school boards and community elections? Do we know what’s happening at the level of governing we can all be a part of? Do we participate in our own back yard?

Do we look for ways to help? Or are we just enjoying the show, enjoying the role of critic without the burden of involvement?

Do we look for the good of the whole? Are we focused on self-interest, or are we interested in our siblings…our national siblings?

Are we nurturing a nation, caring for our collective integrity and honor?

Sometimes it seems like we’re talking all the time, but not really saying anything worthwhile.

Is anyone even listening anymore? Or are we all talking over each other? We can all feel good that we’ve had our say. But did anyone hear anyone else?

I don’t have all the answers, nor does anyone else. Our issues are big, and getting bigger. Our debt is enormous, and our resources are limited.

But our hearts are not limited. Our imagination is not limited. Our capacity for compassion and hard work is unmatched.

Rather than hoping we can reach agreement on all our many areas of conflict, I hope we’ll look for opportunities to make actual contributions to real needs. I don’t have to agree with someone to work beside them for common good. And there so much that we can do if we choose to cooperate, instead of using our energy and time to tear one another apart.

Tomorrow we celebrate the heroes of thought and words who conceived a land built on freedom and liberty. We celebrate the heroes of action who brought the idea to reality. I hope we’ll also be celebrating the heroes of quiet deeds, the people who continue to make the United States great…the people who give, generously; who care, ferociously; who live, courageously; and who love, whole-heartedly.

We are siblings, all of us citizens. We’re national siblings, and we need to remember that. We pay a price to live in this land. Freedom isn’t free, even for civilians. There is a cost to everything, for everyone. And I’m not talking about taxes.

I’m talking about the price we owe from the heart.

Are you paying your share?

Happy 4th of July, Americans! Happy 4th, my siblings!

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day: welcoming summer, honoring memories

It’s not often my summer begins with the Memorial Day weekend, even if the end of May marks the unofficial start to the season for the rest of the US.

Most years in the past decade I’ve been in SE Alaska, and while spring is in the air by the end of May, summer is definitely not.

The past week found us in Virginia Beach, checking out a different side of the country, a different beach experience, and yet, oddly enough, with the same weather we thought we left behind us in Alaska: chilly, rainy, overcast. I understand this is unusual, just the luck of the draw. But still…I packed for different temps!

Finally, to launch the beginning of the weekend, we had a glorious day of sun, views, travel and music. A nice cap to our trip, and we also enjoyed a moving history lesson walking the length of the Virginia Beach boardwalk, reading the posters honoring events in US military history, and the beginning of the holiday now known as “Memorial Day.”

To celebrate the sun coming out, we left Virginia Beach and drove south. Sitting on top of North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks (OBX) was too tempting, so we made the easy drive south to explore another region of the Atlantic coast.

A couple of hours down the road you find yourself in the chain of communities that form the upper group of holiday / tourist coastal towns: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head.

Where did they get those names?!

Headed down we drove through rural NC communities dotted with restaurants offering Southern food at its finest, barbecue, fresh crab and other local seafood, and fresh produce markets. Couldn’t resist stopping at a couple of these, picking up tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupe, jam, corn, and muscadine bread. (For anyone unfamiliar with muscadines, these are a type of grape which grows in the South.) You can make anything from jam and jellies to wine, eat them fresh off the vine, or, apparently, use them in baked goods. I’ve never eaten anything baked with muscadines, so this will be a first!

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I didn’t buy asparagus, but these were so tiny and beautiful I couldn’t resist making a photo.

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In the midst of our rambling, we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, honoring their historic and life-changing first flight, back in 1903. Though Kitty Hawk often gets credit for the location of the first flight, it actually happened in Kill Devil Hills. There’s an impressive monument to their feat, which continues to impact life…and I doubt it’s an exaggeration to say every life…on the planet.

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The Atlantic was a heavenly blue with brilliant sunshine out to herald the arrival of summer. Honestly, I could have been happy just driving the coast, taking in the views, soaking up the warmth, and appreciating the mix of kitsch and beauty.

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But we were only out for the day, and by late afternoon made our way back to Virginia Beach.

At the end of the day, we wandered down to find multiple outdoor concerts, restaurants, visitors biking, walking, eating, playing on the beach…a mix of ages, styles, cultures, languages…a melting pot, all around us.

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It was a nice reminder of the meaning behind the holiday, and how everyone living in this country in peace and freedom owes a debt of gratitude to those who’ve made it possible.

We’ve explored the Boardwalk a few times during our stay, but the other times we’ve been out have been more a fight against the wind and rain. This walk was leisurely, strolling and reading posters highlighting critical points in US history. I learned a few things about the various wars and conflicts that dot our history…these are just a couple of examples:

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Thank you, people of the past who made a difference, and gave your all doing it! Looking back at the past, the eras of bygone sacrifice, fears, victories and losses is sobering, but also reassuring.

It’s our responsibility to honor the past, but also to safeguard the future. And we do that by living with courage, respect, and thoughtfulness. How are we caring for the legacy of freedom today? That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, and the answers will vary, depending on the lens you use to filter. I think the best we can do is to live with personal integrity, value life, and understand that differences don’t have to divide. They can actually make us stronger, if we allow for that.

And guess what? Summer has begun!

Happy Mother’s Day!

This year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to send flowers or do anything long distance for Mother’s Day. Over the past week, I’ve spent time with my mother, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. And of course, I’ve been with the littles. Wonderful to give gifts and love in person!

Beautiful mothers all, the inter-generation connection is sweet and powerful to experience, as I’ve been blessed, again, to touch people who are part of the fabric of my ties that bind.

My goal as a mother was to be the best example, parent, friend, and teacher I could be. Of course I didn’t always live up to my aspirations, but I tried. That much I know. And that’s all any of us can do…we try, and keep on trying.

I learned so much from my mom and my mother-in-law about the work of parenting, of friending, and of the on-going nature of mothering. Watching my daughter parent reminds me of the stages and the changes of this life of motherhood…how it shifts and grows, widens and deepens with the years.

Thank you to all the mothers in my life…for the joys, the patience, the humor, the tears, and the memories. It’s been an amazing experience, and a gift that keeps on giving.

Roses

The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children. ~ Jessica Lange

Glorious Easter: He is risen!

Sunday morning comes, bringing hope to a weary world, to those who can hear, who choose to hear.

Hope is the engine of life. Without hope, we have nothing.

Hope motivates us, sustains us, teaches us to have patience, and gives us joy. Hope gives us anticipation of good to come, of a reward and rest at the end of all things.

Easter, and in fact, every Sunday, is a reminder, to those of Christian faith, that hope is secure…that we are secure.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 6:19, with these beautiful words:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

The hope we have is Jesus, our “forerunner.”

Sunday morning comes, and Jesus gives us hope.

I often doubt myself. I don’t live up to my intentions. I’m in good company, I think. In fact, the rest of the world is right there with me…some days are better than others, but I fail as often as I succeed.

Where would I be without hope beyond myself?

Another of my other favorite verses is Mark 9:24.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

I don’t have hope in myself. I don’t always believe in myself. I fall down, I let myself down.

But I have hope in Jesus, and he is the anchor for my soul, not me. He is the one I believe in, not me.

When I know who I’ve believed, I know where to put my hope.

He makes it easy. His burden is light.

What about you?

Happy Easter, as you think about this wonderful, solemn, joyous, amazing day!

May you find hope for your soul, and an anchor to hold to.

 

Spring cleaning, done!

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Chocolate milk on my wall

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the new floor…

It’s that time of year when spring cleaning joins the line-up of regular chores. I don’t think spring has really arrived in this little corner of Alaska, never mind what the calendar says. But I’m ready to be out of winter mode, so I’m ignoring the chilly temps, and the fact that yesterday it snowed again. I’m just getting on with my list.

This year spring cleaning comes with a twist.

We’ve moved into our clinic housing twice in the past five months. The first time was in November. The second time was last weekend, after a total move-out the week before to have the flooring replaced.

Let me tell you, that was not in my game plan!

The community owns this clinic housing, provided to us as a benefit to working here, and to their credit, they maintain it nicely. I’m not sure of the processes at work…maybe there was grant funding that had to be used, or some other resource that was specified for maintenance work on these homes. Anyway, right after we moved in, back in November, we learned that the flooring of all six clinic homes was slated to be replaced this spring.

Alrighty then! Let’s just say that information motivated me to unpack very lightly.

Understand, I’m almost always a fan of new and improved, and I’m certainly grateful for any housing updates that come my way.

But, I didn’t foresee it would mean a total emptying out again, and being displaced for a week while the work was done. I had an unrealistic expectation of doing it room by room, sort of a vision of being able to move things from one room to another without moving out.

But nope, it was not to be. We emptied as much as we could into the garage, and the rest went into shipping containers, while we went back to temporary housing.

When I peeked in on the house last week, it looked like a construction zone. Equipment everywhere, flooring in various stages of being torn out and replaced. The appliances, the baseboards, even the toilets were removed so the new installation could be put in, wall to wall. And that’s as it should be.

While the furniture was out, we had a large accent wall painted, and that’s brought some much appreciated color into the every-room-in-the-house-off-white look.

We have new wood-look vinyl throughout the house, except in the two bedrooms, which have new carpet, installed in squares for easy replacement.

The dark floors look great, seams matched and neatly finished. The guys did a good job, and I tried to show a little extra appreciation with snacks and treats over the course of the week, in true Southern style. Southern women have a need to feed, I think. (I don’t know if it’s programmed at birth, or when that response is installed, but the reflex is automatic. People working? Bring food!) I think they got the message that I appreciated their efforts.

The past week has been all about restoring, touching up some walls with the off-white paint, adding a bit more of the accent color, cleaning up, and settling, again. (Putting fresh paint on walls is like a contagious virus…I see the finished look, and begin to think…hmmmm..what else needs a touch of color?)

Aside from the new floors and paint, the upside is that every surface has been wiped and refreshed. The process of ripping up the old material put a fine film of something over all the flat surfaces, so there’s pretty much no inch of this space that hasn’t felt the swipe of my cloth, and a little disinfectant sprayed on to add to the feeling of clean.

I’m one of those odd people, I like to clean, I’ll admit that. But even I don’t usually do my whole space in a week. Looks like I’m on the ball this year, thanks to this floor project. And because the appliances were all moved out to accommodate the work, even the space under the fridge and stove are clean. Aaahhh!

So, if you’re looking for motivation for spring cleaning, just go ahead and replace your floors. I guarantee you, the one will induce the other! Nothing like a little remodeling to get you moving!

Happy spring, happy cleaning, and happy me…new paint on the walls, new floors underfoot.

I’m pooped, but at least for the coming week the chores are already done! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Spring, glorious spring!

“Let it rain on some days,
Let yourself shiver on some cold nights,
So when it’s Spring you’ll know why it was all worth going through.”
― Sanhita Baruah

After a snowier-than-usual winter, this week brought some sunny days, and with the first day of spring, a spring in my step as well. Sunshine will do that for you, when you live in a rain forest! 🙂

You’d think that in SE Alaska, snow would be common. You would be wrong, at least at sea level, and in this small region of the state. Rain is common, storms are common, but not snow. This year my boots got to walk all over town as I had the chance to wear them most days the past six weeks. I’ve turtle-necked my way through, and now, as April approaches,  I’m looking forward to shedding a layer or two. It will be nice to put away gloves and scarves, and walk out without the extras.

As winter leaves, I feel the flow of spring-time energy. I picked up a paint brush yesterday to freshen up a wall or two; such a simple thing, but exciting after a hiatus of tackling projects. Spreading color on the walls was therapeutic and nourishing, a visible illustration of what I felt happening in my spirit.

I’ve filled the pantry, and after two years of minimal cooking, I’m trying new things, dishing up old favorites, and using cookware that’s been out of sight and out of mind.

I’m reading again, books that speak to my heart, and some new finds prompting me to thought.

I’m thinking of the curious combination of spring strength and softness…the strength it takes for green leaves and tiny flowers to push into the sunlight and the softness of the  early morning sun on my face as I walk to work. I think about the strength it takes to keep moving and growing through all the phases of life and the softness of heart that comes with experience and age. (Sometimes hearts harden with age, but I’m choosing not to do that.)

Strength and softness: that’s the combination I want in my life. I love strength of spirit, will, and courage. I love the softness of kindness, generosity, and gentleness.

Spring reminds me that the harshness of winter is disappearing, and the sweetness of the next season is here.

Seasons exist in all realms of life, and seasons of energy, creativity, and accomplishment are no less real than the seasons of the calendar. Manifesting in different ways, the results are sometimes visible, sometimes not.

I’ve learned that human seasons rarely match up with the calendar. I’ve learned that sometimes you can push yourself into the next phase of life, and sometimes, like a flower waiting to bloom, you have to wait for your next season to arrive. Some things you just can’t hurry.

I’ve learned that you can’t force what isn’t ready. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

When you’re ready for a new season, it will appear. In good time, but not before you’ve done the work to be ready to move forward.

The past couple of years have been quiet, times of growth and discovery. And those times are vital. All humans need time to percolate a bit, time to let life flow around and over, time to make sense of what was, what is, and what’s changed.

I sometimes call it wandering in the wilderness.

Good to do, but also good to come out of.

No epiphany required for the sunshine of springtime to remind me, it’s time to get busy. Time to paint, and plant an herb or two, and a flower or two, time to create in the kitchen, time to shift to a new season.

And while my hands are busy, it’s good to practice the values of strength and softness.

How about you? Are you feeling the pulse of springtime? Tell me about it? I’d love to know what spring sunshine prompts in you!

~ Sheila

No box for me!

Another march this week. Another round of demonstrations, and people holding signs with angry words to get their message across.

What if we held people in our arms, instead of signs in our hands?

We’re a divided culture, in so many ways. Identity politics are everywhere, and personally, I’m just weary of it all.

We’re so flooded with messaging to stand up for this group, stand with that group, to self-identify by race, gender, nationality, cultural heritage, faith, political party, etc., etc., etc.

Can I just be human?

I’m a woman, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a daughter, a friend, a college graduate, an employee, a writer, a Christian, a voter.

I’m all of these things, and more. I’m subtle. I’m nuanced.

I don’t like being pigeonholed, put neatly into any box.

Because I don’t fit neatly into any box.

I don’t want to compete with any group, or feel myself in opposition to anyone. I don’t see myself in a woman vs man world, in an “I win, you lose” life model. I hope we all win. The reality is, though the ideal is to make everyone equal, the words and attitudes displayed by militants in movements reflect more hate than hope. I hear angry demands and harsh rhetoric.

There was a time in this country, and in the western world, when marching for rights was important. Raising awareness was important. Workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, children’s rights…there was an era when all those groups had to fight to be seen, to be heard, to be represented at the table of democracy, citizenship, and human rights.

And there are still many countries and cultures throughout the world that need to change, need to see all humans as people of value, of worth, and show that care of the most vulnerable in society is a mark of the strongest society. Because when we care for the weakest among us, we show how brave we really are. We show our integrity, as a whole, as a society, as a culture.

I don’t believe we in the United States of America, or in any western country, have it all figured out. We’ll never get it all right; we’re human, and we’re flawed. But can I just say, rather than encouraging people to march, can we encourage people to work?

If you want to make a difference for any group, do something more powerful than taking a day to march for your cause. Show up at a school that needs volunteers, show up at a retirement home that needs people to sit with residents, at a homeless shelter that needs help cleaning or doing of anything useful, at a park that needs cleaning up…you pick your place, choose your gift.

But show up to work.

Every time I see a group marching, I wonder what all that energy and those hours could do if the time was given to productive work? Volunteer work that didn’t charge for service?

What couldn’t we do? What couldn’t we change?

Or better than a one-day commitment, what about showing up every week?

You know, I never valued teachers more than when I subbed in school systems during our early years in Alaska. I saw for myself, first-hand, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on the teaching community. I saw their world in a whole new way.

I never understood the world of health care, until I began to work in primary care clinics, and got to see, up close, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on health care professionals. I saw their world in a whole new way.

What I’ve learned is this…you don’t march your way to understanding injustice and need.

You work your way to understanding.

You have to see to understand. You have to show up, get involved. You can read about all sorts of issues and problems, you can watch documentaries on TV. But until you see for yourself, you won’t really get it.

Want to understand the plight of immigrants? Find a way to work with immigrants. Want to understand the impact of illegal drugs on our society? Work with people struggling to overcome their addiction, and with families trying to survive the blows to their homes, to the children of addicts.

Want to understand the nightmare of the sex slave industry? Connect with organizations who are working to free people caught in that trap.

The point is, awareness grows when you get out in the community and see, for yourself, the hurts, the losses, the weak, and the vulnerable, the gaps in community and government.

Want to understand how building healthy families strengthens the whole society? Work with children bounced from foster home to foster home. Want to understand the health care crisis? Spend some time in under-funded, under-staffed clinics.

When statistics become faces and names, you’re beginning to understand.

I wish we were color-blind, gender-blind, status-blind, and kind.

I wish we were all just willing to be kind: to give a cup of cold water, to lend a hand; to understand that life is hard, and we’re here to make it easier. If we do that much, we’ve done so much.

Know what I love to see in my FB feed? I love to see positive, to see people doing good, to see people being the change. I love to see people sharing their time, their faith, their talents, their money, their energy.

I challenge you to work rather than to march; to act rather than falling back on mere words; to contribute, rather than criticize.

There’s a story I love. Maybe you’ve heard it?

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer and called out ‘Good morning! May I ask what you’re doing?’

The young man looked up and replied, ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean.’

‘Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?’ asked the somewhat startled man.

The young man replied, ‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.’

The wise man was stunned. ‘But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!’

The young man bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water, he said, ‘It made a difference to that one.’

Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

The other thing you can do? Look for root causes. See what you can do that gets to the source of the problem. It’s great to throw star fish back into the ocean, or to help people with their most basic needs. But what if you took the time to understand cause and effect, to look for ways to make a lasting impact? That’s how you create real change.

I don’t do heroic things…I’m not saving lives, or teaching children who’ll be the leaders of tomorrow. I bloom where I’m planted, and for me, that means making a difference in small rural communities by helping with health care staffing, helping with loan applications, helping with grants, helping new people transition into the community. I encourage, I feed, I build up. And I write. I try to make a difference by planting seeds, and ideas, and by saying: I will not be put into a box, be made to feel guilty that I don’t embrace identity politics or focus on pieces of myself, as though I can be neatly sectioned.

I beg you, celebrate your life, and the lives around you, by working, not marching. By doing, not just speaking out. By seeing for yourself, first-hand, the issues and causes, before you judge what should be, or should not be. Open your eyes to the needs around you. They’re everywhere, and you don’t have to be a hero to make a difference. You don’t even have to risk much. You just have to be willing to work, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

And please, don’t put yourself, or anyone else, in an identity box. That’s not who we are. We’re all so much more than “just” gender, race, ideology, profession, economic status, nationality.

We’re human. And humans don’t belong in boxes.

 

 

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

 

 

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