So A Psychologist Asked How I’m Doing

*Ring—Ring*

“Hello, this is Dr. _________.”

“Hi, Dr.____________. This is Adam Jones. We spoke about eighteen months ago, in your old office. Does that ring a bell?”

Pause.

“Ah, yes.   How are you, Adam?”

A longer pause.

With a light chuckle, I replied, “Well, not a 100%, which is why we are talking now.”

Chuckling back, the doctor replied, “Yea, I always feel weird the moment that question comes out of my mouth. Don’t know why I keep doing that.”

Well now, I thought, the psychologist is the uncomfortable one in this conversation. This is kind of fun!

“That’s okay, doctor. That’s the point, after all. And it gets the restorative process going.”

The good doctor laughed. And I smiled, knowing we would soon get together and spend lots of time discussing the question, “How are you?”

***

Since hitting forty I’ve taken measures to insure my bodily safety and physical health. I take no unnecessary physical risks; if involved in handyman work and when using power tools I proceed slowly and I wear safety glasses and ear protection; I drive defensively and cautiously; I go the gym; I (mostly) eat well; I also take vitamins, drink enough clean water, and see an acupuncturist to maintain good sleep patterns.

I do these things primarily to make sure I’m physically around for Vivian and Suzanne for a long, healthy time.

This safety and health awareness is all necessary and good to be here for them, but it is insufficient.

A difficult question recently entered my mind that I could not answer: What good am I if I’m physically in the same room with Vivian but not actually there because my mind is heavy and distracted? If I cannot mentally function and engage and grow with Vivian, what good is a fit frame? I’m concerned about physically being there for Vivian and Suzanne, but if I’m checked out mentally aren’t they really without their Daddy and husband on occasion?

Vivian and Suzanne lost me one day last week. We were physically together in the house, before and after school, before and after work. I was here in body. But I was not here. My mind was heavy and burdened, incapable of being in or enjoying one moment with my Loves.

Why would I not talk to someone when there is so much to lose, so many future moments to miss?

So the next day I drove to the psychologist’s office, parked the car, picked up the phone, and called. I paused before hitting the call button.  But I hit it. (I don’t know why but it is difficult to take that step with mental health.) We set up a time to meet and I committed to being there. And the moment we hung up I felt better, knowing the first step in the right direction was taken.

I wrestled with the decision to share this experience. I’m doing so because I suspect there is someone on the other side of this screen who feels the need to pursue better mental health.  If there is someone there who knows they need to reach out to someone, I hope this bit of scribbling encourages them to touch that call button.

I hope it helps you.

Oh, and feel free to use my line if the person on the other end of the phone asks, ”How are you?” Go ahead, have fun with it.

And, seriously, how are you?

 

 

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Middle Age Leftovers

I’ve noticed leftovers of slowly cooked pastas, stews, and braises taste better and are more enjoyable than the day they were made. (I just enjoyed leftover beef pot roast braised in a red wine and butter reduction.) The spices and latent natural goodness that come together in the cooking process need time to marinate and come out vividly and richly, apparently.

I’m hoping the middle-age years and beyond are similar, like delicious and savory leftovers of early adulthood.

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A Happy Groundhog Day

Would it be a curse or a blessing if you endlessly relived the same day?

Phil Connors, portrayed by Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day, had that opportunity. He woke every day in the same place on the same day surrounded by the same people. “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!” He could not escape to tomorrow—it was eternally today.

Initially Phil was shocked. He confided in his colleague, Rita. He went to a doctor (played by the late Harold Ramis, director of the movie). The doctor sent Phil to a psychologist. But he still woke with  yesterday, today, and tomorrow the same day.

Phil then consulted two intoxicated locals at a bowling alley:

“What if there is no tomorrow?” he asked his bar-side therapists.

“No tomorrow?!” one responded, “That would mean there would be no consequences…We could do whatever we wanted!”

Phil took the idea to heart. He started a consequence-free life. “I’m not going to live by the rules anymore!” No longer filled with anxiety about his perpetual Groundhog day, he embraced his situation. He lept into satisfying carnal desires. Gluttony? What’s a table full of every pastry washed down with a pot of coffee while enjoying a cigarette when there are no consequences? “I don’t worry about anything anymore,” he quipped to Rita who gazed in disgust. Sexual conquests? He leveraged knowledge gained in his Groundhog Days to con a woman into bed. Greed? He learned the exact moment he could steal a bag of cash from a bank truck, and took it.  His ill-gained cash we can confidently assume was used to pursue an array of carnal gratifications.

Phil eventually set his desires on Rita. It seemed she was the last thing to conquer in his eternal day.

“If you had one day to live, what would you do with it?” he asked Rita. Phil pried his way into her mind and world to learn what she liked and valued, what her view of a good man and a good life was.  By doing so Phil inadvertently exposed himself to good things. He had to woo her according to what she valued so he learned French and studied poetry. He began doing and learning good things in order to achieve a bad goal.

But it was a futile effort. Phil’s conquest of Rita failed. And with his failure Phil was depleted. There was nothing left. The knowledge he accumulated was now worthless and offered no solace for his carnal mind. He knew every answer for Jeopardy, but there was no joy in the knowledge itself.  He experienced the emptiness of a self-centered life with no pleasures left to fulfill.  His descent was complete.

So he killed himself. Many times. And he kept waking up to Groundhog Day.

He then confided in Rita for a second time. After proving to her his condition, she pointed Phil to what must have been his first new thought in thousands of days: “Maybe it’s not a curse. It depends on how you look at it.”

There was nothing left to do but be happy.

That day spent with Rita marked Phil’s turning point. Across the table from her at the diner—“You’re a sucker for French poetry and You’re very generous.  You’re kind to strangers and children.”—and that night while she dozed to sleep—“I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone whose nicer than you. ..I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you the rest of my life.”—he saw a connection between her goodness and her happiness.  He still desired Rita, this time for who she was.

The next morning Phil woke renewed. After he peered at Groundhog Day through the window he glanced back at the bed where he realized so much talking with Rita, then glanced at the door  On the other side  another Groundhog Day waited. And out the door he went, with purpose.

He discarded his self-centered attitude. He began to live outside himself. The biting, caustic, miserable cur we watched from the beginning became caring, thoughtful, and empathetic. He looked for ways to serve others and their needs. He cared for the vagrant he used to shun. He took an interest in his colleague’s lives, the same people he used to barely tolerate. He studied the arts and pursued knowledge for its own sake, not to lure Rita into bed. (Bill Murray’s face of contentment over a stack of books, in solitude, while listening to music in the café is fantastic.) He took piano lessons. He recited poetry to strangers. He relished the opportunity to live among, serve, and learn from the locals, a complete reversal of his earlier aversion to spending one unnecessary moment with those “hicks.”  Phil savored and reflected the beautiful in life.

And he experienced happiness.

In the waning hours of what would be his final Groundhog Day, he whispered to Rita: “No matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.”

Now. This moment. It is what humans are tragically wired to consider last, if at all, after obsessing about the past and unduly worrying about the future. In his now, his Groundhog Day, Phil experienced happiness.

So. Have a good day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roots

His smile was buried most of the year but, when bloomed, was deeply beautiful, rooted in a sadness known by few, like perennials on an old battlefield.

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I Just Wanted That New Boston Creme Croissant?

I did not plan on playing interpreter between an irritable elderly customer in a Walmart scooter and a kind Dunkin’ Donuts employee from India whose patience appeared to be thinning. But there I stood, head swinging to and fro, enjoying my unexpected duties.

I immediately noticed the kerfuffle when I walked into Dunkin Donuts. In addition to the lady’s elevated voice, the eyes of the customers at the tables indicated things were heating up at the cash register. They were glancing at the drama, averting their eyes, then peeking back. High calorie processed donuts were not their only guilty pleasure that morning.

The elderly lady bawled, as she pointed her finger at a picture on the wall, “BAGEL! I said, BAGEL!” Her finger jabbed in rhythm with the syllables of BA-GEL!

In sharp contrast, the employee responded calmly, robotically almost, his respectful tone most likely a professionally and culturally-obligated one at this point: “Yes, bacon.  We have bacon, ma’am.  Plenty of bacon if you wish.”  It was evident this was not their first exchange.

Ah, a simple miscommunication, I thought. Bacon. Bagel. Lost in translation. I got this. And so I went in to assist, uninvited.

The entire transaction, I’m happy to report, was cleared up inside a minute. I was their new best friend, uninvited as I was. Some direct eye contact, a few hand gestures, and a smiling face was all that was needed to dissipate the mounting stress and confusion. We soon got on with her order and, consequently, I got closer to that new Boston crème croissant—the reason, so I thought,  I stepped into Dunkin Donuts and between these two unintentional antagonists.

After my interpretive task was fulfilled I silently took sides with the DD employee. She continued to grouse at the fellow after he began preparing her bagelShe even complained about the four cents she had to claw around for.

“$4.04?! Where’d you get the four cents?!” she huffed.

She then jerked another dollar out of her purse and threw it on the counter in what could only be taken as a rude gesture. All that irascibility was not enough for her, though—she then grumbled about the spare change she would get back. There is an endearing way to be cranky, I thought, and you are certainly not nailing it.

He won the day when he gave back the dollar she threw on the counter: “My gift for you, ma’am. Don’t worry about the four cents.” His gesture made her grunt something under her breath and look away. His measured response was like burning coals upon her head. Killing her with kindness.  Well-played, sir!

When I finally got to sit down and savor the new Boston crème croissant within earshot of Crankiness-On-Wheels (who was still complaining, by the way, this time while eating her BA-GEL!), I glanced at the man behind the counter. I wondered why I didn’t idly stand in line and let them muddle through it all. I’m incurably curious about things, too many things, probably, so I tried to identify how and why I did something nice for these strangers.  Was it enlightened self-interest? I wanted that new Boston crème croissant and the boggled transaction was holding up the line. Do a good deed, wait less time for a yummy pastry.  Motivation rooted in sheer, visceral sustenance is understandable: Food, there.  Belly, here. Remove all barriers between.

Maybe I liked the idea of tackling an unexpected challenge, on the spot? Hey, look at this! I dabble in south-central Pennsylvania Dutchified English.  I’ve also chatted with that nice man. This’ll be fun. Game on! I do enjoy overcoming small, spur-of-the-moment challenges.

It was most likely an urge to be useful through fulfilling the needs of others. People seem to find satisfaction through identifying the needs of others and seeing their efforts help fulfill those needs, so they seek pleasure through fulfilling the needs of others. I am not trying to portray the act of facilitating a cheesy ham croissant to an irascible old crank and relieving a kind man of his professionally-obligated stress of delivering said cheesy ham croissant as some laudable act of charity. On the contrary.   It was not altruistic—it was a self-serving act of fulfilling a need to be useful.   I could not find altruism—an act of complete selflessness—anywhere in my the occurrence.

They needed something.  I needed some things.  I helped.  Everyone ended up (relatively) happy, so the deed was “good”.  It was all good.

Like that decadent Boston creme croissant.  Or a cheesy ham BA-GEL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes

Your favorite pancake mix (I like Aunt Jemima original) plus

> 12 teaspoon cinnamon

> 12 teaspoon ginger

> 12 teaspoon nutmeg

> 12 teaspoon salt

> 1 pinch clove

> 1 cup  low-fat milk

> 1 egg

> 6 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree

>1/8 cup water

>Maple syrup and whipped cream, of course

Mix dry ingredients, milk, egg, and water well.  While frying on medium-low heat, check fluffiness by inserting a toothpick into center of thickest part of pancake. When nothing sticks to the toothpick the batter is thoroughly cooked and fluffy.

Piling pancakes on top of each other and applying butter, syrup, and whipped cream to the top pancake only separates all the  flavors and puts the sweet and savory on the outside.  Don’t do that.  Layer all that deliciousness. Apply butter and syrup to each pancake. Repeat and make a stack. Put whipped cream on top pancake then drizzle syrup over cream.

Enjoy!

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Getting Out Of The Way Of Good Meatballs

In my mind, somewhere in that lofty realm of perfection we call, “ideas,” there were succulent lamb meatballs. Lebanese style. They were just waiting to exist, waiting to be. I could see them, taste them, smell them.

Meanwhile, way down here in this particular corner of reality known as our kitchen, there was a collection of grocery bags, spices, a square wooden spoon, a kitchen knife, a can opener, and a cast iron pot heating on a gas stove.

And there I was, in the middle, lodged between some Platonic ideal of lamb-y deliciousness and a counter top spattered with items, willy-nilly style.  I realized I had to keep an ideal in view while miring my hands in delicious details. I could make these meatballs happen—I could make them be. I had to try hard and do something! Or, more likely, some things.  Lots of things.

It is natural to conflate the concept of Try hard with Do more! Lebanese lamb meatballs? I should use a lot of spices, peruse several online recipes, and really labor over this meal. More equals better results, right?

Not every time. In spite of myself I did the minimum and limited my intervention in matters. I was careful to do not a jot more. Cinnamon, allspice, kosher salt, and pepper. No more spices! I arranged the meeting of a few ingredients that brought out the natural goodness of things. Fresh mint and parsley. Stop! I worked with it, not against it. Blend san marzano tomatoes for the braise. That’s all the acidity needed.

I got out of the way and good things happened—Lebanese lamb meatballs came to be.  It was good to try hard by doing less. With every bite I could taste what I did and, more importantly, what I did not do.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Braised Lebanese Lamb Meatballs (Oct. 2016)

Prep time: 15 minutes Braise time: 3 hours

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup chopped parsely
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomoatoes

Combine and mix lamb, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, mint, allspice, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Form into four to six large meatballs.

Heat pot (black iron if possible) to medium-high. Place meatballs in dry pot (no oil). Let fry until brown and caramelized. Roll the meatballs to new side and repeat until most of the meatballs have that nice brown, caramelized exterior.

Remove meatballs. Use spatula or square wooden spoon to scrape and loosen what is stuck to the pot. Put in wine. Let heat reduce the wine for about two minutes.

Put in chopped onion.

Reduce heat to lowest setting. Place meatballs in pot.

Blend san marzano tomatoes and pour over meatballs.

Cover pot. Adjust heat to get the braise to bubble up, just above no bubble and well below a simmer. Low and slow! You may have to check every few minutes at the beginning to ensure heat is not above a slow braise.

Approximately three hours, or until cooked to preference.

Serve over jasmine or basmati rice. Pour braise over dish to liking. Best served in wide mouth bowl.

Enjoy!

 

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Enlightened Self-Interest, Five-Year-Old Style

“Hey, Daddy. I think I figured out what to buy with my money,” Vivian quietly announced.

Gammy Jones recently sent Vivian $5, with instructions to buy whatever Vivian wishes. Making a consumer decision had been weighing heavily on this five-year-old mind.

“Oh? What did you decide?” I inquired.

“I would like to buy food for my family,” she said, softly.

Her response halted me, literally and figuratively. I looked down at her. I could see the tops of her long, dark eyelashes. She was gazing at the five dollars in her little hand. My heart swelling, I knelt to look eye-to-eye with this sweet child. Vivian frequently thinks of others and their welfare, more frequently than most adults, I’d guess, let alone children her age.

We looked at each other. I said nothing, smiling.  She continued: “I would like to buy broccoli, carrots, apples,…”

She paused, slowly swinging her gaze to the ceiling. She pondered, beginning to massage her little chin with the forefinger and thumb of her right hand.  This is getting good, I thought.  The $5 dangled in her other hand dangled toward the floor, in the opposite direction of her gaze.

“…annnnd,…”

Something fun or touching is about to occur, sprang to my mind.  I’ve been tangled up in these delicious little moments before.  I’ve also, probably and sadly, missed a few.  I have learned to keep my radar on full alert and, if the slightest BLEEP! ticked on the screen, drop whatever I’m doing,  pull up a chair, and prepare to enjoy the show.  Live in the moment?  You know it!

“…ummmm, annnnd, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, candy, and toys.”

And there it was.

After another pause her lazy upward gaze snapped into a sidewards stare at me, her face blank but her eyes ablaze. The hand that moments prior was pensively massaging her chin opened up and swung out wide, palm skyward. Did I make the sale? those beautiful, brilliant eyes inquired as they bore into Daddy’s delighted soul.

Daddy’s soul smiled wider, and so did his mouth.

What an adorable combination of thinly-veiled motives, sweetly-innocent economic ignorance, and an intellect that gets nimbler every day—all packaged in the enlightened self-interest of a sweet, intelligent child.

 

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Out Of Square

“I have bad news about your deck, Adam. It is not square to the house.”

This observation came from no casual observer. Brian is an experienced professional, and he was in our back yard preparing to install a paver patio. On paper his new patio and the existing deck attached to our house would meet up beautifully and geometrically.

On dirt, they did not.

His pavers were rectangular and square. The builder’s square he used to set the corners of patios was three feet long on each side. Clearly, the outward side of his patio that was going to meet up against the deck would extend from the house and into the yard at a clean and aesthetically-pleasing 90 degree angle. His patio was going to be just how it should be.

Also clearly, the existing deck did not extend into the yard at 90 degrees. It was not square, not at right angles. Not right, literally.

Brian said your deck, not the deck. Moments prior to his announcement I proudly informed him that I built our three-level deck with three sets of stairs. All by myself. Yep! I took full ownership of the deck’s existence. I did not say so much, but my face probably exuded a look of, Not bad for a guy who is not a real carpenter but occasionally plays one in real life, eh?

Well, as Brian’s professional eye noticed, it was bad.

What is it, by the way, about talking to a person good at their craft that encourages one to seek their approval, maybe impress them a bit? I’d like to think I was trying to make a connection with a person who would be working in our back yard for a few days, maybe learn something in the process. I don’t know.

(In my defense, it is a difficult task to not confuse our imagination with our memories. Add pride to the process and, like the deck in our yard, memories are likely to be out-of-square to reality.)

So there we stood. Brian, with his geometrically irrefutable truth, and I, with a cup of coffee and a freshly-fractured male ego, looking at the out of square deck. My deck. The choice was clear: conjure up and mumble a pathetic excuse or own up, learn something, and move on.

I went a third way. Weasel out of the moment with humor: “Yea, well, Pfft! Doesn’t surprise me. I know the carpenter.”

He smiled.

It would be nice if I always had Brian along, or someone or something, to keep everything I make, think, say, or do square and at right angles. Right, literally and figuratively—just how they should be.

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