Thursday, February 25, 2010

Little Penguins Love Fondue, Too!

The other night, I decided to make fondue for supper. I don’t make it often, but it is one of our favorites – it works for both the veggies and the carnivore in the family, it’s delicious, it’s fun, and it doesn’t require long, messy prep or cleanup. I had a block of good (substitute expensive, but luckily on sale) swiss cheese, a loaf of crusty French bread and some sirloin tips (for that unpredictable carnivore), so I was, as they say, good to go. There was only one problem. My bottle of Little Penguin white wine was empty, re-corked and in the fridge, but empty.

To be honest, Kathryn and I are not big drinkers of any sort. I could try to sound classy and say that we enjoy a nice glass of wine with a fine meal. But the truth is that Kathryn prefers her Diet Coke and I mostly go with coffee or water. So we really know nothing about wine – fruity bouquet with undertones of sarsaparilla, whatever. When I buy wine, it is usually for cooking, and I pick the wine with the cute animal names. Thus we often have Little Penguin or, more recently, when the Little Penguin rack was empty, I chose an equally inexpensive bottle with an equally pleasant name – Crazy Llama.

A few years ago, I traveled to Bend, Oregon, for my little brother’s wedding. The wedding was held a few days before one of Kathryn’s conferences, so I went alone and ended up leaving the reception at midnight, driving the three and a half hours back to Portland, and sleeping by the Southwest gate at the airport in order to get back in time to help with the final preparations. It was really important to me to be the first one in line and the first to board the plane. I’m not sure why, but it was. (And it still is – consider this fair warning for any of you who might have the opportunity to travel with me in the future.) But back to the story. My brother’s friends had planned a wine reception for them, and each guest was asked to bring a bottle. I went into downtown Bend with a few of my soon-to-be sister-in law’s friends to visit the local wine shop. They all knew Mike and Debbie well and knew what (brand? flavor?) kind of wine they liked. I asked the wine store guy to recommend something, and he said that if people were not wine connoisseurs, he usually suggested that they pick a bottle with a label they liked. So that is what I did.

I looked at bottles with mountain vistas, trees, barrels, castles, and all sorts of pretty pictures, searching for the one that spoke to me. I was almost at the end of the final rack when I spied it – I don’t remember any of the words, but the picture on the bottle was a bear in a hat. Now, any of you who read my previous entry, Lessons from a Bear, know that I have a thing for bears in hats. I remember grinning happily as I took it from the rack and carried it to the register.

All of the others in my group had made their purchases and were waiting by the door. But I was finally ready. The clerk nodded and said, “Good choice.” I smiled. A little bear would never steer me wrong. I got out my wallet. The clerk smiled back and said, “That will be $179.99, please.” I gulped. I was thinking that it would cost, maybe, $30.00. I glanced over at the group by the door. I’m sure they weren’t, but I was sure then that they were all watching me. I know that I should have grinned sheepishly and asked him to point put something a little more in my price range. But I didn’t. I handed him my credit card and carried the bottle out with me. I did make a really fancy tag for it before that $179 bottle of wine joined a few dozen others in a wicker laundry basket on the deck. I never did ask my brother if they’d enjoyed the wine. I hope that they did, but even if they didn’t, I did learn some valuable lessons.

By now, you probably are wondering what this has to do with trust or fondue. With trust, not much. Maybe I should have trusted my instincts and asked for another bottle of wine. Or maybe not. This is what I wanted to write about today, and so I am. With fondue, a little. On that night, when the bottle of white was empty, I used the next best thing: Little Penguin Red. We had a wonderful supper of purple fondue, and we all lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pokes and Jabs and Crushes...Oh My!

One of my first real jobs, when I was in my late twenties, was at a Rape Crisis Center in Portland, Maine. I had had other jobs before, but this was really the first one in which I didn’t live in a tent, wear pink polka-dotted rubber boots on days that it rained, or regularly eat mid afternoon snacks of peanut butter and saltines. I was a real grown up. I carried a briefcase and a beeper. And I spent my days counseling survivors of sexual assault. I liked my job a lot, and I was very good at it.

On the second Saturday of each month, we offered a self defense class for women, run by a local martial arts expert and attended by high school, and college students, mothers, professional women, senior citizens, and many who were some combination of these groupings. They learned the eye jab, the bridge of the nose whack, and, my personal favorite, the ball crush. I attended many of these workshops, because every other month, it was my job to check people in and provide a healthy and nutritious lunch. I practiced diligently and became rather skilled and confident about my ability to foil a potential attacker and, potentially, inflict some damage myself. I was much younger and spryer in those days, and, even if the potential damage infliction went against my pacifist leanings, I felt like I was ready for anything.

I remember coming out of the sessions feeling strong in mind and body. I would scan the parking lot for danger. I would walk briskly, with my head held high, aware of my surroundings, just like the instructor instructed us. I had practiced my attention-grabbing yells, and I was pretty sure I could bellow with the best of them should the need arise. I was confident that I could poke, jab, and crush my way to safety. In short, I was the ideal student. In all ways except one.

There was one phrase which the instructor, first, and the class, in response, recited many times throughout the class. It was, “I trust my instincts.” I could say it, in a loud, assertive voice, often accompanied by a poke- jab-crush. Intellectually, I knew how important it was to listen to what my instincts were trying to tell me, more important than the whacks and bellows. I could say it. I could understand it. But I was not sure that I could do it.

These days, I do not often find myself in situations that I would call dangerous. But I have learned to rely on my instincts, to listen to that little voice that tells me that something is not right, and to trust what it is telling me. I am no longer fending off rapists, even in my imagination. I am warm and safe, with good food and good coffee, with cats and a life filled with meaning and people who love me. But I have not forgotten my little voice. I check in with it every so often and listen to what it tells me. Just like, every once on a while, I finish my workout session with a few practice pokes, jabs, and crushes. And it still feels really good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pay No Attention to That Girl Behind the Curtain

A popular television personality has a nugget of wisdom which I have taken to heart. “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.” This is definitely true. I am sure that as you read this, many of you are nodding your heads, remembering times when you got caught in a lie because your memory was less than perfect.

Luckily for me, I have a pretty darn good memory. I am especially good at computer concentration-type games, in which you score points by finding matches within a grid. I also tend to remember minute details of situations – the song that was playing on the radio while I was waiting for an important business meeting to begin, and what I was wearing the time, in the fifth grade, when I lied to my teacher, Mrs. G. I actually don’t remember the details leading up to the incident, but here is what I know. I got caught hiding behind the drapes in the classroom of another fifth grade teacher, Mr. B, so that I and two kids from my class that I really didn’t even know very well, wouldn’t have to go out to the playground for recess. My mother had just bought me new sneakers – white with blue stripes, and I was wearing purple toughskins jeans from Sears and a pink sweater. I remember wondering if anyone would be able to see my shoes beneath the curtains. I remember holding my breath as Mrs. G stormed into Mr. B’s classroom. I even remember my shame as she yelled, and the hotness of my face, and my worry that she would call my mother. And I remember the complicated story I told as I tried to explain away my disobedience, the feel of the brick wall pressing against my back as I, a few minutes later, pressed against the side of the gym and tried not to cry as my classmates ran and threw and jumped all around me. What I don’t remember, though, is why I didn’t want to go out to play. I liked recess. The playground was bordered by some woods, and I liked to collect acorns and pretty stones and watch the squirrels. Sometimes, I was even picked for a kickball team, especially if it was cold and flu season and some of the really good kickers were absent.

I don’t know why I chose that day to disobey my teacher. I don’t know why I hid behind the curtains in the classroom across the hall. I don’t know why I thought I might get away with it. And, when I was caught, I don’t know why I chose to lie. But I did. Luckily, I was usually a very compliant, obedient, polite child, and maybe Mrs. G saw my embarrassment and remorse. I don’t remember if I was punished. I don’t remember being sent to the principal or having to write 1000 times, “I will not hide behind the curtains in Mr. B’s classroom when I am supposed to be going out to the playground and then lie about it when I get caught.” I don’t remember, even, if the school sent a note to my mother. But what I do remember, even to this day, more than 30 years later, disappointing someone I liked and respected and who I desperately wanted both to like me and to think that I was a good girl, the feeling of disappointing them, and in turn, disappointing myself.

I would like to say that, from that experience, I learned my lesson and never told another lie. Trust me, I could tell you that, but it would not be true. What would be true, however, is that the next time I chose to lie, I remembered hearing Mrs. G’s footsteps as she strode across the room and the look on her face as she pulled back the curtains and saw me huddled there. I remember vowing to myself, afterward, that I would never tell another lie; that, whatever I would gain from lying wasn’t worth the bad feelings it caused; that only bad kids lied, and I was a good kid, really I was. Those are the things I thought about the next time I found myself avoiding the truth. And I hope that every once in a while, when I am tempted to lie, the memory of that fifth grade lie and its consequences will make me stop and think, take a deep breath, and tell the truth, no matter how hard it feels to be honest. Trust me, I never want to feel that way again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How I Learned to Trust

It was bedtime, one of my favorite times of the day, time to settle into a soft, warm bed under soft warm blankets, with my head on a soft, warm pillow. It was time to relax, to unwind, to review the ups and downs of my day and think about all of the possibilities that tomorrow might offer. I thought about the day that had just passed, the people I had talked with, the things I had done and not done, the exciting and the more mundane. As the pictures flashed through my memory, it felt almost like I was watching a rerun of a 1970’s sitcom with me in the starring role, a sitcom in which everything turned out happy in the end, with laughter and hugs, and, too often, earnest conversations about lessons learned by a one-dimensional character who somehow got herself into, and miraculously, out of a series of hysterically precarious predicaments.

My life is usually not like a sitcom. I usually don’t figure everything out in a single episode. There is usually not a laugh track or a producer to make sure that everything turns out happily. But that was okay with me. I have learned to trust that life will have its ups and downs, its unexpected twists in the road, those things that, as popular wisdom confirms, will make us stronger if they don’t kill us. And I have learned to trust that everything will, eventually, be okay.

I am sure that we have all experienced those things, those curve balls that disrupt the normal and predictable patterns of our lives. They are situations that have no clear cut answers, conflicts in which, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, someone will be hurt. They are the times when I wish that Mike Brady would have that earnest conversation with me to help me figure out which fork in the road to follow. But real life does not come neatly wrapped up in a twenty-two minute package with a guaranteed happy ending. That would be nice, sometimes, and occasionally, problems do seem to fix themselves, just like on TV.

But I actually prefer the unpredictability of a real life lived by a real person with real problems and real feelings and real relationships. I prefer a life where people are not perfect, a life where many of us spend a good portion of our days just living life and coping with both the predictable and the unexpected.

Sometimes and hopefully more often than not, life is fantastically exciting. We make a new friend, learn something new, or discover an awesome new blog about trust. At other times, things are lousy. But most of the time, life is just plain good. Not great, not terrible, just good. And to me, that is not a bad way to live my life. What do you think?

That is what I think about as I settle into bed each night. Most often, I feel satisfied and sleepy. I think about the day that I have just lived and am filed with anticipation for tomorrow. I hope that tomorrow will be a day of curiosity and smiles. I hope that there will be sleeping cats, an email from a friend, and sushi. I fall asleep, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, but secure in myself and my commitment to find the best in every person and every situation I encounter, secure in the love and support of my family and friends, secure even in uncertainty and occasional fear, that life is good.

That is how I learned to trust.