Thursday, June 27, 2013

Running Away Step 3: Eating Alone

Eureka has fantastic eating establishments, and not just because of the good food.

The ambiance people, it's awe inspiring.

It makes you eat a little slower and lounge a little more.

Eating by myself was perhaps the strangest part of vacationing alone.

I had my first meal in the ballroom of the Crescent. It was so quiet, and people spoke so softly. I sat by myself in a corner, beneath a window covered completely in ivy, listening to ice in glasses and the distant hum of big band music. I imagined the wood paneled room full of dancing. I imagined it abuzz with talking, giggling girls (the Crescent housed a girls school for many years). I mean, come on, I don't mean to beat a dead Harry Potter horse, but just look at that first picture. Us Americans won't get much closer to Hogwarts.

I ate my last dinner at Rogue's Manor, and spent most of the evening trying not to choke because I was so busy looking up at the tin tile ceiling. I spent two hours there, eating, reading my book, sipping drinks. The wait staff didn't hover, they just let me be. I didn't say more than ten words, and I realized I really enjoy eating solo.

On my last day I gassed up the car and checked out of the Crescent. I stopped downtown at Mud St. Cafe for a quick breakfast before hitting the road. I ordered a mushroom omelet with cheese grits right before a large family filed in and sat at the gigantic table next to me.

The parents were in their 60's, and had grown kids in tow. One of them had a small baby. One of the adult "kids" was seated closest to me, a 20-something girl with pale skin and hands that waved when she talked. She was telling her mother something, when all of a sudden the entire table turned on her and said, "SHHHHH."

In unison.

All eight of them.

At first I thought it was a joke.

"What?!" she asked.

Her dad leaned over and hissed, "Be quiet, you're practically shouting."

Gals, I kid you not. She was talking at a completely normal decibel level.

"No, I'm not shouting!" she insisted, still speaking at a completely normal level.

One of her sisters rolled her eyes, "Shhhh! You are so loud, and you can't even hear yourself."

The irony? The baby was screaming the entire time.

It got rougher when her mother said, "Elaine, go get me some coffee."

Elaine dutifully got up and made her way to the coffee bar before two or three other people called out, "Get me some too."

"Yes," her mom said, "Get enough for everyone."

"Ya'll, I only have two hands," she muttered, her shoulders slumped. I felt heart sorry for Elaine.

"You can make more than one trip," the eye- rolling sister barked before turning to the man next to her, "She has always been so lazy. Remember how she wouldn't do the dishes in high school?"

I realize this happens from time to time in every family. Everyone takes a turn as punching bag at some particular juncture. It's not ideal, but it's still sort of our pack nature. Someone gets harped on for their hair, or clothes. Someone else gets ribbed about their job, or past breakup, or the way they threw fits as a child.

The bad thing is, families have memories like elephants, and it can be unfortunate, because no one wants to talk about their bad elementary school grades, or major, or high school boyfriend when they're grown. But, it happens. Sometimes families pick.

But this family. Wowza. I've never seen anything quite like it. Bless Elaine's heart. Maybe she was a loud talker when she was in kindergarten. Maybe she was kind of lazy in high school (although my bet would be she was just hiding from all of them). But darned if she would ever live it down in that family.

If poop truly does slide downhill, she was at the bottom with a catcher's mitt.

I realized several things.

1. I'm going to do my best to make sure I've allowed my sisters to grow up in my mind. I think I do alright in that arena (mostly because they're mouthy broads and would probably tell me quickly where to get off). But there's just this tendency in families (especially among parents and older siblings) to forever freeze someone at an age, or a stage, and always mention it, and forget that they're grown and over it. It's just unfair. And annoying. I'm going to try to do better.

2. I'm going to dine alone more often. You miss so much, always talking and listening and laughing and being with other people. Sometimes its good to eat food bite by bite, without hurrying or gulping. Sometimes it's good to take in your surroundings, relax and just observe for a little while.

Observations are good, especially when you see a family like Elaine's.

May God bless that girl with a solo vacation of her own.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Running Away Step 2: Doing What You Want, Taking Stock.

One of the things I've always wanted to do when I went to Eureka was bum around St. Elizabeth's. It's right below the Crescent Hotel, and you can hear her bells at all times of day. She's built onto a ledge on the side of the mountain, and her gardens are full of beautiful plants, benches, and gorgeous marble saints.

The problem with this wish is it never jived with my traveling partners in the past.

But this time I had all the time in the world. I got my nails done and then traipsed out of the hotel, down the stairs and onto the church grounds. The freedom was intoxicating. The mountain air was hot, but not as humid and muggy as I expected. The gardens were quiet, nothing but blooming things and bees. I went inside. No parishioners. No priest. No one. Just me, doing the thing I always wanted to do.

I sat on a bench in the back, just so happy to be there, so thankful to have time to myself. I pondered how much easier it might be on Sunday mornings to get into the right frame of mind if we Protestants worshipped in such a beautiful place. It was silent, and the candles flickered, and the pink light shone through the stained glass, and I was happy. Very happy.

When I was little we vacationed in Eureka often, even if it was just for a day trip. I always loved St. Elizabeth's. It was my first clue that my name was, well, more than just my name. There's argument over the meaning, some say it means "God's Promise" and others say it means "Devoted to God."  It's also one of the most popular  names used for baby girls since the 16th century.

I don't say all that to be all gloaty and "my name is the best name na-na-na-na." I just always felt, from a young age, that that was my church on the side of the mountain. Hilarious isn't it? A Church of Christ kid taking ownership over a Catholic church? Hang on with me people. Don't stroke out.

So I sat on that bench (which is my one complaint, those benches were like the Spanish Inquisition to my buttocks) and stayed for a while. I decided to go back and sit through mass, something I'd never done before. I thought about God. I thought about my name. I thought about all my doubts. I thought about all my blessings. I thought about the last two years and what kickers they've been. I thought about my frizzy haired daughter, who I missed very much, who just last week looked at me and said, "Mommy, be quiet." I suppose you could say, I took a little stock of my life.

That's what running away by yourself can do. You get to do what you want, and take a little stock. I was able to sit in that quiet church and realize some things I'd been too busy to notice. I thought about all the women over all the centuries who sat on a bench just like mine, in a church, quiet and away from their families, who took stock of their lives.

It's good to do what you want, every now and then. It's good to take stock

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Running Away Step One: Location, Location, Location

Here's my opinion about running away.

Location is key.

A lot of people think that to truly have a vacation, to truly escape, you have to go far and spend much and use a passport.

That's a bunch of hooey.

Here's my criteria for a vacation.

Am I picking gum out of a small child's hair? No? Boom. Vacation.
Am I rewashing mildewed laundry? No? Boom. Vacation.
Am I worrying that the air conditioner isn't cooling below 75? No? Boom. Vacation.
Am I sleeping at least six straight hours? YES! Boom. Vacation.

Every state, every town, has somewhere fabulous to go within a three hour drive. You don't have to buy a plane ticket. You just need a tank of gas and a spouse to wish good luck as you walk out the door, leaving that underachieving air conditioner behind.

My go-to place is Eureka Springs. It's a Victorian era town built into the side of a mountain. The Crescent Hotel sits at the very top, overlooking the town and surrounding mountains. That's where I stayed. I ate breakfast in the old ballroom, with its dark walnut paneled walls and crystal chandeliers. I watched weddings on the lawn. I sat at the rooftop bar while the sun went down. I got my nails done in the basement spa , which used to be a morgue during the building's brief stint as a cancer hospital (cause you guys know I'm not truly having fun unless there's a creepy crawly factor at play).

It's spooky. It's beautiful. I was able to walk into town without my car. I strolled the grounds amid flowers and trees and twinkle lights in the evening. And then I returned to my room just in time to catch a group of ghost hunters pointing meters at my door while saying, "There's a lot of energy here."

At that particular juncture I'd walked no less than 400 miles on the hilly mountain streets and my hamstrings were coding. I wouldn't have cared if the ghost of Elvis was haunting my room. I'd have said "move over and be quiet" before falling asleep in his face.

So, in summation, don't feel like you have to do something huge and expensive in order to get away. Look at your state's website and pick a place. A lodge. A spa. A town chock full of antique stores. There is always somewhere interesting within driving distance. And don't forget, there's always your local Holiday Inn with its pool, perfectly working air conditioners, and non-mildewed towels.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Running Away From Home. The Solo Edition.

Confession: I ran away from home. Just three hours north, but I still did it. I ran away. I didn't throw a fit, or flourish my skirts on the way out of the room while screaming, "I'm leaving and I may never come back" before slamming the door. It wasn't nearly that dramatic. I just was, as we say here in the south, "full up."

 It's been a difficult month, so when I got in my car and headed out of the city leaving Matt and Jane behind, I felt really indulgent and really guilty.

The guilt went away as soon as I stopped at my first roadside antique mall.

Vacationing alone is new to me. When I was a child there was always a wagon load of us in the suburban. We fought, and herded, and hiked, and inevitably Rachel got her nose out of joint because a waitress put cheese on her burger so she'd grumble, scowling and scraping the cheese off with her fingernails. Looking back I tip my hat to my parents for vacationing with all of three kids. I would have ditched us somewhere.

Then I went to college, where I never went anywhere without a friend. Not even the cafeteria. I had a phobia. Most of us did. To be seen alone, eating, reading a book signaled "don't date me." Or at least that's what we thought.

Then I got married. My trips with Matt are always filled with lots of good food and drink and strolling. It's fun. It's fun until I start making him stop the car to go into roadside antique malls. This violates his "rocket ship" travel principle, in that the car is a rocket ship traveling with fire behind it, never to stop unless I'm about to wet my pants. He's not above using an empty soda cup.

So I went to my favorite place in the whole wide world. And I've discovered that I love vacationing alone.

I walked idly, taking pictures of Victorian houses.

I ate breakfast in a ball room.

I got ice cream for lunch.

I went to a spa where everything smelled like mint.

I slept in.

I chatted with a shop owner who showed me the spring underneath his house. It was cool and musty, and there were candles. It was a total Harry Potter dork-out moment for me. Normally in such an environment I'd be a little freaked out, worrying that the owner might lock me down there and keep me as a pet. But there were other customers and the owner seemed nice. Plus, I'm a scrappy fighter.

Then I thought to myself, "I think I'll go back to the hotel and take a nap until it cools down this evening."

I took a nap. An actual, honest to goodness nap. No dog sniffing my face, intensely trying to communicate she needs to pee. No toddler wailing in her bedroom. No delivery guy ringing the doorbell. I woke up in time for dinner.

I clipped my toenails and watched cable.

I visited a Catholic mass in a tiny 150 year old church named after St. Elizabeth. I kept whispering, "My name is Elizabeth" to people and got looks that clearly said, "Big deal, half the world is named Elizabeth." Oh how I love all the saint statues and candles. I grew up in the Church of Christ and the most interesting things you'd find in our sanctuary was a board at the front with attendance numbers, and a block of pamphlets in the back with titles like, "How can I be sure I'm going to heaven?"

(I'm not bashing the Church of Christ, they're sweet committed people, but I do think a few less pamphlets and a little more ambiance wouldn't kill them. Same goes for the Baptists and their industrial carpet.)

I ate dinner alone in a restaurant with tin tiled ceilings and dark leather chairs and Tiffany lights.

I read a book.

I took another walk and counted pink gingerbread houses. There were four.

I sat on my own balcony, watched the sun go down, and wrote 20 pages of a new story.

In summary, as I sat on a giant king sized bed just for me, working on blog posts and a new book idea, watching the sun go down through the french doors in my room, WHILE the church bells at St. Elizabeth's rang goodnight... I realized that running away was long over due.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Expectations Are Resentments Waiting To Happen

My friend Cathy Shaneyfelt once told me something that totally rerouted my brain processes. I was eating chili at a girls potluck, gabbing with everyone, talking about Halloween costumes, and then Cathy said:

"Expectations are resentments waiting to happen."

I don't remember what we were talking about specifically, but I do remember nearly choking on my chili. At the time I had boatloads of expectations, and life was not a sunny place. I wrestled with this concept for a while, because in my mind I kept thinking, "But what's life without dreams and expectations?"

I've come to believe there's a great gap between dreams and expectations. They are not the same thing. To dream is to enjoy, to fantasize, to hope for the best and proceed in doing your best to make it happen, somewhere, somehow. Expectations are different than dreams. Expectations are rigid. Expectations are passive. They sit and wait and expect that fairy dust will sprinkle itself over things and poof... "it" will happen in exactly the way we preordained it in our minds.

Dreams are elastic and changing and magic.

Expectations are rigid, rule-based, and ultimately, potentially, devastatingly, disappointing.

I'd like to think of my life as a good combination of dreams and effort. I dream of things, and then hopefully I put pen to paper, or feet to ground, or sweat to brow and do my best to create an environment where those dreams can happen.

But expectations, those suckers can make me very unhappy.

I remembered Cathy's advice last night. I was stomping around, trying to clean the kitchen and get a load of laundry done before bed. Jane had cried on and off every 30 minutes since going to sleep. Matt and I weren't in the best of moods at each other, and on top of everything he got called back into work. I've been sick on and off for over a month. We'd had yet another weekend filled with illness and bad moods and a serious lack of fun. And boy was I EVER in a raunchy mental state.

I turned on some music, lit some candles on the window sill over the sink, and proceeded to wash the dishes by hand. I chewed on my bad mood like an old piece of gum until I realized the expectation virus had struck yet again.

I expect to be healthy.

I expect to have fun on the weekends.

I expect a clean house.

I expect a husband and child who are always happy.

I expect...


Anyone else smell that?

That's what I like to call the scent of a burning martyr.

So I stood there, watching the candles flicker and listening to the static of Jane's baby monitor, and I thought about the difference between my dreams and my expectations. My expectations make me frustrated and passive. And yes, they make me a martyr. My dreams on the other hand, those fill me with excitement and hope.

I believe that the way we think, the way our minds work and dwell, has great impact for our lives. I believe it impacts our relationships, our jobs, and yes, our dreams. Just the simple act of thinking creates the worlds we end up living in. And I believe when expectations rule our thinking, it is a poison in our lives. I'm convinced of it. It is a slow burning, martyr making, dream killing, poison.

I finished washing the dishes and said a quick prayer. I asked God to heal my mind. That's a biggie isn't it? Seems a big melodramatic? Maybe. But ever since I experienced depression in my life, having a healed mind is much more important than I ever could have imagined. Once you know what it's like to have the cheese slide off your cracker, you realize how critical a calm, peaceful, God-filled mind is. You realize how much our minds impact our realities. You realize that having a mind choked with expectations can be the kiss of death to peace, and happiness, and dreams.

So today is a fresh start. Today is a day I begin without expectations. Dreams, yes. Expectations, no. It's alright if our weekends are chaotic and filled with whining and runny noses and hurt feelings. It's alright if no one is happy at the moment. It's alright if the house is filthy and Jane doesn't have anything clean to wear to daycare on a Monday morning. It's really and truly alright if these expectations go flying out the window.

When I was battling postpartum I realized that this train, my life, is driving itself. The trains we all ride on are driving themselves. We don't wear the striped conductor's hat. We don't sit behind the wheel.

We're just riding.

We ride on trains that are driving themselves every day, our entire lives. We only delude ourselves that it's all somehow in our hands; the speed, the tracks, the destination. We delude ourselves that our meager little expectations will have any impact on the train what-so-ever. The only thing we control is ourselves. We rumble around inside these trains, doing our best, dreaming our dreams, praying to God... and if we're wise... expecting nothing.

Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

Thank you, Cathy Shaneyfelt, for sharing this with me.

It has meant more than I can ever say.

"The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish."
Proverbs 10:28

Monday, June 17, 2013

Vanilla is My Favorite

So, this is our kitchen. In my dreams it has retro tile-work. And vintage bar stools.

But other than that, I like it.

I also love that it has white appliances.

It's clean. And vanilla. But that's OK. Vanilla is my favorite.

Something strange has happened to me since we moved into our new house.

I've stopped decorating as much.


Somehow I'm not in as much of a pinch as I used to be.

Somehow, I'm not as concerned with everything being "pulled together."

Somehow... a miracle has occurred.

Granted, this means less blog material.

Speaking of vintage bar stools... anyone know where I could find some?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

You Will Wear a Lot of Hats

I work at a university. Have I ever mentioned that here?

Throughout the course of a year I hear so many students talk about what they will "be" in life.

"I'm going to be a doctor."

"I'm going to be a business owner."

"I'm going to be an accountant."

"I'm going to be an actor."

After all, they are here for those things. They're here to figure out how they will make money and support themselves throughout their adult lives (although lots of us end up doing something very far from the tree of our college major).

But as I watch them discuss these things with such assurance, as they put these dreams into words and send them out into the world, I want to give them all a hug. I think making statements such as (and this is the one closest to home for me) "I'm going to be a writer" can set you up for some seriously skewed expectations.

Because the truth is, you'll will never "be" just one thing. What you major in, what you do for an income, isn't necessarily what defines you. And yet, we're sort of programmed to think that way, aren't we? We're programmed to think, "If I'm not earning my living doing what I love, then I've failed."

Last year I had an opportunity to talk to some students  in a class setting, and I told them this:

"You will wear a lot of hats."

I see more and more the message of "do you what you love" being blasted into our ears. Yes, earning a living doing what you love is the pinnacle of career/mental well being. But, as my grandmother would say, "Who's going to clean the toilets?"

The truth is, there are a lot of very happy janitors out there. There are a lot of happy psychologists, bus drivers, accountants and cable installers. They are multi-faceted people who work hard, earn a living, and go home to a whole new set of hats. Maybe they're artists. Or part time photographers. They're mothers. They're fathers. They're church VBS committee members.

I work as a Program Manager. That's a very fancy way of saying Office-Manager-Coffee-Getter-Budget-Ballancer-Travel-Event-Planner-All-Around-Supreme-Gopher.  This was not my plan. I planned to be writer. But I've come to realize these are two different hats, two very good hats, and I get to wear them both. Thank goodness life isn't an either-or scenario.

You are not a failure if you clean toilets. You are not a failure if you don't become a self-sufficient artist.

In this life you will wear many, many of wonderful hats.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
-Colossians 3:23-24