Love and Wine and Difficult Times

Love born of complete necessity and vulnerability, either your own or someone else’s, is rich and full and robust. If it sounds like I’m describing a really good wine, that might be because in some ways they are quite similar. It is the squishing of the grapes that creates the juice. It is the age worn barrels that enhance the flavor. It is the patience required by time that helps it mature. So it is with love. It is the difficult moments when we feel squished to our limits that new fodder for appreciation and respect and care – the building blocks of love – are born. It is through the wear and tear of stressful times that love develops and learns how to survive outside of the realm of romance. And it is definitely through patience and endurance that love gains it maturity and grows to new depths.

Making Wine Island Capri Bay Naples Grape Gathering Men - Part Page From The Illustrated London News. C1842-1900.

One of my most poignant experiences of this truth occurred after the birth of our first son. I had a difficult and complicated 22-hour labor that turned into an emergency C-section. Giving birth, under normal circumstances, is a harrowing experience, but under these circumstances was nearly unbearable. During the two hours in which I tried to push out my fully crowned baby, I burst many of the blood vessels in my face and most of them in my eyes, leaving very little white visible. When I expressed later to my husband that I was pretty sure I got hemorrhoids in the whole ordeal, he simply said, “I know.” There was a whole collection of people that saw all my business and experienced me at my most wretched and most vulnerable. And to finish it all off, I had major abdominal surgery that made it extremely difficult to move, much less accomplish the basic necessities of myself or my new-born baby. I could not use the bathroom by myself or dress myself. I could not bathe unassisted. I couldn’t lift our new baby or even walk without trying to hold my own abdomen together. I felt like I had lost all dignity, beauty, and respectability. But this was a time that my husband looked at me with AWE. He was so tender and attentive and amazed at what I had been through and accomplished in order to bring our new family into being. Rather than losing respectability, his respect for me multiplied in those days, as did mine for him. The love we had for each other in that time, born of my need and his care, was immense and unmatched. I am both terrified and excited to experience it again in a few months.

Just moments after he was born.

More recently, and somewhat less potently, we experienced another example of this type of love birthed from vulnerability. This past weekend (and on into the week) my whole family caught a terrible stomach bug that had all of us, but perhaps most pathetically my sweet little boy, in need of some extra TLC. Although this is not the first time that this has occurred, it is obviously freshest in my memory. And it is truly amazing how much you can push yourself to manage when your loved ones need you. Being five months pregnant, running on very little sleep at the tail end of the holidays, and suffering from the same bug myself, I found, somewhere deep within me, the ability to continue to get up and care for my baby who could not care for himself. And because of that care, even though he is better now, he has been positively glued to my side in a bittersweet appreciation. I cannot even tell you how many times today he hugged my legs and said, “You are a beautiful mama!” “I love you, Mama!” He feels that same gratitude and respect that we as adults feel in these circumstances and this is how he expresses it. It makes the dire reality of the week we’ve just experienced seem a little less terrible. If only it were easier to see the beauty while still in the struggle. Perhaps the more we remind ourselves of these truths the more we will begin to see them as they are happening, through the pain . . . savoring the harsh tannins as part of the flavor that makes the wine great!

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Wake Up Singing

I am continually amazed by the resilience of children. No matter what ails them, or what’s got them down, they are consistently a shining example of silver linings. My son and I have been sick with the same crud for over a week now and yet every morning, with what little voice he has after coughing much of the night, he wakes up singing. How can I not go to him smiling when I hear that? And this evening, after yet another movie that we watched together in bed (since that’s about all the play Mama can handle right now), he caressed my face and said, “I love you the whole, whole world, Mama,” wrapped his little arms around my neck and held me in that embrace for several minutes before he asked, “I helping you feel better, Mama?” Such a huge little heart! After melting mine with such soft sweetness, he got to have pancakes in my lap for supper followed by a long, hot bubble bath.

No matter how bad Aiden feels, although he may be somewhat more whinny than usual, he dredges up all of his happiness reserves and smiles and plays and brings light to any bad mood. Why are we, as adults, not more like this?  We get the slightest achy cold and we grump and whine and want to stay under the covers till we feel better. I find myself thinking, as I watch him, that maybe we would feel better if we made a bit more of an effort to feel better. If we saw every bad feeling as an opportunity for a silver lining.  If we stepped outside of ourselves, even when we’re down, and sought to encourage others, perhaps we would find ourselves encouraged.

You Are What You Eat

I have discovered, as of late, that what you put into your body has a profound affect on how well it operates. Just like a car is bound to experience mechanical problems if it is only run on the cheapest gas and old, gluey oil.

If we could see the effects of what we ate as clearly as these little guys, we'd probably be a lot more careful about what we put in our mouths!

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with very high cholesterol. I was only 28 years old and weighed 136 pounds – not exactly a likely candidate for such a problem. And none of my immediate family struggled with it either, making the excuse of “I can’t help it, it’s just in my genes” not altogether legitimate. Although genetics may have played a role, I had to look myself square in the face and acknowledge that I was part of the problem. I was all too often resorting to what was cheap and easy and emotionally satisfying rather than what was healthy and best for my body and life. I began to see a nutritionist at our local heart clinic and get my blood work done every few months to check on progress. And, let me tell you, it was remarkable. Here’s a snapshot of the numbers:

This last date is slightly higher on some of the numbers because I'm pregnant, which can raise cholesterol for women.

Once I started seeing significant results and sharing my success with others, people were constantly asking me if it was terribly difficult to change my diet and “deprive” myself of things that we as Americans deem to be innate rights, like fast food, and pre-made frozen meals, and FRIED everything. The truth is, it wasn’t! There is very little that I actually cut out of my diet and SO many ways to make substitutions. Like ground turkey instead of beef, olive oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, heart-smart margarine instead of butter, egg beaters instead of eggs, 1% or fat-free cheeses, skim milk, canola mayo, high fiber cereals, muffins, pancakes, pastas and breads, and lots more vegetables and fruit. And, of course, less of everything to drink except water. All the things I used to cook and love, I can still cook with some modifications and we can barely, if at all, notice a difference. Everything is fresher, lighter. And if I need something quick and easy on the go, I get a sub from subway or a salad (without heavy dressing). And the best part – because this is a lifestyle change and not a diet – it’s OK to cheat every now and then. The important thing is to generally reform our habits. Learn to pay attention at the grocery store. Care about what we put in our body and not just satisfy our cravings. I still have a ways to go, but I thought I would share my success so far as an inspiration to others that making healthy choices can make a tangible difference even in a short amount of time.

I’d love to hear some of your healthy eating tips and ideas. What are some of your best kitchen secrets?

Overcoming Fear

Lately I have been contemplating fear. Not as an entity in and of itself, but rather as an opportunity to overcome. There is no bravery without first encountering fear. If there is nothing to overcome, than we have not conquered, we have merely attained. And the level of satisfaction gained from conquering an obstacle against all odds and overcoming our fear of failure is far greater than living with a”better safe than sorry” mentality that lets our fear get the better of us and, in the face of failure or foe, backs down and waits for something more easily attainable to present itself. This choice is ever-present in our daily lives, from the smallest difficulties to the biggest decisions.

My son faces this decision to conquer or retreat multiple times a day as he attempts to overcome his fear of the dark. Sometimes fear gets the better of him . . . sometimes he of it. And his reaction, in the end, is remarkably more exuberant when he succeeds. If he discovers there is something he really wants in his room, but he has to go down the dark hallway to get it, he can either overcome his fear and at least make it to the light switch or he can beg me to come with him all the way down the hall. If he manages to do it himself, get the prize he was after, and make it back to me in one piece, he will inevitably squeal, “Mommy, I did it all myself!” and the object he went to get will hold his attention far longer than if I had gone with him to get it. It’s value was increased by the method in which it was attained. What a simple little picture of the decisions we as adults face on a regular basis.

In discussing with my husband whether or not we should try to have another child, we found many reasons to be afraid. What if we can’t afford it? What if something goes wrong and the baby is not healthy? We have been so lucky with Aiden and our experiences with him have been a remarkable journey of parenting. What if the next one is not the same? What if we can’t love him/her as much? What if our life is too unsettled? We are, after all, trying to sell the house and the car, and are constantly considering career paths . . . and so on. But no time is ever perfect. Life is never settled or ideal. And the benefits can be so wonderful. For Aiden, for us as a family and as parents. Do we let fear make that decision for us or do we overcome our fear of the unknown for the growth and betterment of our family? We chose to overcome, come what may.

We were also faced with a choice this week of whether or not to make an offer on a new house, contingent on the sale of ours. The whole scenario will only work well if we dramatically reduce the price of our house to one that is more comparable with those of our neighborhood so that we can sell it quickly before the house we want sells out from under us. However, if we reduce the price of ours, we can’t reasonable raise it again. So we will be stuck in that price range, and only able to afford houses that are somewhat less than our ideal should this offer fall through. It is a gamble. But do we fold before the flop, and pass on this house that is a great opportunity at a great price because we are afraid we might lose it? Or do we try our best and let the chips fall where they may? We stayed in the game.

If we can approach life mindful of our fears, but not ruled by them, constantly seeking ways to overcome and grow stronger, then we will live a life with few regrets, knowing we tried and that is the best we can do.