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Anniversary Gifts

June 2nd, 2015

Gift (free)If you have ever endured a loss—of a loved one, a relationship, your health—you have one: An Anniversary. You might even call it The Anniversary if you have a really big one. It is the unforgettable date etched into your brain that marks when you made the decision, got the news, knew it was over or received the diagnosis.

One of mine is today.

Thirty years ago, on June 1, 1985, I became an entrepreneur. I joined forces with someone I also had a romantic relationship with and we became, by every measure, very successful. I ultimately chronicled the painful decision for that relationship—and the business—to end in another post, but my thoughts today are not about the actual closing of Sayles Graphic Design. Today I am thinking more about how the process of closure—of letting go and moving on—is indeed, a process. And it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

My former life and business partner John and I have remained cool-but-cordial over the past five years since the business split. We are friendly and respectful but don’t go out of our way to see each other. That’s part of why what happened last night—on the eve of today’s Anniversary—was particularly hard. Here’s the story:

I was outside on my second floor deck reading a book. My Maine coon kitten, Lotus, was at my side. I decided that it was a good time to perform the final chore on my weekend list, so I went inside to clean the bathroom. I let Lotus stay out on the deck.

Then I heard it. The thud. The I-know-that-sound noise made by a cat leaping onto a spot on my rooftop that is humanly inaccessible, except by an extension ladder. I knew the sound because while we lived together, John had retrieved three previous felines from the same exact place. My heart dropped as I raced to the deck for a confirmation. Sure enough, there was Lotus, a good six feet from my grasp, and two stories above the concrete driveway.

So I called John, and I’ll admit that in the back of my head I was thinking about what I would do when he turned down my request to come over and help. But he didn’t turn me down. He was there in less than five minutes.

Lotus had never met John, and while the cat was not afraid, he was nonetheless aloof. When John got to the top of the ladder, Lotus was not convinced he wanted to join the descent. Long story short: John took Lotus’ carrier up to the rooftop ledge and left it there. It was then up to me to climb the ladder and corral the cat into the carrier, which I did. But my not-so-great upper body strength, combined with a lack of ladder confidence, meant John needed to re-ascend and actually bring Lotus down. He did it and I was—am—grateful, although not happy to feel indebted to an ex.

After John left and I had Lotus cleaned up (and scolded!), I sat down on the sofa and began to cry. As any Mom (cat or otherwise) knows, once the sheer adrenalin-fueled terror of the moment has passed, a wave of relief, tinged with every other emotion from anger to guilt sets in. And my emotional furnace was already stoked by the timing of the event and the fact that, the very day prior, I had cleaned out all the old photographs and records I had remaining from the now-closed business. So, honestly, the tears were about 15% because of the cat. The rest was the all other stuff.

My usual method of handling this sort of a situation would have been to suck it up and get back to work. Finish cleaning the bathroom. “Forget it, ignore it, get over it,” I’d likely have said to myself as recently as last year. Instead I honored The Anniversary and that important part of my life and my history. I let myself have a good cry and then I cleaned the bathroom. And then I took a long, lavender-infused soak. I stayed with it: the pain, the memories. I asked myself if I was romanticizing the past. And in that process, I realized that much of my anxiety from the experience was rooted in the past—and as a result I was missing the joy of the present.

By the end of the bath I had concluded that An Anniversary doesn’t have to mark a negative chapter or event in your life. It can also commemorate the beginning of something new: Something as simple as a new way of framing or experiencing emotions. Something you don’t have to wait a whole year to do again.

Do you like to read articles like this one? Subscribe to my monthly ezine That’s Forkin’ Amazing! by clicking here: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/d.jsp?llr=t8cqvsdab&p=oi&m=1103359380339

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Proof: Reflections on a year without drinking

May 27th, 2015

ScanThe following is from the June 2015 issue of my ezine, That’s Forkin’ Amazing! (If you like this, you can subscribe and receive it monthly!)

Alcohol is a ubiquitous part of modern life. We toast the bride, ring in the New Year and celebrate communion by partaking in alcoholic beverages. If you’ve ever vowed to hop on the wagon—for the week, a month or even for just for one day—you’re not alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that over 30% of adults in the U.S. did not drink alcohol last year.

So, whether a break from alcohol is your New Year’s resolution, a mandate from a partner or the result of a DUI, the feelings you experience will probably run the gamut. You can expect to feel alternately anxious, excited, resigned, deprived, smug, bored, elated and more. Believe me, I know.

It started innocently enough
My most recent cocktail was June 23, 2014. My goal was a simple one: take the week off from booze. I had been “celebrating” the second season of my television show Fork in the Road with Sheree Clark, since before our June first premiere and I had noticed the toll that my merriment was taking. I felt tired. Looked bloated. Slept like shit.

The truth is my alcohol consumption had been steadily climbing over the last couple of years. Once I left my former career behind—the one that demanded that I fly over 100,000 miles a year for business—I had more time for socializing. I could accept more dinner party invitations and say yes to more social events. I no longer had to be up to catch 5:50 a.m. flights to Chicago. And now that my career involved food, it also involved…wine! Little by little, I realized, I had begun to drink wine nearly every day. Yes, it was mostly organic. Yes, I balanced with my healthy eating habits. Still, I was starting to feel out of control. I needed to knock it off. Just for a week, I said. Make it through a weekend, I told myself. Then, I would be back to normal. I just needed a breather.

But something happened. After a few days of not having drinks after work, I realized that feeling tired and bloated were just the surface conditions of over-indulging. I also had developed some bad habits: I was using alcohol to numb-out, and to “take the edge off” of just about every activity where it would be considered acceptable. I was getting less done. My yoga practice had reached a plateau. I was settling for “good enough” in a lot of ways. And I didn’t like it. So, I moved the finish line: I’d go alcohol-free for thirty days: until July 24.

Making substitutions
When I look back at my journal from that time, I am amazed I made it through that first month. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the change was not easy for me. I wrote about feeling depressed and anxious, and how I was having trouble falling asleep. I felt awkward at certain social events (they’re all about the drink, have you ever noticed?). I deliberately arrived late for a few get-togethers, just to avoid the cocktail hour.

I knew that the best way to break a habit is to replace it with a different one, so I started doing new things, including a daily morning meditation and writing in my long-neglected journal. I revisited counseling. I participated in (and also led) several group experiences. None of these activities was specifically alcohol—or abstinence—related. They were just things I did in the name of personal growth. And being sober, I think, made the effects more pronounced and more rapid.

So when July 24 rolled around I was faced with a decision: do I resume drinking, or don’t I? After a month of abstinence, things had settled into a new normal. I didn’t think, “I’d love a glass of wine” so often anymore. I had figured out how to navigate social situations, either by simply not calling attention to my choice, or by faking it, depending on whom I was with. (Faking it meant I walked around with the same glass of wine as a prop the entire evening.) My sleep had become more refreshing. My yoga stretches deeper. I liked where I was headed. So…the new finish line was December 24. Yes, I thought: Christmas Eve, how perfect!

Where does the time go?
On the morning of Christmas Eve I received word that the presenting sponsor for the third season of my TV show had been deemed insolvent. The show’s new season would be delayed or possibly even cancelled. And so I had the perfect storm: I had crossed the six-month finish line, it was a holiday and I had every good reason to drown my sorrows. Which is precisely why I didn’t.

Now, as I write this, I am practically moments away from the one-year mark. I don’t know what will come next and the best part is that it doesn’t even matter anymore. I could never, ever have imagined saying that last summer. What I also could not have anticipated is the reaction I have received from others. Responses from people upon discovering that I am alcohol free have ranged from a curiosity bordering on fascination to being practically shunned. (Please remember, when you run into someone like me who is abstaining, whether temporarily or for the long-term, that it’s not a commentary on your drinking and nobody is trying to ruin anyone’s fun!) But most people—especially my partying friends—are intrigued. Many feel they “should take a break” but they don’t know how or are afraid to try. Some of them look to me, hoping to summon the courage to move forward into unfamiliar terrain.

If you’re one of those who are evaluating your relationship with alcohol, it is no coincidence you are reading this. I don’t have answers for you (I barely have them for me!). But I can tell you this: there are scores of ways to quit drinking, if that is what you want to do, and there is no single right way. In my case, I do believe that thinking about “never” drinking again would have gotten me stuck. In the early days of abstinence, everything was already hard, so the idea of never was just too much. Today I can entertain the thought that I never need to drink again. But that may change. I can tell you this much: in the past year I have never once gotten up for my 5:00 a.m. yoga class and thought “Damn, I wish I’d had a few drinks last night.”

Do you like to read articles like this one? Subscribe to my monthly ezine That’s Forkin’ Amazing! (the above appears in the June 2015 issue), by clicking here: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/d.jsp?llr=t8cqvsdab&p=oi&m=1103359380339

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KCAT Exclusive Story! Lotus rebounds: Expects to make full recovery!

April 18th, 2015

(Des Moines, IA) In an unplanned press conference this morning, KCAT reporters photolearned that Lotus Clark, the eight-month old Maine Coon kitten being parented by Sheree Clark, actually chased a ping-pong ball on Saturday.

Though ordinarily not a newsworthy event, the ping-pong occasion is evidence of Lotus’ recovery from an illness that had lasted for several weeks. The cause of the illness remains unknown, but was marked by a gradual—and then rapid—decline in the mobility of the kitten. While at first simply showing a tendency to tire more easily, a pivotal downturn came on a weekend evening in mid-March, when the young cat became unable to walk more than a few steps. An emergency trip to the veterinarian ultimately led to a referral to veterinary specialists at Iowa State University, as well as a consultation with Michigan State University, as experts sought to find the cause of the mystery ailment.

At the lowest point in his illness, Lotus became unable to successfully navigate the litter box by himself, relying on Sheree for assistance. (At Lotus’ request, additional details about this facet of his condition are not available.)

In a tearful statement to KCAT, Sheree recounts, “I was beside myself not knowing where to turn. Lotus is ordinarily so congenial and to see him being lethargic and disinterested was just torture…it was like having a pet turtle or something.”

This mornings’ breakthrough came after weeks of at-home care by Clark, guidance by the veterinary team and support from friends of the Clark family. Diet modifications, supplements, physical therapy, rest and sunshine, as well as weekly acupuncture treatments combined to restore the kitten to what Sheree estimates is “about an 85% recovery.” She has confidence in full restoration of the prowess of the male cat. “Well,” she adds, I mean he is neutered, so…let’s say substantial restoration of his abilities.”

Asked what his plans are now that he is once again agile, Lotus responded by kicking the vent cover off the duct in Clark’s kitchen. “Be careful what you wish for,” murmured his Mom.
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Although written tongue-in-cheek, the above is actually a true story (including the part about the vent cover!). If you follow me on social media you might have noticed that my posts about Lotus had decreased. I was in such a funk and so desperate trying to figure out what was wrong with him, I couldn’t even talk about it, except to a very few close friends.

With a lot of luck, patience, prayer and support, I am confident enough to now say I think we are on the other side of the challenge. I wanted to share this news as a means of celebration and also to be able to acknowledge a few of the cadre of professionals who showed such huge hearts and compassion as Lotus and I maneuvered through the medical and informational maze. Thank you from both of us to Dr. Kim Wilke (+ team), Iowa Veterinary Wellness; Dr. Jennifer Loewen, Iowa State University; Dr. John Fyfe, Michigan State University; April Lawrence, Boneapatreat, as well as my friends who let me cancel plans so I could be at home more, and who listened while I lamented and worried.

In addition to gratitude to those who’ve supported me, I want to document what I have learned through this process. I do this as much for me as for anyone reading this, because I have an uncanny ability to “forget” my epiphanies. As a result of this heartache experience I have learned, or perhaps re-learned:

The absolute importance of being present. I am a recovering multi-tasker. I check emails at stoplights, read while on the treadmill, listen to audio books while I prepare dinner. But when I was with Lotus or his care team, I was all in. I had the razor focus to ask questions that led to better decisions about the protocol we ultimately developed for him. I even turned the radio off when the two of us traveled to our appointment at Iowa State, and I talked to him quietly as I drove. Similarly, I avoided the alluring temptations of distraction. I didn’t over-exercise or indulge in fantasy escape. No mind-numbing wine or food-induced comas. And I deliberately did not post about it on Facebook because I knew it would create drama and take me away from the real focus. Through these strategies, I felt connected and oddly capable, which gave me peace and a presence of mind I’ve not enjoyed for a while.

Care giving is tough work. I have never had children. I have not had to attend to aging relatives. I always thought taking care of others was a tough mission, but until I had a first hand look at what it means to anticipate needs and be on call (and on high alert) 24/7, I had no clue. I know I had it easy compared to some. My assignment was a brief one. My ward was/is a cheerful and uncomplaining kitten and I work from my home. Yet, I saw very clearly that the act of compassionate care giving requires time, selflessness and love. I have new (and high) regard for those who provide such service in long-term situations.

Progress is incremental, and sometimes slow. The ping-pong ball moment was not the first indicator that Lotus was making headway, but for me it was the first real sign that he was (dare I say it?) out of the woods. Before that he was able to almost sit up in the litter box, and before that he walked three full steps before he needed to rest. I clung to each little glimpse of increased strength and stamina and to every new accomplishment. I hope to remember that lesson in weeks to come as I become impatient with myself and how long it takes for me to achieve, complete, master and sometimes even get around to certain things. Sometimes, the schedule that happens is not the one that I drew up.

It’s horrible to feel helpless when someone you love is not well. When all you care about is getting “normal” back. You want answers, solutions…you want the pain to stop—for everyone. If you are in such a place right now, my heart truly goes out to you. I am sending you a prayer to find a place of stillness and peace and surrender in your heart, so that you can be present when your presence is needed. I hope you’ll be a compassionate caregiver who also knows you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others. And I hope you will see and celebrate progress in whatever timeframe it decides to present itself.

I didn’t set out for this post to be so long, and since it is a celebration, I would like to end on a happy note, which, for me means a recipe. This one is anti-inflammatory, in commemoration of the lessening of the pain both Lotus and I have experienced. Cheers and gratitude!

TURMERIC SMOOTHIE
Yield: 1 serving

Equipment
Blender

INGREDIENTS
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup frozen mango
1 frozen banana, peeled
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon chia seeds
2 leaves romaine lettuce OR 1 cup spinach

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

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