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Vanessa Vick/The Carter Center

I can’t tell you why I decided to watch Jimmy Carter’s press conference about his cancer diagnosis last week — I guess the marketing presentation I was working on somehow wasn’t enough to make me cry on its own.

I could go on for days (and several friends and family members will insist that I already have) about former President Carter’s awesome attitude, his straightforward, just-the-facts speaking style, his willingness to accept his condition and its possible (some would say likely) outcome.

In short, the man has had 90 great years, he’s done some exceptional things, and his love for his family, friends, neighbors and the world is without boundary.

What struck me most, however, was Carter’s absolute adoration of his wife, Rosalynn.

He noted that marrying her was the best decision he ever made, and whenever he mentioned her, he did it with a spark of joy in his eyes and in his voice.

They’ve been married for 69 years.

69 years. And he’s still so very much in love.

We hear a lot of spousal rhetoric from politicians (not that Carter is a politician anymore — he’s well into his elder statesman/superhero stage), but a lot of it rings hollow.

I’m reminded of an extensive conversation I had with a couple of Huntsville bloggers a few years ago during which we discussed the overwhelming tendency of married folks to complain non-stop about their spouses at work and when out and about sans spouse.

Our conclusion? If you’re married to someone about whom you have nothing nice to say, why are you married to that person? And if you do have something nice to say about them, why aren’t you saying it?

A lot of us grew up thinking that spouses sniping at and about each other was the norm. Many of the more popular TV shows in the ’70s and ’80s depicted footloose singles (Three’s Company), single moms (One Day at a Time), or functional (at the end of the day) married couples who spent their non-functional moments engaging in ugly banter (All in the Family).

Now that I think of it, there were an awful lot of single folks and divorced/widowed parents on TV during the ’70s and ’80s. Marriage is THAT hard, guys.

I’m not saying you have to be Jimmy Carter, head-over-heels-in-love every second of every day. But if you can’t brag on something about your spouse at least every once in a while, you’ve got problems.

Try saying something nice about your spouse. Now try saying it again, to someone else. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself believing it. Because it’s true. And it’s more important than anything you’re tempted to complain about.

One of my favorite quotes is credited to Robert Anderson: “In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage.”

President Carter has been finding grounds for 69 years. I would say that the rest of us should be so lucky, but instead I’m going to say that the rest of us should try harder. It costs us nothing to be nice, and we might just find ourselves falling in love — yet again — every last day.

So I had this dream a couple of weeks ago (and yes, I do realize that reading about other people’s dreams is Fascinating with a capital F) in which I was on vacation by myself, on some sort of encapsulated manmade beach (a la Syfy’s Ascension) that seemed to be near an annoying number of clothing stores (my nightmare vacation does, indeed, involve a lot of beach time and shopping) (not kidding).

I was sitting in a chair waiting for a meeting to start (dreams, right?), when this guy starts getting handsy with me. Nothing overtly aggressive, just a hand on my arm, an arm around my shoulders, etc., and I felt more uncomfortable and irritated than endangered. I was done with it all, however, and suddenly stood up and loudly informed him that he DID NOT have permission to touch me and was to CUT IT OUT right then and there.

The dream ended then, as dreams tend to cut out mid-cliffhanger. I knew the origins of this dream the second I woke up, however.

In front of the Publix near my workplace is a covered dining area, complete with sturdy tables and chairs. Frankly, it would be more appropriate to call it a loitering area, although it does give quite a few decent folks a place to eat their Publix deli subs (delicious, BTW) while people-watching their lunch hour away.

It also gives a few men the opportunity to practice their catcalls and leers.

As long as I walk past this area with even one other person, male or female, nobody says a word to me, but if I’m by myself, all bets are off. “Hey baby.” “Uh-huh.” “Ooh … you lookin’ GOOD today.”

Am I in danger? No. Am I furious that I can’t walk 50 yards of what is essentially a public space without unsolicited commentary? SO MUCH YES.

And the dream? The dream is indicative as to how angry I am with myself for not confronting these jerks. If I need to walk past this space by myself, I will actually take a quick scan of the crowd seated there, looking for known catcallers. If I spot any, I’ll walk through the grocery store to avoid them.

That’s right. I change MY behavior to avoid the unwanted behavior of others.

Only I don’t know that there’s any confronting these guys. I’m reasonably sure that I would only be designated a world-class bitch for calling them out on their behavior, and at worst I might provoke an even uglier confrontation.

So there you have it. In my dreams, I confront jerks who exceed my boundaries. In real life, I try to avoid them.

Fair? No. Inevitable? Pretty much.

But that dream. Man, that dream felt GOOD.

IMG_0314 (1)

I have donated or thrown away five pairs of shoes over the last six weeks – none of the shoes pictured, mind you. These are stalwarts: my trusty gym shoes, my oh-so-comfortable short boots and my somewhat comfy dress heels that see the artificial light of holiday parties two to three times a year.

The ones that went away were relatively nondescript:

  • A pair of low brown work heels that should have been super comfortable given their brand and my experiences with it, but were instead torture after four hours of relatively low-key daily wear.
  • A pair of Clark’s mules, with just enough of a heel to feel dressy, but also with a fatal seam that threatened to rub a blister on my inner right foot if I dared to walk too much. A quick stroll to the grocery store next to my office was a no-no.
  • A pair of pricey black flats bought last year specifically for conferences, where I do an interminable amount of walking. They proved to be pretty much MADE OF SEAMS on the interior, and if I didn’t have Band-Aids strategically placed at various locations on my feet after three hours of wear, I was in trouble. They never “broke in.”
  • A pair of casual leather sandals that proved blister-happy after too much walking.
  • A pair of uber-sexy burgundy boots that made me look like a superhero, albeit a superhero walking unsteadily on 4-inch heels. They were, frankly, way too sexy for everyday wear, and I constantly felt in danger of imminent ankle collapse. Zooming up from 5’8 to 6’0 means that you’re not only instantly taller than 90% of the population, you’ve also got farther to fall.

Several months ago, I organized my shoes into these handy stackable boxes from the Container Store. One of the features (and, perhaps, consequences) of placing your possessions in clear containers that can reside in one small space is that you actually have to face the things you own. Like five pairs of black heels (all of which I wear, at some point or another, during the year, FYI).

The funny thing about owning the requisite average of 20 pairs of shoes, however, is that sometimes you STILL don’t have the proper footwear. After realizing last summer that I needed a nice pair of black dress flats to wear at a couple of upcoming fall conferences, I began a fruitless, infuriating search. I found sparkly ballet flats, flats with huge bows and flowers, and clunky loafers that screamed “I give up on looking cute, now get off my lawn.”

After a ridiculous amount of browsing, online and in stores, I finally found a promising, if expensive, pair of black flats that turned out to be horribly uncomfortable. When I wore them to the office for a few days to break them in and test them, they seemed OK, but the minute they sensed that I was away from home, without a backup pair of shoes and without an extra minute to find another pair, they turned into super-tight, seam-wielding torture devices.

That’s right: I owned the only pair of shoes in existence that broke out instead of in.

I finally found a pair of comfy flats on a quick trip to New York, during which I was decidedly NOT shopping for shoes simply because I didn’t want to have to stuff them into my carry-on for the trip back. Alas, there they were.

flats

They proved to be so comfortable, in fact, that I ordered two more pairs in black and one pair in gold, since they were on sale because they were being discontinued.

I won’t be caught without proper conference shoes again for a long time.

But back to my point (and there is a point): Why do women settle for uncomfortable shoes? How on earth are we convinced year after year that toddling around on high heels, unable to walk quickly or even comfortably, somehow puts us in a position of power?

I’ve known older women whose feet were completely reshaped by years of wearing heels every day. Bones shift, tendons shorten.

I’m on an all-flats shoe rotation at work – I put together a standing desk and got myself a decent gel mat. Heels are for parties and nice dinners out (provided I don’t have to walk a half mile to the train station).

These are only two feet I have, so I’m done making them uncomfortable.

Every few months, I convince myself that I need an old-fashioned country breakfast, complete with some form of eggs, bacon or sausage; pancakes, biscuits or toast; grits; and coffee. All dishes I could perfectly well make at home, but dishes that, like sandwiches and salads, are somehow better when made by someone else.

Deep down, I realize that I don’t really want these foods for their sake, but for the link they hold to the past. Weekend breakfasts with my grandparents were some of the most special moments I had, first as a child, then as a young woman.

They were long, lazy affairs, with bottomless cups of coffee and free-range conversation. I got to know my grandparents, and they got to know me.

It wasn’t about the food, but man, the food. Endless stacks of pancakes, biscuits for days, homemade possumberry or muscadine jelly, crunchy bacon, creamy grits.

I realize this is the path that takes many people on an emotional — and dangerous — journey with food. Ice cream reminds you of Saturdays at the skating rink, but pint after pint doesn’t take you back there. Potato chips remind you of afternoons in front of the television, shoes kicked off and homework tossed in the corner, but munching your way through an entire bag won’t ever reinstate that feeling of freedom.

Food as comfort is a trap, a tasty one, and one we build for ourselves. Acknowledging emotional eating is vital, but also a little hollowing, making us recognize the void we’re trying to fill with food. Recognizing that void means knowing that the past is done, that the people associated with certain foods are gone, and those memories are all we have.

It’s an acknowledgement that, hopefully, helps us all have a better relationship with food, one that lets us make new memories instead of living in the past.

panniers

Maybe it’s a character flaw, but to be inspired to walk, run or bicycle, I need a destination.

That destination may be somewhat impractical – this is the time of the year, for example, when I try to talk the husband into strolls through the back, sorta swampy part of Piedmont Park, in hopes of spotting snakes. I’ve also had a bit of success getting him to stroll to the dog park, even though we have neither dogs nor any intention of getting dogs.

My go-to destination since we moved to Atlanta has been Trader Joe’s. It’s just within walking distance, although it’s a tad far in really cold or really hot weather. The parking lot is impossible to negotiate most of the time, however, and I would walk twice as far to avoid the ridiculous process of stealthily driving around trying to spot someone leaving. (Yes, there is overflow parking in the back lot by the movie theater, but it comes with its own set of problems, namely aggressive drivers who are angry that they were forced to use the overflow parking lot.)

But the walk is a slog, time-wise, 20-something minutes each way, with refrigerated items suffering in the sun all the way home on hot, sunny days. Not to mention my tendency to suddenly remember that I need 3 pounds of apples AND 3 pounds of potatoes, adding unplanned weight to the bags.

My rarely-used bicycle was, of course, the answer, but the only suitable bag choice, my reliable black JanSport book bag, didn’t hold very much, left a big sweat stain on my back and made the ride home less than enjoyable.

Finally, the husband remembered than panniers were a thing, and we were soon ordering bags and a rack from Nashbar. The Townie was our bag (technically basket) of choice, and we chose the Axiom Journey bike rack to hang it from.

The verdict? So far, so good. The bags hold a little more than I usually get during a standard shopping trip, and the three attachment accessories (hooks, Velcro and a bungee cord) mean they don’t bounce around too much, even with filled with groceries. As you can see, I forgot to bring bags to put inside the bags during the excitement surrounding my first trip with the new setup; the Townies are especially sturdy when the groceries are secured inside another bag and, therefore, aren’t bumping around inside.

The travel time to Trader Joe’s has been reduced to a mere 10 minutes, provided I catch the light at 10th and Monroe the right way, and go full speed down every available hill (which, of course, I totally do). The trip back takes a couple of extra minutes – you can’t go downhill on both parts of the journey, after all, and no matter how well-balanced the load is, it still adds weight to the ride.

All that time saved means more time to look for snakes and watch dogs. And I haven’t even mentioned the chipmunks.

tulips

One side effect of owning a cat for the better part of 18 years was a strict no-flowers-in-the-house rule. Yang loved nothing more than calmly sniffing a bouquet and then suddenly snatching a flower between his teeth, ready to chow down like a champion.

When the husband brought home a gorgeous bouquet of lilies for Valentine’s Day, I actually left them at home instead of hiding them in the closet until I could secrete them away to the safer confines of my office. They were a lovely, colorful addition to the condo.

During my next trip to Trader Joe’s, it occurred to me that people actually buy flowers for their homes, all the time, without holidays, birthdays or anniversaries as a prompt. Five dollars later, I had the perfect little bouquet of tulips to add a touch of spring to the living room.

It’s a small indulgence, but $5 every couple of weeks is money well spent to lift the mood of our small space. I’d trade them in an instant to have my cat back, though.

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Yang has been gone for almost a year. While we’ve discussed getting another cat, or another pair, we haven’t taken any steps toward doing so. I don’t really want just another cat, I want MY cats. I realize that sounds like the logic of an 8-year-old, but I miss my boys.

Last week, my office visited the Lifeline Animal Project in Decatur, Georgia, to walk dogs and socialize cats. Lifeline runs a private shelter housing many animals that have been abused or neglected; neuters dogs and cats at little or no cost to owners; runs a trap-neuter-return program for feral cats; and helps underserved pet owners get access to free vaccinations for their pets. Lifeline also manages Fulton County Animal Services and DeKalb County Animal Services.

If it sounds impressive, it is. You should visit.

Anyway, I was hoping/dreading that I would instantly fall in love with a shelter cat. I think the husband fully expected to arrive home to a newly installed feline condo resident.

Didn’t happen. A couple of young cats snuggled right up to me, purrs and all, but the magic just wasn’t there.

You know what was there? Hives. On my face, where said young cats head-butted me. Short-haired cats are, apparently, not for me.

The only cat I halfway connected with is the beauty pictured above. She didn’t hide from us, but she wasn’t having any of the socialization we were doling out, either. She was, in short, her own cat.

She certainly wasn’t destined to be my cat, nor were any of the rest of the itch-inducing little buggers. I guess my perfect cat is out there, but Yin and Yang just showed up at our door one day and never left – they found us.

It’s going to be kind of hard for a long-haired cat to show up at the condo door, but I guess the first one that does gets to stay.

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