It’s been said that party etiquette means never talking about money or politics, but I find a good silencer among party goers is to tell them what kind of work I do! Once I reveal that I’m a psychologist and a nutrition educator, I’m usually left holding my glass of punch by myself as I listen to the proverbial crickets chirping. While I’m “off the clock” when socializing, it is telling that people may carry some shame or self-consciousness around food.
When I was a kid we took a few summer road trips with us three kids packed in the back seat. This was the time before cell phones and tablets, so it didn’t take long for one of us to grow bored. One of the ways we’d pass the time and maintain our intesest was to play the staring game. You may recall the one I mean, where you look into each other’s eyes and the first one to blink loses. The game was half concentration, half glutton-for-punishment to see who could hang in the longest.
Suddenly, I was looking into the steaming-mad eyes of the conductor and confused by the flaming darts of rage coming my way. In a split second, I immediately understood—I missed a major cue for my piano solo. My lapse in concentration put the actors off their game and the musicians had to quickly regroup to accommodate my error. By will and a rush of adrenaline, I refocused my attention and began to play as my stomach whirred with panic. This mistake would be the end of my career as a professional pianist. I’d be blackballed for life. This was bad.
“AGAIN?!?!” my friend exclaimed and looked at me with shock. I explained that I was moving again and asked to borrow their truck for probably the 7th time in as many years. I love change and moving into a new environment has been a creative endeavor for me since early adulthood. Some of the moves were out of necessity and others due to personal preference, but either way I was energized by the possibility of finding new ways to create space and experience life from a new perspective. While I am firmly rooted in my current current community, I deeply enjoy morphing through one iteration of being into another. Like a vivacious houseplant, growth often requires repotting and a change of container to continue thriving.
“Abracadabra! Abracadabra!!” I shouted with unmistakable enthusiasm. The Story Lady leading the reading circle at my elementary school had asked us, “Who knows what the magic words are?” and I just knew that I nailed it until I saw her quiet, blank stare. As a lover of all things magic and make believe, my heart sank and my confusion grew while she gently steered away from my exuberant reply. She intended to introduce us to the words pleaseand thank youinstead of pulling rabbits out of hats and drawing endless kerchiefs from lapel pockets. I remember thinking “How could she not understand the power of Abracadabra?” I used pleaseand thank youall the time and those words were far from magical! I’m certin she went on to read a tale about how wonderful things happened when we used pleaseand thank you, but I had the distinct feeling that I was being tricked into believing that magic as I knew it didn’t exist and instead the real magic was courtesy and politeness.
As this season of picnics, bike rides, and boundless light starts to soften its intensity, I am reminded of the sweet days of summer when, as a kid, I would charge into the house as the sun began to set with a sweat stained face, filthy-dirty feet, and usually a good scrape or two. I lived in a neighborhood where people wandered in and out of everyone else’s house and most of the kids made up games in the street that would spill into the endless row of backyards. As much as I liked being part of the neighborhood cacophony, there was something sweetly satisfying as dusk arrived, and all the kid’s names would be called from their respective porches signaling that the day’s end had begun.
While I didn’t realize it at the time, as I was “forced” to dig into the quiet spaces those Sunday afternoons, I found it strangely invigorating. As my imagination soared and I stepped out of the usual pace I found great satisfaction in creating something new with my time.
I have a reputation. I have no shame in telling you that I am “That Lady.” I am the lady that loves cats, and have always had these furry friends in my life. I talk to them, I listen to them, we have play time and I will show you pictures of them in line at the grocery store. I am the Cat Lady. It was destined from the beginning as one of the formal photographs from my early childhood is of me posed with the family pet, Twinkles the cat; me in my bows and puffy sleeves and she in her bejeweled collar. Ever since, I have been hooked on the quiet, independent, soft, and playful nature of cats.
Five miles into a long run, my hamstring tangles up into knots and every step becomes a searing roar of pain insisting that I stop. Tears mixed with the morning rain, streams down my face in a blurry combination of agony and utter frustration. Up to this day, I was on track to reach a personal record in an upcoming race and on this cold, lonely, and now disappointing morning, I wasn't even sure I'd make it home without assistance.
It’s not something I talk about often, but Jacob and I are helpers in training and I felt encouraged to risk being vulnerable with him. I gave Jacob the go ahead, and he started with “Your problem is ..." and continued to offer advice, admonishment, and correction. Suffice it to say, I was shocked, appalled, hurt, and angry. I abruptly ended our conversation
I blink away the bleary eyes at my early-morning crossing guard post. Far enough away from school, almost no one takes this route. I am alone and bored. I decide to follow my heart’s desire and begin singing at the top of my lungs. Creating a tune of my own, I am purely in the moment of being happy. I even do a few dance moves that I like and feel bliss expressing myself. That is, until I notice I have an audience.
“This is the day I am going to die” I think as I stand paralyzed at the entrance to the counseling center at Northern Illinois University. Sirens blare as information slowly leaks to us that there is a shooter on campus, no one knows their current location in that moment and we are on lock down. Some of the senior staff have left to assess the situation, but as a first-year intern I am told to stay back. I find myself standing frozen in the place where I learned the news. Glued down by fear, I pondered my fate in a split second that I would be the first person seen if the shooter walked in.
Sitting in the library on a cold winter day, I am drawn away from my books as I look up into the red rimmed eyes of my friend. Every time she tries to speak tears spill out. Instinctively, I leave my books behind and guide her out the door, into the elevator and onto the busy city streets. We walk in total silence, elbows crooked together, for what seems like hours but is probably only ten or fifteen minutes. As our footsteps trace the concrete blocks of downtown Chicago, the noises and the lights recede as we experience presence together. The longer we walk, the slower her tears come until she was ready, in her own time, to tell the story of loss she had experienced that day.
I am a true Midwesterner. Born and raised here, I LOVE this time of year. I love giving presents, finding excuses to eat butter cookies, and layering up in cozy sweaters and scarves. I say, Bring on the snow and ice and sleet! I realize that I'm walking on thin ice in the company of some of my summer-loving friends, but there is something life affirming about the bracing temperatures and daring elements. More than anything, I love the end of the calendar year because it is the time I use to reflect on all the events of the previous eleven months and find the reasons to celebrate goals met and not yet met.
It’s Monday, and my first day of college. I feel absolute exuberance as I bounce up the stairs to the classroom where I will join fellow students for one of the most difficult courses taught by one of the most notoriously demanding teachers in the music conservatory. Her first utterance, borrowed from author Scott Peck, is “Life is difficult. Once you accept that, it is no longer difficult.”
This month, I am honored to share this blog space with Meghan Rivard, MS, ECPC, as we continue to explore the gift of meditation in our lives. Please read more in this newsletter about Meghan, who is joining our staff at the Center as a Certified Coach. She is inspiring, deeply present with others and does life with a great sense of humor! Keep reading to gain her wonderful perspective on meditation in her life.
Another bottle of ketchup hits the floor and I think, “They are gonna fire me for sure!” My proclivity for graceless movements result in a lot of spilled drinks and broken dishes during my summer of waitressing. Having just relocated to Chicago and in between gigs, I was grateful to have a job, even if it wasn't (obviously) my calling. Despite the sweaty, sticky hustle of waiting tables and refinishing the floor with a mix of beverages and condiments, there was a particular blessing by way of a regular customer named Ed.
Butterflies flood my stomach when I see the message from a friend I haven't seen or spoken to in more than 20 years. Hurt feelings and grave misunderstandings abruptly ended our friendship and neither of us had sought to resolve the circumstances. I can't imagine what has prompted her to email me but my curiosity wins over my dread — I open the message. Surprisingly, I find that she's writing to offer an apology for her part in our conflict. I laugh at myself because I suddenly realize that I can't remember the whole story of our faded friendship (ah, the futility and absurdity of holding grudges). We connect with ease through email and move to telephone conversations. An interesting discovery lay waiting to be found in the spaces of these long overdue dialogs.
This is really happening; it's not a bad dream. I'm standing in front of the entire second grade gym class with my Penelope Purebread underpants on display and my pants with the elastic waistband by the floor. In my burgeoning 7-year old stubbornness, I wanted to be the very last person to sit on the line as the teacher instructed. Out of concern, my best friend tugs at the leg of my trousers, begging me in a whisper to sit down so I won't get in trouble. "I will, I will, in a SECOND!" It’s a moment that feels like forever, I have WAY more attention than I bargained for. My face burns red hot, my palms get sweaty, and I'm bowled over by my frustration and embarrassment. With a flood of tears spilling down my face, I sit down on the line.
I have a surprising confession to make: I do not love summer. It feels like I'm committing heresy admitting to this, but it is my least favorite season. As the days get longer, the birds sing earlier, and FOMO (fear of missing out) creeps in, I grieve the loss of quiet comforting winter.
It's more common to hear about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the gray winter months of the Midwest, but more than 10% of the population experiences SAD in the summer! For a long while, I thought it was just me and my introverted nature, but I have learned to embrace my anti-summer shame— and now I manage the season in ways that are authentic and self-nurturing.
"Can we start now?" the conductor asks without sparing an ounce of snark. I'm in Vienna, Austria, playing lead keyboard in A Chorus Line. Every night for a week since the show opened I've been running from the orchestra pit so that I could hurl my guts, get back to my piano and start the show (with a solo none the less). This night, the conductor challenges me to skip the freak out and start the show on time.
In that moment, I realized I had to face the fear and anxiety that I had been expressing so well by fleeing and heaving just prior to showtime. I asked myself, "Are you going to let this get the better of you or are you bigger than your fear, Sandra?"
As a kid, long trips with my family followed a familiar formula. Me or one of my siblings would begin with declarations of "Stay on YOUR side!" or "Stop TOUCHING me!". Ultimately, it would culminate in bellows of "MommmmMMmmMMMM!" and my parents would turn our attention to playing Twenty Questions.
In kindergarten, Ms. Putnum asked us to color the apple on the page and stay inside the lines. Staring at the frowny-face sticker on my assignment, I felt shock and bewilderment. I needed to know why I didn't get the smiley-face sticker and I challenged her.
One of my favorite times of the day is early morning, when the sun is still asleep and all is quiet. I sit with a cup of coffee in my favorite mug and snuggle in my chair to do some daily reading and writing. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who writes about contemplative practice, is one of my go-to inspirations lately.
This time of year can be marked by deciding all the things that are wrong with us as we make an exhaustive list of everything that needs to change so we can be healthy, beautiful, successful, and better than ever.
Barely able to sleep, I snuck out of bed before the rest of the house to see what was under the Christmas tree. Excited by the shapes and sizes of all the packages for me and my siblings I could barely wait!
Thanks to those who reached out to share your personal hope and encouragement in response to my story and many of you shared your challenges and hope of longed for change. I am deeply grateful for my remarkable healing from a seemingly hopeless situation and a chance to share that with you. As life has unfolded since that time, I have learned that hope is not a destination but a path.
I stared at the grass underneath my cot as I ungracefully threw up every ounce of Gatorade, water and sports gel in my system. My thoughts were muddled, I could barely talk and no one seemed to know what to do with me and my endless fluids. I had just finished my third marathon and was in the medical tent, unsure of how I got there. Once I came-to and could tell someone that I had Central Diabetes Insipidus caused by a benign brain tumor, a doctor glowered, scolding that me I was to NEVER run again living with this condition.
I hung up the phone in a daze and stared at the people I loved who had gathered around my dining room table for our weekly meal. Brain scan? Danger? What did that mean? I had no idea in that moment that this phone call would forever change my life.
I love talking with women to learn how they express their values through creativity, relationships and being in the world. This summer I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Anne Kearny Cooke, who shares my interest in helping women vitalize their relationship with themselves: body and soul.