Good Gravy

In the All Saints Episcopal parish cemetery on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Dorothy M Elerbe is immortalized with the words: “She made good gravy.”

I’ve heard some pretty boneheaded things when someone dies. My “favorite” top two are: “God needed another voice in his choir” (barf!) and “He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad/cry” (liar, liar pants on fire!). Name ONE person on this planet who honestly doesn’t want to be mourned when they die? To know that there will be at least some small demonstrative expression of grief from those who care about them most?

I do! I want tears! Lots and lots of tears. I want Kleenex stock to go up slightly when I pass.

However, I know that to be worthy of another’s tears, I need to have made good gravy while I was alive.

Like many of us, I often spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about or acting upon things that don’t really mean a lot in the grand scheme. Given this truth, my tombstone would look something like this:

“She lost a lot of weight…a lot of times.”
“She intended to write a really good book.”
“She thought about volunteering.”
“She hated winter.”
“She rarely left the house without makeup on.”

Not exactly the kind of stuff that brings tears to people’s eyes.

As anyone who practices mindfulness or meditates or prayers for insight knows, “practice” comes with a price. An often sticky, uncomfortable price. It was recently – through being present with someone I love very much and listening to his words without thinking of my response as he was talking – that I became aware that I’ve been keeping spontaneous joy and love locked up tighter than gold at Fort Knox. Whether it’s been for the sake of pride or out of fear of vulnerability, I’ve become less trusting of my feelings and more influenced by chronic pain and what others think of me. I love those who are easy to love and don’t engage the tender parts of those who are difficult or those who could hurt me.

How simple it is to pick up and snuggle 18-month-old Audrey when she runs to me, or read to 3-year-old Mae while she sits on my lap. That stranger in line at the grocery store who is struggling to use her debit card? No love for you! Those far-away loved ones whose opinions or actions differ from mine? No compassion for you!

This isn’t to say I spend every day judging or waving my cane at the neighbor kids: “Get off my lawn, you little bastards!” But I could certainly use Dorothy M Elerbe’s gravy recipe to help me open up and love a little more than weight, makeup, intentions, or even “Downton Abbey.”

There’s a dry board on my refrigerator on which my niece used to write uplifting phrases. Before she moved back to Minnesota, she wrote: “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.” I will to keep that there because it reminds me to stick with my novel. But above it, I am going to write, “She made good gravy.”

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What I Did On My (barely) Summer Vacation

You know how when you get home after being away for several days? You might think, ‘Gee, it’s good to be home.’ Yeah, well, I’m still waiting for that feeling.

“Relaxed” isn’t exactly my middle name, so when Jim suggested we go to the beach because he wanted to relax, I said I probably wouldn’t like that. I need to be busy to have fun. Hiking, sightseeing, shopping, going to a play. THAT’S fun. Sitting around doing nothing? Capital B boring.

Then I saw the ocean from the balcony of our 12th floor hotel room at North Myrtle Beach and I didn’t care if I did anything else all week but sit and stare at the ocean.

Of course I didn’t lose all my uptightness, at least not at first. There was the lesson of the wake versus the break. Jim was a bobbing in the wake while I stayed closer to shore where the waves were breaking. When a wave knocked me to my knees and handed me a mouthful of salt water, Jim told me to come out to where he was. I was afraid at first, but he showed me how to let the wake pick you up and put you down, and I thought how what is true in the ocean is true in life. Sometimes you have to go beyond your comfort zone to find peace/the answers/fill-in-your-own-truth.

I spent a lot of time under an umbrella by the dunes, too. Butterflies and dragonflies alighted on the tangled myrtle, and a Carolina anole stopped long enough for me to snap a photo before scurrying off into the underbrush.

Saw my first alligator in the wild.

We didn’t lie around the beach all the time. We did take a tour of the area, which included a visit to an All Saints Cemetery, complete with the ghost story of Alice Flagg, whose brother forbid her to marry outside her social class. She died of either consumption or malaria when she was 16, and when her brother found the engagement ring she wore tied to a ribbon around her neck, he ripped it off her and threw it in the marsh. She was originally buried on their estate, but she haunted her brother and so he had her moved to All Saints Cemetery, where she is said to appear wandering, looking for her ring.

I was fascinated yet creeped out by a lubber grasshopper at the cemetery. He was at least 5 inches long.

I took this photo of two women sitting at the pool while I was eating breakfast. They were having fun laughing together. I sent the photo to my friend Pam and told her this would be us one day.

I didn’t eat this, but Jim wishes he had. I ate some amazing food, including (don’t laugh) a pecan waffle at Waffle House. I’d never eaten there before.

The characters in my novel needed a vacation, too, because when I sat down to write (under that umbrella I told you about earlier), they had a LOT to say. I hope someday the people reading on the beach or poolside are reading my novel. Or maybe I will put a copy in their hands next time I’m there.

Jim relaxed.

I let my hair go native.

We took the back roads all the way to Myrtle and most of the way back. Talk about relaxing, even behind slow traffic on a two-lane highway. We saw some amazing landscapes, including the Blue Ridge Mountains. Of course I had to play “Country Roads” on our way through West Virginia.

So as I wait for that “good to be home” feeling to ascend, thank you for letting me share my vacation with you. Please post a comment and let me know about your vacation epiphanies.

Eating on the Road

Good morning from LA! My daughter and I arrived yesterday for a quick 4-day visit with friends and family. If you want to, you can read more about the non-food part of the trip on my writing blog: www.zenbaglady.typepad.com.

My stomach was NOT happy yesterday, particularly with the three-hour time difference. I bought some fruit and a breadstick (it was the only carb I could find at the airport that wasn’t sugar- or fat-laden) and ate them on the plane to Cincinnati. On the long flight to LA, I had two little sugar cookies (you know those “complimentary” snacks they give you on planes?), a few animal crackers (I was very proud of myself for only stealing a couple from my daughter’s bag), a few peanuts, and a bowl of Kashi with some strawberries and 2 percent milk (gag).

We landed and were on the road to my sister’s house by 1:30 local time, but my body was feeling like 4:30 and I was hungry. When we got to my sisters, I made a salad with her leftover, bottom of the bag lettuce and a shriveled up tomato, and ate a piece of bread with apricot marmalade (it was all she had in the fridge!). We later went shopping at Trader Joe’s and I bought a bunch of good stuff that will last me the rest of the trip: asparagus, good salad stuff, and of course, my favorite of all decadent carbs: Trader Joe’s corn tortilla flat breads.

I’m trying to stretch out these extra three hours. I woke up at 5 a.m. local time and my body thought it was 8. I had some grapes and tea. Lunch will be noon local time, 3 body time, so I’ll probably have some of those corn tortillas on the road to Hollywood this morning. Emily (my sister) wants to eat at a Thai restaurant. This will be a first for me. I wish I’d had a chance to ask you all what I should eat! LOL

Eating on the road is tricky. I’d love to hear how you maneuver it.