Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saving the only life I can

Like many whose nature it is to take care of others, I have an almost overwhelming need to make things 'all right' when I know a friend or relative is having problems, sometimes to the point of obsession and to the detriment of my own sleep and daily life.

I want to 'fix' it. I want to offer advice and care. I want their issues to be resolved and for them not to be troubled with whatever it is.

I've done this all my life.

Over the years I've learned to (mostly) shut up and only offer advice if I'm asked, although I still sometimes venture an opinion if I think it will be received as it was meant -- to be helpful. I don't leap in anymore (hardly ever) with my superwoman cape bearing food, money, or tangible 'help' that might ease the pain of whatever issue it is for the individual.

I am especially guilty of asking too many questions, mostly of my daughters, although I have curbed that urge significantly in the last year or two -- admittedly probably not to their satisfaction. I try not to offer unsolicited advice very often, at least.

But I have mom-radar that works overtime and picks up little things here and there that sometimes can feed my obsessive mind and fertile imagination. Sometimes I'm wrong and everything is pretty much okay. And I hate it when I'm right and things start crashing down.

I want my children (and friends) to be okay, to have lives that are satisfying and reasonably calm and with enough of everything to keep them healthy, safe, fed, clothed, warm, and housed.

But I also understand with everything in me that is rational that I cannot live their lives and make their choices for them. I must be okay with watching them fail sometimes and without trying to fix anything.

(I'll admit that both Tony and I have, in the past, 'fixed' things, at least somewhat: Made it easier to get to a goal, or offered support when maybe it would have been better to stand back, lovingly. But we've worked on reasonable boundaries for our behavior and for their expectations, and it has succeeded fairly well, although not without some occasional pain and angst on both sides.)

When someone you love makes choices that appear to be dangerous either to their health or well-being, setting boundaries becomes far more difficult, and yet even more essential.

I've invested much time and money and worry in our girls, especially as some issues have proven to be so huge and ongoing, even a matter of survival. It's taken a toll on me that I've realized more clearly in recent months, and I've been working on relinquishing control, whether by giving my opinion or taking charge of getting things done, or checking in (asking questions).

I got smacked upside the head last week, though, when I was reading through the new O Magazine issue. It was one of our recently frequent stormy, windy nights with rain and very strong gusts howling outside, and I was reading in bed, just prior to turning off the light (as I do every night).

The issue is about poetry and the importance it has for so many of us, how it's shaped our actions or given us touchstones to live by. (I've especially loved Robert Frost since I first read him so many decades ago and still can recite several, for instance. )

On this night, though, I was reading Maria Shriver's interview with poet Mary Oliver. Shriver had included her favorite of Oliver's poems, "The Journey," which I read after I'd finished the article.

And it said exactly what I've needed to hear in exactly the words that would resonate so deeply that I couldn't rationalize my behavior and feelings anymore.

I've read it every day since, (puddling up every time) repeating the last words over and over to myself: "...determined to do the only thing you could do--determined to save the only life you could save."

That would be mine.

And that's my new mantra. It's making things easier for me, actually. It's on the order of the old 12-step saying, "I am powerless over people, places and things" -- but somehow it has been especially meaningful for me right now.

There is more of my life behind me than is ahead of me. I will not abdicate that in favor of someone else's life, no matter how much I love them and want to make things better.

I still have hopes and dreams and plans to achieve for myself. And nobody else can do that for me except me. No one WILL do that for me except me. And I must allow those I care about to do the same for their own lives, regardless of what I might think about it. It is not mine to live.

So I'm finally moving ahead with my own life: taking care of me first, doing things I want to do, living more in the moment -- my moment, not someone else's moment.

And I'm keeping my head up, watching for the stars to break through the clouds. Because they will. They are.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tomato soup warms us up

Instead of corned beef and cabbage on yesterday's St. Patrick's Day, I made ham salad sandwiches (open-faced and toasted) and homemade tomato soup for dinner. (Tony had planned to go to a program after work but changed his mind at the last minute because others had decided not to go.)

The soup was really good and very easy, and beats the canned stuff all to pieces. So I thought I'd share.

I started with a recipe from, which I often browse, but then adapted it enough that it really isn't the same recipe.

Tomato Soup

Saute in 1-2T olive oil a medium chopped onion and four cloves of minced garlic until soft. Throw in a couple of bay leaves and a few sprinkles of basil leaves if you like that flavor (we do) -- maybe half a teaspoon.

When veggies are soft but not browned:

Add a 28-oz. can of whole, diced or stewed tomatoes, whatever you have in the pantry.
Pour in a couple of cups of chicken or veggie broth, or -- as I did, not wanting to open a quart of broth for just two cups -- two cups of chicken bouillion (low sodium preferred)

I added two small cans of V-8 to this mix; you may choose to add 1/4 c of tomato paste.

Generously pepper.

Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. At that point I also added about a slice of bread, torn into pieces. (Use whatever you have, or omit if you like. It thickens the soup just a little.) Simmer maybe another 10 minutes until you really can't see the bread. (I suppose you could add the bread when you add the other stuff too.)

Using your handy-dandy immersion blender (which I got for my birthday last fall and while I don't use it often, LOVElovelove it), puree until everything is smooth. In lieu of that, you can puree small batches in your blender, but be careful to hold the lid on so soup doesn't explode over your countertop. Or you can mash it all together with a potato masher (the low-tech version).

It turned out warm and smooth and peppery, warming us up all the way down. I'll choose this soup any day over anything canned, and it's very easy.

I'm guessing you could add some cream at the very last to make it cream of tomato, or put in other veggies or rice or macaroni to stretch it or to use leftovers.

Corned beef and cabbage tonight!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Powerless over others' actions

A recurring theme in these now years of blog posts has been letting go of issues that are not mine to deal with: acknowledging that we are all powerless over people, places, and things, and then letting them go, putting the responsibility where it belongs -- which is not on ME.

I keep working on doing that. And I keep working on not worrying about the outcome of others' actions, and to not feel (or act on) the great need to step in front of that speeding train to keep them safe.

Some days I am more successful than others.

According to one astrology site, a change is coming this week. Hard as change can be, it needs to happen for me.

Not that I want drastic, awful, horrible death-in-the-family change, please, oh please not. Just a shift towards the positive, towards good growth and constructive actions.

And more letting go of things and situations that I am not responsible for, that I cannot cure, that I cannot control. Trying to manage my own thoughts and actions and life is enough: I am not responsible for the outcome of others' choices.


Spring is springing. Our harbinger tree began leafing out this last weekend (right on time) which means that the other trees will soon bud into green life. We've had daffodils springing up here and there for a couple of weeks now, and many flowering trees (some of which lost lots of blossoms in the cold and wind we've had recently) but the little tree that unfurls its greenness first has always been our true indicator of spring.

While I do enjoy the lovely mild temperatures and the pretty green grasses that make this area so beautiful in the spring, I can't help thinking about the heat that I know will follow all too soon, and I confess that I prefer the woodstove, the rain, and the green grasses -- even the weeds -- to the crispy brown fields and searing 110-degree days that are always a part of our summer.

Our weeds are definitely thriving too -- we have not yet done the spring RoundUp blitz that beats them back from the house and along the driveway, and need to do so. If I can just go out for 10 minutes each day and pull weeds, it'll help: we're now past the stage where they are little sprouts that would hardly be seen once hit by the weed killer, and into full bushy mode, where they'd lay in dead heaps on the ground and REALLY look crappy.

Rhubarb is coming up in the (also weedy) garden but I'm not ready to think about getting into the garden just yet, nor about the plants in the pots close to the house. Later.


I'm not doing well on my intention to write a book so far; some better on taking care of myself. I'm loving my weekly yoga class and can feel strength building in legs and core -- I only wish we had it twice weekly but am grateful for even this. Loving the monthly massages that so slow me down and release the bad kinks.

It takes time to break bad habits too, and I'm working on that -- most especially the one about letting things go. I'm grateful for time and security to do that. It will come, just as those hot days of summer will come. Meanwhile, we take things one day at a time -- doing all we can, where we are, with what we've got.