The secret to sanity

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I usually keep at least one candle lit in the house, saying a prayer when I light it. Candles definitely lend a romantic, mysterious ambiance to any interior. I also keep a candle on the porch; when I'm expecting a visitor or family member who's been traveling, I light the candle to welcome them.

Most parents’ lives aren’t packed with mystery. (“Honey, Baby Bobby’s poopie isn’t so green today!”) But I believe one path to happiness lies through mystery.

I studied Latin with a ballerina named Camille at Indiana University, and I was always amazed at her perfect grades. One day, I asked her how she did it so effortlessly. She confided that she lit candles, played Gregorian chants, and pretended she was a medieval monk translating texts.

Back then, I thought she was a weirdo. Now I think she was a total genius, a visionary. She was using her imagination and embracing humanity’s mysterious past.

The big-deal psychologist Carl Jung lends cred to the need for mystery. Jung said, “Show me a sane man, and I will cure him for you.”

There’s two lessons to take away from this: As a psychologist, Jung exhibited keen business sense by doubling his customer base to include the sane and insane. The second lesson is that it’s crazy to view life totally in factual, scientific terms.

I’ve felt more grounded since I increased my exposure to mystery. I volunteer at the Oriental Institute, a free (!!!) museum in the University of Chicago dealing with adventure and archaeology.

Indiana Jones would’ve studied there–in fact, the character is based on a real OI Egyptologist. At the OI you’ll see artifacts from the place many believe Armageddon will occur, and I’m always relieved to see the end of the world will not occur in a bathroom in my house.

With every artifact I see, I have the same reaction as Chris Farley in Tommy Boy: “That–was–awesome!” Seriously, I stand before a bit of Dead Sea Scroll with my hair blowing like I’m in a shampoo commercial.

If you’re stressed, you may feel you can’t escape an unpleasant situation, but there are many local ways to escape into mystery. Worship and meditation help. So might reading a mystery or ghostly book by Region authors Mark Marimen, Kate Collins, or Scarlett Dean. A drive along Red Arrow and Blue Star highways in Michigan can be mysterious as you wonder what’s beyond each bend.

Museums make you feel you’re investigating a mystery–I love how the fairy castle in the Museum of Science and Industry is deep in the basement, just as the most primitive part of your brain is deep inside.

Turn off the computer, and light a candle. I missed the last issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, but I doubt it featured the article “Kim Kardashian’s Seduction Secrets (Hint: Light-Emitting Diodes!).”

I also think it’s important to lend enchantment to children’s lives. At the OI, I found an Egyptian perfume bottle, where I keep fairy dust to sprinkle on my kids before lights out.

How to win a pickup game

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will.i.am’s mix, above, is an awesome picking up song–and the bass solos are suh-weet!

Today’s topic is tidiness. In the countless conversations I’ve had with my girlfriend Gracia, I’ve felt the most profound sisterhood when we discuss keeping the house picked up. When the house is in order, I feel more well-being and control over life. But with four kids age 11 and younger and an aging Jack Russell Terrier, having a picked-up house is an elusive trophy. So here’s what works for me.

If you pick up throughout the day, you will at least keep up with the mess–over time, you’ll eventually conquer it. Many household managers advocate just picking up once or twice during the day, so you’re not constantly irritated by the repetitive, boring task. Either way, remember: We’re not trying to get your house perfect, just better than the day before.

If you schedule a pickup time, make it during your favorite TV show, so the task is done before you know it. You’ll get exercise while enjoying your show.

Pick times of the day when you have lots of physical energy, though you may not need much mental acuity. You’ll be happier and more productive, picking up more toys in less time and saving time for other chores.

Never go anywhere empty handed. I live in a quad-level house, and my kids drag toys and socks and underwear from one level to another. So when I go downstairs, I take diapers to the garbage. When I go upstairs, I take dirty socks to the hamper. Baskets are a good way to collect items to take from one level to another.

Play mind games. When I look around, often so much needs to be picked up, it’d be easy to get frustrated and give up. So when I pass through the area, my rule is to only pick up three items. I know this sounds a little obsessive-compulsive, but bear with me. Three items takes 15 seconds, gives you a feeling of control–and soon, the clutter is all picked up, which reduces your frustration.

Before you let your kids watch TV or play video games, have them do their homework and pick up. If they made a huge mess, have them just pick up five or twenty items each, depending on their ages.

Don’t forget to reward yourself for all your picking up throughout the day–maybe a cup of green tea at night or a bubble bath.

Write me with your strategies for keeping a picked-up house. That way, we know we’re not alone.

Taking time for you when you have no time at all

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It only takes a split second to renew yourself.

(Blogger’s note: I received a request today for a column printed in 2009 in The Times; indeed, it does seem relevant as ever, given that we’re in a season in which parents are getting bogged down with work, requests for fund-raisers, fall sports, and the like.)

Today’s column is about taking time out for you. With the advent of beautiful weather, I get outside when I can and take the kids with me. Outdoors, I don’t worry about them watching too much TV or getting too little exercise. I get my workout and keep the mess out of the house.

Last column I discussed making goals. To minimize burnout and maximize your wellness, take a few minutes to determine if your life is balanced as possible. Do you take time for your intellectual development? This can be as simple as picking up the newspaper and reading one article you normally wouldn’t.

Practice your spiritual wellness. Take five minutes to read about faith, pray, or meditate.

Do something today for your physical well-being. Substitute a healthy snack for that candy bar. If you can’t spare the time today, plan to wake early tomorrow to walk around the block before your kids awaken.

Most moms have no problem fulfilling the interpersonal side of life. So think about ways to improve. Start by giving everybody in your family an extra hug today.

Satisfy the vocational element of your life. If you work outside the home, solve a problem at work or join a professional group. If you work inside the home, connect with another home manager to make yourself the best you can be.

Most moms don’t have lots of time to ponder their wholeness. But almost everybody can spare 15 minutes a day, if only after your kids go to bed. And 15 minutes is all it takes to turn around how you feel about your life.

Graduating? You need your sorority more than ever

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My legacy

Graduating? You need your sorority more than ever.

Sister, I was a senior too, finding excuses to miss chapter meetings, rolling my eyes and wincing as we clapped and cheered during rush. Twenty years later, I realized the clapping and cheering were seriously awesome.

I was one of 125 women who colonized Indiana University for Tri Sigma in the late ‘80s. Many did burn out—while finding our way, we often had five-hour chapter meetings. (Now I have four small kids, and I call the chance to sit for five hours “the spa.”)

After graduation, I moved thirteen hours from home to St. Paul, Minnesota. I didn’t know the grocery store’s name, let alone how to get there. The five parties a week I took for granted in college dwindled to none a year. Those clusters of purple-and-white balloons I didn’t glance at in senior year would’ve looked incredibly festive to me.

I endured depression for two years until my mother suggested I connect with Tri-Sigma’s St. Paul alumnae chapter; I also joined the Junior League of St. Paul. Suddenly, I had an instant anchor, women whose family had lived in the area for 150 years—women who knew how to show a newcomer a good time.

The same thing that drove me crazy three years before—women expecting me to show up—brought me career satisfaction and personal happiness. When jobs returned me to Indiana, I missed—and still do—those women and the Minnesota they taught me to love.

After graduation, you might move thousands of miles to someplace you know nobody. You will be a blank slate. Few will know your name; nobody will know your values. Some things you take for granted—money, perhaps, or the emotional support of family and friends—will disappear as you learn some people aren’t good at long-distance relationships.

Even if you return home, people will only know the old you, whereas you know your sorority sisters better than you think. Recently, I had drinks with a pledge sister two years older than I—so I didn’t know her well—and I heard her laugh for the first time in two decades. I was stunned to recognize the same laugh and the same whimsical sense of humor.

The moment you graduate, the carrots-on-sticks stop: no more honors, awards, or grants. If you marry or have children immediately, you will be taken for granted. Babies can’t talk, and the most ardent boyfriend turns into a husband who comes home at night too exhausted to talk.

I’ve written before in my blog at http://www.wormsoup.wordpress.com that our culture is based on discontent. So after you cook a five-course, gourmet meal, your partner says, “That was good.”

Good? Some people in this world only eat a handful of rice a day. That meal was great!

But still I didn’t understand the value of cheering until I took my toddlers to Kindermusik. After every activity, we adults cheered, even if our child spent the whole time in the bathroom. We were celebrating progress, however small.

I’ve learned support, encouragement, and cheer are the underpinnings of every sorority relationship. No matter your walk of life, you need that: The world is full of people who tear down others, perhaps because of their own unhappiness, perhaps because they don’t know any better.

Because of our consciousness, every human has an identity, and after you leave your university, you’ll re-establish yours, whether you realize it or not. Now you need your sorority most: One inescapable part of your identity is your sisters once saw and accepted the unfinished you and realized your potential and how special you are. If they saw it, you must see it.

If you uphold the bonds of sisterhood you promised to uphold forever, you’ll cement your confidence to uphold other forever bonds, like marriage and children, and you’ll have access to women who can help you.

Contact your national office, and find your closest alumnae chapter. If you can’t find one, start one—I am, and it takes an average of five minutes a day, every day. (And yes, this is a shameless plug for Northwest Indiana Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma.)

I’ll be cheering for you.

Pool philosophy

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Take that leap--now!

So I’m in the pool at Innsbrook Country Club, and I challenge my son Max, 6, to a hop-like-a-frog race. Immediately, he bobbed to the end of the pool, beating me by at least four yards.

“No fair!” I yelled. “I want a rematch!”

Not until I drank a glass of Pinot did I realize the match *was* fair, after all. I told him we would race, and he began. I wanted to go backward to the opposite edge of the pool and wait for a ceremonial “ready-set-go!” so I could hop my fastest.

By differently interpreting the rules of our race, Max was pretty smart; when he didn’t procrastinate like I did, he didn’t need to race as fast or hop as far.

My son—who incidentally likes to pretend he’s a cat—knows something many sixtysomethings don’t: Don’t wait until you think all conditions are right. Start *now* toward your goals.

I’ve been working on this myself. Instead of telling myself, “Because I cheated on my diet with that Ho-Ho today, I’ll start eating better tomorrow,” I’ve been saying, “I caught myself snacking on that Ho-Ho instead of eating it mindlessly. What an improvement!”

That is, I didn’t make a mistake; I made a start.

I wish I would’ve thought that way when I was 23, in the midst of a recession, and struggling to find a media job in Minneapolis-St. Paul—where everybody in the Northern Hemisphere seemingly also wanted a job.

One day, after getting my sixty-seventh rejection, I lay on the sofa, stared at the ceiling, and cried. On my breaks at my $4.25-an-hour temp jobs, I would call back to the companies who said, “Call back in a few weeks, and maybe–”

I did. One day, a managing editor named Harvey Rockwood (really, that’s his name) blurted, “I’m glad you called. I found out an hour ago that I need a copy editor—fast!”

Now, as I train myself to live more healthfully, I’ve been retraining myself to envision success as a process, not a state. We watch “Cribs” on MTV and think celebrities were born with some celestial tuba’s “oompah” that rendered them superstars.

By the way, not even the fabulous live so fabulously. Frequently they joke on camera about the designer they hired to clean their refrigerator and arrange products on its shelves so you think they really do swill the energy drinks they endorse. We don’t see or consider the years of practice and rejection stars endured to *become.*

Even negatives bring us closer to a positive. Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Reverse that statement, and you’ll realize that if you keep trying, eventually, you’ll score a goal.

As a postscript, if you think it’s weird that a woman my age is conducting hop-like-a-frog races, according to livestrong.com, I lost 300 calories playing in the water that day. So there!

Comforting Poems of Life, Love, and Happiness

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In times like these, everyone could use a little extra comfort.Once upon a time, someone that cared for me gave me a rose. …
 
Thus begins a poem by my cousin, Waldemar F. Kissel III. My grandparents Kissel had five children, and all love to talk and express themselves. My cousin continues the family tradition with his first book, Comforting Poems of Life, Love, and Happiness. 
 
Wally’s personal warmth shines through each poem, making this the perfect book to curl up with at the end of a long day. Visit http://www.comfortingpoems.com for sample poetry and for on-line booksellers, including http://www.amazon.com and http://www.bn.com, Barnes & Noble’s on-line retailer. Enjoy!
 

 

Vintage German recipe: dumplings

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My grandparents owned a butcher shop in Evansville, Ind.–it sounds like it must’ve been an early grocery store–so there was always good eating in their home. Following is a recipe passed to my mom from her mom, Maxine Kissel. I remember being a little girl and watching Mom roll these out–a crucial memory in the success of this recipe, because here’s the thing:

These are the best dumplings ever.

Better than the Amish dumplings in pricey tourist traps, better than the frozen briquettes in the grocery store.

How could one woman’s flour and water differ so dramatically from another’s? There are two secrets. First, remember how I watched my mom roll out dough? She rolled them thick, say, between a fourth and an eighth of an inch. While experimenting with the recipe, I got carried away and rolled them to a half inch. You guessed it: The dumplings swelled in water, and I was left with an inedible pot of damp bread.

The second secret: Boil cheap parts of chicken for these dumplings; fat enhances the flavor. Healthy? No, but remember, my German-American ancestors worked long, hot, hard days: Their food needed to fill and fortify. Eat these dumplings, and you’ll feel like you could conquer a country. Of course, they ate less than we do: The recipe below fed a family of eight; I had to double it to feed two adults and four children. Wonderfully, the dumplings freeze perfectly, so you can thaw them for a home-cooked triumph on your busiest days.

Kissel family recipe dumplings

Mix 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside. Beat 1 egg, stir in 2 tablespoons milk and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add to flour mixture. Stir until mixed together to form a ball.

If too dry, add more milk. If too wet, add a little flour.

Dust wax paper and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the mixture on the wax paper. Cut in squares with a regular place knife. If time, let them dry. Add them to a pot of boiled chicken and a cup or two of chicken bouillon, boil twenty minutes, and–as my grandparents would’ve said, “Das ist gut!”