Thursday, July 21, 2016

Winging It

Doing my homework!
I like to think of it as “doing research,” but I approach almost everything by first Googling it. I don’t remember what I did in the pre-Internet days (probably counted heavily on books, newspapers and magazines), but since the dawn of the world wide web I haven’t made a move without getting background (lots and lots of background) on it. Doctor visit coming up ? I scroll through at least 12 pages of websites until I find the diagnosis I want. Movies, concerts, plays? Don’t plunk down a red cent until I read all the reviews. Without Yelp, I would never make a restaurant reservation. And travel? Tripadvisor was my constant companion as I booked flights and lodging, and checked out museums in Europe on our vacation.

All this is well and good, but I seem to have lost the ability to navigate the world without a goof-proof plan. Maybe it’s a reaction to the chaos of our times, but I feel much more secure when, for example, I read at least a hundred comments on the fit of my possible online dress purchase before I buy. If Mary S (age 45-59, style sleek and classic) complains that an outfit makes her look “middle aged,” that does it right there (never mind the fact that she—and I—actually ARE middle aged.) As my hundred commenters rarely agree, I haven’t bought a dress in ages.

Same goes for cooking. I love to prepare meals for my family and friends. My stack of food-
PJ's delicious entree!
splattered cookbooks attests to my intense interest in the subject. So why am I feeling like a kitchen fraud these days? Blame my sons, daughters, and daughter-in-law. None of them usually rely on recipes before they launch into meal prep. They all saunter around the kitchen like Top Chef finalists, flinging garlic and onions into skillets sizzling with olive oil, making substitutions to beat the band (no spinach? Collard greens! Chicken cutlets instead of fish fillets? Why not? I hesitate to adjust printed instructions by so much as a dash of pepper. Even after 50 years of cooking, I have little confidence in the outcome of any shortcuts or switches I may make. In the fish market the other day, they were sold out of rockfish for my intended “blackened rockfish” entree. PJ was with me, and not only did he suggest red snapper instead, he came up with his own blackening seasoning mix, and took over the sautéing and plating (adding his own touches like honey-lemon dressed greens on top of the fish). Delicious, and truly his creation.

I’ve decided to go Google-free for the rest of the summer (or at least Google-lite), and get used to winging it once in awhile. Trusting my own judgement and abilities for a change. What’s the worst that can happen? An inedible dinner? An unflattering skirt? Nothing fatal. And maybe, by relying on my instincts, they will gradually improve.

So who cares about Rotten Tomatoes ratings? “Ghostbusters” remake, here I come!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Better Than New

You'd think, after 13 mission trips, that I would have suggested we travel to an all-inclusive resort in Aruba, but no! Down to steamy Bayou la Batre, Alabama we went. We were warned about the heat and humidity and bugs. We traveled with plenty of water bottles, sunscreen and DEET. 

As is my pre-trip habit, I spent most of the last month worrying--about safety, about health, about you name it. By the time 5 AM on July 3rd rolled around I was pretty much a basket case. The teens were very excited (though slightly bummed when my "no phones" rule turned out to be enforced), so little by little I caught a glimmer of positivity and even enthusiasm in myself. 

With Beverly
There followed our week of service. We spent several days painting a house and shed, and clearing brush, for a lovely lady named Beverly, and the other days running a "Kids Club" for the local youngsters. All things I've done many times before, albeit not in 98 degree temperatures (being outside was like walking through soup). I reminded myself that our time was short, and we should accomplish as much as possible in this Katrina-battered Gulf Coast town. I noticed some little differences this year, courtesy of my aging body...the aching back and feet, the pains in my knees as I knelt to wash the kids' feet the last night in Bayou la Batre. I felt it wan't fair to give less than 100% when the young people were trying so hard, so I pushed on.

Our travel day home was lengthy. Up at 6, first flight from Gulfport, Mississippi to Atlanta, four hour layover, delayed flight to Philly (we got in two hours later than expected). Of course, a bag was lost. Mine. It was eventually found and delivered to my door at 1 AM, heavily damaged (but props to Delta Airlines, they also delivered a brand-new suitcase).

I'm feeling better every day. Like the tattered tote replaced by the latest model of luggage, I am feeling refreshed, and for that I thank my week in Alabama. Pushing my limits was a good thing; I realized I can still do quite a lot. It was a joy to see bonds form and strengthen among the teens. Since we've been home, I've looked at the photos with affection more than relief. 

I don't know what Summer 2017 will bring. It may be time for me to take a break from these trips. But I will always be grateful to Bayou la Batre, as I am to Guatemala, Alaska, West Virginia and on and on. I may depart incredibly stressed, but I ALWAYS return a better person. Stronger. More compassionate. Closer to God. Inspired to continue to do good work here at home. These experiences force me to live fully in the present moment, and to let go of some of my baggage. And in letting go, I have faith that what returns to me will be good as new. Better than new.

What's left of the old suitcase!