Beating the Heat

heat-strokeIt’s 90 degrees outside, and the temperature is still rising.  This is the second day of this heat; certainly not typical of June in New Hampshire, but sweltering none the less.  Earlier in the week my daughter Abby mentioned that her downstairs air conditioner was not working.

I am by nature a problem solver.  I immediately checked my bank account, while calculating what I believed to be an accurate guess of the square footage of Abby’s and John’s house.   I looked up a chart to find out what size unit was needed to cool the first floor.

And then I stopped.

Abby never asked me to help her.  In fact, she stated that by keeping the shades drawn, the downstairs was quite comfortable, and the family could always escape to an air conditioned bedroom.

This gave me pause to think about summers when I was a child.  When I was growing up, people rarely had home air conditioning.  In fact, many stores weren’t air conditioned.  When I was very young, my family had only one small table top fan that whirred like an airplane and threatened little fingers with menacing metal blades.  My older sister and I took turns sitting in front of it on hot nights when our beds were too tangled and we were too sweaty for sleep.  As I grew older,  I discovered that by moving my pillow to the floor underneath the windowsill, I could catch a cool breeze and read by the streetlight at the same time.  I felt as if I had won the lottery.

PopsicleWe children found relief from the heat in many ways. We hiked up Academy Hill to the town library, and sat inside the cool granite walls, turning the pages to lose ourselves in adventures of exotic people in far-off lands.  We sat beneath the shade of the catalpa tree, drawing tic-tac-toes in the earth below the eaves on the north end of the house on Green Street.  We checked the pay phone at the corner of Main and Lincoln Streets for spare dimes and bought Popsicles to split and share.  And on rare occasions, ended the day with a swim at a lake, hanging our bare feet from the back of the station wagon on the ride home.

As a teen I watched my mother orchestrate a daily game of hide and seek with the summer sun.  Early in the morning she opened the shades on the west side of the house and shut the blinds on the east side.  She turned newly purchased window fans to the highest setting to bring in the cool morning air, and then as the sun rose high in the sky, shut them off and pulled the blinds, keeping the house as dark and cool as possible. Housework was done in the early hours, and the evening meal was not cooked until the sun began to dip, making for leisurely dinners savored well after dark.

judah 6.13Certainly reminiscences of the Days-Before-Air-Conditioning are more pleasurable done in the comfort of my apartment, where central air is included in the rent, and window fans are forbidden.  However, I do believe that given uncomfortable circumstances, most people will find creative solutions.  As I learned from my mother, Abby learned from me how drawing the shades and keeping the house neat, clean and calm lends itself to a cooler environment for her little boys.  Yesterday she filled a wading pool for Judah and let him splash until his toes looked like prunes and his hair formed spikes that dripped pool water over his face.  She took him out for sorbet…before lunch! She found a spot in the shade for Abram, who undisturbed by the sound of traffic and his brother’s happy shrieks, turned his face toward the breeze and settled into a relaxed summer snooze.abram

Tomorrow a cold front is supposed to move in, and by Wednesday night the temperatures are supposed to drop to the high 40s.  But for today, the fans are whirring, the cicadas are humming, and I hear an ice cream cone calling my name.

Lemons to Lemonade

This past week someone commented on my ability to turn a negative into a positive.  I guess I haven’t thought about this for awhile, but in contemplating it after the conversation ended, I realized that it is a learned behavior that through time and practice has become hard wired.

I come from a long line of positive thinkers.  My mother, who was by no means saccharine, could add a teaspoon of sugar to any sour situation, making the medicine go down as well as Mary Poppins herself.  When disaster prevailed, her solution was to have a good cry, preferably wrapped in her arms and held close to her heart, followed by, “That’s enough now.  Dry your tears, buck up, and let’s get to work to fix this.”

My grandmother, Helen Dow, was a bit more stoic, but infinitely kind and gentle.  She had eyes that danced with laughter, and she approached life much like making cookies.  If you spill in too much salt, just increase the flour, sugar, butter and vanilla until you double the batch.  You’ll end up with twice the fun.

I adored these two women and learned much from their grace under pressure.  If plans fell to pieces, serendipity abounded.  It’s all in how you define success.  I guess I picked it up by osmosis, or at least by careful observance and modeling.  However, in thinking more carefully, there are steps to follow.  Here are 10 basic beliefs to get you started.  (And yes, there are more of food metaphors.)

  1.  Remember you have options.  If you are handed a bowl full of lemons, you can lemonslet them sit on the table, just as they are.  They won’t be anything but lemons.  They’ll look like lemons, smell like lemons, and taste like lemons as long as they are left untouched.  Or until they rot. Then, they’ll turn brown, smell awful, seep into the bowl, grow mold, and lose their shape.  You can enjoy- even relish fresh lemons, just as you can bask in the sadness of life’s disappointments.  But only for a season.  It’s up to you to determine how long that season is.  Just know that the longer the season, the less fresh the fruit.
  2. It’s okay to cry over spilled milk.  Positive thinking is not ignoring the reality of a tough situation, or pretending that we aren’t daunted by disaster.  When faced with sadness or disappointment, it’s important to recognize and validate those feelings.  After all, the elephant is never going to leave the room until you acknowledge him, name him, and even nurture him for awhile.   Have a good cry.  Emotional tears release endorphins. They release stress.  They clear your sinuses.  And a good cry makes you look as miserable as you feel, so you are no longer bound to hide behind a false smile.
  3. Share the wealth.  Admittedly, this is something that I preach much better than I practice.   I have a tendency to “forget” to mention if something is amiss in my life, so when life events- like my divorce, or a major surgery- arose, people were stunned.  I heard a lot of “Why-didn’t-you-tell me?” and “I-had-no-idea!”  Loved ones were actually hurt that I had not kept them in the loop.  So although I still prefer to silently shed my tears in the shower, I try to be a little more open about my personal challenges.  I’m not saying that we need to post every little issue on Facebook, but sharing disappointments, fears, and challenges with a trusted family member or friend can garner support, encouragement and a fresh perspective.
  4. Don’t give up.  I am a practical Yankee at heart, who believes in mending, gluing and repairing as much as possible before calling it quits.  When my children struggled to find a solution to a problem, their father often urged them to “Find another way.”  These were wise words.  Most torn relationships can be sewn back together.  They may bear the scars of the stitches, but given the correct attention, scars become badges of honor.  And some things just take perseverance. When I trained to be a smoking cessation coach, I learned that most people make several quit attempts before they succeed.  We learn a little every time we fail, so the next attempt may just be the winner.
  5. When all else fails, let it go.  One evening when I was around twelve years old, I new-year-broken-dishesbegan to set the table for dinner.  The plates were stacked on a shelf that was just above my shoulders, and in my attempt to juggle enough for our family of ten, the stack began to slip from my grasp.  One by one, the plates fell to the floor, smashing to ceramic shards, until there was one lone plate in my hand.  I turned to my horror-stricken mother.  Her eyes were wide and her mouth open, but no sound escaped.  I knew the next moments were not going to be pretty.  I looked at the lone plate in my arms and without a word, let it fall too.  Some things are not salvagable. When you meet the end of the road, call it quits and find another route.
  6. Look for the silver lining.  This may be the most important step, as it’s the key to turning a negative to a positive.  I’m not Pollyanna-ish, but really, some of the best things in life result from trials.   As a child, my daughter Elizabeth was often in the hospital.  I often wondered if all the tests, prodding,  IVs and blood draws would make her feel as if she lost part of her youth.  Now an adult, she assures me that her life was in many ways richer.  She met incredible doctors and nurses.  She learned a lot about her body.  And what touched me most is she says that the time she and I spent in hospital rooms together strengthened our relationship.  Even though she often felt sick and scared, she believed that she and I were an invincible team, and she never doubted that together we could overcome any obstacle.
  7. Separate needs from wants, and appreciate what you have.  When disaster strikes, assess the situation.  Are your loved ones still alive?  Are your relationships intact?  Remind yourself that “stuff” can be replaced, and evaluate whether it is something you really needed anyway.  Chances are, losing “things” will matter less to you once you categorize according to needs and wants.  And when the worst happens and you lose someone you love, bask in the memories of the time you did have.   Recall a conversation.  Tell the story of a particularly memorable occasion.  Let your mind wander back to a time when you were both happy, and allow yourself to bask in that sunlight for a bit.  Then, take a look at the people who are still with you.  These are your treasures.  Cherish today with them.
  8. Prepare by making every little moment as special as possible.  When my kids were growing up, we often did things together, but I also tried to spend one-on-one time with each of them every week.  My son tells me that his self esteem soared after taking a long walk on the beach together, or going out for pizza.  As parents we often think that the best times of our kids’ lives will be the trips to Disney or the huge birthday parties.  But now I know that the most precious moments were those laughing over silly illustrations in a book, or listening to a mix tape together.  It is these moments that build the armor to withstand the winds of disaster.
  9. The cookie will crumble, but know that this too shall pass.  No poor situation lasts for ever.  Sometimes you just have to get through it.
  10. Look up.  I would be a liar if I pretended that my faith has nothing to do with mysky-22116_960_720 ability to turn negatives to positives.  We don’t always understand why, and it’s not that trials won’t come.  But we are never alone.  And in the end, it all comes out in the wash.
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