Sunday, December 30, 2012

For the Love of Eggnog

I am a fan of Eggnog.  I love the taste, the texture, the aroma.  I love everything about Eggnog.  My favorite brand is actually the generic HEB brand.  Light Eggnog is too thin, brand name Eggnog is too thick, and Soy Nog - just no.  What is my problem with Eggnog then?  I am lactose intolerant.

Anyone who suffers from lactose intolerance, or milk related allergies, can understand the pain and suffering for you and those around you after ingesting milk.  If I had enemies, I would never wish lactose intolerance upon them.  It is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and highly inconvenient.  The train scene from Samantha’s favorite movie “French Kiss,” sums up lactose intolerance quite well.  After Meg Ryan’s character eats more cheese than she can handle, the evil beast rears its head: "Spasm! Spasm! Oh, God, here it comes... lactose intolerance!"  (It really is a cute movie if you are looking for a date night rom-com).

When the holiday season rolls around I know Eggnog follows closely behind; despite all of the discomfort, I am eager for it.  Maybe I am a bit masochistic, but I yearn for Eggnog.  I cherish its delicate touch on my tastebuds.  I somehow convince myself I have been cured from my lactose intolerance.  With every sip (and I do sip to make it last as long as I can) I pray my insides won’t succumb to their evil tendencies.

Growing up, I had no problems with milk products.  I remember sitting and drinking whole glasses of milk.  In fact, if I had trouble sleeping at night, I had a sure-fire concoction to put me back to sleep - warm up a glass of milk in the microwave, dump a whole bunch of sugar into it, and stir in a little maple syrup.  As an adult, I can look back and realize I really just put myself into a severe carb coma, but at the time, I thought it was the milk.  Then, at some point during my sophomore year in high school, my body rebelled; milk and I no longer agreed.

Over the next couple of years, I convinced myself and my parents that Eggnog didn’t bother me like milk did.  During the holidays, we bought extra Eggnog and froze it, ensuring that the Nog would be around for the remainder of the year.  I didn’t use it in my cereal or anything, it was just there in the event I craved thick, milky sweetness - which of course, I did.

Eventually, the realization set in that Eggnog and milk were essentially the same thing, minus some heavy cream, eggs,  and a pound of sugar or so, and I let go of my unhealthy yearlong binge.  But, despite my acknowledgement of the discomfort it brings, I still look forward to the Eggnog time of year.

I am not sure I will ever understand the part of me that willfully ignores the impending results of imbibing Eggnog.  It is not an addiction, otherwise I would seek Eggnog out the rest of the year, which I do not.  It is more like a yearly visit from an old friend with whom I share a tumultuous, yet rich history.  Yet every year, without fail, that visit ends in us rolling around on the ground throwing punches and pulling hair.  

Maybe it is human nature to nurture a long term weakness simply because of the temporary pleasures it delivers.  I am sure if I look closer, I will discover more of those than just the lust for the sweet Nog.  Unfortunately, we so often ignore the reality of our situation to reap the benefits, however temporary they may be.  I know I do.  When it comes to the glory of Eggnog, no matter how problematic it might be, I set aside all knowledge of lactose intolerance, fully immersing myself in the depths of delicious, liquid sweetness.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Season of Distractions

The universe has thrown many distractions our way this year as Christmas approaches.  The media latches onto every big story, pumping them for everything they have, blowing them up on our TV screens, on the radio, on our computers.  Everywhere we look, there they are.  For just a moment, disconnect, find some peace, and focus on what this season is really about.
Christmas is coming.  Regardless of the manner in which you participate - be it religious or secular - the roots of the Christmas holiday still stem from the same source - love.  For Christians, the Christmas holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus.  As St. John the Devine teaches in the Gospel "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son."  This gift of love is seen as the first Christmas gift and is supposed to be the model for our gift giving.

Santa Claus is modeled off the legend of St. Nicholas, a fourth century Greek Bishop living in modern day Turkey.  St. Nicholas was known for his giving heart.  One story, the one most likely to be based on historical fact, has St. Nick giving a bag of gold to a family three times - each the night before their three daughters come of age.  St. Nick even goes so far to avoid recognition he drops a bag of gold down the chimney, landing it in a stocking hung to dry.

Whether you celebrate Christmas because of Jesus or simply to follow the gift giving of a fourth century saint, the idea behind the gifting still holds.  Our gifts are supposed to be acts of love.

With more information about the Newtown, Connecticut shootings arriving every day, we might tend to focus on the plight of man instead of the hope portrayed in the Christmas message.  While I can understand our concern at the failings of our society and the need for discussion on how to prevent such events from occurring again, if viewed from an incorrect position, our view of this Christmas season will definitely be skewed.  As I suggested in Following the Ripples, keep your heart and soul set on love.

The shootings give us an opportunity to give a Christmas sized gift as well.  The country is expending so much energy right now in figuring out how to prevent future mass killings.  Some say limit guns, some say give everyone guns.  Some focus on mental health care, some on video games.  Everyone knows something needs to be done, but there is no consensus on the next step.  Christmas is the perfect message and offers the perfect solution.  We must follow the examples of the Bible and St. Nicholas - give love freely.  Root every action in love.  Teach love to your children through every thought and action.  Love yourself, your neighbor, your community, etc.

A gift of love can change the world more than we can know.  With so much attention on the so-called Mayan apocalypse, all our thoughts were on whether or not the world would end.  Perhaps the end of the age was so much more simple than we thought.  Maybe the end of the calendar only signaled a change in the way humans deal with each other.  Perhaps now, we will choose to act through love in everything.

This Christmas, remember what is important.  As the bumper sticker proclaims - "remember the reason for the season."  That reason, ultimately, is love.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Following the Ripples

In a world where every violent tragedy is painted as a sign of humanity’s degradation and certain failure, I choose to withhold judgement - not of the killer, but of humanity.  The act of murder is vile and disgusting; our reaction to this particular tragedy is heightened because of the innocence of the young victims and the heroism of the adults.  Instead of allowing ourselves to become inundated with the hateful feeling engendered by this vicious act, I suggest we do something entirely opposite.

When a thrown pebble enters the surface of a pond, its energy is immediately transferred to the water itself, creating ripples.  The ripples carry the energy from the pebble until the energy is absorbed or neutralized, returning the surface of the pond to a state of equilibrium.  The larger the rock or the faster it travels, the more energy is released upon impact, creating bigger ripples that last longer and take more time to find equilibrium.

A small private tragedy in a localized area rarely makes ripples beyond its own borders.  These are our pebbles, leaving small ripples behind which dissipate quickly.  To the people involved, the ripples created are no less important, but the number of people affected is decidedly less.

The Connecticut tragedy is akin to a boulder plummeting into a lake.  The ripples created are immense - I am sure you feel them ripping through your soul every time you read a news article, see a post on facebook celebrating the lives of one of the dead, or when you look at loved ones of your own.  It is impossible to imagine the kind of feelings felt by those at the point of impact, when our own feelings have such tremendous energy. 

An instant after the stone strikes the surface of the water, it submerges, disappearing from sight.  The only evidence anything occurred is contained in the energy rippling out from the center.

We all feel the ripples of this tragedy.  I do not have children, yet tears still grace my eyes at the thought of loss these families endure.  Social media roars with the raw emotions every time a ripple pushes past.  My hope is that we do not succumb to the rage, the anger, or the hate, pushed forward so aggressively on the crest of the ripples.  Instead, we need to embrace the opposite of those destructive emotions - love - and help the ripples to dissipate faster.

After a disturbance on water's surface, ripples travel until the energy is counteracted by an equal force, or until the energy has been absorbed by the lake itself.

As a ripple comes upon you, keep your mind focused on the people in your life and how much you love them.  Look to those who have lost someone and see the love they feel for them - that love is what gives them so much pain, not the rage or hate they might feel for the killer.  Let the energy of this event ramp up your love for everything and everyone.  Negative emotions can not stand in the face of true, perfect love.  Be part of the counteracting force that helps to dissipate the negative energy sent out from this terrible event.

A body of water whose surface is disturbed can never truly reflect that which is above it.  Only by creating perfect stillness, absent of ripples, can a perfect reflection occur.  The more we can help to buffer any ripples that do occur, the closer we as individuals, and we as a race, can get to perfect stillness.  The way to find that stillness is to exist in a constant state of love, neutralizing the negative energy sent out from ripples such as the one we experienced recently.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Up on the Rooftop

The spirit of the Christmas season engenders a vast range of emotions.  Excitement blooms as trees claim their traditional places, anticipation for Christmas morning permeates the young and the old, anxiety festers at the state of the checkbook, melancholy lingers for those Christmases past.  Odd as it is, just yesterday the Christmas season delivered a new, unfamiliar emotion to me - fear.  
I am not normally a fearful person, regardless of the season.  I work to keep an even keel, avoiding situations that might encourage a fear response, staying centered emotionally when presented with a fear inducing problem.  Fear is such a negative emotion, I avoid inviting it into my life.  In fact, I actively pursue the opposites of fear - calm certainty, joyful appreciation, loving anticipation of the uncertain.  In my experience, these are much better approaches to living life.

Most fear responses seem to come from the unknown and uncertain.  Fans of scary movies would tell you that the fear response is created in the audience by not knowing what is behind the glowing door.  As soon as the door opens and the monster is revealed, the emotion shifts from fear to something closer to fright.

Our imaginations are creative powerhouses.  They have built this amazing world in which we live.  But, along with the our creative inventiveness comes the specter of the unknown.  What lies behind the door gives rise to terrifyingly creative answers, most which are profoundly more fear generating than whatever CGI inspired creature inevitably shows up.

My fear response did not have to do with scary movies or real life hauntings.  In fact, as mentioned before, I encountered fear while participating in a pillar of the Christmas season - hanging lights on my roof.

In the five Christmas seasons since Samantha and I moved into our house, I have hung the lights once before, two years ago.  This year, I followed the same process as before.  I used an eight foot ladder to reach the lip of the roof, climbing carefully over the gutter.  Once on the roof, I laid the lights down and reviewed the plan.  While I am sure we do not have the steepest roof ever built, it certainly felt steeper than the last time I was up there.  I quickly, but safely, climbed to the first peak and took a seat, surveying the neighborhood.  After enjoying the cool breeze for a few minutes (it was 82 degrees outside), I began scouting the roof.

My memory of being on the roof before has me scurrying all over the place with full confidence in my safety.  I scrambled up to the peaks, crab walked down to the edges of the roof unreachable by ladder, and was generally unconcerned.  This time, this was not the case.  After slipping and sliding to the second peak, I sat there for quite some time.  In my mind, I was trying to convince myself that I was taking my time to formulate a plan for hanging the lights.  

In reality, I was too scared to move.

My feet had been sliding more than I remembered and my shoes didn’t seem to have the right grip.  The drop to the ground seemed further.  The angle of the roof seemed more steep.  Nothing seemed to feel right.

So, I did what any man would do.  I sucked it up.  Well, for a moment, anyway.  I slid out to the front-most peak, straddling the point, and hung some light holders underneath the shingles.  I wasn’t quite shaking, but I was definitely not comfortable.  After retreating back to the safety of the center of the roof, I looked around again, weighing my options, telling myself I wasn’t going to give up.  I slid my way back to the ladder and climbed down, defeated.

Feeling fear in this way was unfamiliar and it made me ask some questions to which I am not sure I knows the answers.  Was it fear or intuition?  What is the difference between fear and intuition?  Are they related?

I am a big believer in following your intuition, and there is definitely a part of me that says intuition played a large part in getting off the roof, but I have to wonder, can irrational fear influence the perception of an intuitive response?  I think so.  I think it is important to make sure we know the difference between the two responses and how they relate to each other.  Unfortunately, that takes practice encountering fear, which is not something I am interested in pursuing.

Either way, whether intuition, simply fear, or some hybrid of the two, the oak tree and the bushes in front of my house now look quite festive.