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Greetings from Flagstaff !

We’ve escaped the hellish heat of Phoenix and have gone to Flagstaff. Last night we actually slept with the windows open. Oh the joy!  Richard, our boniface at The Starlight Pines Bed and Breakfast, is busy making breakfast. He is well over four feet.  He constantly nags for Xanax but I gave him a Spo-shirt instead.

Later today Brother #2 and family arrive for a week’s holiday. They have never been to Flagstaff.  Richard has the joy of hosting a full house of Spos. Someone and Urs Truly are in the Dragonfly Room, Brother and Sister-in-law in The Peacock Room,  and The monster nephews in The Lily Room. Not only are the boys well over four feet, they are well over six foot. They bring with them her mother. She’s on the main floor so she doesn’t have to maneuver the stairs.  A house full of excited Spos can be quite boisterous. Richard just may need that Xanax.

What is more marvelous than waking up on a summer morning with no plans?  Until the callithump of relations arrive, Someone and I have nothing to do and no desire to do anything. We could go hiking – or shopping or whatever. We could sit on the porch all day and read if we fancy.  I can think of no better arrangement.  This must be what retirement feels like.

I call this indolence “Having a Jordan day”.  Years ago I had a patient named Jordon (not his real name of course) who entered into analysis at his wife’s insistence to find out what was the matter with him. He didn’t want to do anything; perhaps he was depressed. It turns out he was content to bum around, sit by the bank and fish. His wife – let’s call her Mrs. Jordan – wanted him to join groups, attend lectures, contribute to boards, and travel.  She saw his lack of activity/growth/networking as ‘wrong’.

I think there is far too much Mrs. Jordan energy running around these days making us run down and guilt-ridden when all we really want is to do the crossword puzzle.  Growth and social intercourse are good things but let’s not lose the value of Jordan Days.  There is goodness and healing for mere Being.

With that said, after we have our breakfast we will turn to each other and ask what does the other want to do. Both will say I dunno what do you want to do and so forth until something is settled. It may be mere sitting and reading. I am all for that. And if my inner Mrs. Jordan starts a fuss I plan to put a pie her in her puss.

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While cleaning out papers at the office I found a small piece of art, which was lodged between some old journals.  The object d’art was almost tossed into the shredder with the JAMAs. It is a water colour of what I believe is The Pleiades.  On the back there is a signature “Betty James,  2003″. **  It was carefully wrapped in plastic; it looks as fresh as if were painted only yesterday.

Betty J. must have been a patient although I don’t remember her. Files from that time are off-site in some faraway storage bin. I have a vague memory of a woman giving me this bit of her artistry but the ‘when’ and ‘why’  is long forgotten. After it was discovered, I paused in silence and began thinking many thoughts. It was sheer luck I had found it at all; if I had been more hasty I would have missed it entirely. She was an elderly woman I recall; my intuition tells me is she is probably deceased.

What does one do with mementos that once had meaning but no longer do? It was probably given in gratitude. It was not some cheap or mass-produced item but an expression of her Self. I thought of all those who have gone before me who have touched me in some way. My soul swooned like Gabriel Conroy in “The Dead” to think upon it.

I decided I will get it framed and hang it in my office. When I see it I will think of ‘Betty James” although there will be no more recall other than what I have written here. The painting makes me think ahead to my own death. Now the artwork has meaning but it will become of no value after I go. It will cease to be a memory but merely some nice picture hanging in my office.  It will probably be tossed out along with the remaining JAMAs or put in a rummage sale.

In psychiatry residency we were taught our power is minimal but our influence vast. We may not leave specific legacies but perhaps we will touch others just enough to alter their life’s Journey to make a difference in their lives and those they encounter. I wonder if I did this for Betty James.  I assume I did something for her, as she gave me this gift. Today The Pleiades gave me another gift although I can’t put it in words.

journeys

 

**Not her real name of course.

Last night when I should have been sleeping I was listening to a lecture on FOMO, an acronym for ‘Fear of Missing Out”. *  The lecturer’s thesis: our cellphone and techie-toys have entered into a demonic alliance worthy of the Wonder Twins, not seen since early man discovered we had opium receptors in our brains that match up with poppy juice. Behind these sinister couplings is the matter our brains are trained to:

a) fear and continually check for such.

b) love us some dopamine rush.

I tend to go to FB and Yahoo-News etc. often and at times when I shouldn’t be doing so. Some of this is done out of angst ‘I might miss something ‘major’ – whatever the hell that is.  There is some magical thinking going on here: I have to keep on a constant vigil with US politics lest thems in the Senate pull another outrage while I was minding my business and looking elsewhere.

Even as I type out this sounds ludricious; the ‘need’ to check in on social media etc. is rubbish pure and simple.

Whenever our brains get stimulated by something pleasurable there is a little ‘pop’ of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Think of it as the ‘yeah!” hormone. It provides the ‘rush’ we get when we taste sugar, hit the jackpot, achieve orgasm, or find a few French fries at the bottom of the bag.  It all pushes the same button “Release the dopamine!” There is also a dash o’ dopamine to having an itch scratched or a tension broken, or an anxiety put to rest.  Using our cellphones fits this model all too readily, as does social apps with their ‘likes’ and thumbs up etc. Add a dash of fear of missing out if we don’t and we are hooked.  Oh the pain.

Well, the first step in treating a problem is admitting there is one. I am working on less ‘check-ins’ on Huffington Post and other news media  if only for the sake of my blood pressure. I am certain to survive missing FB posts. No one is really going to be aghast if I admit I wasn’t aware of Hair Furor’s latest bloviate simply because I wasn’t watching CNN on a continuous basis.

Now that this cosmic Kolinahr is established and sworn before Spo-fans there are a quid pro, a proviso: blogging is the exception. Blogging is atypical that I ‘check in’ maybe 1-2x a week.  I like to keep up on my blogger buddies. Reports of their simple daily doings make me feel good – perhaps provide some health benefit. Certainly there is dopamine dropping from reading blogs. 🙂

 

* Please pause to see the irony of this.

OK – one more time. Here are some more cosmic Truths I’ve learned from life.

#11 – There is always choice. 

This Truth is often overlooked or dismissed as not so.  It’s a pity, for the acceptance of the axiom we can always make a choice is quite liberating. It has released people from more false cages than I can count. Taken to its extreme we can’t get away from choice. Life is continually forcing choice upon us. Choiceless are given the choice to be bitter or be better.  This is not denial or pretending black is white.  We can choose not to act; we can choose to be positive; we can choose not to succumb. Very little is left as fateful destiny this way. What a comfort.

#12 – Don’t help so much.

Star Trek has its Prime Directive based on this principle. Helping is the sunny side of control. People need to go on their Hero’s Journey; they need to fumble and learn on their own even when we are aching to help.

#13 – Never trust trout.     This one needs no explanation.

# 14 – Look at the stars and skies.  This is a very good tonic for grandiosity and delusions of self-importance.  It is humbling; it gets you to think outside of yourself.  I pity the folks who live where they can not see the night sky.  I think if we paid more attention to what’s above us we wouldn’t so absorbed in our navels and the mundane.

# 15 – Be kind; Walk humbly; Do justice. 

I want this for a bumper sticker. I think a Jesuit priest said this just before he was done in by the Iroquois. We are really just walking each other home.  Keeping this in mind makes  our steps mindful and meaningful.

 

So there you have it.   Spo-fans can leave in the comments any Truths I have left off or don’t know yet

#6 – Make good art. 

Creation may be just as important to the human psyche as touch and good night’s sleep. Bloggers know this. Our metier is the written word; it is our life raft in the storm of society.  Make good art. Make some on the good days and make some on the bad. Most of all, make yours. Write what is yours and what you know.  If people remonstrate you in your creative work to make them more favorable tell them they should have behaved better.

#7 – All things worthwhile in Life come with a cost.

Nothing of real value comes easy and without a price. You can measure the value of something by the size of the sacrifice. The Fall of Man in The Garden of Eden is an apt metaphor. When we grow, we lose something. The expression “Growing pains” is somewhat literal.

#8 – Try to do a little better with sleep – you know what I mean. 

#9 – Bread is good. 

Bread  is not diabolical or inimical, but nurturing to Body and Soul. Go eat some proper bread, no rubbish. Toast it if you wish.  Eat this with real butter – and feel good about it.

#10 Almost everything works again if you unplug it for awhile, including yourself.  I was recently reminded of this axiom and it cheered me up and gave me great comfort. Periodically turn off all the TV and the techie-toys and go get lost. Don’t let the world know how and where to find you.  I recommend a daily ‘time out’ dose x 15 say every 6 hours, and a once a year bolus week long vacation to nowhere.

That’s enough Truth for today. Try and tell as many people as you can in town.

Or – “Cosmic truths I’ve learned from Life.”

There is truth and then there is Truth. Truth with a little ’t’ encompasses mundane facts such as it is 105-120F here in PHX and tea is lovely hot or cold.[1]  Big Truth is a little ticklish to define. Thanks to the modern four horsemen of the apocalypse[2] Truth is getting harder and harder to define and determine.

It dawns on me next month I get double-nickels for my age. I thought I was turning 54 or just 53.  I thought I would try to write down everything I know for sure – or almost positive about – that is Truth, prior to my next birthday and share them with the Spo-fans. [3] I can think I’ve come up with about two dozen. So – I will post a series of “Urspo tells u the Truth” entries until one of the following occurs:

a– I get them all down.

b– Spo-fans grow bored and I panic and redo “Walking the Dog”.

c – The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections threatens bodily injury if I don’t change the subject right now.

 

#1 – Hard choices: easy life; easy choices: hard life. 

When I think back on regrets or what I could have done, I see most of it was because I took the easy way out or was trying to avoid strife.  I’ve learned it isn’t our actions that do damage as our inactions. Now I tell my patients who won’t leave a toxic job or relationship or forgo an inimical habit “What is the cost of your inaction?”  In other words “sticking to the devil you know than the one you don’t know” is rubbish – or at least rubbish most of the time when in doubt do it.

#2 – Everything you know is wrong.

Well perhaps not everything but I think it is a good assumption to assume you don’t have the answers all the time. Even the most staunch of convictions need periodi re-examination for nonsense and clap-trap.  Indeed, whenever I have a conviction or run into someone with one I immediately become skeptical. Mind! This does not mean disbelieving everything. That isn’t being stoical that is being nihilistic.  The later sounds good but it is was and lazy pyrite; it is like that of an actress on stage imitating a cheap pain.

#3 – Okra was never meant to be eaten.

I don’t think it is really a food actually. If you have to do something with it so much in order to make it digestible than it ain’t worth it.

#4 – I am no longer 40.

See #2.  I often feel and want to think I am really just a young man with something rather wrong with him. Next month I may write out a series of post-its with “55” on them and put them up so I am reminded to get out and do things before it becomes ’66’.

#5 – Laughter is good medicine.

Water may be ‘the great solvent’ but ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Laughter is effervescent grace.  Find some absurdity and humor in everything, no matter how sour the situation.  When in doubt watch a Marx Brothers movie. Take the advice of Binky. [4]

That’s enough Truth for today. Try and tell as many people as you can in town.

 

[1] Do not dare to question this.

[2] The internet, politics, the media, and Hair Furor.

[3] Be appreciative. People spends months waiting to see me and shell out some bucks to hear this stuff.

[4]   Unknown

UnknownToday at the grocery store Someone asked if there was anything else I wanted besides what was on the list. My normal response to this enquiry is ‘a piston engine!” but today out came “Otter pops!”.  Both us us were surprised by this unexpected ejaculation.

I know where this is coming from. My long-dormant desire for sweets was awakened last week when Urs Truly was down and out and only able to drink Gatorade (nasty). Apparently onslaught of the high fructose corn syrup pressed all the neuro-receptors in my brain to unleash an inimical amount of dopamine and opiate to make me wanting more.

We located a box of them (hey were on sale!) and took them home. They are slowly stiffening in the freezer; by evening I will be happily sucking a stick turning my tongue unnatural tones of color.

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For Spo-fans unfamiliar with Otter Pops, they are basically cheap popsicles. Long tubes of plastic are filled with water, sugar and artificial this and that. Then they are given fluorescent coloring (I think there are seven). They are cold, sweet, and just the right thing for a hot summer evening – like my men.

No nutritionist or orthorexic busy-body can stand up to the mawkish pleasure of a popsicle. It has been decades since I had a proper one (thems on a wooden stick). I can imagine no better treat for summer. By themselves they taste cold and chemical sweet but oh! the associations!  Hot summer nights (before the obliquitous AC), July 4th fireworks, and BBQ with ribs and corn and such.

Ice cream was splendid but popsicles were better, for they came in zany flavors and shapes. I recall one shaped like a rocket, with red, white, and blue layers to suggest America.  In our neighborhood ‘Popsicle Pete’ would drive by, playing a tune, announcing he was here. Like The Pied Piper of Hamlin us kids lost our frekkin minds. We dropped everything to run to Mom to beg for a quarter. We always worried we would not catch him but he was no fool.

There is no satisfaction as sitting curbside, sucking a popsicle, and sticking out your tongue to compare whose is more gross looking. Purple tongues were the usual winners.

Tonight it will be 44C (translation: hot as hell).  There will be no fireworks and I suspect Someone will not be interested in seeing what colour is my tongue.

I look forward to having the quiet satisfaction of consuming an Otter Pop with all its splendor.  I shall have two at once, a lime and a blue one. How zany.

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Cookbook

I am near completion of making one of those ‘do-it-yourself’ cookbooks on line, where you enter recipes, divide them into chapters, add a few photos, and hey, presto! you have your own cookbook. Mine doesn’t have any original recipes; it is a gallimaufry  of favorites which are scattered throughout dozens of my cookbooks. I will have them all condensed into one tome, my own Sybillane Book of Spo-recipes. As the project nears completion, I step back from the contents and reflect went into it. It is curious to see how these chosen recipes mirror my being.

The majority of  these recipes are not ‘gourmet” but simple Midwest concoctions (think casseroles and busy day hot dishes) the matrons of the family made to feed as many as possible within a budget. These are the ‘comfort’ dishes; they remind me of Aunt This and Grandmother That.

The chapter on cocktails is rather extensive oh dear. In contrast to the intrepid eats these recipes reflect my zeal to try things new and adventuresome. Of no surprise to me most of these libations have exotic ingredients and they are quite colorful to reflect my fondness for such. After all there are few edibles in life that are bright blue.

There are many recipes for dressings, rubs, and sauces.  There are six recipes just for BBQ. As a boy I hoped to find or make a bona-fide book of magic full mysterious ingredients for potions and fairy dust. Culinary magic is as close as I have come.

There aren’t too many recipes for sweets and such, which correlate to my panache for starches rather. There are several recipes for bread for the intrepid bread machine, my adult version of an easy-bake oven.

Fascinating! In among the time-honored old favorites is one recipe I have never made. It is from the first cookbook I ever had: “Betty Crocker’s Boys and Girls Cookbook” . It is for a topping for ice cream. I’ve been meaning to make this now for over forty years. It’s been carried along on index cards and preliminary cookbooks etc. and I haven’t the heart to abandon it now. Perhaps if I include it in The Cookbook of Spo-eats I might finally make it. The recipe reminds me there is more to cooking than the familiar.

Red Devil Sundae Topping

8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained

2 T light corn syrup

1 T red cinnamon candies.

Directions:

Simmer the ingredients over medium heat in a sauce pan, stirring occasionally until the candies have dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool; chill in the refrigerator. This makes about a cup of sauce.

There is a ritual catching on in medical schools called The White Coat Ceremony. I’ve not seen one myself, nor was I in one.  Apparently the schools welcome their incoming students with a presentation of their short white coats. My school has reached out to its alumni to sponsor a student via purchasing his or her lab coat. The recipient of this medical munificence gets a card with the donor’s name. We donors are encouraged to write a few words as well.

Urs Truly always has a desire to write great or witty prose; I am first in line to do so. I’ve decided to forgo brevity and wit so I won’t write such things as  “Don’t bother” or “It was hell” but write a proper letter.

Here is the first draft for Spo-fans entertainment and input.

Dear student,

Welcome to the wonderful and wacky world of Medicine. I wish you well. I am nearly thirty years ahead of you. I would like to share with you some sage words for you to keep in mind as you fall down the rabbit hole.

First of all, keep an open mind. The dirty secret is hardly anyone ends medical school with the same vision they started with. Practically everyone changes their specialty and some do so a few times. Most of what you will learn in med school will be either obsolete or useless by the time you hang out your shingle. Yes it’s important to pass the tests but the real point of school is to learn to think like a scientist with a critical eye. Learn to learn.

It will often seem overwhelming and tedious; many times you will doubt your sanity why the hell did you get into this when everyone else your is making money, having fun, and getting sleep too. It all seems tiresome while you were in training but from my view looking back it is a blink of an eye in one’s lifespan.

You will run into many doctors who will complain and discourage you. They will make you wonder if Medicine was a mistake. Shun them and seek out positive role models.

Above all else: take care of yourself. Even caretakers need care-taking.  You will be no good to others if you are no good to yourself.  If you need guidance – or just a shoulder to cry upon – page.  Despite it all it is a marvelous Journey. I’ve had no regrets; I hope you have the same.

Spo-fans know Urs Truly is working on a cookbook. The tome is not exquisite nor original but pragmatic. It is to be a collection of my favorite recipes, which are presently scattered throughout a my cookbook collection. Some examples: Mother’s gingerbread is located in her church’s women’s cookbook. When Someone makes a pot pie, that recipe is in a  Betty Crocker cookbook. James Beard American cooking Cookbook has my recipe for Jam cake. You get the gist.  It would be nice to have them all in one book for easy reference.

Every year since I was a little boy Mother’s side gathers on the same summer weekend for a family reunion. Everyone brings food of course, and someone always makes a layer salad. This same dish, timeless and unaltered, has graced the buffet table for over 50 years. I want that recipe in my book, although I have never made it myself. “To the research” as my colleague says.

I soon became overwhelmed by the myriad of variations of this recipe. There are 5, 7, and even 9 layer versions. Throw in the recipes titled ‘Layered salad’ and there are enough to make one every night for years without a repeat. Oh the pain. Which one was is closest to the one in my memory? I’ve had it many times but never stopped to consider the ingredients.  Stinko.

Then I came to my senses. Nearly all my Facebook ‘friends’ are relations, so I posted the question which relation on Mother’s side makes this or who has the recipe.[1] It finally got around my mother’s cousin’s wife, Aunt Gail who is the maker of the dish. [2] She sent me the recipe, which I duplicated without editing :

Layered Salad:

1 head chopped lettuce 

3-4 stalks of celery finely chopped

2-3 carrots finely chopped

1 can drained sliced water chestnuts
1 small onion finely chopped
1 small bag frozen peas
(layer these items in pan, then spread top with mixture)
2 cups mayo
2 Tbs. sugar
(cover and let set in refrig. overnight…then add)
3-4 large tomatoes sliced thin
4-5 boiled eggs sliced thin
1 jar bacon bits
shake on Parmesan Cheese

This lovely dish captures the urtext of Midwestern cuisine. I plan to make it as soon as I am off my diet and I plan to eat it all myself. [3]

Meanwhile, other female relations on both side of my family tree sent me their versions of this mercurial entree.  Cousin/Aunt Joy sent me this one:

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What I adore most about this is the nostalgia of the typewrite on an index card, which is stained no doubt from use. I particularly find charming it the dropped letters.  The typist got to the end, made a typewriter boo-boo, and decided it was good enough and not worth typing the card over again.  The typist (probably her mother, my father’s cousin) had to compact the directions for the sake of space, hoping one would intuit the directions. I plan on making this one too; I am curious to see which better floats my boat, as it were. I suspect both will be enjoyable. [4] After all, there is nothing as comforting as food with family history as its main ingredient. It may not be haute cuisine but it made with love. [5]

Spo fans who have fabulous layer salads (7 or otherwise) are invited to share their recipe in the comment section.  I would be blithe to have them. 

 

layered salad

 

[1] A clever-dick Spo-fan from Canada, noticed for his good looks and wit, left the comment in his house 7-layer salad is called lasagna.

[2] I knew this but I had forgotten. Mother keeps in touch with all her cousins of which she has plenty. I used to know them all but now I get them confused. Just hate that.

[3] I will have to eat it all myself for Someone is highly adverse to mayonnaise and I don’t think using sour cream or yogurt will do the dish justice.

[4] I am already conjuring up my own Urspo-layer salad, using the best bits of each and with possible add-ons and higher quality ingredients – no rubbish.

[5] And maybe made with a slightly altered version that has a secret ingredient one keeps to oneself so the others can never make  it quite as good as you. 🙂

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