my blue heaven: psychology of waterfront living

’cause I gotta peaceful easy feelin’. When I live on Lake Michigan, even in the coldest of months, I feel better. When something stressful happens or I’m feeling low I will bundle up, grab a snow shovel, walk to the edge of the embankment, plop the shovel in the snow, and plant my bum in its scoop to sit there channeling my inner Cherokee in meditation. The neighbors have probably gotten over the shock of seeing me at the edge of a small cliff, poised to possibly sled straight down into the freezing waters lapping up on shore. Having a beer in hand probably dissipates that thought. What moron would be able to enjoy a beer after crash landing into the icy waves at the bottom? Someone who’s already had a few too many, perhaps.

Sometimes the lake seethes with me. Other times it lulls me like a mother comforting her whimpering wee one to just rest and be at peace. Other times, purely the vast expanse of the fresh water sea is enough to remind me how small I really am, how small my problems really are, and how loved I feel that the Creator would even take notice.

What is it about open waters, flowing waters, that soothe the soul? There is a psychological explanation for this. It may cost you more in the green stuff, but it may also benefit your health and mental well being.

What’s good for the mind is good for the body. Professor Michael Depledge  out of England has conducted studies on this. People responded positively to green expanses, even more so to green expanses with water. Furthermore, the closer to the water people were within that green expanse was even more pleasing to them. Following that, the greater the size of the body of water to which they were in proximity, the more favorable the result. Depledge eventually concluded, “Self-reported health correlates very well with real health. For the first time, we have had this information according to postcode, and we found that the closer you live to the English coast the healthier you are. There was some evidence that other aquatic environments helped too.” – From TheGuardian

Blue Mind, Blue Heaven. Check out a copy of the book Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols. A real estate broker I know read this to enhance his knowledge of what waterfront living can do. Personally, being part of the real estate industry for a time, I can attest to this. Homeowners on the water have a very chillaxed persona — (And, yes, that is a made up word). The vibes in their homes are less frenetic, their dispositions are more laid back and carefree. Every placard saying “Life is better at the lake” along the entire shore of Lake Michigan and northern Michigan inland lakes is not just some trite statement. Huffington Post contributor, Carolyn Gregoire, lays out before us the six health and psychological benefits Nichols attributes to being near the water, and what it means to have a blue mind. I highly recommend checking out her post above.

A blue mind is a creative mind. As a creative person, the first place I wanted to be when I started working on my memoirs was to be near the water. It’s cleansing to my mind. I can be in a rut all day, but when I step outside and just let the sights, sounds, and blue expanse of the lake engulf me, the first thing I want to do when I get inside is write down the creative beginnings that came to my blue mind on the bluff. Many of my non-fiction creative essays and chapters have sprung from this experience.

People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one to be able to have some time on the lake for my writing. I do feel lucky, blessed, in many ways, to have the opportunity. As a penniless writer it was a find of the godsend variety to be able to have a chance to do so. And I hope to again. You don’t have to be wealthy, just creative. Ask a friend to use their cottage near the end or the beginning of their off-season for a time. Many people winterize in northern states, but may hold off, or open up early for a good friend for a month or two. You never know. If you’re within reasonable driving distance of a large body of water, make the trip once a week, or more. Sit by the water. Get your blue mind fix. Rivers and inland lakes are lovely too. Find a public park with waterfront access to just run, do yoga, or sit with your thoughts, a cup of Joe, and a journal.

Join the blue mind group. Be aware of you mental status, your physical well-being. Some things could be alleviated by simply getting that blue mind effect. If all else fails, let the kids tear up the living room and go in the bathroom, lock the door, and stand under the spray of your shower head. It will clear your mind, give you space to just be, bring out your creative side, and give you the respite you need to see the destroyed living room and not go ballistic. Get out to the water when you can. With your partner. With your kids. It’s good for them too.Take more beach days in summer.You will feel relaxed and your kids will fall asleep on the way home. Win-win!

You don’t have to be rich, as Prince might say. (A nod to my husband’s obsession). But you can be rich in mind, body and spirit. I feel God when I am near the water. It’s where I sense his presence, his power, his majesty, his expansiveness. When I feel small and at peace, my heart is open to hear. I become meditative. I feel cleansed. I feel refreshed. When King David says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul,” what better scene of a peaceful encounter could one need than Psalm 23? David had a blue mind. And so can we.

 

on writing the truth and a personal essay

Writing about your life can sometimes feel a bit cathartic, but it can also give you this squishy, uncertain feeling in your tummy. You start to wonder if you said too much, or if you were so cryptic people were left scratching their heads. Sometimes you can deflect with humor or sarcasm from issues that feel too close to home. Or, you may be completely oblivious to the fact that you just gave out your exact geographical coordinates and told the world your kids are home alone every Friday night for date night.

Writing about your life in creative, non-fiction essay can start to get even more confusing. Because it’s not just about the every day you grapple with, it can go deeper, harder, stronger than that. It can tear families apart. It can reveal hidden things from your past, your psyche, your family, your friends. It can affect someone else’s life in a negative way. It can create such angst within you that you just leave the story behind all together. What if there were a way to tell the story by shifting the focus?

Try an exercise. Pick something about the environment you were in when an event occurred. It can be a sight, sound, sensation, scent, a taste. It can be an actual object that involves several of those senses: a meal, an object, a room. Focus on that. Build your story from there. Here’s an exercise I tried one day:

 

Forecast

realistic_deskube_weatheradio_12_1233759My dad has this radio. A Realisitc Radio Shack cube NOAA weather radio from the Seventies. It’s about three and a half inches square with a faux wood finish, a speaker on top, a long antenna, and broad white button that you click down to turn on, like an old tape recorder. It was a part of my life as far back as I can remember. In the early days. I remember the voices were real people who sounded very far away. Like they were on the moon looking down on us. I can remember that sound and it takes me to another time. If I know my dad at all, the radio still sits on his nightstand, and he still listens to it every night or in the mornings.

When I was a kid he would say things like, “I heard on the Noah weather radio that there’s a severe thunder storm warning for Kent County.”

I thought he was getting weather reports from Noah, the man who built the ark and weathered the greatest storm flood of all time. I imagined Noah standing on Mount Ararat, hand over his eyes, shielding them from the sun, and reporting weather patterns he could see all over the globe to the people talking from the moon.

“Noah probably knows a lot about weather,” I would think to myself as I anticipated lightning and rain.

Even into my late twenties, I remember hearing that click, and the static robotic voices of “Donna” or “Tom” reporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric findings. I smile thinking of him sitting on the edge of his bed as he listened as if it were his only connection to the outside world. He grew up in the days where families sat around the radio for their news and entertainment. I would try to picture him as a little boy in the Forties and Fifties waiting for Howdy Doody or The Lone Ranger to come on.

If he woke up achy he would say, “NOAA weather radio says the barometric pressure has dropped.” I asked him what that meant.

“Well, when it drops, there’s less pressure compressing your body, so your joints expand and cause pain,” he would explain, spreading his two big, Dutch hands apart, mimicking the expansion of the joints.

“Oh. That makes sense.”

I could usually ask my dad anything. Even if he were wrong, it sounded right. And I always believed him. Unquestioningly. He is a trained minister. Well educated. Well read. Studious. Well versed on a wide variety of subjects. Sometimes the facts were all there, but they were turned around. No matter what, he said it with conviction. It was as though being right, about everything, was of the utmost importance. In all things. All the time. Gray areas were dismissed.

You could set your watch by my dad. He is reliable, consistent, unwavering. In everything. Conviction, ritual, temperament. He is staunch in his beliefs and rigid in his schedule. He is of good, Dutch stock. Steadfast. Consistent. Nose to the grindstone stock.

I was born like him in that way. We like to know what’s going to happen. We like to know that we are doing the right thing. We like to know what to do next. We like to know what to count on in life. We like to know the sun will rise tomorrow and at precisely what time. We like to check the weather or the commentaries on certain scripture verses, just to make sure. We like to be right.

Life has taught me that it’s not always in everyone’s best interest to just plow along with my head down. I have become less predictable. Less black and white on issues. My Cherokee and Viking heritage from my mother may have something to do with blazing new trails, wanderlust, forced relocation, and learning to trust my own instincts.

My dad and I don’t speak anymore. We no longer see each other. We both feel that it is the right thing to do for now. I miss him. And I sometimes wonder if he misses me. I wish I knew for certain. If only life could be forecast the way Noah did for me and my dad all those years.

 

 

5 scary things you did not know about yourself until you got married and had step kids

“I do.” Roll movie credits. Then slap yourself because reality starts NOW. You are no longer a free agent. You are now a twosome, permanently. You are also an instant parental figure. You are still you, but there is more to you to discover.

I got married just before I turned thirty-one. Thirty years is a long time to live with yourself. I knew myself pretty well. If I had to describe my single self on a dating website it would have gone something like: “Fun-loving, laid-back, sense of humor, loves to laugh, avid reader, knitter, good with kids…” In other words, “I’m a super chill, fun, happy girl who will be a dream come true.”

I was that girl. Then I got married and became a step mom.

Here are some things not to be surprised by:

#1 you will try to change the other person and you will fail

Guess what, your partner isn’t perfect, and, guess what; neither are you. We all know we can’t change someone. But you will still try. Why? Because we don’t like to think we are part of the problem. We like to believe we are the other person’s solution. Women are especially adept at going to task on this with their men. We think we can fix them, and they will love us for it. This is an inevitable #fail. In other words:

Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed. -Albert Einstein

You can only change you for the better. And sometimes that is all it takes for the other person to want to change themselves for the better too.

#2 running and hiding…in the closet

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as overwhelmed by anything the way I have with becoming a wife and step mom. And I’ve been through some stuff. Trust me. I have the hospital records, medical transcripts, two psychologists, and a counselor to prove it. Physical pain? Bring it on. Emotional abuse and brainwashing? Just give it a good soak and a rinse as I clock some hours in therapy. A big exam coming up? Crack open those books and have those highlighters handy. Ace. Photograph a large outdoor wedding in the miserable humidity of a Michigan summer? Keep those water bottles coming and give me a fistful of 8 GB memory cards. Plunk me into a marriage and blended family? Where’s the closet? I’m going in.

Darkness, fetal position, outside noises muffled by the clothing surrounding you. Like a womb providing a feeling of security to keep you from spontaneous combustion, this dark, cramped place is your go-to sanctuary. When you find yourself here don’t be alarmed. Take a beat and think.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of shallowly breathing in your own carbon dioxide emissions, go outside, and take a deep breath of fresh air. Then go talk to your spouse who, yes, still loves you. Calmly, rationally tell him you are overwhelmed and you just want to talk about it. If he looks at you like he has no idea what you’re talking about (and he will — he might even verbally confirm it) don’t be offended. Look around you at the new chaos by which you are surrounded, and maybe his eyes will follow yours around the destroyed room and see what you see. Perhaps his ears are also ringing with the cacophony of noise he can usually block out. He may just stop and realize you feel totally powerless and unaccustomed to this kind of life from the one you led as a young, single woman of leisure. He just might look at you and say, “This probably is overwhelming for you, Babe. It must be frustrating. Let’s go talk. I’m here to listen.” (Wink, wink, gents).

#3 discovering your bedroom spirit animal

Taking a cue from My Big Fat Greek Wedding; are you a lamb in the kitchen and a tiger in the bedroom? Or are you a tiger in the kitchen and a lamb in the bedroom? Married sex is different than you think it will be. It just is. Expectations are different and varied. Sometimes the stereotypical molds are broken and the opposite of what you were told your whole life. Sometimes your husband truly is “sex-crazed” and can’t get enough. Learn who you are, what you like, and what you need spiritually, emotionally, and sexually, then talk about it with your spouse.

Vulnerability and intimacy in the bedroom are not things to trifle with. A lot of unnecessary pressure, rejection, and animosity can be avoided when you take the time to hear each other and sacrificially love each other. Be communicative. Be giving. Learn to compromise. Be honest. Be open-minded. Be patient and kind with yourself and your spouse. This is a marathon, not a one-night-stand. Don’t withhold sex out of spite. Don’t insist your physical needs be met on demand. Meet each other in the middle. If you aren’t feeling heard, be frank, firm, and affirming. If you need more emotional connection before getting down affirm that you want to meet your partner’s needs, but that you will need yours met as well so that you can be fully engaged — because that’s what we really want; full engagement in marriage. This is not a chore, but it is a responsibility to your spouse. Keep the warm fuzzies flowing between the two of you by mutually meeting each other’s needs for true intimacy, love, respect, romance, and acceptance.

Lastly, but definitely not least, have fun! Sex is a basic human need, but let’s face it, it’s a freakin’ amazing gift God gave to us to enjoy each other as man and wife.  It might not be what you expected, but it’s possible it could be better than you imagined. Find your bedroom spirit animal and discover your partner’s as well. Take a silly love animal quiz here. I did! I got Tiger, grrrr.

#4 the monster inside you

You’re a nice person, right? I mean, the guy asked you to marry him, and he loves you ‘cuz you’re super sweet, and a great potential mommy-type-person because you were a nanny, and his kids seemed to like it when you came over with a plate full of brownies for movie night. Everything was cool when you were dating. So what’s the problem? You can no longer go back to “your place” when you’ve had enough.

Don’t be shocked when the monster inside you shows up the first time you run into a parenting or relationship snafu. This is normal. It is the Reactive Phase, according to Doctors Cloud and Townsend in their book Boundaries In Marriage. It should pass, but it will take time. It’s just a way of finding out you really are an individual despite how individual you were before you got married. You are learning where your boundaries are. It’s okay. My phase lasted a good…well, let’s just say it lasted. It’s okay. My husband and I have survived and are learning to thrive. The goal is to thrive. But first, you must survive.

I’ve slowly begun to crawl out of the quagmire that has baffled me for so long and to look at life as an empowered individual. This has been me trying to get to the real me. I’m learning to have more self-control, patience with myself and others, and to take responsibility for my actions. I’m also learning to do what is best for me so that I don’t get so drained or stressed out as much. I might be justified in the way that I feel (which my husband assures me of often). I am not justified in going bat guano crazy. I have had to apologize to my husband and my step kids many times. Love does mean having to say you are sorry.

#5 turtle or hailstorm? a shocking lack of conflict resolution skills

Conflict. It’s not a bad thing. It’s what proves that you and your spouse are individuals. You both have something to bring to the table that is unique and complementary. However, conflict can turn into a bad thing. A thing you try to avoid resolving or insist on resolving at any and all cost.

Picture this: you’re standing over your husband at 2 AM. You are three hours into an argument and he’s face down on the bed with a pillow over his head while you insist on resolving a conflict “before the sun goes down upon your anger”. He insists the sun has already gone down and reminds you it will be back up in three and a half hours…now three…now two. To heck with it all; he finally gets up, makes a pot of coffee, and stares at you until you get it out of your system then he leaves for the day while you each live in your own sleep-deprived, relational Siberia. Truth.

I grew up in a home where conflict was defined as the thing that got in the way of one person’s agenda. It was resolved by everyone just doing what that person wanted to keep the peace. When I got married every nerve in my body bristled at just going with the flow to keep the peace. I felt like every infringement on my personal comfort level was an affront to my person, and I felt powerless to to do anything about it. So I would meet the issue head on.

I wanted to be heard for once in my life, and, damn it, I was going to keep trying until it happened. The less I felt heard the louder I got until all hope of being heard was drowned out by my own volume and ferocity. For the first time in my life I felt the Irish ire of my maternal heritage. I had a fire in me that was unleashed with no tools for conflict resolution. I worked so hard at chasing the resolution that it became damaging. Not only to the relationship. But to me personally. It was a bit like paddling a canoe on dry land; I was exerting a ton of energy and not getting anywhere. And I looked really stupid while doing it. I was exasperated, exhausted, and making myself miserable.

In the book Making Marriage Simple: Ten Truths For Changing The Relationship You Have Into The One You Want (wow, that was a mouthful. Deep breath), the authors place people into one of two categories; turtle or hailstorm. A turtle and a hailstorm usually end up together. You can guess which is which in the scenario above, and, yes, I am a hailstorm. I didn’t know this until I got married. It was shocking. If you’re not quite sure which you might be here is a little quiz that may help. There are ways for these two extreme personalities to resolve conflict. It just takes two to each tweak their own habits and natural default settings. Conflict can be resolved without loss of life or limb. It really can.

Marriage and blended family issues are not uncommon, but some common blunders and foibles can be avoided or alleviated with love, commitment, and wisdom. God says that if we lack wisdom we can ask for it, and he will give it to us without berating us. Solomon was greatly rewarded for his request for wisdom, and was known for his great wisdom throughout the ancient world. But even Solomon in all his wisdom had to learn some things the hard way. It’s called being human.

Marriage can push you to your ultimate personal limit. It can suck the life out of you if you let it. It can also be extremely rewarding, making you a better you. It can reveal your own faults, allow for personal growth, and be a place of unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace. When the scary stuff comes to the surface it’s what we do with it that matters.

What are some things that took you unpleasantly by surprise when you got married? How have you learned to confront these issues?

Are you also a first time step parent wondering how to blend into an existing family unit? What surprised you most about your new role?