Guest Bloggers

On the day that I was born I waved a flag, by Guest blogger Lorie Sheffer

Bethany Beach July 4th Parade
Bethany Beach July 4th Parade, 2003 (photo: Lorie Sheffer)

The 4th of July is my favorite of all holidays. It always has been. I love everything about it; the food, the fireworks, the parades, the fact that it is in the middle of summer. Philadelphia Freedom is my summertime anthem, immediately putting a smile on my face no matter what time of year I listen to it.

Thinking of Independence Days past, several stand out. There was one spent as a child at Lake Arrowhead Campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C. There was the time that I sat with my friend, watching the fireworks being set off from the boats on a lake; that was the turning point, when my friend and I realized that we were meant to be more than buddies. We ended up spending the following July 4th as a married couple. Our son was born on July 6th, missing a Born on the 4th of July birthday by just 24 hours and 10 minutes.

The next several years were spent at annual back yard cookouts at my in-laws’ house, followed by the huge fireworks display at the fairgrounds. We spent many more July 4th days in our own back yard, hosting swim parties. The best July 4th BY FAR was the year we spent it at the beach. We rented an old cottage style house right on the main route of the Bethany Beach, Delaware parade. We sat on the front screened-in porch and watched as vacationers and townspeople decorated bikes and floats. They marched by in droves, with bands and mummers and royalty cars and politicians. Even the Governor of Delaware was there to celebrate. We had the grill going by noon, hit the beach in the later part of the day, and that night we sat in the front yard on lawn chairs, watching the fireworks display that was set off on a barge out in the ocean. My adult kids were there with their friends, and I somehow knew it would be one of the last of those types of vacations, when everyone was in the same place at the same time.

This year I plan to sit in my back yard by the pool. I will most likely fire up the grill for old time’s sake. Hopefully there will be a few unexpected guests. Ironically I will be listening to the music of Sir Elton John on this, the anniversary of our independence from British rule. As always I will be listening to the sounds of fireworks in the distance.

Guest Bloggers

Take a leap, by guest blogger Lorie Sheffer

midlife experiments
Midlife experiments help make us better Boomers (photo: Lorie Sheffer)

I’ll admit it; I read the AARP newspaper that comes in the mail. I convince myself that it’s meant for my husband, as I am not old enough for it to be mine. I read it so that when I AM old enough, I will be ahead of the game.

Last month, there was an article that jumped out at me. “Escape Your Comfort Zone”. It is easy to Google if you’re interested in reading the article, which I think is well worth the time. It encourages us to try new things. It explains how stepping out of the box is good for us in many ways, including adding to our overall happiness and strengthening our brain.

I thought of an example of when I stepped outside of my comfort zone and let the chips fall wherever they chose to land. The plan involved preparation of the sacred Thanksgiving turkey. I don’t eat meat, but I do like to cook. A few years ago, my son decided that it would be fun to deep fry the turkey. In the front yard. Every Thanksgiving since the Pilgrims made that first feast my ancestors have roasted the turkey. I had visions of the fire department in our front yard. Of charred meat, singed arm hairs, sirens, food poisoning….. The brining process alone made it look more like a science fair project than a holiday meal. Neighbors stopped by to gawk. I had a back-up bird in the oven. And in the end, it was the most fun Thanksgiving I can remember, and the bird was juicy with a crisp, bronze skin. Even if things had gone horribly awry, it would have been memorable and become instant family lore.

Doing what makes you uncomfortable can be exhilarating. I’m not talking about doing anything illegal or immoral. Just taking that leap of faith into a new adventure. It could be auditioning for a play at the community theater, trying a new exotic food, wearing something you usually wouldn’t consider wearing. When we hit middle age, the last thing we should become is boring and predictable. Middle age should be celebrated!

Guest Bloggers

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, by Lorie Sheffer, Guest blogger

2012 road repair
2012 road and bridge repair in York, PA (photo: Lorie Sheffer)

Before you can fix a problem, you have to recognize it and acknowledge it.

Sounds pretty simple, and yet sometimes our perception of normal can be distorted. Other times, we may know that we need to change but refuse because we want to be in control, not realizing that our control lies in our ability to adapt and change.

One day in physical therapy, my husband’s therapist asked him to close his eyes and stand up straight, equally balancing his weight on both feet. Because of the lack of sensation due to his stroke, his perception of normal was skewed. He closed his eyes, got into position and confirmed that he felt balanced. When he opened his eyes and looked into the full-length mirror that had been rolled in front of him, his eyes grew wide. He looked like a human Leaning Tower of Pisa. How could he have fixed it when he couldn’t feel it? He hadn’t realized there was a problem.

I have heard one partner in a difficult marriage say they are not the one who needs to change. They are not going to couples counseling, because it is their partner who needs to be told to make changes. They will just continue on as usual and wait for the other person to change. The thing is, even if their spouse is the one who needs the most work, how they react to the behavior of others can not only decrease their stress, but also go a surprisingly long way in helping solve the problem.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.”

Guest Bloggers

Well-worn pathways, by Lorie Sheffer guest blogger

old habits
Well-worn pathways, photo: Lorie Sheffer

jeff noel is correct when he tells us that constant repetition is key in forming permanent habits. If we keep repeating behaviors, they become automatic. We can almost function on autopilot. Last month, bridge construction began on the road leading to my house. I have lived here for almost 30 years, and that road is my normal route home. Even though I know the road is closed, it’s amazing the number of times I have automatically headed toward that road, only to remember after missing the detour that comes before my usual turn. That worn path is ingrained into my brain.

The human brain has millions of well-worn pathways, formed from repetitive behaviors. This is why it’s so hard to break bad habits, and to unlearn automatic emotional responses. Certain triggers will kick in automatic responses. We have to unlearn those learned, deeply ingrained reactions. Sometimes in order to do that, we must avoid the triggers. A friend of mine told me that her son was doing very well after recovery from drug addiction, but that he was fearful of returning to his hometown. In his new environment, surrounded by new friends, he didn’t have the old triggers to past behaviors. Those old, deeply ingrained responses were stronger than the new and healthier learned behaviors. Statistics show that people who lose a significant amount of weight often struggle to keep the weight off, mainly because they tend to revert to those old behaviors that lead them to be overweight in the first place. Years ago, when I gave up cigarettes, it took quite awhile for me to feel comfortable around someone who was smoking. It can be so easy to cave in a moment of weakness, under times of stress, and reach for that drink, cigarette, or doughnut.

We each have our own demons, so to speak. Just yesterday I saw a quote by Janis Joplin that fits my own struggle to overcome my automatic response to stress. “You can destroy your now by worrying about tomorrow.”  As someone who has been battling an anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember, those are words to live by. That concept, not worrying about things over which I have no control, has been a daily challenge. We all have a choice; we can give in to our ingrained behaviors or we can make a daily, continual effort to create new pathways. If we need a map to navigate then so be it. But if we continue on the new path, some day we will find our way home without having to consciously think about it.

Guest Bloggers

Know the difference, by guest blogger Lorie Sheffer

A short and pithy post from guest blogger Lorie Sheffer. Lorie reminded me in her email that we can’t control the snow, only the shovel.

we can't control the storm (photo: Lorie Sheffer)

There’s a huge difference between giving up control and giving up.