Quiet Mornings

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It’s early morning on the last full day of vacation.

We’ve showered.

We’ve consumed breakfast.

And returned to our room.

Except for the woosh of an efficient fan and the slight rattle of an antique air grate, it’s silent.

But it’s not an uncomfortable silence. For it has nothing to do with dissent or frustration.

It is a mutually-appreciated silence.

Anyone who knows us will readily attest to the fact that we are not morning people. We don’t have much to say in the early hours, and we rarely display any kind of recognizable exuberance before noon. Even my students learn very quickly that I’m not to be tested until at least 10:30.

This, however, doesn’t mean that I resent being awake early in the morning. No, I truly enjoy the cooler hours before the sun begins scorching the earth, and I love the calm that pervades the air before the commuters begin their morning treks.

For my husband and me, it is an opportunity for peace before the demands of the day begin.

When it comes to vacation, this is a luxury we gladly embrace.

While many devoted travelers set schedules and wake up early to enact them, we choose a quiet peace. Sure, we’ll see the sights, but later in the day and at a much more leisurely pace.

Our mornings will be spent in an unspoken agreement of quiet reading and sipping coffee.

An onlooker might assume we are ignoring one another, but he couldn’t be further from the truth. For I have found that over time, my husband and I have developed a sensitivity toward one another that requires no words. We might be reading different texts on separate couches, but we’re still connected in the experience.

This understanding works well for us because we’re independent people who need solitude just as much as we need our date nights.

It concerns me that our society promotes the idea that couples have to do everything together, have the same hobbies, like the same television shows, attend the same pottery classes, and read the same books in order to be considered truly in love. The media suggests that having a clone for a partner is considered romantic despite the fact that it’s impossibly unrealistic.

Individuals, even ones in relationships, need independent pursuits. It has been my experience that those who can embrace this instead of trying to cover it up are the happiest.

Which is why I’ve been able to write this down while contentedly sipping my coffee on my last day of vacation. Thank goodness for quiet mornings.

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Redefining Family

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After a restful week at the beach, I can think of quite a few topics for this week’s very late blog. Yet the one that keeps coming to mind is family.

Extended family, immediate family, work family.

Anyone can qualify as family because, in my mind, the uniting factor is dependability. I can’t think of a stronger depiction of love than knowing without a doubt that these people will be there for you, and you will do everything in your power to be there for them.

While I cherish all of my family, today’s blog is for those closest to me.

20140726-105619-39379964.jpgFrom hospital visits to beach trips…

From pharmacy treks to coffee dates…

From crunch-time hors d’oeuvres to lengthy family dinners…

From tears to laughter…

From terse words to enveloping hugs…

From devastation to elation…

We depend on one another.

And yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever met a group of more independent people. You see, we’re the ones who want to take our luggage down six floors rather than wait for the bellman. We’re the ones who decline a ride to our car, even though we’re parked a mile away.

Yes, we’re stubborn and difficult and intense.

Our expectations are high and our hopes are higher.

We’re silly and proud and flawed.

We’re perfectionists…enough said.

Which makes it even more important that we stick together.

20140726-104827-38907636.jpgI realized this today as two very special people saw me floundering and, without a word of protest, jumped into the mayhem to help me get my hors d’oeuvres completed on time.

You know you’re loved when a vegetarian begins arranging salami for you—and doesn’t even make a face.

It is all too often that families function out of a sense of obligation, as though they are forced to help or listen. But I don’t see that with my family, and I don’t feel it. Instead, there’s only the desire to make their lives easier, to do whatever is necessary to provide relief or support. Today, as so many times before, I saw that in their calm assistance and willingness to rearrange their schedules to fit mine.

I’m lucky. Not all families are so inclined.

Instead, family is frequently seen as a burden. Too often, there is no sense of balance, and individuals are expected to go above and beyond out of a sense of duty. While this is a reassuring concept, to know that you always have that safety net, I much prefer the gentle give and take of a family made up of members who all want the best for one another.

Sure, we’re a mess. But maybe that’s why we balance one another so well…we’ve had lots of practice.

For this reason and so many more, I’m incredibly grateful for a family who embodies dependability.

With love,

Emma

The Underestimated Importance of Couch Cushions

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With thirty looming on the horizon and my disdain for fast food at an all-time high, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up.

However, adulthood is a slippery concept. When I was in my early-to-mid twenties, I felt like I was pretending to be an adult, as if deciding which brand of dish soap to buy or framing art and hanging it on the wall were part of the game of “being an adult.”

After getting married and putting away our new dinnerware, the concept appeared more solidified. I mean having various sets of champagne glasses has to qualify you as an adult somewhere, right?

Then, realizing I’d been in the same career for over five years helped further distance me from that feeling of a recent college-graduate. How can you have students you taught in middle school go to college and not feel like an adult?

But it wasn’t until recently that I formed a more distinct and fulfilling idea of what it means to “grow up” and why I’m content to step into that realm.

20140716-130639-47199548.jpgMy conclusions were actually drawn in spite of an article I read about expectations of thirty year-olds. It was one of those ridiculous list-type articles that detailed things, according to Elle Décor, that you shouldn’t have in your home once you turn thirty. I remember laughing to myself as I sat, in what I considered my fairly adult living room, and read that my couch pillows, television stand, and unmade bed were completely unacceptable. Really? Considering all the things that we associate with adulthood, this magazine was concerned with decorative pillows?

Apparently, maintaining cushions that were purchased with the couches is childish, as is an unmade bed. Sure, because I often bring my adult friends over to hang out in my bedroom nowadays. Oh wait, I don’t because I have a living room. But most absurd was the reasoning for vetoing the television stand. Basically, the article said that a stand is too “functional” and should be replaced with something more “decorative” in order to create a mature atmosphere. Decoration over function…not exactly the formula I associate with adulthood.

So you can imagine that I felt a strange mixture of childish and irritated throughout much of article, and I would have resented it all together if one key idea hadn’t been tucked in with the rest of the consumerism nonsense: the idea of transitioning from a temporary state to one of greater permanence.

The article was concerned with getting rid of temporary furniture, but the philosophy behind it made sense. Essentially, becoming an adult has a great deal to do with moving toward greater permanence. It’s so much more than choosing a different brand of laundry detergent than the one my mom bought when I was a kid; it’s creating traditions that will endure and developing domestic practices that will become a part of the weekly routine. It’s deciding what ethical and moral principles will guide my daily actions. It’s the ultimate embodiment of “finding myself” and proudly declaring it in the way I live my life.

Seeing these words in black and white makes the concept fairly intimidating. A lot of people haven’t “found themselves” by the age of thirty and might not by the time they’re forty. I think it’s important to focus on the “moving toward” part. This whole adulthood experience involves a lengthy transition.

20140716-130636-47196487.jpgSo while I may still have a television stand for years to come—but hopefully not these decorative pillows since they’re pretty worn looking—my transition has begun elsewhere. I can feel it in the move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. From growing fresh herbs on the porch, to buying pasture-raised beef and poultry from a local farm, to trying to replace my Starbucks addiction with conflict-free coffee and organic milk, I can feel myself embracing a lifestyle that I want to be a permanent part of my existence.

Everyone knows that adulthood is exhausting, overwhelming, and complicated, but it holds the promise of being very rewarding. That’s why thirty doesn’t seem so scary right now. Hopefully that’s not a temporary feeling.

I guess it will all depend on the future…or the state of my couch cushions.

Making the Change

It was with mild uncertainty that we followed the narrow dirt road away from the highway and past shady, green pastures. Within minutes, the farm’s inhabitants became visible on the other side of the fence: goats stood munching on hay, ducks nestled on cool patches of earth, and chickens scooted around within their open-air enclosures.medium_87997054

We parked next to a large, hydroponic garden and walked over to the ducks. They good-naturedly fluffed their feathers and shook their wispy tails, as though inviting us to enjoy their shady respite.

I couldn’t help but notice how healthy they looked. I know it sounds silly, but it was reassuring to see that real, unaltered farm animals still exist.

What I didn’t see, though, was even better. There were no deformed birds missing feet and/or beaks as a result of “genetic optimization.” There were no poor fowl weighed down by enormous breasts pumped full of hormones. Birds were free to roam about, instead of being stacked on top of one another, like inanimate objects, covered in a mixture of antibiotics and feces.

It was clear that these animals were being treated as living creatures, even though they were being raised for food.

We were witnessing the beauty of a “free range” or “pastured” farm.

While the drive had only taken us down a few highways and a dirt road, the journey to this farm spanned a much greater distance and time.

You see, I’ve cringed at the thought of factory farming for a long time. I’ve watched the documentaries and shed tears over the deplorable treatment of livestock, read the articles about the sinking standards and corrupt regulations, and listened to endless pleas for action against the “science experiment” that the meat industry has become. Over the years, I’ve explored vegetarianism and organic foods. In regards to the former, I spent several years perpetually hungry and grouchy, until I realized that I was actually eating more factory-processed, soy-based foods in order to get enough protein and, in the process, continuing to support the widespread use of GMOs and high fructose corn syrup. Feeling silly and defeated, I began eating meat again. The problem with the latter, unfortunately, is that so many loopholes now exist that “organic” has become an empty term and does not ensure that creatures receive humane treatment.

Feeling insignificant and overwhelmed, I’ve spent the last few years pretending that my purchase of Publix Greenwise chicken isn’t supporting the very factory farms that I despise.

Not anymore.

medium_4291306755In my eyes, life is like a puzzle. The object is to put together all of the pieces in order to appreciate the bigger picture—but unlike that cardboard-backed country landscape from my childhood, this one follows completely different rules. Some pieces, for example, don’t fit the first time you try them, but then they connect perfectly down the road. Other times, pieces seem to vanish, leaving frustrating holes, until they are discovered and properly placed years later.

Local, free range farming has been a piece I’ve been missing for a very long time, and I just found it.

Last night, while watching a reality television show I’m too embarrassed to name, I saw one of the characters drag her sister to a free range farm to show her the beauty of sustainable, humane farming. Then, she said something that I had heard time and time again, but whereas it had been an incompatible piece before, this time it fit: “If you support free range farms like this one, there will be more of them.”

With my interest piqued, I searched for free range farms in my area and found one only half an hour away.

And, as previously mentioned, a short drive converged with a much longer spiritual journey at the Lake Meadow Naturals Egg Farm.

Inside the market, I was overwhelmed by the vast array of poultry and beef products for sale, all humanely and organically obtained. I admit, I faltered for a moment. I was used to sterile-looking chicken breasts, steaks, and ground beef gleaming from orderly displays. Here, versions of these were available, but they looked very different from what I was used to. In addition, there were so many things I had never seen before. Venison? Bison? Hearts? Tongues? You don’t see those at Publix.

I tried to look for a steak I knew, but my trusty NY Strip couldn’t be found. Honestly, I was afraid of buying a cut of meat I didn’t know how to cook, and I started to doubt the decision to come to the farm.

Fortunately, instead of balking at the unfamiliar, as I so often do, I dug in and made my selections. Some were simple things like ground beef and chicken breast, but I also branched out and selected two venison steaks.

I’d like to say that I felt victorious as I returned to my car, but the truth is that I felt uncertain. What if these grass-fed meats didn’t cook the same as their wretched counterparts, which I knew how to handle? Maybe it was enough to buy Greenwise—I thought cowardly—it was certainly easier.

Fortunately, before I could escape into my air-conditioned vehicle and travel back to a place disconnected from the reality of food production, the sound of clucking made me look up.

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And there they were…healthy chickens with full feathers, contentedly walking around, acting like chickens. Just like that, another piece slid into place, and I could see more of the bigger picture.

Now, as I sit at my simple wooden table writing these words, waiting for beets to roast for dinner, I’m still anxious about cooking the venison. But behind that fear of the unknown is the thrill of supporting a local farm and, in a very small way, opposing the dominion of factory farming.

Change is never easy, but as a very wise professor once said, “If you do nothing to change the status quo, then you are, by default, supporting it.”

Today, I learned that a piece of me refuses to support the current practice of factory farming any longer.

Okay, grass-fed venison, here I come!

 

 

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The Great Escape

As June melts into July and extreme summer temperatures extend into the evening, Floridians are finding various ways to stay cool.

Some are seeking refuge in malls and air-conditioned tourist attractions.

Others are taking beach vacations or traveling to northern states.

Many are spending long hours in the pool or the shade.

My husband and I, on the other hand, are watching 80s movies.

Oh yes, you just read that last part correctly; it said: 80s movies.

You see, what began several nights ago as a nostalgic desire quickly transformed into a delightful marathon. The Secret of My Success, Top Gun, Stand by Me, Adventures in Babysitting, Big Trouble in Little China, and the list goes on. It extends into the evenings to come, promising more childhood memories and adulthood epiphanies.medium_2205567789

But Emma—you’re probably thinking—why make such a big deal about watching movies?

Well, the truth is that there’s something fantastical in 80s movies that you won’t find in modern films. It may have to do with lower expectations and limited technology, or it might be a nostalgic association, but for whatever reason 80s movies seem to provide a greater escape than their modern counterparts.

While contemporary films, through their technological superiority, offer visually stunning and immersive experiences, they still don’t offer the kind of freedom so many viewers crave.

I think it comes down to our increased concern that movies be as realistic as possible. We’ve come to judge all movies, even the far-fetched sci-fi genre, according to the realism of the special affects and the level of believability. As a result, moviemakers have sought to create movies that appear to be extensions of our own world. While this makes these films realistic, it also keeps the viewer grounded in all of the dangers, conflicts, expectations, and social mores of the modern era. For example, too often, the villain is not fully brought to justice because that’s the way it is in the “real world.”medium_14307251677

80s movies don’t follow the same restrictions. Instead, they transport the viewer to worlds that appear similar to ours but don’t seem to operate under the same rules. From Adventures in Babysitting to The Secret of My Success, the characters experience a series of hilarious but highly improbable situations, and yet they manage to come out unscathed and victorious in the end.

In addition to inducing outrageous laughter, these films successfully transport the viewer to a world where things can work out right, and the underdog can win, despite overwhelming odds. While I understand that society is moving toward movies that are realistic and convincing, it’s my hope that it’ll never fall out of love with the timeless classics that help us escape from what’s realistically exhausting.

That being said, I’m looking forward to a long summer filled with the relief of 80s movies.

You see, this world is exhausting and stressful and unfair. It can be cruel and defeating and debilitating at times. It takes you to great highs and terrible lows. Often that’s more than enough of a rollercoaster ride for me, and I need my movies to take me somewhere else:

Somewhere improbable things can happen.

Where happy endings do exist.

 

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