As a rule, I am not a brand maven preferring names like Campbell’s over store brand labels for soups, or Birds Eye over Stop & Shop brand for string beans. I am, however, an absolute snob when it comes to soft serve chocolate-dipped-in-chocolate cones. There is positively NO substitute for Dairy Queen. I should know. I had my fill working at a DQ in my late teens and have sampled hundreds of poor substitutes elsewhere in my life ever since. Though the menu of treats at today’s DQ has ballooned since the early 80s, I find myself going back to my tried and true treat.
There is just no better food (except perhaps peanut M&Ms) than a DQ chocolate-dipped-in-chocolate. It’s perfect hard shell is unmatched in taste, texture, and chippity-crunch. I may be giving away a trade secret, but if memory serves, there is just a hint of wax—yes, wax in the dip. I’ve read the back of the can and though may have been a little startled at first, it never kept me away from my devotion to DQ dip.
Since I’ve not found its equal, I won’t bother make any comparison with far trailing runners up here. Beneath the signature DQ curl, which only true DQ employees can make because of specific, franchise ingredients and top-secret training, is the softest, perfectly blended cool chocolaty, creamy sweetness. So what if it’s not actually ice cream? Who cares if it comes from a mysterious plastic bag and flows through a Wonka-esque machine with a huge shaft thingy, gears and oh-rings? Whatever is in it and however it gets from liquid to lusciousness in my wafer cone is absolutely no-never-mind to me.
I admit I can get a little moony when I settle in to nibbling deftly to avoid dripping and to make sure I get every lick. Cool, silky smoothness floods my every taste bud with unrelenting creamy chocolate, stealing my breath away. My eyes glaze over in pure ecstasy and I’ve been known to coo softly.
On occasion, a line from The Hollie’s song overtakes me, “Sometimes, I all I need is the air that I breathe…and my DQ.”
Just for fun this weekend, I searched my name in meme using Google Image and my oddly spelled T-A-N-J-A. I thought “Tanja with a “J” would never come up. Lo, I found this among other “Tanja” memes, a good number in German. At first glance I thought this rather duded-out rendition of Jesus could be a bit irreverent, but I have come to know that divine messages are delivered in all shapes and forms.
My husband who is far hipper on-line than me is well-versed in memes and explained that this is the “Buddy Jesus” meme. I realize that someone generated this meme for another “Tanja” somewhere out there, but since we share the same spelling, I hope she won’t mind if I claim this meme as a personalized message for me today. It rather reflects on my current faith journey status: I am seeing Jesus not only my Savior, but as “my bud” who gets my back as a Heavenly bro. God uses the world wide web as well as burning bushes to get our attention. Can a I get a witness?
Over the past few years, we’ve accumulated quite a collection of old LPs— 33 1/3 vinyl records. Some have come by way of tag sales, the swap shack at the transfer station, second-hand stores and record shops. Three so far, have come by what can only be labeled as freaky experiences where I’ve merely had to ask for them, and voila, there they were! The third time happened just five days ago, but let me replay the first two.
Lightning bolt #1: The first time it happened was back in March of 2012. Before I launched this blog, I had posted on Facebook the exciting and mystical story of my Shirley Temple album acquisition.
Some of you may remember this story. Others will simply shake your heads in curly top amazement. My niece, then 17-year-old Rachel and I were just talking about The Little Princess, Shirley Temple on a Friday as we walked in our neighborhood. I told her I was a huge Shirley fan when I was a kid and I had this pink album with her giant face on it. I remember telling her that I’d have to pay dearly to find this sacred album today if I searched on eBay, or the like. Rach is an extremely good sport with her crazy Auntie Tan and nodded politely (if not a little excitedly) when I said we should plan a Shirley Temple movie fest soon.
The very next day, Sean and I were on our way to Torrington to see Shirley MacLaine who was performing a monologue at the Webster Theater across the street. I told him my conversation with our niece and my quest to find THE Shirley Temple album of my childhood. Before the show, we strolled the 1950s style Main Street in Torrington. As fate would have it, or Shirley-shamanism, we took a side street for some “random” reason. At the top of the street was an old, dusty secondhand shop.
I had a weird feeling…so I went in. The store was so cluttered with stacks of LPs and stuff, that I had to walk sideways to find my way to the voice coming from back of the store. I couldn’t see the proprietor, but heard him greet me from under some mountain of rubble. “I am looking for something in particular,” I said to the pile. When the short, graying man stepped out from behind the stack, I relayed my quest for the pink Shirley Temple album.
I held my breath a moment expecting him to laugh. Instead, he turned to a nearby plastic bin filled with albums. “I just took it out of storage THIS morning and brought it to the shop.” No way! My heart leapt as he extracted the Holy Grail of children’s LPs., but I remained poker-faced. If he saw how much I longed for this treasure, surely (pun intended) he would raise the price to several thousands of dollars. (OK, I exaggerate).
Then, in what felt like super slow mo, he handed the glowing square to me. Wah! Shirley was in perfect condition. The sticker said “$10.” I quickly rummaged through my wallet. Sean had come in by now and instinctively reached for his wallet. Oh, oh! We only had one five and four singles between us at that point. We were about to hit up an ATM when I impulsively entered the shop.
“Can you wait a minute and I’ll go to the ATM?” Sean, my knight said to the man.
“I’ll take nine,” he said. I thought I’d kiss him! I told him I was just saying yesterday how I wanted to find this album. We all laughed how some Shirley Temple-MacLane karma must be in the ether for this to have come to pass. I blessed the man and then bound out into the sidewalk where I cheered and almost did a cart-wheel!
Later I played the album at home—not a scratch or hiss—On the Good Ship Lollypop!
Lightning bolt #2: This past April I was at a huge flea market in south-central Florida with my great pal Bobbi (Can I get a witness to this story Bobbi?) We had browsed the hundreds of stalls of new and old trash and treasures. We washed down fried alligator with a beer at the food court. I told her I was on the look out for the self-titled Foreigner album, the one with the guys all wearing long coats on the jacket. The one I had from when I was a teenager was missing. We had combed through stacks of albums, a mishmash of genres, but so far no Foreigner. On our way out, we hit upon one last stall where an older man had a few stacks of vinyl. My unsinkable pal humored me as I rifled through the first stack of Englebert Humperdink-era artists. The second pile was 70s and 80s rock. “It’s in here,” I turned to Bobbi. “Yeah, right, girlfriend.”
I dug half way through the REO Speedwagons, the Kiss, the Cars. I already had these. Three quarters, through, The Go-Gos, AC/DC, nothing yet. “I can feel it!” I said with mock conviction. “No way,” Bobbi said. Then, the third or so from the bottom was Foreigner, Double Vision. The guys were wearing short coats, not long ones, but it was Foreigner none-the-less, and I didn’t have this one. Three bucks, the guys said. Sold!
The Third Lightning Strike— just five days ago. Let’s back track a bit. This summer Sean and I listened to Pete Townshend’s memoir Who I Am on cd as we road-tripped here and there. Sean is a huge Who fan and I am trying to study as many styles of memoirs as I can for writing purposes, so it was a great book for both of us to wrap our heads around.
Anyway, Pete Townshend, a prolific musician and writer gave a lot of back story to his interesting life, messed up childhood, rock-stardom, great albums and rock operas The Who created, and Townsend’s own remarkable compositions. One of the lesser shining moments Townsend confessed however, was The Who Sell Out album made in 1967. This wacky record featured The Who singing actual jingles to real products interspersed with their latest songs. The jacket also featured each of the rockers posing with these actual products and real, but painfully corny ad copy that would have made Darin Stevens blush!
Pete modeled with a huge stick of “Odorno” deodorant under his skinny armpit. Roger Daltry bathed in gallons of Heintz Oven Baked Beans. Keith Moon squeezed an over-sized tube of Medac zit cream on a fake lipstick blemish. John Entwistle posed with a bikini model, both in leopard print, pushing Charles Atlas’s muscle inducing vitamins.
“Wow!” I said to Sean as we envisioned this treasure. After doing a quick mental inventory of the records we had in the trunk at home, we decided we needed to get this album! With our history of asking for albums and having them delivered, we half-jokingly “put it out there” that we needed to find The Who Sell Out, as soon as possible.
A month or so later, “Ding, dong…universe calling.”
We stopped in Mystic, CT on our way home last Wednesday after Sean’s work conference. After a quick lunch at Mystic Pizza, we window-shopped up and down Main Street. We turned down an alley toward a hip coffee shop when we noticed a record store right next door to it.
Sean and I were drawn like moths to a light. “Do you have The Who Sell Out?” I blurted to the guy behind the counter. He looked up dumbfounded. There, in his very hand was The Who Sell Out album! I kid you not. “I was just putting it on E-Bay!” he said. He showed us he had just listed it for $65.
Woh! or Who!
He showed us the unwrapped album with a sticker stating this was a “200 gram Super Vinyl Profile Quiex SV-P.” Huh? Sean translated that it was a special edition re-release between 2000-2005 when the tracks were laid down on this heavy-duty vinyl that weighed 200 grams. This meant it was very high quality and would have incredibly great sound.
“It’s Shirley Temple all over again!” I marveled. Sean quickly relayed our Shirley Temple experience to the record guy. “Wow, be careful what you ask for or you’ll go broke!” He laughed as he gave us his card with the date of a special record sale.
There really was no way the we were not going to purchase this album. He gave us a pretty good break from his E-bay price. It was a still a little more than the usual $1-$6 we are typically willing to pay for vinyl, but we easily justified it as an early birthday present for Sean.
Hallmark (and other companies) create greeting cards for nearly every occasion. Births, sympathy, encouragement, graduations…but searching racks and racks of prose, I just couldn’t find one that aptly says Good-Bye and Thank You to my retiring psychologist!
The card I finally ended up giving my therapist, I had narrowed it down to four possible but mediocre choices, was a bit wordy. On the front it said, “Finally, a thank-you note that says how I really feel.” Relational enough to give to a therapist, but even after a ton of descriptive words such as “grateful, happy, supported, content, forever in your debt, acknowledged, peaceful…” it still didn’t quite nail it. The writer in me added “thankful” and a deeply personal message. Yet, mere words didn’t fully express the depths of gratitude I wanted to convey to my professional advocate and guiding light for helping to save my sanity, salvage relationships as well as extricate myself from toxic ones, and who knows, possibly extended my very life! Reflecting now, I think that the incredibly accurate, succinct and perfectly-timed lyrics I heard on my car radio as I drove away from my last session fully expresses what is in my heart and pays tribute. Enjoy the song at the end of this post.
I had my very last appointment on August 28th with one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever been blessed to know, clinical psychologist Dr. Ella G. Marks, PSYD. I began seeing Dr. Marks on a weekly basis over four years ago because at 45, all the stuff I tried to keep stuffed down, held back, or tried to hide just wouldn’t stay buried anymore. Four and half decades as an adult child of an alcoholic family, a product of divorce, years of appearing to “fly right” but still over-indulging in risky behaviors, being lost, pressing my luck, and meandering off-track had blurred and scalded into a hot mess. It began oozing out in physical symptoms of panic attacks and heart palpitations. I couldn’t ignore it. It was time to really take care of me and do some very heavy, but very necessary lifting. Or else.
I prayed and researched and left voice messages. There was something about Dr. Mark’s soft-spoken, lovely, Virginian- accented-voice message that gave me courage and lead me to her kind but firm care. When I still rather hesitantly made my way to her creamed-colored office with a bright white couch in the office park in Madison, CT, I was comforted by her soft creased face, her sparkling blue eyes and billowy white hair. I found out by peeking at the dates on her framed diplomas in her office that she had to be in her early 80s. I learned early on that she had studied at first to be a dancer, but then married an Episcopalian preacher, had four children, and then decided to go back to college.
She completed her bachelors in her late forties, her masters in her 50s and fought to enroll in her doctorate program at the tender age 59. She served as a social worker, then earned and hung her shingle as a psychologist and bariatric medicine doctor at the age of 71. How blessed was I to connect with her a decade later!
Quite a head case, I remember saying to her, ” I have lots of anger and confusion. Am I too much for you?” She smiled graciously and said, “No, you are not. You have a lot of mourning to do.”
I would discover over the next four years just how well-equipped this woman was for the likes of me. She guided me to some really tough and ugly places to repair years of damage, grief, and anger stemming from a tumultuous alcoholic environment as a first-born. I worked honestly through confusion, hurt, betrayal, marital challenges, a serious motorcycle accident, extended family woes, and a recent exodus from a church I’d given my soul to for 46 years. She praised me often that I was “what they call a worker,” and reminded me that therapy is a “partnership” whenever I thanked her for helping me. She gave me permission to give myself some credit for my healing, for good things I have done and am doing in my life.
I had written in my card to Dr. Marks that she will forever be a part of “my new psychological DNA.” I will from here on out have greater success with stopping a negative thought and replacing it with a better one. I will think of what she would advise and say in any given situation. A life-long dividend of the work we’ve done.
I know it was hard for Dr. Marks to retire from her beloved work. She who practices Pilates and walks every day is in excellent physical as well as mental shape and “presents herself” as someone at least a decade younger than her actual age. She reluctantly wound down the over 20 years of her practice, extending her calendar for months since she’d first announced earlier this year she’d be retiring. “My family wants me to leave before they ask me to leave,” she’d smile, “but I am going on one more month.” That lead to another and another, until finally the end of August was really it.
I cherished her guidance and wisdom to the very last session. My throat tightened as I pulled into her parking lot. As I climbed the stairs for the last time, I took photos of the waiting room, her office, but out of privacy, I did not take any of her.
So surreal. She lead me in from the waiting room, the one last time. Into her office, one last time. “How are you?” She asked in her customary greeting. “Full of emotion,” I squeaked out. I noticed she was welling up a little, too. “This must be hard for you saying goodbye to everyone,” I said. “It is,” she confided.
Then we settled in across from each other. I gave her my card and photo of me hula-hooping that was taken at the recent Buzzi Reunion at my house. I joked that I wasn’t meaning to be a narcissist, but wanted to show her my happy spirit, celebrating our years of working together. She smiled, “You are a worker!”
As we sat, I said that I hoped we could see each other again, for coffee. Always the good doctor even up to the very last minute, she wanted to impart one last tool to help me hereafter to cope with stress and any mild depression. Meditation. She told me of a study where participants who meditated each morning and evening fared better than the group which took only medication and the other only talking therapy. I balked a bit saying I’ve tried meditating, but my mind wanders like a herd of cats even when I try focusing on a monosyllabic word or sound. Because she knows my faith walk, she said to me, “Just try to say, “Be Still and Know that I am God.”
I smiled because I was wearing that bracelet that very day for extra help knowing I’d be saying goodbye.
Half way through our last session, I had arranged for my husband Sean to come in and meet my Dr. Marks. I had shared so much between the two of them that it only seemed right they’d finally meet in person. It was one of those spiritually-charged, crystallized moments in time as I made the introductions. Sean thanked her as he sat on her white couch next to me. They chatted casually, each feeling as though they’d known each other well—I guess after all this time, they sorta had!
Sean asked her what she had planned now that she was retiring. Without hesitating my heroine said she was going to travel to India where’d she’d gone many times on sabbatical, “but after the monsoon season in September,” and then she was going to join a hiking club!
God bless her!
When it was time to say goodbye, Dr. Marks and I hugged for a very long time. “We can get coffee now, can’t we?” I asked hopefully. “Oh, yes. We will no longer be bound by hippa.”
“We have each others phone numbers.”
As I began driving out of Dr. Mark’s office complex for the very last time, tears of every emotion streaked down my face. Sadness,closing a chapter, a sense of accomplishment, good health, new beginnings, joy!
All of a sudden Kenny Loggins’, “I’m Alright” began playing on my car radio. I kid you not. Sean, who was tuned in to the same station, called me from his car ahead of me. “Can you believe what is playing?” I blurted first. “You are alright,” he said.
I’m alright, Dr. Marks. Thank you, and thank you, God, for Dr. Marks! OK, and thank Heaven for the serendipitous Kenny Loggins’ lyrics as I was driving on!
I was drawn to a sample drum circle at the Haddam River Days event last September. Sitting before a l waist-high djembe drum amongst mostly children I soon mimicked the simple beats laid down by the women. “I like peanut butter- I like peanut butter.” The beat shifted to more complicated but still easy rhythms. I zoned and stayed at the circle for over a half hour.
The women handed me a flyer and encouraged me to join one of the local drum group. Yes! I would get myself to a circle—and soon!
Almost a year had passed and though I thought about it, I never got to a group. It had been in the back of my mind and was brought to the fore when my friend “D” and I were talking bucket lists. D said she and her partner wanted to try drumming and she asked if i could help them find a circle. D is in late stages of cancer and time literally is of the essence.
I called the number on the flyer but there was no answer. I surfed the web but couldn’t find anything local or soon. I began asking around. A lead from a woman from my church who is a massage therapist pointed me to a shop The New Pagenew page. I called and spoke to a very friendly proprietor, Yvette.I explained my friend’s situation and if she knew anyone anyone who facilitated women’s drum circles, who might make a house call. She told me to call her associate Tala. What a great and open soul! Sight unseen, Tala, a certified Sound Healer, not only would come to my house for a drum circle, but she would taylor it to a healing and energy circle in honor of D. She would also bring a friend, Lindsay, a fantastic drummer and photographer.
I would make the fire in my yard–tinder, kindling and fuel, no paper or accelerants, and w one match ala Girl Scouts! Tala would bring a singing bowl, some rattles, and drums. I would loan out my Tom toms, maracas, etc. I decided
to buy a small djembe of my own.
I thought and prayed about the drum circle and who to invite- mostly people who knew D, but a few others I thought would be a good fit. Each woman was to bring a special item from her own yard to put into the fire as an offering—flowers, sage, a stick, etc.
D and I were in steady contact growing more and more excited for this fire circle event. She did a ton of researching on line for djembes and Tom toms. She purchased a set of each for her partner and they were miraculously delivered the day before the circle.
The day of the circle arrived. Sadly, D was having a very bad day and she told me she and S could not make it after all. My heart was sad. I thought about postponing, but know how hard it is to get nine committed friends plus Tala and Lindsay to find a new date. We decided to have the circle in D’s honor and for individual benefits anyway.
I met Tala and Lindsay in my cul de sac that night and experienced their warmth and kindred spirits immediately. Tala gave me a full, soulful hug as though we had known each other for years!
The women were milling around the fire pit as Tala and Lindsay set up their bowls, bells, rattles, and drums. While I was bringing out last minute refreshment items for after the drumming, a white, fluffy feather (not from the typical northeastern birds) floated down by the circle between Cathy, Brenda, and Erin! The three women stopped mid conversation to marvel and retrieve it. It was immediately identified as an “angel feather.” We all got the chills and felt its surprising appearance as something spiritual. A hello from someone departed? A presence? Someone gave the feather to Tala who stowed it in red velvet bag with her gems.
I will write more about the actual 2.5 hour drumming experience,but will for now stick w the feather…
At the end of the night as we were standing around the goodie table, the consensus was to give the feather to D. Tala put a piece of flint that had been carved into a heart-shape she acquired from her friend’s sacred land in Arizona (?) to present to D. Some of us talked about going to her house for a “flash mob” drum circle when she rallies. We will see. I took the satchel and promised to bring it to her ASAP.
D called me the next morning. Thankfully she was feeling a lot better. I gave her a play-by-play of the night, and how we were thinking of her and sending her love and energy. I told her about the “angel feather.” “That was me!” She said, almost matter of fact. She said she had planned to bring one of her precious feathers to the fire as an offering. woh! I told her how the women wanted her to have it. She said she would keep it with her sacred treasures and plans to have it on the altar at her memorial service.
“I was going through a funeral reception line yesterday, paying respects to my great aunt’s family at the passing of my mom’s uncle. Married for 66 years, I praised Aunt M for modeling such a long and solid marriage with Uncle A. Very lucid and in her 80s—and always shooting from the hip—-she said to me, “Well, ya know, the first four years or so are all about the hot sex and that is all well and good, but you have to like the person you’re married to after those years. Call it like or love, that’s how I felt about him.”
She later reminded me to treasure my man because he his a good one. “Never let another woman try to take him from you.” I told her I knew I had a keeper and I would absolutely protect what I had.
What is the best relationship advice you ever received?
Can you recall a time in your life when something struck you as absolutely pants-wetting hilarious but you were in a place where it would just be sooo inappropriate to let it rip? This happened to me, again, just yesterday in church!
My awesome and relational pastor was taking his place at the pulpit to give us a message about Palm Sunday. He began paraphrasing Matthew 21:1-11, “According to the Gospels, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem…” Only my pastor did not say “donkey”. He inadvertently switched the “d” for an “m” and said, “Jesus rode a monkey into Jerusalem.”
At first there was a quick ripple of tittering across the congregation but then most everyone settled down to listen. Everyone but me and my dearly beloved, that is. I don’t know who began quaking first, he or I, but our pew began to vibrate with stifled, almost-impossible-to-contain laugh-tremors. My mother in the pew behind us saw us rattling. She tapped my husband on the shoulder. He only shook all the more.
That only fired me up again. I hid my face in my scarf. I was trying so hard to control myself and set a good example to my 15 year old niece sitting beside me. It’s just that the mental image of our dear Lord and Savior being carried on the hairy back of a monkey, limping triumphantly into the crowds—and that my husband was also fighting hard not to lose it—that practically caused me to really LOL and wet my pants! At one point I envisioned us bolting out of the pew, racing down the aisle and bursting into the stairwell erupting and echoing with fits of “bwah, ha, has!”
Instead, I opened my hymnal to try to distract my mind by focusing on the lyrics of a random song. I struggled to tune into my pastor’s serious message of how we all have to face “Good Fridays” (tough times) before we could have our “EasterSundays” (relief). The only relief I wanted then and there was to either bust out or to chill out: pronto!
I recall one other time also in a church, when I was supposed to be quiet but something struck me as so funny, that I had to turn myself into Sean’s shoulder as not to “bwah, ha, ha!” at a wedding ceremony. The clever bride, wanting to recite her vows correctly had taped a note card on the backside of her bouquet. When it was her time to pledge to her betrothed, she flipped the card and read off it. At the time I was in college and was no stranger to note cards in my speech classes, but taped on the back of the flowers just made me blow! Please share a time when you struggled with overpowering inappropriate laughter!
Editor’s Note: We were blessed to have survived this accident that occurred on June 10, 2012.
Sean has been cleared of all restrictions on his shoulder and is doing well with his neck, after the four breaks to his C-1 and a fracture to his C-2. He has some stiffness and aches and can’t turn his head all the way to the left, yet, but he is otherwise a miracle man! My knee is still a little tender and I can’t kneel on it. The doctor says that is it is good as it is going to get, but I am not complaining because I know it could have been so much worse.
I wanted to share with you that after all this time, we are still receiving confirmation of God’s mercy and love for us at the time of that horrific accident.
Last week, Sean met up with the man Patrick who “happened” to be just two cars behind us. It was almost as if he materialized on the scene back on June 10. As you might recall (or read), after we crashed, Sean jumped up, TOOK OFF HIS HELMET, and was heading over to the motorcycle to try to pick it up! Patrick, who saw the whole thing, came over to Sean and identified himself as former EMT, and basically ordered Sean to lay down so he could hold Sean’s head in a straight line. “I will move any way you need to move,” he said. By then the searing pain was ripping through Sean’s body. He was writhing and screaming. Patrick knelt with Sean’s head cradled in his hands, and kept Sean’s neck and back straight.
Patrick works in the security department at Middlesex Hospital. Sean, as a police captain, serves at a liaison between the hospital and the PD, and spoke with Patrick before their meeting. Sean thanked Patrick again, crediting him again, for saving his life.
Patrick explained the ‘odd circumstance’ that lead him to the accident scene. Patrick was just finishing mowing his lawn, when suddenly he had a craving to go to the local bar to get a beer. He said he never gets a craving to go to local bar. Further, his car keys were outside on the front step—and he said he ALWAYS hangs his keys on a hook inside his house. He snapped up his keys, got in his car and headed to the local watering hole…until he came upon our accident!
Have you ever had a strong impulse do something out of the ordinary to find you were being used for another purpose?
I’ve always been fascinated by people’s near-death and “death” experiences. Raised in the Christian faith, I hope there is a God in Heaven and that I will see my loved ones beyond this earthly plane. People who have clinically “died” have given us some glimpses of good and sometimes terrifying scenes of what could be ahead for us. What do you think happens when our physical bodies die? Have you read any good books on the subject?