LSS: Living on summer time

I lost my watch the day after school was out.

Since then, my girls and I have been living on summer time.

Most every day since the watch disappeared, the word schedule has rarely reared its ugly head.

These lazy days have been such a gift. For the first time since either of my daughters could remember, they’ve had a chance to be around a mother who wasn’t a geared up, watch-glancing, “Let’s go”-yelling, food-slinging, car-starting, brakes squealing force of nature.

I don’t know about them, but I’ve liked it.

For the first two weeks of summer, an injury prevented me from being in my typical mark-items-off-whatever-list-is-in-front-of-me mode. I could sit, and I could think, but that was about all.

Turns out, that time was beautiful. Certainly, our go-go culture wears a girl like me down. But what does it do to our children? Perhaps they don’t know what it’s like to operate in a non-worn down state?

Five consecutive pajama days fixed that.

It’s funny how little my daughters and I accomplished during that time. This slow-living has been more like the summers of my youth than any I’ve had in the decades since. The days and nights have been so unscheduled that my daughters have, on occasion, been bored — scandalizing, I know, but it’s a state I believe their generation needs to know better.

Time is surely elastic. Without a watch on my wrist, it seems even more so. These days, sometimes when I realize just how much time has passed since I last looked at the clock, I’m in shock.

When you have time, simple things take longer, don’t they? Or maybe that’s the time they should really take and our compressed, fast-food society has removed the bliss of lingering over a meal, sitting on the couch shooting the breeze, reading a book at 2:30 in the afternoon or painting toenails.

While results of a pinched nerve linger and limit, escaping the expectations of accomplishment does not come easy. Does that part of our culture come straight from the Puritan work ethic? Has technology placed even higher expectations of productivity — even in every day living?

I believe it has, but I’m equally certain that the added productivity comes at a cost greater than its worth. Taking the time it takes to do some of life’s basics has made me reconsider our family’s lifestyle. Choosing to live life in a way more in line with the generations before us — whether that means walking instead of driving, home schooling, growing fruits and veggies, eating in more and out less — is often, according to friends who have tried, a lot less complicated than one might suspect. Breaking away from cultural expectations, however, is not without cost. Most of the price, it seems, is tied up more with other people’s expectations rather than the real contents of day-to-day living.

Truth be told, I believe I could find my watch if I really looked for it, but for now, I’m going to stretch out summer time as long as I’m able.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears on Sundays. She can be reached at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: Can you come up with 365?

I heard about a family who gave their father a box for Father’s Day.

It contained 365 slips of paper. On each slip of paper, family members had written favorite memories of their father, or a lesson he taught them, something they were grateful for, or something they admired about their dad. The idea was that he would read one piece of paper each day for a year.

On Wednesday, I decided to attempt to pull such a box together for my dad. For the record, 365 is a lot. I called, texted and e-mailed family members and told them I needed their first answers in the next five minutes. (Deadlines inspire.) I don’t know how close we’ll get to 365 by Sunday, but we’ll try. Here’s a sampling of their first responses:

My niece Casey: “I remember just the two of us going to visit his mother in the nursing home. I remember him taking me to batting cages. I remember him taking Jake and me to Lookout Mountain. I remember when he and I went to Germany. I remember him talking to people trying to help me get scholarships.”

My brother Rusty: “I think Dad instilled a good work ethic in us. I really admire that he loved coaching football and chose that as his profession and couldn’t give it up. I’m thankful that they took me to church every Sunday.”

My brother Robin: “If you see a turtle on a fence post, he had some help getting there. Work hard and you’ll make your own luck.”

And then he was on a roll.

My sister-in-law Tracy: “One of my favorite memories happened when Robin and I hadn’t been dating long. We walked in to see your parents. Your dad said, ‘Come here, girl.’ He gave me a big hug and acted like I was so special. I wasn’t used to that kind of affection.”

My sister-in-law Stephanie: “Every time I eat a steak, I think about his football player who said, “Lawd, what a poke chop,” upon seeing his first-ever steak.”

My daughter Greer: “The way when he comes to visit us, he sits at the downstairs television and yells to the top of his lungs, ‘Cut my TV on, Greer.’ I also remember going to the golf course with him, riding in the golf cart on joy rides and cleaning golf balls in one of those pump-action ball cleaning things.”

My husband: “I admire the way he’d do anything in the world for his grandchildren. I like the way he gets people’s attention because no matter what he does, he still talks like a football coach.”

I could list many things, but the first thing that came into my head was that I am grateful that 34 years ago, on the eve of my first-ever track meet, he taught me to do a Fosbury Flop. The fact that he believed a 12-year-old girl could learn the Flop and stayed out late at the high jump pit on a Wednesday night to teach it to me is one piece of what he did to give me confidence that lasted. I may have never won a high jump event, but I did a beautiful Fosbury Flop.

Jan Risher’s column appears in The Sunday Advertiser (www.theadvertiser.com) each week.

LSS: Challenging your beliefs can be liberating

Walking through malls, parks or down sidewalks with our new baby daughter, total strangers would walk up to us and adjust her clothing. If her little pants had crawled up her calf or her sleeves didn’t cover her wrists, some would be so bold as to tsk-tsk us.

Our guide warned us to keep our babies fully covered.

“Only the babies’ faces exposed,” he said. “Chinese people believe babies need to be fully covered. They will walk up to you and cover your baby if you don’t.”

He was right.

They did.

We took a typical American approach to the strange custom. We would wait until the strangers were done covering our new daughter’s half-inch swatches of exposed skin. When they were out of sight, we would smile and chuckle at the “ways of the natives.”

How could tiny patches of exposed skin possibly hurt? We would never let something hurt our baby.

And then.

Within two weeks, our little lovely started breaking out with very irritated skin.

Where?

Her ankles and wrists.

In retrospect, what were we thinking?

Why wouldn’t we acknowledge that if it was important enough for otherwise mild-mannered people to repeatedly walk up and cover our daughter’s skin that maybe, just maybe, there was something to keeping a Chinese baby’s skin covered?

I’ll tell you what we were thinking.

“We know better.”

Over and over again, this universe tries to teach me that just because I think I do, I don’t always know better. It’s time I acknowledge that I may not know everything I think I do – and that our culture may not consistently use “best practices” either.

Case in point.

Last week, I got my first-ever pinched nerve. It was brutal, with pain radiating down my right arm. I researched and learned that for that particular pinched nerve, traditional medicine doesn’t offer a lot. Basically, everything I read said, “Wait three to six weeks for it to heal.” However, even in traditional medicine sources on pinched nerves, I noticed recurring mentions of acupuncture.

Acupuncture has fascinated me since I wrote my senior in high school research paper on it (title, “Acupuncture: Should we stick with it?”). However, given a life-long extreme fear of needles, acupuncture never crossed my radar.

Last week, though, the pain had me ready to give my husband a cup of toothpicks and say, “Go at it.”

I was nervous as a ninny as I chatted with the acupuncture practitioner. He asked if I wanted to see the needles. I said, “No thanks.” As he placed the first five needles, I was in so much pinched-nerve pain that I couldn’t focus on the needles. And then, he put the sixth needle near my left shoulder.

It was the closest thing to magic I’ve ever experienced (and yet, I realize there is science behind it).

While all the pain didn’t go away, it instantly eased to a very manageable degree. The experience reinforced the importance of not simply accepting things I believe to be correct.

Not just being open, but seeking new things is good for our hearts, minds and bodies.

LSS: What can you do to help with the oil spill?

Sitting poolside as my daughters swim, listening to the afternoon radio guy give the latest developments on the latest failure at stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, there’s a major disconnect.

Life seems so normal.

Yet, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico threatens to change so much of life and the lifestyles of people along the Gulf that I struggle to keep my head wrapped around the situation. Granted, I have no personal connection to the disaster, but like several friends have said, “It feels like I should be doing something to help.”

Even sitting in the relative tranquility of a light breeze blowing and children swimming in a pool I don’t have to clean, the petroleum disaster looms in my mind. I have this image of how this same pool would look if there were a five-gallon drum of crude oil seeping into one corner of it. How long would I let my daughter stay in it then?

Since late April, a loop of questions has run like background noise in my mind. Every time things get quiet, the questions leap to the surface.

First, there are surface questions. How will the weathered oil change the look of the coastlines – from the marshes and wetlands nearby to the sugar sand beaches of Destin and beyond? Then, what is all the crude oil going to do to the flora and fauna in and along the Gulf? How many generations of shrimp, crab, redfish and more will be affected? Will it kill the reeds and grasses immediately or will some persevere? How long will it take to come back or will it? What will the dispersants do to the whole scene? Should we have used them at all?

Then, there are practical questions. How do they contain the stream of oil that has been flowing now for nearly 50 days? How will new and changed regulations affect the oil industry? How will those changes affect the economy? Is this a situation similar to Katrina (or any other disaster, for that matter) when it’s only the people most affected who keep it top of mind for long?

Friends who know much more than I do assure me that Mother Nature is the best cleaner of even manmade disasters, but what should the rest of us be doing?

For now, no one really knows the answer to that – or any of the questions.

For now, most believe the only thing most of us can do is pray – in whatever form you believe in.

In that spirit, my friends Aimée Dominique and Anne Hollier are organizing something that could help. They’re organizing a labyrinth walk from 10 a.m. to noon on June 26 at Asbury United Methodist Church.

Walking a labyrinth is the closest thing I know to prayer taking a physical form – in this case, walking (which, in the big picture, may be one of the few other things we could do to help lower our dependence on oil).

Acupuncture: Should we stick with it?

That was the title of the senior research paper I wrote back in the spring of 1982 at Magee High School for sweet Miss Rogers.

And today, I finally summoned the wherewithal to answer that question for myself.

At this point (no pun intended), I’m going to say the acupuncture was as close to magic as anything I’ve ever experienced. My mind is still kind of blown.

Details to follow.