Pearl of Wisdom
This weekend, I attended a magical Southern wedding on the Pearl River in Mississippi. The setting was etched in the marshy landscape of the river and close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to feel the October breeze. Breezes bring joy. The Sun was glorious but not harsh and casted a light that was reminiscent of the movie, On Golden Pond or even better, the Saints football helmet. Brees brings joy!
Friends from afar, friends from down the street, old acquaintances and new connections greeted and chatted and politely shared small stories. “What a nice evening”, “I can’t believe how your kids have grown”, “What a small world!” It came time to mosey on down to the lawn and get ready for the ceremony to begin.
I’m generally not a sap for weddings but this particular evening called for emotion. My husband and I took seats that were angled towards the wooden pier where the ceremony would unfold. The wedding arbor, a tasteful balance of greenery and natural decor, stood proud and ready to receive the bride. I glanced at the gathering of friends, all here to celebrate together, all here to collectively send joy to the young couple and their families. The wedding goers were lined around the grounds like a sentient amphitheater — above on decks, below on stairs, under live oak trees, and leaning from under bright white tents. Watching and waiting, smiling and anticipating.
As the small wedding party started making their way down the aisle, grandma, grandpa, Mom, Dad, groom, brother, sister, best girl, best guy, dapper little ring bearer, wispy flower girls, and of course the stunning bride, I felt the emotion surge. Lack of estrogen doesn’t get credit this time. The crowd was quiet, sweet grins on everyone’s faces, paying attention to the scene at hand. The subtle music from the trio of musicians was woven in the space creating an even greater sense of now.
The pastor spoke. He welcomed us all and promised to keep it short. Perhaps this was a playful nod to the grateful Catholics in the audience. Peace be with you, Pastor! There was a hint of tradition as he deftly lead the ceremony but not enough so for my thoughts to travel elsewhere. The pastor’s words kept me rooted in the moment, not wanting anything other than to simply listen, a dying skill if you ask me. Then he said the most beautiful thing. His words resonated with me like an everlasting echo. He spoke directly to the bride and groom telling them to keep goodwill in their hearts for each other. Life will have it’s ups and downs but keep the other’s best interest, their goodwill in your heart. He said that was the sermon. To know this, is to succeed. This may not be Earth shattering for many but for me, it was. The message is so simple, so uncomplicated. Kindness, consideration, benevolence, charity, and compassion for others.
Goodwill is the building block, the answer, the question, the meaning of love, of life, of purpose. The people I adore, respect, and want to be are the ones who have goodwill for others. Goodwill is what I will always have for my children. My sweet husband, my parents, my close friends, and family want me to thrive and to be happy. They collectively have my goodwill at heart. That feels true and safe and what real love is about. That’s what makes me want to do good and be good.
I’m far from a Bible scholar but isn’t “goodwill to men” the foundation of what God is trying to relay? Isn’t that what Jesus DNA looks like unraveled? Goodwill. For me, goodwill says, “I want for you, my fellow human to have love, joy, happiness, freedom from suffering, and everlasting life.”
And this is why I went to bed thinking about the pastor’s sermon, why I dreamed about it, and I why I woke up needing to write about it. If we could have goodwill for others, all of the time, regardless of beliefs or differences, then our relationships would be healed, our communities would be healed, our nation would be healed, and our world would be healed. The profound reality of this is when others are healed, we are healed. You are important to me. You matter. I care about you. What can I do to make it better?
You may discount this as magical thinking, impossible, ridiculous, easy for her to say. But you know, I feel better to believe this, I feel better having thoughts that core goodness and love will prevail. You are me and I am you. Jesus DNA.
Brenna Barzenick (C) 2016
I never would’ve expected a stroke of insight to occur in the dairy aisle of the grocery store. I was standing in front of the yogurt section, and by “section” I mean about 20 linear feet of refrigerated shelves. Standing there, dumbfounded by all the choices, I struggled to find the “right” yogurt. I grabbed the probiotic blend and read the label. Apparently my digestive system is no longer capable of doing its job properly. It must produce super doody now. With the assistance of 20 billion digestive enzymes in this tiny yogurt cup, my poop will be able to accomplish things it has only dreamed of. I cannot pass on this opportunity. Thank you, Dannon for showing me the whey. MUST BUY NOW. I selfishly reached for all 12 cups on the shelf. I want my Number 2 to be Number 1 in the world!
Then I came to my senses. The truth is I do not want an Olympic caliber BM. I just want one of the regular type thank you very much.
And that’s when it hit me, what happened to ordinary things? Ordinary. Simple. Uncomplicated. These days, everything and anything must be extraordinary or extreme or edgy. The marketing powers that be, driven by our wanting-needing-gotta-have more society, are cashing in. Nothing is ordinary. Shampoo is even complicated. The purpose of shampoo is to clean your hair (ordinary) but not any more! Shampoo with herbs. Shampoo with Moroccan oil. Shampoo with the Kentucky Derby winner’s DNA. There is shampoo for enhancing curly hair and shampoo for silky, straight hair. I want to mix the two at once and see what happens to my hair. I’m thinking cocker spaniel caught in a rainstorm.
The list goes on and on of items that are no longer simple. Razors for godsakes cost more than a set of silver plated knives. A quadruple triple bladed BHA-free plastic razor infused with aloe and alfalfa sprouts? Yes, please! And then there’s water. I recall the bottled water of simpler times. The kind that came from a city tap and was labeled “spring water”. Now they’ve taken my pretend clean water. Sam’s Choice 24 pack for 3.99 or one single bottle of mineral water from the volcanoes of Fiji? Duh, Fiji. I know that my cell membranes deserve only the best.
As a consumer, if the product is from an exotic country that I would have difficulty locating on a map, then I must have it.
Another ordinary staple that comes to mind is table salt. Yep, it’s extraordinary now. If it isn’t Himalayan, pink, coarse or from the Dead Sea then send it back. The Morton Salt girl needs to spruce up her image a little bit. Maybe a reality show — the Kar-Mrs.Dash-ians or better yet, When It Rains, It Pours?
I’m longing for the ordinary again. Extraordinary is exhausting. I want to be an ordinary mom. I want to be a ordinary wife. I want to be an ordinary citizen. But no, the world is telling me I must be extraordinary in every way. I must not be an ounce overweight even though I’m in my late 40’s, I’ve birthed two rather large skulled children, and I live on a planet with gravity. I must exercise like a Navy Seal. Fast walking doesn’t cut it, lady. I have to train for not only one marathon but one every single weekend. Simple toning movements with light dumbbells? Forgettaboutit. To build muscle, I have to join the ExtremePump gym where we flip tractor tires, scale razor wire and jump rope with steel cables. Tattoos are optional.
Aside from being the most badass mother out there, there is a gentle side I must nurture as well. I have to meditate, practice yoga, and recycle. I must tend to a garden. Organic, of course. I must raise chickens! But before I do, I will have an architect draw the hen house. I can see it now: a sloping steel roof, a dramatic entrance, and natural light penetrating the north side of the coop. This chick will have it going ON. Oh, and have you seen my beehives? I said, have you seen my beehives? I will send you the latest article on the crisis of our pollinators. Honey, if you think global warming is bad, wait until you hear about the bees.
It is getting personal now. I took a photo of my son waving to me while fishing and my first thought was, “what camera filter can I use to make this better?” My photos can no longer be ordinary! My beautiful child waving to me isn’t enough — it must be enhanced. Little Jay would look so much better if he was shrouded in an angelic haze with full color saturation. There is an app for that.
I’m ready now. I want to be present and grateful and ordinary. I want to see life as precious without having to add something to it.
So the next time I’m at the grocery store I will not buy the fancy yogurt that makes golden, sparkly Number 2. That way I will not have to buy a tube of Preparation H (now with pomegranate!).
Brenna Barzenick (C) 2015
Dreaming in Facebook
We need to talk. You and me, me and you. I said this to myself recently after spending endless hours on Facebook looking at forty-seven new recipes to mask the taste of cauliflower, watching heartwarming animal videos (dolphin-kisses-cat-on-wharf! Watch to the end!) and reading a train wreck of comments from the muddy pool of humanity.
Social media and Facebook in particular are like being the publisher of your own newspaper. Who will subscribe to The Daily Barzenick? There’s the Front Page headlines (my kids made honor roll!), the Sports section (I do yoga!), Opinion (I’m right), Community News (Saturday is recycling day/just doing my part), Classifieds (old iPhone case for sale) and the fillers (insert memes here).
The time spent on social media takes me in to your life but out of my own. It's as though the Hubble telescope is viewing my descent into a black hole in a parallel galaxy. A galaxy of puppies, politics, and panoramic photos where life is seemingly perfect and anxiety producing at the same time.
With the excess usage of social media, I’ve neglected such things as actual work, actual play, and actual real life. Looking deeper, the need and want to scroll is starting to look like a dependency of sorts. The “Likes” are a fix. That blue thumbs up makes me happy. To quote Sally Field, “They like me. They really like me.” Science has shown that with each approval click (Like, Love, Haha etc), the brain is flooded with the feel good neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine produces euphoria and keeps me coming back for more, Like after Like after Like. On the flip side, when the device isn’t in hand or the person can’t check their feed, the body produces cortisol, a stress hormone related to anxiety.
As with all rewards, the shimmer fades. Likes are no longer enough. The Love button is what I want. Bingo! There it is. The metaphor and the reality all balled up in the fitted sheet of red hearts. The need, the want, the seeking of an outside source of worthiness aka love aka acceptance. Unease. Wanting. A sense of urgency to be there not here. Perhaps social media is simply reflecting back what we need to see in ourselves?
My brain has mostly good days but on days when the wolf wins, thoughts spray like a Tommy Gun. Forty-five caliber, fully auto self-criticism. That’s when Facebook becomes a burden. If the Likes are few, there’s a straight line pointing to “I am not good enough” or funny enough or thin enough. By gosh, I should’ve turned to the side a bit with the camera higher. Hips one way, torso the other for a slimming effect. All the girls know that.
My world, what I see, is framed by how I will post it on Facebook. The urgency to do so is overwhelming and crippling at times. The channel is stuck on the movie: The Book of Face. Neural pathways have been dredged. Deeper, ever still. I discovered this when I started dreaming in Facebook. Linguists say that when a person starts to dream in the new language they are studying, then it is engrained. The brain establishes a pathway. I’ve dreamed of Facebook friends, what they would post, how I would comment and so on. Facebook is my second language.
Yesterday, I was sitting on the porch watching the last benign squall from Tropical Storm Cindy. Cindy is no Katrina. She’s barely noticeable and not a gal that makes a strong impression. Cindy wouldn't have very many friends on Facebook. Poor Cindy. She's merely a Depression now.
As I was watching the misty sideways raindrops, I noticed a tree frog sitting on the armrest of our red Adirondack chair. My very first thought was that I needed to take a photo of it. Zoom in. Make it artsy. A vignette filter should do. The second thought was a pun. Did the frog escape from Leavenwart Prison? What crime did he Kermit? And it goes on.
I wish I could see the frog, bright green contrasted against the red chair, without an expectation. I want to see the frog in his lime glory without any pretense or outcome. I'm sure the frog sees me that way. Or maybe he has a problem, too. "She's so fly...". Yep, I’m ill. It’s come down to projecting my puns onto a simple amphibian and that’s no croak.
Alas! There is hope. There is always hope. I’m a bright-side looker but also a realist. I’m Pollyanna with a concealed carry permit. Without Facebook, I wouldn’t have made friends from around the country and world. People that I connect with as though I’ve known them my entire life and I’ve come to love dearly. My sister from the same mister would not have found us or my Dad if not for Facebook (another story for another day). Therefore, I’m convinced there’s a net benefit (no pun) to all of the social interactions.
But what about the bad news, the terrible people, and the suffering souls? It can be too much. For self-preservation, I’ve chosen to see the bright lights. I do my best to not bite the hook of the dim ones. We can evolve collectively and this could be how it’s happening.
Old folks tend to complain about newfangled stuff. To quote any given Grandpa, “What’s this world coming to?” The world is this: technology, the evolution of how we communicate, and people still wanting the same basic needs: to matter, to be heard, to be loved.
I’ll keep making my puns, friending the friend of a friend that likes yoga, and using the “Hide” button like it’s going out of style.
And as with all ego boosting, dopamine enhancing experiences, I’ll use it in moderation (right after I post this and hope that you Like it).
© Brenna Barzenick 2017
*Addendum: Twitter could be my rehab. There is zero validation there. They tried to make me to go on Twitter, I say, “No, no, no”…
Note to Elf
Rumor has it that Christmas season can be the most wonderful time of the year. In my opinion, if your family owns an Elf on the Shelf like we do, then maybe not so much.
If you are unfamiliar with the Elf on the Shelf, it works like this: First, the Elf must be purchased along with a book explaining his/her mission. Once opened, the Elf becomes part of your family. Sounds endearing but it’s like having a distant cousin with opposite political beliefs move in for the next thirteen years.
Once the Elf is placed on a shelf, the journey begins. The Elf has magical capabilities and disappears to the North Pole every night to report good or bad behavior to Santa. Basically, he’s a skinny little tattletale. Nobody likes tattletales.
After his overnight stay up North, the Elf returns home and settles into a new spot. It could be on top of a piano, near the microwave, or precariously dangling from a ceiling fan. He’s cute in a Don Rickles sort of way. It’s incredibly tempting to pick him up but there’s a hook. If anyone touches the Elf, he loses his magical power and cannot return to the North Pole. Welcome to a lifetime of disappointments, kiddo. But let’s not stop there. Sometimes, the Elf “forgets” to move at all whereby the desperate parent has to explain the Elf’s failure to launch. Onset of abandonment issues, here we come.
In today’s society, it’s not enough to keep things simple. The Elf has to DO things such as make messes, be upside down in a cookie jar, or even party at night with Barbie. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how this promotes good behavior in kids. Here I go again with the role model lecture. I wish my Elf was a Tibetan monk, not for virtues but for stillness.
As with all things, hope is on the horizon. Alas! on December 26th, I shall rejoice! On that joyous day, the Elf goes Bye-Bye. Adios. Au Revoir. Happy Trails. Mission Accomplished. Santa will be housing the Elf until next Christmas.
In homage to the Elf and his post-Christmas journey home to Santa, I’ve penned a poem. As a general rule, when the mood strikes me to write poetry, it can go two ways: Deep emotional scorn or several verses of puns - a good vowel movement, if you will. You decide which direction I took:
Note to Elf
by Brenna Barzenick
'Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the house
"This is the LAST time I'm finding you!"
I said with a shout.
Your smirky little elf face
Makes me want to punch you with glee
A tight fist in the kisser
as I laugh maniacally
You are supposed to be FUN,
a beacon of JOY
So why do I see you
as a potential dog toy?
Pinterest Moms everywhere
and their cute elf-ing plans
Keep me feeling inadequate
My gosh, the demands!
You sit looking at me
day out and day in
With a Botox’d smile
and cocky little grin
Until next year my little friend
with cheeks of maraschino
Please note I just spoke
with an accent of Al Pacino!
Merry Christmas! P.S. The kids love the Elf so I’ll continue to tolerate him for as long as necessary. That’s what Moms do.
(C) Brenna Barzenick 2016
Big Hitters in Life and Legacy
On March 13th at Alex Box Stadium, LSU Baseball honored local WWII veteran and lifetime educator, William “Willie” Bader. Mr. Bader, a spry 93 years old, walked energetically on to the diamond, sharply dressed in his Army uniform with rows of medals coloring his chest. The highly decorated veteran and hero to many, was introduced to the enthusiastic crowd. Mr. Bader humbly accepted the invitation to be honored as he’s done before at large sporting events, including a New Orleans Saints game as a Peoples Health Champion.
The moment would have come and gone, all eyes back on baseball, if not for one particular spectator who was cheering on her son, LSU standout, Kramer Robertson. The spectator, if you haven’t guessed by now, was head basketball Coach Kim Mulkey of Baylor University. After Kramer greeted him on the field, Mr. Bader walked over to Kim for a joyous embrace. It’s been a long time.
Over 40 years ago, Mr. Bader was Kim Mulkey’s grammar school principal at Crystal Street Elementary School in Hammond, LA. Kim Mulkey remembered her principal as being a former baseball player, recalling his knotted knuckles, and she was right. Mr. Bader played catcher for the Hammond Berries, a minor league team in the late 1940’s. Mr. Bader was known by his teammates and coach, Paul Bruno, as a jackrabbit behind home plate.
Mr. Bader remembers young Kim as, “very intelligent” and “a strong student and person”. At the time, Crystal Street Elementary was a newly integrated elementary school of grades 3 through 6. Mr. Bader recognized Kim as someone who was able to unite people. Speaking in an enduring Massachusetts accent, he recounted, “Kim was very sociable and everyone liked having her around. She didn’t take a backseat to anyone and has played a winning ballgame all of her life.”
Mr. Bader has been an educator for 65 years and still works as a substitute teacher. He will be 94 years young in April. Aside from a lifetime of public service and dedication to children, Mr. Bader’s military history is astounding as well.
Mr. Bader, still fit as a fiddle physically and mentally, is a true soldier, patriot, and defender of our great Nation. Serving under General George S. Patton in the infamous Battle of the Bulge, he helped liberate France from Nazi occupation. Mr. Bader earned the Purple Heart, the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, the Victory Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal and fought in numerous other battles in the European theater.
As life intersected once more on that beautiful Spring day in south Louisiana, we are all reminded that people enter our lives without coincidence. For Kramer, who has the tenacity and talent of his mother, the moment was likely pivotal for him as well. Many seasons ago, Principal William Bader, a humble hero who received a Silver Star for gallantry in action, met young Kim Mulkey, bright student, eager athlete, and future Olympic Gold Medalist.
Both are powerhouse individuals, generations apart but are more similar than different. Words such as leader, winner, difference maker, motivator, giver, and trailblazer could easily be interchanged when describing Mr. William Bader or Coach Kim Mulkey.
Kim and Willie spoke of each other with respect and awe, only wanting for the other to be recognized in this writing. I believe they both see themselves, now and 40 years ago, in each other.
Brenna Barzenick (C) 2017
It is a rite of passage. My mama did it. My mama’s mama did it. And I’ll be for damned sure that I’m gonna do it. Telling you my story sends chills up and down my spine. I’ll set the stage for you. It was pre-dawn and all I could hear were crickets and the sound of my own heartbeat. I barely slept waiting for the buzz of the alarm, a sound that reflected what the wild day ahead would bring. Grabbed my coffee, my hat, my gear and headed out into the darkness. It would be just me and my trusty companion, Veeza. She’s always by my side, that girl. Aims to please. Does what she’s trained to do. Unconditional love, no doubt.
I’ll have you know that I always get the jitters when the season starts. I know what’s out there, and I’m gonna get it. It’s a right and ain’t no one gonna take it from me. Plus, I’m good at it. Always get my limit in record time. I am made for taking down bucks.
Had the music on, a little chew ping-ponging around in my mouth, and I arrived not really knowing how I got there due to the anticipation of the hunt. It was as quiet as a night could be - like underwater in a black ocean. Then my stillness was ruined. Headlights came on briefly. I’ll be damned.They got there before me. A few other hunters to compete with for my special spot.
It’s just as well. I am a highly trained assassin in this game. Does that register with you? I can rack ‘em and stack ‘em and hang ‘em high.
Tick. Tick. Tick of the clock. When the time came, I entered the territory. Aware and on the lookout and destined to succeed, I reached down to be sure Veeza was close by. That golden beauty was as ready as me.
We turned the corner, briskly walking to make sure the others didn’t get there first. I know this spot like the back of my hand. I’m comfortable here and made for this game.
I weaved in and out of the tangle. Picked off a few things and draped them over my shoulder. Small stuff. Not the grand prize. Then I saw it — it was beautiful, majestic, and ready to be claimed. I tried to maintain my composure knowing that if I just took a deep breath, stayed patient, this spotted, brown beauty would be all mine.
I eased around the corner and made my move. Took her down quick. I was gonna make it out of the thickness and the madness of the day with my prize, even if it killed me. The others glanced over in envy. They may have gotten there first but I won. I like to win.
Now it was Veeza’s turn to do her job. She was on edge but ready. Once again, she came through for me even though she’d reached her limit, too. She’s worth every penny and I’m glad I took interest in her early.
We loaded up and my day was complete. I drove home weary but still running on the adrenaline of the hunt. I unpacked my gear and put Veeza down safe and sound. Now it was time to lay out my kill. Proudly displaying my bounty, I sighed in gratitude. Even took a picture with it all. Thank you, Lord for this bounty.
You see, I bagged my designer faux fur coat at 50% off on Black Friday! And that is how a small, Southern woman takes down a few bucks.
Brenna Barzenick (C) 2014