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From Private Chaos to Shared Balance: The Brisket Bonus

by Judy Stone-Goldman on December 9, 2013

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Twenty-four hours ago I felt close to a nervous breakdown. After slicing and dicing what seemed like endless parsnips, carrots, and turnips, I was cutting into a large brisket that demanded strength and fortitude and a better knife that I had. Still before me were several laborious steps before the ingredients would pile into a large, as-yet-unfilled pot of hot water that would become brisket soup.

My husband was at the gym (I had sent him out, saying merrily, “Oh, I’m fine!”) and I was caught in the middle of a project that was larger and more demanding than I expected. Everywhere I looked were dishes, some filled and some dirty. The kitchen counters glistened (and smelled) like I had painted them in garlic, and the fresh thyme had disappeared. My neck and shoulders ached. I felt trapped.

Many years ago (decades in fact), I decided to cook Chinese food for guests. I lived in a small apartment with a tiny kitchen, and within short order there were piles of dishes, containers, and utensils filling every inch of space. I remember feeling lost in a chaos that had no exit except to keep going. I remember nothing of the dinner itself; only the eye of the storm that was the kitchen, through which all the guests had to walk to enter the apartment.

The memory of that Chinese cooking chaos came to me last night as I descended into my private frenzy. To feel trapped is a trigger situation for me — shaped long-ago by a multitude of life experiences — and it evokes anxiety, panic, dread, and insecurity. Usually I respond by closing my eyes and thrashing about, a cross between a mouse on a wheel and a cat frantically scratching at a closed door. But last night I did something different: I opened my eyes and woke myself up.

I woke up from the memories and I woke up from the chaos and I woke up from the belief that I had no choice. I stopped chopping. I stopped saying, “I have to get this done.” I stopped being trapped and I said, “I’m not going to do this alone.”

I put the food away and went to the store to pick up something simple for dinner. When my husband came home and said, “How’s the soup coming?” I said, “It’s not. Not today.”

husband cooks soup saving me

Doesn’t he look relaxed?

Then came the really remarkable part of the story. I said, “I need help with this.”

Today my husband finished up all the chopping, searing, and sauteing, and created the soup. I took conscious pleasure in not being responsible for it. How simple it was to move out of my chaos into a balance borne of a shared task! All it took was realizing that I could say I needed help.

As the sun sets, I smell soup cooking. I’m feeling relaxed. I don’t know if we’ll ever make this soup again, but I know I’ll remember it well any time I ask for help. I’ll call this experience The Brisket Bonus, and I plan to remember it often in 2014.

Questions for Reflection: Does this story remind you of any experiences in your life? How hard or easy is it for you to ask for help? What have you learned about getting help when you need it?

Writing Prompts: “It’s hard for me to ask for help when ______” (then keep writing); “My experience with getting help has taught me that ______” (then keep writing); “This blog post reminds me of the time when ______” (then keep writing).

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Walteen Truely December 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Thanks for sharing this story, Judy. You have been on my mind lately. What a wonderful story in how we can change our world by simply taking a different view. I love it!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 8:21 am

Walteen, Our energy must be meeting in the universal sphere, as I have been thinking of you, too. Glad you connected with the story. You and I will connect more directly some day soon!

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Carla Brooks December 10, 2013 at 6:56 pm

So interesting Judy. I want to reflect on this more, but had an experience this weekend when I realized that I could relieve significant stress by asking to have a meeting by phone rather than go into school and asked colleagues to shop for ingredients for a meal prep on Tuesday after I decided I wanted and needed to go out of town for a funeral. It was such a relief.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 8:19 am

Carla, I found that after I realized I could ask for help, I was struck by how obvious the solution was. Why does asking for help seem so far outside of our field of vision at times? (Isn’t it ironic how some people are capable of asking for help constantly but then rarely being able to really benefit from it, while others who are more capable seem nearly immune to asking for some smaller level of help…)

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Ellen-Marie Silverman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 9:27 am

Well, as usual I am responding by offering a free association to your blog post. I read it as a break from the writing I am doing on the young adult novel that is a sequel to “Jason’s Secret” in which I currently am describing 14 year-old Jason’s discovery of cooking as a profession that he believes will satisfy him. (He hasn’t yet discovered as you, and most of us have, that it is not always as glamorous as it seems to be watching cooking shows on television.) But, in certain ways, he will, and then, like you, maybe, he, too, will find that cooking can be a dear and precious team sport.

Thank-you, again, Judy, for this wonderful blog.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Ellen-Marie – Free associations are some of the best connections, and it gives me great pleasure to have my blog link up with your character. I’m curious now as to what about cooking attracts Jason. In fact, I am not much of a cook. I cook all my food, but I don’t “cook” as in make recipes, create, experiment, etc. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t prepared for how hard the work was. Perhaps Jason has something to teach me! Thank you for bringing him – and yourself – here.

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Ellen-Marie Silverman
Twitter:
January 1, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Jason is attracted to cooking because of the creativity he believes he would have being a chef and the satisfaction of being someone important to the community by owning and running his own restaurant serving beautifully prepared organic, local foods, some of which he would grow in his own organic garden(s). (a personal fantasy of mine – I had once seriously considered owning a bookstore with an associated café!) – Ellen

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
January 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm

My husband and I have made it a goal for 2014 to diversify our food, which is going to mean a bit more cooking! I think Jason’s view of the creativity of cooking will be meaningful to us (and we strive for organic, local food). As for bookstores and cafes – in Seattle we have The Elliot Bay Bookstore, which has a wonderful cafe in a room filled with old books. I have gone there many times just to ponder and write. They also have author readings that are a treasure. I wish Jason well in his journey (and you in taking him there).

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Deanna Heiliger
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 9:56 am

Judy, I love this story, not because you felt anxiety, but because you were able to “wake up” as you say. We all have a choice to wake up and get out of our heads. I am so glad you asked for help and that you have a wonderfully calm husband to jump in and help you! I bet the soup was delicious!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Deanna, The soup was, indeed, delicious! Each night we get surprised by how good it is. Whereas at first we both were saying, “It’s so much work…” we have now switched to saying, “Next time we’ll…” As I keep reminding myself and my husband, the hard was of trying to do it solo is now a thing of the past.

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Christina Grant
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

I can relate Judy. As someone who likes to do things for myself I’ve often been caught inside the trap of that overwhelm. And usually I end up with tight shoulders if it happens! I too am still learning to delegate some duties and also to not micromanage once I delegate! I really like the photo of your husband taking over and relaxed. What a relief!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Christina, I’m part of the tight-shoulders society! It made me feel better just watching my husband be so calm and relaxed. I know I have a long way to go and that I’ll have more experiences of forgetting to ask for help, but I do believe this event helped me begin a new process. Thanks for joining in.

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Karo
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 11:55 am

A lovely post, Judy! I guess I am lucky in that I don’t hesitate to ask for help if I can justify it. So I would not ask you to do anything because I am lazy, but because you happen to be good at it, and I can accomplish something else in the meantime.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Karo, Your wonderful attitude can only be of help to you in your life. I think there are not that many people like you, comfortable asking for help. You can teach us all about it!

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Kathy Gabriel December 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Here we go again Judy … is there some kind of universal conspiracy?!
I have been so used to ‘doing it for myself’ all these years, that asking for help is like jumping out of a plane … sky diving!
Thanks for the reminder that there is a parachute that works.
Of course you’ll make the soup again! Happy endings are great! :)

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Kathy, We are definitely talking about making the soup again, and we realize it won’t be so crazy the next time because we’ll begin as a team (instead of my husband having to be the parachute!) Your image of sky diving definitely made me want more help – I don’t like heights and I’d need more than one parachute. I know there are many creative, capable people who struggle with this issue, so it’s nice to have such wonderful company. But perhaps we can create the same good company in another way! Here’s to getting help when we need it.

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Suzie Cheel
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I love your story Judy and yes i relate to that and right now i know that asking for help is something that when independant can be a pain :) I have just been listening to the importance of JV and asking for help and then I came here- synchronicity :)

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Suzie – What is JV? Synchronicity always lends a sweet spice to an experience!

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julie
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Love this post! It took me years to ask for help… I’m a baby boomer, and we had very stoic mothers … it took me ages to burn my perfect cape, and admit I when I needed help! Thanks for this story Judy, I feel like I ‘know you’ just that little bit more! J

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Julie – “Perfect cape” – great expression! Yep, baby boomer here, too. Very independent, and my mother was horrible at asking for help. My father commandeered it and was used to being in charge of delegating at work. But as a female, I didn’t have role models for asking for help. So I’m learning late! Glad to have you at the party.

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Angie K. Millgate
Twitter:
December 12, 2013 at 7:04 am

Judy! I love this post. I really appreciate experiencing your sensations cascading from “I can” to “I can’t” to “Please help.” WOW! What a journey. And I’m wondering… how was the soup?

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Angie, The soup was delicious! We ate it for three nights, and every night we shook our head in disbelief at how good it was. We are already talking about strategies for making it some time in the future (as a team, of course!). Your description of the “cascade” definitely captures what I experienced. A definite “keeper” of a memory!

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Imogen Ragone
Twitter:
December 12, 2013 at 10:02 am

What a wonderful account of how awareness and giving ourselves the freedom to choose a different path than the expected can turn a situation around! Interesting that so many of us “forget” that asking for help is indeed an option. I hope you enjoyed the soup – it sounds delicious!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Thanks, Imogen, we did enjoy the soup! At first we thought, “We won’t do this again!” because of the drama I experienced, and it seemed like so much work. But the soup was so delicious, we quickly changed our tune. This isn’t something we’d make all that often, but it’s definitely a recipe that will be part of our life. Needless to say, I would never attempt to make it alone again!

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Sherryl Perry
Twitter:
December 14, 2013 at 11:26 am

Wow Judy! I can so relate to your story. I’ve been there many times. As for Chinese food, I wouldn’t even dream of attempting to cook it. (I have this unspoken rule that I rarely consider any recipe with more than 8 ingredients.) Kudos to your husband for taking over your soup. (He does look very relaxed in your picture.) Thanks for sharing your “Brisket Bonus” story with us.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Sherryl, I hope you have some comforting soup to help you feel better. Yes, I am grateful for my wonderful husband and his capacity for staying relaxed! Thanks for being here – in more ways than one!

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Kate Lindsay
Twitter:
December 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm

How great is help??? Amazing. Asking for help is one of the toughest lessons I have ever had to learn. I haven’t quite mastered it yet but I am more comfortable with it that I once was. A tough lesson but for sure one of the most valuable. Shared tasks in our house almost always end up turning out to be better. Maybe the laundry is done just the same way or the kitchen is clean just as it would be if I did it myself, but we both end up feeling better about it and THAT is what makes it better.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

Kate, Those of us who have difficulty asking for help often feel a task will be done right only if we do it! Isn’t it a revelation to discover the laundry can get done without our being in total charge, or the kitchen can get clean?! :) In truth, I’m practicing letting others help even if I could do something better. And you are so right–feeling better afterwards is worth everything.

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