A Seasonal Song for You

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This time of year, some of us are walking on eggshells, wondering if we are “allowed” to wish people a “Merry Christmas.” Is it more proper to say “Season’s Greetings,” or “Happy Holidays,” or perhaps, “Bah, humbug!”? I got news for ya’ folks. If it weren’t for Christmas, there would be no seasonal greetings needed, and also no holidays to be happy about. The “season” was built a long, long time ago, around Christmas! Yeah, there’s New Year’s Day, but…who cares about that?! This lowly holiday gets top billing only because it happens to come a week after Christmas, which is the holiday, and the reason for the “season!!” And folks have been using those different seasonal greetings for years, and they all refer mainly to Christmas, followed by that humble holiday who just happened to be lucky enough to tag along with the Star! (the Star……get it?!) When folks use those salutations of Season’s Greetings and/or Happy Holidays, they are, in fact, wishing you a Merry Christmas anyway…they just don’t realize it.

Here’s what it boils down to – you can offer to me whatever you like, by way of seasonal greeting, and I will sincerely thank you, and then wish you a Merry Christmas, BUT, I will only say that when Christmas is really here. Because here’s the next big surprise that will cause a wedgie in your “holiday” PJ’s…Christmas starts at midnight on Christmas Eve! It didn’t start shortly after Halloween, when the stores immediately clearanced the left-over Trick-or-Treat candy and set out the Christmas sweets, decorations, gift bags, Santa hats, Christmas socks, etc, etc. And, it didn’t start on Black Friday, when people got up hours before the sunrise and started the mad rush to buy gifts for everyone on their list. Nope! Christmas starts on the anniversary (or at least the date that has been agreed upon by scholarly historians and theologians as the most likely anniversary) of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

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So, while you’re all biting your tongue wondering what greeting to offer, I ask you to consider this new approach. Greet people within the confines of the correct season. I’ve decided that’s what I’m going to be doing. When someone tosses any of the above mentioned good wishes my way (or offers a greeting for any other holiday of their choosing), I am going to respond with this gem, “And a blessed Advent to you!” I don’t know why I didn’t think of this years ago, but, this little idea finally found a way to get my attention, and I am groovin’ on this ingenious concept! I no longer have to worry about whether or not to say Merry Christmas, because…., IT’S ADVENT!!

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I have spent the past few days standing in front of the mirror, practicing this response, and I think I have it down pat now. “A blessed Advent to you!” I even made up a little song, just for fun, and in the spirit of the season, I’m sharing it with you.

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I Wish You a Blessed Advent

(sung to the tune of, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)

(refrain)

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

Cuz it’s not Christmas yet.

 

Slow down and take time

To truly employ,

The gift of a holy Advent

And the coming of Joy!

(repeat refrain)

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That was my early Christmas gift to you and, yes, I am still allowed to say the word Christmas – I’m not being a tyrannical scrooge, here! If you go Christmas caroling, go ahead and sing the word Christmas at the top of your lungs, but just keep in mind, we’re still waiting for Christmas to arrive. Once it does, I’ll be wishing people a Merry Christmas for at least a couple of weeks, maybe even until Epiphany, and folks will look at me like I’ve lost my marbles, not even realizing that they are being liturgically incorrect by packing the Christmas albums away the day after Christmas! At any rate, right now, in December, we should all be preparing our hearts to genuinely rejoice and celebrate the birthday of Jesus at the proper time. And that, my friends, is what this season of Advent is all about – not shopping, not parties, not gift exchanges, not decking the halls….just waiting, and watching, in the still of the night, as though we were lowly shepherds in the field, always on the alert for the sound of angel voices. They always come when you least expect them, but only if you find a quiet place, and take the time to listen. So….embrace your own holy and blessed Advent, while there’s still time.

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The Art of Being Useless

My latest hobby is the practice of accomplishing next to nothing. I didn’t plan it out this way. Just over a month ago, I was still a contributing member of society, but now, I am a game-playing, movie-watching, book-reading cat … Continue reading

Where Love Has Led

When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would usually say, “A comedian!” And, although I never made it to the big stage, I am definitely a full-fledged, freelance (read, “unpaid”) comedian. If you need proof, just ask my friends. Everyone I know (with a respectable sense of humor) thinks that I am funny. Or….maybe they just laugh at me because they don’t know what else to do with me. Either way, I’m happy – as long as I can get folks laughing, or at least cracking a smile.

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As the years went on, though, the what do you wanna be question was answered rather randomly, just because: a) I really had no idea what all of my options were, or b) I was basing my answer on my current preoccupation. So my response would jump around, from comedian to veterinarian, from bakery chef to writer, from actress to librarian, and finally to photographer, because that was where my interest was when the time came to choose a school. The truth is, though, that I had only one true longing for my life, and it was this….getting married and having/raising children. I can hear the collective GASP! Who would have guessed that a child of the 60’s and 70’s could harbor such a traditional longing? This was the age of women’s liberation, the dawning of Aquarius, the far-out, groovy era of turning your back on the established order of home-life, job, and family. A sacramental, life-long commitment to one person?! Bah! Being open to children, when “free-love,” contraception, and abortion-on-demand was all the rage?! Humbug! I know….what was I thinking?! But, you see, despite the flagrant distractions of the modern culture, my ongoing confusion, and a lack of parental guidance, I still had a great advantage. Because of my baptism, I had the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel watching out for me, and leading me gently on, a million missteps notwithstanding.

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All that time, when I was wandering around as a young woman, mixed-up by what the culture was telling me and by what I thought I should be, God (who is Love) was guiding me gently along, there to pick me up when my poor choices had me meandering off of the trail, dangling off of cliffs, or stranded in deep crevasses.

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While in photography school, Love led me to my husband. Almost right away, the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear, “This is the one I have chosen for you.” I listened to those words from Love, and flirted and joked my way right into that crazy man’s heart. (He had a wacky sense of humor, too, one of the first things that attracted me to him. That, and….he was quite handsome!) Even though we were both still caught up in the “misleadings” of our time, we traveled on together, while Love walked closely beside, his hand ever upon us, his wise counsel silently piloting our steps.

We were married in 1982, with a dispensation from the Catholic Church (of which my husband-to-be was a member) to be married in a Baptist Church, in which I had spent almost my entire childhood. Less than two years later, when I realized we weren’t really making it to church every week (my plan had been to switch back and forth, one week at a Baptist Church, next week at Catholic Mass, and so on), I convinced myself (through Love’s inspiration) that I would be willing to attend a Catholic church every week, if it meant we would actually get to church every Sunday. It worked, and, after eight months or so of full immersion, I was hooked. I wanted to learn about the Catholic faith, and be able to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, with my husband (who had now embraced his faith as an adult, and was living it fully). In the summer of 1984, I received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. From there, it was parish retreats (and Love, of course!) that led us deeper into our faith and gifted us with new, Catholic friends. Three years later, we were excitedly awaiting the birth of our first daughter. Even with serious medical complications, we went on to have two more daughters, trusting in Love for protection and aid.

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Because motherhood had been my deepest longing, I was one of those “all-hands-on-deck” kind of moms – staying home most days with them, while working a couple of days a week with my husband in his (by then) own photo studio. The two older girls went off to school before our third one had joined us, and I did everything – room mom, cupcake baker, party planner, you-name-it. I was at the school almost every day, willing to stay and help if needed…until the end of the fifth year, because Love began calling me to an ever deeper level. We pulled the girls out of school to follow the counter-cultural call to home schooling. (It’s hard to pick the absolute best thing about this choice, there were so many – no more rushed mornings, or piles of paperwork and fundraising efforts from the school; we could work at each child’s own pace, using my creativity and problem-solving skills at full-throttle; we met other Catholic homeschoolers and became more deeply immersed in the study of our faith….the list goes on and on!) We loved every minute of it (well, okay…you got me – almost every minute!). When people would ask me (and they did, often), “How can you stand spending all that time with your kids?!” I was left uncharacteristically speechless. It had never occurred to me that moms would not want to be with their children as much as possible! But, Love had called me to this life choice, and through it all, he was there, closer than ever before, still nudging us ever forward.

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And, now, thanks to Love never giving up on me, my husband and I have celebrated 35 years of marriage. We have raised three incredibly awesome daughters, and are blessed with 5 grandchildren (two of whom are already in heaven, due to miscarriage in early pregnancy). Our sixth grandchild is due in late October (from our “northern contingent), and we just returned from four glorious days of visiting with them. Such sweet joy our family gives to us!

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Some days, when I am not distracted by worldly concerns (like continued breast cancer survival and related health issues, paying the bills, worrying about my children, arguing with my husband about something stupid, etc), I can spend the entire day just basking in the glow of “my” success. But, right about the time I’m busy patting myself on the back, I’ll find myself falling off another of those pesky cliffs, making a hard and painful landing, right into the arms of Love. And with that harsh reminder, I will once again swallow my pride, and allow Love to lead, because his plan has always proved to be better than mine, and will always be best in the future. Lead on, Love – I’m right behind you! (Ummmm…on second thought, knowing me, maybe you’d better just push from behind, where you can keep your eye on me!)

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Weathering the Storms of Life

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As a country, we’ve been going through the valley lately, experiencing some pretty serious hardship. In our lifetime (despite all of mankind’s advances in science and technology), most of us will face some sort of calamity or painful loss, possibly even catastrophic destruction, sometimes individually, sometimes as a community at large, sometimes as a nation. The United States of America has just endured the one-two knockout punch of back-to-back destructive hurricanes. Add to that the tragic, widespread fires out west, the anniversary of the indescribable terror of 9/11, and the crippling division being displayed amongst our citizenry, and…yeah, we could definitely quote Charles Dickens’ opening line in A Tale Of Two Cities (one of my all-time favorite novels, which I highly recommend, if you’ve never read it!), “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We have “it all,” and yet we are finding (more and more often, it seems) that it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. The question is, will we confront these challenges facing inward, focusing only on ourselves and our own problems, or facing outward, together, with a disposition of serving others? In other words, will we allow it to make us stronger, more compassionate, and united, or reduce us to an outraged, bitter, broken people? From what I have seen, so far, from the stories of people reaching out to help, sending money, praying unceasingly – most of us have opted for the healthy and fruitful orientation.

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The absolute best perspective on all of this tragedy comes from an (almost) unbelievably sweet and adorable couple, who I know you have all heard about since Twitter (whose existence I usually refuse to acknowledge) is apparently abuzz with the news of these people. I am referring, of course, to Irma and Harvey Schluter, the elderly couple from Spokane, WA (ages 92 and 104, respectively), whose story has been shared on every reliable (and, otherwise) news source since last Friday when the story first broke.

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These are two remarkable people, who survived the challenges of World War II, had three children, and then fostered over one hundred more children. If the story stopped here, that would be enough, but Irma and Harvey also offered some sage advice. This amazing couple (who are still in love and still relatively healthy, with minds as sharp as tacks) shared these pearls of wisdom from their years of commitment and sacrifice:

“Each one’s gotta have love,” says Harvey.

“That, and faith,” adds Irma, “Two things that were here before and will be here after (the other Harvey and Irma pass from history).”

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THAT’S IT, PEOPLE!! Yes, it’s as simple as that! That’s all we need to get through this – faith and love. (And, yes, they are referring to faith in God, because that is their history and their personal motivation – they even taught Sunday school classes together! – and it is what facilitates a growth in self-sacrificing love.) As a former foster-parent of two children, I know, without a doubt, that welcoming one hundred & twenty foster children into your home (and doing the job with the proper spirit) requires a supernatural “inpouring” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and authentic love (spelled out by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13). If we open our hearts and our lives to embrace these truths, we will weather the storms of life, no matter how widespread and devastating they might be, and we will do it together. And together (i.e., hand-in-hand, united, with one voice, committed to one another, in concert, linked together, etc, etc.) is where we need to be right now. More “storms” are on the horizon, some we can see, some not even on our radar, but they are there, and they will come. Will we face them together, or separated; in a spirit of “love thy neighbor,” or a spirit of “I’m right, you’re wrong, and I will hate and mistreat you because your beliefs don’t jive with mine”? The choice is ours, and our choice will decide our ultimate fate. As for me and my family, we’re gonna follow the example of our country’s “very own, real-life, time-tested” duo, Irma and Harvey, from Spokane. I speak from personal experience when I say: Love, rooted in faith, will build an effective fortress, a sturdy stronghold, in which we can withstand the onslaught of any and all storms that head our way. Let’s keep building….together!

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Utensils vs U-turns

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My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.

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Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).

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I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!

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Donning the Mimi Millinery

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My grandma status is suddenly skyrocketing into the higher ranks. A little over two weeks ago, my middle daughter and her husband welcomed a foster child into their home. They are recently certified foster parents, and this is their first placement. He is a precious little peanut, and “my” first baby boy.

(Well, not exactly my first, because eleven years ago, my husband and I were foster parents of two adorable siblings, Evan and Larissa. Evan was only six months old when he came to us, and he did become my boy for a while. He formed a very strong attachment to me [and, vice-versa!]. Larissa was almost two, and cute as a button. They blessed [and challenged] our lives for one year, and then went back to their mama, which was a very difficult transition for Evan and me. I remained in contact with the birth mom and the kids for a short time after that, but it was just so hard on the little guy, when I would come to visit and then leave him again, that I decided it was best to step away, for his sake. A year later, their grandma called me out of the blue, to see if we would be willing to take them back into our home again, and consider adopting them. By that time, I was deep in the throes of my chemotherapy side effects, and was in pretty bad shape. I didn’t even know if I would beat the cancer, let alone survive the chemo. The scars in my heart ached afresh, as I told her that there was no way we could do it. I felt absolutely terrible that we could not take these children back into our home, and I struggled for a long time to see the purpose in all of that heartbreak and sorrow. It was difficult not to look at our fostering experience as a stupid, useless mistake. However, I know that God’s ways are not always understood by someone like me [i.e, stubborn, prideful, shortsighted, etc.], and so I have clung to the hope that we did make a difference in their lives, and I still pray for those two children every day. And now, my daughter & son-in-law’s call to foster parenting leads me to believe that I am witnessing some of the fruitful harvest of that perplexing time of love and loss. I’m sure that our sacrifice led to more benefit than I will ever come to know in this life, but seeing just a bit of it is definitely a consoling reward.)

So, anyway, here I am now, ten years after our own fostering experience, finding myself blessed to be the foster Mimi of a beautiful boy. I fell in love with him instantly, and can think of no better pastime these days than holding him in my arms while he sleeps peacefully. (Good thing for him that it’s an hour drive to his house, or else he would be getting awfully tired of his Mimi hanging around constantly!) In the meantime, my oldest daughter and her husband, living in the northern realms of the U.S.A., are expecting my third granddaughter. (Plus, they have two little ones in heaven, who we never got to meet, and I do count them in my grandchild total, too!) That branch of our family tree, having recently purchased a used, pop-up camper, decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to our neck of the woods to visit the new addition. It was a call to arms for this Mimi – “Man your battle stations, rearrange all the furniture, move the cats out of the spare room, drag out the inflatable mattresses, clear off the shelves of the local grocery, dig out all of the kid’s old toys, and buy some earplugs….the boughs of this family tree are temporarily swinging back towards the trunk!”

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I proudly added another stripe to my Mimi hat, publicly announcing my promotion. I looked pretty sharp, all dressed up in my foremother finery. I had all the plans laid out in my mind, all my kids and grandkids tucked snuggly into their nighttime positions, everyone I love, all under my roof when I go to bed each night…but then, a big “reality windstorm” hit and blew the Mimi hat right off of my head. As it turns out, Fourth of July in our neighborhood is truly an authentic reenactment of a revolutionary war battle. It is not a safe and quiet place for overnights, especially in a far-from-soundproof, flammable camper. Before the battle became too intense for us, our company’s Minnesota arm swung to the west, to our property in Indiana. The Dayton brigade was able to join us for a couple of nights, but then had to return home (there are strict rules about transporting foster children into “enemy territory,” and they only had a 2-day leave to be out of their county). At least I had them under my roof for a while, but that other company went awol, deciding to remain at our personal campground outpost. Now, I had to give up my comfy bed, and all the other comforts of home, to go and be with them. I kicked and screamed and put up a good, toddler-sized fuss, but they are too experienced with these things. They gave me a time-out and a good talking-to, and went on with their plans. SIGH……

The little ones have had a wonderful time, with Papa teaching the 3 year old to fish and shoot archery. Both of them got to take a rowboat ride with Papa and Daddy, and playing in the bountiful supply of fresh mole hills has been a pile of messy, home-spun fun. It’s nice and quiet out there, with no noisy, alarming fireworks to contend with (although we did notice a few on the horizon, once or twice).

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And (you may be wondering) what has Mimi been doing? I have been shopping, several times, for lots of groceries; I’ve slept several nights in an uncomfortable camper bed (with a home visit every third night, just to catch up on sleep and showering); and I have enjoyed immensely this precious time spent with my granddaughters (especially the 21 month old, whose vocabulary has taken off like a bottle rocket during her time here with us). And, when time permits, I have been working on my Mimi hat, trying to dust it off and get all the dents and wrinkles out of it, so it will be presentable the next time I have to wear it. But, then again…., maybe Mimi hats are better with a few dents and wrinkles, and lots of learning-to-go-with-the-flow. So maybe tomorrow, when the northern contingent pulls out, I will put the hat into millinery storage, count my blessings from this adventurous visit, and thank God for my beautiful family, all held safely under His far-reaching roof, each and every night.

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Illusionary Lists

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I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

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Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

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I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

Dusting Off the Ashes

My return to normalcy has been slow and steady. Oh, sure – some days it seems like New Year’s Day was just a week or so ago (and, just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the “new” year of 2016!), but when I try to reflect on the past twelve months, my life blurs into one mad rush of “what-the-hell-just-happened-and-how-did-I-survive-it” scenario. We all go through times like this: long, drawn out seasons of challenge and change and confusion.

Such times are difficult, but necessary. When in the midst of these arduous passages, I often wonder if I will ever come out again on the other side. Time slows to a sloth-like progression, and daily responsibilities loom like treacherous storm clouds on the horizon. Despair casts its net, and I fight it with all I’ve got, trying to avoid being tripped up and dragged down. “Hang in there just ONE…MORE…DAY,” becomes my daily mantra, while my constant friends, hope & faith, try to remind me that this trailblazing, uphill climb is leading somewhere worthwhile. Each day takes me further and further afield, and I grow weary trying to find my own way back to where I’d like to be. What frustrates me the most in these situations is that I feel like I was listening, that God had made His plan very clear to me, and His guiding hand had gone before me. But the place I ended up didn’t seem all that great, and God was suddenly, suspiciously, quiet. I’ve been here before, but still, I always have to remind myself…often – this is where trust comes in to play. Trust is often referred to as “faith in action.” With genuine trust, people are able to get up every day and do what needs to be done, and those whose paths intersect with them do not see a lost soul – they see a person carrying their own particular cross, who acts with compassion, empathy, good humor, and hope, spreading the light of faith, in spite of the trials. I believe that I was able to do this. From the things that I shared, close friends and family knew that I was going through a difficult time, but I tried hard to give my best to those I served each and every day. (To keep this honest, however, I must confess that while I was hanging out at home, I was sometimes crabby, I played a lot of games on my Ipad, and I slept more than usual, with my cat on my lap. And creative pursuits, like blog writing and crafting, were stored on a dark shelf in the dungeon.)

Fast forward now to New Year’s 2017. Exactly how I got here is a fuzzy mix of images, but at least I have arrived safely, and the storm clouds that tormented me for months are now but a distant memory. My hard fought battle with uncertainty and anxiety has been won, and I’ve come to a land of quiet joy and peaceful beauty. I recognize this country, because…I’ve been here before as well. It is the place I stumble upon when I have won the fight, when I have refused to give up. Upon arriving in such surroundings, it always seems much too bright. I blink my eyes, wandering around in a daze, trying to get my bearings. Sometimes, quite honestly, it takes a while to realize that I am in a better setting. The transition from feeling bewildered and alone is difficult to shake off – I’ve gotten used to it, and am not sure that I want to let it go, just yet. Slowly, the sun warms my bones and sharpens my senses. I look back to the west, into the valley through which I have labored, and I am struck by the rugged beauty of it all. I am able to recollect the gifts I received, and the accomplishments I made, while stumbling down the path that was laid out for me. I can gaze from afar upon my completed course, and see the good mixed in with the bad, and the memories of the journey come back to me.

I made two job changes during the past year, first, with an agency that provided me with training for Home Health Aid certification. I had to sit in a classroom and take notes, and study for tests, and pass hands-on clinical testing, and I am proud to say that I triumphed. My new boss even hinted that I was the best of the class. I know for a fact that I was the only one who aced the final exam…100%!! (At the age of 56, these kinds of accomplishments take on new meaning.) At that point, I thought that this agency was going to be the place I retired from. Imagine my vexation when the illogical scheduling procedures, coupled with the two-hour shifts scheduled all over town, soon began to wear me to a frazzle…and, I was stuck there for 6 months, because of the training agreement. Right in the midst of this unwelcome revelation, my dearest, most beloved client died. She had been doing pretty well, then started with some virus-like symptoms, went into the hospital for a few days, and suffered a massive stroke on the day she was supposed to be sent home. She passed away about 2 weeks after that. The gift that I received through that was knowing that I had brought some spiritual rest to the end of her days, by finding a wonderful young priest to come and visit with her a few times. I was even asked to do a reading at her funeral Mass, which was a great honor and privilege. Shortly after that trauma, I had a horrifying clash with a neighbor, who stood in my yard screaming, over and over again, right in my face, that I was “foul,” and spitting on my face as he screamed like a crazy man. This was not the first time we have been verbally attacked by these neighbors, but it was, by far, the worst. This time, though, his extended family was there for a party and witnessed the whole thing. I believe that they were shockingly appalled by his behavior (and, gave him a good talking-to!). Things have been much improved since that clash, and, even though I suffered terribly after that attack, I can see the good that it has wrought. It was around this time that I also got hired (through a friend’s recommendation) by a handicapped woman needing another PCA (personal care assistant). She does direct hire, and offered me 50% more per hour than I was making through the agency, and gave me set hours. I worked for her and continued with the agency until I thought I would drop, and then left the agency almost exactly six months after my first day of work. That was a difficult, but absolutely necessary step in my “recovery.” The final stab of the difficult journey was the loss of my sweet little Albert, my most favorite-of-all-time-kitty. He had actually become very sick earlier in the year, while I was on the edge of depression, but he had rallied to stay with me for several more months. He got me through the toughest days, and then it was time for him to go. He went quickly, suddenly becoming very weak and dying within a few days of that. It still breaks my heart to think of him, I miss him so!

So, anyway, here I am now, after a blessed Christmas visit with my growing family, all settled into a new, happy place (which will be purr-fect when I find a new feline friend to sit on my lap), with a lovely, but challenging, job (that I might not have been confident enough to accept without the HHA training experience). My new client (who shares a birth year with me) is also my newest best friend. We enjoy our time together tremendously, even on the difficult days. I have learned a great deal, and become a stronger person in many ways. All I’m hoping for now is a quiet year, with no “traveling.” I’m hoping that you’ll hear from me regularly once again. Growth and challenge are good things, but, let’s face it – too much of a good thing can drive a person batty!

Grandma’s drops of coffee soup wisdom

I know that many of you are forming an unfair opinion of me from my previous posts. You are thinking to yourselves, “This is one, crazy lady whose blog has no theme or usefulness, and I am wasting my time here.” However, I have a depth to me, which I have not yet shared with my faithful readers. Over the years, I have learned a thing or two. Some of these little pearls of wisdom might come in handy for a few of you, so I thought it would be very kind and unselfish of me to share these hard won nuggets. Since I do, sometimes, consider myself kind and unselfish, I felt obligated to offer this compilation of lessons learned, from many years of experience, for your perusal.

Lesson 1 – Always smell things before you taste them. This is a very useful and necessary piece of information. Unbeknownst to many of the unschooled amongst us, our taste and olfactory nerves work in conjunction with one another. Chances are, if the smell of something makes you gag, then the taste of it will make you vomit. Smell any questionable food items before tasting, and if you feel the slightest queasiness from the odor, toss it in the trash. Or, if you don’t tell PETA, you can feed it to the dogs.

Lesson 2 – Never smell things that you pick up off of the floor. This wise advice is closely related to #1. I have a habit of smelling anything that I can’t categorize. This is not a good habit to get into. There are strange and gross things in this world, and many of them live on the surface of the earth, or on the floor of your home. If you reach down to pick up an unnamable item, simply wrap said item in a tissue, and toss it in the trash. You are not a scientist. Classifying every object you encounter in your daily life is simply not necessary.

Lesson 3 – Always check the toilet paper supply before the release of any bodily wastes. I know this is a rather taboo subject, but it is something that we must, as a society, be willing to talk about. Too many people find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing a wipe when a wipe is inaccessible. Sometimes, if you are in your own bathroom, or in the bathroom at a friend’s house, you can rummage around in the cupboard and find emergency back-up, however, do not fail to follow this friendly forewarning when visiting a public restroom.

Lesson 4 – Never send anyone under the age of 20 years old to look for something in storage (i. e., in a food pantry, in the attic, in a cupboard, on shelves in the basement, etc). Anyone under this age of wisdom has not yet assimilated the concept of searching for items. If the thing they are looking for happens to be behind or under another item, they will never locate the item. They will search for a very long time, while you are, perhaps, stirring the pot, anxiously awaiting the needed ingredient. You will then have to find someone to take over the stirring, so that you can go rescue the searcher, who is standing there in a daze, staring at the shelves. You will move one can aside, which will reveal the jar of sauce that has eluded your unschooled detective. Invariably, the thwarted searcher will say, “I didn’t know it would be hidden behind something!”

Lesson 5 – Never, ever let yourself believe that grocery shopping can be taken care of in one trip per week. You will ask the entire family, several times as you are laboring over your shopping list, if there is anything that anyone needs. They will invariably say, “No.” You will take your cell phone with you, just in case they think of something while you are at the store. As soon as you get home from your big, weekly marketing excursion, and pack everything away where no one under 20 can find it, someone will say, “Did you get toothpaste (or tissues, or saltines, or quick oats, or whatever it happens to be that they have suddenly remembered that they can’t live without)? You will stop by the store on your way home from work the next day, and then the following day, you will run back again for an essential recipe ingredient that you forgot to put on your list, and so it will go, until you are stopping by the market three or four days a week, and everyone who works there will know you by name, and think that you are cuckoo.

Lesson 6 – Buying clothes in a smaller size to encourage yourself to lose weight will not work. You might think that those cute, little shorts and the skimpy tank top will be like a carrot in front of your nose, leading you on to a successful diet and exercise plan that will get you in great shape for the summer. It seems like it could be a beguiling incentive, however, the only good thing that can come of such a gamble is a nice, generous donation of brand new, never worn clothing to the local Goodwill. In addition to the donation, you will also have to hit the shops again, to get some clothing that actually fits. Save yourself some time and money – buy stretchy clothes.

Lesson 7 – (Standard Mom advice) Don’t let people get on your nerves, and try not to worry (about stuff that probably won’t turn out as bad as you think it will, anyway). Don’t take things personally. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. It never hurts to ask. Laugh a lot, be goofy, have fun. Thank God for the gift of every day, and leave things in God’s hands.

Lesson 8 – (Ending on a serious note) The only thing that really leads to true happiness in this life is relationships. Family, friends, work associates, classmates, the folks who work at the grocery store or your doctor’s office – these are the souls you can impact on a daily basis with your love and kindness and compassion and good humor. God brings these people into your daily life, and how you act towards them can truly make an impact on them, for good or for ill. Choose to love, choose to care, choose to be kind, choose to compliment and encourage and pray for those in need – these are the greatest gifts we have to offer to our little part of the world each day, and the sharing of these gifts will bless us in ways we cannot begin to grasp. We will feel happier, and we will leave those in our wake feeling happier, but these simple gifts of love and kindness will splash and ripple out into eternity, and have astounding and lasting effects we may never know.

Lesson 9 – Don’t imagine you can grasp all these staggering life lessons in one reading, because, honestly, you have to be old to be this wise.