Single Mom “Strikes a Chord”

I just saw a story on Facebook from Good Morning America. As a single mother, it really struck a chord with me (as the title said it would) especially after a recent conversation where I was expected to excuse bad behavior from my ex even after all these years. Luckily, I didn’t have an ex like the woman from the article. Mine showed up when he was expected to. He was there every other weekend and for a regular weekday visits as well. He showed up for holidays, sporting events, and whenever called upon. He paid the child support he had agreed to.

I often praised my ex for the things he did right. We behaved like adults by attending baseball games, football games, and wrestling matches together – just my ex, the woman I had thought of as a friend who was now his wife, and me. Now and then we had dinner after games. Once when there was a real problem with a teacher, My ex and I went to the school together. When Travis broke his foot, his step-mother and I took him to the emergency room and later to the osteopath. Whenever discipline was necessary beyond a time out (which luckily wasn’t often), we presented a united front.

But that still left me to do everything else. Sometimes I was really good at it and sometimes I fell way short. Whether going through the parental version of the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, I was always there and never resented having to be there and do whatever was needed. I took my son for regular check-ups and doctor’s visits when he was sick. I made the dentist appointments. I went to the back-to-school nights and parent conferences. I drove and often stayed for the sports practices for years and years. I took him to parties, to church, and anywhere else he needed or wanted to go. I dealt with the tantrums from the anger and hurts of life. But I also shared the little joys. I made a home for him where I tried to be sure he felt secure and loved.

Often I was overwhelmed. Yet I never complained about being a single parent (other things, yes, but not that) because I knew that the most important thing to me in the world was my son. I was given the great gift of watching him grow. I loved that I was the one who was there to see the daily life and the growth, that I was there before school, and that every evening I was the one to say good-night. I loved being the one who taught him things and helped him navigate school and friendships and hassles. I was the one he called to come and get him late at night. I was the one he called to say good-bye to when he was sure he was dying after he drank way too much one night in college – trusting that anger and condemnation wouldn’t be what he’d get. I loved being the one to take care of him when he was ill and celebrate the little, everyday victories. It was difficult financially. It was a lot of work. And it was completely, absolutely, 100% worth anything I gave up to always be there.

Early on I had made a promise that I wouldn’t say things that would make my son view his father in a bad light. I would never try to turn him against his father. For a long time I think I carried it too far. For example, after many years I finally said, “With your father, silence is golden. He doesn’t really praise people or offer compliments. That’s just not how he works. Just because he didn’t say anything doesn’t mean he was upset with you.” This statement didn’t carry judgement. It’s just a fact of his father’s personality that my son needed to understand and that I should have helped him to understand before he was a teenager!

Some people noticed the effort. I often got questions, especially from others struggling as single parents, on how we maintained a cordial relationship and did the things I did. It was simple. I loved my son more than anything – more than I hated anything – and wouldn’t do anything intentionally that would hurt him. I grinned and kept going through many things. And I liked the life I was living. It wasn’t what I had dreamed of as I was growing up, but it was good and it included everything that was important to me. I have to admit that I had hoped there was some dividend, some benefit that came with the things I did, the life I lived, and the desire to put my son first. That somehow karma would prevail. Who knows, maybe someday…

image from Wisdom Quotes and Stories

Confessions of a Recovering Literature Teacher

What could these have in common?

I have a confession to make.  When it comes to my entertainment choices, I like fluff.  I like escapism.  I like the books, movies, and television shows that are just pure entertainment and not dark, evil, or frightening.  I like the ones that cause serious students of the arts scoff.  I don’t want monsters, torture, and cruelty.  I don’t want to see government agencies undermining each other, duplicitous bad cops or government officials, or conniving friends and family.  We already have a world filled with violence, hatred, double-crossing, lies, and disasters.  Daily we hear of shootings, murders, robberies, explosions.  Barely a week goes by without news of mass shootings, natural disasters, out-of-control fires, or genocide somewhere in our world.  We are inundated with horrors that are real.  It is all just too much!  

So I don’t want to spend my money in my local bookstore or a theater to feed my heart, mind and soul with even more of that even if it is fiction.  I don’t want to turn on my television and invite into my home gory images of murdered and dismembered bodies or to see the good guys losing or fighting supposed allies all in the guise of entertainment.  Thus my love of HGTV and the Food Network!

As a recovering literature teacher and theatre student, I know that I’m supposed to love War and Peace, A Hundred Years of Solitude, and the works of Hemingway, Melville, Hawthorne, Dickens and others.  I should eagerly anticipate the serious movies and series that delve into the European royal courts of history with their intrigue and plotting.  And obviously I should be enthralled by movies nominated for the Oscars that are meaningful and avant garde.  I don’t love them.  I am not enthralled.  Mostly I am just disturbed.  You see, I have found that I love books and stories but not always “Literature” (said with a snobby, looking-down-your-nose-at-someone voice.)

To me much of what is presented as serious, artistic works are troublesome.  They are just disconcerting and strange.  I’ve read some classic works and even enjoyed some.  I assigned them to be read by students as was expected at least until I was able to create the course of study.  When I first started teaching and was given a curriculum for a class in American novels, I dutifully assigned the books.  The kids hated most of the books we read.  One day my students asked if we were ever going to read a book that wasn’t depressing or one where the main character doesn’t die.  Luckily I had The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn coming up and (spoiler alert) Huck lives.  

Many of the books I shared were serious and obviously contained some sort of trial or problem to be overcome, but they end up “happily ever after.”  I also found my book suggestions coming from books that students brought to me.  I still smile remembering Krista running into my room on the first day of school waving a copy of Where the Heart Isand excitedly exhorting me, “Ma!  You gotta read this book!  Some lady has a baby in a Walmart!”  

I know that, unlike me, teenagers love what I call “disease of the week” topics.  They love horror.  So I told them about the books other teens had loved along those lines.  I told them about The Lovely Bones which I had to stop reading because it was too disturbing to read after having attended the funeral of yet another student the week before.  I even told them about A Child Called “It” which I couldn’t bear to read and had recoiled over the details as students just had to tell me all of them!  I never gave wholehearted, enthusiastic endorsements of those.  They were always couched in “others have loved” or “I can’t keep this on the shelf” instead of excitement.  

I got to thinking about this in the last couple weeks because I read a book that I was telling EVERYONE to read.  I touted it online and in person.  I talked about it to everyone who could listen.  The book is The Day The World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede.  Set against the horrors of that day is the heartwarming, life-affirming story of what happened to the airline passengers prevented from continuing their travels to destinations in the United States.  As US airspace was closed, planes were forced to land in a wide array of places.  One of those places was the small town in Newfoundland where the population more than doubled that day.  On a day that showed the degree of hatred and willingness to cause devastation, death, and pain to other humans, this book shows the lengths to which people will go to help their fellow man.  It is an uplifting story in a time when we hear so much about hatred on our nightly news and in our social media feeds.  It was what I needed to read right now.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I can enjoy a book that is serious and sometimes tragic.  But those books are the exception for me.  At this point in my life I read for three reasons.  I read to learn.  I love biographies, nonfiction and history.  But I don’t want to read any more about the horrors of the Holocaust.  I’ve been there and read too much about that.  I’ve read what I consider the two most heartrending books I’ve ever read: William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Elie Wiesel’s Night.  I also read to improve myself.  I read Brené Brown and Max Lucado.  I read inspiring life stories.  Many of the books I learn from do double duty and fall into this area as well.  But biggest reason I read is for entertainment.  I mostly want enjoyment and escapism when I’m being entertained. I want to read of everyday heroes, kindness, love (not romance but it’s okay if there is a little of that), and other things that leave me feeling better about the world.  I don’t need to have my depression fed when the news of the day gives me plenty of fuel for that.

I’ve already mentioned some good books, and as always could go on and on.  I won’t.  However, if you are looking for some lightness and warmth in your entertainment…If you want to be uplifted…If you just want some pure enjoyment, here are ten:  ten novels, ten nonfiction works, and ten movies (along with a few names of authors) I would recommend.

BOOKS — FICTION

  • The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan 
  • Christy by Catherine Marshall 
  • Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister 
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Anything by:  

  • Fredrik Backman
  • Dorothea Benton Frank
  • Louise Penny

BOOKS — NONFICTION

  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • The Color of Water by James McBride
  • The Day The World Came To Town by Jim DeFede
  • Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Joni: An Unforgettable Story by Joni Eareckson Tada
  • The Magnolia Story by Joanna and Chip Gaines
  • Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall
  • Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

Anything by:

  • Andy Andrews
  • Brené Brown
  • Liz Curtis Higgs
  • Max Lucado

MOVIES – Just a few oldies but goodies with a couple new ones thrown in because they made me smile and sing!

  • The Blind Side
  • The American President
  • The Greatest Showman
  • I Can Only Imagine
  • The King’s Speech
  • Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns
  • Moostruck
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • Red (yeah, they blow things up but the humor is what I love)
  • Sweet Home Alabama

Good Reads – A Year in Review

It’s coming on to the new year.  A time of reflection for many and of making resolutions.  I don’t do resolutions much but I like reflecting.  That’s part of the reason I love recording what I have read in Goodreads and then looking back on them.  According to Goodreads, I read 46 books this year.  The shortest was the picture book Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills and the longest was Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  This not only shows the wide variety in lengths but also the wide range of my reading.  I read 8,993 pages – sounds impressive that way, doesn’t it!  However, it’s an incomplete picture of my reading.  It doesn’t include short stories, poems, essays, articles and other reading that didn’t include reading the whole book.  It doesn’t include Bible and devotional readings.  And it doesn’t include the things that I put down or those I finished but disliked. 

I made a decision when I started recording, rating, and reviewing books on the site that I would not record the ones I didn’t like.  To someone looking at my reviews without reading my profile, it might seem like I love everything I read.  I made this decision for two reasons.  The first is that I am all about encouraging reading and supporting writers so I hated to speak badly about them and perhaps discouraging others from at least checking them out (there was one exception that my entire book club hated and I reviewed a while back…but I digress).

The second reason that I don’t record the books disliked or even hated and quit on is a question of being fair.  Some of the books that I have read and didn’t like may have more to do with me than with the book or author.  An example:  I couldn’t finish Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.  The reason actually has something to do with how well it was written.  As a teacher who was dealing with the death of a student, I just couldn’t bear the pain of the book.  As with anyone’s list of hits and misses, it may be that the ones I can’t read are the ones that others love.

I only list books that I can give three to five star ratings (and sometimes I leave off the three star ones for various reasons). This, of course, means that I get an incomplete look at my year in reading when I look back on it.  I am not reminded of the books that fell under the “Life’s Too Short to Read Lousy Books” column.  Some were just meh.  That’s okay. 

Those that make the cut are the books I want to remember and feel that I can encourage others to read.  As I looked back on my list from this year I was surprised by a couple things.  I felt like I read Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give so long ago and it was such a part of my reading life that I wasn’t sure I read it this year.  I don’t usually reread books, but on the list this year are several that I read more than once including The Hate You Give, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and For Everyone by Jason ReynoldsI thought about giving my copy of For Everyone away as Jason Reynolds encourages, but I just have to buy another copy to do that with!  I love it enough to read it again and again, and since it is so short, I can do that easily without significantly diminishing the time I have to read something new.  Finally I learned that ruminating on a book often changes my initial reaction.  I found that I went back and changed a few ratings – adding or taking away a star.  

MY LIST OF FIVE-STAR BOOKS OF 2018 (As always it is in alphabetical order rather than by how much I like them – that would be too hard!):

ADULT AND YOUNG ADULT BOOKS

FICTION

  • Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty 
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
  • The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See

NONFICTION

  • Braving the Wilderness – Brené Brown
  • Educated – Tara Westover
  • For Everyone – Jason Reynolds
  • Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance
  • Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

  • As Brave as You – Jason Reynolds
  • Hello, Universe – Erin Entrada Kelly
  • She Persisted – Chelsea Clinton
  • She Persisted Around the World – Chelsea Clinton
  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street – Karina Yan Glaser

PICTURE BOOKS

  • I Am Enough – Grace Byers (PB)
  • Islandborn – Junot Diaz
  • Love – Matt De La Peña
  • Show Way – Jacqueline Woodson

AUDIO BOOKS

  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Read by Tim Curry)
  • The Night Before Christmas – Clement C. Moore (Read by Jeff Bridges)
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See (Read by Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn, Alexandra Allwine, Gabra Zackman, Jeremy Bobb, Joy Osmanski, Emily Walton, Erin Wilhelmi)
  • Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin (Read by Richard Thomas. Doris Kearns Goodwin reads the introduction.)

CURRENTLY LOVING AND PROBABLE TO BE ON NEXT YEAR’S LIST

  • Leadership:  In Turbulent Times – Doris Kearns Goodwin (Read by Beau Bridges, Richard Thomas, David Morse, Jay O. Sanders. Doris Kearns Goodwin reads the introduction and epilogue.)

What’s in the Well?

“What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.”  Years ago I had a Sunday school teacher who said that all the time.  It offers a truth.   

If you have ever had experience with the kind of well that allowed you to pull up a bucket of water, you know what this means.  If you’ve ever read the Bible, studied cultures where the women walk for miles to get the family’s water, or know history you can picture what I’m talking about.  But in this case, I’m not talking about the literal well and bucket.  It’s a metaphor for many aspects of life.

If we eat nothing but junk food, our bodies will let you know that what we’re putting in the well isn’t working for us.  We’ll lose energy.  We’ll gain weight.  Many of the vitamins and minerals needed to live a healthy life will be missing and cause health problems.  Such lack of nutrition will even affect our appearance.  The same is true for all aspects of our lives.

We are reminded often to take the time to wish someone well at this time of the year.  We go out of our way to help our fellow man – we pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child, take an angel off of the tree at church to buy gifts for underprivileged children, and drop money into the Salvation Army red bucket.  We take donations to the local food pantry, remember the elderly as we go caroling in nursing homes, and send cards to people we care about but don’t often get to see.  

We become more caring, more loving, more generous around the holidays.  But why?  Because everywhere we go we are reminded of the impact we can have as we do these seasonal things.  We hear stories of famous people like Tyler Perry or an anonymous donor paying off all of the layaways at the local Walmart. And maybe we pay it forward at the Starbucks or McDonalds.  We watch those Hallmark commercials that highlight family and the grandparents who need you to stop by.  And we call to make plans.  We watch Frosty and Rudolph and It’s a Wonderful Life.  We sing “Joy to the World” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” We ponder lines of lovely lyrics like “joyful and triumphant,” “peace on earth and mercy mild…,” and “sleep in heavenly peace.”  

There are many things that are feeding us the idea of Christmas cheer, generosity, and love.  We’re putting all of those feel-good ideas down in the well and they’re coming up in the bucket.  

The late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin lived his life with compassion and a sustained effort to end hunger.  One of the things I remember him talking about was how wonderful it was that people had all the food drives and thought about the hungry as the holidays came around but how much more wonderful it would be if they thought about it on Black Friday or December 26.  So what happens to all of that spirit?  

We quit putting worthwhile, loving, generous thoughts “down in the well.”  This, I think, it the part of what is wrong with our society right now.  We watch too much “news,” see way too many violent images, and hear too many negative ideas.  There is too much incivility and vitriol being taken in as we watch.  We have a 24/7/365 news cycle.  Obviously, for all of human existence things have happened around the clock.  What is different today is that we are taking it in all day, every day.  There really isn’t enough news to warrant this kind of coverage; therefore, these radio, television, and online sources rehash things over and over and over.  They bring in “experts” to opine on all things.  They take things that should never make the evening news and turn them into stories that last for days.   And they blow things up and completely out of proportion. 

Let me illustrate.  The horrifying story of the murder of a little girl in 1996 made headlines around the country and continues to make headlines every so often today.  JonBenét Ramsey was not the only child murdered that year.  Probably not even that month or that day.  But it happened on the day after Christmas when all of the lawmakers in Washington were at home, many businesses were still closed for the holiday…in other words, on a slow news day.  Sure she was cute and her family well-off and well-known in their community so the local news picked it up.  But those 24/7 news sources still had to fill the airwaves so the national news grabbed it too.  They continued to cover it over the next week for the same reason and by then couldn’t let it go.  They sensationalized it.  Sure it was awful and tragic.  But so were the deaths of all of the children who have died, especially those whose lives were tragically cut short in acts of violence.  Yet we don’t hear as much about the multiple deaths of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School as we do about the Ramsey case.  The news moved on.  Or in the years between the two events we have become inured to the violence because we hear it day in and day out.  That’s really frightening for what it would be saying about us.

Listening to a story recently I was given some food for thought.  I was only half listening until this point so I can’t even tell you who said it, but the person speaking on my radio made a distinction between news sources who are there as a public service to keep us informed and those who exist solely to make money and entertain.  It’s the difference between what we once new when Walter Cronkite told us “and that’s they way it is” and today’s talking heads who interpret the news as they bend it to their (or their network’s) point of view.  While I had never delineated the difference until I heard this, I instinctively knew it.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that depression has been something that I battle.  I’ve written about it and what it does.  I have found that one of the self-care things that I need to do to fight that depression is to be careful of what I’m putting in the emotional well.   Maybe you need to do the same – even if you haven’t been diagnosed with depression but just want to feel better and more content.  

I started by limiting my news to the updates at the top of the hour on the radio in the car, a half hour of local news, and the half hour of evening network news.  Some days I don’t tune in at all.  If there is something that I feel the need to know more about, I do some research and reading, but I don’t go to sources that will fan hysteria, hatred, name-calling, and incivility.  

If you aren’t liking what is “coming up in the bucket” in your emotional life, you might try thinking about what you are putting down in the emotional well.  Here are some areas that you can consider:

  1. The news.  Be sure you are watching good sources.  You should take in enough to keep you informed but not so much that you become obsessed or become emotionally distraught over the state of the world and things you can do little to change.  If you are too disturbed, take a few days off.
  2. Social media.  If you want to see an idea beaten, stretched, polarized, and exaggerated, there is no place like Facebook, Twitter, and many, many other places on the internet.  Shun the really polarizing ones.  Limit your contact with people who stoke fires on these sites and spread stories that don’t pass the BS meter.  Take a break from all of them when you find your emotional state being dragged down. 
  3. Entertainment sources.  Great drama is often uplifting.  But there is nothing like a great comedy that really makes you laugh!  Sometimes I have to look for lightness in my entertainment.  I find a light read, a rom-com movie, a magazine.  When I’m down, I avoid television shows that cause stress or show too many negative images. That’s when I go to watch HGTV – the worst that ever happens is they find nob-and-tube wiring and go over budget!
  4. Church and the Bible.  I find that things that help me to feel closer to God are vital at my low points.  It’s also at those moments that I’m drawn to stay home playing games online instead of reading something so worthwhile or going out and being with people.  But the worship service helps me to feel the goodness that is possible.  Granted, you have to be in the right church so that you are fed things that will lift you, but get up and find it.
  5. Music.  I love praise music.  I love great country songs that make my feet move.  I love jazz and classical music that make my spirit soar.  I love any song I can sing along to.  For someone my age, I defy you to hear “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” without immediately smiling and singing!  I made an iTunes playlist from my music and burned a disc of songs to lift me up.  I have now created Spotify playlists to do the same thing.  (I made a special one for Christmas because I don’t want to hear “Blue Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” or any other song that makes me sad!)
  6. Friends and Family.  Don’t isolate yourself, but be careful of the people you allow into your life.  If you are surrounded all the time by people complaining and angry, you’ll find out why the old adage about lying down with dogs became an old adage!  I’ve had times I became one of them!  Find people who will listen and show compassion.  Find people to laugh with.  Find people doing good work and helping others and then join them!  One of the best things I’ve done for myself was to begin working with New Hope Ministries – when I am working with people who have the heart to help others and I’m doing good work, it makes me feel better.

In order to turn ourselves around and maybe even society around, maybe we just need to be sure that we are feeding our souls and our spirits.  This isn’t a new idea.  It isn’t even original to me.  Paul gave this advice in the Bible long, long ago.  Paul, writing to the Philippians from a jail cell, offers this advice, “…as I close this letter, let me say this one more thing:  Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others.  Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.  (Phil 4:8, TLB)  

If I can’t be a good example, at least I can be a horrible warning…

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Have you judged someone’s attitudes and actions without knowing or contemplating where they are in their lives?  Have you lashed out at someone without feeling his or her pain first?  It’s an ugly characteristic, but one I have succumbed to way too often in my life.  Atticus Finch is not only my favorite literary character but a role model setting an ethical standard I admire, a standard that I’ve found lacking in my life.  Most recently, I found myself coming up short and causing pain to others and to myself.  Let me explain.  Maybe you will see something of yourself in here and can stop your tongue faster than I did!

I live a series of contradictions.  I’m loud and talkative but actually introverted.  I try to surround myself with people and things that will uplift.  I collect quotes, sayings, and verses that are joyful.  But I suffer from depression that leaves me on the floor seeking some way of getting up.  I’ve been told that I am seen as confident, bold, and outspoken.  I’ve had people tell me that I intimidated them when we first met.  That has always surprised me because it came most often from people who intimidated me!  Contrary to the way I seem, I know that I am always insecure, usually scared, and quite often reluctant to really voice what is on my mind on many subjects – especially personal ones.  I express myself better with written words than spoken ones where nothing comes out right and I just get tongue-tied and embarrassed. 

I try very, very hard to live my life with kindness, generosity, empathy, and compassion.  And yet there are times that I know just how far short of that I come.  I hold back to protect myself from hurt.  I judge.  I have some hot-button issues that give rise to anger and set my mouth into gear long before the brain is engaged.  I am suddenly this fierce, angry, immovable  force.  At these moments I say things that are far from kind and compassionate.  If I don’t say anything, I seethe.  And in either case, I stew. That means that just because I’ve managed to stop talking and have even walked away, it might not be over in my heart and soul.  

As I said, I have issues.  They are hard-wired to a button with a hair-trigger.  Stomping on that button will set off a reaction before I can stop it.  When I’m really low, just nudging that button will do it.  Then it will fester and the reaction can come back around days later, weeks later, and might live inside me for years.  I have a great deal of trouble going back and talking to the people who have received the wrath, apologizing or explaining myself.  It would involve vulnerability and the dropping of protective walls that I’m not ready to abandon.  Maybe not able to abandon.   But I’m trying to at least acknowledge and explain here to some extent.

The irony of these responses is that they are caused not by some righteous anger but by the weaknesses that have led me to being hurt in the past.  They are directly linked to the insecurity and fear that have made most of the decisions in my life.  

I’ve worked through some of the issues to the point where I can take a deep breath and think before I respond.  I can then usually push past or ignore things.  That doesn’t mean I won’t come back and revisit it later, but if I get beyond the initial knee-jerk reaction, I usually won’t go back and bring up the issue.  There is, however, part of my sense of self garnered over the years that I have not worked through and I guess that is because it is far more deeply ingrained and dangerous to me.  

Lots of forces over the years led me into adulthood feeling “less than.”  Less than strong. Less than athletic.  Less than graceful.  Less than acceptable.  Less than intelligent.  

I have long ago accepted my two left feet, lack of athleticism, and awkwardness.  My dad’s jokingly calling me “Baby Huey” as I got taller and more awkward took their toll, but overall I’ve come to terms with that.  I wish I could dance, but I can’t.  I would love to enjoy physical activity and athletics.  I know it would be really good for me, but it’s just not going to happen.  Maybe I accept those because, while I know that they are true, they don’t mean that much to me in the grand scheme of things.  I look at them as talents that I don’t have rather than as defining who I am.

It is the other two that combine to still hurt and rule my day-to-day living and cause the problem.  They aren’t about talents but about who I am intrinsically, ultimately, innately.  The feeling of being less than acceptable and less than intelligent have to do with many, many things from childhood onward that I won’t go into here.  The first is a constant struggle.  I’m not sure I’ll ever lose that.  I take everything personally and feel every little slight.  I never quite feel like I fit in or measure up.  I know I have good friends.  I know they invite me to join them doing things.  But what you know and what your insecurities tell you aren’t always the same thing.  

Feeling less than intelligent came along with the lack of confidence felt when you already feel like you don’t fit in.  Again, I won’t go into the things over the course of my life that led me to believing a narrative that I was being fed, but I know this is not true.  I may not be accepted but I am not stupid.  I will tell you where I drew the line in the sand.  

I lived with someone whose favorite description of me was “stupid as hell.”  I should have stuck up for myself and put a stop to it from the start.  However, I went into that relationship with self-doubt that was fed and grew there.  It hurt and part of me wanted to scream “I AM NOT STUPID!”  But I wasn’t sure enough of myself.  I didn’t want to chance being rejected so when he asked sarcastically if I had actually gone to college, I would jokingly say things like “no they let me teach because I’m cute.”  Most often I said nothing.

I can remember growing up hearing people say that abused women “liked” being abused or “wanted it.”  When I did some reading on the topic, I learned of the toll that is taken on the self-confidence and the very essence of who these women were.  I learned that they came to believe they deserved to be mistreated.  And I understood how that could happen.  They were often beaten down physically but were ALWAYS beaten down emotionally and mentally.  

This man never hit.  He never had rages.  But he steadily put me down and insulted me.  I didn’t speak up.  I didn’t stand up for myself.  I took it in and came to believe it.  When we split up, I wasn’t sure how I would ever survive on my own and take care of my son even though I knew I had a job that would allow us to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I was surprised when people told me afterward that they had never understood the attraction I had for him because they knew I was much smarter than he was! 

As I took the time to heal and reflect, I realized my role in what happened. My silence and acquiescence allowed him to continue and led to my acceptance of his words as truth. And I overcompensated for it.  I swore that I would never, ever allow anyone to call me stupid or insinuate I lacked intelligence again.  And I don’t.  I stop it cold.  And I often do it with a rage and outrage that I’m sure seem outsized to others.  Over the years I’ve tried to tame it with varying degrees of success.  When I’m in the throes of a depressive bout or when other circumstances have combined with it, however, I’m not quite in control of that anger.  And anger unchecked leads to behavior that often hurts others.

I know that in my efforts to take care of myself I have pushed people away.  I don’t care if I have pushed them away if they truly meant to treat me as “lesser than” and insult me.  But I know that sometimes that wasn’t really their intent.  I sometimes listen to their words without listening to their hearts.  It happened recently with a long-time friend whose words came from a place of pain and anger – anger not with me but with God and life and the world.  Even though I have been in a bad bout with the depression, I responded without truly being in a rage, but I’m sure my anger showed.   

His bitter response, in turn, caused me to feel the pain and anguish he’s been living with.  I know I didn’t cause it.  I know I can’t really do much to alleviate his suffering.  But now the kind, compassionate heart I talked about as I started this post is broken for him.  And because I couldn’t hold my tongue, see his anguish within that attitude, and love him through his hurt, I caused him more pain.  I caused me more too, because I feel very guilty for having added to his suffering.  

That’s what happens when we look inward only.  Unfortunately for those suffering from depression, it is a trap we fall into and have to constantly be vigilant about.  I wasn’t on guard and now two people pay the price for it. 

Once Upon a Christmas

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I love fall, but I’m not a fan of snow and winter.  It’s the middle of November which should be giving me pretty fall colors and cool temperatures.  Yet in my last post I jumped into the Christmas season.  I bypassed Thanksgiving on the blog (already doing enough of that with my Facebook posts) and went straight into Christmas.  I do love Christmas.

IMG_2090Today as I sit in front of the fireplace watching it snow outside, I’m not feeling like I’ve rushed it all that much.  My beautiful fall mums are covered in white.  The branches of the trees out front have colored leaves under a coating of snow.  And so I’m back with Christmas.  I ended my last post with a promise to share some books that will get you into the spirt and make great gifts for the folks on your list! 

There are traditional stories that I love to revisit year after year.  What would Christmas be without the reading of the actual Bible story (you know, the “reason for the season”? 

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Listen to Linus

You don’t need to go to the old King James version…although think of the beauty of Linus reciting that next to Charlie Brown’s tree.  The Message, the New Living Translation, and other modern tellings give a beautiful account that even children will follow and love hearing read aloud as part of a yearly transition.  (Read Luke 2:1-20 and then Matthew 2:1-12.) 

Other traditional stories truly enrich the season.  At some point you should really graduate from the Muppet version, get through the George C. Scott movie, and read the original version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  I have a favorite edition with illustrations by Greg Hildebrandt, but I’ve seen so many others that are lovely and rich with illustrations that will bring in the younger audience and old folks like me.  I also have a gorgeously illustrated copy of The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.  The story will have your children remembering Burt and Ernie sacrificially giving in the holiday special, but the illustrations in the book pictured here give it the lovely period atmosphere.  I also found a charming version of Clement C. Moore’s A Visit From St. Nicholas (’Twas the Night Before Christmas) with the original Jessie Wilcox Smith illustrations.

There are other books that I have grown so fond of over the years that they are a tradition for me to read.  If you haven’t read The Polar Express with its rich illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg, it is high time you do!  The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, and A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg are stories adults will love disguised as children’s picture books.

You can giggle your way through Peggy Parish’s Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia or Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold.  Or you can roar with laughter with Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  (A word of warning that comes from experience:  when reading this aloud, allow extra time to regain your composure after fits of laughter.)  You can visit history with Cynthia Rylant, Tom Brokaw, Kate DiCamilo, Patricia Polacco, and Gloria Houston.  There are wonderful adult novels and novelettes by Deborah Macomber, Dorothea Benton Frank, Liz Curtis Higgs, and many other popular authors who will add to your own Christmas spirit.  Start with my list of tried and true below.  But don’t stop there!  Every year you can make wonderful new discoveries at your library or local book store.  So don’t forget to look for some new titles and share them with me! 

As I said in my last post, if you’d like to stop by to have a cup of tea and some music, for a story time, or to borrow any of these (or lots of others), my house will be the one with the wreath outside and a fire and welcoming spirit inside.

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My Favorite Family Christmas Reads:

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson 
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck 
  • Christmas from Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber by Tom Brokaw
  • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
  • The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
  • Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco 
  • A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  • Gifts of the Heart by Patricia Polacco 
  • Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  • Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano
  • Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg 
  • Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant
  • The True Gift: A Christmas Story by Patricia MacLachlan
  • A Visit From St. Nicholas (’Twas the Night Before Christmas) by Clement C. Moore   
  • The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

Need a “Little Christmas”

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My mom was all about Christmas.  She really did it up big.  She went way overboard every year.  Every year we waited for her traditional claim that she was “cutting back.” She tried hard not to say it and we conspired to make her slip up.  She always did.  And when the proclamation inevitably came, we would hoot, call each other on the phone, and herald the news that it would be another good year.  One time she asked my teenage son if he still believed in Santa.  His response was, “Yes.  She has red hair and drives a…” 

Scan 32 - Version 3When I became an adult, I tried to keep up for years.  I can’t.  I’m not even sure I want to keep up in many of the ways that she did it.  It’s a lot of pressure.  When I took over some of her shopping and wrapping and baking as her health deteriorated, I wondered aloud why she was so happy doing so much all those years.  It was her way, and she was good at it.

But, alas, times change.  We don’t have huge family gatherings they way we once did.  My entire family came together for the first 55 years of my life first at my grandparents’ home and later at my parents’ home to join in the full day of festivities. It started with presents, stopped for breakfast, and continued with presents. The rest of the day was spent cooking and eating, playing games, and laughing over well-worn stories of Christmas past. 

Once my parents made their permanent home in Florida and Mom couldn’t travel, things changed.  We’re now spread out across two countries and five states.  For a long time now my brother has spent Christmas with his wife’s family.  My sister goes to visit with her children wherever they are in the country or they come to her in Virginia.  Once Mom passed away Dad started coming to my home, but he lives in Florida, hates the winter weather, and has now chosen to stay there, golf, and celebrate with his girlfriend and friends. 

My Christmas celebration has become more and more pared down with the passage of time.  We don’t buy and buy and buy the way Mom did.  My son and daughter-in-law host Christmas every year because, after working in a grocery store during the holiday season, his biggest Christmas wish is not having to wear anything but sweats and not having to leave the house all day.  She has decided that Christmas dinner should be simple and involve no hours in the kitchen that day.  So our Christmas feast will look a lot like a deli buffet.

My friends don’t host holiday parties. Denise and Joe have our “chosen family” over for dinner on Christmas Eve, and I have the same group at my home for New Year’s Eve.  Last year I went all out.  I took out the mountain of Christmas decorations I have amassed and inherited over the years.  I made the house look festive and hosted a Christmas tea.  I enjoyed the time with good friends and the little ones in their lives.  I pretty much maxed out the number of people I could have here for a sit-down meal but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves even with tight spaces. 

This year I’m pruning back another couple of traditions.  I always search out Christmas cards that have a picture and message that says what I would like to say to people.  They have to be just perfect and involve a pursuit that takes time.  Many years, I created and printed my own cards.  All of this became a chore that added pressure and anxiety to my holiday.  This year the scaling back starts with not sending Christmas cards in the same way I have done in the past.  I will still find the just right cards but I’ll only be sending out a few to those I won’t get to see over the holidays – and I’ll write personal notes to those friends and family far away.  If I’ll see you tomorrow, I give you a hug and wish you a Merry Christmas.  If I’ll see you on Facebook, I’ll design a wish for one and all to send out. I will do no more than I can handle and will not put pressure on myself to meet some arbitrary Hallmark expectation in sending cards.

The other thing that I am scaling back on is the holiday decorating. I had one year that I wasn’t going to decorate at all.  Mom had died and with her my Christmas spirit.  In the end I forced myself to get out all of the decorations and go through the motions.  I did it in memory of her.  I did it because I have grandchildren.  And in the end it was good for me because I really love Christmas and the decorations.

I have more of Christmas stuff than someone with a house twice the size of mine should have!  Every year I swear I won’t buy another bauble, ornament, piece of tinsel…not even another Nativity for my collection.  That usually flies out the window before Thanksgiving hits.  (Confession time.  This year it happened before Halloween, but it was a really different creche.) When I’m putting the decorations up, I am listening to Christmas carols or watching a Christmas movie.  I am seeing my treasures that have been hidden away for the whole year.  I take out some and smile a moment reliving with old friends the memories they bring.  Some come out and bring a surprise because I had forgotten them.  Last year I took them all out and made the house look as Christmassy as possible.  You know what?  It was WORK!  And these days, I’m the only elf putting them up!  The adults have their own to do and the grandchildren don’t have time either.

And the only thing more work that getting them out and placing them around the house is packing them up putting them away!  By then I’m no longer feeling all sentimental about them.  I’m not listening to the Christmas music.  It’s over.  And I want it to be done with!  I’ve turned grinchy.  And as for those grandchildren?  Only one of them even saw the full blow-out last year!

So this year, I will decorate only to the point where I can see a few beautiful things that bring the season alive for me without an overwhelming amount of work.  I’ll put up the tree.  I’ll put out at least some of my Nativity collection.  And I’ll hang the stockings by the fireplace and the wreath on the door.  That might be it.  I’ll sort through the things that can go live somewhere else, and I’ll save the rest for next year and cherish them then.

Curbing the things that add work and anxiety will hopefully free me to find the “all is calm, all is bright” of the season. I will do the things that gladden and hearten, helping me to truly celebrate and enjoy.  Maybe I’ll bake…maybe not.  I’ll make a few gifts…if the mood strikes.  I’ll wrap gifts with beautiful bows because I like to do that.  And I will certainly hold on to

the sentimental and lovely things that have invariably filled me with the true Yuletide spirit.  I will listen to lots and lots of my favorite music.  I’ll watch Christmas specials and tune in for a few of those cheesy and wonderful Hallmark movies.  I’ll take Lily to see Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at a local theater and the light display at a community park.  I’ll attend a special Christmas music event that a friend plans every year.  I’ll go to church.  And I’ll read Christmas stories – the ones written for adults and the ones for kids.  I’ll find an audience for some of them, and for other’s I’ll curl up and revel in the quiet warmth of a fire, a cup of tea, and a story. 

Along with my collection of Christmas decorations, I have a wonderful accumulation of music and books reserved just for this time of year.  In fact the depth and breadth of this assemblage forces me to start taking joy in them well before the arrival of Thanksgiving!  But that’s okay, because they are things I love, and they are not fattening, they’re not bad for my health, they uplift my spirit, and, perhaps best of all, they are shareable. 

So let me share with you, my friends, some of my favorites.  Today I’ll share the titles of some of my favorite Christmas music to get you started on the season.  You’ll notice I kind of like older stuff.  I love the traditional hymns and artists who sing these songs simply so that you can sing along.  You won’t find the sad ones.

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My favorite Christmas music:

    • Amy Grant – “Tennessee Christmas – I love all of her holiday albums but especially A Christmas Album, 1983 that introduced this song.
    • Kelly Clarkson – “Silent Night” featuring Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood – from the album Wrapped in Red, 2013
    • Bing Crosby & David Bowie – “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” 1977
    • Vince Gill – “Breath of Heaven” from the album of the same name, 1998
    • The Forester Sisters – “An Old Christmas Card” and “This Old White Doorway” from their album Christmas Card, 1987
    • Andrea Bocelli’s album My Christmas, 2009
    • Alan Jackson’s album Let It Be Christmas, 2002
    • Il Divo’s album The Christmas Collection, 2005
    • Martina McBride – “Do You Hear What I Hear” from White Christmas, 1999
    • And any Christmas music by Pentatonix, Michael Bublé, Michael W. Smith, Celtic Thunder, Straight No Chaser, and anything from the artists my mother and I sang along with over the years Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and the rest.

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Later I’ll share some book titles that will get you in the spirit and make great gifts for the folks on your list!   And if you’d like to stop by to have a cup of tea and some music, for a story time, or to borrow any of these, my house will be the one with the wreath but not a lot of other things outside.

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