Mental Health Monday – Mental Health Awareness

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’re kicking it off with the first of a series of Mental Health Mondays.

Mental Health isn’t simply an awareness tool for those with mental illness or issues, but for all of us. We all have mental health, and we consistently ignore it, and as we’ve found during this last pandemic year, ignoring our mental health isn’t good for our…mental health. Or our physical health for that matter.

Right before I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety I was having knee problems. I went once a week (it should have been three times a week, but I couldn’t afford that even with “good” insurance) for physical therapy, and it did help a little bit, but it was really the action of going to the physical therapy building and having the schedule more than doing the exercises. I’m sure the exercises helped my knee, but the schedule of the appointment helped just as much. Once I began talk therapy, medication, and discovering my own self-help tools, my knee pain virtually disappeared.

I’m not suggesting that taking care of your mental health is all on your shoulders. I could not have come out on the other side without medication and therapy. Depression and anxiety (and a host of other mental health issues that I’m not qualified to speak on) are almost all chemical imbalance, and oftentimes, regardless of what some may insist, the only option is medication. And that’s okay. I take medicine for my diabetes and my high blood pressure. No one would suggest not taking it and just “relaxing” and/or “cheering up.” That’s not how recovery works.

And everything that’s working for me now may not work in the future. Being self-aware is important to know when to ask for changes, whether it’s for more therapy in the week or month or a change in medication. Schedule changes, eating habits, stress – all of these can contribute to changes in your mental health and may necessitate changes in your treatment.

For this first week of Mental Health Awareness Month, I would suggest sitting down with yourself in a quiet space and reflecting on what your feelings lately are. Take the time to sit with it and see if things are better or worse than they were a few weeks or months ago. It’s also important to accept that there may be temporary changes that will go away, especially if those changes developed during and because of the pandemic and the lockdowns. In your isolation, what worked for you? If you continued working, how did that effect you? Do you have needs that need addressing?

A really useful graphic appears below (with attribution). Read through it and ask yourself the questions that apply. Think about the suggestions, and seek out a professional for help. I am not a professional; I can only share what I’ve done, and what has worked and not worked for me. It may not seem it but our mental health is a community effort. As I heard on a retreat last week: Take what you need; leave the rest.

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Soup’s On!

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For the last six Wednesdays, beginning with Ash Wednesday, my parish has been delivering soup weekly during Lent. Typically during Lent, they would have a noon Mass and then have a community soup lunch in the parish center, but since covid arrived last spring, this was their reaction to the cancelling: a limited delivery service for the remaining weeks of last year. In 2021, they started delivering right at the beginning.

It’s been a wonderful idea and example of works put into action. Every week, my family looks forward to seeing which soup is that week’s, and tasting something that we normally would not have made ourselves.

Since the kids are learning remotely, they are home to run outside when we hear the car in the driveway and bring in four soup-bowl sized containers filled with the steaming hot soup of the day along with four soft pieces of (usually sourdough) bread for dipping or spreading with butter on the side.

Every slurp of broth, every bite of fresh vegetables is a reminder of the greater community of the church. There are gatherings in the parish kitchen (covid protocols always in place), chopping, cooking, ladling, packaging, and delivering our midday bounty. And for us at home there is a brief respite from our individual remote workings to come together even for a moment for each of us to collect our containers, talk a minute about what kind of soup, and appreciate the greater community around us.

Creamy Vegetable Chowder, Hamburger Barley, Cheesy Potato & Corn Chowder, Tuscan White Bean, Rye bread, Corned Beef & Cabbage, and Chicken Pot Pie, Pastry round.
(c)2021

It is a time when all of us at home can come together to enjoy the offering midday, mid-week, mid-Lent. We share the same meal, unlike most lunches during the work and school day, and we ooh and aah as our taste buds come alive. A couple of times I was able to enjoy lunch with my kids when their lunches coincided with the delivery.

We find out that our parish cooks like pepper and/or garlic depending on the soup. In mid-March one of the soups that contained corn had the most delicious, crunchy kernels of corn. It tasted like summer corn and I savored every tiny bite. Chunks of tomato in the bean soup surprising me (in good ways) with its red broth rather than white. They were all delicious and filling and made for a wonderful, satisfying lunch. There was rye bread with the corned beef and cabbage soup and a cracker sized pie crust round to go with the chicken pot pie soup, both wonderful change-ups and delicious.

On the last day we received a cheerful card from the students in youth ministry. I’m already looking forward to next Lent and hoping that they do this again. I’m not ready to give up my weekly soup so I even made matzo ball soup on the weekend for Passover.

Card received from youth ministry.
(c)2021

I don’t have any of their recipes, but I’m sure varieties of them can be googled, so I will include the names of the weekly selections: Creamy Vegetable Chowder, Hamburger Barley, Cheesy Potato & Corn Chowder, Tuscan White Bean, Corned Beef & Cabbage, and Chicken Pot Pie.

Are Libraries Still Essential?

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Libraries are the thin red line between civilization and barbarism. – Neil Gaiman


I originally saved the Vox link, thinking that this was a fluff piece; a ridiculous headline that they easily debunked in the article. I hadn’t realized that someone had actually written in favor of getting rid of libraries in favor of Amazon bookstores/coffee shops.

I need to preface this by saying that I happen to love bookstore-slash-coffee shops. Whenever my family goes to Barnes & Noble, I find a comfortable space in the cafe and read or write. I frequently (before Howard Schultz began running for President) went to Starbucks with the specific intention to get something to eat and drink and to write. There is a comic book store that is also a coffee shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that is on my list of places to visit. I love bookstores and coffee shops, together or apart.

However, I don’t confuse them with libraries. Libraries have a whole different feel to them. They also have a different necessity to them. In fact, I’ve just come from my local library. I meet a group of people there once a month for a writing group. We’ve been getting together for about seven years, although they had been meeting prior to my joining them. I woujldn’t have met them if not for the memoir workshop that I began to attend, which not only gave me a wonderful learning environment but was also one of the important things that led me out of the darkness of my depression.

I returned two of my daughter’s books that she had finished reading, and I collected the forms to file my taxes.

In summer, I bring my kids for special programs as well as their summer reading program that includes prizes and a special celebration at the end of the summer. My older son attended a Harry Potter evening in costume and my younger kids met therapy dogs and learned some cooking techniques during two separate events. We’ve attended Olympics activities and Halloween parades. All of these activities were either free or for a nominal activity – one or two dollars.

I almost always see people using the computers, checking their email, searching for jobs, and whatever else they’re doing that they can’t do at home, either because they don’t have access to the internet or because it isn’t safe to (domestic abuse victims and the homeless).

There are several daily newspapers and hundreds of magazine subscriptions.

On my Kindle, I will often have the maximum loan of four library books. I am currently reading Timothy Egan’s The Immortal Irishman. I can hold books and sign up for programs through my Kindle.

Libraries often have local art exhibits, both from local artists working in several different mediums and school kids showing off their artistic talents from art class in school in all grade levels.

I’ve attended concerts and lectures, and will be attending a storytelling event on the first of March.

Last year, one local library had a comic book convention with activities, free items, and displays both to see and/or for sale.

I remember being a kid growing up in NYC and having the bookmobile come. What a special day that always was.

Every community needs a library.

If you don’t believe me, listen to Neil Gaiman; or to librarians.]

What was your favorite thing to do at your local library?

What was your favorite book?​

A Day On…

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Georgia Representative John Lewis, a civil rights icon calls the Martin Luther King holiday “a day on, not a day off.” Join community celebrations but also join community service.

I would share this beautiful artwork and sentiment from my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath. This wasn’t done specifically for Martin Luther King Day, but I think it fits in so well, and any excuse that I have to share his art makes me happy. Continue reading

Gospel Women – Week 3

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Today is the third week of the retreat workshop/contemplation/art commune that I’ve been taking. We spend the week reading and thinking about the two women, and then after a short discussion, we art.

I’d like to share with you the readings for anyone that was interested in doing this at home.

The first woman of the Gospel is the woman caught in adultery. The reading can be found at John 8:1-11.

Our second woman is the woman who anoints Jesus in Bethany. That Scripture can be found at Mark 14:3-9.

Later this afternoon or tomorrow, I’ll share what  came about in today’s hands-on portion.

What Ihave found in the past two weeks and four readings thus far is that we can not only see ourselves in these Gospel women, but often we see the women around us, who encourage us to look at things a little differently and who love and support us. I can only hope to be one of those women to someone else.