52/52 – Looking Forward to 2018

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​What am I looking for in the new year?

More tea, more candles, more writing. More quiet time for mindfulness.

One of my pet peeves for myself is constantly on the lookout for a new calendar even while I’m already using a new calendar. I am never satisfied with the planner that I have. Except for 2016. That was the first planner that I used for all twelve months. I’m going to try again this year. I’ve got a different design, but the same exact style, size, and binding, so I have high hopes. I use the monthly section for important dates, you know, like a calendar, and I use the weekly pages for planning my website, blog, and writing.

So, that’s first. Next Monday, I will spend most of my day filling in all of the dates that I’ve been listing in a notebook plus birthdays and retreats.

Once again, as I am wont to do, I’m going to add some weekly topics, perhaps a monthly theme tied into a weekly series. I like to find what people find interesting and enjoyable. Or even worthy of discourse. All suggestions welcome. 

One of the things that I discover after every major liturgical season is how much I miss the daily devotional books. I’m currently reading the one for Advent and Christmas, and I enjoy the daily thoughts that I can meditate on, whether they affect my prayer life or my writing life; both are really balanced against the other, and interchangeable. Interconnected. Unfortunately, that book will end with the Baptism of the Lord (January 8th).

My husband bought me the best, most thoughtful Christmas present. It is a weekly prayer journal. There is a short reading, a Scripture, and a space to jot down thoughts. I always think that I want to do this daily, but that is usually too overwhelming and forced. This weekly format seems perfect. It’s also a personal test for me since I am always hesitant to write directly into a journal like this – I will usually do the exercises on a separate paper or notebook so the original remains perfect. That is so not the objective, but I’m trying.

I also discovered a book offer in my emails for daily reflecting and exercises. 365 Health and Happiness Boosters Kindle Edition by M.J. Ryan. I’m going into it with a reasonable expectation to only do what I choose to do. I’ll read it daily, and see how it and I feel.

In building my own program of mindfulness or whatever the kids are calling it these days, I am seriously contemplating writing a yearly format book. I know it sounds braggadocios to say, but often I like parts of several books, and can’t find one that works best for me, and think that I could do it better. I know there are others who’ve mentioned this to me as well. That was the feeling I had when I created and published my original travel organizer.

I’d like to get back in the custom of attending the daily 9am mass, barring any weather or work-related conflicts. In doing so, I’d also like to stay for those rosary prayers as well.

Spend less money.

Cook more.

Express myself better, especially politically.

Teach a writing class.

Join a board of education committee.

Stay ahead with a writing schedule and putting together a quarterly editorial calendar. I’ve tried this before, but what I’ve been doing the last few weeks seems on the whole to be working – planning, writing, scheduling those posts and writing others. Keep better track of my published pieces and word counts.

Work on my Wales book.

Outline my House book.

Do good. Be good.

Be kind. Create art.

Give myself a mantra. (Those are already taken.)

Remembering September 11th

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Mass was oddly unsatisfying this morning. My expectations may have been a little high, although the somber intonation of the congregation’s response to the priest’s words illustrated that it was not an ordinary day for daily Mass.

I read a friend’s account of 9/11 and I hadn’t known that she was there that morning, and her reminiscence of the perfectly blue, perfectly clear sky over Manhattan triggered my memory that I truly had forgotten about in talking on Tumblr this morning.

We are from Long Island; in fact, I grew up in NYC before that, and after marriage, I moved about 250 miles away, well out of the city area. We traveled often to visit our parents and siblings, and on September 10, 2001, we were returning from Long Island. The crossing over the Throgs Neck Bridge gives you a perfect view of the World Trade Center, and we drew our four year old’s attention to it.

We got home safely, but had to be up early waiting for the Verizon guy to fix our phone line. I turned on the television as I did every morning and watched the Today show. They were talking about a plane that ‘accidentally’ hit the World Trade Center.

I watched the rest of it unfold in real time, spending the day trying to get through to our family and friends still in the area, keeping my son entertained away from the TV, and talking to passersby on the street.

At the time, we lived in a first floor apartment, and while our landlord lived off site, he was very well known in the community, and he happened to be there for some kind of maintenance work on that morning of September 11th at our apartment. Our front door was open, and we were on the way to the local supermarket by the older people with their wheeled carts. I think every person stopped by, poked their head in the door and asked for an update. We had neighbors, strangers and acquaintances alike stepping in and out, watching the television for a few moments, speak to landlord, shake their heads in disbelief and walk aback out to finish their morning errands.

The rest of that week was spent huddled in front of the TV. Driving past our local airport was traumatic. A plane overhead against our state capital’s skyline nearly made me drive off the road. There were local memorials, prayer vigils, thankfully for us, no funerals, but our families knew people and my husband’s NY office lost nine people that day.

One year later, our son should have been in kindergarten, but we kept him home. We opted to bring him to the New York State Museum where there was a 9/11 exhibit. I have never been affected by a museum exhibit except Holocaust displays. This one was somber, silent save for some weeping. They had a piece of original fencing where folks memorialized loved ones with missing persons flyers and flowers, flags and ribbons. Relics and artifacts, fire helmets, badges, parts of the buildings’ infrastructure, street signs, but the most profound item: the Engine 6 Pumper, destroyed in the collapse of the Towers.

Even recently, my husband and watched Fringe, and there are some parts that take place with an intact World Trade Center. I find it very jarring. It doesn’t fit my world, and it brings me unbelievable sadness and pain.

For me this is one of those Holy Days, much like we just observed with Rosh Hashanah and will celebrate with Easter. That’s not to be disrespectful of more religious people, but this is one of those days that I just reflect. I think about my life, and the direction it’s going, the mistakes I’ve made and how to adjust myself to be a better person; I think about my kids and friends and family. I’m grateful for our friends who survived; I pray for those still struggling, with physical ailments related or PTSD, and I mourn, not only for the dead, who simply went to work and never came home, but also for the people; the world that changed on that day for all of us. I think when our parents told us things and quelled our fears, and said we were safe and would be well; I think they truly meant it. I wonder for how many do those words feel hollow and like a lie? I feel it. There are no other answers, but to reassure our children or our friends that need reassurance, but how hard it is to say when I’m  not sure if I believe it, but I still hope and I guess that’s why I continue to say it, not only to my kids, but to myself.

One day I will go to the memorial. I don’t know when or if it’s something that I am strong enough to do, but it is something that I must do; one day.

Every year, I always recommend this book. I believe it is out of print, but try and find it anywhere. It is the epitome of humanity and of strangers coming together and doing.

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede

Also, visit the Dalai Lama’s Twitter and Facebook. He is a wise, compassionate man and it is good to think on his words.

As well as one of the main organizations that I support: Random Acts

 

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A Triggery Thing Happened to Me on the Way to NYC

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There’s a broader understanding of mental health issues online than off. One of those issues is the idea of triggering. When I describe being triggered, most people don’t understand. My therapist understood context without an explanation. My best friend knew before I’d even said the words. A couple of people who shall remain nameless gave me a blank look and offered to cheer me up. This is not their fault, which is why they’re nameless.

Much like depression and anxiety, triggering is an individual response. In my case, it was the skilled nursing facility my mother in law is in.

The difference between being anxious and having an anxiety disorder is the distinction between nervous about flying and after taking a Xanax still not being able to board without a dead frog in your pocket. (Individual talisman may vary.) To be honest, it was close.

There is also a difference between simply being uncomfortable in a place or situation and being triggered emotionally (and sometimes physically) by it. Not to mention that triggers can change over time or come out of the blue for something that never bothered a person before so they’re unpredictable.

And so much more fun.

I didn’t expect a problem at the skilled care place. My Dad was in one in 2001 and it was a nice place. Everyone had been friendly and helpful to him and his family. They treated him well, his rehab was good and for the most part it was okay. There was every indication that this place was just as good. My mother in law’s place was also physically similar – the same curving driveway; the small lobby for visiting in groups, no parking. The interior layout was even the same. Comforting, I thought.

And then the automatic doors opened and I was not expecting it.

The smell.

It wasn’t a bad smell, but it was a face full of – not déjà vu – but a repressed memory and I practically gagged on it. The comforting floor plan now became an Indiana Jones obstacle course of wheelchairs, walkers, food tray carts, blood pressure machines, even a bed.

A haze settled over my eyes and I swallowed hard, trying to keep it all in. After all, I’m the grown up. The kids were in a strange place, we were visiting my husband’s mother. I’m the caretaker; I need to keep everyone okay, and still none of these thoughts were conscious ones. I reached for my phone, but put it aside. I’m not the only one in the world. It would be better tomorrow.

It wasn’t.

The pressure only felt heavier, a tightening of throat and chest, mind trying to remember every clichéd mantra, using different words to repeat it’s going to be okay. By day three, I was picking fights and I knew it. It was the only coping mechanism I had regardless of how unhealthy it was. I went through a list of people to ask for help. Whoever I would reach out to was unavailable so I didn’t even try.

I couldn’t lay this on my husband. He was already balancing his siblings, his kids, and me plus our money issues and his childhood home clean up.

I would have called my best friend, but he was helping someone move, he’d just started school and was working full time on top of having an actual semblance of life. I wanted to call, and it would have helped, but without the guarantee of the call being answered and a couple of short conversations promised, not calling and being angry was still better in my mind than calling and getting a ringing phone.

The next person I’d call was helping the same person move and arranging a call to my therapist would inevitably come at an inopportune time.

Eventually, there was a midnight phone call and words not coming and weeping and misunderstanding and stammering and more crying and phone hugs. I didn’t feel better, but I could get through the rest of the week, continuing the twice daily visits to the skilled nursing facility and planning to see my sister and brother and nieces, arranging those schedules enough of a stress builder, but tolerable.

Suddenly, there was a plan, and then another plan, and then I was buying a one way ticket to Penn Station at 9:30 Monday night. I should have been anxious; it’s in my DNA, but I wasn’t. I’d be back in less than twelve hours and I hadn’t realized how much I needed this until the train pulled out from the station.

This saved my sanity. Literally.

There was a lot of walking, a lot of stairs, J took pity on me and paid for a cab to the subway we needed – Penn Station was a ‘can’t get there from here’ place. I had no idea where they were staying; I just followed.

When you meet up with people, there are hello hugs. They’re quick. When the quick hug normally would have been over, A held on and I literally felt him absorb all of the stress, all the anxiety, the memories, the everything bad that was weighing me down. I heard the whoosh and then it was gone like a wall had been put up to keep it out.

I had anticipated more stress than the visit was worth – the energy of the city does that to me, being in a strange place, not even able to pick out the apartment on a map (I probably couldn’t find it today), not even sure if there wouldn’t be a phone call saying get on this train and meet us here instead, but sometimes, actually more often than not, my friend knows me better than I know myself and surprises and spontaneity are provided incrementally so as not to shock my system and that toe in the water testing is what gives me the strength to say yes, to know my feelings and what I need and to always move forward, even through the difficult. The lack of that is what paralyzes me, why when my depression hit me in the face after the birth of my second son, it was largely ignored, but when this trigger happened last week, I was able to recognize it and grab it, maybe not to cure it but to control it for a couple of hours and then a couple more.

The difference between arriving in New York and leaving the next morning could not have been more unalike. The 11 pm bustle feels like New York to an outsider, but the morning brings the wonder and amazement at how everyone and everything flows – they just know how to go and where to go and when to go, and nothing shall get in the way of their rhythm. Out of rhythm, I stumble crossing the street, not in step with the rest, slower than a city’s pace. While my friends kept my pace the night before, the city that never sleeps keeps walking by and around me in the morning, never making eye contact.

Breakfast of fried plantains (from A) and a tamale (from a street vendor) only made this excursion that much better.

And flavorful.

The car ride is stereotypical, brakes and horns applied liberally and equally. Cutting off and being cut off at regular intervals. The only thing that couldn’t have been predicted was a building crew dropping (intentionally) a dumpster in the road – a single lane road – blocking traffic. Two blocks from Penn Station. During Rush Hour. It was the only picture I got of my New York adventure. I had thought talking until 2am, up again at 6am was all good time to get me back when I was supposed to be, but then an unanticipated shower, a missing claim ticket for the car, NYC traffic, aforementioned dumpster (but that came with traditional construction crew swearing and I thought I was an extra in a movie for a second) and on time was not to be.

An illegal drop off in the taxi lane, pseudo hugs and squeezes all around, see yous in October and a love you called out as I stepped into the cool rush of a Manhattan weekday morning. I had barely exited when the car seemed to vanish into the traffic, almost a dream, but taking my trigger reactions with it.

 

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GISHWHES 2013 and Me

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GISHWHES (Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen) was the beginning of my Misha-time! Misha Collins is an actor on the CW’s Supernatural. He’s a creative, friendly, funny, generous, kind and more positive adjectives than I can come up with. After GISHWHES finished on the 18th, it was time for Misha’s birthday which Tumblr decided would be a good day to do random acts of kindness and donate to his charity in his name. Coming in November is Random Acts’ Endurance4Kindness, which I wasn’t participating in, but of course, I’ve changed my mind after reading all of the details and now I am.

One of the things that Misha and Random Acts do really well is how inclusive they are. Anyone can do anything and it works; it helps. No matter how small an amount of money, no matter how small a gesture, to the person on the receiving end, it is one of the biggest things they’ve ever gotten, and for me as the giver, there is really no better feeling.

So, I’m following Misha off this cliff, trusting that kindness and compassion will hold me up. It’s worked so far.

I’ve had a lot of trouble explaining GISHWHES to my family who’ve never heard of it or Misha. Scavenger hunt doesn’t quite cover it. Not to mention that for me, I’ve been anxious about GISHWHES ever since I’d heard about it late last fall. It is not my kind of thing; or so I thought. I had anticipated my friend forgetting about it, and when he hadn’t and instead of forming his own team (with me on it), he joined a team. When they had no room for one more, I thought I had dodged a bullet.

About twenty seconds later, I was registered, had started my own team, waiting anxiously for the list to be released, though multiple website crashes (both at the beginning and the end of the Hunt).

GISHWHES was not what I thought it would be. Even working my own items by myself (because my team was spread out across the country) wasn’t a bad thing. It wasn’t lonely at all. We had a Facebook group to coordinate with each other, and get opinions, although I still had to be independent; I had to be on time; I had to coordinate my items, make sure that our submitter submitted mine (this wasn’t a problem; she was great!), compromise on which items I took and keep track of updates and messages.

After a short while, I was reminded of my time working a memorial hike for my friend. For that hike, I felt obligated to help because of circumstances. I did want to, but again, I didn’t feel that it was my forte, and it was well out of my comfort zone, much like GISHWHES. I found, however, that the more work I did and completed for the hike, the more I wanted to do. I quickly went from list maker to supplier to whatever else I was asked to do; and then asked for more.

The same thing happened during GISHWHES. As I completed each item assigned to me, I would look through the more than 150 items to see what else I could do. I wanted to do more and more, and each next choice took me more and more out of my comfort zone.

This was a good thing.

By Tuesday, I was completely spent just from pure adrenaline. I called my friend, and left her a message, and when I told her to have a nice weekend, I knew GISHWHES was taking it out of me.

But in a good way.

I also had a great week thinking of my friend, Brittany. The memorial hike I mentioned earlier was for her. She was murdered in 2011, and I speak of her often. I’ve said in the past that I feel somewhat closer to her since her death, and I know that her spirit is often near. She’s brought me comfort these last couple of years as I’ve struggled with my own issues, but I hadn’t felt her presence so strongly, so reassuring and uplifting, encouraging me spiritually throughout GISHWHES as well as in addition to the Random Actapolypse and a couple of other things that happened during the same time. I will write more about those in later postings.

During GISHWHES week, I completed 8 tasks on my own, participated in a team task wearing my uniform shirt and took six Hug pictures for the Guinness Book of World Records!

The tasks themselves kept me within my comfort zones, but I did travel outside of them to display myself in public. Asking people to hug, wearing a sock monkey, ask people on Twitter to follow me (Osric Chau is a good sport, that’s all I have to say). I got my kids involved, and I had a great time.

I’m especially proud of my shrine to John Barrowman, my handmade Sock Monkey jewelry, and Winnie-the-Pooh going on a honey rampage with hostages and a death-defying rescue by Wonder Woman.

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My tasks amounted to 335 points and I spent $28.12 of my own money, not bad I think.

One of the other things that I got out of this is how little it takes to help, to be creative and to stretch yourself in ways that not only you didn’t think you could do, but in ways you hadn’t even thought of.

Instead of sapping me, it energized me. It encouraged me to push and think and stomp on the box until there was none. It didn’t completely change me or my attitudes or permanently relieve my anxiety, but it did show me different ways of doing things, and reminded me that the world won’t fall apart if it isn’t just-so.

Their motto is make friends, make art, do good in the world. There’s no reason to limit that to one Scavenger Hunt week; that’s something that can be done the other fifty-one weeks of the year.

As cliché as it might sound, I think I was good for GISHWHES, and GISHWHES was definitely very good for me.

DAY 5 OF GISHWHES

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Well, we are currently passed the halfway mark for this week of crazy.

On Tuesday, I told someone to have a nice weekend. Time has become irrelevant.

There are 156 items to complete.

So far, I have completed seven out of eleven tasks that I’ve volunteered for, although one of those is a team task/item.

Tomorrow, I should be able to complete two more, and start on my last item, which is a letter to a soldier in the Middle East. This last task/item is being coordinated through Random Acts, so I would encourage all of you to go over there and read about a soldier and his family and how to change a life. Help if you can. You might like to click through to some of their other activities that are looking for assistance at the moment.

 

There are several Guinness Book World Records attempting to be broken during this year’s GISHWHES. One is the largest online photojournal of hugs. Another is a gathering at this moment in a park in Vancouver (unfortunately our team couldn’t get anyone up there to participate). Participating in the scavenger hunt itself is part of a world record that they hold and are hoping to break this year, not to mention the amount of random acts of kindness pledges.

For many, there are small groups working together, but for me, I’m doing most of the tasks alone, recruiting my family to do crazy things like getting my kids dress up like postal workers, pay homage to shrines and for me, wear sock monkey apparel. There are twitter alarm clocks that spent one day making Star Trek’s William Shatner a little nutty and very, very snarky.

I am enjoying every minute of it and hope to do even more next year. I was worried about not knowing anyone on my team except for one person I’ve met online, but it’s been good. We’ve been communicating through Facebook, and it seems as though we’ve each taken on what we do best. No one’s fought over wanting the same item to do, and it is a good practice for real world things like doing things we might not normally volunteer for, working as a team, coping with social anxiety, using various media and so many other valuable things that I can’t possibly think of in the middle of it.

We’re cheering for other teams and helping where we can. I agreed to let my son give blood for his team because he needed a parent’s permission. The greater good is more important than the competition. I would encourage everyone to visit GISHWHES and see the video for last year’s hunt.

It’s exciting to be part of something so large, but also done on such a small group scale and it is that paradox (and half a dozen others) that make what seems like a crazy idea into a world-changing, world-building, individual-changing, individual-building adventure, and I look forward to being able to think straight again and share it all with you!

 

GISHWHES

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Beginning on Sunday, August 11th and going through August 18th, I will be participating in GISHWHES, the acronym for the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. (https://www.gishwhes.com/what_is_gishwhes.php). It has broken three Guinness Book of World Records and I would expect it to do so again.

The teams are comprised of 15 members from all around the world, although in my case it’s more transcontinental. We can’t talk about our members (so I’m told) and I can’t share our accomplishments/activities/crazy off the Gishwhes website (so I’m told) until it’s concluded on the 18th.

I may pop in here to share some of my feelings and thoughts on what I’m doing during the week, but not what I’m doing during the week. Make sense?

I’m excited to be participating; this is my first year. My son is on another team (after refusing to join me, but you know, peer pressure) and my best friend is on another team which had no room for me. *frowny face*

The Hunt is run by Misha Collins, one of the stars of Supernatural, who really tries to only use his power for good. In addition to GISHWHES, check out his charity Random Acts. They do great things for people who need great things done for them. They also promote the random act of kindness that anyone can do for free.

The Grave Site of President Chester A. Arthur

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I recently took a drive out to the Albany Rural Cemetery outside of the New York State capital of Albany to visit the gravesite of President Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. The cemetery is much larger than it appears upon driving through the gates. I’m told that the cemetery itself is 400 acres and I found it to be one of the more peaceful  places I’ve been to. It is spaced in a rolling way with hills and winding dirt/gravel narrow roads, large and small headstones and monuments, mid-19th century (some from before that had been moved there) to modern era as well as above ground burial areas. There is an abundance of nature with trees and creeks with natural stone walls, deep wooded areas and cool shaded spaces with benches and statuary. It felt a bit like some of the Gettysburg cemeteries for anyone that’s visited them, but I only felt the peacefulness rather than the spirits and ghost-like feelings reaching out that I feel in the Battlefields and Cemeteries of Gettysburg.

This cemetery began with 100 acres in 1841, and had its first burial in 1845, although some graves are from before that having moved from their original site at Washington Park. It is an active cemetery, and other than very famous names, I recognized my former Congressman’s father.

When I arrived at the President’s grave site, there was a groundskeeper trimming the grass. He chuckled and said to me, “My boss was right. Always weed whack over here first.” He then moved off so that I could get pictures. For all of the visitors you would think they get, there are no signs pointing the way. I did see one about the size of an interstate shield sign, but other than that, nothing. I ran into a jogger with her dog, and I asked her for directions to the President. She was not surprised that I could not find it on my own.

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Below is the Arthur family plot.

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Behind the monument with the angel and Presidential Seal is the actual grave where President Arthur is buried alongside his wife.

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It took me three tries to get the flag to wave just right behind the angel’s wings.

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I also have an affinity for taking pictures of things with a tree in the foreground.

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Some more photos from my day. The next two were where I happened upon the jogger. I saw a stone wall and flowing water and I needed to stop and get out of my car. I was really glad I did.

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This stone was under a copse of trees. There’s a stone wall layered behind it, the topiary plus a few statuary pieces. This person really liked frogs apparently. The bench right across from this has that little stone path and is under its own tree; it is also missing the seat. I can imagine that this person’s spouse or parent would come to sit and visit. Sometimes, I wish that there was a bench by my parents’ graves; something that my mother wanted to put in had she lived longer to visit my Dad.

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These last two are good examples of unexpected angles. Stand in just the right spot and it gives way to gobs of creativity and writing prompts. There is so much in the simplest photograph.

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