Mental Health Monday – Post Holidays

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As the holidays have wound down on the calendar, they may not have wound down in our persons and our homes. We need to take a moment, or several, and give ourselves time to rest. To breathe. To do nothing at all.

It’s hard to do nothing, isn’t it?

There are very few times I can recall when I set out to just sit and think of nothing that I was able to accomplish that. My mind wanders. It jumps and leaps around, making lists for everything under the sun.

It’s hard to turn that off.

I did manage it in the early days of covid. I’d set up my camp chair on my front lawn, bring my journal and my Kindle, and my prayer shawl. I’d sit in nature, and when I was finished with my readings and any note-taking, I’d just sit for awhile. I didn’t notice the time passing. In a couple of instances, I’d refocus and realize that hours had passed. I saw neighbors, I returned waves to kids passing by. I listened to the birds. I could hear the church bells from a couple of miles away. It was very peaceful, and it was its own reward.
I didn’t feel guilty about spending so much time in unconscious thought. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. There was also a he amount of stress and uncertainty hanging heavily in the air. I was surprised that I settled into quiet thought, but I did not feel guilty. I looked forward to the next time I’d sit out there. For days, even if I didn’t go out, I left my camp chair outside, not folding it up and putting it in the garage, so it would be ready when I was.

First thing about feeling guilty about taking care of your mental health is do not feel guilty. This is not as easy as it sounds. We are ingrained from a very young age to be there for others and to neglect ourselves. This is especially true of women, but men are not excluded from this.

For a long time in recent years, we were bombarded with self-care to the point that now there is a backlash with many saying that we are indulging ourselves and softening. None of this is true. Think back to times that you took care of yourself. Whether it was an extra hour of sleep, a cup of tea, reading a book, or simply just watching the flowers move in the breeze, these slow-downs help us and really do make us better at doing the work we need and want to do.

The few things that I’m going to try to do now that the holidays are over sound simple, but actually doing them takes an effort. Self-care is an effort, but it is well worth it.

1. Enjoy my Christmas tree. It is still up and I love looking at the lights. Whenever I come to my living room for the day, the first thing I do is turn on the Christmas tree.

2. Make lists. They helped me immensely through the worst of my depression and they are not only an important tool, I find them a great mental health tool.

3. Drink more tea.

4. Read more. I do read quite a lot, but I want to be able to tell myself to sit down, take out a book or my Kindle, and enjoy exploring new places and events through books.

5. Keep my dining room table cleaned so we can eat at it. This has always been a problem for us, and I’ve noticed things are much better when the phones are away, the television is off, and we are sitting together for that one meal. (This works for my family. If it doesn’t work for yours, that’s okay.)

Note: This was completed and ready for a last go over before my son came down with covid. So far, his symptoms are mild and he fluctuates from seeming fine to falling asleep on the couch. This has obviously changed our plans for the weekend and the coming week, with most things being cancelled despite all of us being vaccinated. With my oldest contracting covid last week (from work; my second son was exposed at school), my feelings on the intentionally unvaccinated will remain mute for the moment, but there are no guarantees that reticence will last. The point is we need to constantly readdress those things that just happen and reevaluate what our response to them will be. For my daughter who had her weekend plans cancelled through no fault of her own it’s McDonald’s. For me, it’s writing and Diet Coke. For the moment.

Inspire. December.

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What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In some things I am struggling, but I still find that inspiration is all around. I see labyrinths everywhere, and I’m beginning to find words to accompany them. I search for new ones to walk and to pray on, and each one is as different as the clouds in the sky.

Labyrinth. (c)2021

I am devoted to Mary, and I think on all of the knots I’m called to untie, many of which I cannot do without her intercession. Last week was the feast of her Immaculate Conception, a special day in my parish of the same name, and each Monday I recite the Joyous Mysteries with my Cursillo family.

Mary, Untier of Knots. Tiny Saints. (c)2021

I have also completed a book series that I long to write about and share with you. It was not only entertaining, I have decided on a Halloween costume (already!) and it has inspired a few ideas of where to approach my book on my journey through Wales (although that particular title is already taken – *shakes fist at Gerald of Wales*). I have lists to make for my book, and having finished the series, I have already began it again. I read the first five books in 2018 so they were not fresh in my mind. I was able to be surprised by some twists and turns that I had forgotten, and I will continue the rest in the new year. Fear not, I will share my thoughts on Amelia Peabody and her adventures in the coming weeks, if not days.


In the meantime, enjoy the waiting of Advent, the lights of Chanukah, and the promise of the New Year, and eat all the foods of all the holidays.

Friday Food. December.

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Tis the Season.

December is a time that many foods return. The first photo is my favorite at this time. It is usually my birthday treat.

Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher with my substitutions and a Cranberry Bliss Bar, both from Starbucks. (c)2021

This second photo (below) was an impromptu family day I organized for us. It was the last night of Chanukah and the first night of Advent, we had just put up the tree, and it still needed the lights. In addition to offering sugar cookies with sprinkles, I made hot chocolate with marshmallows. We then proceeded to watch Fiddler on the Roof, something I haven’t seen since childhood, and something that my kids have never seen. Overall, the day was a success!

Sugar cookies with sprinkles, hot chocolat with marshmallows. (c)2021

Celebrating Interfaith

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Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Accordingly we light the first purple candle.

Today is also the first night of Chanukah. We light the shamash and the first candle.

Tonight is also the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s been seventeen years. Some days it still feels like yesterday. I’ve lit the yartzeit candle to commemorate the day.

So many things have come together tonight that it reminds me to be still, to meditate, to remember, and to wonder.

Candles. Interfaith. Advent. Chanukah. Yartzeit. (c)2021

We Give Thanks

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The Thanksgiving holiday is full of disharmony as we come to grips with our historic (and recent) treatment of the Native American peoples who were here before we arrived from Europe.

A few personal thoughts:

Growing up Jewish, this was always my favorite holiday. We didn’t need to explain our religious holidays and we weren’t excluded from the mainstream Christian holidays. This was an American holiday, one that everyone could participate in, both as a harvest holiday and as a day of gratitude. It brought our family together as well as allowing us to be a part of the greater family of our community.

This year comemorates the 400th anniversary of that traditional first Thanksgiving hosted by the Pilgrims who survived that first harsh winter. The basics of that first holiday, a gathering in gratitude brought two different communities together to share what each had. The helped each other and maintained a friendship against great odds. In modern days, we have much to be thankful for. I won’t list mine, but take a moment to reflect on your own blessings.

At mass this morning, we continued a tradition at my parish that I have always loved. Instead of a collection, we bring a bag of non-perishable food to the altar (for our food pantry and Christmas baskets), and at the end of mass, each family is given a small loaf of bread that has been blessed to share at our dinner table. We are called to pray and to break bread.

Give us this day, our daily bread…

(I apologize for the blurry picture) (c)2021

Last year while visiting Niagara Falls, New York, we learned of a nearby monument in Lewiston that commemorates the Tuscarora Indians coming to the rescue of American citizens during the War of 1812. The British invaded from Canada to the north and were mobilizing an attack on the village with their Indian allies. The Tuscarora, being outnumbered gave the appearance of greater numbers and were able to give the Lewiston families time to escape the inevitable horrors of death and watching their loved ones brutally murdered.

This monument is breathtaking in its emotion. The sculpted faces of both the mother and child fleeing and the Tuscarora helping them is so vivid, it tells the story in deeper and more profound ways than reading about it could ever do. I stood in awe of it for several minutes, even though it was pouring rain for much of the time.

Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021
A closer look, Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021

Enjoy the day with family and friends or alone, in peaceful quiet or boisterous noise, with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce or whatever your family traditions call for.

Friday Food. July. Dessert Cups.

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I was eating a Dole fruit cup – cherry mixed fruit or something – and I was transported back to my childhood. We didn’t have the individual plastic cups like the one I was eating from. My mother would buy the cans of fruit cocktail, and we would most definitely fight over the cherries because there were never enough, and they really were the best part.

When we would have a special dinner – a holiday dinner – whether it was Thanksgiving or Rosh Hashanah or Passover, it didn’t matter which, there was always a multi-course meal with special dishes. Some meals like Rosh Hashanah would begin on the top plate with a piece of lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a scoop of chopped liver. There might also be a soup course – matzo ball – always a good choice, even on Thanksgiving. There also might be half a grapefruit with sprinkled sugar or a small dessert dish with fruit cocktail in it.

I loved those dessert dishes. They were small and squat and sat on little pedestals. They were perfect for fruit cocktail, jello, chocolate pudding (with whipped cream), and all sorts of interesting foods. The one problem I found as a kid was the texture of the dish. It wasn’t smooth so you could never scrape all the little bits of food left from the nooks and crannies, and they were annoying to wash, but I loved opening the cabinet just over the sink and seeing them, wondering what wondrous sweet treat they would next hold for us.

I still have them although they’re packed away in our basement. I wanted to find them last month for chocolate pudding, and then again to include a photo in this post, but our basement is a mess and in need of pruning. Finding them will be a goal for the next twelve months, but in the meantime I’ve included a photo I found of them from Ebay. We’ll see in the future if this photo that matches my memory will match the real ones when I find them.

Sometimes it’s not the food that’s nostalgic, but the containers we use.

Photo from Ebay. (c)2021

4th of July

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I’ve been thinking a lot about July 4th lately, as in several years lately. I grew up with patriotic parents. I don’t remember displayed flags, but the way they lived their lives and taught their children was certainly patriotic. I remember two incidences specifically. One, we were at a professional sports game (could have been baseball or football) and the National Anthem played. I eas expected to stand, and stand still. The second was at a school assembly. I was young, elementary age probably, and we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. Kids are lazy, and they hop on one foot, and lean on the seat in front of them, and they kind of sit on the top of those seats that close when you stand up, and that was me. Not disrespectful in my mind, but bored. My father leaned down and very quietly, all the important stuff was spoken quietly, expressed to me, in no uncertain terms that I would be standing up, and stand up I did.

My father was a veteran. He didn’t choose to join the Army, but he went when called and through that we saw the power of duty and real allegiance.

I’ve always been interested in history and genealogy, My grandfather was from Canada. I loved that we were from Canada. I once said that we were part Canadian. Goodness, you’d’ve thought that I had spilled tomato sauce on a white couch. We. Are. American. Period. End of Discussion.

When I got my own house I decorated for July 4th. We even marched in a parade with our son’s day care center (although that might have been the Uncle Sam Parade), but still. Nothing extravagant, but a couple of flags, flag shirts for the kids.

When the former guy became President, we didn’t decorate. It wasn’t a conscious decision. With my depression in full force in the mid-2000s, I didn’t do much of any decorating even though I tried for some minimal effort. Even after I got into a recovery groove, I didn’t put up anything patriotic. I didn’t want to go for the fifty cent ice cream cones at the local shop for wearing red, white, and blue. I saw that 90% of the American flags I saw were accompanied by T**mp flags or co-opted into Q flags. It was dispiriting. After the November election I noticed that many of the houses that had T**mp flags had changed them to the Good Ole Stars and Stripes. They are not the same.

This year, though, as Memorial Day was approaching, I was reminded of sacrifice, of bravery. I listened to marginalized voices and remembered what many of us believe – that the potential for this country is vast, and it is still accessible.

I bought a set of bunting. It looked unbalanced, so I bought a second set. That made it better. I fastened them in place with American flags and I left my Black Lives Matter sign and added a Choose Love in June. In a couple of weeks, I will take it all down, perhaps leave one flag in place because I am a proud American. I want my kids to feel that pride, to listen to all the voices, to accept the past, much of which is only now coming to light. Being proud doesn’t mean being blind to our faults. We all have them.

It may seem as though I’ve only decorated because Joe Biden became President. I’d agree, partially. We bought our house in 2006, and for the following July 4th we put up some flags and two buntings. It looked spiffy – very patriotic. I mention this because in 2007, President Bush was president, so this isn’t about only decorating for a Democratic President. I will say that President Biden’s concern and care for this country and especially for its people was an unconscious impetus to want to show off my colors. I have a place to store these buntings and flags safely, and I’ll know where they are so they can go up again next summer, just in time for the next 4th of July. Maybe they’ll go up for Flag Day and Juneteenth next year.

Front View. (c)2021
Close up View. (c)2021

Juneteenth: A National Holiday

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Today is the first nationally recognized, federal holiday commemorating Juneteenth, the day two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War despite some branches of the Confederate Army did not officially surrender until June. Juneteenth (originally known in some areas as Jubilee Day) had been commemorated in Texas officially since 1980, although celebrations had occured since 1866. Today’s holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden is called the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

It is thought of by many as the Second Independence Day. According to Gladys L. Knight in the Juneteenth entry of the Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture, Juneteenth is the “longest-running African American holiday.”

As the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and the Fourteenth recognizes the enslaved population as United States citizens, Juneteenth is equally important to their descendants. I firmly believe that all of us should be celebrating and commemorating Juneteenth the way we celebrate the 4th of July. The 4th commemorates our independence from the British, and Juneteenth commemorates those not included at that time despite their long standing contributions to the country’s advancement.

I see some controversy online and in the week’s news that Juneteenth is meant to replace July 4th and we should be “offended” by its declaration. That is not the case at all, and we should not let pettiness and bigotry get in the way of knowing our own history.

It is not anymore reasonable than suggesting that September 11th replaced our commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day. Or that Memorial, Veterans’, and Armed Forces Days are interchangeable. Each one represents a different aspect of our country’s past and observes its tragedy and its renewed purpose.

There is plenty of room in our calendars and our communities to commemorate the day that all of those enslaved Africans were free and became American citizens by virtue of their birth.

Take some time today to think about what the holiday represents, how meaningful it is, not only to African Americans, but to all Americans who value freedom and liberty.

For those who think we have too many holidays, and wonder: who’s next? I have a suggestion for you. Perhaps we should find a way to commemorate the first Americans, the Native Americans, those who cared for the land and lived valuable lives before the Europeans came to their continent and disrupted them, to put it mildly.

We, as a country have a lot to think about, and those thoughts and future decisions shouldn’t feel threatening to anyone in this country.

When I was growing up, it was a world of embracing the melting pot and the encouragement of learning the cultures that surround us in our lives, that aren’t our own, learning about our differences and relishing in how much we are alike.

We should all be able to celebrate African American freedom and the abolition of slavery. We should all want to celebrate that. What is there for us to celebrate that is more important than that?

Halloween or Hallowon’t

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Halloween during a pandemic. Well, at least everyone’s already wearing masks, right? My kids are in high school, so it’s less of an issue for us. They’re planning on going to friends’ houses and celebrating with a party instead of traditional trick or treating. They’ve already been hanging out with these friends since summer, so it’s equally safe as doing homework together.

On my neighborhood Facebook group, there have been some questions about neighborhood plans as well as some suggestions. One neighbor wants to do treat bags on a table at the end of the driveway, and limit trick or treating to certain hours – from five until eight. I thought that seemed reasonable.

Another thought was of a scavenger hunt with houses providing clues to their kids to find candy. The parents would do all the work and the neighbors who participated would volunteer so the kids weren’t randomly going to people’s houses who had no idea what was going on. I thought this was a great idea.

We usually have a bucket of toys and comic books in addition to candy, so the kids can choose which treat they prefer. They toys are the kind you get from McDonald’s Happy Meals or similar small items. Some are packaged, but some are gently used. We’ve decided to suspend this practice until next year (hopefully). I know our items are safe, but why put the parents in the position of having to say no to a toy if they have (legitimate) concerns.

I also thought that instead of having the kids reach into our candy bowl and choose their preference, we would have more of the same candies and hand it out ourselves. Two candies per child. We can wear gloves and put it right into their basket or bag.

I know some doctors and experts have talked about avoiding family during the holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are closer than we think they are. We haven’t decided our holiday plans, but I also think that Halloween is a different circumstance. I don’t mean it’s more important than our traditional family holidays, but in some ways it kind of is. It’s fun. It’s dressing up. It’s candy. And it can be done in a responsible and socially distant way. Kids can come to the door one or two at a time. The candy givers can wear masks and gloves. There’s no hugging, shaking hands, sitting around a table talking and eating.

To be honest, it really sounds a lot easier.

Maybe we can have a Halloween inspired Thanksgiving. Drive thru. Go to Grandma’s house and she’ll give everyone a Tupperware filled with a portioned out turkey dinner. Same with Christmas; just add presents to the drive thru lane.

I don’t know. I’m still working on that one. In the meantime, let’s enjoy Halloween as best as we can. Teach our kids that we need to make some changes this year to keep everyone safe, and we can do that and still have fun. I’m planning on dressing up as a postal carrier if I can find my parents’ old work shirts.

We’ll find out in one week.

What are your plans for Halloween? Do you have any suggestions for making it fun and safe for kids in this unusual year?