So, technically, President Obama isn’t a guest blogger here, but he has provided (through social media) the first two graphics of both his summer reading list and his playlist. It reminded me of some of the things I’ve been occupying my time with, and wanted to share with readers.
My current reading list includes:
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics by Bruce Goldfarb
A Stranger and You WElcomed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle B by Jim Knipper, Richard Rohr, James Martin, Greg Boyle, and others
Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott
My Top 5 of Recently Read Books:
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
wow, no thank you. Essays by Samantha Irby
Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times by Joel Richard Paul
Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and teh Crippling of American Democracy by Adam Jentleson
His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham
Next in line to Read:
Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times by Michael R. Beschloss
Spotify Curation So Far:
<——————— Newest Link can be found by scrolling down on the sidebar.
Community: Neighbors, neighborhood, rainbows, household helpers, tools, the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests.
By the second third of the pandemic timeline, community became more important and more visible, sometimes as basic as are my neighbors wearing masks/having parties but beyond that as well.
There was more waving at each other as more people were home during the day. There were phone calls from my parish checking on our needs. The same from the kids’ schools about school meals and available wifi. Our area, and many others put rainbows up in their windows or on their lawns to be instagrammed or facebooked with area code rainbow hashtags, like a mini-scavenger hunt (hello GISH). One family in the neighborhood bought prisms and left them out, socially distanced for neighbors walking by to help themselves to. I sat outside in the front of my house reading, meditating, praying, watching the local world go by. I heard kids in strollers, on bikes, and nearby church bells ringing.
After the murder of George Floyd, I saw one or two Black Lives Matter signs in my very white, seemingly unaffected area, although it made me realize that no one is, nor should be, unaffected by the murder of a Black man by the police. The quarantine and lockdown enabled many to protest, and despite right wing complaints about social distancing, there was not much of an uptick in covid cases due to protesting as compared to political rallies held indiscriminately on the other side of the aisle.
I continued adding to my covid resource center, and my family cooked some of the recipes I was sharing. I attended church online and began to attend remote retreats, which I found both a distraction and a new way of prayer and contemplation. I wish I could say I wrote more; Maybe I did write more, at least here, and I’m proud of my work here. I tried to let the world flow around me and not put too many expectations on myself. I was home for my kids in a greater way than usual even though I’ve been home for my kids since they were born. This was the first year family didn’t ask when I was getting one or encourage me in that way of theirs to get a job. I already have several, thank you very much. We rediscovered our teamness. Looking forward to next school year in a few short months, I’m going to miss them when they return to school which we expect them to.
We were also able to go on vacation at the end of the summer. We remained in New York State since we were comfortable with the rules put in place by the state for covid precautions. I’m not sure how much longer my adult son will be willing to go along with us, and we’re enjoying time as an entire family.
Prism from neighbor
We belong to a neighborhood Facebook group, and at the beginning of the pandemic there were many posts offering suggestions for how to entertain the kids, especially the younger ones who weren’t in remote school. One of the fun, community activities we included ourselves in was the #Rainbow project. Houses and businesses began to put rainbows in their windows, on their garages, painted on pallets, flown on flags and banners, and included a hashtag of the area code with the word rainbow so those of us walking throughout the neighborhood could take pictures of all the rainbows we found, and post it online – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, that sort of thing on social media.
My artifact came from one of our neighbors in the Facebook group. The family bought several prisms online and put them at the end of their driveway in a bucket with a rainbow flag. They posted on the Facebook that they were to be taken whenever folks walked by on their neighborhood romps, but of course, to please take only one per family. They went quick! We were lucky to be able to get one on her second round. When it’s held in the sunlight, it makes rainbow reflections on the walls, windows, and other surfaces. Just looking at the clear glass teardrop shape makes me smile and think of how lucky we are to be in the place that we live. Also, rainbows are hope and promises of better times.
We all discovered our kitchens again. I was reminded very much of the nesting that went on after 9/11: we stayed home, kept our families together, simplified our lives, and more than ever before, we cooked. At least that’s what happened in our house, both after 9/11 and during lockdown. I’ve mentioned before about Chef Jose Andres’ Recipes for the People on Twitter. While we were on vacation, we had clementine oranges in our breakfast bags provided by the hotel and I became obsessed with having a delicious, juicy orange almost daily.
I bought this great little tool while we were in Buffalo from a five and dime store. I couldn’t figure out how it worked at first, but it was labeled as an orange peeler for sixty-nine cents. If I knew how much I would love this little gadget, I would have bought fifty of them! Well, maybe not fifty, but a dozen. I’ve already put this five and dime on my list to pick up some more the next time we go through Buffalo (hopefully this summer on the way to Canada). It was one of those things that I didn’t know I needed until I had it. I will never peel another orange without this perfectly constructed tool. So simple. So easy.
About the time in the summer that political signs went up, I saw this same sign on my neighbor’s lawn. I didn’t know this neighbor, but I stopped by anyway to ask about it, thinking she had gotten it locally. At first, I think she thought I was complaining about the inclusivity of the sign. She was happier that I liked it and wanted one of my own. She got hers from Amazon, and mine arrived about twenty-four hours later. I added the American flag, and we’ve added more flags for Memorial Day weekend and then buntings for 4th of July. We’ll leave this sign and one or two of the Stars & Stripes until fall clean-up.
The entire sign reads:
In this house, we believe: Black Lives Matter Women’s Rights are Human Rights No Human is Illegal Science is Real Love is Love Kindness is Everything.
This one sign really says it all. Really, what more is there to say?
Sometimes, often, we need to look back at, as well as from the outside of circumstances to realize that there are themes that emerge, and the pandemic was no exception. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown gave us a unique opportunity (albeit at great cost) to look back at a year of new things and old ones, and to look inward.
We were inspired to do things but we were also inspired to slow down and do no things.
Recently, as lockdown, and at the same time, the school year came to a close, my daughter’s teacher gave the class a multi-dimensional project to look back on their pandemic and recognize some of the things that got them through the last year plus. The project and subsequent presentation included themes from memoir, historic timelines, artifacts, creative non-fiction, presentation, and art. Each component was unique and I was excited watching her accomplish each one and it gave me a perfect prompt for my next writing group. It went over very well with my friends, and as I wrote and read my submission, I began to notice themes.
Initially, I had chosen nine photos from across the year, and in laying them out to write about them, I saw that they unintentionally and neatly fell into three distinct sections:
Keeping Safe: Hand-washing, lockdown, information, and isolation.
Community: Neighbors, neighborhood, rainbows, household helpers, tools, the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests.
Looking Outward: spirituality, new things, and road trips.
The following three part series explores those themes and the significance of some of those pandemic artifacts for me, and hopefully you’ll think of the small or not-so-small things that got you through this unprecedented, uncharted pandemic year.
I created my own timeline (in retrospect) and divided it into three sections, beginning and ending with the first and third photo of each line of my original nine photos. The first third of the timeline and the original photo appear below. I would note that the sections are not evenly split; the first third has significantly more milestones than the other two in what seems like a much shorter time. In those beginning times, I think we were all so surprised by how quickly everything just stopped, even time it seemed.
The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
The kids will be out of school soon. Things are winding down just as the world is winding back up. People are talking about the return of Broadway, In The Heights is in theatres, and I’m considering going…TO…A…THEATRE. (Practice for Black Widow, which I’ve been informed we WILL see in theatres in a few weeks.) Vacations are being planned, and we may actually see our cousins for Thanksgiving.
With all that taken into consideration, I decided to give myself a morning. Take a short drive and visit one of our local labyrinths. The temperature was a perfect seventy-six degrees.
The labyrinth itself is nestled in a quiet park on a quiet street in a sleepy Victorian former Methodist camp village. The roads are narrow and people drive a little too fast going from one end of town to the other. There is small parking area and the park is a field of grass with several trees that houses the birds and squirrels. It’s very Disney Princess-y.
My plan was to walk the labyrinth, pray parts of it, and sit on one of the benches for a few minutes in the quiet; give myself a little time and space before the summer heat makes that less possible.
When I arrived I could see from a distance that something was slightly different. Some of the rocks that form the labyrinth looked odd, larger, shinier; they really stood out from a distance. The closer I got, the more my eyes widened with surprise at what I found. Much of the labyrinth’s rocks had been replaced, repositioned, new soil beneath them, and some of the rocks making the path had been painted with a variety of things – a Scripture verse, a saying, a bumper sticker sounding Love Wins, all matter of animals and insects, Celtic knots, flowers, and symbols. One rock even had a photograph of two men attached to it. There was a pinwheel and new, bursting with color potted plants.
I walked through, marveling at the changes, at the brightness of the painted rocks, and I took several pictures. Once I reached the center of the labyrinth, I stepped out and spent ten minutes on the bench facing the labyrinth (even though my eyes were closed most of the time) letting myself attempt centering prayer with rocks for my mind’s focus.
There were still a few more left to rejuvenate and I look forward to returning in a couple of weeks to find what other surprises are in store.
While May’s Mental Health Awareness Month concluded last week that doesn’t conclude our need to be aware of our mental health and to remember to remain open to our feelings and release any stigma that remains in talking about our mental health, our ongoing recovery, and accepting our responsibility as allies to one another. I was made painfully aware of a Twitter friend’s struggle that he’s been very open about online. He has a good support system and he’s a somewhat well known personality, and he’s receiving complaints about his openness. That is not helpful when someone is going through a particularly depressive episode that’s lasting more than a week. We must remind those people that the stigma must be abolished; we are here for each other, and it is one reason that I try to be open with my own journey through depression, and my recovery through it (as I refer to it).
Posts and blogs like this (and Twitter) are no substitute for seeking professional help when its needed. As much as I offer my insight, I still have therapy and medication, and all of it combines in balancing my tools in coping. Remain vigilant and don’t be afraid to ask for help when it’s needed.
We’re also moving out of pandemic mode, many are not wearing masks, not keeping social distance especially as more and more of us receive the vaccine, so I would suggest being aware and accepting of other people’s boundaries.
About a week ago, I wrote about how beneficial lists can be, and that was proved again for myself today. I would not have survived today’s activities without my lists. I had no less than twelve things to get done. Some were drive-thrus, some were curbside pick ups, and one or two were phone calls, and I’m happy to say that I got it all done! Lists are your friend. Remember that as your days get a little busier.
And if you prefer not to get back into everything you did pre-pandemic, that’s okay too. Learn to be okay with saying no. I’m sorry, but I have another commitment. School is winding down, and my kids need me home. I can’t leave my dog alone (if you say cat, they’ll know you’re lying!)
But also normalize just saying that you need to stay home and take care of yourself, and then do that.
One of my plans for this week (or early next week) is taking some contemplative time at a local labyrinth. I’d like to do this before the kids are out of school, and I will wait until it’s not oppressively hot or expectant thunderstorms. I’ll bring my journal and clear my mind.
What’s something you can do for yourself this week?
On this last day of Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to reiterate that we can use everyday to be aware of our mental health and changes that happen in our lives.
Think about and use the tools that help you on those bad or not-great days. We each have so much to offer to ourselves and to each other. I went back over the /mentalhealthmonday tag and rediscovered tools I hadn’t thought about in months.
One positive thing that I’ve been doing for several weeks is watching the one minute videos of Gurdeep Pandher on Twitter dancing the Bhangra.
Bhangra is an energetic folk dance originating in the Punjab region of the subcontinent of India and Pakistan. Its beginnings are with farmers during the harvest. There is kicking, leaping, and hand movements that all combine to create something that I can’t look away from.
Although I don’t watch everyday I find that when I scroll past his posts, I always stop to watch the dance and listen to the music. I can always find the time to pause for one minute and these videos cause a deep welling of joy from inside. They are truly uplifting. When I do watch them, which is often, they make my day better; they inspire me, they bring my thoughts to contemplation rather than the dispiriting noise that usually finds me online.
In addition to the joy the videos bring, I have watched the seasons of the Yukon, where Gurdeep lives, change from deep frozen winter to spring and grass and blue skies. In the video below, the Takhini River and mountains behind him took my breath away, and was one of the reasons that I decided to share this one with you today.
The following may be triggering to some people so please continue through to the link below with caution.
To read more about the tragedy he mentions in his prayer of the children discovered in Kamloops this week, follow the link.
Mental Health Monday is all about those little reminders that we all, no matter our circumstances, no matter our levels of anxiety, we all need to stay aware of our mental health. I had intended this to publish yesterday despite a busy morning, but at the end of the day (literally), I still could have gotten it in under midnight on Monday, rushed, and (in my mind) unfinished or I could wait until Tuesday and let that be a reminder that not everything is an urgency. Yes, some things are, but not everything.
Today I wanted to talk about the benefits of lists, and the first thing on any Mental Health Monday list is to let yourself take a break when you feel its needed.
I needed it yesterday and I ignored that feeling all day. After church and my lunch meeting, I went home fully intending to sit at my laptop and do the Monday post. I thought I’d take a short break, read a chapter in one of the books I’m in the middle of before I got started.
I fell asleep.
I woke up with a crick in my neck, so I stretched and pulled out my book again.
I fell asleep again.
This happened on and off throughout the afternoon (including the painful crick), and each time it happened I became more and more frustrated and angry at myself. I didn’t think that I must have needed the rest; I was just angry that I wasn’t getting done what I had planned on getting done.
Once I decided that I would intentionally postpone the post until today, my anger and my anxiety* went away.
[*I don’t mean that I was now suddenly free of my chronic anxiety. We all have anxiety that crops up from time to time depending on circumstances, and this was in additional to the anxiety I take medication for. It’s important to differentiate between the two, but it’s also important to treat each of them and not ignore either one.]
I’ve written previously about lists. I find them a great tool in all kinds of situations. When I was undiagnosed (for depression and anxiety) I was very forgetful. I couldn’t remember the simplest of things – did I have breakfast? Did I take a shower? Why aren’t the kids in school? Oh right, it’s Saturday. I found ways to cope – giving myself a schedule was one, getting diagnosed was a big one. I was trying so hard to not let my family know that there was a problem that I was in “fake it til you make it” mode and whatever slack I left behind, my family picked up – like cooking. I missed many school deadlines in this time and that led to all kinds of guilt, especially concerning my middle child.
One of the lifesaving tools I discovered and still utilize was making lists.
The lists range from important appointments and deadlines to seemingly mundane items like eating and showering. Some days those mundane ones are needed just to get through.
My list for yesterday was (with completed items crossed out):
See Father J.
Donation to St. Vincent de Paul (as part of Spark/GISH)
Meet M & E at bank
Meet M at Panera to go over information for my new (volunteer) job
Check in with home to see if we need groceries while I was out – we didn’t
Home to write MHM
Refill pill box for the next two week period
Continue reading two books.
Begin reading final two chapters for book club.
Attendance form for kids’ school.
Check calendar for next month’s writing assignments.
Find free write prompt for next week’s group that I’m leading.
Group rosary by phone.
It looks like I got a lot done, and I did. Even if you do one thing on your list, it is important to acknowledge that. That one thing could be everything (and some weeks, it is). I did also have a lot of little things on my list. They may seem little (even to me) but when I forget something it can be very frustrating. Why continue reading those two books? They’re library e-books, and often the library will take them back before I’ve finished, and I’ve tried to read them more regularly so I don’t have to go back on the waiting list, which can be quite long sometimes.
Today’s list was much smaller:
Mass – opted not to go.
Check out po box at new post office for new volunteer job.
This is where I am at the moment ——–>Lunch to write first draft of MHM-Lists
Pick up daughter and go to Target (with lists for home and school supplies she needs immediately of course)
Publish this MHM before dinner.
Bed (hopefully early).
I think I can get through the remainder of today’s list and I know that I can make up some of the ones that I missed on Monday (like refilling my pill box and finding a free-write prompt) on Wednesday.
As we get back into the swing of things, as masks come off, and more people find their new normal, it’s okay to give yourself some time to readjust to public life. Personally, I’m still wearing masks, and I’m okay with that. And as the school year winds down, I’m making daily lists, making sure that nothing important falls through the cracks.
Try making your own lists, and let me know how you did with your week.
For the early part of Mother’s Day weekend I went on an overnight retreat. It’s billed as a Girls Night Out/Day of Reflection and it was a wonderful event. They hold this every year and this was the first time I went. The theme is usually dictated by the presenter and so last week was titled Called to Wonder and Joy and the next day’s reflection continued that theme and included active listening and storytelling.
In the discussion and micro-journaling, we answered the question, “What calls you with wonder and joy? What creates wondrous and joyful moments in your life?“
In this context, it’s not necessarily that joy equals happy. Joy is a much broader concept. It is only recently that I find that deep profundity that is rooted in joy. For me it was the references to joy in scripture and spiritual learning and practice. The joy that comes to me during mass or meditation. It’s not the happiness of a fun time with friends or a vacation; it is something deeper that I’ve only recognized more recently.
In the things that you like, you will find others that like similar things or extraordinarily different things, but you will discover that you are not alone. You will find things that lift you up. You will remember things that you did that might have been scary, but you got through it. You might even do them again. What are the things that lift you up?
I give all of this to you as a way of introducing a mental health exercise and to remind of the broad nature of words that we take for granted. We may hear the word “joy” and think, ‘oh, that isn’t me – I am not that kind of person,’ but if you broadened your concept you may find, as I gradually did that I can be joyful in ways and I can find joy in things, both physical and spiritual.
So, I ask you: Where do you find Wonder and Joy?
I will share ten of the moments of wonder and/or joy, some I discovered on the retreat and others that have come to me as I write.
What I would like you to do today is to write your own down. Begin with five and go for as many as you’d like. It doesn’t need a formal journal or a notebook. Just grab a sheet of paper or the back of an envelope and a pen.
Nothing should stand in your way.
When you discover and remind yourself of the things you find wondrous and joyful, you can refer back to this list on your down days, take a deep breath, and keep going.
Here are mine (currently):
the lilacs in my backyard
sitting quietly with a cup of tea
I get a deep well of peace (but also joy) thinking on the devotion to Mary, Untier of Knots
planning a trip
sitting in my front yard, eyes closed, feeling the cool air, and just being
My plan was to get up at my regular time – 8:30 – go to mass, maybe get some breakfast, and mail my taxes. And then come home and write and publish today’s Mental Health Monday.
I woke up at 8:30. That part happened. But I was exhausted. And I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired. While I didn’t get a lot of sleep on Friday, I did get a regular amount on Saturday, and I thought I did on Sunday as well. But at 8:30 this morning, I just felt tired and I had a low throbbing tired headache.
I reset my alarm for 8:50, and while I woke up at 8:50, I didn’t feel any less tired.
I made the choice to remain home and sleep. I would miss mass and that was going to have to be okay.
Sometimes it’s like that. You need to make that intentional decision not to do something. Even if that something is something that you really wanted to do, or thought you needed to do in order to have your day get started on the right foot.
This is one way that I care for my mental health.
When I did get up, my day was completely changed. It wasn’t just that I didn’t attend mass, but because I was still in bed, my daughter came in between classes and we had a nice conversation. We made some plans for the weekend.
I went downstairs and got dressed, ate breakfast, and thought I’d read a little before I went to the post office and mailed my taxes.
I did read for a short time, but I was again, just so, so tired. I didn’t nap, but I didn’t read. I alternated this way for quite some time.
But I was exhausted.
I made photocopies of the taxes and got them ready for the mail. It was then that I noticed that there was a major mistake on one of them. I got the white-out, made the corrections, redid those copies, and got them ready. I’ll mail them tomorrow.
My day feels like a failure. I didn’t get anything done that I wanted to do.
But was it a failure though?
But in the big picture, I took care of myself by sleeping a little later (and I can go to mass tomorrow). Since I was home, I took one more look at the taxes and was able to correct them. I’m almost finished with the book I’m reading, and I’m finishing this up for publication so I can attend my weekly rosary group.
What are some of the ways that you can proactively take care of your mental health?
If you’re in an office space, take a short walk to the restroom. Walk up a flight of stairs if you are able. Step outside for a moment for a breath of fresh air. Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths.
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.