Mental Health Monday, Part 1

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Three days late, so there will be two MHM posts today. Don’t applaud; it’s not great.

I feel an obligation to post what I intend to post. I have a planner, I do research, I write, I link, I take photos, and I really enjoy it even as I give myself deadlines, and perhaps miss a few.

These last several weeks have been a struggle (for so many people) and what I’ve encouraged myself to do is to do what I offer others: take a deep breath, take a few moments to myself, spend some time outside.

Today I delivered a bread starter to my friend and she asked if I had a few minutes. Kind of. Do you want to take a walk? I umm’ed, but I also said sure. It was hot, my face mask was stuck to my face, my glasses were fogged, but we walked and talked, keeping our distance, and it was nice. It wasn’t Facebook or Zoom.

This is the new normal, I guess.

Sometimes maintaining your mental health is just letting go and doing what can be done while keeping the stress as low as possible.

Stopping for a break, doing nothing is not lazy; it’s not even doing nothing. It’s just as important as eating and sleeping. Fit it in.

I will have two more posts today. One is the regular mental health Monday and one is a quick plug for an online event with Pope Francis.

Stay well.

What Have I Done Today?

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What have I done today? Today, being a reflection of one day last week, April 2, 2020 to be precise. It is (was) day 18 of self-isolation/”quarantine” for our family. That is the official count since we last went out to dinner and our kids last had in-person school, which is not a phrase that comes readily from fingertips to keyboard or off the tongue. In that time, we have managed to come to some sort of happy (?) medium between the four of us who live in this house. Some days have blended into others, some pjs were worn a bit too long, too many video games, streaming services, and DVDs were played and watched, not enough fresh air, and way, way, way too many emails were received from every single email list I’ve been on for the last ten years telling me how they are addressing the COVID-19 situation in their establishments as well as many, many restaurants offering me free delivery or curbside pick up despite the fact that I am very much not in their delivery area.

But we’re all handling this in our own ways; some better than others.

As every day becomes some version of it’s Friday again as well as a Groundhog Day reboot, I thought I’d spend one day listing all of my activities or the less than active happenings as it were.

I decided to would share it here for others to see that we’re almost all coping with the same issues: limited resources, homeschooling our kids, working from home, trying to be useful, and often not succeeding, and then feeling guilty about that. Why haven’t I cleaned out my closets? Why haven’t I planted my garden? How can we possibly use that much toilet paper in a week?! No, I don’t know what’s for dinner; what are you making?

I absolutely recognize my privilege and am ever grateful in that I have a home, my children are safe, and my husband continues to work from our home. He had already been working from home for a number of years, initially requesting it because of some medical limitations for me after my third child was born. Eventually, it became his regular job to work from home. I do know how lucky we are despite having the worry that this may situation may stop or change before the quarantine is over. Time will tell.

For all of us.

I began that Thursday as I begin every day, by waking up. I have an alarm set for 8:30 from Sunday to Thursday. I set the alarm so I can “attend” Mass online. It’s hard to have an excuse not to be there when the commute is literally sitting up in bed and turning on my Kindle. In addition to masses four days a week, my parish priest is also doing FB Live storytime for the younger parishioners (but I tune in every week, and enjoy every minute of it!), our office manager is offering a weekly reflection on FB Live as well, and we’ve had soup deliveries on Wednesday for the last three weeks. Sadly, they end when Lent does. I couldn’t be more proud of my church and how they’ve handled this pandemic from the beginning in March, keeping everyone informed and faith filled, keeping our community despite the physical distance.

So, my alarm goes off at 8:30, and my day begins.

8:30am – Wake up.

8:30 – 9am – Checked email, Facebook, Twitter. Saved screenshots and links for COVID-19 information posts to get to later.

I take my morning medicine.

9am – Facebook Live. Since this is Thursday, there is no daily mass, but my friend and godmother who is the office manager for my church gave a wonderfully lovely Lenten reflection. She’s doing another one this week as well.

About 9:45/10am – I begin listening to my podcasts: What a Day from Crooked Media and Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara.

After that it’s time for breakfast, which sadly won’t come to me: a French toast bagel, toasted with melted butter.

I began reading a new book – The Boston Massacre (because clearly this is a lighter subject than what we’re living through right now.)

I went back on Facebook until …

11:30am – I watched New York’s Governor Cuomo’s daily briefing. I find his briefings calming and informative; also honest. I watch it every day that I am able to, and no, I do not watch the President’s daily briefing because those are the exact opposite of calming, informative, and honest. I screenshot many of the Governor’s slides to post on Facebook.

I cooked the meat and sauce and layered the lasagna in my crock pot for dinner.

When dinner was set up to cook for the rest of the day, I cropped the slides from the governor’s briefing and posted them on my Facebook page. (Several people have told me that they appreciate it, and it makes me feel as though I am doing something productive, something of a public service, even if it’s only in my mind.)

I then had Lunch with a Diet Coke followed by a snack. On my notes page that I kept the running diary, I didn’t write down what I had for lunch and snack, so I have no idea what it was. We’ve had sliced turkey and cheese in the house for sandwiches, we have ramen, macaroni & cheese, and often leftovers to have for lunch, so really it’s anybody’s guess what it might have been.

About now, I’ve begun to flag. I’m always tired since this situation has begun, not always physically, but I feel a constant level of worn out. My brain is going a mile a minute, but I am also paralyzed with uselessness.

I go back on my Kindle: Facebook, Twitter, some games. Things that I don’t need to think about because my brain just won’t slow down.

Clearly, I’m not writing. 😦

Emails.

My daughter was on Facetime with her friends and I heard her giggling and laughing hysterically. It resounded down from her room, and I stood at the bottom of the stairs, and just enjoyed it. It was a welcome sound; one that I haven’t heard for what seems like a long time, and I relished in it.

When the lasagna was ready, my son and I made homemade garlic bread. It was delicious.

We ate our dinner, which was also delicious. We’ve been cooking a lot!

After dinner, I had some yummy Mango Dragonfruit sherbet that my husband picked up for me as a surprise when he went out to get milk.

I read Governor Cuomo’s email that he sends nightly, which caught me up since his morning briefing. Again, positive and reassuring.

9pm – The Rachel Maddow Show. She is visibly upset with the federal government’s response. I am also upset. Disappointed. Embarrassed.

I don’t know if I just realized it while watching Maddow but I did not get dressed today. PJs feel almost like business casual as quarantine time ticks by. It’s quite nearly another universe.

After dinner, I clean up the dishes. I didn’t wash them though, just got them scraped and into (or near) the sink. At the moment, there’s too many for me to get started emotionally. I don’t mind doing the dishes, but I need to really feel it.

I went to bed; not to sleep, but to read.

Then I promptly fell asleep.

I woke up at 1am and went on Twitter where Alt_Immi‘s post set my teeth on edge. He had retweeted a 9 minute video of Russel Honore’, who commanded federal troops in New Orleans after Katrina, and who had a lot to say about the Defense Production Act and the “leadership” of Jared Kushner.

I became enraged, which kept me from sleeping.

I took my nightly medicine (which I’m really supposed to take around 11pm), and then I went to bed for real. Mostly.

I know that tomorrow will probably go about the same except with the addition of a shower and minus meat (since [as of this diary’s writing] tomorrow is Friday!)

This whole thing is horrifying and demoralizing.

As the following Tweet says, this is why we cried when he won. No lie.

We will get through this. Together.

Blog and Personal Update

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I wanted to update my readers on what’s been happening since my last post.

We’ve been taking this pandemic seriously for some time in our house. I had been forcing my family to wash their hands when they returned from school or shopping or outside of our home for a number of weeks. Our church had eliminated handshaking for the sign of peace, and receiving communion from the chalice. I told my daughter that she couldn’t go to her friend’s birthday party, which I truly hated doing. (The mom ended up postponing.)

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Gifts

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On Friday, I talked a bit about my mother-in-law and the life she led. We were lucky to see her as often as we did, with her traveling to us by bus or once in a while by train before her accident three years ago, and our traveling to see her as often as we could. She lived about two hundred-fifty miles away from us so it was a long drive, but well worth it.

We were visiting her the last week in June. We had waited for the kids to get out of school, and down we went. We had no idea that she would be gone before we left for home. There’s being sick in the hospital and there’s sick in the hospital, heading to rehab to regain mobility and since she was the latter we were already making summer plans to visit again when she passed away.

She was able to have seen her three children and three of her six grandchildren. She admired my daughter’s outfits, which I mentioned on Friday were inspired by her own free spirit and her grandmother’s. She asked us about visiting my parents’ graves and bringing rocks from her garden. (Leaving rocks on gravestones is a Jewish tradition that we followed whenever we were at the cemetery.)

My mother-in-law grew up during World War II in and around Belfast to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. I mention this again because it influenced her lack of use for the Church. She had seen too much. Even as her kids went to catechism, her opinions on the bureaucracy remained.

When I told her of my decision to join the Catholic Church and be baptized, she was nothing but supportive. She immediately went into her dresser and gave me the prayer book pictured above. She said she wondered why she kept it all these years; now she knew why.

On another visit, she gave me the keychain/folder that is also pictured above. I don’t know that she ever carried it seriously in her purse, but it was the most perfect piece of religious kitsch that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

She also gave me a little confirmation statue of Jesus and a girl that she happened to have, probably from one of her beloved garage sales, still in an old, dusty box.

Despite no love for the physical church that she remembered, she supported my new found faith and asked me about it whenever we were together. She enjoyed looking at my Easter Vigil photos from my baptism, confirmation and first communion.

No matter what she thought, everyone had their own path to follow and she encouraged them in it, always.

50-5 – Writing Through the Years

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With my memoir writing workshop beginning again for the spring, I am being inspired to write more than ever. During the last four weeks I’ve been taking a contemplative retreat that has not only let me delve deeper into myself, but subconsciously has allowed me to see how much my writing is a part of all of me. This season’s memoir workshop has the theme of Emotions, and our first two prompts have been Joy and Hope.

In thinking back to my history as a writer, I am reminded of my first fan fictions. I hadn’t known until recent years that what I had written in high school had a genre and that it was called fan fiction. They were all self-insert, Mary Sues, but you do have to start somewhere.

Star Trek and Green Arrow were probably the shortest lived as far as fan fiction writing; more like an ongoing daydream that storied in my head. My fan writings really began with a back and forth letter writing between two characters in The White Shadow. I wrote in a composition notebook and I remember tearing out the pages and folding them in half, filing them somewhere where they remain hidden or lost forever. I was the only one who ever read them, and I can only hope that I will continue to be the only one to read them.

That was probably pre-high school. High school brought on Duran Duran fic and cosplay. Click, whirr is the sound that a camera makes, at least according to Nick Rhodes. I was the wayward photographer, and we often wrote alternate chapters, passing them back and forth through college. I wrote a terrible murder mystery involving the band on tour. Well, I guess it wasn’t that terrible. But it definitely wasn’t that good.

I took creative writing and journalism in high school. They provided a good mix, and they are probably the reason that I eventually took this memoir class in 2012. All writing is good practice. Prompts and free writes are gifts to any genre.

In the years that followed, different experiences led to different writings. Dungeons & Dragons led to Top Secret and other role playing games. I wrote about my TS character, Monique Jonquille, a French spy getting into dangerous situations and making her way in the world of intrigue and espionage. That was the kind of research that I had to do in person; no internet, but that was the kind of stuff that gets your browser history investigated. I spent hours in the library. No, I am not a serial killer; I’m a writer.

As a child I kept a diary – very pink with very large letters and i’s dotted with hearts. I never really kept a real journal like people do today, except when I travel or go on retreat. On my first trip to the UK I kept a daily journal, recording what we’d done for the day, what we planned to do. I drew the constellations, and the little phrases that my friend and I came up with as a secret language.

My friend and I used that journal, and our time traveling by the train to write our next D&D adventure. That would be my first running a game, and I still remember most of our plans. I also still have the glass bottle that we used for one of the rituals. Green glass with a copper metal screw cap. I can’t remember the name of the alcohol, but I do remember that it tasted like cough syrup. Yuck.

The SCA led to medieval research as well as editing and publishing a newsletter. Fiction came then also, much better than my teenage stuff, but not much more than more self-inserts. Wales, camping, travel, archery, costuming, medieval history, languages, so many things to learn. It’s like being a contestant on Jeopardy – you know a little about a lot of things, and most of it sticks with you. I was a Jane of all trades.

As I teacher I wrote curriculums and published an educational newsletter. I did both without a computer. Boy, how times have changed.

After my son was born, I began to write for a parenting newspaper. I muddled through but in reality it gave me the impetus to see what I was really good at: essays. Anecdotes, thoughts written out, how-to’s, travel advice and travel yarns. I might even have a couple of books in me if I can muster up the confidence to let myself be myself and just let the writing take over.

I returned to fan fiction, although at the time in 2008, I thought it was all new to me. it really was like learning a new language – fan fiction was a new language with its shorthand and tags. Harry Potter was my first and still my true fan fiction love. I’ve moved on and adapted to Doctor Who, Supernatural, The Walking Dead, as well as meta – the analysis, discussion, and opinion of the source material. My meta has focused on Supernatural and The Walking Dead, although I have thrown in an Orphan Black or two.

Fan fiction is almost mainstream today. It’s a community. It’s a support group. It’s feedback. It’s family.

It’s not at all what I could have envisioned in the 1980s of my middle and high school years or even of my college years. When your calling envelops you, you can get buried under or you can start folding the pleats and making sense of the ensuing enveloping.

When I began looking into a major for college, I wanted to be a writer. I wasn’t sure how to study that, but it was what I wanted. My mother felt that I should do something else; writing would always be there for me. I studied political science and pre-law, and I made a great group of friends from that course of study. And I still continued to write: science-fiction, fantasy, poetry, lists of all manner and topic.

In some ways, this writing thing feels too late. In others, I feel that it is never too late, but it is hard to hold onto that feeling. It takes a lot of energy to hold onto that.

I took a social science class that had to do with history, genealogy, and the family. We had to write a paper about our family. The year I started college my great-grandmother had died that spring; my Bubbi as everyone called her. I chose to write about the four generations of women in my family: my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and me. I interviewed my grandmother and my mother, and they helped me with my Bubbi’s answers. I went through my mother’s answers more than once, and every time I re-read it I’m always surprised that she wanted to be a writer. Why wold she tell me to do something else if that was her dream? I don’t think it was anything bad, it was just not a way to make a living. It could be a hobby, but not a real job.

Well, I’m trying to teach my kids to follow their dreams. Yes, even the one who wants to be a youtuber. There’s something to be said for doing what you love.

As I near my fiftieth birthday, I wonder what my next writing switch will be, what I will evolve into next. It’s fascinating from this end of it.

Bow, Daffodil, and Keys

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I’m pretty happy with my project for this second week, but not as pleased as how my first one came out. As I said to Sister Sue this morning, last week’s project was perfect. Everything just came together the way it was meant to, and I continued all week to look at it, and enjoy the connection I had with the board. This one has different elements that ended up relating back to the scripture of the woman who anoints Jesus.

I hadn’t realized it at first, but it is funny how these things work out. I approached the materials with a blank mind; a blank slate. I looked at the items and took what struck my fancy. I wasn’t avoiding anything except maybe the Scrabble tiles. Those give a certain distinction to last week’s board as did the puzzle pieces, which I also avoided.

Everything else was fair game.

We begin in the circle and think back on the readings, discuss a little, and then go immerse ourselves in the materials and see what turns up. What I really noticed today more than last week was the quiet, although I’m sure it was there then as well. There were a few whisperings, a few requests to pass the glue or glue stick, but for the most part, we each spend the time in our own space, choosing our items, and putting them on our boards. As I’ve said before, I like to gather my items and then lay them out on the board, getting a feel for what I’m called to do.

One of the things that I recalled about the woman who anoints Jesus is how independent she was. She didn’t ask permission, either from him or any of the others in the house. She broke open the jar and poured out the oil. When she is admonished for wasting the oil and losing the possible income from it, Jesus defends her. He declares that we will remember her for what she has done this day. It is one of the only times that he talks about remembering someone other than himself.

In my mind, she might have cared what Jesus thought, but she definitely didn’t care what any of the others did. She did what needed to be done at that moment.

That is so often a woman’s prerogative; her thing. We just do. And consequently, it gets done. With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Women, we get the job done.

1. When I began at the first materials table, I planned on only two things: the yellow border and the green rope with beads. Unfortunately, the rope was too thick to slide the beads on, so I had to use a narrower ribbon. My intention was to line the beads, and then attach the rope to be the same length. It turned out that I had cut off too many ends to get the ribbon threaded through, so the rope ended up a bit longer than the ribbon. When I laid it horizontally, it made a smiley face. I did not want a smiley face and I was disappointed and running out of time since I had spent so much threading five effin’ beads!
I turned it ninety degrees, and immediately noticed it made a bow shape. Again with a bow and archery. Sister Sue commented on the change of perspective, and I mentioned that I’m a Sagittarius so bows are kind of my thing.

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2. From that point I had already taken the two feathers and wanted them crossed. They don’t glue well, so I stapled them and then added the green straw on top to hide the staples. The straw is not as nice as I would have liked.

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3. The old-fashioned Corona typewriter was the perfect picture. I found it in a furniture catalog, and I put the tilted frame around it. I also added a table top organizer which also came from that furniture catalog with mail sticking out, flowers, and with a clock attached. These are some of the things I try to have in my own corner office despite the differences in picture aesthetics and three-dimensional.

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4. Originally inside the tilted frame, I took out the wooden flower box of daffodils. They are my favorite flower, and remind me of my spiritual home of Wales.

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5. Again, the butterfly wings are for my mother. One wing is the same one I used in the first board, and I plan on using it again if I can find the same one for next week. The green wing was simply because it was green.

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6. I added the fabric for no reason other than that they were flowers and for another variety of texture.

7. At this point it was complete, but there was still something missing. I couldn’t figure out what that was when it suddenly hit me: tea! I ran to the retreat center’s kitchen and grabbed one tea bag, opened it up, and sprinkled it on the glue. I patted it down, and shook the excess off. That caused the bow to fall off, and the straw to move around but nothing that couldn’t be corrected. Once that was fixed it was ready for the circle.

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**While we were talking about which reading spoke to us, I talked a bit about not thinking about any of them, but the strong woman who anoints Jesus really called out to my subconscious. It wasn’t until at the end, when I was wiping away the excess tea that I related the tea to the expensive oil. Some could say that I wasted the tea – it is both a food and emotional sustenance as well as an expensive commodity, exotic in some places, everyday in others, and the same could be said for the expensive oil that the woman breaks open for Jesus.

Some things are worth the time and the money expended, and when it is time for those things, we will know it.

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Tomorrow: Some thoughts in preview of next week’s readings.

Among Women – My Board

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When I had included this as part of my reflection on the Gospel Women readings, I found that it just didn’t flow the way I wanted it to, and I realized that it was due in part because it really should have been more of a bullet point or list of what I chose and why I chose it. Looking at the original bowl of items and board to use for the collage, I am struck by how it went from nothing to something so magnificent. I really love the finished product. Despite being unfinished in some ways, adding more would take away from what it’s expressing.

In looking back at the process, I can safely say that I practically put it together in the order that I gathered the items. Not entirely, and in my “first draft”, I did move things around, although, again it is nearly identical to the original concept that I laid out before the adhesives.

1. Our board choices were very simple: white, black or reddish-brown. As you can see I took the reddish brown one. I thought that white was too stark and black was too dark, and I usually stay away from reds. I took that one to be a bit bolder than I usually am. This retreat house is where I do most of my artistic work, from the mandala weekend to an illuminated initial at the most recent weekend; it is where I always bring my sketchbook and colored pencils. I think the space is welcoming so that I feel that I can attempt art safely whereas I can write anywhere.

2. I wasn’t sure about the butterfly wings. They are real wings, taken from the Conservatory where the butterflies lived their whole lives. No butterflies were harmed in the collection of their wings. My mother used to love butterflies, and I would get her some sort of butterfly thing – pin, notebook, trinket box for her birthday, Christmas/Chanukah, and Mother’s Day. Consequently, when she died, I got her collection, and seeing butterflies makes me think of her, so I’m drawn to them. In the little plate, there were beautiful, bright blue ones that I believe come from the Karner Blue Butterfly, a local variety in the Albany Pine Bush. There was also a bright orange and black dotted one that I think was a Monarch. The one I chose was yellow with black. Everyone thinks bumble bee with those colors, but for me, they are Hufflepuff, my Harry Potter house. They speak to me of loyalty, and friendship, perseverance, and strength. They are courage and truth. They are also a visual reminder of my being brought back to writing and the internet community that held me, supported me, and welcomed me, and who continues to give me the gift of friendship and creativity. So much from such a little wing.

*One thing that struck me about my collage was that I am a very symmetrical person, and there is nothing in this grouping that is symmetrical. I chose one wing rather than two. In my mind, it seems odd, but looking at it, it is perfect.

3. I glanced at the pile (very large pile) of magazines and newspapers taking up a third of the table. The word travel caught my eye, and that was all I was going to take, but then the subtitle, 4 Life-Changing Journeys drew my eye. I was going to take travel and journeys, but then the whole phrase – 4 life-changing journeys – really grabbed me, not only as something I’ve been feeling this year and last, but also as a fantastic writing prompt to use in future days. What four life-changing journeys have I been on in recent years? What a perfect way to organize some thoughts, and so I took the whole thing. I tore the small rectangle out and put the magazine back in the pile. Before I could move off, I noticed another article about 50 tips to feel amazing. It had to do with getting healthy and avoiding chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure, but it was the 50 that took me by the hand. I will be turning fifty at the end of the year, and one of my goals is to write weekly reflections. I’ve been somewhat neglectful, but the number, bold and in red, needed to come. I tore off the whole cover and thought to look at it more closely. It wasn’t until I was back at my seat that I noticed the tagline of the magazine: Real Possibilities. I cut out possibilities and I had all the words I thought I would need.

4. Wherever, whatever I’m doing, I’m attracted to my favorite color green, and the puzzle pieces had them in abundance. I didn’t look at the finished puzzle on the box cover, but I took a few pieces that might fit together; they probably wouldn’t but they only needed to look as if they might. I like puzzle pieces. They come apart easily, but also go back together just as easily. They connect, and if connected the right way, they create a path to a finished product. I took a few, and then went back for a couple more, having six in all. There was no meaning to having six, and one was more yellow than green or blue, but it was something I needed to have for my board.

**My board was supposed to be a reflection of the two Gospel women we’d thought about all week. I was drawn to a different suggestion by Sister Sue and that was how I was related to them, how I saw myself, and this became more of a vision board or a me board – things I am, things I want to be, things that can be, a positive meditation.

5. When I excitedly approached the Scrabble tiles, I was looking for a K, my first initial. When I got there, I began to touch the tiles, turning them over to see which letters were available. I stopped looking for the K, and began to think about the reflections and the readings, and I don’t know why but I wanted Writer. It wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t until I returned to my seat to lay out the board that I moved the R off to the side. The question arose in the design: Am I a writer? Is it more important to be a WRITER? Or is it more important to do the writing regardless of status? Being a writer is something important – being published, being liked, but the writing calls to me. It is always there; it has always been there.

6. The foam stars and circles were just fun. I definitely only wanted green and yellow. The foam is squishy, and somehow childlike. I am also reminded of the stars and the moon in the sky. I have a real affinity for the full moon shining down on me as I sleep.

*** Last summer I tried to do something like this with my two youngest kids. I picked out fabric and doodads. I had them pick some out as well. We did it on cork with pushpins. It was nice for about a day and a half, and then they all fell apart. After this experience, I may try and do it again with them using glue instead of the tacks. They enjoyed it, and it expressed who they are and their likes and dislikes.

7. Of course, I found some butterfly cutouts from a greeting card. The same as the wing, they are for my mother, and the nature of the butterfly. Their freedom, their color, their strength amidst their delicateness.

8. The fabrics. The blue bud surrounded by the green spidery leaves matched one of the butterflies on the card. I knew I only wanted two buds. I don’t know why. I usually take things in threes or fours. The green fabric had leaves and sticks crisscrossing each other. I began to cut out a pile of sticks in that crisscross, campfire pattern when I noticed that the sticks made a K. I had found my initial after all, so I cut it and placed it in the upper left hand corner. I toyed with the idea of outlining it in a green Sharpie, but I decided to simply leave it as is. I knew what it was. Most people would notice the letter K. I liked it’s surprise and it’s simplicity. I added one larger leave in the lower right hand corner from the same fabric.

****When I got home, there was a parcel waiting for me – my always keep fighting shirt. This one offers to love yourself first. Much like on an airplane when the oxygen mask comes down, you put it on yourself so you can help others. It’s also important to not forget that we are important. Me. I am important and I am valued, and deserve some time to take care of me. That is why I go on these retreats, these reflective workshops. I have also been reading Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love, his newest exhortation and in around the third or fourth chapter, he expresses this very thing – love yourself first. That isn’t to say be selfish, but be who you are and love that person.

9. To the fabric, I added the green feather. I’m often attracted to feathers. They fall off birds, they are added onto Native American garments and mean many things. I have some feathers on my dream catcher that my friend gifted me with. Feathers are also used as fletches for arrows and as a Sagittarius, I try to follow the bow. The arrow is also known for flying straight, finding its mark, and not leading us astray.

10. I don’t think there was a concrete reason for taking the green straw. I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to glue down, but I wanted it. Maybe it is something of nest building. perhaps it is taking something that is not much of anything and turning it into something of beauty and reflected joy.I don’t know, but I also don’t think the the board would work without it.

****So much from so many littles.

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50-1 – Turning Fifty

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This is the second week of the second month, and I had anticipated being so much far along in my reflections. I’m still not sure how I want these to flow; I just feel that my fiftieth year deserves something a little special; a little different; a little more.

My age has always been one of those oddities for me. Between not caring at all and caring too much, I can never remember how old I am without doing the math. Being born in December, I was always the youngest in high school and college, having just made the cut off to attend school in my year. My middle son is usually the youngest (October birthday) in his class and my daughter is usually the oldest (January).  One of my closest college friends was born in January, so he and I were quite literally one year apart. At my first job in the early childhood field, I remained the youngest or at least close to the youngest for most of my tenure there.  Things evened out a little bit after my first son was born with colleagues and other parents in school, but I still tended to be one of the oldest in any give group. Even now I am either the youngest (at church or the Red Hats) or the oldest (at any other school or friend function.) My closest friends are in their mid-twenties/thirties.

I don’t know how I feel about the whole age thing.

I already feel adrift, falling somewhere between baby boomers and gen Xers, a forgotten generation of sorts. Too old and practical for my twenty-something friends, and too flighty and culture savvy for my aged peers.

People laugh and think it’s vanity that I can never remember my age. It’s not intentional; it’s just never been important enough to stay on my mind. Oh, I knew 18 and 21, 25 and 30. Forty didn’t bother me like I was told it would, but 41 made me cry, pretty much all year. Forty-one was tragic. I looked forward to 42 – my Douglas Adams birthday as I called it, and I expressed my age that year every chance I could. But after that….it feels like a countdown, and I don’t like to dwell on it or that I’m not quite where I wanted to be at 49. It didn’t help that 45 came with the baggage of a heaping pile  of a previously unknown and undiagnosed severe  case of depression and anxiety that is finally beginning to stay on the track it’s supposed to be on.

One thing that I do enjoy lately is that we’ve have hit the moment pop culturally where most of my favorite television shows have actors around my age: Misha Collins-ish,Jensen Ackles (at least they’re not twenty), Norman Reedus, Alan Cumming, Robert Downey, Jr, John Barrowman. (Notice the obvious lack of women/actresses in my age group to look up to, though.)

At the end of the year, I will be 50, and I wonder what that means. I’m beginning this series of reflections. My aim is to do about fifty of these, originally planned for one a week, and I’m not going to worry about it being the second week of the second month. I’m going to go with the flow. Some of the time. This is the year of positive thinking. I’m just going to trudge on, and make my way through this year, paying attention, noticing, writing, and moving forward.

Always moving forward.

I am in good company, however:

This past weekend, the Super Bowl turned 50.

In September, Star Trek, one of my most formative childhood and adolescent guides to my world will also be 50. Star Trek formed and inspired my creativity, my writing, my thoughts about the future and space travel (I was born during the Apollo age), and my never-ending love of science fiction, which begat fantasy. Star Trek was very important in my life.

NOW (National Organization for Women) was founded.

Batman: The Movie was released and was soon followed by the television show.

UFWOC (United Farm Workers Organizing Committee) founded.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas aired for the first time.

The first Kwanzaa was celebrated.

Nolan Ryan made his debut in the big leagues with the NY Mets (my favorite team. I grew up near Shea Stadium.)

The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) was formed at author Diana Paxson’s graduation party at UC-Berkeley. The name was created by author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Like Star Trek, the SCA was a tremendous influence and inspiration in showing me new worlds, new people, and new skills like costuming and jewelry making. (It’s kind of amazing how many of my life’s influences were born the same year as I was.)

Days of Our Lives premiered.

The Supreme Court case that brought us the Miranda warning to our collective vocabulary and basic civil rights was decided.

The start of Medicare.

The Department of Transportation was created.

The Black Panthers formed.

Pampers creates the first disposable diaper, and I for one, can’t thank them enough.

Last Night

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Frying chicken in (peanut) oil.

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Fried chicken tenders

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Frying latkes (potato pancakes) in oil

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My dinner: fried chicken tenders, latkes, applesauce, and sour cream.

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At the table with the menorah

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There is something amazing that feeds my soul about the taste of applesauce mixed with sour cream on the crispy on the outside, soft on the inside latke

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Dreidl and gelt

I Remember…Chanukah

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This is my daughter’s dresser. I don’t know how her clothes fit in here. With the closet and the pjs under her bed, sweaters in the basket next to the dresser, she manages to get it all in. Mostly. This was my dresser when I was a baby, but what I remember this dresser most for was hat it sat in the living room of our NYC apartment (and later of our suburban house). In our two bedroom apartment it was placed against one long wall directly across from our green patterned sofa. During Passover, we’d walk along it on our way to leave a glass of wine for Elijah on the radiator.

In front of the radiator was a television stand, one of those carts with wheels that our television sat on. I remember sitting on that sofa watching Fonzie jump over a shark on Happy Days (although I think that it’s the sofa I’m remembering and not the apartment.) I also remember spending a day or two curled up there, under a warm blanket when I was sick and stayed home from school. It is a comforting memory of warm soup or mashed sweet potatoes with butter and the television.

Behind the television cart is a medium sized picture window that I can still see my brother and I looking out of while we were home with the chicken pox. When we recovered, my sister got them. Some things we didn’t mind sharing more than others.

What I remember most about that dresser, though is the three little piles of Chanukah presents on the floor in front of it, waiting to be opened each night after we lit the candles on the menorah. The menorah was placed on the dining room table on a small sheet of aluminum foil. My mother would never put the burning candles on the dresser; they might start a fire. As the oldest and the only one attending Hebrew school as it were, it was probably my job to do most of the lighting. The candles came in a box of forty-four, different colors that were randomly chosen each night and lit, reading the prayer from the side of the box. We might sing a song and play dreidl. My cousins lived in the same garden apartment complex so they were probably around more often then not. We went to the same shul where we learned the songs and traditions of the holidays. I thought I remembered it differently but when I saw those cousins recently they had the same memories of music in the school basement and we kids not being allowed into the temple on the High Holidays. We used to play in the parking lot, which seems a ludicrous idea today.

Describing the gifts as a pile makes it seem much bigger than it actually was. Yes, there were eight gifts, but they were all small things. Each one wrapped carefully in white paper adorned with multi-hued blue Stars of David and dreidls. We would of course get dreidls and gelt, probably on the first night. One of my favorite things about celebrating Chanukah today is the taste of the gelt. It’s not anything fancy or special but it tastes exactly the same as it did when I was a schoolgirl. My kids wonder why I won’t share mine with them. After all, they each get their own bag of gelt.

Choosing which gift to open was a several minute decision making process. Picking each package up, shaking it slightly, bringing it to my ear as if I would hear something or smell something underneath the packaging and the paper. Nothing was hidden; it was all wrapped around whatever the shape of the package was. Shake the rectangular box. Should I open the Barbie doll shaped package? Or the Barbie doll clothes shaped package? There might have been puzzles and books too. No Nintendo. No tablets. No smartphones. What a simple, beautiful time that holiday was. Everyone in our court had an electric menorah in their windows or their curtains were open and we could see the candles burning deep inside their apartments.

There were also latkes to look forward to. They came from a box, but after mixing and refrigerating and then frying them in the pan, they were as homemade as they could be. The house smelled of the oil, and they were eaten hot with applesauce and sour cream. Back then, they were the only thing that I ate sour cream with. When I cook them today for my family, I still use vegetable oil. They are the only things that I cook in vegetable oil. I tried olive once, but the smell didn’t work for me, so I went back to the usual vegetable oil and they were perfect. Applesauce and sour cream could give any kind of potato pancake that latkes taste, even frozen or those triangles from Arby’s, but there is nothing like the real thing, frying them alongside the burning candles on the dining room table.

For the holiday we celebrate in our family with my children, we keep Chanukah separate from Christmas. That is my personal thing; pet peeve if you will; the one tradition I don’t want to share. I’m fine with families that celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas; we’re one of them, but I prefer to keep the two separate even when they fall in the same week. My personal feeling is that it keeps their significance and their importance significant, and important. For Chanukah, we don’t give eight presents anymore. Some years they might get one larger gift on the first night, but most years they get a new dreidl and a bag of gelt. Some years they get stickers or pencils or an extra something, but we still keep it a little simpler.

Simple, minimalist, centered on the eight candles burning like they kept the fire burning in the temple for eight days until the oil could get there. Just like Christmas, it is a reminder of a time long ago, a history that we forget too often, and the simplicity of working together and taking care of each other.

That’s what this dresser reminds me of – my family and all the special things they taught me, especially when they weren’t trying to teach me anything at all.

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Happy Chanukah.