Welcome Christmas, come this way

I have survived the holiday marathon. I’m now panting and depleted at the finish line, but I’m here. I made it. It was sketchy there for a while – my resources were dwindling rapidly at the end – but I staggered through the tape, and now, after a few swigs of metaphorical Gatorade and a good night’s sleep, I am ready to go on. It’ll take the whole of this 4-day respite from work to completely recover, but now I know I’ll be okay, and knowing I won’t have to go through it again for another year is cause for much celebration and rejoicing.

I don’t hate Christmas. I’m not one of those people. I’m not the Grinch. I’m not even the Grinch’s distant relative. I like the music, the lights, seeing people I don’t normally see in the year. I like the presents, even, though not the greed and commercialism, but…whatever. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I like selecting just the right things for the people I care about, and I enjoy receiving gifts from the people who care about me.

I love the magic feeling of Christmas Eve, and I like Christmas Day. Christmas Eve morning I’ll listen to the broadcast of the Christmas Eve service at King’s College Cambridge, and Christmas Eve I’ll watch the service from the Vatican before I go to bed. Those two things I’ve done every year of my adult life and that continuity is important to me.

Those kinds of things – Christmas with Conniff, the record that for me is the soundtrack of Christmas; at least one viewing each of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Holiday Affair, The Bishop’s Wife, Holiday Inn, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas; my grandmother’s little artificial Christmas tree with the little angel topper that’s as old as I am; my mother’s Santa collection, some favored Christmas tree ornaments that are two big to go on the little tree, so they hang from the mantle in between our stockings, and a little Santa holding a string of tiny Christmas lights that I’ve had since college that lights up when you touch him – help me to remember the people I loved who were here for other Christmases, and to remember who I am.

It’s that last part that’s important. I get overwhelmed by all the people and emotion of the season – all the get-togethers, the hugs, the smiling – I love it all and I love my friends and co-workers, but it wrings me out like a sponge and leaves me a little twisted and dry.  The disruption of routine is a little hard to get through, too, with mom and work and trying to get to the gym and eat properly. I’ve only been to the gym 3 times in the last two weeks. Last weekend I took a couple of long walks as the weather here was blessedly un-wintry for a couple of weeks, and that was helpful.

Exercise and writing and photography and reading are the things that fill me up, and the hard part about October, November and December is that there isn’t much time left over for any of those things because of all the hoopla. Hoopla wears me out. Not only is it just too too for me, it denies me the time to for the un- things like unwinding, and unstressing, and un-overwhelming (de-overwhelming?). Throw in the crap weather and it’s just downright challenging for my tender parts.

But here I am. Finally. It’s the Saturday before Christmas. All my shopping is long done (very short list) and all the friending is over. All the smiling, laughing, hugging, thanking, feeling is over for me. Four days of sleeping in, eating Christmas cookies, turkey and apple pie (with cheese) and drinking Irish Creme (a friend’s family recipe that I look forward to every year), watching movies, reading, playing cards, long walks (I hope), and hanging out with mom stretch ahead and I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Whatever you’re doing the next 4 days, I hope it’s wonderful and whatever you hope it to be.

Merry, Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Shine a light


On my way to work this morning I passed a semi-truck with Christmas lights strung across the grill and the windows of the cab. It was still dark and they were wonderful – so colorful and sparkly. So unexpected. The truck could be from almost anywhere, (we were on a US highway), and headed who knows where, but for one second, our paths crossed, and the driver, who I will never meet, put a smile on my face, because he took the time to do something fun and offered it to the world as a gift.

I love that! I like people like that. I would like to be like that. I am lucky to have friends who are like that, and that spontaneity, sense of humor/fun and generosity of spirit is exactly what I love about them most.

People often disappoint me. I get discouraged when I make the mistake of reading the news or hanging out on Facebook or Twitter too much. Or when I overhear a situation in which someone is being treated without respect, or bullied, or thought to be “less than” for some reason. Or when I encounter someone – usually in traffic – who appears to think only of themselves, and in doing so treats the people around them as though their needs don’t matter. There is no shortage of reported instances – especially in the United States lately – in which people are less than kind to each other.

This is when I start thinking of other people as “them” or “those people.” Of course, I know there is only US – ALL of us. There is no “them.” We are all human and sometimes wonderful, sometimes horrible. It’s a package deal. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, though.

I have to take a step back and think: do I do all those things I listed in the paragraph above? Absolutely. Not intentionally, at least as an adult, but I do, and that’s true of most of us, probably. I am the least perfect person I know.

Life is hard, and harsh and sometimes we humans buckle under the weight of life and act less kindly or patiently than we hope to. Sometimes I say or do things that make me cringe, and I disappoint myself, cuz that’s just not who I want to be. In the heat of the moment, though, especially if I feel threatened, some ugly black thing slithers out of me before I know it.

Perhaps that’s the worst part about being human. It’s in most of us, I wager: that ugly black assemblage of past hurts and slights and mistreatment. It’s so disappointing. With a few notable exceptions, I guess, we all have our moments. And I’ll bet even Mother Theresa and Ghandi had those moments at some point in their lives, too. They were human, and it comes with the territory.

But, there’s so much more.

The best part of being human – putting Christmas lights on your truck to spread some cheer, just because you can – is in us, too. We’re all trying our best in difficult circumstances, but sometimes we do better than that. Humans are creative and loving and kind, too. This time of year, especially, there are instances of the best humans can be and that’s heartening.

I’m not any of those “best” things often enough anymore, though, and seeing those lights this morning helped me realize that. Decades battling depression and the stress of the last few years have dimmed that light in me.

I accept that I’m a work in progress, and I have to remember that about everyone else, too. We’re all just doing the best we can, but sometimes someone does something good that reminds us that we can do even better.

My lights are dim, perhaps, but they’re not out completely, and I’m going to make it my goal this next year to figure out how to get the spark going again. We can all do it. Give expression to that fun, loving, creative part of ourselves and see what comes out. Figure out what we have to offer the world and give it freely.

Whatever I come up with probably won’t make a bit of difference in the world, but I hope it makes a difference in me. I hope it takes me another step closer to the person I’d like to be. I hope, too, that whatever I have to offer has the impact on someone else that the anonymous truck driver had on me this morning. In that way maybe we can change the world, one person at a time, one light at a time.

Let it begin with me.

Sweatin’ to the oldies


I went to the gym last night after work. After 60 seconds or so, I remembered what it is I hate about going to the gym.

It’s not the exercise. I don’t mind that. I feel so much better when I’m moving regularly, and I know I have to do it if I’m going to keep my blood pressure down without meds. They have some nice spinning bikes at this gym, and I like the step machine. Also, as cycling is a non-weight bearing exercise and I’m a woman of a certain age, I’m looking forward to some strength training.

It’s not even the inconvenience of having to get my workout clothes together in the morning, remember to put them in the car, go somewhere after work when I’m tired and hungry, change from boots and winter clothes to a tee-shirt, tights and tennies in a bathroom stall, then climb back into a cold car and drive home sweaty an hour later, freezing in said tee-shirt and tights. That’s all a pain, but whatever. I’m good at organization and routine. I’ve got this.

It’s not the music, but…ack! I’m old. I get that it’s what’s the thing now, but…just…ACK! MP3 player and ear buds in the gym bag next time. I recently subscribed to Audible.com, so maybe an audiobook, or maybe just some good 70s rock and roll. We’ll see. I don’t like earbuds, but I think the odds of the 20-something owner ever choosing music I like are so slim it’s not worth thinking about.

It’s a little bit the germs. I have hand sanitizer that I use frequently while I’m there, and the gym provides something in a spray bottle that you spray on the equipment when you’re done and then towel off (with towels that look like they’ve been chewed by hamsters), so I’m doing all I can do minimize the chance that I’m going to get sick from trying to be healthy, but still…ew. Not a deal-breaker, though. I’ve had my flu shot. I’ll be fine.

There are things I like about this particular gym. There’s a dog named Elle, who is just lovely and likes to be petted and talked to, and there aren’t a lot of people at that time, which surprises me cuz when I used to go to the gym 20 years ago 4-6 pm was the most popular time. Also, I knew two of the people who were there working out when I was, and one of them showed me how to turn on one of the machines I wanted to use.

And…wait! That’s what it is: I felt stupid. I don’t remember how to use the weight machines and I can’t figure out even how to turn on the cardio machines.

I used to know about the gym, but that was a long time ago and I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Thank goodness a friend was there and he offered to help. When I go again on Friday (complicated mid-week, so a couple of turns on the treadmill at work will have to suffice until then) I’ll ask the owner for help. He offered when I first got there, but he’s young and good-looking, so of course I was cool, and said I was all set.

***finger gun at head***


I hate that feeling. I hate feeling new. Dumb, not knowing. Uncool. I have been uncool all my life and now mostly I couldn’t care less what people think of me, but still sometimes that familiar feeling of humiliation trips me up.  Sometimes I just want to be suave and cool and hip and fun and pretty and all those other “I-fit-in-with-people-and-they-like-me” words. In a situation like last night, suddenly I’m 8 years old and the cool kids are all doing something I don’t know how to do (or more likely, not allowed to do as my mother was VERY strict), and I feel different and dumb and generally unworthy to draw breath.


I have to step back and remind myself that I’m not 8 years old anymore, and I’m doing fine just the way I am, thank you very much, and not knowing how to do something does not make me unworthy of anything. I just have to ask someone to teach me. I’m not dumb or different from anyone there, really. I may be older, but hey – points for me for dragging my old butt out in the snow after a long day to do something I know I have to do to take care of myself.

In a couple of weeks – maybe sooner – I’ll be comfortable going there, and maybe I’ll have the opportunity to help someone who’s new after the holidays when everyone shows up at the gym to attempt to keep their New Year’s resolutions.

Most importantly, I’ll live a long time. That’s what matters. I’m doing something good for myself and I’m paying for the privilege, so I have to go. Period. I’ll enjoy it, cuz I choose to. I’m not doing this for anyone else, so it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.

The dog likes me, after all. That’s all I need.




My lucky day


Yesterday I was at our Annual All-Staff Meeting, an all-day affair held at a resort nearby, with a speaker and catered lunch and awards and activities. The speaker was really good. He did magic tricks, and told jokes while educating us (roughly 150 people) about communicating. He made us laugh and we learned something – most of it we all know, but it’s always good to be reminded. Communicating with people is the heart and soul of what we do here at Acme Health Services, so it can’t be stressed enough.

The meeting was okay – I won a gift card (!), and the self-defense class was really cool. We had pictures taken (my hair looked like rats spit on it, of course), and the admin staff said really nice things about the work we do and the difference we make in our communities. Yay us!

But the best part was after the meeting when the real communicating and magic took place. As we do every year, a select group of us sashayed across the snow and took up most of the seats in a small bar at the resort. We drank and ate and laughed and just had so much fun. We’ve all known each other and worked together for a long time, and that’s our one opportunity a year to all be together.

We have 5 office locations, so many of the people I work with daily via email and phone – some of whom I have worked with for the last 18 years – I only see on that one day. Not to mention the retirees, most of whom were my friends before they left work. It’s like the best kind of a reunion, and it does my heart good. Every year I am able to set aside all my worries on that one day and just revel in fun and laughter with people I like and care about. I’m out of town, and I don’t have my car, so even if something happened at home, I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I’m not responsible for taking care of whatever might be going on at home and the office is closed. On that one day, I’m free.

We all are. It’s more of a day off than a weekend or vacation day, in fact, cuz we’re required to be away from home, but we’re not working. I had told mom I would be home to make her dinner, but then as the afternoon progressed it was clear I wasn’t going to be. I wasn’t driving, so even if I wanted to leave (I didn’t) I couldn’t.

So I called her around 5 and told her I thought I would be home around 7 and if she wanted me to make her dinner then I’d be happy to, and then I gently suggested if she didn’t want to wait for me she could make her own dinner, which she is capable of now and again, certainly. It doesn’t take a lot of thought or energy to do baked potatoes in the microwave, after all. And I said I’d do the dishes when I got home.

I didn’t feel guilty as I don’t leave her on her own like that often, and she didn’t try to make me feel guilty, either, which was just amazing, really. That felt like more magic! Even a year ago, she would have done the full martyr act and tried to ruin my day. The last 5 years on meeting day I simply made arrangements to be home in time for dinner, because I didn’t want to deal with all that. Yesterday, though, she simply said, “Okay, I’ll decide. Be safe and come when you can.”

Wow! Who was that masked woman? Who are you and what have you done with my mother? When I got home she was pleasant and asked about the meeting and was happy I’d had such a great day. I made dinner for both of us, did the dishes and we watched a movie together before I went to bed.

This is the mother I have been waiting for my whole life. She set aside her own agenda so that I could do something that made me happy. Folks, that hasn’t happened in the almost 57 years I’ve known that woman, and it’s no small thing, I’ll tell you. I feel like I won the lottery or something. Winning that gift card was cool, but it pales in comparison to the other prize I got yesterday – a mother who is on my side, interested in my happiness, not just hers, and willing to compromise so we can both be happy.

Stunning, really, and I can’t explain the change, and it may not last, but I’m not going to question it. What a wonderful thing. Makes me feel that these last 6 years have not only served the purpose of keeping my mother in her home and as healthy as possible, but have also served to repair our relationship, and that’s a gift that is beyond any I’ve ever hoped for. It makes this whole experience feel less like a trial and more like an opportunity, and for that I’m very grateful.

Life is just so amazing – lows so low you think you’ll never rise again, and highs so high you’re flying. It’s all part of the same beautiful thing, though. Right now I wouldn’t give up any of it. Days like yesterday make all the bad days fade in memory. They’ll be back, of course, but I’ll hang on to this feeling for as long as I can and it’ll soften the blow of whatever harsh blow life has in store in the coming days, weeks, and years.

Now…what am I going to spend that gift card on?!


Growing pain


I had a revelation about my personality last night, thanks to the pretty little girl above, Clare. Well, not exactly because of her; it was really more her claws. Her needle-sharp, very long claws.

She sets up camp on my legs in the evening when I’m watching TV. I have my feet up on an ottoman, and that provides her with the perfect platform. This is fine with me. Grace is not often snuggly, so Clare’s propensity to contact is and has always been welcome. She’s a “person” cat. She is either sitting with (or on) me or mom if we are stationary. She’s warm, and silky soft and she purrs so loudly I’m sure the neighbors can hear her. She’s my baby and I adore her.

Less welcome are her claws, which she uses to “knead” my legs when she’s getting settled. A common enough cat thing – every cat I’ve had it has done it, though Clare is the first cat I’ve had that does it on me. It hurts. Really. I try to encourage her gently not to use her claws, and sometimes when I say “soft paws,” she pulls her claws in and then no worries. But that happens rarely; mostly it’s full-claw massage/torture.

Did I mention it hurts? Not a big thing, but not a small thing, either. I don’t make her get down because I love having her sit with me. But it hurts, and leaves marks. I just endure it. I’m clear about why I allow it to happen: because I love that she wants to sit with me. So the pain is worth it.

The revelation I had was about how I allow people to hurt me, and for the same reason. I like to have friends. So, for much of my life, to my mind, that was the price of admission. If you’re going to have people in your life, you’re going to get hurt. Hopefully not a lot, and not seriously, but sooner or later it will happen. Right?

Yes, sometimes. The problem is when it happens all the time, and the relationship is not worth the pain. I’m getting better at recognizing those relationships, and ending them or making an attempt to change the dynamic by letting the person know what’s bothering me. In recent years, I’ve also developed a Spidey-sense about the kind of person who is likely to treat me as less than I deserve and I avoid those relationships from the start. So that’s all good.

My revelation was about the past:

I just wanted people to like me, and I thought if I made it hard for them by complaining about how they treated me, they would leave me.

Easy, right? Duh. I mean really: DUH. Abandonment. Major button for me – for lots of people. Not weakness. Not a character flaw or moral failing.

Here’s what amazes me most about that revelation: I was in therapy for 3 years, and I don’t remember ever understanding that part of me so clearly or in those terms. It must have come up, but I didn’t really get it, I guess. I certainly didn’t see that it was so simple. To me, now, having that understanding seems like a big piece of the puzzle that is me fell into place.

It is now, and has always been, my choice. Just as putting up with the way my mother treated me when I was younger and occasionally treats me now – I choose to overlook it and do the right thing by her because I can. I wouldn’t allow a friend to treat me that way, but she’s my mother, so she gets a pass. She struggles with her own demons – it’s not about me. That is something I got from therapy. I’m clear about that. So I’m strong enough now and sure enough about who I am that I can look past the hurt and just get on with it.

I’ve been patting myself on the back this morning over what I perceive as growth and maturity and insight – all those wonderful “adult” words. Such a nice thing – out of the blue. Not even something I was thinking or puzzling about particularly. I love it when that happens!

Do we ever get all the answers? Figure it all out? When we die, does someone hand us the answer key to the test? I certainly hope so.

Seems only fair.

Only 7? Cool!


Who knew? I guess we all did probably, but man, are they hard to remember. Then you’ve got the 10 Commandments, and the 7 Deadly Sins. Yikes! There’s a lot to keep in mind.

In my experience, these seven rules work pretty well. Fairly simple to write down and post on Pinterest, I guess, but not so easy to live by. For me, one of the hardest is #5 – Don’t compare your life to others, comparison is the thief of joy. That is just so true it glows. Facebook and Instagram make that rule even harder than it ever was to keep a handle on. Those two bandits sneak right in and grab your happiness so quick it defies logic. Look how much fun (money, sex, family, friends, whatever) everyone’s having – what’s wrong with me?

The truth is they’re probably not having that much fun or whatever, either, but if they really are, good for them! Has nothing to do with me. Unless it’s someone I know and care about and I can be happy for their happiness or good fortune, those happy, shiny people photos don’t mean a single thing to me in my life at all.

I went to the doc yesterday for a 6-month check-up and it didn’t really go that well. My blood pressure is through the roof again, I’ve gained a little bit of weight and my cholesterol and triglycerides are climbing again. I feel okay and have been doing well mentally and emotionally the past few weeks, but the numbers don’t lie, and I’m going to have to do something about it. That just really p*sses me off, cuz I had been doing really well with all that stuff, and now here it is again. I. Can’t. Catch. A. Fecking. Break.

It made me angry, and anxious, and I didn’t sleep very well last night – I’m going to have a stroke! I’m going to die! – but this morning I feel a little more reasonable and I know what I have to do and I accept that I have to do it. We all know someone who smoked and drank everyday, ate whatever they wanted, never exercised and yet still lived to be 100, right? Yeah, well, that’s not going to be me. Bad genes, mostly, but also a general winter laziness and fondness for sweets are my burdens to bear. Never mind all the fat people who do what they want and still live forever, I have to exercise and lay off the pastries if I want to live to be 100, and I do.

Thinking that I’ll be okay because I’m doing better than someone I work with who weighs twice what I do, or someone who doesn’t exercise at all ever – I rode my bike over 1000 miles this summer, after all – is not serving me well. Forget joy, comparing myself to other people in this way is likely to steal my health, if not my life, and I need to just get over it. Do what needs to be done. Period. Suck it up, Buttercup. Figure out a way to get some exercise this winter. Say “no” to the goodies in the break room everyday (and the lovely blueberry scones that call to me in the grocery store bakery every week).

Surely I can manage those two things again. I wish I didn’t have to, cuz geez, I hate going to the gym, and OMG, do I love sugar cookies (and scones). I have to do what’s right for me – in all things – and just not think about what other people are doing. It’s right for them – great! Not right for me. Oh well.

That’s life.



I’ll be home for Christmas

I realized this morning that I’ve never spent Christmas eve or Christmas day anywhere other than in the living room of the house I grew up in, and that at 56, that’s a pretty remarkable thing to say. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but there it is. My parents moved into that house in 1958 and my mother and I still live there. Though I’ve had my own home since I was in college, I have never had a family of my own, so no matter where I was living, I always came “home” for Christmas. This will be my 56th Christmas in the little house in this little northern Michigan town.

I moved back in with mom in 2012 after my father’s death in November of that year. We experienced Thanksgiving and Christmas without him for the first time. I remember Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember that Christmas. My dad was a Christmas freak and even though in the years before dementia had stolen a little bit of him each year, he was still there to celebrate with mom and me. We still put up the big tree and all the decorations, and we went to Christmas Eve mass and sang the carols and the hymns, ate cookies and opened presents. Ever since I can remember we went out to dinner on Christmas Day. The number of people at the table fluctuated over the years, but the 3 of us were always together, including that last year before he died.

Mom and I don’t do any of that anymore. We have a little tree, and a few favored decorations we put up, but it is a much more muted affair, and that’s the way we both prefer it. We don’t exchange gifts. My dad was the heart of our family’s Christmas, and it just isn’t the same without his joy in the holiday.

I don’t remember what we did that first year, or specifically how I felt, but I know it was hard.  We didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve, but we did go to dinner the following day, and I’m sure someone at the restaurant we had been going to for nearly 50 years asked us about dad, and I’m sure I said something socially acceptable about his death, but I don’t really remember any of it.

I say all the time – and it’s true – that my dad’s death was a relief; that I had lost my father to dementia years before his physical body was gone. When he died he hadn’t known my name or that I was his daughter for years. He had been my hero, my buddy, my most cherished person all my life, and though I loved him and did the best I could for him right to the end, my Daddo was lost to me, and I mourned for a long time. Before and after he died.

My grandmother had died 20 years prior to that and that nearly did me in. I was lost for a long time without her, but I survived and went on, of course. My father’s death was a different experience. I was older and better settled and as I say, it was not the father I knew who died. He had been gone a long time.


I have wonderful memories of Christmases spent in that living room in that little house in this little town, including those spent with my mother the last 6 years. Different is not necessarily bad. There will be a time, presumably, when I will not be decorating that living room, and the little tree will be lighted in my own little house across town, or maybe in another town, and it will just be me and the cats singing carols and enjoying the lights. Will that be next year or 10 years from now? Who knows?

That’s the thing about Christmas and the New Year celebrations; they are fraught with memories of holidays past, and beckon to all that may be ahead in the coming year. So much emotion. It’s overwhelming to me sometimes. I think about my Nana and my dad and how much I miss them, and all the friends who are no longer on my Christmas list. All those memories – the good and the not-so-good – have sharp edges, and I have to be careful and remember that while it’s wonderful to remember the past, life is here and now, and that’s where my attention belongs.

Laugh and rejoice in the past, and let the tears flow. Then take a deep breath, blow my nose, and look around. This is what’s real. My mother is here now, and that’s all. This could very well be her last Christmas – or not – or it could be mine. We don’t know the future. So I owe her my love and attention in the moments we have now. That’s the best thing I can give her: my patience, understanding, and love. The past is gone. The future beckons, and will be here soon enough.

In the meantime – the nowtime – I’m going to try to appreciate fully my 56th Christmas in the living room in the little house in the little town that has been a constant in my life, fully cognizant that there may not be a 57th. And I’m going to continue to try to give my mother the gift of forgiveness, understanding and patience, and in return I hope she will offer me the same.

And when my dad’s favorite Christmas song comes on the radio – the one I could never get the harmony quite right on, but he never cared – I’ll cry a little and be grateful that I knew such a wonderful man, and think about all the fun we had together and how much I miss him.

Then I’ll sing to the next one, too. Maybe it’ll be a new one, and the harmony will be easier.

Merry Christmas.