May you find some zen, some quiet, some relaxation this Mother’s Day!
Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite moms out there!
May you find some zen, some quiet, some relaxation this Mother’s Day!
Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite moms out there!
I was born with a sunny disposition. Just ask my mother. She always marveled to anyone who’d listen that “Jane was such a happy baby. She never cried. Ever. We took her to the doctor when she was 6 months old because we were worried she might be retarded or something.”
Yep. That’s my mom.
But I am. Happy, that is. Most all of the time. I’ve had my share of down moments but they rarely last long. And that is such a blessing. It truly is. My extended family is riddled with mental illness so I’ve seen the consequences first hand. I don’t want any part of it.
As I mentioned Wednesday, December was a &%!#$. Really. Awful. Struggles in all areas of my life. Financial. Marriage. Friends. Family. Even kids. Things so personal I would never, ever mention them here. You’ll have to let your imagination run wild. And quite honestly, my real life friends and family have no clue either. Only my therapist knows the deepest, darkest. I’m, believe it or not, a private person. (That sounds so funny from someone who blogs their life to the masses, doesn’t it?)
I am private about the deepest, darkest. I think because I don’t want to seem like someone who wallows in self-pity. I know it’s because I don’t want to be perceived as weak. Strong was always valued by my father. Letting things roll right off your back. Pick yourself up and move forward. “You’ll get over it,” was his common refrain. We used to joke that would be his epitaph — “They’ll get over it.”
Back to this past December.
I’ve heard, over and over, how tough the holidays are for some. The pressure. The strain. The in-laws and dysfunctional family get togethers. The financial pressure to measure up. To buy, buy, buy. The social obligations. Forced “Happy Holiday” greetings through gritted teeth.
The logical side of my brain got it. The emotional side of my brain didn’t.
That delicious time (and I do mean delicious) between Thanksgiving and New Years is my hands-down favorite time of the year. I live for it. I hum Christmas carols all year round. I start buying for next year (mostly out of necessity but that doesn’t make it any less fun) as soon as January hits.
And thank goodness, especially this year, that I enjoy December so much.
I said to my therapist, that if it weren’t for the fact that I love the holidays, I just might have slit my wrists. I’m not being flippant. I’m not trying to minimize anyone else’s pain out there. I’m trying to say the emotional part of my brain finally got it this year.
Now before you start worrying your pretty little heads – no one has cancer. Our home is not in foreclosure. It was just (Ha! Just. As if.) a bombardment of yucky, crappy things. A new one each day. For a little over three weeks. Every. Single. Day. From the vacuum cleaner breaking (a ridiculously expensive central vac system) to friendships crumbling to burst water pipes and …… well, I mentioned I’m private. I’m stopping there.
Every day it was something new. It got to the point that I’d wake up and say, “So God (or is it the devil?), what are you going to throw at me today?”
I’d start mumbling mantras: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
But that got old.
I’d start preparing and imagining for the worst every time the phone rang or we’d step into the car (Did I mention my husband’s car getting smashed in a parking lot? That was an eventful day.)
But that just put my stomach into knots.
Truly. If it weren’t for the joyous Christmas season – joyous for me, anyway – I never would have made it out. And there’s this little inkling in me, right this very minute, that is trying to strip away all the holiday spirit and really try to comprehend all that happened. But then there is this Superhero force that stops myself and doesn’t let me go there.
Thank goodness. Time to just forget it all and move forward.
Thank you, happy Christmas gene.
I am feeling so grateful that I lucked out with a happy Christmas gene that got me through. There are a small handful of you out there (you know who you are and to protect your privacy I’m not naming/linking here — I’m sure you understand) that suffer during this time of year or also had a particularly difficult December. I’m sending a Superhero strength anti-depression gene to anyone who needs it.
He looks a little like this:
Cute, huh? He sits snug as a …..well, penguin in your nucleus accumbens and will travel to your prefrontal cortex, your amygdala. Wherever he is needed. He doesn’t look like much. Certainly not like a Superhero (I think his tux is cleverly hiding his cape). But he’s plenty powerful, believe you me.
I had to rely on him much this holiday season. And afterwards, too.
But I’m done with him now.
(Ahhhh, if only it were that simple. Hugs to ALL of you out there. Superhero hugs from me.)
The holidays can be such a difficult time for some families. All crowded in the same house. Forcing civility. Trying each other’s patience. Accommodating. Pleasing. Or trying to please with the same childhood insecurities and failures rearing their ugly heads.
Here is a post I wrote a while ago. A little Jane’s wisdom. I am a work in progress. And so are you. Hug yourself and let go.
I’ve made a conscious decision in my adult life to focus on people who reciprocate. I don’t mean in a tit-for-tat kind of way. I don’t keep score. I have some friends from far away that make an effort to visit and some that don’t. With some friends, we need to talk a few times a week and with others we can pick up where we left off after months of no contact. I suppose my criteria is different depending on the relationship. But for the most part, it has to feel like we’re both making an effort to nurture the relationship.
A very wise man once gave me the following visual about marriage. He said that there are times when a marriage is like this – and he made a fist with one hand and covered it with the other. And then there are other times when a marriage is like this – and he reversed his hands. But for most of the journey a marriage should be like this:
He interlaced his fingers, joining them together.
That visual made such an impression on me. I was in a relationship at the time that was so lop-sided. I was co-dependently orchestrating our journey. I left that relationship – thank goodness. I’ve applied this visual to other parts of my life, both with family and friends.
I recognize that we need to carry the other person sometimes. We all have struggles in our lives where we need others to pick up the slack. And sometimes, we’re the one who needs to be carried. Being able to lean on your friends and family from time to time is essential. But for most of the time, for most of our journey, we need to be working together to nurture and care for each other.
Journeys shared are the journeys worth taking. I surround myself with people who nurture me and allow themselves to be nurtured by me. People that listen with their heart. Act with compassion and kindness. See with loving eyes.
These are the people who I make time for.
These are the people who matter most.
(Below is an edited version of a post from last season. It has the same message. And I am as passionate today about the message as when I first wrote it. It needed to be said again.)
I believe in Santa Claus.
I’m shocked when I meet someone who doesn’t.
Recently, I was perusing your blogs out there and I found not one, not two, but three blogs dedicating posts to the evils of Santa Claus.
Santa = Evil?!?
And there were comments, lots and lots of comments agreeing with them.
I was angry. I was outraged. I vowed never to read those blogs again. I started taking names to avoid reading the blogs of people agreeing with such blasphemy.
And then I stopped myself. Jane, I said to myself, You believe in God. You have friends who don’t. You read their blogs. You’re fine with their difference of opinion, faith and beliefs. You preach, “One mountain, many paths.” How can you completely disregard another blogger’s right to disagree with your belief in Santa Claus? How can ONE post nullify all the other posts you read by them and enjoyed?
So….reluctantly….because logic won with this internal struggle…..I re-bookmarked all three of those blogs and I tore up my McCarthy list.
But not without defending my stand!
When my daughter was about three-years-old a friend told me about a wonderful Santa that I absolutely must take her to. We did. He was elderly. (Of course) He had a genuine white beard and longer white hair. (Of course) He wore a red suit with shiny buttons and he sat out in his sleigh every night between Thanksgiving and December 23 (because he’s very busy on the 24th!) listening to children, finding out about their lives, helping them to narrow their lists (he only allowed 2 toys because his sleigh was only so big!) and chatted with the parents.
He must have had an eidetic memory. Through the years he would remember what school my daughter attended, her love of gymnastics, that she had a cat, even a few of the gifts he had brought her in the past. Before any of you start jumping up and down yelling, “Creepy!” I can assure you (and I’m quite sensitive to creepiness) it never, ever, ever, ever appeared creepy.
He was genuine. He was sweet. He was Santa Claus. And he did this out of the goodness of his heart. He was a member of our community – recently retired. His many acres of property were decorated with Christmas lights that brought people from miles around. He dedicated his time to help children believe in kindness, in goodness, in unconditional giving. He cared about the children in his community and took collections to “pay his light bill” and to give to the local Boys and Girls Club. He reminded them to study hard in school, mind their parents, brush their teeth. He reinforced strong values and the “real” reason for the season.
There is a 10 year age difference between my daughter and my sons. So for a time – she felt too old to see Santa in person – we skipped visiting. Oh sure, we always rode by to see the lights. If he wasn’t busy with another child he always waved to those passing by. But then we moved to another part of the county and once my boys arrived we skipped seeing Santa because we felt they were too young.
Then, they were 3 and 2 years old. They were ready! And I was so excited. I couldn’t wait for Santa to see how our daughter had grown. To meet her two new brothers. We talked to the boys about Santa. My daughter filled them in on what was to come Christmas morning. She helped them make a list. Just before we turned down the street I cried, “Let’s look for Santa!” But the street was dark. Only a porch light was on at the house. The area for parking wasn’t marked off anymore. My #1son asked, “Where Santa?” My husband quickly piped up, “Oh no! He’s not here tonight. I forget to check the schedule. I’ll bet he’s at the mall this evening.”
It’s a good thing my husband spoke up. I couldn’t. A tear made its way down my cheek.
When we got home I scoured the internet. I found our local online paper. The headline read “County Santa Will Return to the North Pole.” I was crushed. But he was getting older. His health wasn’t as good. And he just couldn’t keep up the hours anymore. He had been doing it for 13 years from 6pm until 8pm every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The article showcased parent after parent talking about all he meant to their child’s vision of Christmas and to our community.
He truly was Santa to all of us.
Santa is not about commercialism. He’s not about greed. He’s about giving for the sake of making someone else’s eyes light up. He’s about wonder and imagination. He’s about love and kindness.
And if you’re looking, you will see him. He may not be dressed up in a red suit. His beard may not have grown in. You will find his spirit in every act of generosity and grace during this wonderful season.
But you have to be willing to suspend your cynicism. You have to be willing to accept gifts without the expectation of something in return. To my knowledge, Santa doesn’t discriminate. As long as you believe, the gifts will come. Some are wrapped. Some are not. Some are obvious gifts. Some you realize as a gift only later.
But Santa is real.
If only you believe.
Traditions. Traditions. Tra-di-tions!
I never realized how essential they are to me until one is forgotten, or lost, or cancelled. Now, I make it my mission to continue old and create new traditions for our family. We have traditions that we follow throughout the year. For birthdays, for Halloween, for our favorite vacation spots. At Disney, we always start and end with Magic Kingdom. At Hilton Head, as the rest of the family is settling into the condo, I go to Fresh Market and stock up and that evening we take a long walk on the beach after dinner.
But Christmas? That’s when the traditions start the month before. This has to be my all-time-favorite season. I get into the Christmas spirit long before the actual season arrives. For goodness sake, I never put away my Christmas cds. I listen to them all year-long.
Our traditions are many…..
1. We always decorate the house on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, get our tree the weekend after and put the finishing touches on Christmas cards the week after that.
2. My mother-in-law has made us two advent calendars. One for me, a beautiful quilted piece where I add a quilted square each day until all 25 squares are completed and Christmas has arrived. One for the boys, little pockets filled with coins, candy and tiny gifts.
3. Honeybaked Ham on Christmas Eve and Turkey on Christmas Day. Only the side dishes vary. The one time I made beef tenderloin the family complained. We’re back to the traditional menu this year.
4. We always open one present on Christmas Eve and it’s always a pair of pajamas. Although, I always pretend I have no idea what we’re opening and act surprised at my own gift. (I’ve purchased all of them, for everyone, including my in-laws who share Christmas with us every year — another tradition, of sorts.)
5. We all know the reason for the season. Don’t worry about our salvation – we are well aware about the true meaning of Christmas. But Santa Claus is a really big deal in our house. My kids still believe in Santa and more importantly, I still believe in Santa. (A message to little Brandon in #2son’s class at school: I respect YOUR beliefs but if you hint/tell/try to convert my child one more time about the “myth” of Santa Claus I will come to your house, beat down your door and give your entire family a stern talking to. There is nothing wrong with teaching my children about unconditional giving and surprise and wonder.)
6. On Christmas Eve, after dinner, we all pile into the car and go enjoy the Christmas lights. A few years ago, my sons asked why they had to put on the pjs but the big people didn’t. We do this because they typically fall asleep in the car and it made it easier to slip them into bed. My mother-in-law said, “Yeah? Why don’t the big people have to put on their pjs?” So a new tradition was born. We ALL get into our jammies, pile into the car and see the Christmas lights now. God help us if the car should ever break down!
7. The kids sleep with us on Christmas Eve and they can’t leave the bedroom until we wake everyone in the house (their sister is 10 years older and the grandparents want to be in on the fun, too!).
8. We open gifts one at a time. One present at a time. Everyone taking turns. Yes, this can last hours. But this is the way our family focuses on the giving rather than the getting.
There you have it. A few of our family traditions. I would love to hear what you do to enjoy this wonderful holiday season.
What are some of your traditions?
It’s my birthday!
No. Really. It is. Today. My birthday.
Awww, don’t feel bad that you didn’t get me anything. I just sprung it on you – I gave you no time to shop. But you can make it up to me. I have an idea for a really awesome gift for yours truly. Hang on until the end of this post and I’ll let you know what it is.
You have to suffer through this little story first…
I was at the grocery store. Again. My cupboard is bare. (Little old Mother Hubbard that I am.) I have participated in 3 (count ’em, 1-2-3) canned good drives already and it’s only the first of December. So, I was at the grocery store buying “spare” canned goods for the drive this weekend. And I pulled up to a stoplight.
A man is standing there with a cardboard sign, “Stranded. Need Help!”
A woman a few cars up, rolls down her window and hands him a small wad of cash. He takes it. Nods his thanks. I’m sitting in my car with bags of canned goods. I can’t hand him a can. (I’m guessing he doesn’t have a can-opener on him) And I can’t hand him cash.
Well, I could. But I’m a Give-A-Man-A-Fish-He-Eats-For-A-Day-But-Teach-A-Man-To-Fish-He Eats-For-A-Lifetime kind of girl.
And I’m on my way to Starbucks, right across the street. (Spoiled little suburbanite – that’s me!) So, I’ll get him a coffee. It’s cold, wet and rainy. A cup of coffee will warm him up a bit.
I’m waiting in line. And it’s a scene straight out of “Animal House.”
Angel Jane: A cup of coffee? Don’t be such a cheap skate. Get him some food!
Devil Jane: Food? What he really wants is cash to support his meth habit. Put your money away.
Angel Jane: But what if he really needs help?
Devil Jane: There are two churches right down the street. Goodwill around the corner. And a whole host of other charitable organizations just itching to help someone this time of year. AND – you’ve already donated to a bunch of them already. If he needs help, it’s easy to find.
Angel Jane: A little food. What’s the harm in that? Now…how about the protein plate? Apples, cheese, hardboiled egg and grapes. It’s only $4.75!
Devil Jane: A protein plate? Are you kidding? He wants another beer I’m tellin’ ya. Now put your money away!
(I put my $10 back in my wallet and pull out a $20)
Angel Jane: She’s right. A protein plate is silly. And the Turkey/Swiss sandwich is only $5.95. Get that. It’s more filling.
Devil Jane: He wants cash. For drugs. Put that money back in your wallet!
This goes on for quite a while. The drive-thru line is long. And I’m honestly pulling out a $10, putting it back in my wallet and then pulling out a $20, putting that back and pulling out the $10 again. On and on it goes.
Finally, it’s my turn. I hand the cashier my $20. (Angel Jane won!)
“The woman ahead of you paid for your drink,” the barista says to me, “She wanted me to wish you a Merry Christmas!”
Someone pulled a Random Act of Kindness on Jane! Me! Lil’ ol’ me! Three days before my birthday! Woo-hoo!
“Then I’m really supposed to do this,” I say to the cashier. “Can I please have a turkey sandwich, as well?”
I pay for the sandwich. (Still so stunned that someone bought me a coffee that I don’t think to pay for the car behind me until I’m driving away. Doh!)
And as I’m waiting at the light to cross the intersection I see the police car picking him up. Apparently, stranded beggars are not allowed on this street corner.
So, I tried. And after that whole exchange between Angel me and Devil me I’ve decided Angel me should win. With a sandwich, at least. I will still not hand out cash but what’s the harm in handing someone a sandwich?
And did I tell you it’s my birthday?
Can you guess what I want for my birthday?
(Ah. You know me so well!)
Yes. I’d like all of you to spread a random acts over the weekend. Yes you, Angel Joe, Angel Wendy, Angel Shannon, Angel Elastamom and Angel Steven! No hiding Angel subwow, Angel Lisa, Angel Mel, Angel Jeanne, Angel Rudrip and Angel Gale. C’mon Angels Kenzie and Katybeth and Kristen and Carol. Calling Angel Thoughtsappear, Angel Aiden, Angel Teachergirl, Angel Lynn, Angel Beary, Angel Lies. And even two of my favorite, lovable (and self-proclaimed) curmudgeons Angel Shout and Angel Kitch. No ducking out on this one! (Boy. Aren’t you all sorry you welcomed me back? 😉 )
ALL of you Angel Jane readers out there – c’mon. It’ll be fun! A little joy for a stranger. It doesn’t have to be a cup of (overpriced) coffee. It could be a sandwich. Or loading their groceries while they buckle their kids in the car. Or purchasing a little poinsettia plant and leaving it anonymously on your elderly neighbor’s doorstep. You could make cookies for your local firefighters. Pay the toll for the person behind you or put quarters in the parking meter. Bring some books you’ve already read to a nursing home. Or one of your brilliant ideas. Any charitable act will do!
That’s all I want for my birthday. Because you all know how much I love a little Random Act of Kindess. Nothin’ big. Nothin’ fancy. But something that is sure to put you into the holiday spirit, too!
(Sad alert – do not read if your Christmas spirit will be in jeopardy – you have been warned!)
I spent so much time and energy wrapping myself up in the Christmas spirit and trying to be upbeat and positive about the upcoming season. But frankly, something was weighing heavy on my mind. And since Christmas is behind us I’m allowing myself to let the sadness in.
Allowing myself. Because I honestly would stop the thoughts from entering my pretty little head as soon as they would surface. I know, for many of you out there, the holiday season is NOT a joyful time. Sometimes this holiday brings bad memories out from hiding. Or you’ve lost loved ones at this time. Or it’s your first, second, tenth – whatever- year without a loved one.
Our family suffered two loses this year. One sudden. One expected. I ache for my side of the family that lost our dear aunt/mother/grandmother. She was ill for a long time. We knew the end was near. But it doesn’t make the loss any easier. And her family. This first Christmas without her. Her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren miss her so much. She was my great-aunt and I didn’t see her as often as I would have liked. But she was a beautiful role model to me about what a mom should be, how to live life with humor, giggles and joy. She taught me amazing life lessons and I hate it that she’s gone.
The other loss I still struggle with. And he wasn’t even my boyfriend or my child. As some of you may remember, my daughter lost her boyfriend at the start of the school year. Senseless. Sudden. Tragic. Only 17 years old. The funeral was so difficult. Giving my condolences to the parents? Heart wrenching. They were being forced to do what every parent dreads. The unimaginable. Having to bury your own child. Throughout this Christmas season, as I’d shop for my daughter, something would remind me of her loss. Then I’d think of his parent’s loss. I’d start to ache for them, beginning to imagine what it must be like to have to shop for one child when your other child is gone. And I’d stop. Suddenly. And chase those thoughts right out of my head. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go there. And I haven’t. Until now.
I’m aching right now. For the loss that was easier to handle. For my daughter’s tragic loss of her first love. For those poor parents trying to weather through their first Christmas without their son while putting on a happy face for the son still here. And for all of you who struggle through this time of year without those you love.
Death is difficult for me. Loss of any kind is difficult for me. Loss sucks. And I suppose I could say, “Oh, but if we didn’t experience loss then we wouldn’t know the value of what we have.” Or maybe, “It’s all God’s plan.” But I don’t want to hear that right now. I might someday. But not now. Now I’m just going to be sad.
I candy coated my 2009 holiday season and made it to today. But today, in the afterglow (or is it aftermath?), I’m feeling a little empty. And I don’t have any words of wisdom or upbeat outlooks. I’m all out of them. I used them up in the weeks leading up until now. I’m just sad. Sad for me. Sad for my daughter. Sad for my family. Sad for dear boyfriend’s family. Sad for all of you who are hurting.
I’m so, so sorry for any of you hurting out there. I’m reaching out my arms right now, through the bloggysphere, so we can have a group hug.
That’s a little better.
The boys love to bathe in our master bath tub. And I like it too because I can fold laundry, put stuff away in our closets, clean the bathroom or tidy up our bedroom and be close to them while they play. Sometimes they forget I’m so close and they say the sweetest things. I remember last Christmas, after the holiday crash and burn, they were having a bath and I was putting away laundry in my closet. The closet door was shut and I could hear them commenting on their day so I paused to listen.
#2son: Hasn’t this been the greatest day ever?
#1son: I guess so. Why?
#2son: Well! Our cousins are here. A warm bath. A game of Chutes and Ladders. A new dessert tonight. I don’t want this day to ever end!
Not one mention of the plethora of toys they received. Their “greatest day” was about playing with their cousins, trying a new dessert, enjoying a warm bath. The simple pleasures. All the “stuff” they received was secondary.
This is a beautiful reminder to enjoy each moment. Enjoy the simple joys in your day. Focus on the little stuff to get the big picture. Breathe. Relish. Savor.
Simple pleasures create the greatest days.
One of my hobbies is cooking. I wish it were something I appreciated and enjoyed when my grandmothers were alive because they each had some amazing recipes, techniques and food stories I would so enjoy learning about today. I watch cooking shows. I sit down and just read cookbooks. Friends and family seem to enjoy what I prepare. And I receive requests for certain specialties.
One of my specialties is my cranberry relish. My family requests it at every holiday. My sister and I love it when there are leftovers. We sit together at the kitchen table, each with a spoon, and share the bowl, all on its own.
My mother doesn’t enjoy cooking. She’s not a bad cook – it just isn’t her thing. Every time she asks me to share the recipe (which I know she’ll never make) I say, “No. It’s a family secret.” Of course, I’m teasing. She argues that she IS family. She tries to get it from other family members. And she spends time guessing what is in it. She gets all of the ingredients right, except for one. Now I’ve shared this recipe with other members of the family; all people I know will make it themselves. I’ve even given it to fundraiser cookbooks for our school and church. It’s not a very complicated recipe. Just very, very yummy. My mother has watched me make it before. She’s even seen the “secret” ingredient as I’ve chopped it up and put it in the bowl. But, still, she pretends to forget what it is and we do the dance all over again when we’re eating our turkey or ham and the bowl gets passed around and is practically licked clean.
The funny thing about this recipe is it used to be much more complicated. But one particular holiday I was visiting my sister and things were crazy. Between the two of us we had 4 children running around under the age of 5. Our husbands were out doing guy things. We had so many people coming over and I decided to take a major short cut. I would use canned whole cranberry sauce (horrors!) instead of starting from scratch. That particular year there were no leftovers. Everyone claimed it was the best batch ever. I’ve never gone back.
1. Open up a can of whole cranberry sauce. Pour into bowl.
2. Add to the bowl: 1 finely chopped thin skinned orange (the whole orange, including the skin. If your skin is a little thick just add less skin), 1 cup golden raisins…..and for the not-so-secret-ingredient….2-3 T. finely chopped crystallized ginger (to taste — I like more rather than less).
3. Mix well and refrigerate for 24 hours. This step is very important as it allows all the flavors to meld.
4. Enjoy! We serve this all year round with turkey, ham, roast chicken and pork.
(The inspiration for this post came from this wonderful blog: http://countryfriedmama.com/)