It’s Just Another New Year’s Day

It’s a new year. Bright and shiny and bursting with possibility. I should be making my list of what i’m going to do, what i’m going to accomplish this year. I missed one big one last year (I still haven’t learned to play bass guitar), but on the whole, it was a good year. Got better at my job. Developed a love for a specific part of it. Got a little done on the cottage, tho not as much as i had hoped. Had some spinal surgery, but came out well and was otherwise healthy for the year. The weedlings had a great year, good grades, raises, and some fun travel. Siridog put on a couple of pounds, but she is still my bestest pooch. All in all, i can’t complain about the year.  And i’ve got some good things coming up this year.

The part of the job that i developed a love for is now about to become my new job. How cool is that? No more money or anything (at least for now), but i am looking forward to more learning, more growing, and making a niche for myself that i can really own.

Starting in 2 weeks, i take my first tap dancing lesson. I know it sounds strange, but i’ve taken lessons in nearly every other style of dance known to man, but somehow missed this one. My closest buds know that it is common for me to spend an evening looking up old performances of Sammy Davis Jr, Ginger Rogers, Gregory Hines, Eleanor Powell, Savion Glover…. I love them all. And this is a way to keep my brain active (By learning something new) and my body in shape (I’ve never had an ass, except for a man i was once married to, so here is my chance…)… All while having fun.

I’ve made a list of things i want to get done around the house. It’s a reasonable list, and i have already set aside funds and sent out estimate requests on the first one. I may have to forfeit a long weekend away, but i think i can mostly manage the budget for the list without tightening the belt too much. And i’ve decided that, tho i will listen to the opinions of my weedlings, i am going with the changes that I like.

I have decided i’m going to laugh more. Have you guys seen the show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ? It only has one season out, on Amazon, and i’m rewatching it today because it’s genius. It’s about a Jewish woman in the 1950s who finds herself divorced and thrown into the world of stand-up. You know i love strong female characters. You know i love comedy. ANd no one does comedy like the Jewish people. This is the start of me laughing more.

I also plan on creating more. To set  a good precedent, i spent New Year’s Eve painting a picture that i’d had in my head for about a week. I will never be a Great Master. And that’s ok. Maybe i’ll get better with practice. Maybe i won’t, but maybe it will help keep me sane. Or maybe it won’t do anything but leave me with a heap of hotel grade paintings. Still not a bad deal if it keeps me out of trouble on a stray Friday night.

There are other things on the list, but to you, i’m sure they’d be about as exciting as your average shopping list. A boring one. Without alcohol or condoms or chocolate or anything. No worries. We’re not supposed to be all that enthused about the ins and outs of each others’ everyday. I only shared some of mine to show that we’re all in the same boat. Some big ideas, some small ones. No matter how high on the totem pole you are or how low you feel after stepping on the scale tomorrow… No matter your nationality, religion, or level of assholiness… We’re all the same down deep. We all just want to be a bit better than we were last year. Nicer, smarter, more creative… Learn more, travel more, maybe get laid a bit more. Nothing fancy. Nothing extravagant. Just the basic human quest to improve oneself.

Because we are human, we will miss some things on the list. Some of us will not get around to traveling, or starting the new class, or finding love. But if you get to any of them, you are doing good. So don’t despair. Life isn’t like the game of Life. You don’t have to be the first to get to the end. You don’t even have to get to the end. You just have to give it your best shot.

And if you get the chance, learn to tap dance.

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Row, Row, Row Your (Holiday) Boat

For those of us who face depression, the holidays can be a real bitch. Lost loved ones seem especially far away. Our bodily systems fighting the drop in sunlight hours (Take your Vitamin D, my brothers and sisters!!!), weight gain from all these social gatherings that we dread (Because, you know, too many people), and the commercialization of the holiday leaving us anxious, frantic, and financially strapped. Makes you want to double your medication and hide out til Spring.

I don’t have a cure. Truthfully, i’m as beaten as you are. The sadness inside masked by the chatter of holiday greetings and special sparkly lip gloss. Oh the power of a good lip gloss! Anyway, most of the time, the holidays feel to me like that scene in Star Wars where they are getting squashed in the nasty trash compactor. Everything is closing in; the stench of stress coming off you like yesterday’s fish sticks; and the inescapable thought of, “Maybe if i close my eyes, it will go away.” (Yes, my non-ICD-10’d friends, this is part of why we sleep so much.)

Now, as my sister reminds me on occasion, decades of therapy merely make me a profitable therapy patient, not a therapist. So i don’t have an actual solution to the problem. I am not even sure if there is one. But i DO know that we can arm ourselves with the occasional bit of pain relief. And it can be found in some unlikely places.

There are some things in life that are just so good, fulfilling, enjoyable that they can make the worst of times seem a thing of the past, even if only a moment. Some of them are obvious: The laugh of a baby, for example. Some are a little more obscure: Seeing that the schmuck who cut you off 2 miles back is now actually stuck at the same light you are. (Was it worth the karma, dude?) These things don’t cure depression. But they can offer a bit of a reprieve, and sometimes, that’s all we need to make it thru another day.

So if you find yourself getting dark when you want yourself to be light, set your heart and thoughts on life’s helium balloons… Those moments that feel really good… And lighten the load for a bit:

Those mornings when you don’t have to set an alarm and can wake to your body clock.

A beautiful holiday song – Close your eyes and listen.

A piece of really good chocolate – Sometimes there is no better way to spend a couple dollars than on a handmade truffle.

A really good poo – I mean, there really is no better feeling. 

When someone sends you the perfect meme at the perfect time.

A scalding hot shower on a cold morning, or a hot bath before bed.

Taking your bra off after a long day. (Sorry, guys, there really is no male equivalent.)

Seeing a baby deer walking off the side of a road. 

A beautiful sunset or sunrise.

A full moon – And if you see someone fly past it on a broomstick, wave to me 😉

Climbing into a bed with freshly washed sheets.

When you finally get to fart after holding it in forever – Extra points if it is crazy loud!

Homemade mashed potatoes.

Getting the best parking spot, just by happenstance.

The sound of wind rustling thru the trees.

The smell of fresh bread – Worth a visit to a bakery. Usually the smells are free.

When something costs less than you expect.

Hearing from an old friend.

Getting a compliment from your kid – Rarer than a golden goose egg, but also far more valuable.

Hideously gaudy, Griswald-style Christmas lights.

Fresh, hot latkes with applesauce and full-fat sour cream.

A handsome man or beautiful woman in a goofy winter hat.

Hot chocolate with extra marshmallows and stirred with a candy cane. (Make it for yourself. You are worth it.)

A moment of true peace and quiet.

 

Try remembering these, my friends. I hope they help. It is also worth noting that, while you don’t have to do it all, don’t avoid it all either. Pick one or two things to commit to, and let the rest be up to your mood. Baby steps. Take it one event at a time. Take it just one moment at a time if you have to. And if it isn’t enough, up your game by talking with someone. Find your local crisis center, meet your preacher for coffee, find a support group, message people… You’ll be surprised at how many of us are in the same boat…

And since we are all in the same boat, you don’t have to take it all on yourself… We can take turns rowing. And then we will all get there. Together. Just don’t give up.

You got this. We got this.

 

Rafiki and Einstein

One of my besties has a good friend who is in the midst of dying. At our age, though not a common thing yet, we will see it more and more. But like so much of getting older, there is no book that tells us how to deal with it.

Family is gathered close around her friend, as well they should be, keeping outsiders, germs, and stresses away from their cherished member as she makes the transition. But my bestie is one of those who absorbs people into her soul more than most. She wants – needs – to touch. It’s visceral for her, a primal need since watching her own mother take the journey when we were in our adolescence. She doesn’t want to intrude. Doesn’t even have to actually see her. Just wants her to know that there are hands and hearts along the bridge who will give her strength when she needs it. On one level, it is a gesture of love and friendship. On another, it is a grasp at a connection with the ones who are already on the other side.

We aren’t kids anymore. We understand that life as we know it comes to an end. We realize death is part of life. We’ve seen The Lion King. But it is hard to remember that life is a circle when your friend is on the exact opposite side of it.

Even if you were standing next to them, you know you can’t pull them back. It’s their time. God/Goddess/Universe’s choice, not ours, and we are in no position to disagree. We aren’t reaching out to pull them back into the circle permanently… We just want one more minute. One more chance to feel what we felt with them. Love. Friendship. Humanity. And to remind us that we are not permanent. A jumpstart, if you will, to our resolution for living each day to the fullest.

Perhaps that last is the most important.

My Ma died a long time ago. I think of her often, of course, and for many reasons. But more often than not, i am thinking of her because i want to tell her about something. Something i am planning, or doing, or have done, that is benchmark.

Benchmark = Proof that i am really living. 

With the holidays approaching, memories of lost loved ones are, for many of us, closer than any other time of the year. It’s easy for us to get caught up in sadness, loneliness and longing for times and people since passed. To get out of it, i sometimes talk to those memories. Like, “He Ma, do you see your namesake in there cooking up a storm? Is she amazing, or what?” Or, “Gram, someone just brought in homemade raisin bread to work. Lets toast some and spread it with cream cheese just like you always liked…”

Yes, i talk to dead people. What of it? If Einstein was right (And i dare you to say he wasn’t..) nothing new is ever created. All the energy that ever was is still here – Just in a different form. Who is to say that the energy, the soul plasma, that was our loved ones isn’t all around us all the time? Or that i won’t still be around my loved ones after this pasty, wrinkled, old broad of a body is long since gone? I choose to believe that the best part of us lingers, like a faint whiff of Shalimar after the theater closes, for anyone who chooses to breathe it in and remember.

Yes, i talk to dead people and i am a hopeless, romantic dork. So sue me.

Regardless, as the insanity of the holidays approaches, and the memories come flooding in… Or if you are someone who must face a loved one becoming a memory amidst all the merriment… Breathe them in. Talk with them. Talk about them to others. Bring them into moments where you are truly living. Keep it all alive so that they may continue being relevent. In a way, become legend. Don’t let the laws of biology stop it. Our physical time on this Earth is fleeting, but our soul can go on forever. Just ask my friend, Albert. He is an expert on energy. And really, isn’t that all we humans are?

We Are Sprung Again

All over the world, all manner of people, all walks of life, once Spring has finally sprung, there are festivals celebrating the season of rebirth. For most of us in the U.S., that means Easter. And while the religious notions of Easter are certainly important to all my Christian friends, i’m not remotely subject-educated enough to speak on it. The universal notion of rebirth, tho…  I have lots of experience with that.

As a child, i was a churchgoer.  Regardless of the beauty and popularity of Christmas songs, i always felt that the hymns of Easter were the most beautiful. I still do.  And the services over the holiest of weekends always made me cry (In a good way.) All the evil of the world falling and failing in the path of a New Hope. Secularly, my Ma made Easter baskets for us, we salivated over New England Boiled Dinner (A melt-in-your-mouth yumminess of epic sodium proportions), the vivid color and fragrances of flowers blooming everywhere, and i remember more than one sheep shaped cake, covered in coconut and dressed with jellybeans on visits to my Dad’s side of the family. All wrapped up together, if was a heartwarming celebration of Spring. A celebration of rebirth and revival. Sweeter than any sugar-coated Peep.

As an adult, tho i become increasingly pantheist by the year, i still hold a special place in my heart for Easter. For anyone who struggles with the disease of self-hatred, the concept that God/Goddess/Universe will give us, even encourage us, a do-over is a gift greater than any other. And as we become more enlightened, those renaissances become less of a drugstore makeover and more of a true reincarnation. Spring becomes a reminder that we should change and grow regularly, just like the Earth itself. (Mostly secular) Easter is the festival i’m most familiar with from my youth, but each culture and religion has a version of the same notion…

From the Christian realm, at Easter we take on John 15:13 and learn to sacrifice for our fellow humans. From our Jewish family, at Passover we learn to break free of shackles and bondage (both literal and figurative.) From our Pagan friends, at Beltane we learn to reconnect with our youthful vitality and wonder. From our Hindu friends, at Holi we learn to forgive, forget, mend, and move onward and upward. I’m sure there are many more Spring festivals out there that i haven’t gotten to learn about yet, and dollars-to-donuts, they offer a positive lesson for self-improvement.

Given that i still have a lot of improving to do, i’ll gladly celebrate them all.

So here’s to rebirth! Here’s to becoming the person we want to be! Here’s to nourishing the spirit and helping it grow!  Here’s to breaking ground like the first daffodil of the season! And just because it makes the heart happy, here’s to joyful celebrations, love and laughter, and chocolate bunnies!

May God/Goddess/Universe bless you all with rebirth.

Wishin’ and Hopin’ and Thinkin’ and Prayin’

The first day of the new year. It always makes me contemplative, nostalgic, and, dare i say, hopeful.

It’s been a full year for me. A new career. A new house. A new half-century. Ok, maybe that isn’t really full… I mean, there’s no new love, no new children (Thank God!), no new all-encompassing issues… But it was plenty full enough. And i got thru it mostly unscathed. Even when including the loss of so many wonderful icons and the election of the anything-but-her-and-pray-for-the-best, i can’t really say that i have too many personal complaints. My health has remained mostly good. My weedlings are all doing well. I like the new job. And the new house. I have time to read again. My finances are improving. My therapist says i am most definitely mostly sane now. And my SiriDog still thinks i’m The Shit. Life is good.

This past week, i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the year ahead. The responsibilities. The possibilities. I want to learn to play the bass guitar (Truthfully, i’ve wanted to learn it for more than 3 decades, but i’m only now in a place to do so.) I want to become more socially active – I will find one area that i care about and can help, and i will devote effort to it. And after a recent epiphany that showed me what hole i can help fill, i will finally publish a real paper-and-print book. (Granted, the book has been on my list every year for the last half dozen, but now i have an idea worth selling.) Only the Universe knows whether i’ll actually accomplish these things,   but i have hope. And not that shiny silver hope of the holiday, but the polished brass hope of longstanding vision.

Now, there are other things that i am not laying hopes on for the coming year. I have no hopes of becoming a hard body. I know what it would require, and that ain’t happening. I have a faint wisp of a hope of dropping the 5 pounds i gained with the new job, but it has the solidity of morning fog, so i certainly can’t count it. I am not putting any hope in Liam Neeson (Or my latest crush, Karl Urban) appearing at my doorstep to profess their love, or  even just to beg for a night of naked debauchery. Nor do i have any hopes of winning a lottery (Because that would require me playing it.)

See? I’m a realist. Sort of. So there’s a good chance that the things on my list for the next year will actually come to pass.

And to add to my hopes and determination, i have a renewed sense of being blessed. I spent my New Year’s eve watching the HUMAN movie. (If you are interested, here is volume 1 of 3… HUMAN ) I had seen a couple clips from it, but had never gotten around to watching the whole thing. Until last night. It changes you. All these people, of all ages, from all over the planet, from all walks of life… Many with issues that i’ve never had to face and lives far harder than i have ever had… Their eyes, boring into the camera,  holding sadness, hunger, frustration, joy, love, and hope. The same things we all hold. I could feel my hands reaching out to them as my eyes swam with tears, and my mouth spread in smile, right along with them. These people, complete strangers, with raw emotion and honesty, became part of my heart. Reminders of what it means to be human, and how advantaged i am, even in the worst of times. If the most accursed of them can have hope, then how can i not? And if i know that these damnable conditions exist for them, as they do for so many others, how can i not do something to help?

I hope the makers of this movie know what they have achieved, because i am sure i am not the only person so affected by its contents.

And with that, onward into this new year. Holding myself accountable to a short and reasonable “to do” list of accomplishments both great and small. I am not the woman i was a year ago. I have grown. And maybe because of that, my list is shorter and simpler. And, i think, more achievable than ever before. I will fulfill it all. I will learn. I will help. I will write. And i will hope. Always, i will hope.

And This Little Piggy Went “Wee Wee Wee”…

Ages ago, when my current college sophomore was still in kinder-clothes, there existed a pig. A Swarovski crystal pig, to be exact. One that i had gotten her older sister as a gift. The pig lived on a window sill in older sister’s bedroom and projected faceted light into all the corners of the room. My oldest thought the porker was pretty, but my middle weedling… She thought it was the most beautiful thing in the whole wide world.

Since my oldest wasn’t living with me at the time, her bedroom was not usually occupied. This meant that the poor crystal piggy was lonely. My middle daughter, totally in love with the magical swine, could feel his loneliness and felt compelled to bring him into her own room. On her own window still. Where she could hold him and love him and marvel at him as if he were her own. She cherished that pig as much as, if not more than, her sister.

One day, while vacuuming, or collecting laundry, or whatever mom thing i was doing at the time, i noticed that the otherwise elegant piglet was missing an ear and a tail. I called my middle daughter to task, but she swore up and down she hadn’t hurt him. I called my oldest and conspired with her to put on a face of full-on disgust and disappointment at the animal abuse, and the lie that failed to cover it, in hopes that her conscience would sway her to tell the truth and apologize. I mean, it was her room, after all. Who else could have broken it? We did a guilt-job worthy of the best old-school preacher or ethnic grandmother. We really poured it on thick.

In retrospect, her obvious sadness should have told me that she was as brokenhearted as we were, but at the time, logic did not allow me to put anyone else to blame.

She finally relented and apologized, but she always maintained that it was not her that curtailed the piggy.

******

Fast forward to a couple months ago…

I get a call from my middle weedling. Her excitement is palpable. “Hey, Ma! I’ve figured out what i’m getting (sister) for Christmas!” She was literally sparkling thru the phone, she was so ecstatic. “Do you remember the crystal pig?” (As if i could forget…. For the last 15 years you’ve been periodically restating your innocence, i say to myself.) “Well, i found one just like it. I am going to get that for her! But you have to keep it a secret! And for the record, i am not the one who broke it.” I am a decent secret keeper, so even tho my heart was bursting with love over such a thoughtful gift, i kept my word.

A couple weeks later, i meet my oldest for brunch.

“So, Ma… Guess what i got (sister) for Christmas?” She seems bursting with energy and happiness, so ready to spill the news. “Do you remember the crystal pig?” (I damned near choked on my eggs benny) “Well, i found one for her just like it! But you can’t tell. It has to be  a secret. I am so excited to give it to her! You know, she didn’t break it. We still don’t know who did.”

I promise you, i am not making this up.

So, over the course of the next few weeks, i am the recipient of multiple phone calls from each daughter that go something like, “Do you really think it’s a good idea? I mean, it’s not too sentimental, is it? Do you think she’ll like it? It isn’t a stupid idea, is it? I just hope she remembers!”

I cannot express how difficult it was to maintain an unknowing air as i told each of them that, indeed, i thought it was a great idea. And yes, i was certain she would remember. And that i felt it was sentimental in only the best way.

When my middle daughter came up with an idea that she was certain would make an even better gift for my oldest, it was hard not to beg her to stick with the pig. I could imagine the love explosion that would occur when they  both simultaneously opened each other’s gift, and i wanted so badly to see it happen. But i kept my promise and let her change her mind. Truthfully, the gift she chose really was equally as perfect. Even if it wasn’t a pig.

Our gift giving occurred earlier this week. And when it came time for the porcine love fest, it was all i could do to stay calm. When middle daughter unwrapped the piggy… Both girls and i were teary eyed. And when i shared the story of all the coincidental phone calls, we were all borderline crying. Tho none of us are Grinches, i admit, my heart grew three sizes that day, and i’d be willing to bet, my daughters’ hearts did too.

And yes, they still took the time to remind me that she wasn’t the one who broke it.

You know, people always say that it’s the thought that counts. I couldn’t agree more. The love that caused both my daughters to seek out a crystal pig… Well, that’s the best thought of all.  And i couldn’t be prouder.

Leave the Reindeer, Take the Cannoli

So, over a decade ago, when i was still married to my second, and my weedlings were still little, my ex and i used to put a lot of effort into decorating the house for the holidays. We strung up lights, suspended a star, and, for a while, had lit-up deer for the yard. Now, maybe it was because we bought them on clearance. Maybe it was because we got one that had been dropped. Or maybe it was because we are Italian. But one of those deer could never keep his head on.

The very first night we put them up – One curled up like a momma, and one standing and animated to bob his head up and down like he was eating – we were delighted at how pretty they were. Fancy holiday decor for a young family! And flashier than anyone else on the street! We were so proud! We left them aglow all night… And woke to a decapitated Prancer with his head still moving on the ground beside him. It was the stuff of childhood nightmares.

We turned them off and spent most of an hour reattaching Prancer’s noggin.

Back then, we had a lovely tradition of spending an evening driving to various neighborhoods to look at other people’s holiday displays. We would make up little papers that said “Elf Award” and stick them in the mail boxes of people who had especially good decorations and lights. Christmas carols blaring and hot chocolate in hand, it was always a good time. And that year, we made sure to leave our winter extravaganza up while we went around admiring others’.

While we were gone, Prancer apparently got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Again on the lawn, Prancer’s head was dancing next to his body. It seems silly to say so about a lawn ornament, but it really was an unnerving sight. We stuck the head back on and turned off the lights. Next morning? You guessed it… Sleeping with the fishes.

We were starting to get seriously creeped out by the Reindeer Godfather’s visits. It was time to get inventive. Using wire, we twistied and sewed Prancer’s head to his body, leaving just enough wiggle room to allow for the animation. MacGyver himself couldn’t have done a better job. That night and the next few, we were able to sit outside and enjoy the prettiest decorations Lowe’s had to offer. It snowed, and the movement of the lights became all sparkly and magical. This was a winter lawn at its finest. Then Marlon Brando paid another visit.

I half expected to see bloodstains on the snow where Prancer’s head lay twitching. It was horrifying.

It became ritual: We would light up the yard every night, and in the morning, go out and reattach Prancer’s head. It was a running joke and the subject of family bets, how many nights would his head stay on before the Godfather would visit. When, in January, we took the decorations down, we kept the deer. We figured we’d come up with a way to keep Prancer’s head on by the next year.

We never did.

We re-headed Prancer regularly for many years. It became a holiday tradition (Certainly no worse a tradition than plum pudding.) And it also became part of our family mythos.

Many years later, while cleaning out the garage, my ex decided to finally throw in the towel and gave Prancer away. Since he was free, there was no need to disclose Prancer’s embarrassing secret. As it turned out, the deer had a different idea. He outed himself. As his new owner was driving off with him tucked into a pile of finds in the back of a pickup, he lost his head yet again. As we watched with equal parts horror and humor, Prancer’s head bounced down the street at the end of a string of lights, makeshift wire fasteners dangling in the breeze.

We still talk about poor Prancer every Christmas. We laugh and shake our heads. We do impressions of his head going ‘plop’ in the snow…

And then we watch cartoons so we don’t have nightmares.