Mourning Backwards

I thought that grief was supposed to lessen over time. I could swear I missed my mom more this past holiday season than previous Christmases. Despite having an overall holly jolly time, I hit a rough patch the last week or so before Christmas. I felt like I crammed a lot of riotous, rollicking activities into the time between mid-November and mid-December.  Once I found myself past the flurry of events, I realized I had cleared a wide, fresh pathway to feeling sad. One day, I got it into my head to go to a mall and the Christmas Tree decoration store my mother and I frequented several times.  I would normally never consider going shopping so close to Christmas, but I had a few errands that I thought I could knock out quickly.  Of course, I didn’t knock them out quickly.  It was a bit of a hard slog made even harder because of my mother’s absence.

I have many happy memories of my mother associated with Christmas.  Most people would say that they love Christmas.  Why else do songsters keep belting out “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?” To my mother, though, Christmas was an art form.  It wasn’t like she was one of those crazy Christmas light folks on television, but there was something intensely special about the way she threw herself into the season. There are so many holiday moments that she engraved permanently into my brain with love.  It makes me so happy that I have these memories.  Without a doubt, those memories enrich my experience of Christmas, even since her death.  There is also a sadness tied up in those memories that breaks through every year at the holidays. 

Every year since I can remember, my mother used to take me Christmas shopping on a special day.  She did the same for my brother.  Ostensibly, the trip was for each of us to buy a Christmas present for the other sibling.  In truth, there was another agenda that I did not perceive until well into my teen years.  My mom would take us on these outings to buy a present for our sibling… and so she could see what delighted the kid on the shopping expedition with her. She explained to someone once that she would watch what caught my eye and what I “oohed and awed over” as I wandered the stores looking for a present for my brother.  I was never very good at telling anyone what I wanted, so she would watch my reaction to items in the store for ideas about what might enchant me on Christmas morning. She always did great. 

My shopping day with my mother continued until the December before her stroke.  As she aged and became frailer, we had to adapt what we did and for how long, but we always had a wonderful time.  We’d look at Christmas decorations, listen to Christmas music, buy stuff we didn’t need, and revel in being together.  This shared annual experience was so much a part of who we were together, I even tried to arrange a special transport to take her to the tiny mall in our town that last December of her life.  Unfortunately, before I could get the authorization and organize everything, she started to let go of her hold on her “regular” world and began to head down her journey towards the next life. 

My shopping trip right before Christmas this past holiday screamed “mom” at me.  It just felt so much like something she should have shared with me, as she had so many other pre-Christmas shopping trips.  Suddenly, I missed her with a physical fierce coldness that seemed to simultaneously freeze my respiratory system and melt my digestive system.  My knees wobbled alarmingly.  For a few moments, my brain seemed to spin around inside my skull and I thought I might faint.  I was standing in a depressingly long line at JC Penney’s.  I grabbed a shelf on one side of the line and waited for the feeling to pass.  The intensity of the pain did pass, but left some emotional havoc in its wake. 

Someone once told me that one key to managing depression is to HALT.  Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.  I realized that I was all four of these “halts.” I couldn’t do much about being hungry or tired while standing in line, unless I called out for pizza and a sleeping bag.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being lonely for my momma.  I could, however, choose to stop feeling angry and frustrated with the massive line at Penney’s.  I used the rest of my time standing in line observing the shoppers around me and the clerks at the cash registers.  For the most part, the shoppers were pretty disgruntled and the sales clerks were serene and polite.  I decided I would try to flip the script.  When it was my turn to pay, I made a special effort to be pleasant and grateful.

I transacted my business at Penney’s and moved on to Macy’s.  Some weeks ago, I bought a wonderfully warm, fluffy robe at Macy’s.  The weather finally cooled off enough by the middle of December for me to wear it to water aerobics class.  That is when I discovered that the Macy’s sales associate had neglected to remove the security tag.  Macy’s is about 40 miles from my house, so I originally decided to just live with a grey plastic device flopping at the side of my robe.  When people started looking at me funny at the pool, clearly wondering if I had embarked on a life of crime, I thought better of that tactic.  That was my motivation for going to the mall less than a week before Christmas.  I brought the robe to get the Macy’s people to untag me.

When I got to Macy’s, it seemed that people were even nastier than they were at Penney’s.  I purposely let several people go ahead of me because they were unhinged and I thought it would be helpful for the sales clerk if she didn’t have to balance her priorities between Miss Christmas Crazy Person 2019 and me, who had been waiting in line ahead of her (to say nothing of the fact that I would not have had to drive 40 miles and stand in line at all if the first sales clerk had removed the tag in the first place.)  I smiled at the clerks supportively and even suggested that they take care of another timebomb of a shopper before they waited on me.  I found it strangely serene and comforting to engage in these small acts of kindness.  I said a little prayer to thank God for His blessing in helping me find this little coping mechanism.

I was pretty proud of myself until I left the mall and realized I was still very hungry and… lonely.  I drove to a nearby McDonald’s.  McDonald’s was also a holiday tradition in my home.  For some unknown and clearly irrational reason, I didn’t like McDonald’s hamburgers as a child.  I did, however, love the French fries.  On Christmas Eve, my mother would fry hamburgers at home and my father would go to McDonald’s and buy French fries.  When I got older (and over my antipathy to McDonald’s hamburgers), it was a special treat during Christmas vacation for my brother and me to ride our bikes to McDonald’s alone and have lunch.  So, as weird as it sounds, McDonald’s has a sentimental attraction for me. 

At McDonald’s, I found they converted to a customer-driven electronic ordering system.  I stared at the huge monitor and began pushing buttons, trying to follow the directions.  Something about the electronic ordering system baffled me.  I kept getting to a place in the process that thwarted me.   I felt more and more defeated as I kept trying.  I felt confused and despondent.  After trying several times, I surrendered.  I still had enough of my wits about me to know that I should not get back in the car and drive without something to eat.  I went up and tried to explain my dilemma to the nice young lady at the counter.  For some reason, I was also having trouble finding words to explain what was wrong.  I kept apologizing.  She never skipped a beat or appeared impatient.  She was sincerely kind.  Ultimately, we completed the ordering process.  I took my number and went off to find a table, embarrassed at the fuss I was making.  Once I sat down, I even started to cry softly and discreetly. Another employee, who was cleaning up around the lobby, came over to ask if I was okay and if she could do anything for me. 

After I ate my lunch and nourished my psyche with some perspective, I thought about how thankful I was for the kindness of the McDonald’s employees.  A fast food restaurant is about the last place one would expect workers to rise above the madness and inject a little humanity into the day.  Fast food restaurants are loud, crowded, and thrive on doing things quickly and efficiently.  These McDonald’s employees were not only efficient using their hands and heads, they went a step further and used their hearts. 

I wanted to do something to thank them.  They deserved it.  Plus, I had been reminded by my experiences at the department stores that it makes me feel better to do something nice for someone else. I went over to the lobby employee, thanked her, and gave her a hug.  I also thanked the lady at the counter.  They were both over the moon. I also told the manager how grateful I was to both the employees.  I told her that being nice is a superpower.  People don’t always realize how much difference it can make to just be nice. 

When my mother was shrinking through her last year of life, I often found myself being the kind of person I didn’t want to be. I was impatient, snappish, and cranky all too frequently.  I felt like I was losing the best parts of me- the gentleness, the peace, the playfulness, the affection.  I was ashamed.  I blamed myself… and I also blamed the grief.  I believed the mourning was destroying the me I had always been.

In the last year or so, I rejoice because I feel some of those shinier sides of me returning.  I notice myself behaving as I would have behaved years ago. It makes me so happy.  I also notice that, like on my pre-Christmas shopping day, I am finding more tiny ways to nurture happiness in the world. 

For me… and maybe for everybody… mourning is not a linear process.  There is no forward or backward.  There is ebb and flow.  There are zigs and zags.  There are swirls and spirals.  Mourning gains and loses momentum, depending on external circumstances and internal conditions… like hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness.  The most important thing, though, is that mourning does not have to destroy.  Mourning can also create.   

I consider the shot of grief that often accompanies my memories of my mother to be the “price of admission” to being able to re-experience the happy times with her.  I think it is worth it to have the odd meltdown now and then in order to access the sweet memories.  What do you think?  Is it worth being sad sometimes over the death of a loved one to also remember the joyful times and connections?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a sweetly memorable day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

#BestDayEver

I see the slogan #BestDayEver all over the place.  There seems to be a certain amount of disagreement on what exactly constitutes the #BestDayEver.  It comes up in commercials for traveling to exotic lands.  I’ve seen it in conjunction with people who have just gotten married. One friend of mine used it when describing the day she received a job offer from a perspective employer. Another was all about the #BestDayEver when she found a pair of shoes she wanted on sale.  I see it frequently in amusement park marketing.  I even see the slogan accompanied by graphics of mouse-shaped ice cream bars, pretzels, and doughnuts. 

So, what does make the #BestDayEver?

As much as I love amusement parks and the House of Mouse in particular, I have to suggest that a day at Disney, in itself, does not constitute the #BestDayEver.  Shocking, perhaps, but there you have it. 

I think we sometimes confuse fun, happiness, and joy.  To determine the #BestDayEver, it might be useful to explore the differences between the three.

Fun is when you do a pleasurable activity.  It could be traveling to a new vacation spot.  It could be going to Disney World.  It could be writing a blog.  It could even be doing housework, if that is what floats your boat.  Fun is great.  It is still possible to be sad while having fun, however.

Happiness is what happens when you feel satisfied and content and light all over.  Your world seems untroubled for the moment.  The moon is in the seventh house and your planets are aligned.  There is a line from a song from the play Wicked that says, “Happiness is what happens when all your dreams come true.”  Happiness is wonderful.  On the other hand, happiness is extremely fragile.  It is dependent on external circumstances.  The slightest turn of events has the power to turn happiness into grief. 

Joy, on the other hand, is deeper and less transitory.  Joy is about what completes you and fills your soul.  It is all about the internal.  It is the feeling of permanent peace, hope, faith, and love.  It is about knowing that- no matter what is going on in the world around you, no matter what your immediate circumstances- your spirit is soaring, contented, precious, and beautiful.  It is possible to be joyful, even when one is not having fun and even when one is unhappy.  From my perspective, there is only one true source of Joy.  That Joy that fills me and lifts me, even at times when life is neither fun nor happy, is the knowledge that, through Jesus, I am a cherished child of God.

Those of you who have been following along with my blog know that I have my dark moments.  It is easy to see that I am not always having fun and I am not always happy.  It might even seem like I don’t always feel the Joy.  I think that, maybe, none of us will ever experience the completeness of Joy in this life.  However, as I grow in wisdom, age, and favor, I get closer to the Joy.  I get a little taste of what the bliss of Heaven will be.  Maybe we develop our most authentic relationships with God and with our fellow souls by the constant effort to reach for the Joy each day.  As I reach for it more and more, I find it more often. 

I often think about what plans God has for me and what my purpose is in this life.  I’ve talked before about my belief that my mission is to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.  I hope, as I meander through life, that I can shine the light on the Joy for others so they, too, can get a little taste of that Heaven on earth.

So, what makes the #BestDayEver?  Surely, it would be a day when I am having fun, feeling happy, AND experiencing Joy.  Joy is the most important ingredient, though.  A happy day doing something fun without Joy can never be the #BestDayEver. In fact, any day without Joy would be the #WorstDayEver!

What is joy for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a fun, happy, and joyful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

EXTRA BONUS CONTENT If this blog struck a chord with any of you and you would like to learn more, I have an invitation for you. If you are in the Leesburg, Florida area and would like to explore some of the big faith-based questions of life in an open, non-judgmental, nonthreatening environment, please join us at the Alpha program at St. James Episcopal at 204 Lee Street in Leesburg.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey- some people are just beginning to question if Christianity is what they want, some people have been Christians, some people are agnostically curious, some people are regular churchgoers and just want to feel more grounded, passionate, and connected to their faith.

The program starts Thursday, 1/9/20 at 6:00pm with a dinner. After the dinner, there is a short video about some aspect of Christianity. After the video, we break into small groups where people can ask questions, talk about what they believe, and raise concerns about any aspect of faith or church. You can say anything you want, as long as it is said respectfully. You can also say absolutely nothing, if that is what you want. The program is free, including the dinner.

Santa Claus Got Eaten By An Alligator

Is there something you really wanted that you didn’t get for Christmas?  I think I know why.

The world is weird.  At times, I think my particular parcel of the world is weirder than most.  Some may say that I perceive more peculiarity than is good for me simply because, since retirement, I have more time to notice the weirdness around me. I don’t think that is it.  Even before I retired, people would often remark that I seemed to be a “weird magnet.”  If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “it could only happen to you,” I’d have been able to retire before I ever had a job.

Let me describe the recent weirdness in my world that may explain why that special something, whatsit, or gizmo did not make it under your Christmas tree this year. 

In my development, Christmas decorating is a big deal.  Wonderful volunteers festoon the whole community with beautiful, brilliant, bedazzled ornamentation.  Many individual residents also decorate their houses with light displays, inflatable characters, nativities, and other festive touches.  I am very grateful for the people who do all that because I love to see it.  My idea of outdoor decoration is to stick a few outsized plastic ornaments on the tree next to the garage door and haul out my three-foot plastic polar bear holding the solar lantern.  A good woman has got to know her limitations.  Max and I always go driving around the community on Christmas Eve to enjoy my more energetic neighbors’ handiwork.  This year, we noticed a house decorated with two-dimensional Christmas icons made of strings of lights.  There was also a cut-out of a red sleigh, roughly the size of a Honda Civic, which was also outlined in lights.  I understood the significance of the sleigh.  I also understood the significance of the reindeer, geese, and gift-wrapped present figures.  What was a little more puzzling to me was the traditional Christmas…wait for it….alligator? 

Yes, there was an alligator made of green lights decking the halls of this house, right next to the sleigh and reindeer and geese and presents.  Since the house backed up on a pond, I suppose it made sense.  Still, when we noticed this somewhat bizarre Christmas visitor on our Christmas Eve decoration drive, I couldn’t help but think it would have been nice to put a little Santa hat on him or something.  We got home that evening, chuckling about the weird Florida Christmas.  What would be next?  Eight tiny geckos? An early bird in a palm tree? 

I shouldn’t have been so flippant. 

A couple of evenings later, we were coming home from dinner and noticed the alligator house.  I gasped in horror. THE ALLIGATOR WAS IN THE SLEIGH!!!! The implications of this phenomenon were too gruesome to imagine.  Unfortunately, imagine them I did. I couldn’t get the picture of the alligator picking his teeth out of my head.  What’s worse is that I think I heard that alligator belch to the tune of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” 

Last night, the alligator was no longer in the sleigh.  He was back at ground level but appeared to be engaged in a stand-off with one of the Christmas geese figures.  Given that no one has seen Santa Claus lately, my money is on the alligator.  I think that goose is cooked. 

A terrible picture, as the alligator moved again tonight… he seems to be making his move on the goose, which is now just a blur in this picture.

Here’s hoping your new year will be a lot happier than that of this goose! What are your wishes for 2020? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy New Year!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Silent Wednesday

Today is Christmas Day.  All around the world, people are celebrating.  Some people are not celebrating.  All I really wish for this Christmas is that everyone who is lost or lonely or sad or angry or hungry or thirsty or cold or ill… or is suffering in any way… will experience some flicker of the Light that is the Christmas miracle.  I don’t know why some people are so broken and bruised and others seem to have an easier time, but I do know that no one is completely unscathed in life.  We all need something…. And we all have something to give. And sometimes what we need is to give. 

I’ve spent a lot of time this season talking about holiday traditions and my own somewhat kooky ho-ho-hoing.  Today, I’m going to let Christmas just be a Silent Night… and a silent morning and a silent afternoon and a silent evening.     It is more important that you pay attention to what is in your heart today than what is in mine. 

Blessed Christmas to all!  May you find peace, love, and joy in your sacred silence. 

My warmest wishes and prayers to all of you this Christmas Day!  May you be blessed with faith, hope, and love at Christmas and always.  Please feel free to leave a comment, sharing your Christmas wishes. 

Merry Christmas!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Jingle Bell Ro(lli)ck

I have been having a rather rollicking holiday season. 

It started in mid-November when I took a quick trip to California to visit some friends and to spend some quality time with my brother.  I refer to this trip as my Christmas store and comfort food tour of Southern California.  I spent only four full days in California.  During that time, I went to two fancy Christmas garden/decoration stores, perused (and purchased) vast quantities of Christmas merchandise at Disney’s California Adventure, had lunch at the favorite pizza place of my childhood, had bagels at my old bagel stomping ground for two breakfasts, and consumed In and Out Burger fare twice.  I also ate gingerbread from several different sources during my trip.  I had to compare and contrast, didn’t I?

When I got home, Thanksgiving was upon us and I hosted a dinner for a family of Florida friends.  We had a great time.  For grace, I asked each person to offer a prayer of Thanksgiving for some blessing within a specific category… friends, family, health, spiritual gifts, etc.  The prayers were moving and true.  I think we all shared a common bond of gratitude, which was a great foundation for a day of food, fellowship, and fun. 

The next day, I dragged out the Christmas decorations and changed the season from harvest to hark-the-herald-angels.  Promptly on December 1, Max began the daily chore of hiding my mini-elf-on-a-shelf, Kringle.  I search for him each morning.  With the first Sunday of Advent, Max and I have lit candles each evening and shared reading devotionals.

A couple of days later, we went on our Christmas sojourn to the Most Magical Place on Earth.  I immersed myself in Disney Christmas magic… brilliant decorations, an over-the-top Christmas parade, breath-taking Candlelight Processional, and mass quantities of gingerbread.  I laughed, I cried, I fell in love…. Not an advertisement, just my very real reaction.

This week, Max and I went to Celebration, a Disney-inspired town just outside the theme park property.  It is a Victorian town built in 1996.  I realize that Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 through 1901, but Disney can do anything… including building a town 95 years too late.  At Christmas, Celebration is special.  There are huge Christmas trees, an ice rink, a snowfield, and quaint little shops.  There is also a company that offers horse and carriage rides.  We had a nice cozy dinner, wandered around the town, and rode around in a one-horse open sleigh. 

Next week, I’m going Christmas caroling and I’m planning two more parties in the next couple of weeks. 

Soon, we will be celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with faith and friends.  Max and I have some traditions that we share together, including church services.  We provide for time with God, with each other, and with family. 

I’m kind of a goofball, I guess.  I’ve enjoyed the schmaltz.  I wouldn’t give up any of my holiday activities.  I do admit, though, that I sometimes turn the corner off Whimsy Street onto Absurd Avenue.  Here’s the evidence:

I’m a grown woman and I search for my elf on the shelf, Kringle, every morning.  Not only do I search for my little elf, I talk to him.  I have whole conversations with him.  He and I have a relationship that may be a little unhealthy.

I feel relieved because the two Christmas trees that are displayed all year in my house finally make sense for a few weeks.

I erect not one, but two additional Christmas trees for the season… one topped with Tinkerbell and one topped with a bear with angel wings.

I purchased light-up Disney Christmas crocs that I have been wearing steadily since I bought them.  In a rare nod to adulthood, I did get them when I was in California where I could take advantage of my friend’s employee discount. 

I came home from the pool this morning a little chilled and decided to don some warm clothes.  See below.

me in my elf comfy
I’m Christmas crazy, right down to my toes!

I rest my case.  Have a holly jolly, everyone!

PS. Kringle sends his wishes for a merry and bright Christmas, too!

Your turn! Have I gone completely around the bend? Please tell me about any of your “whimsical” Christmas activities. Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Christ-más Traditions

Most of us have heard the slogans “Jesus Is The Reason For The Season” and “put Christ In Christmas.” I first heard them as a child, so they have been around for quite some time. I thought they were snappy reminders that Christmas is more than Santa Claus and eight tiny reindeer.  After all, Clement Moore did not invent Christmas; God did.  And Christmas is just one chapter in the wonderful story of God’s love for us.

I don’t want to dismiss the merry moments that we enjoy as part of our ho-ho-holidays. Most of us cherish memories of family traditions and secularized celebrations of Christmases past.  We also cherish the beauty and mystery of the Nativity- the unimaginable wonder of the birth of a Savior who would bring an eternal Light to a World suffering in darkness.  We understand that the true meaning of Christmas fills the heart with way more warmth than the most sentimental Hallmark Christmas movie.  We understand that the true meaning of Christmas is a more miraculous gift than the most elaborately wrapped Christmas present.  We understand that the true meaning of Christmas is about more pure Joy than the shiniest Christmas tree can provide.  We know that Jesus is the reason for the season, and we put Christ in Christmas. 

I still don’t want to give up my secular Christmas traditions.  It is fun to decorate for Christmas. I get giddy about hunting for my elf on the shelf.  I disregard my regrettable lack of musical talent when I go Christmas caroling. I love dedicating some special festive time with friends and family, allowing overwhelming waves of affection and gratitude to wash over me.  I enjoy giving and receiving presents. I willed myself into believing in Santa Claus until I was eleven years old, so it is unlikely that I will kick him to the curb at this late date.   

I think we can center Christmas on Christ and still enjoy favorite secular traditions.  In fact, I think we can enjoy those secular traditions even more by making them Christ-más (more Christ) traditions.  With a few simple hacks, we can enrich some of our more familiar secular traditions with fortified Christmas spirit. 

For instance, it is easy to add the true meaning of Christmas to our holiday decorating.  There are all kinds of beautiful Nativity decorations.  Also, some families make a Jesse tree early in Advent.  A Jesse tree is named after the reference in Isaiah 11:10 which indicates that the Savior will spring from the root of Jesse.  The tree is usually leafless and scraggly looking, much like a tree in the desert battling against the harsh earthly elements and holding on to life only by a strong root.  It is decorated with ornaments that tell the story of salvation.  The ornaments may include symbols from the Old Testament, like Joseph’s coat and Noah’s ark, as well as ornaments depicting important events in the life of Jesus, such as the Star of Bethlehem, the dove, and the cross. 

If a family likes their elf-hunting or opening boxes on an Advent calendar to reveal candies or toys, it might be a good idea to incorporate other “readiness” activities during Advent. Some Advent calendars reveal Scripture quotes or part of the Nativity story each day rather than candy or toys.  In my case, I have an advent wreath.  Each night, I light the weekly number of candles and read a devotion.  The time leading up to Christmas is about building excitement and getting ready to welcome our Savior.  There is nothing wrong with hunting for elves on the shelves, but why not also spend some time exciting the soul, as well?

There are many Christmas carols that focus on the birth of Jesus.  I think we are sometimes a bit tentative about those songs, as if we might offend people who are not believers.  I guess it is good to be sensitive, but that doesn’t mean we should keep our love of Christ hidden.  I remember caroling one year when we visited a house where a Jewish man lived.  We were somewhat reluctant to sing Christmas songs because he didn’t celebrate Christmas.  We went ahead and I was so glad we did because he was so touched.  He even thanked us for generously sharing our joy and tradition with him.

Spending time with family and friends at Christmas is wonderful.  There are plenty of people who don’t get to share Christmas with loved ones.  We can celebrate Christ-más by enlarging our family circle to include an outsider.  Hospitality is a gift of the Holy Spirit and love is always meant to be given away.  Giving love away to people who are not in our immediate network of friends and family can make our Christmas more joyous and more Christlike. 

There is nothing wrong with presents, either.  I love shopping to find just the right gift for people and I enjoy the surprise of opening a package addressed to me.  I do think it is valuable to add one more gift under the tree, though.  You can wrap up a check to your church or organization that provides comfort to the suffering in the world and open it on Christmas Day to remind you that being able to give to others is a wonderful gift in itself. 

Then, there is Santa Claus.  I’ve always loved the rendition of Santa Claus kneeling, hat in hand, before the Baby Jesus.  It reminds me that Jesus, not Santa, is truly the Spirit of Christmas.  This year, I think Santa is going to bring Scripture cards to stuff in the stockings, in addition to the ubiquitous sugar plums. 

This year let’s take “Keep Christ in Christmas” to the next level.  Let’s infuse our secular holiday with Christ-más

Merry Nativity, everyone!

Precious Lord,

Thank you for all Your many blessings.  Help us to keep You at the center of our Christmas celebrations and the center of our lives.  The only gift we simply must have this Christmas is Your love in our lives.  Come into our lives and share Your light with us.  May we bear that Light to the world, to the glory of Your name.

In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen

Your turn… what Christmas traditions do you observe? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a joyful day!

Terri/Dorry

Return On Investment

I think I’m going to venture into weird territory today.  Get ready.

Ever since my mother died and, most especially, since I turned 60, I’ve been looking at life differently.  In particular, I’m looking at money differently.  I’m not sure it is healthy.  I’m bringing it up in the hope that you all can provide some perspective to keep me off the ledge.

I am not wealthy.  There have been times in my life when I’ve had to make choices about what bills to pay and what food to buy, based on my financial situation.  I consider myself very lucky because I’ve always had a secure job and a paycheck that represented a living wage.  Despite that blessing, I have never made enough money for finances to be a non-issue in my life.  The good news is that my needs and wants are fairly modest.  As a result, my income is more than sufficient to cover my expenses without privation.  It isn’t that I can afford to do everything.  It is more that my tastes usually fit within the confines of what I can afford.  Also, from my younger years when I had to be careful with money, I’ve learned how to defer gratification and save for big ticket purchases.  I’m very, very grateful for my economic blessings. 

Lately, though, a new sensation strikes me when I think about purchasing big ticket items- a larger dining room set, a new driveway, a renovated bathroom, new kitchen appliances, etc.  I find myself wondering if I will get my money’s worth from the investment before I die. 

I’m not sure why I should limit myself based on life expectancy.  My mother lived almost thirty years beyond the age that I am now.  My father, who died quite suddenly, lived past his 72nd birthday.  I am in reasonably good health and don’t engage in extreme sports.  I’ve no reason to believe that my death is imminent.  Certainly, I could get run over by a bus or suddenly contract some fast-acting fatal disease.  However, those possibilities have existed my whole life and they never stopped me from spending money in my younger days. 

Also, should it really matter how long I enjoy some acquisition before kicking the bucket, if said acquisition gives me pleasure?  First, if it turns out that I don’t get a lot of bang for the buck before the bucket kicking, I’ll be dead and won’t care.  Secondly, as I get older there will be fewer opportunities to enjoy spending money.  I have a secure income that meets my needs. I have a good medical plan.  I think I’m generous to others. I have long term care insurance.  Theoretically, I should not have to rely on the kindness of strangers (that is, the government) to pay for my care if I need to go to assisted living or a skilled nursing facility at some point.  Third, it isn’t like I limit myself when it comes to buying the everyday, routine, unnecessary stuff that I purchase all the time.  When I really think about it, eight or nine trips to Penney’s or Belk’s probably often add up to the same amount as it would cost to buy a new refrigerator.

I understand that it isn’t rational to consider my life expectancy in deciding whether or not to make a large purchase.  I get that.  Obviously, I can make an effective argument about why life expectancy should not be a factor.  However, I still have this nagging doubt when deliberating whether to make one of those major purchases.  In the past year, I did get a larger dining room set and I did get the driveway repaved.  Both were major expenditures.  I love the new dining room set and I love the new driveway.  Still, every time I look at them, I get this feeling that is almost shame-like.  It feels like I had no right to buy them because of my advanced age. Some part of me seems to believe that, if the useful life of the purchase is going to outlast my own useful life, I should not waste the money. 

I told you we were going to venture into weird territory today.

What do you think?  Do you ever feel like you should be considering your useful life when deciding whether to spend large sums of money?  How weird is this?  How do you get past the feeling?  Please leave your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a useful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Thanks Again

Believe it or not, I’ve been publishing this weekly blog for nearly four years.  In all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever repeated a post.  As tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, I wanted to do something special to acknowledge my multitude of blessings.  Several years ago, I posted about my Thankful Thursday project.  That piece is still one of my absolute favorite blog posts.  I recently presented a devotional based on that piece at a church women’s meeting.  Because that devotional seemed to strike such a melodious chord with my sisters in faith and because that piece is still one of my favorites of all my posts, I decided the post merited an encore performance this Thanksgiving week. 

Thankful Thursday

When I was working, I used to sponsor a weekly “Thankful Thursday” event in my office.  Each Thursday, I would send an email to my entire staff, listing five things for which I was especially thankful that week and inviting everyone to come to my office for a cookie or donut or some kind of treat I brought to work.  The price of admission was simply to share one thing for which the worker was thankful.  I tried to be strategic in my five weekly “thankfuls,” using the opportunity to recognize employees’ exceptional efforts or to reinforce some key message to the staff.  I also included some thankfuls that were “just for fun.”  One day, one of my subordinate managers came to see me before “thankful time” and said, “You must be having a bad week.”  When I asked him why he said that, he explained, “When you said you were thankful for the color pink, I figured you must be scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

The color pink notwithstanding, Thankful Thursday was a positive experience.  Usually, about a third of the staff would show up. I think it was an opportunity to leverage positive energy and acknowledge what was truly important in life.  Even if I am fooling myself believing it was helpful to my employees, it was rejuvenating and uplifting to me to have a dedicated time to revisit my blessings each week.

Now that I am retired, I think it is important to continue the tradition.  I have gone too long without remembering the bounty of things for which I am thankful.  Here goes….

  • I am thankful for my retirement and the luxury of not having to do everything in the most efficient way humanly possible.  When I was working, I craved sleep like crack addicts crave cocaine.  Now, I rest and putter through my existence at a pace slow enough to live mindfully and fast enough to avoid stagnation.  I am also thankful for my career.  The years of labor that led to my retirement were filled with meaningful, interesting work.  Although responsibility and leadership are stressful and exhausting, it is also incredibly rewarding.  I had the opportunity to nurture strength, kindness, and integrity in myself and others.
  • I am thankful for the financial stability and economic benefits I enjoy.  I am thankful that I can meet my basic needs with abundant food and safe shelter.  I am thankful that I have the resources to give to others.  I am thankful for the plenty that allows for little extras for leisure and pleasure, like books and movie tickets, modest shopping sprees, vacations, and day trips to explore the interesting adventures of my new state.
  • I am thankful for my country and the freedoms it provides.  I am thankful for the men and women throughout our history whose courage, honor, imagination, intelligence, and decency created the rich, intricate fabric that we now know as the United States of America.
  • I am thankful for the people I love and I am thankful that love has no boundaries. I am thankful for the people who live close by, filling my daily life with grace and love.  I am thankful for those who live far from me but whose spirits are never far from my heart.  I am thankful for those who have passed from this life.  They live in my heart and continue to enrich my life each day. I am thankful for my readers, who fuel me to explore my mind and to create.
  • Most of all, I am thankful for my good Lord from whom all these “thankfuls” generate.  I am thankful that I am a child of God, who has saved me and blesses me constantly in strange and mysterious ways.  I am thankful that He has chosen me to be His light unto the world.  And I am thankful that, when I let that light fade, He patiently forgives me my weakness and rekindles my flame… again and again and again.
  • Despite the challenges and stressors that exist even in retirement, there are blessings everywhere.  An attitude of gratitude does wonders.

P.S. For the record, I’m still thankful for the color pink, too!

Thank all of you so much for reading and sharing. You have no idea how grateful I am for your interest and support.

Now it is your turn!  Double extra bonus points for adding your thankfuls!  Please share by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Spooning

My brother has long maintained that my mother and I are basically the same person.  I am not sure how the metaphysics of that assertion work exactly, but he is adamant on the point. 

As much as I loved my mother and admire her many excellent qualities, I’m not sure I want to be the same person she was.  For one thing, it seems very disrespectful of who she was as a person to suggest that anyone else (myself included) could be her as effectively as she did.  Secondly, it seems a rather lazy approach to life to just duplicate someone else’s protoplasm.  Thirdly, I do believe that God made us each uniquely and we are fitted for a specific purpose.  I’d like to think that I have something to offer the world independent from being a pale carbon copy of my mother.  Basically, the world was lucky enough to have one of my mother.  She was so special that no one could ever replace her.  The world doesn’t need me to be a replica of my mother any more than diamonds need cubic zirconia.  The world might need me to be cubic zirconia, though.  You never can tell. 

I can think of a few simple differences between me and my mother right off the bat.  My mother never met a stranger- only friends she hadn’t met yet. She loved meeting new people and reveled in conversation.   I live in a world of strangers.  My ability to communicate, even with people to whom I am close, can dry up like a riverbed in Southern California. My mother could do arithmetic in her head.  I can’t be sure of a reasonable amount to tip without a calculator, pencil, and paper.  I got excited when I learned that doubling the tax in California gives you a good approximate tip amount.  The only problem was, once I determined the tip amount, I then had to mentally add it to the bill in order to know how much money to leave.  My mother would have been able to take the check, compute 15%, add the 15% amount to the total, pull out enough cash to pay, and know exactly how much change she had coming back.  My mother did not eat pizza.  I just can’t fathom how someone could live over 85 years on this planet and never eat pizza.

You can see that we are not, in fact, the same person.  Still, I understand my brother’s point.  There have been many times, especially since my mother died, when I have caught myself in an expression or gesture that reminds me so much of something my mother would have done.  When my mind is playing tricks on me, I find myself wondering if I got a particular mannerism from her or if she got it from me.  It is very confusing.  It seems likely that I somehow picked up traits from her by osmosis, just from having been around her so much.  What I find really weird is that I sometimes recognize myself doing a mannerism that she did when I never even realized she had the mannerism while she was alive.  For instance, there is a particular face I make when I am stumped by a question.  I never particularly noticed that face when my mother was alive, but, now, I clearly remember her making that face. 

Is it a good thing or a bad thing, do you think, that I seem to be turning into my mother?  My brother would argue that it isn’t a case of me “turning into” my mother, but that I always was my mother.  That whole notion contorts my brain into a very uncomfortable position.  It is sort of like looking at the little girl on the Morton salt container and seeing her picture on the Morton salt container she is holding, where that tinier little girl is holding a still tinier Morton salt container… etc., etc., etc.  Help me!

The thing is, I do want to be a unique person, but I also love that I may be growing some of my mother’s wonderful traits within myself.  Maybe there is no way to know if it is good or bad that I am turning into my mother.  And maybe it doesn’t really matter because it is happening, whether I want it to or not. Let me explain.  I realized something the other day which firmly convinced me that both nature and nurture are far stronger than I ever understood.

We used to laugh at my mother and her novel approach to flatware.  I remember a day when I brought my mother a dish of ice cream and a spoon from the kitchen. She looked at the spoon and pointed out that it was okay, but that I had not brought her “favorite” spoon.  I looked at her as if she had suddenly grown another head and asked how she could tell the difference between the spoons.  The teaspoons all looked alike to me.  As it turned out, she had a few spoons from a mismatched set of flatware she bought at a thrift store that were much smaller in size.  Those were her “favorite” spoons because she said they fit in her mouth better.  From that day on, I tried to remember to fetch the “favorite” spoon when serving her something that required a rounded utensil. 

The other morning, I realized I was rooting through the silverware drawer looking for my favorite spoon with which to eat my cereal.  In my case, it is actually the sugar spoon that came with my flatware set.  It is a better fit for the shape of my mouth than the teaspoons.  I wasn’t laughing.   

Do you think you have inherited any traits or tendencies from a parent?  How do they manifest?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a natural, nurturing day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Newsflash!!!

WHO:  Terri LaBonte, AKA Dorry Curran, AKA Dorothea Therese Curran, AKA Tinker Bell

WHAT: Subject has slipped her leash and disappeared from the blogosphere.

WHEN: She’ll be back next week with more random musings.

WHERE: She has been sighted in the vicinity of Southern California.

WHY: She went to visit her brother and some dear friends.

HOW: In an airplane, of course…. Did you think she used the power of pixie dust?

So, do you miss me?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a newsworthy day!

Terri/Dorry 😊