The Boomer Dilemma

Several days ago I had a conversation online regarding an article in The Boston Globe entitled “The Baby Boomers are Downsizing and the Kids Won’t Take the Family Heirlooms.” I read some comments that made me sad and made some comments that I now regret. Still, I have to admit, as a “Boomer” struggling with the reality of downsizing, it hurts like hell and is not for the timid!

The comments that I now regret played right into the “us vs. them” dichotomy that I have been trying to purge from my consciousness. A conversation might begin in separate camps, but no one benefits when that discussion gets mired, or ends in adversarial positions. In this stage of my life, I want to surround myself with acceptance, love, and peace. Pointing fingers against those in younger generations and labeling innocent actions with words like “selfish,” “uncaring,” and “self-centered,” stifles rather than promotes open exchange of ideas and deeper understanding. I am hoping that this blog entry will advance the conversation and help the younger generation understand what I am calling “the boomer dilemma.” 

Many (dare I say “most”) boomers were raised with a sincere devotion to our elders. When I was a child, we were not allowed to call any adult by his/her first name. If we ever “sassed” an adult, we would be severely reprimanded. If our grandparents were deceased, our families made several visits each year to say prayers at and tidy their grave sites. For some families this was done at least once per month. Growing up in the Catholic faith tradition also meant that the practices of cremation and scattering of ashes, were strictly forbidden.

I’d like my children to understand that my parents and relatives lived through the Great Depression. They worked extremely hard to be able to own a home and furnishings. They only threw something in the garbage after it was impossible to salvage. I remember my dad having new heels put on his shoes and having them “re-soled” rather than buy a new pair. They taught us to wrap our school books in saved grocery bags, there were no “fast food” packages to be thrown out after a meal, to earn money for penny candy we returned used glass bottles for the deposit, and we were always surrounded by 30-year-old refrigerators, ranges, dishes, flatware, and furniture covered in plastic. Most of the time we came to adulthood sleeping on the same bed our parents bought for us when we outgrew our cribs. We went away to college, if we could afford it, with our childhood dressers. We grew up in neighborhoods where we were born, and no more than ten miles from most of our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Relocating to the suburbs was considered a “big move.” Unless we joined the military, we seldom left the state where we were born.

As our relatives passed away, they bequeathed to us the items they worked hard to obtain and lovingly cared for year after year throughout their lives. When speaking of these treasures, they would often say, “This is your grandmother’s turkey platter or tea set,” “This is the cedar chest I got when I was 16 as part of my trousseau,” “Your grandpa gave this to me, and now I am giving it to you,” or “Great Uncle Fred wanted you to have this rosary.” We feel a sincere obligation to treasure these items and the memories of their original owners. Somehow, caring for and handling these inanimate objects, connects us to their spirit and memory in a very tangible way.

One blogger called our children the “Ikea and Target Generation” and said they have no desire for “heirlooms” like fine china or large pieces of furniture now referred to as “brown pieces.” They are mobile and have little or no job loyalty or security to keep them in a particular place for their entire lives. Everything they buy has built in obsolescence. Our children have learned that if any major appliance is still working after ten years, they are very fortunate. Many young people are sincerely seeking a simpler existence with less “stuff.” 

On an intellectual level I understand all these observations. The tension develops at the psychological and emotional level. Boomers have entered our final stage of life. Each muscle ache, new pair of bifocals, doctor’s visit, and prescription refill makes that painfully obvious. The deepest desire of our hearts is to be appreciated and remembered. In most cases, we want to stay in the familiar home we worked so hard to obtain and we want to stay around our lifelong friends. Unfortunately, finances, health, and abilities often require us to leave all that has become dear to us. It is an extremely stressful time. When a child says, “I have no use for Grandma’s vase, Uncle Charlie’s bandsaw, or the breakfront Dad gave you for your first anniversary” we hear, “Your values and memories are unimportant to me.”

We need to adjust our interpretation of our children’s responses. We need to remember that this is also a stressful time for them. They do not want to admit their parents are growing weaker and more dependent. It concerns them, when they hear about our friends dying and realize that our support systems are diminishing. They really want to honor our values and memory, but in different ways. It disturbs them when they hear we need to sell the home where they grew up. They are reluctant, as we are, to face our mortality. Most of all, they don’t want to have to make choices about the heirlooms and tchotchkes in the midst of the grieving process after our passing, particularly mundane items like formal dinnerware, cut glass, bulky furniture, and unidentified photographs. 

The dilemma is that we have those very same concerns while simultaneously experiencing physical, emotional, and psychological changes. We realize that there is less life ahead of us than is behind. We must continually “let go,” but struggle to do so. The thought of giving or disposing of cherished heirlooms to strangers or the trash heap, makes us feel that we are dishonoring the givers and somehow losing connection to the world we have known.

There are two things that might make this dilemma easier to bear. First of all, as boomers, we need to stop taking things personally when our children say, “Maybe you should give that to a charity.” or “You need to get rid of a lot of this stuff.” They are just making an observation that we, in our heart of hearts, already know is true. They are not trying to slap us in the face, though that is the interpretation we sometimes make. It would also be helpful if young people could be more gentle with their language and remember the importance of the “I-message.” For example a good response during a downsizing conversation would be, “I love you and cherish all my ancestors and all you (and they) have given me. I would truly appreciate (mention one sentimental belonging) as a cherished memento of our lives together. No matter how our lives change, I will always remember (fill in the blank with some cherished intangible memory). Would you like my help in sorting through these other items so we can pass them on to those who can really use and enjoy them as much as you have?” 

On both sides of the conversation, gentleness should temper honesty, understanding needs to take priority over practicality, and sincere love must undergird all the words we choose. I pray that we can ALL turn a dilemma into a delight when facing the challenges of downsizing.

Advertisements

Happy Mother’s Day

My two “Moms”

In a few days, here in the U.S., we will be celebrating Mother’s Day. With this in mind, I began to wonder, “Why do we celebrate Mother’s Day?” In a quick search of the internet, I found that a day honoring mothers has existed in many cultures for thousands of years under many names. I discovered that our own U.S. celebration began with one woman, Ann Jarvis, remembering her own mother during a memorial at a Methodist Church in West Virginia in 1908. It impressed me that one woman’s love and respect for her own mother was the one drop in the pond which sent ripples far and wide for over a century thus far.

Ann Jarvis’ recognition of her own mother led me to think about all our maternal roots. For many, like Ann and myself, the physical presence of our moms and grandmoms is gone. We can place flowers on their graves or have a Mass celebrated in their memories, but we can not hold their hands, give them a kiss, hear the sound of their laughter, or taste one of their delicious meal I’m sure that many of us wish we could have them back in the flesh just one more day! To those who are grieving this Mother’s Day I say, “Take consolation in knowing that, in their new lives, they are no more than a breath away.” Whenever you think of them, pray for them, or miss them, their spirit is right there with you. The love you shared bridges the chasm created by death.

Some of you may have the opportunity to see your mothers, and possibly grandmothers, every day. I hope you really appreciate what a gift that is. I know that close relationships aren’t always peaceful or as loving as we would like. After all, we are imperfect. Sometimes we have said hurtful things or have not been as attentive as we could have been. Now is the time to make those physical relationships the best you can by loving as generously as you can. Today is the time for forgiving and being humble enough to ask forgiveness when you have fallen short.

Lastly, some of you may never have known your mother. On this special day, I pray that you will honor the people who God has put in your lives to act as mother figures. Maybe you have an adoptive mom, mother-in-law, aunt, sister, teacher, or friend who nurtures your soul and challenges you to grow, because that is the heart of motherhood. In this regard many of us have been blessed to have several “Moms” in our lives.

If you happen to be Catholic, you are abundantly blessed because our faith tradition tells us that motherhood, and the celebration of Mother’s Day, is not merely a biological reality, and encourages us to look to Mary, Jesus’ mother, as our own spiritual mother! I have a good Redemptorist priest friend who will often say, “I need to talk that over with Mom,” when he is going to pray the rosary. I hope this Mother’s Day, we will all take the opportunity to develop a deeper relationship to our Blessed “Mom”, because I believe we truly please Jesus, when we show love for his mother.

As a Catholic I recognize another level to this Mother’s Day, because Scripture encourages us to consider Mary’s response to the Archangel Gabriel, “be it done unto me according to your word.” Our Church has called this response Mary’s “fiat,” literally meaning her “let it be so.” We are urged to look to Mary as our example of trust, courage, and love of God. Each day every one of us is called to make our own “fiat.” Mary’s example can give us the courage to say “Yes!” to God’s will for our lives. We are asked to open our hearts and allow Christ, “the anointed one,” to be nurtured and brought to birth anew in this world. We are all, in one sense, called to be mothers to Jesus Christ. Of course, we can never carry Him in a womb as Mary did, but we can carry Him in our hearts and share his love as she did. So, with that in mind, I wish each of you, man or woman, child or adult, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Sweet Cornbread

It just came to my attention that I have not shared a recipe lately. I will remedy that situation right now!

First off, allow me to say that I’m a “northern gal.” I figured I’d better make that clear right in the beginning because when it comes to cornbread I’m sure my sisters in the south have a million recipes. I’m also sure that many of those recipes originated with their “Mee-Maw”, their “Aunt Maybelle”, or “Granny Something-or-other.” I would NEVER cast aspersions on any of those wise women or their ancestors’ recipes. However, being a “northern gal” I must say that many of the old southern cornbread recipes have left me unsatisfied due to a grainy or dry texture. Maybe, I have not been exposed to “Mee-Maw’s recipe” and would feel completely different if I had.

That being said, a dear friend of mine brought this recipe to a Lenten Simple Supper a few years ago and it has been my “go-to” cornbread recipe ever since. I don’t know if the “Jiffy” brand mixes are available in the true south, but I don’t know what I would do without them.

I have tried to make this recipe with a regular yellow cake mix and, thought it was tasty, it was too sweet and more like a yellow cake than a cornbread. The Jiffy mixes weigh in around 9 oz and a standard boxed yellow cake is closer to 18 oz. So, I think it was just too much cake!

This is definitely not a diet-friendly, sugar or fat restricted recipe, so it is not something I would bake every day. My husband is a diabetic, so this is definitely only for really special occasions and we cut it into 24 slices to try to keep it realistic. It is, however, the tastiest cornbread I have ever had and served with Apple Butter, it is sheer nirvana!

Sweet Corn Bread

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 box Jiffy yellow cake mix
1 cup sour cream
1 can creamed corn
1 stick butter melted (cooled to room temperature, or you will cook the eggs)
3 eggs

oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray (butter flavor is the best for this recipe or you may grease a pan with with shortening, if you’d prefer). Mix together corn, eggs, sour cream and melted butter. When thoroughly blended add both boxed Jiffy mixes. Pour into prepared 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cut when cool. Serve with apple butter. Makes 24 slices.

Is Social Media Social?

Eight weeks ago I gave up social media for Lent and the experience has led me to some pretty interesting insights. A simple Google search will show that some people think social media is the death knell of true social interaction, while others feel it is the gateway to social evolution. As with most of my life experiences, I would have to say I fall somewhere in the middle.

My first reaction was that I really didn’t miss the hours I normally spent texting, emailing, reading and replying to Facebook posts. I found myself calmer, less agitated, and more relaxed.What did I do with the extra time? I slept a bit more, I read a couple of books, conducted a discussion/prayer group, read a few more magazine articles and newspaper stories, spent time renovating a bathroom, and possibly watched a bit more TV.

When I consider that list, except for the discussion group, I replaced social interaction (albeit electronic) with time alone and introspective pursuits. Considering this began as a means of Lenten discipline, I think I have accomplished some of my goals. However, I must admit, I did not increase my prayer time as much as I had hoped and I didn’t find the time to read all the spiritual books I had intended. That was no surprise because I always think I can accomplish more in less time than is physically possible.

I was ready to give up my social media endeavors, including this blog. After all, I felt less stressed, my internal anger wasn’t stirred by conflicting opinions and rude commentary, my heart wasn’t broken daily by all the visual displays of humanity’s inhumanity. I had filled the time with positive and productive activities. So, why not make my electronic “fast” permanent?

Then my husband and I attended the fiftieth wedding anniversary party for a couple we have known for about forty years. I met with other nearly lifelong friends. I found that, in my seven weeks fasting from social media, one friend, who had driven up from Missouri to attend the event, was very successfully recuperating from a stroke. Another friend was preparing to begin dialysis treatments. Still another was living through the loss of a business and home. We reminisced about the friends who had “died too soon,” and shared the joys and sorrows of our growing families. We talked about journeys we had taken and life-changing experiences. I basically spent the night catching up on a lot of important personal information I would have already known had I been doing my usual electronic correspondence.

Yes, social media is a poor replacement for a big person-to-person anniversary celebration, phone call, coffee klatsch, girls’ night out or home visit. We share information in private that we might not, or should not, on social media. Still, the last five times I have set up a face-to-face gathering between more than two people, it has taken many texts, emails, and personal messages to come up with a common available time slot.

The reality of the twenty-first century is that relationships exist across distance and disparate life obligations. We no longer function within tight close-knit familial and ethnic enclaves. Not every family member or friend has evenings and Sunday afternoons free for “entertaining” or socializing. Our society is more mobile and families don’t stay glued to their homes for 12 hours a day or within the same 20 mile radius for fifty years. Our phone lines are no longer private roads of contact with distant relatives. Don’t get me wrong, phones are still a tremendous means of communication. However, ninety percent of my phone calls come from solicitors and salespeople…and I am on the so-called “do not call list.” I am very grateful for caller I.D.

Okay, social media is not perfect. It gives people perceived anonymity and opens the door to soapbox rants, unkind and rude commentary, “alternative facts”, crude jokes and memes and other unsavory elements. It also offers a doorway to prayer requests, global support networks, positive sharing, and interesting (and affordable) daily news from family and friends across the country and around the globe. For example, our daughter will soon be studying in India and our only reasonable means of contact will be via the internet. As with any personal interaction, it is not the hardware or software involved, but the flesh that operates and manipulates those technologies which makes for positive or negative experience.

So today, I return to social media and have decided to continue this blog. My Lenten journey has reminded me that I am not perfect, no person is perfect, so why should I expect more from social media–the interaction of imperfect people? Still, at its best, it is a 24/7 means for reaching out across the miles with news of family and friends, words of inspiration, prayer support, civil discussion and positive encouragement. After all, isn’t that what it really means to be social?

Lenten Joy?

Are you eager to experience the beginning of Lent? Are you starting to anticipate the opportunities for deeper prayer, reconciliation, and charitable action? Can you feel the joy bubbling up inside of you? I am, but it has been a long journey to reach this sense of love and enthusiasm for the season. When I was a child, Lent was a somber and very negative experience full of sorrow, sacrifice and rules, rules, RULES! The feeling of joy was relegated to the bygone Christmas season. We never gave a single thought to the concept of Lenten joy! Even the elation of “Paczki Day” (a.k.a. “Fat Tuesday” or “Shrove Tuesday”) was marred by focusing on the seriousness of the season ahead.

Maybe I should explain that in our Polish neighborhood, in Catholic school, the religious sisters would fry “paczki,” just for this celebration. These were raised donuts coated in granulated sugar and filled with prune “powidła” or sometimes jelly. On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent), in true Mardi Gras fashion, students would be treated to this sweet delight with a carton of whole milk and sometimes chocolate milk! Lest we become gluttonous as we devoured these special treats, the sisters would remind us that this was the “last luxury” we should have until Easter Sunday. For the next 40 days we were to be following Jesus and mirroring his passion and death on the cross in every thought, word, and action. We would be required to “give something up” and some teachers would have students write a note detailing his/her planned sacrifice to emphasize and ingrain the importance of the practice.

Of course, the classroom clown would volunteer, “S’ter, I will give up doing homework for Lent!” Other students would wrack their brains trying to figure out the LEAST painful sacrifice saying,”I’m going to give up Jujubes,” thus leaving the doorway open for consuming every other penny candy of the time. Of course, those of us who had aspirations for the religious life, would take the season very seriously and plan elaborate mortifications like giving up chocolate, soda pop, or “sweets,” which meant cold turkey sugar withdrawal!

As we got older (seventh and eighth grades), along with the reining-in of our gastronomic desires, we were also told to replace “frivolous” hobbies with spiritual reading and participation in various Lenten devotions. It was often during this season that our parish would sponsor a Lenten Mission, which called for a commitment to attend three to five extra one-hour evening sessions of prayer and silence. In high school, we began attending retreats (several days of extended silence, prayer, and religious devotion).

There was only one thing wrong with all these “mortifications,” the only reason we were given was that we needed to counteract our physical weaknesses (our “concupiscence”). Though grueling at the time, I am grateful because this early training and discipline created sturdy foundations for the future trials of life and the resultant spiritual growth. So there is definitely Lenten joy in those memories.

After the Second Vatican Council our Lenten practices became less focused on private introspection and devotion and leaned more heavily toward outreach to our brothers and sisters in need. If we gave up any food, we were instructed to use the saved money to help those who were hungry. When we spent time in silence, it was often preceded by a guided meditation highlighting Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. Retreats and parish missions included small and large group discussion and much less silence.

Mandatory fasting and abstaining from meat were removed from all Fridays, though they still applied to Lenten observances. Some people chose not to hear, but we were often reminded that those little sacrifices were even more beneficial when done out of love rather than legal obligation. The reasoning behind our Lenten sacrifice became clearer, our physical hunger was intended to point us toward our deeper spiritual hunger. Knowing why we were making sacrifices imbued the action with greater joy.

As years went by, the fervor and excitement which attended the “fresh air” of Vatican II, began to dwindle and sometimes led to spiritual laziness. Since we were no longer bound by a law and the weight of the phrase “under the penalty of mortal sin,” many viewed this penitential season too lightly (if they thought of it at all). More and more people passed up the many opportunities to further their spiritual growth. Retreat houses were closed for lack of participation. But as the Scriptures tell us, “there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven.”

Today the seats in church may hold fewer people and the world may seem more divided, but Lent still offers everyone a time to step back and examine how we spend our days. It is no longer a time for concentrating on suffering and punishment. Though we recall, in special ways, the terrible suffering that Jesus willingly endured, we also know (as Paul Harvey used to say) “the rest of the story.” As Christians we believe, Jesus is still alive and present in our midst. If that doesn’t make joy bubble in your heart, I don’t know what will.

True, Lent is a time to be honest with ourselves about our own faults and failings, which should cause us to be contrite. However, it is also a time to open our hearts to forgive others as we ourselves are forgiven by God, and forgiveness is always a cause for joy!

Lent is a time of homecoming, renewal, and rebirth which is marked by an increase in prayer, fasting and helping others (almsgiving)! So this Lent I plan to take a break from Social Media (for me that means Facebook and LinkedIn). I don’t know how that is going to go, but it will surely tell me a lot about my inner life. As a Catholic, I will also be observing meatless Fridays. I will tell you that I won’t be giving up chocolate! I learned a long time ago, that only makes me cranky and less like Christ. I will be dusting off some spiritual paperbacks I’ve long been meaning to read or re-read. The time I spend away from my keyboard will be channeled toward prayer and gathering with my parish family. I’m really looking forward to the joy of Lenten introspection, reconciliation, and outward action, aren’t you?

Who Do You Think You Are Anyway?

img_2287Were you born before 1960? If you were, then you probably know where I am going with this title and can skip to the next paragraph. However, if you were born after that, you might need this explanation. When I (and many others my age) were misbehaving adolescents, exasperated adults would often say, “Who do you think you are?” If the adult was extremely perplexed the word “anyway” would be added, as in “Who do you think you are ANYWAY?” This past weekend, the homilist at my parish reminded me of this old parental cliche and it has been rolling around in my head ever since.

That line was always meant to instill humility, though that was seldom the immediate result. For example, when I would return home after curfew my mom or dad would say “Who do you think you are anyway?” Today I realize what they meant was, “Do you think you have outgrown your concern for us? Did you ever give a thought to us? Did you ever think about how frightened we were that something terrible might happen to you? Do you think you are above the need for our guidance?” In my youth, I just became angry, because I interpreted my parents’ question as a desire for control and dominance, and I was too young and immature have a real sense of humility and empathy.

In my youth my response to “Who do you think you are anyway?” was usually silence and anger. First of all, because I didn’t dare to “sass back.” Secondly, because I believed their motivation was to prevent me from enjoying life. Their actual desire was to instill a concern for others, but that didn’t become clear until years later.  Today I realize, if I had only been able to be calm, honest, and humble, I would have said, “I’m sorry! I was selfish. I didn’t mean to hurt or worry you. I’ll do better next time.”

I realize that the way I acted as a young person, was due to my own self-centeredness. Like the Grinch in the Dr. Seuss tale, my teenage heart was “two sizes too small.” As I moved through life, became a parent, and now a grandparent, my heart has been growing and I have a better understanding of the importance of humility and empathy. Still, life can present some challenges which cause my heart to shrink like wool in hot water!

In the political atmosphere of recent years, I’ve had this shrinking experience many times. The lack of cooperation among the various levels of my government, and example of my legislators, have sent me back into the smallness and immaturity of my youth. I find myself often devolving into fear, anger, and resentment. It is not until I ask myself, “Who do you think you are anyway?” that I can honestly say, “I am an American woman. I am disappointed with the adolescent in-fighting of my legislators. I am afraid for the future.”

I know the ideal of a multi-party system is, at its finest, to give voice to differing opinions and promote discussion and debate in order to work toward a compromise by which the majority of the nation’s people have their needs met. In recent years, the political pendulum is swinging wildly toward terrible extremes. Suddenly, I hear my concerned parental voice asking my government officials, “Who do you think you are anyway? When my heart tells me it might be more helpful to say, “Have you outgrown your concern for all of us? Do you ever give a thought to others? Do you ever consider how frightened we are? Do you think you are above the need for our guidance?”

It is precisely at these times that I realize I need to become more grounded (the true meaning of humility). It does not help my heart to grow when I focus on the greed, power struggles, and self-aggrandizement of the politicians. It disturbs my soul when I consider the wild claims of their supporters and their detractors. Fear does not help me to reach out in love to my brothers and sisters in need. Anger prevents me from being a good listener. Resentment closes my heart to empathy.

In order deal with these moments of fear, anger, and resentment more effectively,  I find it helpful to read (and re-read) Max Ehrmann’s prose poem “Desiderata.” It reminds me who I am and who I want to be. I believe that if more people focused on these “desired things,” we might be able to find common ground. I am reprinting it here in the hope that Mr. Ehrmann’s words may uplift you as they have me, no matter what the political climate.

DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, 1927

Take Heart!

Have tears been falling a lot lately? Are you experiencing a tad of melancholy? Have aches and pains prevented you from enjoying the day or kept you awake at night? Has illness impacted your life so that each day seems more trial than treat? Is worry bearing down on you?

I’m here to tell you “Take heart!” Please know that I am not making light of your pain. I have been there. The pain is real! It can be debilitating! It can feel as if you are in a dark tunnel that has no end. You push yourself through each day, as if you were walking through ankle, knee, or even waist-deep mud. What I am telling you is that you are not alone, that you have everything you need to deal with this, and that the darkness will never overcome the light.img_2125

Whenever I find myself being dragged down by the trials of life, I look to the examples of the many people who have graced my life with their wisdom. It is then I realize each sorrow in my life has taught me something and has truly made me stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate toward those who are being challenged. The dark clouds have also taught me to be more appreciative of all the silver linings.

In my youth, my Mom taught me a great coping skill. Whenever I would wake up feeling less than energetic and mumble, “I’m too sick to go to school.” Mom would take my temperature. If it was a healthy 98.6 degrees this was her advice, “Get up. Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Comb your hair and get dressed. If you do all that and you still feel bad, we’ll reconsider you going back to bed and staying home.”

The lessons I took away from that experience are many. First, I learned that I am not a morning person. I do not normally pop out of bed delighted to face the day. I need to stretch, tap the snooze button a few times, yawn, and allow my body to awaken slowly. With that in mind, I set the alarm 1/2 hour earlier than necessary. So take heart, the adage “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” does not work for everyone!

I learned to be aware of my health. Sometimes, I really was sick, running a fever, and needed to stay in bed. When I was sick, the rule was rest in bed for at least 24-48 hours. In my childhood, we only had one TV and one telephone, both in the living room. So this rule meant the activity for the day would be light reading, coloring, eating a light meal, or sleeping.

It also meant that this protocol would not change after school was dismissed. In other words, I could not suddenly “get well” and go out to play with friends. What I learned from this is that one should not try to rush healing. Sometimes, 24 to 48 hours of REAL rest is the best medicine. A day or two away from TV, phones, and social media can be good for the mind. Eating simple foods like tea, toast, broth, crackers, and gelatin can be good for the body. Quiet restful contemplation and sound sleep can be good for the soul.

But most importantly, I learned that, when I’m physically well but feeling blue, it helps to just put one foot in front of the other, take care of minimal physical needs and, deal with only the immediate task in front of me. Take heart, know that occasionally it is enough to rise, you aren’t always obliged to shine as well.

In my teen years, when I was preparing for my senior prom, my hair would not cooperate and I was convinced the style was going to be an embarrassment. I was such a drama queen back then!! My mom said, “I think it looks fine, but if you think it is THAT bad, why don’t you just wear one of your wigs?” (I must say that my prom was in 1970 and hairpieces and wigs were as common as hair extensions today.) I told myself, “NO ONE else is going to wear a wig. I’ll be the only one!” When I arrived at the prom MANY girls were wearing hairpieces and wigs!

That experience taught me that, when things don’t turn out the way I planned, it is important what I say to myself, and there are always other options. It also taught me to be aware of my own tendency to blow things out of proportion. With each year that goes by, I get a little better at keeping things in perspective and reminding myself that most perceived trials in life will eventually prove to be insignificant.

So take heart! When you are feeling that life is not going the way you’d like, say to yourself, “calm down,” then look for other options. Smile, it changes your body chemistry. Call a friend. Go for a walk. Take a drive to someplace beautiful. Take a box of cookies to a nearby firehouse or police station and thank them for their service. Write a note to someone who might be lonely. I’m sure you will think of many other things that can help turn your focus outward. You may find that just thinking of someone else actually helps you feel better.

As I grow older, the thoughts that weigh me down are largely fueled by fears of the future. The “what ifs” can really raise my blood pressure. In those times, I’m training myself to concentrate on my breath. Ten long slow inhales and exhales, with all the concentration on the movement of my abdomen, signals my body to relax. I remind myself that tomorrow is never guaranteed and I have absolutely no control over what will happen. Since I am a Catholic and believe in the power of prayer, I do my best to give my concerns over to God by repeating the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in You.” For others, it might be helpful to imagine the challenge as a helium balloon, hug that balloon, and then release it to the power of the universe.

Again, I say, take heart! Keep your eyes, mind, and heart open. Experience has taught me that, in some unexplainable way, I am never alone, and in my deepest, darkest hours, when I have held my worries up in prayer, I felt supported and loved. I must add that after sixty-four years I understand that every experience, whether I labeled it as “good” or “bad,” has made me who I am today. I know anything that happens tomorrow will offer opportunities for growth or stagnation, depending upon the meaning I give it.

In this moment be gentle with yourself in thought, word and deed. Breathe deeply. Before bed it might help to write your concerns in a journal. When you physically put the book away, you can say to yourself, “If I need, I can reexamine this concern tomorrow, but for now, I relinquish it to God/heaven/the universe.” This practice may just give you a more restful night. Sleep well and take heart!

Pillows of Deliciousness

Christmas is past. The new year is upon us. Here in the Midwest we have begun the long trudge toward Spring. Midwesterners traditionally surround themselves with comfort foods. Stews topped with dumplings are bubbling, bowls of soup are steaming, casseroles topped with cheese and bread crumbs abound and crock pot recipes fill our social media pages. So you might be thinking that the days of tasty sweet treats have been tucked away with the last nativity scene, pine cone, and Santa ornament. Not for my family!

Today I have pulled out a kolaczki recipe given to me by my best friend. I think she received the recipe from her cousin, who received it from someone else. It is one of those wonderful treasures that will be passed from one energetic baker to another from generation to generation. It is very different from the cake-like kolaczki which were served as the dessert at any Polish celebration throughout our lives. These little delights are light and crisp pillows filled with just a bit of sweet filling! They require a bit of fussing, but are well worth the effort! Enjoy!img_2021

Kolaczki (makes 9 dozen)

1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) margarine at room temperature (I prefer butter)
3 (3 oz) packages of cream cheese at room temperature (I use Neufchâtel)
3 c. flour

Powdered sugar
1 1/2 cans of Solo filling (your favorite flavors)

Cream margarine and cream cheese thoroughly. Blend in flour and mix well. Roll into 12 balls. (Each ball will be approximately 2.8 oz) Wrap each ball in saran and refrigerate AT LEAST 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease shiny baking sheets.

Liberally sprinkle your working area with powdered sugar. Place one ball of dough at a time on the sugar and roll into a 9 inch circle. (Keep the remainder of the dough balls in the refrigerator.) Cut the circle into 8 wedges. Place about scant 1 tsp of filling at the wide end of each wedge. Fold the end of the dough over the filling and seal around it. Then roll the wedge in crescent fashion. Press the two ends to seal and then fold under to hold the point in place and create a little pillow shape.

Place about and inch apart on the greased baking sheet. These do not rise or spread very much, so you don’t need loads of space between.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bottom of the crescents are lightly golden. Don’t be too concerned if some of the filling oozes.

Remove from the baking sheet immediately and allow to cool. When COMPLETELY cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve, or store in an airtight container with wax paper or baking parchment between each layer of cookies.

Happy New Year

Today I have GREAT news! It is a new year, all our attention is focused upon a future of possibility. We have another opportunity for a fresh start! All the mistakes we have made in the past are passed…the proverbial “water under the bridge.” Turing the calendar allows us to celebrate the triumphs of the outgoing year and physically tear up a symbol of whatever was negative in the year gone by. The days ahead are a blank slate!

Yes, I know that the news coming from Chicago and around the world is not very positive. Gun violence, man’s inhumanity, and the petty actions of our government leaders are still very real. However, a very wise college professor once made this observation, “Commercial news by its very nature must be sensational. The things you read in the newspaper or watch on TV must always have a hook that makes the story stand out. If newspapers ever become full of stories of daily kindness, compassion, generosity, and understanding, the world will be in serious trouble. If violence and brutality ever become the norm, those happenings will no longer deserve commercial space. They will no longer be news!”

That observation has brought me much hope in the times when I begin to feel helpless against the tide of darkness. It is at those times that I look to my neighborhood and neighborhoods around the globe. I look for all the unsung acts of kindness and courage that happen each day without much fanfare. I look at those teachers who go to work daily, diligently studying the needs of their students and searching for ways to make difficult concepts more understandable. I think about the nurses and doctors balancing the concerns of their personal lives with the joys, sorrows, and concerns of patients and their families. I rejoice in the members of my faith family who are always willing to lend a hand when someone needs food, clothing, comfort, shelter, and a ride to the store or doctor. I marvel at those who are caring for loved ones suffering the hardships of declining health or facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or approaching death. I admire the men and women who work one, two, and even three jobs trying to provide for their families. I appreciate all the moms and dads doing their best to raise healthy, happy and responsible children while balancing work and family life. I respect the men and women who lay their lives on the line everyday in the military, fire and police services and their families who continually pray for a safe return at the end of every day. I remember the many people facing serious illness, who endure uncomfortable tests and painful treatments with little complaint. I respect those who honestly pursue ways to overcome addictions, mental illness, and homelessness.

This new year I am struck by the fact that the vast majority of life is just ordinary people, doing ordinary things with extraordinary courage and humility. The thousands of good people I have met in my lifetime, face each day with no media attention. Whenever I have said, “I really admire your courage, perseverance, patience or generosity,” my comment is usually met with a humble and selfless reply which reminds me of the old song, “we did it all for the glory of love.”

Oh, sure we all have our days of complaint when life’s challenges and changes weigh heavy on our shoulders! Those are the times we truly appreciate the ear of a friend, loved one, counselor or confessor who understands our frustration, and points us toward renewed hope.

This new year I stand in awe of the resilience of the human spirit and sing the praises of all those ordinary people who continually find a way to step back, take a deep breath, and face each new day with fresh determination and perseverance, especially those who do it all with a smile and real interior joy! You are my heroes!

I wish each and every one of you blessings, strength, joy, and love in 2017!!

Let Charity and Love Prevail

“It’s on the internet and so it MUST be true!” I was recently at a luncheon when the man next to me sarcastically voiced this cliche to his companions. My first reaction was an internal giggle, but because I am who I am, it was a simple statement that got me thinking about how much “fact checking” I do whenever I am going through e-mail and social media (which is A LOT). I would say that at least half the time I spend on the internet is spent fact checking. This leads to checking the fact-checkers and questioning the agendas therein.

Add to that the many articles written about “fake news” generators and the difficulties involved in differentiating truth from fiction. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO for Facebook, along with other social media experts have been dealing with ways to combat or, at least, make “fake news” more obvious.

The veracity of the internet and the abundance of fake news led me to consider the current political battle taking place on social media. No, I’m not talking about the the Democrats and Republicans. What I AM talking about is the “Merry Christmas-Happy Holidays-Season’s Greetings” debate.

My social media and email have recently been overrun by memes and graphics that insist the TRUE greeting should be “Merry Christmas” and any other is wrong. Yes, for Christians, Jesus is the reason for the season. Still, I believe Jesus would be a bit disappointed with the anger and hatred that is being promoted in an effort to honor Him. A hymn comes to mind, “Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.”

Yes, the truth is that in our current time and among many cultures, the reason we have days off from work, collect holiday pay, decorate our homes, and make major changes in our schedules is because, since the fourth century, December 25th has been the traditional date to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. I am a Catholic-Christian and therefore I say “Merry (or Blessed) Christmas.” However, I rejoice when someone takes the time to smile and wish me happiness and peace, no matter what words they use. I am also glad that, even for non-Christians, this time of year calls us all to ponder the goodness in life and extend our hands in generosity.

img_1927History tells us that fourth century Christians used the winter solstice (the astronomical observance of the shortest day/longest night of the year) to teach others about Jesus as the “coming of the Light.” It is important to note that scripture never tells us the date of Jesus’ birth. Using the lengthening days to teach theological concepts makes sense to me for educational and evangelization purposes. Still, I wonder if the pagans of the fourth century were upset that the early Christians were raining on their parade by using the solstice in this way. If the internet was active in the fourth century, I suspect there would be dueling memes about “Happy Winter Solstice” vs “Blessed Christmas” greetings!

Another truth is that for centuries before the Christian Era, Hanukkah had been celebrated by Jews in the month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, which translated to late November thru December on the Gregorian calendar. I can only hope that, when I say “Merry Christmas” to someone, who just happens to be Jewish, that they accept the good will that undergirds my greeting rather than berating me for not wishing them a “Happy Hanukkah.”

Still another truth is that, since the 1960s, African-Americans have felt the need to honor their African heritage by using this time of year to celebrate Kwanzaa. So, do I wish every African-American “Happy Kwanzaa”? Do I just keep my mouth shut and wait to hear their greeting? I opt for extending a greeting from my own heart and my own experience, “Merry Christmas!” Thus far, this approach has served me well.

To me the heart is more important than the head in these matters. When my heart is overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, I am honoring the ongoing life of Jesus. At those times, I have confidence that the words that come out of my mouth will be promoting peace on earth and good will. It is at those times that I am the best conduit for the spirit of Christ alive among humanity.

With all of this in mind, with complete sincerity and veracity (no fact checking necessary), I use this little part of the internet to extend greetings and prayers for blessings and joy in your life throughout this holiday season, whether you call this time Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the Winter Solstice!