About Us, Family Fun

Day 4: Celebrate a Family Tradition

This is Day 4 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to celebrate existing family traditions and consider starting some new ones.

One Thanksgiving, when Iliana was a toddler, we ended up with no family to visit.  We had seen my parents the day before, and Rob’s parents were staying in Florida that year.  We decided to go to his family’s home on Lake Huron and have our own Thanksgiving.  We made all the traditional food and created a beautiful table.

It was very, very, very depressing.

It’s not the food that makes the holiday, it’s the people you spend it with.  It felt so empty to be going through the same motions, without the same fun we were used to having with everyone.

We thought of that Thanksgiving often when we first moved to Texas.  We realized this was a new chapter for us, and we would need to create some new holiday traditions, to keep them from becoming empty and lonely.

We spent our first Thanksgiving at a Yogi Bear Campground, and our subsequent traditions have been equally as non-traditional, at times.

Here are some Christmas traditions that our family enjoys:

Pancakes With Santa

When we lived in Michigan, there was a magical little house downtown, where you could go and visit Santa.  Ili loved the decorations, and the emphasis was on the experience, not on ordering photos.

When we moved to Texas, I could not find such a Santa House.  Our first Christmas, I took Iliana to the mall.  That was a big mistake.  After waiting in line for over an hour, she had a visit that barely lasted 2 minutes, tops.  There had to be a better way.

The next year we moved to the boat, and I became involved with a parenting group on Facebook.  This group hosted a Winterfest in November, and you could reserve a timeslot with Santa, for a price.  We did that.  It was more pricey than I would like, but it was much better than the mall.

Then, when I was driving past the Kemah Community Center, walkable from where we live, I saw an advertisement for “Pancakes With Santa.”  This was a free event, so of course I took Iliana that year.

There were elves, Santa visits with a tiny line (and free photos), photo opps with the mayor and other VIP’s, and, most importantly, Miss Kemah.

Iliana has participated in the Texas Miss Amazing pageant twice, and although she does not want to compete again next year, she always looks forward to talking shop with the reigning queens!  In fact, we refer to this event as “Pancakes with Miss Kemah.”

Advent Calendars

We love advent calendars!  When we first moved to Texas, we made Iliana a calendar that involved socks pulled through a cardboard board.  She would open a sock each day, and receive a toy or trinket.  We even drove to Michigan with this calendar, so she could continue the fun during that visit.

Nowadays, Iliana has discovered the cardboard calendars with the chocolates.  She chose her favorite design and helps herself to a candy every morning.

Additionally, for our craft tonight, we made a Christmas chain, and Iliana and I both wrote down activities for each day.

Christmas Eve

To prepare for the main event, we first make “Reindeer Feed,” with oats and glitter.  Then, before bed, we spread it on the bow, so Santa’s reindeer can find our boat.

As she is falling asleep, Iliana hears the “thud” as the sleigh lands on the boat.  Then she hears sleigh bells, fading off into the distance.

Christmas Morning!

Well, as soon as we all are up, it’s mimosa time!  This is a tradition we carried over from Rob’s family.  Iliana drinks orange juice and sparkling grape juice.

We open stockings first, then do gifts one at a time.

There may be a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, if we did not visit them Christmas eve.

Then it is time to enjoy all the snacks that we prepared the day before.  With Rob’s family, Christmas involved no meals, just a huge snack table.  We enjoy ham roll-ups, dips, rum balls (adults only!), baked brie, and other treats.  It is a day of eating, lounging, and watching movies.

Now It’s Your Turn!

What traditions do you enjoy?  What would you like to add?

 

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About Us, Family Fun

Day 3: Deck the Halls and Decorate

This is Day 3 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to “deck the halls and decorate.”

Our Christmas decorating fluctuates.  There have been years where we have gone all out, and years where we have kept it simple.  We always have a tree and stockings, but the rest will vary.

I know what I did not want to do, was allow Christmas decorating to become stressful.  Rob and I both have known people who have been so particular about the decorating of their tree, and so concerned with decorating their homes perfectly, that it took the fun out of the process.

When we moved to Texas, we did not have room to bring our ornaments and Christmas decorations.  So that first year, in the apartment, we made new ornaments for our tree.  The ornaments we have now are all either hand made or acquired since we made the move nearly 6 years ago.

While boat have ample room for lights, finding room for a Christmas tree was challenging when we lived on a sailboat.  On our first boat, we removed a cushion from the settee.

On Loco Lobo, however, we have room for a full-sized tree!

Iliana still placed the star.

Rob enjoyed some coffee.

And we played the fireplace video on the TV!

We chose to forego lights this year, but we did put a wreath on the bow.  I’ve set up a decorating activity for Iliana each evening.  Last night she made snowflakes.

And, noticing that our larger tree could use some more ornaments, I had Iliana make sandpaper ornaments tonight!

We will continue making decorations in the evenings, and I still need to pick up some more stockings from the dollar store.  Otherwise, our halls are decked!

Now It’s Your Turn

How are you decking the halls this Christmas season?

Philosophy

Day 2: Celebrate Friendships

This is Day 2 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to examine and celebrate friendships, and come up with small ways to connect with our friends.

While I have pared down on social engagements, friendship are still an important part of my life.  I have two friends who have moved from Michigan to Texas, many friends from my yoga class and Iliana’s special needs activities, and online friends whom I have met through blogging.

First, here are some ways that I connect with my friends:

 1.  Through Texting

While I am no longer on Facebook, I do connect with a number of friends through text.  The nature of the interactions varies from friend to friend.  I have a couple of friends where we will share random thoughts, a few days a week.  With other friends, it has been more down-to-business.  Texting is great for keeping in touch with the friends that I would like to see more, but it hasn’t been feasible in our schedule.

2.  Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!

The coffee (or wine!) date is a wonderful thing.  I could write a whole blog post on this topic.  It can be as long or as short as you want it, and there are no hurt feelings if you have to cut it short one day.  Getting together for coffee has been the backbone of most of my friendships.

There was the friend who asked me to coffee as a peace gesture, after she had set a (very necessary, in hindsight) boundary with me.

There was the friend who asked me to coffee “or something stronger” after she saw that I was having a horrible day at work.  She ended up being a strong ally last year.

There have been the coffee and lunch dates with my friend who recently moved here from Michigan, where we catch up amidst the craziness.

 3.  In the Moment Conversations

I have had more intimate conversations with friends in the parking lot after yoga class, or even while we are still in the studio.  Some of the most needed interactions seem to happen impromptu.

4.  The Marina Wine Evening

Sometimes I will be walking back from the bath house, and a neighbor will invite us over to share a glass of wine.  Usually pizza is ordered, or a cheese tray appears.  And then I go out for more wine.  Our marina friends come and go, so our interactions are always in the moment.

My Friendship Goals

So how would I like to improve my friendships in the new year?  Here are some goals that I have:

  1.  Meet up with all of my close friends at least once a month.
  2. Respond to texts within 24 hours.
  3. Do more to foster community within the marina (ie setting up a bonfire).
  4. Reconnect with my special needs parent friends.
  5. Possibly re-establish a Facebook account, being very selective with people I add as friends.

So Now It’s Your Turn

How do you plan to reconnect with your friends during and after the holidays?

Minimalism, Philosophy

25 Day Countdown to a Happy 2019

I have always loved Advent calendars!  In the past, I have collaborated with other bloggers, to write a series of posts to countdown through the holidays (our “calendar” always counted down until New Year’s).  Maybe next year, I will bring back Simplify the Season.

In the meantime, I was very excited this year to see that Sue from Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond  is doing her own advent calendar, a “25 Day Countdown to a Happy Christmas.”  Every day she will post a writing prompt from her own advent calendar.

I do realize that I am over a week behind, but I have never been one to do things on their exact dates.  My last Christmas in Michigan, Santa came to our house on the 27th, so we would have more time to prepare.  And so it will be with my advent calendar!  I am calling mine a “Countdown to a Happy 2019,” and it will take us somewhere into January.

I will post a prompt everyday, interrupting occasionally for posts about our family and other such things.

So let us begin with Day 1…

“Re-assess to Reduce the Stress”

This prompt is about reducing committments, so that the holidays (and the rest of the year) are less stressful.  This is a practice that I have been doing continually, so I thought that I would share some of the ways that I have pared down my committments.

 1.  Working Part-Time

I have written about my choice to quit my full-time teaching job and switch to substitute teaching.  This has allowed me to spend more time with my family, spend more time on my home, and even spend more time getting ready for the holidays!  I rarely have to drive in rush hour anymore, so my stress level is significantly reduced.

2.  Working Four Days a Week

I immediately realized that working five days a week was more stressful than I wanted it to be.  I did not have the time to keep our home, and I felt like my self-care was suffering.  I realize that a four day work week is not an option for everyone, but since it is for me, why not do it?  Our budget can handle it, and we are able to be self-sufficient, now that I am receiving regular paychecks.

3.  Paring Down on Close Friendships

Over the summer, I made the difficult realization that I had grown apart from my closest friends, with whom I was spending most of my time.  It was hard and painful for us to go in our separate directions, but doing so did allow me to focus on self-care and nurturing some of my other relationships.

4.  Being Mindful about Where I Work

When I first began substitute teaching, I worked in two school districts and at a two-campus charter school.  I absolutely loved the charter school and felt very energized when I worked there.  I loved one of the school districts as well, except for one campus.

I went to that campus one time, and immediately felt a negative vibe.  It looked…tired.  And so did the staff members.  I decided to keep an open mind and set forth to teach my math classes.  My last period of the day, I had a very challenging group of students, with a ringleader who was using inappropriate language and being very disrespectful.  I knew he needed to be removed from the room, so I called the number that the office had given me for disciplinary issues.

The students watched as I called, received no answer, and left a voice mail message.  I tried calling the principal and was also directed to voice mail.  At that point, I had lost the students.  They knew there would be no follow-through with their behavior.

I mulled it over and thought, “I could learn to be successful here.”  And then I wondered why I would want to, when I have the choice to work somewhere else.  So I stopped accepting assignments at that campus.

When I started working at the other school district, I immediately noticed the tired look at many of their schools.  And again, working on those campuses was always a battle.  Even when I worked at nice schools, the drive home had road construction, and I always got home later than I wanted.  I came home in a negative mood.  Eventually, I decided to stop working in that district.

5.  I Don’t Do Everything I Want to Do

This has been the hardest one for me.  It’s become easy for me to say “no” to things I don’t want to do, but what about the things I do want to do?  There are so many opportunities for fun, especially during the holidays, but doing them all will simply become too stressful.

So I don’t meet up with my friends as much as I would like to, but when we do get together, it is very special.

Yoga is a priority for me, but I do miss class if I already have something going on that afternoon or evening.

Sometimes we decline an invitation to get together with friends, if we would rather spend a night at home.

And while I sometimes feel guilty for saying “no” to something I would like to do, I have found that my saying “no,” has allowed my friends to do the same, without worrying that I will judge them.

Now It’s Your Turn

What ways have you found, to re-assess and reduce the stress?  Are there some things you would like to say “no” to?

Health

Preparing for Those Resolutions

I am the queen of setting goals.

The higher I can aim, the better.  I remember one year, when I blogged at Journey to Ithaca, my resolutions were: eat less poison, get completely off the grid, produce no more than one grocery bag or garbage per month, put together a 12-piece wardrobe, and have my Christmas shopping done by December 1.

I did eat less poison and put together a 12-piece wardrobe.  And with the other goals, I learned a lot about goal setting.

Another case in point?  My efforts to exercise consistently and lose weight.

I tried to start exercising my senior year of high school, when I was still thin.  After a year of therapy and medication, I had successfully quit my meds and was sitting in my last therapy session.  My therapist was not stellar (in fact, I had to go to therapy as an adult to unlearn a lot of things that I learned from the professionals I worked with during that time of my life!), but she did have one nugget of advice to give me.  When I asked her what I could do to help maintain my mental health, she was adamant that I start an exercise program.

I set out to do some research, and I learned that our local community center offered a free step class for high school students.  I eagerly attended and felt comfortable amongst the teens of various shapes, sizes, and ability levels in the class.  Our instructor was a cheerful 20-something named Jodi, with a bouncy pony tail.  We all really liked her.

I went to that class for about 6 months, until I graduated.  It was a few months until I got brave enough to attend my first class as an adult.

I started at the community center, since it was familiar.  But I noticed that the adult classes lacked community.  I also noticed that my heart rate often got too high during class, so I had to use less support under my step and smaller weights.  I became very self-conscious about this.

In the brochure for the community center, was an ad for a new women’s fitness center.  I went there and immediately loved the community!

What I did not love, were the large mirrors.  I was skinny and weak.  I could noticably do less than everyone else.  I paid for 28 classes, but stopped attending before I used them all.  When I thought about going back, the center had gone out of business.

When I first got married, I visited a local health club.  They offered me a great deal and a trainer put me on a program.  However, I looked so weak compared to the teenage athletes who were also working out, that I only went there twice.

I did a couch-to-5k plan from Prevention magazine. I followed it until I was running 5 miles…Until I ran past some redneck teenagers in our neighborhood, who followed me, mocking my slow running.

It was 10 years before I tried working out again.

I have told my hit and miss yoga story here, but the short version is that I did not stick with a work-out  until I found a tight-knit, small yoga studio with a teacher who was patient enough to work with anybody.  And only then, did I notice the benefits I was gaining from yoga, to the point where I experience physical pain and noticable mental differences if I miss more than 2 classes in a week.

Diet is the same pattern.  I tried diet after diet, giving up when I “slipped up” or “fell off the wagon.”  Weight Watchers, in the end, left me with no excuses.  It was only acceptable to speak of your journey in positive terms, and it became easy for me to see how much happier I am when I am eating well.

Recently, I regained 9 pounds.  But when I finally weighed myself, I also noted that I have kept 19 pounds off.  It’s not even a matter of the glass being half full, versus half empty.

So I am getting back on track.

So are you planning on making any New Year’s Resolutions?  If you are, here are some lessons I have learned from my experience in setting (and achieving!) goals:

 1.  When (not if) you “slip up,” first look at the reasons for your “lack of motivation.”

Why are you not motivated to stick with your changes?  Is there a good reason?  Before you judge or muscle your way through, look at your reasons for quitting.  I quit the step classes because I was self-conscious and needed a close-knit community without mirrors.  I quit the yoga classes at the gyms, because I did not feel like I belonged.  Once I found an exercise program that met my needs, motivation was no longer an issue.

2.  Look at your reasons “why.”

After you look at your reasons for slipping up, look at your reasons for making the changes.  Are you doing it just because someone told you to do it, or you think it is what you are supposed to do?  Is this what you really want?

3.  Try not to compare.

We are all different, and everyone struggles with something.  If you are struggling with making a positive change, then the thing you are trying to change is not easy for you.  So don’t compare yourself to the people who have it easy!  Close your eyes, and make your best the only thing that you need!

4.  Look at the big picture.

Slip-ups are a part of making changes.  Growth is not a straight line, but it is a general trend.  I regained 9 pounds, but I have still kept 19 off.  Focus on the 19, not the 9.  You are going to fall on and off the wagon.  That is life.

5.  Find supportive friends.

When you are frustrated, don’t talk to just anybody.  Some friends will help you focus on the positive, and others will discourage you further.  Learn to tell the difference.

What positive changes are you working on in the upcoming new year?  What strategies have you found to be helpful when making changes?

 

 

About Us, Boat, Family Fun

A Black Friday Story

We have a very cushy life, even though we live on a boat.

We have apartment-sized furniture and appliances, Iliana has her own bedroom, Rob and I share a queen-sized bed, we have our own shower, and, once they are repaired, we will even have our own laundry facilities.  Living on Loco Lobo is a lot like living in a small mobile home.

Yet our lifestyle is not without adventure.

We lose electricity whenever the tide is too high, which usually happens at least once a year during a storm surge.  Last winter we had a deep freeze, which caused us to lose water for many days after the pipes froze.  We take these challenges in stride, because they are just a part of living on a boat.

However, this Thanksgiving, we had an adventure that was equal parts horrifying, baffling, and, in the end, kind of funny.

Meet Popcorn, the (Somewhat Lazy) Cat-of-Prey

This story begins with our kitty cat, Popcorn.  We rescued Popcorn when she was about 4 weeks old, in the Amish country outside of Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  Her mother had been run over, and she was sitting, lost, in the middle of the road.  We posted ads, but nobody claimed her.

After a few years of being an indoor kitty in Harrison, Michigan, Popcorn joined our family on our move to Texas.  A year later, she was living on a sailboat, and we started allowing her to go outside.

At first, Popcorn enjoyed hunting.  Everyone on the pier loved her, because she killed a large number of wharf rats.  Occasionally, she would leave a rat by the door, for her family.  Rob tried to humor her, and pretended to eat the rats, but that was not enough.

In order to better feed her family, Popcorn decided a more aggressive approach was necessary.  On Easter morning, while Iliana was hunting for hidden eggs, Popcorn triumphantly jumped through the open hatch, delivering a dead rabbit and depositing in in the middle of the floor.  Luckily, Iliana was just starting to get into science, and excitedly proclaimed, “Popcorn has captured her prey!”

As Popcorn got older, we moved onto Loco Lobo, on the marina’s very laid-back island pier.  Everyone adored her and started leaving out snacks for her.  A family on a catamaran nicknamed her “Poppy,” and she became somewhat of a celebrity.  Our neighbors keep a box with a blanket in it out on their aft deck, so she can come over for a nap and a snack whenever it suits her fancy.

Loco Lobo came with a cat hole cut in the companionway door, so Popcorn frequently enjoys going outside.  Instead of hunting down rats and bunnies, however, she likes to lie down on the main pier and wait for her admirers to come over the pet her.

In the winter, however, there are fewer people staying in the marina.  So Popcorn has been keeping herself entertained by playing with the rodents once again.  One morning, she surprised us by leaving a litter of dead baby rats on the side deck.  More recently, when Rob came home for his lunch break, she had brought in a still-alive rabbit.  She had lost interest in it before killing it, so Rob let it go and boarded up the kitty door.

The fall is a lovely season in Texas, where we need neither air conditioning nor heat, and we love to leave the companionway door and hatch open most of the time.  Our aft deck has doors on the sides, so our dog can’t escape.  But Popcorn is nimble enough to come and go as she pleases.  We enjoyed a number of pleasant nights, with the boat open as we slept in the fresh, fall air.

A Nighttime Visitor?

The first time it happened, Rob noticed a horrible cut on Iliana’s pinky finger, when he woke her up in the morning.  There was blood all over her sheets.  She had two puncture wounds on the front of her finger, and one in the back.  We googled “rats” and learned that rats  do not carry rabies, but they can carry other bacterial infections.  Iliana had just finished an antibiotic for an ear infection (one of the few antibiotics she is not allergic to), so I continued giving it to her, until we decided what to do.

Our boat has a headliner, like a car, for the ceiling.  In Ili’s room, it was torn in two places, where she had kicked it from her bed.  We in in the process of replacing it.  We figured that the creature who bit her, must have come in through the tear, since it was so cold outside.  There was no evidence of a rat living in our boat, so we figured that it was a freak incident.

We repaired the tear and had Iliana sleep facing the other direction.   We all figured that the problem was solved.

Until Iliana woke us up at night, screaming.

Right next to her eye, she had two deep bites on her face, bleeding a great deal.  Horrified, we immediately cleaned it with an antiseptic wipe and gave her a band-aid.  She brought her favorite stuffed animals into our bed and fell asleep quickly.

In the morning, her face was bruised and swollen.  Which meant that whatever bit her was strong.

Stronger than a bat, was my immediate thought, because bats are the primary carriers of rabies in our area.

That day was Thanksgiving, and we called every urgent care clinic in our area.  Nobody was open until Friday.  I gave Iliana some antibiotic ointment and another dose of her antibiotic.

Black Friday, Part 1

We allowed Iliana one trip into her bedroom during the day, so she gathered up every single one of her Beanie-Boos.  Then we set up rat traps and closed the door.  Iliana surrounded herself with Beanie-Boos and fell asleep in the middle of our queen-sized bed.  The dog and cat took their usual places at the foot of the bed, leaving Rob and me a miniscule amount of real estate.

Which is fine, because I couldn’t sleep.  I woke up at night a couple times, and continued researching rats, rabbits, bats, and rabies.  Which didn’t make sleeping any easier.  What I did learn, is that whatever we did, we had a little bit of time to decide.

Urgent care opened at noon, and Iliana had her heart set on shopping at Black Friday.  In my minimalist blogging years, I extoled the virtues of Buy Nothing Day and urged my readers to “rethink Christmas.”  I encouraged them to make it about more than the mountain of gifts.

And then, in the wee hours of the night, I would make sure that Santa delivered a mountain of gifts to our house.  Because….Christmas….

Back in those days, I also said that only children were not spoiled.  So I was wrong about a lot of things!

Grateful that Urgent Care opened so late, and that an animal bite was not an emergency, I excitedly took my only child to Black Friday.  We scoured the ads ahead of time, and just ended up overwhelmed by it all.  Then I remembered that I had gift cards for Macy’s and Nordstrom’s.  I saw that Kohl’s had a sale on toys, so Iliana agreed that we would look for Beanie Boos there, and if they didn’t have any, we would go to Five Below.

Together, we eagerly hit the mall!

Iliana’s first find was a sequined pillow at Macy’s. She has wanted one for a long time.

Before heading to Nordstrom’s, it was time for some Dipping Dots!

And, of course, a mirror selfie on our way out.

Here is Iliana, all gussied up with her new hair and fashion accessories!

We ended the day with a Happy Meal, and got ready for the next leg of our adventure.

Black Friday, Part 2

While Iliana and I were shopping, Rob texted me, saying that he had done some investigating and found lots of rabbit poop throughout the bilge…and a few newly deposited next to the dog food dish.  His googling told him that rabbits in the wild are very aggressive and territorial.  So it still looked like we were dealing with a non-rabies carrier that was unlikely to spread infection.

We made plans to set a live trap, baited with dog food, and after lunch, I took Iliana to Urgent Care.

Iliana had a lot of health problems early in life, but, before this year, she had only been to the doctor twice since we moved to Texas in 2013.  One of those times was for a check-up and vaccines.

When I left my job, Iliana qualified for Medicaid.  We have been navigating the bureaucracy of that, trying to figure out how to keep her current doctor (which we likely will be able to do).  In the meantime, Iliana has been to Urgent Care twice, with pink eye and with an ear infection.

Doctors become very stressed when Iliana needs an antibiotic, because she is already allergic to Penicillin and Clindamyacin.  She had a mild reaction to the first one, and a serious reaction to the second.  For her ear infection, she was given a Penicillin derivative, which did not cause any problems.  That is what I continued giving her, after the bites.

So off we were, to our third Urgent Care visit, the day after Thanksgiving.  I expected it to be quick, which maybe a Tetanus shot, but not much else.

Of course I had to tell the story about how she got bitten by a feral rabbit in our home.

I told the story to the receptionist when we checked in.

And the nurse who took Ili’s vitals and triaged us.  She was very concerned, and said that this sounded like a rabid animal, and we may need to go to the ER.  She said she would be right back.

Twenty minutes later, we had still not graduated to seeing the doctor.  The nurse returned with a map and Mapquest directions to the nearest pediatric ER, which also happened to accept Medicaid.

Iliana was very displeased.  As we pulled into the hospital parking lot, I reminded her that she used to love going to the hospital.  She went there a lot when she was younger, and she would start smiling and laughing when we pulled into the parking lot.  She loved the nurses who paid attention to her.  I used to joke that she wanted to have her birthday party there.  When we lived in Michigan, Iliana had three ER visits and two hospitalizations, all of which she enjoyed.

Ili wasn’t buying it.  We were scheduled to visit her best friend at 5:00, and Ili remembered how long ER visits often took.  It was already 3:00.

We were triaged as soon as we walked in, and they directed us to a gurney sitting against the wall (next to pirate decals!) in front of the nurses’ station.  I took it as a good sign, that they didn’t expect us to stay long enough to even get a room!

Iliana was unhappy, but I did get her to put on her sunglasses for one “diva” picture…

It was 10 minutes before the (rather attractive) doctor arrived.  I got to tell yet another person our bunny story, and he seemed unphased.  “Well, you did the right thing,” he told me. “We would have prescribed the antibiotic she is taking and given her antibiotic ointment.  You don’t have to worry about rabies with rabbits and rats in this area.”

He made sure there was no bat evidence in the boat and directed me to keep giving Iliana the antibiotic until it runs out.  And he gave us the name of an infectious disease specialist to call if Ili starts having any symptoms, which he said, she likely will not.

10 minutes later, a nurse showed up with our discharge papers, and Iliana and I were on our way!

Here she is, ready to visit her bestie!  She ripped off her hospital bracelet as soon as we arrived!

Meanwhile, Iliana is banned from her bedroom while we try to catch the crazy bunny.  Stay tuned…

 

 

Philosophy

Unconditional Gratitude

I have mixed feelings about gratitude lists.

Yes, I know that they can help me stay positive, and help me to keep my focus on what I do have, on the good things in my life.

However, most “gratitude” is comparative.  We look around and are grateful that we have it better than the next person.

I might have a low income, but at least I’m not homeless like the man under the overpass.

I might have a child with autism, but at least she doesn’t have health problems like my friend’s child.

I might have experienced trauma, but at least I don’t have debilitating PTSD like the guy down the street.

Being grateful that our suffering is not as bad as someone else’s, does not seem like true gratitude, to me.  At the very least, it is negative and pitying.

Another issue I have with gratitude lists, is that they cherry-pick which of our experiences we approve of, and which ones we banish from our minds.

For example, I could write this gratitude list:

  1.  I have a loving family and a very intelligent daughter.
  2. I finally have a career that I not only enjoy, but LOVE!
  3. My parents live close and are very involved in Iliana’s life.
  4. Iliana goes to a wonderful school, in an excellent program.
  5. I have many close friends down here, including two good friends from Michigan

However, that is not the entire story.  Simply focusing on the positives, denies the other, less pleasant aspects of my life, which are still just as real and just as relevant:

  1.  I am a sexual assault survivor.
  2. I have dealt with significant emotional challenges, including self-harm and a suicide attempt.
  3. My daughter has a disability  that impacts every aspect of her life.
  4. We are still getting back on our feet financially, after the events of last year, and are using public assistance to help us do that.
  5. I have a strong tendency toward co-dependent relationships and tend to run away from people before we can get too close.

One list grabs your attention more, but they both are equally true and relevant in my life!  And before you fall into the trap of comparative gratitude and start feeling sorry for me, know this:  I am grateful for the items on both lists!

You can’t choose which experiences to be grateful for, and which experiences to reject.  Because they all happened.  And you have the opportunity to grow from all of them, if you choose to accept it.

Here is an example.

Some time ago, I was in therapy, processing a traumatic event from adolescence.  The details don’t matter.  What matters is that this was a story I had only told to two other people, and my therapist and I were both emotionally spent by the time I was done.  I said, “I’ve thought about this every day for the past 25 years, and there has to be something good that has come from it.”  My therapist, remaining professional but definitely affected, said very quietly, “Yes, there has to be something.”

At my next session, we were discussing self-esteem, and she asked me what I liked about myself.  I said that a lot of my strengths had come from that traumatic time in my life.  Through tears, I then passionately listed everything I love about myself, and how it had come from that painful time.  I was finding true gratitude.

While comparative gratitude leads us to separate others from ourselves and use pity to distance ourselves from suffering, true gratitude can help us feel more connected to those around us and make us more able to help them through their journies.  While selective gratitude leads us to deny a significant aspect of our situation, true gratitude helps us to remain hopeful and stay strong through the most difficult of times.

The past year was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and it was through that trial that I learned the power of true gratitude.

While I was in the thick of the situation, it was not helpful for me to compare my situation to those that other people faced.  My brain was stuck in survival mode, and thinking about other people’s suffering only led me to feel more hopeless.  I tried to cherry pick things to be grateful for, but doing so just ignored the elephant in the room.  I tried to even find hope that my situation would eventually be over, but I was unable to do so.

It was at one of our 6 am conversations, when I told my yoga teacher about my hopelessness.  Her response was, “Don’t look for the light at the end of the tunnel.  Look for the lessons that you are supposed to learn.”

Shifting this mindset, helped me to shift into a mindset of true gratitude.  I did learn lessons–valuable, powerful lessons.  While it is true that I could have learned the lessons differently, the reality is that I did not.  I learned them through my journey, and at this point I would not change a thing about it.

So today, in honor of Thanksgiving in the US, I am sharing with you, my gratitude list.  These are the lessons I learned through my journey over the past year:

1.   We are all in this together.

From my yoga teacher, who kept getting up early enough to go to class at 6 am, to the friend who got me involved with union that could actually help me…to the union rep who did what she could, to the co-workers who heard about my situation and offered their support…to the administators and co-workers from my former job back in Michigan, who helped me make the changes in this next leg of my journey…to all of my new bosses and co-workers, who have been nothing but supportive.  We don’t live in a vacuum, and we are all here to support each other.  When I was in the thick of my situation, I once commented that I had never felt more connected.

2.  There is a danger in not understanding your gifts.

There was one person involved in my situation, who very much had a mentor role in my life.  I definitely had a “friend crush” on her, and with good reason!  She could light up a room, just by entering it, and she always listened, then said just the right thing to make everything better.  I felt so relieved when I saw her as my situation was worsening, because I knew she had been an ally in the past and could help me.

However, this person reacted out of fear.  She did all she could to “protect” herself, often at my expense.  Any relationship we had was destroyed, and her actions led to my situation continuing and spiralling out of hand.

The tragedy is that this person has a gift.  Her passion, and her ability to brighten a room and put people at ease, could help her in any job, in any situation.  However, she shrunk away and fell into survival mode, because she did not realize how powerful these gifts are.  Instead of shining her light to the world, she is fighting to keep herself employed in a job that likely does not even allow her to fully express her gifts.

3.  The way others treat us is often a reflection of the way we treat ourselves.

My situation is not my “fault.”  It is not my fault that I was hurt.

However, I never believed that I was capable, mature, or socially aware.  As a result, I started a pattern of allowing people to throw me under the bus, long before I ended up in the situation that I was in last year.  I did not self-advocate, because I did not believe I was worthy of being heard.  I did not walk away from my situation, because I did not believe that I could make it.

It wasn’t my fault.  But the situation would have played out very differently if I had believed in and valued myself.

4.  I have a voice.

Prior to my situation, I always believed that everyone else’s truth was more valid than my own. If someone disagreed with me, I would concede, because I assumed they were automatically “right.”  This led to a lot of the issues in #3.

5.  The path is easier when you clarify what you want.

Before the last school year started, we talked about the Law of Attraction in my 6 am yoga class.  I dove straight in, meditating on my “goal” everyday.  I wrote out a manifesto, proclaiming that I would be successful professionally, that my classroom would be a model classroom, and I would be teacher of the year.  I set out to make this a reality: I bought a number of new items for my classroom, got a more professional haircut and color, and bought a new wardrobe.  I took my job much more seriously, going into the new school year, and I was ready to make it happen!

It didn’t happen.

And that is okay, because the scenario I thought I wanted, really was not what I wanted.  I assumed that because I have a Master’s degree, I should want to be a high-powered professional.  The reality is that I do not.  What I want is to eat dinner with my family every night.  I want to spend a lot of time with my daughter, while she is still at an age where she wants to spend time with me.  I want a slower lifestyle, where I have time to tend to my home and create a calm, love-filled space. I want to have the energy to cook.  I want a flexible job, where my unique skill set and personality are an asset and are valued.  I want a job where I am free from the “rat race.”

I did not think I was “allowed” to desire all of that.  And now all of that is what I have.

6.  You learn more from those who speak up, than from those who are silent.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  And sure enough, it did hurt when people I had thought were friends, simply averted their eyes and ignored what was going on.  And yet, at the same time, I understood.  They were afraid of making waves, afraid of engaging in a losing battle.  They were simply trying to keep their heads down and do their jobs.  It hurt, but I can’t say that I would not have done the same in their situation.

What I will remember more, are the friends who were not silent.  The friends who did all they could to help me stay hopeful throughout the nightmare.  The friends who spoke up, who advocated for me.  These friends are amazing human beings, and we should all aspire to be more like them.

7.  It is okay to feel however you feel.

Being able to sit with difficult emotions was one of the major lessons I learned last year.  Going through trauma is akin to going through the stages of grief.  During and after the situation, I would become angry, depressed, determined, exhausted, anxious and so on.  I learned to simply allow the waves of emotion to pass, letting go of them when the time was right.  If I needed to process it with someone, I would, and I would also allow time for me to process the emotions alone.

We are so quick to label, pathologize, and numb emotions.  Feeling upset–even fluctuating between emotions–is a completely “normal” response to trauma.  It is not a mental illness.  It is not anxiety, depression, or PTSD.  In fact, I am pretty sure that by allowing my emotions and processing them, I helped keep myself from developing more serious mental health issues.

8.  There is no such thing as “security.”

This lesson has repeated itself many times in my life.  I thought I had let go of the notion of “security” when I got rid of my house and traveled to Houston with a Volvo station wagon filled with possessions.  I thought moving onto a boat would lead to freedom.

And yet, there I was, spending 5 years in a job that I didn’t love, plagued by the same fears and caught up in the same drama.  Why did I do this?  Because the job seemed secure.  I thought we needed the income.  I feared the consequences of leaving under bad circumstances.  I was afraid of becoming unemployable.

And yet, after losing the income, we still made it.  I found references, and I created a new, wonderful reality that is better than anything I could have hoped for.  If there is “security,” it is in our own ability to survive and to make the best out of any situation.

9.  Everyone learns lessons the “hard” way, so there is no room for pity or judgement.

I have a confession to make.  I had reservations about writing this post.  Not because I think that my situation was “worse” than anyone else’s.  Not because I am ashamed of my experiences.  But because I was afraid that readers would respond with pity.

The problem with pity is that it separates us.  It is a way of distancing those who have faced challenges, because we are afraid to be too close to suffering (or past suffering).

There is no reason to feel sorry for anyone.  We’re all doing the best job that we can, playing the hand that we are dealt.  And when we pity a friend who is going through a hard time, we enable them to pity themselves.  And nothing is more paralyzing than self-pity.

When we refuse to react with pity, we trust in our friends’ abilities to make it through difficult situations.  We acknowledge that suffering is a part of the human condition, and that difficult stuff happens to all of us, at some point or another.  We fearlessly hold their hand and accompany them across the emotional minefield, and all the while, we refuse to let them sit down and wallow, because we trust in their ability to make it through.

Thank you, Cresting the Hill, for allowing me to crash your link party!  If you enjoyed this post, please take a look at some of the other links on that site!