Monday, May 2, 2016

Procrastination Fodder for Monday

It's a rainy, chilly (for Texas in May) Monday morning, which meant it was hard to wake up and get moving this morning. But the kids were delivered to school on time and now I am lucky enough to be at home--have I mentioned I love working for my husband?--but later on I will probably have an errand to run that will take a couple of hours. For now I am ensconced on the couch in comfy clothes, but I am determined not to take a nap instead of getting the week off to a useful start. I need to do some yoga and get groceries before lunch.

I love it when bloggers post lists of links for me to explore, so I've decided to start sharing things I've found on the web that intrigued me recently. I originally thought I might post these on Fridays, but the end of the week is a low-traffic time for blogs as everybody tries to finish up before the weekend; and then the weekend! I don't know about you, but this time of year is so busy that you might not get a chance to check out some links when you supposedly have time off.

Plus, Mondays are a great time to procrastinate enjoy some interesting food for thought--when you've already done some work and are ready for a break, of course! (Imagine me winking here--my real-life winks are the most obvious thing in the world; I can't wink at all with my left eye and basically have to concentrate and squinch that side of my face up to wink with my right. Yes, I am so cool.)

Without further ado, here are some things I wanted to show you.

Are you the default parent? If you have to think about it, you’re not. You’d know. 
(This article includes a few four-letter words, FYI.)

It's amazing I ever get anything done.

I don't watch makeup video tutorials on a regular basis, but in this satirical video, YouTuber Amy Geliebter shows what it can be like living with depression in a society full of stigma: “First start with priming your face with a nice, thick coat of chemical imbalance....For our eyes, we’re going to be using the shade, ‘just be happy’ for our base.”

A really interesting take on the four levels of relationship. "We run into trouble at the point where our behavior and our relationship status diverge."

What sort of psychopath rips out pages from their favorite books and throws away the rest so they can, as [organizing guru Marie] Kondo puts it, “keep only the words they like?”
I can give away some books but I could NEVER do that. (Why? What purpose would that even serve?)

That took much longer than it should have, with the cutting and the pasting and what not, but it was still more fun than unloading the dishwasher or going to the grocery store! Let me know what you think about any or all of these links! I'm off to do some yoga (or to read a few blogs first...shhh, I won't tell anyone if you won't.)


Monday, April 25, 2016

My Kids Caused My Memory Loss

I’m a little frustrated at myself for not jotting down the idea I had earlier for a blog post, because now I can’t remember it at all. I mean, that’s Rule #1 of writing: don’t trust yourself to remember an idea. I am not even busy at work--I stayed home, away from the sawdust, to continue recuperating from a nasty allergy attack--so I have no excuse.

Yet I can sing a jingle for a local newspaper that went out of business 30 years ago.

I used to have a memory like a steel trap. My parents marveled over my ability to parrot back song lyrics I’d only heard once. I was a fountain of (probably useless) information I had read “somewhere.” I could remember tiny details from past experiences. This continued up until my children were born, when first sleep deprivation and then their social, academic, and athletic schedules demanded all my available mental real estate and then some. So yes, I totally blame them.

Now both of my children have steel-trap memories. I’ve learned that if one of them asserts a fact from memory--say, something we were talking about last week, or the date of their next field trip--they’re probably right. (An exception can be made for my son’s claims about “facts” from the videos he watches on YouTube, since he tends to exaggerate and also often fails to understand nuance and context. But when it comes to things like how to do a math problem, he’s definitely going to be right and I’m definitely going to be clueless.)

Instead of arguing with them only to be proven wrong, or getting discouraged because my memory isn’t what it once was, I have begun harnessing their powers for (my) good. “Remind me to wash your basketball uniform after dinner,” I say. Or, “Make sure you ask your teacher about that permission slip.” Most of the time, they remember.

And if they don’t? (Which does happen because they’re kids and they usually don’t actually WANT to remember the stuff I’m putting back on them.) Well, then, I just look back at them and say, “Hey, it’s not MY fault. I told you to help me remember.”

I may have lost some memory, but I’ve gained some wisdom!

May you remember everything truly important this week! 


Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon Post!

Update on 4/24/16, 12:02 p.m.
Obviously I did not get around to updating again during the actual read-a-thon, which was fine, because I didn't do much more reading since at 3:15 we left for my daughter's first tournament with her new select basketball team and didn't return until 9:50 p.m. I knew the tournament would interrupt my read-a-thon plans once we'd decided to let her join the team, but I didn't know how long we'd be gone, especially since we spontaneously decided to go out to eat with the team after the games. (It was worth it for team bonding purposes, though. We got to know the parents better, too; they're nice people.) I did manage to finish Persepolis after we got back. I don't think I could've read as many pages in a conventional book.

Here are my answers to the End of Event Survey.
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  Well, as I didn't exactly tax myself, none of them were very daunting, but I did get very sleepy from 10-11 p.m. 
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Persepolis was interesting to me and I think graphic novels in general are good to have on hand as a break from longer texts. I think sticking to shorter books was a good idea, and of course anything with an exciting plot is helpful (for me, that was Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House). It also seems fun to have a book on hand that you've been dying to get to. I wish I'd had Curtis Sittenfeld's new retelling of Pride and Prejudice, titled Eligible.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season? No. As a first-timer, the structure seemed like it really worked.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? I especially enjoyed the Facebook group and seeing all the pictures of books, snacks, and places where people were reading. I thought everyone was lovely and encouraging. Some people would feel insecure about their progress, saying things like, "I suck! I'm still reading my first book!" And then immediately others would respond with things like, "Hey, all that matters is that you're reading and having fun." So true!
  5. How many books did you read? I finished two that I had already started and made a start on another (which I have since read more of today.)
  6. What were the names of the books you read? The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson; The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; and Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Hill House made me want to read everything Jackson ever wrote.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? I enjoyed all three, but I realized quickly that I'd already read Complications so the experience wasn't the joy of discovering something new.
  9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'm definitely planning to participate and hope to read many more hours next time. I can't see taking a formal role, but I loved reading and responding to others' posts on social media.

Update at 2:47 p.m.
Books I'm reading: Persepolis, pp. 232-276. Marjane has now returned to Iran and is having trouble fitting in after being in Europe for so long.
     "I was shocked. At least one street in three is named after a martyr." I feel that I understand the Middle East a little better after reading this powerful graphic novel.

Complications, pp. 1-18. Pretty sure I've read this before, but I still like it.
     "We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do."

Snacking update: A pickle spear, chips, and fire-roasted salsa. Later, a package of cinnamon brown sugar BelVita breakfast biscuits.

Update at 12:38 p.m.
Book I finished: The Haunting of Hill House. Now I want to read everything Shirley Jackson ever wrote. Pages read: pp. 108-182 and the introduction (I was right to save it for last; like most scholarly introductions, it's full of spoilers.
     If you've never read this, I highly recommend it! A quick, mesmerizing read.

Next up: Complications by Atul Gawande.

Update at 11:09 a.m. 
I really only started reading about 10:00. It's my husband's fault for watching Freedom Writers in front of me; I've somehow never seen it but it kept pulling me in. I finally asked him to record the whole thing for me to watch later and I retreated to the bedroom.

I caught my husband's very bad, no good, terrible, awful cold so I'm not ecstatic but then again, I'd be miserable even if I weren't trying to read all day.

Books I'm reading:
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Pages read: pp. 42-108. Obviously I had already started this one and now Jackson's imaginative take on a haunted house is finally catching on with me. Psychological horror is the kind I'm interested in.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Pages read: pp. 204-232. At this point in the memoir, Marjane is a teenager studying at a French high school in Vienna. Her mom comes to visit, and she gets her first real boyfriend (spoiler alert: the first one was gay.)

Snacking update:
Still super full from breakfast, but I need to hydrate, so I'm off to get a drink and start a load of laundry.

9:34 a.m.
I'm late getting started, but I knew I would be, since we had to continue our long-standing tradition of eating a hearty breakfast at our favorite local restaurant. I don't know how many Saturdays we've gone in a row, but let's just say the cashier said if we don't show up, she wonders what happened to us. This way, I'm full and happy as I start to read!

Here are a couple of memes from the first three hours:

Our Bookish Childhoods
1) Little House on the Prairie: I wanted to BE Laura. I spent many hours pretending my bed was a wagon and other make-believe games.

2) The Chronicles of Narnia: Same with Narnia; I desperately wished I could go there.

3) Little Women: I have had multiple copies over the years. Like everyone else, I identified with Jo. This book is truly a timeless classic.

4) Jane Eyre: We had an abridged version which I read when I was around 11. I was entranced and not by the "romance." Jane is such an original heroine, since she is "poor, plain, and little" but she refuses to give up her autonomy and dignity.

5) The Secret Garden. I once read that one is either a Secret Garden fan or a Little Princess fan. I liked A Little Princess but Mary Lennox's mysterious garden enchanted me.

Intro Meme
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
     Burleson, TX (just south of Fort Worth, for you non-Texans)

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
     Hard to say, they all sound good. I'm loving Persepolis, which will be my graphic novel "palate cleanser" although it's hardly light fare (seeing that it's written by an Iranian woman. I'm learning stuff I never knew about the Iraq-Iran war.)

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
     I'm all about the salt lately (thanks, perimenopause), so chips, salsa, and guacamole are delish.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
     I'm a 40 year old mom with a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. I attended four different universities but only have one degree (and one teaching credential; I also have two halves of different master's degrees). I've only ever lived in Texas but look forward to traveling more as the kids and our budget get bigger. I used to teach high school English but now I'm the office manager of our cabinet shop, which is much more flexible and less stressful than teaching public school. I'm considering library school because books are my favorite things in the world (besides my family).

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
     This is my first read-a-thon. I'm most looking forward to meeting some new bookish friends and reading alongside my daughter. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Always Go To the Funeral

I read a great article yesterday called “Always Go To the Funeral,” which was originally recorded for NPR’s show “All Things Considered.” They asked people to write short essays on the topic “This I Believe,” and Deirdre Sullivan, a lawyer in New York, wrote that she had learned from her father to always go to the funeral. To learn why, you should read the piece--it’s really great and also short. Here’s my favorite part of the essay, though:

“In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing….In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.”

We needed to go to a viewing tonight and it wasn’t very convenient. We can’t attend the funeral during the day tomorrow, so that left tonight from 5-7 p.m., at a funeral home at least 30 minutes away, maybe more at that time of day, and we are hosting a Limu party at our house at 7 p.m., to be followed by homework and snacks and “Oh my gosh, it’s after 9:00, you have to get in bed NOW!”

But there was no question that I would go. I didn’t know the deceased man very well, but I do know his sons and their families, having attended church with them for nearly my entire life. I babysat one son’s daughters, and the other son and his wife helped us start a small group ministry. Both have been great examples on how to do parenting right. Now their children are grown and they have lost their dad--a reminder to me (as if I really needed another one) that life is short. It may be less than convenient for me to fit a funeral home visitation into my schedule, but it’s worse  to lose someone you love.

In the article, Sullivan makes the point that we should always choose to do things that are inconvenient for us when they would be meaningful for the other person. I have often thought that I want to be a more thoughtful person, who sends encouraging notes and remembers birthdays and gives excellent presents because I pay attention.  Well, guess what: this is a way to actually start being more thoughtful.

When Justin’s parents died, ten years apart, I was struck by how much the simple gestures meant to us. There is a reason that people traditionally bring food to the grieving: it’s one less thing for them  to have to deal with, and on top of that, it’s delicious and therefore comforting. I promised myself I’d do better about providing food to the bereaved, and I have remembered to keep trying. So for this funeral, I offered to bake two cakes, and was told that one would suffice. I know this was not because my baking skills were being disparaged, but because plenty of other people had volunteered to bring or pay for food for the family meal after the service. That is encouraging, in this world which is full of so much animosity. We can still be a village.

So I baked the cake and frosted it, and it’s on the counter in its disposable foil pan. It fell a little in the center, but that just means those pieces will have extra frosting on them. I went to the viewing, and the family was happy to see me. And I was glad I had gone.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Planning for a 24-hour Read-a-thon

Okay, real talk: there's absolutely no way I'm going to be up for 24 hours, because the only thing I love more than books (and my family) is sleep. A few weeks ago, I saw a blog post about this phenomenon and decided to participate. I particularly love that there are no rules for being a part other than reading for some part of the 24 hours. That's it.

[It's nice that the plan is flexible, because I had cleared my schedule and planned to read all day, only breaking for minor things like food and personal hygiene. But now C has joined a basketball team and next Saturday will be a tournament. (They practice weekly and play in tournaments once a month or so.)

No biggie--I can still read on the drive up there and in between games as well as that evening. I won't get as many pages read, but it's really about quality and enjoyment over quantity.]

"Back up, Alison," I can hear you saying. "What exactly is this read-a-thon of which you speak?"

I'm glad you asked! According to the home page:

"For 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs, Twitters, Tumblrs, Goodreads and MORE about our reading, and visit other readers’ homes online. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October.

It was created by the beloved Dewey (her blog is archived at the Wayback Machine). The first one was held in October 2007. Dewey died in late 2008. We’re still saddened by her absence, but the show must go on. The read-a-thon was renamed to honor its founder in 2009.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon is hosted by Heather and Andi of The Estella Society, with help from volunteers."

This is my first read-a-thon, and I'm very excited, especially because my 13-year-old daughter is willing to do it with me! She also loves to read, although she's all about reading one book at a time, whereas I need to have options, especially with so many hours in a row dedicated to reading. I tried to convince her to check out at least one alternative book besides her current read, but we'll see if she listens to me. She can always reread a favorite.

I have several books on my new 2016 read-a-thon list, although most of them are being requested through the library so it's not an actual pile yet. I wanted to have a variety of genres and tones. Here goes:

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: because the rave reviews of so many readers can't be wrong. Also my first translated work to read this year.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson because I recently read Let Me Tell You and wanted more, and also, how have I not read this already?

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King: this is the only one I'm not sure if I'll get in time, but I'll read it anyway because it looks like a good mystery series, and I don't have any mysteries currently in line.

Complications by Atul Gawande: because I've been a fan of his writing for a long time, and I wanted a nonfiction book that would keep me interested. His inquisitive yet scientific voice seems perfect to counteract a possible overdose of fiction.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: I definitely wanted a graphic novel as a break from so many words. This one has been on my TBR for a long time.

I had My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok on the list but I think I'll wait on that one. I also have Dodger by Terry Pratchett for a reread on standby.

C just started Cress by Marissa Meyer (I'm congratulating myself on introducing her to the Lunar Chronicles). She will probably read in the car and all evening, too. Love my bookish girl! 

If you want to join in, let me know and sign up at the home page or on Goodreads! There are also fun mini-challenges throughout the day, and you can sign up for people to "visit" you online and cheer you on.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Alison's Favorite Things: Springtime Edition

So I've been posting some heavy posts lately, and while topics about mental health and my kiddos growing up way too fast (sob) are certainly a big part of my life lately, so are some other things. Some might even call these things trivial or frivolous, but phooey on those people. I say the art of happiness is finding small treats for yourself on a regular basis.

I love Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford!
So here are some things I'm treating myself to/enjoying lately.

1.  The perfect jeans (for me). Y'all. You have NO IDEA how much I hate jeans shopping (probably the same amount that you hate jeans shopping.) I've bought so many pairs that "fit OK" only to end up hating them within a week. I'd obsessively read any article titled "Your Perfect Jeans" only to apathetically forget to shop for them. They didn't seem perfect, anyway.

The problem is the Gap. No, not the elusive Thigh Gap or the clothing store. I have a smaller waist-to-hip ratio than average, I guess. Pants that fit my hips often don't fit my waist. (Although aging is thickening my waist. Thanks, perimenopause!) Anybody know why even skirts with a zipper aren't as problematic? It probably has to do with rise over run or something. (I know that's a math thing, not a pants thing. I was trying to be funny. Be kind.)

Old Navy rockstar skinnies are good for me--although I had to size up to a number I'd never been before--as are any skinnies with stretch, so that trend has been nice. But I found the BEST everyday jeans that are more comfy than the Old Navy ones: Denizen from Levi's, found at Target.

Target! How do they manage to find the best things for us middle-aged moms at a great price point? It's a mystery.

DENIZEN® from Levi's - Women's Curvy Skinny Jeans Crisp NightI get the Curvy Skinny jeans. (I need these darker ones for dressier outfits; mine are more of a faded wash.) They don't stretch out over multiple wearings and the waistband never gaps. They have a Short for shrimps like me and a Long for you tall gals. I got the boot cut ones too, and they're a little more like a flare than a subtle boot cut, plus I need a slight heel with them, so I'm not gonna wear them as often.

But if you have the Gap (or even if you don't--they have a Modern Skinny fit for less curvy women) check them out. At 29.99, they can't be beaten!

2. Man, I'm gonna have to shorten my rave reviews or this post will take forever. Another thing I'm enjoying: tinted lip balm. When I see myself in pictures I always think my face is so "blah"...unless I have a little lip color on. And this winter I needed lip balm constantly, so it made sense to try a tinted one. I had one by NYX that was fine, but I wanted a smaller tube that was easier to apply without a mirror, so I went with the tried-and-true Burt's Bees and I love it.

I got the Lip Shimmer. It provides sheer yet noticeable color that stays put for a good amount of time and has a nice minty tingly feeling on my lips. It's definitely my everyday go-to now. I'm also going to try their gloss and maybe even (gasp!) their lipstick in the hopes that they will be more moisturizing than the ones I've tried.

3. Yoga. I've found my favorite exercise for life. No, yoga isn't just stretching with a nap at the end (though the relaxation benefits are significant for a stressball like me.) The research undeniably shows that a regular yoga practice is as effective as medication for treating anxiety and depression. (So is cardio, so I [reluctantly] alternate that into the mix.) Unlike other exercise, I actually look forward to doing yoga. I haven't done a class yet, but am planning to try one at our gym that meets mid-morning a couple of days a week. (I'm not doing anything at 5 a.m.)

I would have been intimidated to start with a class, so I'm glad I started where I did--free YouTube videos. I love Sara Beth of SaraBeth Yoga--her voice is soothing as is her background music (although she has some music-free videos as well--and she is excellent at explaining exactly what to do. I rarely even have to peek at the screen. Plus, she's not overly chatty like some of the yoga teachers on YouTube.

Even if I only have 15 minutes at the end of the day, I know I'll end up feeling more relaxed and refreshed after I do my yoga routine, and therefore I willingly do it...every day. I've never been able to say that about any other exercise routine.

Along those lines, I'm reading Yoga and the Pursuit of Happiness by Sam Chase, which I picked up on a whim at the library. Turns out it delves into why a yoga practice works, using both ancient Eastern wisdom and modern Western science, which is right up in my wheelhouse. I'm taking notes on it (which I do with nonfiction books I really want to learn from) and doing the "Inquiries" in my journal. I actually meditated for 15 minutes this morning--a new personal best!

Now it's time for me to stop going on about my favorites. What are you loving these days?


Monday, April 4, 2016


Yesterday in church the worship team was singing the song that goes like this:

      You make me brave
      You make me brave
      You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
      You make me brave
      You make me brave
      No fear can hinder now the promises you've made

Now what is a person who suffers with anxiety supposed to do with lines like that?

So many times I've mentally beaten myself up because I don't feel brave at ALL. The last line of this stanza is based on 1 John 4:18, which reads, "But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (NIV).

This verse made me feel awful whenever I was having an episode,* because I felt frozen with fear. It may sound absurd, but every weekend, I dreaded making a grocery list and going to the store...I think because it involved so many minor decisions that I felt overwhelmed. So when I was afraid to buy food for my family, I knew I wasn't "made perfect in love." I DEFINITELY wasn't brave. If He was "calling me out beyond the shore into the waves," I hadn't made it off the beach.

And surely that was my fault.

Setting aside the theological angle, here is what I realized in a flash yesterday while the song was being sung (and I believe it applies to everyone, regardless of whether you are a person who participates in a religious faith or not).

First, many thinkers have clarified that courage is not absence of fear. If it were, there wouldn't be anything particularly admirable about actions we define as courageous.

Think about it. If one cannot experience fear--and a few rare souls have this condition--then they are not knowingly choosing to be brave. They're just naively trusting as they go along. For me, courage is choosing to act according to one's values without regard to the danger to oneself. When I Googled "definition of courage," an even more succinct phrase came up: "the ability to do something that frightens one."

This is why my counselor gently asked me while I was struggling with the grocery store thing, "If a person has something that she's really afraid of (like going to the grocery store), and she does it anyway, does that make her a weak person or a strong person?"

Another mistake we make: we equate bravery only with physical courage. No one would deny that a firefighter who goes into a burning building to save someone is courageous. Since the will to survive is hardwired into human nature, that kind of bravery goes against all our instincts. It takes enormous willpower and a lot of adrenaline (I'm guessing) to overcome that kind of pre-programming.

Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place
I would never want to diminish the incredible difficulty of this kind of unselfish courage. In fact, I'll come back to it in a minute. But now I'd like to point out another kind of courage, a quieter kind. I've heard it described as moral courage. It can involve taking a stand against evil publicly or behind the scenes. Sometimes it too involves risking one's life; an example is the people who hid Jews during the Holocaust. In that case, secretly defying the Nazis' evil was more valuable than open defiance, since if you are alive you can save more people than if you're dead. Still, no one would disagree that Corrie ten Boom and Oskar Schindler were every bit as brave as the firefighters on 9/11...and many of those who hid Jewish people paid for their disobedience with their lives, showing that it's possible to exhibit both kinds of courage at the same time.

I'm coming to understand that a person can be brave even when lives aren't literally at stake. It seems absolutely absurd to think of myself as "bravely going to the grocery store" when people all over the world are facing unimaginable horrors.

Yet I think the message I got yesterday was that bravery isn't defined by the immediacy of the risk; what makes someone brave is that they acted according to their values despite their feelings of fear

I know many heroic single parents. Most of them probably have felt fear and even despair when faced with the task of raising children on their own. Yet they get up every morning and do the right thing all over again. That's courage.

If you think about it, the soldier who saves his fellow soldier in the middle of a firefight or the person who wakes up every day and refuses to let mental illness win are similar. Both of them choose to disbelieve the overwhelming information their brain is screaming at them and the huge chemical dump that makes their bodies shake, their hearts race, their throats close and their chests tighten. Both of them choose to act according to their belief about what is right. The soldier thinks, "It wouldn't be right to leave my buddy to be blown up." The person in the grip of clinical depression thinks, "It wouldn't be right to leave my family grieving for me."

I could go on to explain how the brain of an anxious person is giving the same signals as a person in physical danger--aka the fight or flight syndrome. But my posts tend to be too long already, so I won't. Another time.

Friend, if you find yourself stuck between the rock of your principles and the hard place life has driven you into, may I encourage you to cling to the rock? Choose to act according to your beliefs, even if it seems impossibly painful to do so. When I was in the middle of my most recent episode, I couldn't imagine living the next forty years in that kind of mental anguish...and I felt certain that I would always feel that awful. Yet I knew that love was my greatest value; therefore, love for my family--and God--made me choose, over and over again, not to give up. And now I have a new doctor, a new treatment plan, and new hope. I'm SO glad I was brave enough to keep going.

And that, I realized yesterday, is how perfect love drives out fear. Like so many things on my journey to healing, I'm learning that healing is a process. Perfect love WILL drive out all fear...if I give it time. It may take longer than I always thought that meant...but then eternal time is not the same as human time.

After all, the verse never said I am supposed to make myself perfect in love, only that "the one who fears is not made perfect in love." My job is to let myself surrender to the "love that made a way," as the song says.  All those who make the choice to "show strength in the face of pain or grief"** are courageous in my book.


*I choose to call my recurrences of my depression and anxiety "episodes" instead of relapses or anything that implies going backward or getting worse.  In a TV series, each episode has its own plot that is solved by the end but it also fits into a larger dramatic arc of the season and the series as a whole. Finally--and most important to me--episodes are temporary. Once you finish an episode, there is another, different one to experience.

**Google's #2 definition of courage.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Letter to My Future Self

Dear Future Alison,

If you are reading this, it means you have hit some turbulence. The oxygen masks haven't fallen down from the ceiling, metaphorically speaking, but the captain has definitely turned on the Fasten Safety Belts sign and your brain is gearing up with anxiety. I don't know what the anxiety is about, but I'm almost certain it's getting worse by the hour as you try not to panic about panicking.

The first thing I want to say to you is: Remember that you love your life (mostly). (Yes, you stole that line from Glennon Melton of Momastery, but it's true for you, too.) You love cuddling with your husband in the mornings and then seeing your son wrapped in blankets on the living room couch and feeling his warm little arms wrap around your neck. You love the conversations you have with your daughter on the way to her school. You love the flexibility of working for your own company so you can bring lunch on birthdays and chaperone field trips. You love your tradition of Saturday morning breakfasts at your family's favorite restaurant. You love helping with homework and bedtime prayers. It's a good life, and it's the real-life embodiment of the life you used to try to imagine before you met your husband.

Not only do you have a good life, you also have a purpose. You are the best person to love the people who come into your life--the ones who will be in your life forever AND the ones you will only know for a moment. The world would be different without you--it would be poorer, the same way it would be poorer if any of the people around you didn't exist. Try to remember that and treat people with kindness. There are no ordinary people.

Remember not to make yourself feel bad about feeling bad. It's not helpful, and (your brain needs to hear this) it isn't justified. It's not your fault that you struggle with depression and anxiety. See, along with the good things you inherited from your family, like your dad's empathy and your grandmother's eyebrows, you also inherited the tendency toward mental illness. Many of your family members have struggled with the same thing you deal with. You're not a bad person for feeling this way. Yes, it sucks that you got those particular genes, but remember to be grateful that you didn't also get an abusive family, one who really strives to make you feel worse about yourself.

Gotta remember this every once in a while:
Instead, you were born into a loving family who did their best to nurture and support you--which they have done every step of your journey thus far. You also made a smart decision to marry an amazing guy who promised "till death do us part" and he apparently means it.

Finally, remember that your track record for getting through bad days is 100%. You've survived bad days, weeks, months, and one long difficult year. Maybe your emotions are screaming at you that this is it, the one time you can't make it out of despair...but remember that depression lies.

Hang on, take care of yourself as best you can, and wait for the turbulence to end.

One Who Knows

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

All Boy

Dear L,

Today you turn ten. Double digits! It's a pretty big deal, even though your dad and I have experienced it once before with your sister. But it's just as important an event in your life as it was in hers. We don't know much about parenting, but we know that parenting you is completely different from parenting her. You are your own person, Mr. Man, and we are so happy about that. We wouldn't want it any other way.

You've always been more happy-go-lucky and chill than C, even as a baby--in true second-born style. However, back then I didn't know that my chubby, laid back baby boy would turn into the kind of boy that people describe as all boy: in motion any time you're not staring at a screen, vibrating with energy and enthusiasm, most of the time at home dribbling or catching or passing some kind of sports ball (that term was a joke; I know the difference between all the different types of sports balls, because you've played most of them.)

Apparently you are quite the athlete, and nobody is more surprised about that than I am. I'm most definitely not a good athlete, but it turns out I'm excellent at cheering for one, even when I don't totally understand the more obscure rules. Also surprisingly, I have come to see all the good a kid can learn from team sports and how it really can translate into real life applications if the adults involved keep their priorities straight and don't act like their entire existence is validated by whether a group of little kids dominates another group of little kids. Your dad and I have tried to do that: to keep sports in its proper place. We don't love the idea of participation trophies, but it turns out that trophies weren't necessary for your enjoyment of the game. You've instinctively played your hardest, supported your teammates, never threw fits when you lost, listened to your volunteer coaches, and just generally been a great kid whether you won or lost.

I want you to know I am really proud of you for that.

You have a quality that will carry you beyond the playing field or court: you are what they call coachable. You have the skills to be a star, but not the temperament. You are a team player. This year, when you played for the first time in the "select" basketball league, in which the coaches can recruit players and teams can stay together for years, your team lost. A lot. (I'm sure I don't have to remind you.) The driven, type A, first-born part of me cringed as it became clear each time a loss was imminent. I hated that you had to lose, when in the church-based, low-key league you used to play for, you were one of the best.

But you surprised me. Sure, you don't like losing; you have plenty of competitive fire. But apparently when we told you that as long as you try your best, that's all that matters, you believed us. Week after week, I watched you lay it all on the line, whether the free-throw line, baseline, or now even occasionally the three-point line. I saw you carry your team on your back when nobody but you could get a shot to drop, and I saw you pass the ball when a teammate was open. Even though everyone in the stands knew that the kid you passed to was going to take a shot that he couldn't hit. You didn't stop trusting your teammates. You had the right attitude, the one most of us adults who value winning too much needed to learn from.

I'm so, so proud of you for that.

It's no shock, then, that you have plenty of friends. Kids say hi to you everywhere we go. You respond--not with the lordly condescension of a jock, a "popular" kid--but a little shyly, dipping your head, while a small smile plays across your lips. Your school matches up older kids with younger ones, creating a "buddy" system. You were assigned two buddies because the younger class is larger. Did you get two for alphabetical reasons, or because your teacher knew you're a good guy to be friends with and a good example for younger boys?

I think I know the answer to that.

When I taught high school, I encountered some excellent teenagers--enough to give me hope that the next generation isn't completely worthless. Certain young men inspired me to say, "I hope my son grows up to be like him." Fortunately, I'd chosen to marry your dad--the best decision I ever made, after my salvation. Son, if you ever wonder what to do in a given situation, ask yourself, "WWJD?" Yes, "What Would Jesus Do?" but also "What Would Justin Do?" Take your dad's advice and follow his example as much as you possibly can. I love to see the two of you together doing Guy Stuff. I've read that men tend to interact by doing things together, with a few words thrown in here and there when absolutely necessary. (Whereas, as you should know from living with me and your sister, women tend to interact by talking. A lot. About everything.) I love that when you ask your dad to throw the football, shoot hoops, or practice chipping, he is glad to do it. Y'all are building a strong relationship that will last for years to come. I hope you grow up to be like him. I see that you your own way.

People say you look like me. Right now you don't seem to mind hearing that, although if you someday say, "Ugh, I don't look like a girl!" I'll understand. You don't look like a girl. I'm amazed at how genetics interacts with culture. You resemble my childhood photos, yet your features are more boyish than delicate, to my mind. Is it just cultural conditioning that makes me see you as all boy? I don't know. You are, according to everyone, handsome, gorgeous, good-looking, beautiful and altogether too pretty to be a boy. I worry about this. The girls haven't starting chasing you (or else they are chasing you and you're oblivious to it, which is also possible) but they will. Oh, they will. I have visions of picking up your phone and texting back, "This is L's mother. Do not ever send him a picture like that again. I am raising him to be a gentleman who respects women."

That exact thing may not happen. However, I know you are going to face temptations that didn't present the same way in my generation. I can't shelter you from them, so your dad and I are trying to teach you how to handle them. Son, I pray that you will respect women, even if they aren't behaving in a respectable way. I hope that when an opportunity presents itself to take advantage of a girl, even if she is seemingly willing, that you choose to be the guy who takes her home safely and leaves shortly thereafter. I don't ever want you to cause someone to wonder, "What happened last night?" unless you were a protector and a friend. You would do that for your sister, and I believe you can and will treat all women the same way. Men do not have to be monsters--your father and both grandfathers prove that--so choose to rise above your animal instincts and be a real man, who values and respects women.

L, you are all the good things about a mama's boy; for example, you love to hug me and let me kiss your cheek. In fact, in fourth grade, you still aren't afraid to hug me in public (I know better than to try the kissing, though.) You still need your mama when you're sick. You don't enjoy reading much, but you are happier to do it when the two of us are ensconced in the king-sized bed with our books. I read out loud to you sometimes just so we can snuggle. (No, I won't do that with all the books just to make it easier for you.) When I walk by the couch where you are watching your my iPad, you stretch your arms out from under the blanket and say, "Hug?" I am always, always happy to comply. I will never be too busy to hug you.

When I started feeling the pangs of realization that someday my children will have lives of their own and I may not see them or even hear from them every day, I sneakily started adding to your bedtime routine, after the prayer. "And you'll always love your mama, right?" I'd ask. "You'll at least text me every day?"

"Yes!" You'd laugh, incredulous at the ideas that you would even need to text me (since you don't have a phone yet), that you would ever leave me, that you would ever grow up. But you will. You are all boy now, but you are on the inevitable path toward becoming a man.

I'm just thankful that I get to watch and cheer you on. I'll always be your biggest fan.


P.S. I got to the end of this post without even mentioning how funny you are, how much you make us laugh on a daily basis. But this post is long enough already; I'll save those stories for another day.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Things I Was Grateful for in December...And What I'm Looking Forward To In 2016

Happy New Year! Instead of another long philosophical post about goals, resolutions, etc., I decided to share the things I listed in my gratitude journal in December.

  • Justin and the kids playing keep-away in the living room.
  • The Christmas tree is decorated--and that included buying it!
  • Unexpectedly profound conversations with my daughter.
  • No matter how frustrated Justin and I get with my mental illness, there is a bedrock beneath our marriage.
  • Just ordering some presents online and planning to send the birthday invitations gave me some peace tonight.
  • The stunning red-orange color of the Japanese maple outside our front door.
  • The riotous fun of Juck* and L's Nerf gun wars.
  • Word Warp, an app I play obsessively but still cannot get anywhere close to the high score my husband does.
  • Receiving grace and truth from my counselor.
  • Chocolate-covered dried mangoes from Costco. It's worth the membership fee for them alone.
  • My new "adult" coloring book. (Side note: C was disgruntled that they are called adult coloring books when, in fact, people her age like them too. Settle down, I told her, it's a marketing strategy.)
  • The Sara Beth Yoga YouTube channel. She just annoys me less than any other exercise instructor whose videos I've done (and I've done a lot of them), plus I can actually DO the beginner yoga videos, plus she explains what to do so clearly that I don't usually even have to look at the screen. For someone with very little coordination, that last one is HUGE. She's occasionally a little hippie-dippie, but is not too annoying with it.
  • Chipotle's chicken fajita burrito. Tastes just like I remembered, when I would get one every time I had an OB appointment when I was pregnant with L, because there is a Chipotle near my doctor's office. Didn't matter if it was 10:30 a.m.: I was GETTING my giant burrito. No wonder he weighed almost 9 pounds. 
  • A mom friend who talked me down from the ledge and helped me plan C's 13th birthday party, plus she immediately offered to drive, so I will love her forever and ever, amen.
  • C's friends--they're such good kids.
  • Almost everything has been bought for Christmas.
  • So much cool stuff at Dollar Tree today. (Yes, I lead a glamorous life. Try not to be jealous.)
  • The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is so much more sane than the Supercenter. Shopping there has definitely improved my quality of life.
  • The kids helped Juck put up the Christmas lights and were actually helpful, which was a first.
  • Little Caesar's $5 pizzas left over from C's party, which my hormone-riddled self ate too much of. But dang, those garlicky crusts are delicious!
  • Today's peaceful yoga practice followed by 5 minutes of meditation--no crazy brain weasels after 4 days of yoga in a row!
  • The opportunity to give away an American Girl gift card
  • Chick-fil-A's Cobb salad...and a few waffle fries. ;-)
  • C's basketball coaches, for encouraging her and teaching her more than just basketball skills.
  • All of the kids' teachers--we are blessed to have them teaching our children. May they have a restful break.
  • The sausage and ribs our business partner smoked for us until they were fall-apart tender.
  • Sucking on a Hershey's kiss until it melts away--and then doing it again.
  • Christmas-scented candles.
  • Wrapping paper made of brown Kraft paper with red and green huge polka dots on it. I actually bought cute ribbons to tie on the presents and they looked charming.
  • Cuddling with my husband in the mornings before we have to get up.
  • An ice-cold Coke.
  • How much easier traveling is now that the kids are older. 
  • How much easier everything is now that the kids are older.
  • Talking to my three-year-old niece who is SUPER emPHATic with her WORDS.
  • A big group playing Apples to Apples Jr. (Apples to Apples is probably my favorite game so I have been waiting for L to be old enough to understand it so I bought it for Christmas and we had so much fun with it.)
  • The family's favorite pastry, made only at Christmas, called butterhorns. My mom says they are also called rugelach. I disagree, because the filling is not the same as the listed rugelach fillings, but they do look the same. 

These are divine. Sorry, I promised my late mother-in-law that I wouldn't share the recipe outside the family (really. She shared most recipes but not this one or the other special Christmas treat, called Cherry Bon-Bons.)
  • Vastly improved relationships
  • When your kids start getting or making presents for others without being asked to do so.
  • A safe trip home through the storms.
  • Avocados that are already perfect on the day of purchase.
  • The Harry Potter books, and the fact that C and I are sharing our experiences with them.
  • All the books I get to read or reread in 2016. (To point out just one difference between when I'm in a bad place or a good place mentally: when I'm depressed, I feel defeated by the length of my to-read list because clearly I can never read all of those books, so I will definitely miss out on some amazing books and that means I should just lie here on the couch and beat myself up for not feeling like reading. See the difference? I definitely can feel the difference.)
  • All of the writing I get to do (see above entry).
  • My new Spark planner. I love it!
  • Saltine toffee. I could eat my weight in it and I think I almost just did.
  • To paraphrase Anne Shirley, it's a brand new year with no mistakes in it.
  • The fact that it's okay to make mistakes in this brand new year.

Whew, that turned out to be a longer list than I expected! Congratulations if you made it all the way through--I don't blame you if you skimmed some parts. But I had to include it all because December's list was WAY longer than when I started keeping a gratitude journal, beset by intrusive anxious thoughts but determined to find out for myself what research has conclusively shown: that practicing gratitude is the way to experience a better life. In mid-July, I could barely list one or two items a day...but look at how many things I was grateful for in December!

The good things were always there, of course. I just had to let myself see them and give thanks for them.

Oh, and I'm slightly embarrassed that so many of these entries had to do with food. IT WAS DECEMBER, OKAY? I will do better once the saltine toffee is gone. Seriously, that stuff is my crack cocaine. #sorrynotsorry #evenmystretchypantsaretight

Happy New Year to all you lovely people! My life was enriched by you in 2015. Here's to an excellent 2016!

*My husband Justin's preferred** nickname is "Juck." Rhymes with Chuck--in fact, people often think that's what was said. His cousins came up with it and I have no idea why unless it's because they're from Louisiana and things are...different down there. This would also explain why he likes it and asks people to call him by it...he likes being different. ;-)

**His non-preferred nickname is/was "Justy." Pretty much only his parents still called him that and now they are both gone, maytheyrestinpeace. Whenever his mom's gentle voice called, "Jahhhsssttyy" (that's how she pronounced it; I wish I could have Juck say it for you because he can imitate her exactly) I could only see a blond-headed, freckle-faced little boy with a mischievous glint in his eye.*** That was before I ever saw any childhood pictures of him...and it turns out, that's exactly what he looked like. But "Justy" doesn't command much respect as a business owner. I guess "Juck" does--it's even his email address and it hasn't stopped anyone from buying cabinets from him yet.

***See? He's the one on the left. (This is the only pic I currently have in digital format of him as a child.)