All my Christmases have a different story

Merry Christmas Across the MilesAll my Christmases have a different story, generally reflecting the state of my life at the time. My childhood Christmases – when I still believed Santa brought the gifts – were full of excitement and anticipation. Those were also the times when I still enjoyed going to church services and even sang in the choir when I was 13 and 14. I’m an only child but my mother had 6 siblings so I grew up with plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins and we all went to my grandparent’s house for dinner on Christmas. I have happy memories of those years. In my early adult years we all started moving away and then I got married and entered a new phase.

Our relationship was a rocky one with lots of ups and downs during our almost 9 years of marriage but, I have good memories of some of the Christmases we spent together. He had a great sense of humor and was very quick-witted so he could usually make me laugh, even when I was mad at him. Some stories only became funny in later telling; like the year he came home drunk from a work Christmas party and fell onto our little 4′ tree that I had just finished lovingly decorating! He was almost 6’5″ and about 230 lbs so you can imagine what happened to the tree. Then there was the year our dog got into a whole tray of gingerbread men and spent the next few hours puking and pooping (this is a companion story to the year my son’s cat got into his Easter basket and came walking across the floor the next day with a long strand of green cellophane trailing from her butt!) In the fifth year of our marriage our son was born and we had some nice Christmases together as a family – until we didn’t.

Then there were all the single parent Christmases. Except for the first Christmas in the first house I owned, all those years blur together in my mind. The stress, financial anxieties, and pressure (mostly self-inflicted) of doing everything possible to give my son happy Christmas memories. The sadness and feelings of failure despite all the effort. The difficult relationships. The loneliness of not having a partner when it seemed that everyone around me was part of a couple. The awkward social gatherings with my ex-husband’s family – he there with his girlfriend and me, of course, alone. Forced joviality for the sake of my son, when inside I was seething over another year of late child support payments and neglectful behavior.

After I moved to Florida, my feelings about Christmas gradually changed. I let go of unrealistic expectations and began to take responsibility for my own happiness instead of thinking like a victim. A few years later my parents retired and joined me and I had a lot of really nice Christmases with my parents and my son, who arrived from wherever he was living to spend Christmas with us. Gradually, and privately, I began to find my way back to God and reconnect with the meaning of Christmas.

This year marks another big change in Christmas. My 40-year-old son finally got married and had a baby so his life is completely different from when he came here last Christmas. Naturally, they wanted to celebrate Christmas in their own home and with her family so they came for a visit a couple of weeks before Christmas. We had a wonderful visit and my mother was thrilled to meet her great-grandson but, Christmas this year has been very different.

Matthew with his Nanna Catton 12-8-17

The new great-grandmother!

On Christmas Day Mom and I had a nice dinner and then we opened Liberty’s gifts – 2 new toys and lots of treats and chewies!  We exchanged our gifts and then watched “A Christmas Carol”, as we always do. My son called from his home a thousand miles away to wish us a Merry Christmas and thank us for the gifts we sent. It was so nice to hear his voice but, his presence was certainly missed. I had some sad moments this Christmas but, I’m thankful that my feelings have mostly been of happiness and gratitude. That is a gift in itself.

If you’re struggling with feelings of unhappiness during this time of the year I have two suggestions – find a way to be of service to others, and read “Happiness is a Serious Problem” by Dennis Prager. (I’m not talking about clinical depression or any serious mental health issue – if you fall into this category please seek professional help). I’ve mentioned this book before because it was such an eye opener for me – I’ve read it all the way through three times and I periodically re-read sections. He also has a YouTube video in which he lectures about happiness – one of his favorite topics!

Liberty - Christmas portrait #1

Liberty’s Christmas 2017 portrait

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions


This is not a democracy

Have you ever referred to this country as a “democracy”? I have made that mistake in the past but I know better now. I’m not alone – I’ve heard many intelligent, educated people call this country a democracy, including the former occupant of the White House. Actually, our country was founded as a republic and there is a big difference between that and a democracy. Here is an excellent explanation from :

A Republic is representative government ruled by law (in our case, the Constitution). A Democracy is government ruled by the majority (mob rule). A republic recognizes the unalienable (endowed by God, not by government) rights of the individual while democracies are only concerned with group wants or needs for the “good of the public” or, in other words, social justice.  Lawmaking is a slow, deliberate process in our constitutional republic requiring approval from the three branches of government – Legislative, Executive, and Judicial – to assure checks and balance. Lawmaking in a democracy occurs rapidly, requiring approval from the majority by polls and/or voter referendums. 50% plus 1 vote takes away anything from the minority. Here is one example: if 51% of the people don’t pay taxes they can vote a tax increase on the 49% that do, which is mob rule.

Democracies always self-destruct when the non-productive majority realizes that it can vote itself handouts from the productive minority by electing the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury. To maintain their power, these candidates must adopt an ever-increasing tax and spend policy to satisfy the ever-increasing desires of the majority. As taxes increase incentive to produce decreases, causing many of the once productive to drop out and join the non-productive. When there are no longer enough producers to fund the legitimate functions of the government and its social programs the democracy will collapse, always to be followed by a dictatorship. 

Mitt Romney famously got in hot water during his 2012 presidential campaign when he said that he knew the 47% of the voting population who were receiving some form of public benefits would not be voting for him (this comment was made at a private fundraising event and was surreptitiously recorded and released to the press by Jimmy Carter’s grandson). The scary thing about this (aside from the fact that no one seems to be allowed to express an opinion anymore) is that 47 is precariously close to a tipping point. Without the serious reform of all public welfare programs, the tax code, and enforcement of immigration laws, we could very easily reach the point where there are not enough taxpaying, productive citizens to pay for the legitimate functions of government and its social programs.

I worked in social services for 22 years – both private non-profit and public sectors – and also did a lot of volunteer work for social service agencies over the years. I was able to help a lot of people who were in need as a result of circumstances beyond their control. I also saw more than my share of people who took any “free” assistance an organization or government program had to offer, whether they actually needed it or not. I was taught there is no such thing as a “free lunch” – someone has to pay for everything you call “free” – and that it is wrong to take a handout when you are perfectly capable of earning a living and getting it for yourself. Even your freedom isn’t free.

I believe in maintaining the legitimate functions of government and its social programs. I believe in helping those who are vulnerable or in true need. I believe in protecting our country. These are the things for which I don’t mind paying taxes. What frightens me is how close our republic is to being turned into a democracy as a result of entitlement programs that foster dependence on the government for everything, and the thousands of regulations that worm into every aspect of our lives. This is the exact opposite of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

If you’re interested in reading some intelligent thoughts about the promise of government and the threat it poses to individual freedom I highly recommend Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom”.

Liberty wearing her new bandana 12-25-14

Chew on that for a while

Sentimental Journey

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1Recently I took a long, long journey – a sentimental journey of a thousand miles and many years. I drove from Florida to New Jersey with my dog, Liberty, to meet my new grandson and daughter-in-law.

My grandson was 6 weeks old that weekend and, when I held him in my arms and looked down at his sweet little face, I had the physical sensation of time pulling me backwards. Could it really be 40 years since I first held his father? Time was playing that old trick on me, the one where it feels like you’re remembering some other lifetime but it could also have been just yesterday.

As I gazed down at my grandson, I was overcome with waves of emotion – certainly great joy, but also sadness because I already felt an ache for all the times in his life that I won’t be there. Matthew and Nanna 9-8-17I don’t want to live where my son and his wife live and they don’t want to live where I live so this gaping distance will always exist between us and I will have to accept that. My daughter-in-law’s parents, who live in the same town, will be the ones who babysit and who will be a regular presence in my grandson’s life. They will be frequent visitors to his house and he to theirs. He will celebrate Christmas and all the other holidays and special occasions with his mother’s family and I will be the disembodied, slightly unreal Nanna he talks to through the computer, the one he only sees a few times a year. It will take him a long time to understand that I’m a real person and not a character on TV! I know there are many people who have grown up far away from their grandparents. My parents immigrated to this country from England when I was five so I only knew my father’s mother through letters and photographs. I have friends who live far from their grandchildren. At least these days we have computers and smart phones and, yes, I’ll utilize them to stay in touch but, I haven’t quite adjusted yet to the fact that I won’t be able to be a “hands on” grandmother. I guess I’ll get used to it but, right now, it’s still hard to accept.

For now, I’m just trying to focus on how happy I am for my son that he has finally settled down and has a family and home of his own. It is obvious that he is happy – happier than I’ve seen him in a long time – and I enjoyed seeing him in his new roles of husband and father. I was pleased to see how loving and protective he is of his wife and child. He fully participates in all aspects of caring for his son but, more than that, I can see that he genuinely takes great pleasure in him. I always knew those qualities were deep inside him but it’s so gratifying to see them come to fruition. I felt so proud of my son; I even allowed myself a moment to take some credit for the man he has become. It was a long, rough road for both of us!

I can’t write about this journey without mentioning my wonderful little travel companion, Liberty. She not only spent many hours in the car without complaint but, she also adapted beautifully to all the changes involved in staying at a hotel and two rentals – not to mention visiting my son’s house and his in-laws. She was very interested in the baby – the little noises and movements he makes all attracted her attention and, of course, he smells like milk! I could see that she was distressed when he cried and I think, given a bit more time, she could become quite protective of him. When my son, the germaphobe, was out of the room I let her lick the baby’s toes – no harm done!

Liberty & Matthew 9-10-17

Liberty guarding HER baby!

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Walks With My Dog

early morning walk 7-16-17I’ve been watching a charming BBC series called “Walks With My Dog”, which features several British celebrities and their dogs walking through some spectacular landscapes in England, Scotland and Wales. The hosts tell us historical, geological and botanical information about the areas in which they are walking – and, of course, introduce us to their four-legged friends and tell us what makes them so special.

Walking is a popular pass-time in the UK and there are miles and miles of national trails along the coasts, through the Yorkshire Dales, the Cotswold’s, the Lake District, and many other beautiful places. If you’d like to plan a walking vacation in the UK, or if you’re just an arm-chair traveler is a great site to visit. One of my English uncles was an avid “rambler” who often set off with his back pack for a weekend walk. He would stop at pubs and inns along the way – some that could only be reached from the walking trails.

Liberty and I won’t be walking the national trails in the UK but watching “Walks With My Dog” made me think about all the miles we have walked together in the three years since I adopted her. We have walked along beaches on both the east and west coasts of Florida, through wooded trails beside waterfalls in the mountains of North Carolina, on riverwalks and around lakes. We have walked through old-fashioned downtown neighborhoods and state parks in Georgia. The town where we live has many nice walking paths and we walk on one of them every day – along the Intracoastal Waterway, through wooded areas, or the path that runs right behind my property. Ft. DeSoto dog beach 6-15-16

For many years my mother walked with me and my dogs and I have walked with friends but, I have to agree with something all the hosts of “Walks With My Dog” said “there is something very special about walking with your dog”. They all mentioned a “spiritual” feeling they experience when walking with their dogs that they don’t feel when walking alone or with another person. I can relate to that because Liberty not only expresses pure joy and excitement about going for a walk but, she also keeps me attuned to my surroundings. I tend to become absorbed in my thoughts but she brings me into the present moment because she notices and is interested in everything. There is no talking to distract me so I am more aware. Aside from all that, she gives me the simple joy of quiet companionship and unconditional love – and she gets my lazy butt off the couch!

Caras quote

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I’m still learning from Mom

Java Joint 4-11-17While we were out for a walk on Monday, May 15, my Mom fell and fractured her hip. We found out later that, during the fall, she also had a heart attack. After 24 hours in the ER she was moved to the ICU, where she stayed for 5 days as the medical team worked to stabilize her heart, lungs and kidneys. May 15 was another example for me of how quickly your life can change and how important it is to never take anything for granted.

For the first 6 days I spent 8 hours a day at the hospital – 4-5 hours in the morning and another 3-4 in the evening so that I could go home and let Liberty out of her crate for a couple of hours. Mom was in a lot of pain but could not be cleared for surgery on her hip because of her heart and overall condition. By the middle of that week I was afraid she was going to die and then, miraculously, she slowly began to rally. Her strong character began to surface and her condition improved to the point where she was moved to PCU and was finally cleared for surgery, which she had on May 23. Three days later she was moved to a rehab facility to begin the long process of recovery. She has been there for 10 days now and has made amazing progress in her daily physical therapy sessions.

Mom at Jump Off Rock, Hendersonville 5-2017

Mom on a recent trip to the mountains

Throughout my life Mom has taught me a lot, not only with words, but also by her example, and I’m continuing to learn from her in this new situation. She is an independent person who prides herself on being in control of her life and she lost all of that in an instant. Aside from a couple of rough patches, she has shown cheerfulness and gratitude to all her caregivers and to me. She has kept her good sense of humor. She has accepted her current situation but, is not resigned to it – and that’s a big difference. She has shown determination in her physical therapy sessions and, as a result, she is growing stronger and more confident each day.

As soon as she’s ready, she’ll be coming to my house for the remainder of her recovery. I feel very blessed to still have my Mom and be able to care for her but, I know this new situation will be a challenge for each of us. She will be dependent on me for many things and I know this will bother her because she doesn’t like to be a “burden” to me. We’re both people who need to have our own space and alone time so I’ve been making my guest room into a comfortable escape for her. It will be a big adjustment for me, not only being her caregiver but, also sharing my home with her because I’ve been living alone for so many years. I’ve become accustomed to doing whatever I choose and coming and going as I please. I think the best way for me to deal with this change is to follow Mom’s lead – with cheerfulness, gratitude, humor and strength of character.

Youth is a gift of nature. Age is a work of art.

Liberty & Nanny 4-11-17

Liberty and her “Nanny”

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

Mothers Day

Thank you, Mom_edited-2On May 20, 1977 my only child, a son, was born. This event changed me and my life forever in ways I had no way of knowing when I first held him in my arms and looked down into his little face. After that day I always thought of time as “before Zac was born” and “after Zac was born”.

My son was a challenge from the beginning – I was in labor for 22 hours and he weighed a very healthy 10lbs. 2oz. at birth! He was a happy baby and toddler, with a bright and curious mind but as he grew older he exhibited a single minded will that often bordered on stubbornness. Once he set his mind on something it was near impossible to deter him! When he was four his father and I divorced so he didn’t have the childhood I had envisioned for him. I know the divorce and his relationship with his long distance and neglectful father had a long lasting effect on him. His feelings of anger and disappointment were eventually all directed at me and, by the time he reached his teen years, we were constantly at odds with each other. His attitude and behavior worsened to the point where I had no control over him. Unfortunately, when I think of those years all I can remember is me yelling and him being totally disrespectful in every way possible. I hope he can remember at least some good times with me!


Meanwhile, I plodded on. When my marriage ended I was a 31 year old college drop out with no real marketable skills. I was scared and had no idea how I was going to support myself and my son. I got the only job available to me – retail sales.  Between the failed marriage and the crappy, low paying job I felt like the biggest loser on the planet! My self-esteem was at an all time low. I was starved for approval and affection, which naturally led me into an unhealthy relationship. Fortunately, I had enough inner strength to work my way up into a management position, get a loan to build a small house, change to a career in social services and finish my college degree. Every time I accomplished a milestone I felt a little better about myself.

24 years ago I moved to Florida and forced my then 16 year old son, who had insisted on dropping out of high school, to go with me. I desperately wanted to get him away from some very negative influences and I thought a big change was needed in both our lives. He only stayed for 6 months but, they were productive months for him and our relationship also improved – before I moved I had thrown him out of the house and we were barely speaking so, almost anything was an improvement! He got a full time job, finished his GED, got a drivers license and a car. He shared an apartment with a friend who had moved to Florida with him. He was only 17 when he moved back to New Jersey but he had experienced so much more of life than his former high school classmates. I didn’t want him to leave but, as usual, he already had his mind set.

The following years had many ups and downs for each of us and for our relationship with each other but, thankfully, we both came out okay. I was able to build another house, in which I still live. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and has been my sanctuary. I was hired as a social services director in local government, from which I retired after 16 years. When my father retired, my parents moved from NJ to a house right down the street so I’ve been blessed to have them close by for many years. I still haven’t been blessed with a good man to share my life but, I’m happier with myself and with my life than ever before and that in itself is a great blessing.

My son earned a degree in audio/video management and worked for 10 years in that field but, throughout his 20’s he drove me crazy with worry over all his impulsive decisions. I bailed him out of so many financial crises that I still feel the effects to this day! He lived in several places over the years and finally decided three years ago that northeast NJ is where he “feels at home”. While living in Boston he completed a second BS, in Web Design and Internet Technology – Dean’s List every semester and National Honor Society! – and has been employed as a web developer for the past 2-1/2 years. He recently got married and his first child, a boy, is due on August 1. He & his new wife are in the process of buying a house. It was a long and difficult road but, it does my heart good to know that he has finally grown up and put all the pieces of his life together.

When I look back on my experiences as a mother I see all the mistakes I made and all the things I could have done differently but, I no longer have the heavy burden of guilt that I carried for so many years. I also don’t compare him anymore to the “good” sons of people I know and wonder where I went “wrong”. I just accept him for the unique person he is and appreciate his good qualities – after all, some of them come from me! I know I did the best I could for my son and, no matter what, I always loved him. I think he knows that. So, on this Mothers Day, forgive your mother for whatever wrong you think she did and, even more importantly, forgive yourself.

Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

Cherokee Lake Park Thomasville GA 4-16

Love is everything

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Another nice daytrip

Simplicity copyI like to take Mom and Liberty out for the day every once in awhile. As I stated in a previous post, I think of day trips as mini vacations – a break from the usual routine that is good for the mind and spirit. I had seen the sign for Historic Downtown Sanford on I-4 so many times when driving to Orlando and I had recently commented to a friend that it’s strange how we always visit historic sites when we’re on vacation but we forget to explore the ones that are close to home so I decided it was time for a daytrip.

Mom and I are big fans of  “Main Street USA” and “Preserve America” downtowns; they have received federal or state grant funds to renovate and revitalize their downtown areas. I have even planned vacations around “Main Street USA” destinations – Hendersonville, NC and Thomasville, GA are two examples. We like to park the car and walk the main street, free to pop into the shops and eat lunch at an outdoor cafe where we can people watch (and, of course, Liberty can join us!). Maybe because we live in a town where the oldest house was built in the 1970’s and most of the stores are in shopping malls, we enjoy older buildings and the look of an old-fashioned main street. Although neither of us are “shoppers” anymore – we both feel that we have enough stuff – but we like to window shop and see unusual things that the “Big Box” chain stores don’t carry. In Sanford I went in a used book store called Maya Books & Music. Jam packed shelves, piles of books on the floor and tables, and just that perfect combination of organization and chaos that I can’t resist in a book store. I could have spent hours in there but controlled myself and only bought a particular book I had been wanting to read 🙂

Being able to be near water – whether it be ocean, river, or lake – is always a big attraction for me and downtown Sanford is right on Lake Monroe; a huge lake that feeds into the St. Johns River. There is a really nice pathway called River Walk along the lake and the weather was sunny, windy and cool – perfect for a walk. Liberty met two nice dogs – a little terrier/poodle mix named Charlotte who was decked out in a pink rhinestone-adorned halter and leash, and a friendly old chocolate Lab named Bob.

Riverwalk Sanford 3-3-17

Mom on the River Walk at Lake Monroe

After our walk we had delicious fish n’chips (although NOT authentic English style!) at the Breezeway Restaurant where Liberty was greeted by many admirers, as usual, and also met a nice dog who was passing by with his owner. We continued our leisurely walk around the small downtown area and stopped at Matties’s Delectable Desserts and bought a couple of yummy cookies to munch as we strolled.

Didn’t cost much, didn’t take a lot of time or effort. Just another nice daytrip 🙂

Sanford 3-3-17

Just hangin’ out lookin’ cute 🙂

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions