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

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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

My return to Christmas

family-time-at-christmasI remember trying to stay awake on Christmas Eve to see if Santa appeared and then waking up at dawn to rush into the living room and find a lovely pile of gifts under the tree. I was almost as excited to give my parents their gifts as I was to open my own and, bless their hearts, they oohed and ahhed over the bottle of Evening in Paris cologne or Old Spice after shave. In the afternoon we’d get dressed up – every year my Mom, who was an excellent seamstress, made me a beautiful dress to wear on Christmas Day – and go to my grandparent’s house. All my aunts, uncles and cousins would cram around the dining room table – with an overflow table for the little kids – and have dinner. After dinner the kids played with their new toys, the men sat in the living room smoking and talking and the women washed the dinner dishes and laid the table with traditional English holiday treats like trifle, mince pies, shortbread and fruit cake (this was the 1950’s – men rarely helped in the kitchen!). Inevitably, one of my uncles would drink too much and lead us in a raucous sing along. Kids got tired and cranky and were discovered sleeping in strange places and, finally, were carried out to cars that their dads had warmed up for them.

I have wonderful memories of my childhood Christmases but there was no obvious connection to religion – we didn’t even say grace before dinner! As a child, I was sent to Sunday School and church services and even did a stint in the youth choir but, religion was not an important part of my upbringing. After I was married and had my son, I continued to celebrate Christmas in all the traditional ways but, it had no religious meaning for me. When I was a single parent it became a time of year that I dreaded because I was always financially strapped and Christmas just added another burden. I was stressed and overwhelmed by trying to make Christmas “perfect” for my son and parents. It was also a time when my disappointments and failures seemed to be magnified – at least in my mind. I imagined that I was surrounded by happy families, loving couples and people who were more successful than me in every way (it wasn’t until many years later that I realized what a mistake it is to compare your life to anyone else). The illustration I added to this post is one of the Christmas cards I drew this year. It depicts the type of happy, intact family that I longed for during all those years as a single parent. Back then, Christmas was nothing to me but financial stress and a reminder of all that I felt was missing from my life. I wish I could have found a way to enjoy those years more instead of being so self-absorbed and taking everything too seriously. I wish I could have found a way to relax and let my heart be light.

When I moved to St. Augustine, right after Christmas in 1993, I wanted to start my new life with a change in my attitude about “the holidays”. Since I knew I was going to be alone on New Year’s Eve, I volunteered to work the overnight shift at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. I made changes in how I celebrated Christmas the following year by using my relocation as an opportunity to downsize gift giving, decorating, and cards. I was working for Catholic Charities as an emergency assistance case worker so I had lots of opportunities to focus on the needs of other people and share the “spirit of Christmas”. I attended a Christmas mass at the old Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine with some nuns I knew from work and I went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the beautiful Memorial Presbyterian Church. These experiences helped to renew my appreciation for the things I liked about the Christmas season and, in hindsight, I think perhaps a couple of seeds were planted deep in my soul that took many more years to bear fruit.

It took a long time but, I gradually came to have different feelings about Christmas – feelings I don’t remember ever having. It’s not the anticipation and excitement I had as a child but, instead, is a much deeper feeling. It is harder to describe than the thrill I had waiting for Santa Claus. These days I experience Christmas as the celebration of a miracle that invites me to believe in something much greater than anything I can imagine or define. It encourages me to have faith. Now every decoration in my house, every ornament I hang on the tree, every gift I give, every kindness I share and every card I send is my own small way of celebrating that miracle. Oh, and my heart is light.

If you’re reading this and you’re feeling sad, lonely or overwhelmed my advice is to go outside tonight and look at the stars and the moon and take a deep breath. Forgive yourself. Then, go inside and give your kids extra hugs and kisses. If you don’t have kids, hug your significant other. If you don’t have a significant other, adopt a dog from a shelter! Most of all, remember to be kind to yourself.

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. ~Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

xmas-2016

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September 11, 2001

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1Like most of you, I will always remember certain historical events that have occurred during my life. Some of them I can even remember exactly where I was and how I felt at the time. I was in my 8th grade gym class, sitting on the floor during a break, when the announcement that our president had been shot in Dallas came over the PA system. He was buried on my 13th birthday and I spent the day watching his funeral on TV with my family. In April of my senior year in high school Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis. I don’t remember where I was when I heard the news, but I do remember the shock we all felt about it. In June of that same year, while we were busy preparing for final exams and graduation, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. In July of 1969, while on my first “grown-up” vacation at the Jersey shore with a friend, we watched the Apollo 11 moon landing and the amazing sight of Neil Armstrong actually walking on the moon.

15 years ago, on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in the conference room of our county Emergency Operations Center waiting for the start of the weekly department directors meeting. As always, one of the wall mounted TVs was tuned to CNN with the sound muted. I remember chatting with a couple of people when someone suddenly pointed toward the TV and said “Look at that!!” and we all turned to see what had caught his attention. It was a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers, which I soon learned was the North Tower. We were astonished by the sight but we all assumed it was a private plane that had somehow gone off course and lost control. If we saw that today we would immediately think it was a terrorist attack, but 15 years ago that was the last thing on our minds. Just a few minutes later, in real-time, we saw another plane hit the South Tower and someone turned up the sound on the TV. We all sat in shocked silence watching the images and listening to the announcers trying to piece together and report the unfolding events.

Like so many people in Florida, I’m originally from the NYC metropolitan area. I grew up in northeastern New Jersey, and attended the School of Visual Arts in NYC. I made numerous trips into Manhattan over the years to visit museums, shop, or take visitors to see the sights. I used to go to bars with my friends when the drinking age in NJ was 21 and in NY it was only 18! Because I grew up in the shadow of NYC – I can remember looking at the skyline from the upstairs bedroom in my grandparent’s house – I always felt a connection to it but, on that day in 2001, my most important connection was my son because he was working for a company in midtown Manhattan. He was sent out each day to jobs in different parts of the city so I had no idea where he was that morning but, I knew he often worked in the Wall Street area. Like millions of other people, I couldn’t get through to him on his cell phone or on his employer’s phone. I didn’t speak to him for another anxious, heart pounding 7 hours. Thankfully, my son had not been on a job near the World Trade Center that morning so he was physically safe, although emotionally very upset.

Looking back with 15 years of hindsight, I realize that September 11, 2001 was the beginning of a change in some of my attitudes. It still took me another ten years to become fully engaged in politics and news but, 9/11 awakened something in me. I began to have a real appreciation for what a great country we have and how blessed we are in so many ways. I saw many acts of heroism from ordinary people in the days after 9/11 and I felt such pride in the resilience and generosity of the American people. I’m not a naive, flag waving, blind loyalty, “America, love it or leave it” type of patriot and I’m not in lock step with any politician or political party but 9/11 taught me to love my country in a way I didn’t before. I love the flag and the national anthem and what they stand for. I revere the Constitution and I know that, if our elected officials protect and defend it, we will be able to overcome anything. I feel deep gratitude and respect for all who have served, bled and died for our freedoms. Seeing the Twin Towers come down made me realize for the first time how vulnerable those freedoms really are and I don’t take them for granted anymore.

God Bless America.

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.  ~Edward Abbey

Liberty wearing her new bandana 12-25-14

She was named Liberty for a reason

 

 

Small and not so small blessings

Lynda Linke logoJuly 8th will be the fifth anniversary of my “reinvention” journey – the day I retired from the working world and began living life in a different way than I had for the previous 35+ years. Years ago I read somewhere that retirement for “Boomers” is different from their parent’s retirement and that many of us like to think of it more as an opportunity for “reinvention”. That’s a fairly typical Boomer way of looking at things – slightly self-centered and egotistical, goal-oriented, forward thinking, and always striving to be different from previous generations. We’re not going to have our parent’s retirement! Perish the thought!! We might even be the first generation that really didn’t believe we would grow old, or at least the most vocal about it. Remember “don’t trust anyone over 30”? How about The Who talking about “My Generation”? Now that we’re all in our 60’s and 70’s, it’s our turn to confront the challenges of aging and, once again, we are determined to experience it in our own way.

Although I’m sure there are plenty of people in my age group who are happy to spend their retirement playing golf or fishing (nothing wrong with that!), I have read interesting stories about people who are using retirement as a time in their lives when they can create a different lifestyle. Many people have chosen to start a small business after retiring, often completely different from the careers in which they worked for 30 or 40 years. Maybe for the first time in your adult life you’re free to explore interests for which you never had time. You might make a radical lifestyle change – perhaps you always wanted to live on a houseboat or maybe you’re fulfilling the dream you’ve had since you were 18 of traveling the country in an RV. I just read a story about a couple who spent a year visiting all 59 national parks!

Although I can’t say I have created a radically different or unique lifestyle in the way some people have, it is certainly different from the one I used to have. For one thing, the reduction in stress and responsibility has allowed me to change in some important ways. One change, which is a small blessing in itself, is a real understanding that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life. I have accepted my current limitations and restrictions and I’m content. That’s a biggie for me because I’ve always been restless and thinking about the next “thing”. I’m not living an exciting, adventurous life but I appreciate the small blessings of being able to immerse myself in a good book, walk with Liberty, have lunch with a friend, take my Mom on a vacation, go to the beach, get away on my own for a few days and a myriad of other simple pleasures.

I started out 5 years ago with a long to-do list, which is still only half completed. It’s been a small blessing to find I don’t care about accomplishing the rest of the goals I set for myself back then! I’ve learned some things about myself and one of them is that I’m not ambitious enough to be a successful artist or author or to start a business, and that’s okay because an important part of my journey has been learning to accept myself. I no longer feel like I have to be accomplishing something important every day. There are places I’d like to visit, things I’d like to experience and a soul mate I hope to meet before I die, but I don’t have the anxious restlessness I once had about those things – and for a former chronic malcontent that’s no small blessing.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~E.M. Forster

Lake Hall Tallahassee 4-16

Liberty is thankful for the not so small blessing of encountering NO alligators during her recent visit to Lake Hall in Arthur B. Maclay Gardens and State Park in Tallahassee. 

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Thoughts on aging with grace

Happy Birthday Old FriendLet’s start with two common definitions of grace:

  • simple elegance or refinement of movement
  • (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and bestowal of blessings

I’d be quite happy if both of these definitions could be applied to me as I age but, since I’ve never been accused of having simple elegance or refinement of movement before I doubt that I will suddenly develop it. I should probably focus on the second definition.

When I think of someone who is aging with grace I think of a person who confronts physical changes and limitations with cheerful acceptance. They appreciate the difference between sharing troubles and whining and complaining about them. They smile often and take great pleasure in the simple joys of life. They are interested in people and events in the world around them. They find ways to offer kindness to other people. They do all they can to maintain an active and independent lifestyle but, when they are forced by circumstances beyond their control to depend on others, they accept help with gratitude. They filter out unpleasant memories and choose to remember only the good times they’ve had.

Wow, I have some work to do if I hope to meet my own definition of aging with grace! First, I do not confront the physical changes and limitations of age with cheerful acceptance. I hate how my muscles ache and my joints “snap, crackle and pop” when I work in the yard for a couple of hours. I hate how much my feet hurt when I’ve been on them a lot – I also hate bunions, corns, calluses and blisters! I do not like the wrinkles and sagging and other skin changes. On the other hand I am grateful that I made it this far without any serious health issues 🙂

Despite what you might be thinking after reading the last paragraph, I don’t whine or complain very much and I do smile often and appreciate the simple joys of life. I’m interested in interesting people but, I do not suffer fools or bores lightly so I struggle with being more tolerant and patient. I’m very interested in national and world events – almost obsessively. I’m pretty good at finding ways to offer kindness to people, through volunteer work and my everyday interactions. I think having good manners is simply treating people with kindness and respect and that’s the way I was raised. I’m very independent and don’t like to ask for help because it feels weak (I like to be in control) but, I hope I will learn to be more gracious about asking for and accepting help as I age. Pain and medications can greatly affect our mental state so I hope if I’m dealing with that I will be able to show appreciation to the people who are there to help me. As for unpleasant memories, I admit I used to dwell too much on mistakes I’ve made or struggle with feelings of guilt and regret but, I’ve done a lot of work in those areas and I’m happy to say that I usually focus on the good times. Forgiveness helped a lot – both of myself and those who have hurt me.

Old age is that foreign country none of us has ever visited and each of us will experience the journey differently. Just like every journey we’ve taken so far, much of how we experience it is up to us. I’ve had the opportunity to observe a lot of elderly people and I’ve seen a few who were wonderful examples of aging with grace but, not as many as I’d like. I don’t think it’s easy. It is much easier to focus on your complaints and fall into the habit of negativity, although I think that’s true of any age. As Bette Davis once said “Old age ain’t for sissies”.

To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent – that is to triumph over old age.   ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Liberty and new toy 9-22-14

Part of me will be young forever!

 

 

Who I am and why I’m here

How are things on your endThat title sounds like I’m going to get all philosophical and deep, doesn’t it? Well, you can relax because that’s not what I’m going to do. I’m taking a WordPress “Blogging 101” online course and the first assignment is to answer a series of questions. For those like me, who have been writing a blog for a while, it is an opportunity to look back on what we’ve already written, think about why we started a blog, what we have accomplished and what we hope to do in the next year.

Who I am – I’m a 65 year old single (divorced) woman. I have a 38 year old unmarried son who lives in New Jersey and is a web developer for The Blaze media network. I retired after 22 years in social services (10 years in retail sales and management prior to that) and I have lived in Florida since 1993. I love animals and currently share my home with a 2/12 year old female beagle mix named Liberty. I live a quiet life – spend most of my time reading, writing, drawing, listening to talk radio, watching TV, doing some volunteer work and getting together with friends. I still haven’t met the love of my life but, I’m not dead yet!

Why I’m here (in the blogosphere) – I started this blog over 4 years ago, right after I retired. I got the idea from the instructor of a writing class I took (author, teacher, book coach and publisher Michael Ray King) – he said everyone who has a book they want to market should write a blog. I gave my blog the same title as my first book Try Lots of Hats (somehow it ended up with the url “take a personal inventory” due to a mistake I made while setting up the blog!). Aside from hoping to promote my book and greeting cards, I also wanted to document my “reinvention” journey. Writing has always been a way to clarify my thoughts and process my feelings so this blog has been a natural extention of my lifelong habit of journaling. When you’re blogging about your feelings, thoughts and experiences you don’t know if anyone will be interested so I’ve been surprised and honored to have gained 74 followers along the way. One of the things I hope to learn from “Blogging 101” is how to attract more followers and encourage comments. Writing can be lonely – that’s why authors love it when people buy their books (it’s not all about the money!) and bloggers love to get feedback from their followers.

As part of this assignment I went back and read my first few posts and I was pleased to see that I have continued to change and grow in the last 4+ years. I’m glad to know that I haven’t stopped learning and having new experiences just because I retired from the “working world”. My biggest changes have occurred in the areas of political views and religion – something that would have amazed me 4 years ago. My goal from the beginning was to be as honest and authentic in my writing as possible and, dear readers, that is something I will strive to continue as I share my life with you. I’ve discovered that when I’m honest with you it helps me stay in touch with the “real” me.

Christmas 2015

Liberty in deep undercover mode

see more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions