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woman in pink shirt sitting on chair“Any coughing, sneezing, diarrhea?” The woman asked as I rolled down my window.

At first, I thought my son had taken a wrong turn and driven us to the Worst Wendy’s in the World. 

Are these items… a la carte?

Should I respond, “No thanks, trying to cut down! Just a baked potato. Hold the mucus.”

But we were actually at the vet to drop off our cat, Squeaky, for his first well-visit. People aren’t allowed inside the vet’s office, so the procedure now is to pull into a parking spot, hand off your pet, and wait for them to call you with results.

It’s important to ask if anyone in the household is sick, but it would’ve been nice to be greeted with a “hello” first.

I think we can all relate to the harried, masked workers making their way through the day with uncertainty hanging in the very air around them.

Last month, a utility worker in a mask confronted me at my front door. “Step out of the house, please, ma’am.” I looked at him for a good, long time, like DeNiro. You talkin to me? You’re telling me to step out of my own house? I don’t think so. 

When I didn’t move or speak, he finally received the energy of my fixed gaze, and softened his tone. “Company policy, ma’am. We have to ask you this outside before we can come in.”

“Then say that, son,” I told him. He was actually nice, but was grappling with how to keep himself safe while doing his job. He’s got to put food on the table. If he gets sick, nobody eats.

One of the lessons I’ve learned during this pandemic is that people can somehow not be themselves for a protracted period of time. Trying to balance health, safety and financial security has had an impact on the human psyche.

So for the time being, if you find those on the frontline a bit curt, don’t take it to heart. Common courtesy may be uncommon these days, but cover your own karma. Keep the mask on your face and the forcefield of faith around your soul. This too shall pass.

silhouette of three people up on mountain cliffI loved Lori’s post about our confab the other day. It was so nice to see my sisters-of-the-soul, almost in person. Her characterization of me as a ballerina impersonating a longshoreman sent me into spasms of snorts (laughter, that is). I’ve been trying to come up with a word to combine those two terms. Balleshorman? Longshorina? Either way, it’s me all over! As we say in Jersey, not for nothin, but she’s on the money.

We’ve never met in person, so this call was truly an event. I could see SueBE as a professor in a college setting, as she just has a way about her that says, “Trust me. I know my stuff.” She’s warm and wise, and feels like family.

I could see Lori as a poet-in-residence at an idyllic lakeside writers’ retreat. She’s got a way about her that says, “I feel things deeply, and can put emotions to music till words dance on the page.” She’s refined and regal, and feels like family.

During the call, workmen were bumping around in my basement, tearing down walls and cleaning out the mess caused by a broken sewer pipe. I was concerned because they had asked me which walls to cut down, even though I had previously told their associate all of the details. What if they cut out the wrong wall? Threw away boxes of mementos inadvertently?

Then as we started chatting, my cat, Squeaky, climbed up onto the desk, and right into the camera shot. I loved that Lori and SueBE would get to meet him; however, I hadn’t taken my Benadryl to help with my cat allergy that morning. Before long, my face flushed and I felt the itching start. I didn’t want to pause the call, because it was such a momentous occasion, so I soldiered on through the allergic reaction.

It was so good to be together from afar, and even though I wasn’t fully myself, I felt like we were all present enough to create the foundation of our sacred space. A shared, virtual meeting room in which we talk about joy, grief, hope, the pandemic, politics, prayer. The stuff of life. I know that when any one of us isn’t able to be wholly present, the others will step up so we can shore each other up.

Dear readers, finding your sisters- (or brothers) of-the-soul is highly recommended for your mental health, for spiritual sustenance, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world with friends on the same frequency. You know they’ve got your back, and you’ve got theirs, whatever may come.

purple petaled flowerMy favorite show lately is the comedy “Black-ish”, and in one episode, something unexpectedly good happens and a character exclaims, “Look at God!”

That phrase has been on my mind lately, as I’ve tried to come to terms with things I don’t quite understand, like how a woman’s body changes with age. Often, the changes are given “food” or “nature” names, like crepe-y skin, cottage cheese cellulite. Crow’s feet. Let’s not forget spider veins.

But all of this can make us forget we women are unique phenomena, capable of creating life, shouldering the weight of the world, and keeping the home fires burning.

These miniature miracles are often taken for granted by those of us who count on the sustaining grace of our sister-friends. That happened to me recently when my thoughtless words wounded a dear friend of mine. I probably assumed she knew I hadn’t meant any offense, as she’s used to my occasional bouts of blunt bluster. 

When I realized I’d been an Epic Tool, nay, a Stupid Stunod (as we say in Jersey), I emailed her again, apologizing for causing her pain. She didn’t reply right away, and during that time, I felt utterly bereft. Had I pushed her away forever? 

Luckily, she gave me a second chance, and it made think of all the second chances God had given me in life. Sometimes I think of my time in prayer as a chance to air a laundry list of Stuff I Don’t Have But Need, Like, Yesterday, and this is what I feel in return on my heart: Food on the table? Clothes on your back? A warm place to lay your head at night? Friends who love you through it all despite your flaws and failings? Peace in your heart? 

Bask in your blessings. Forgive those who cross you. Weigh your words and soften your tone. Don’t make a problem your personal piñata, swatting at it fecklessly. Do what you can and release it into the care of Providence. Look at everyone you’ve got in your corner. Look at all the love in your life. Don’t look at the mulch piling up on top of you. Look at the flower you’re blossoming into, not despite it, but because of it. Walk in faith through this valley, my child. Look at God.

We’ve been dealing with quarantine and conflict for some time now, and it’s taking a toll on everyone, so it’s important to remember to shore yourself up from the inside.

How do you do that? By reminding yourself of the blessings still in your life, like the fact that your pets are happy to have you home all the time. Well, until they start to feel you’re crowding them, at which point, they’ll have a cat caucus and decide how to address the situation.

Cats have their own unique way of communicating when they need something. Feed me, my cat will say, staring at his empty bowl. Play with me, he’ll say, swatting the air with his paws. They don’t need no stinkin’ words!

Of course, even those of us who know how to use our words find it difficult to say what we need. For example, it’s universally hard to say, I need help. People with mental health issues are often encouraged to “tough it out,” which is not very helpful, especially in times like these.

Another challenge is learning how to say, Please stop helping me. I can do this for myself. 

Maybe we could all learn from this store in Bangkok, which has two types of shopping baskets: a black one for shoppers who want to shop on their own, and a pink one for shoppers who need help as they shop.

Say what you need clearly. You never know who might be standing by, waiting to help you. And if you don’t need help, you may know of someone who could use a hand. Staying centered through prayer and perseverance shores you up so you can become a conduit of grace for all those you meet.

pink tulips on white vaseToday is my birthday, so I’d like to start by saying…what’d you buy me? I jest, of course. You shouldn’t feel obligated to get me a gift or anything, even though I’m always here, encouraging you and sending good vibes your way. 

Please don’t feel you must buy me a lovely scented candle, a cashmere shawl or make a donation to my 1-800-MISS-RUTH hotline. (That’s not real, by the way. Just jesting again!)

So I turned 55 today — although I’m told I don’t look a day over 54 ½ .😊 I’ve gotten some text and email birthday wishes, which I really appreciate. 

By far, the best gift I could ever ask for, I already have.

It’s taken decades to achieve, but I feel a sense of peace in my soul. 

I’ve got a modest home. A son who watches out for me. Friends I can count on. Projects that interest me. A mackerel tabby who cycles between maniacal and completely inert. Who could ask for anything more?

A friend told me the other day she’d give up one of her pinky fingers to lose weight. She believes her life will be better if the numbers on the scale go down. Less of her (body weight, that is) is the “more” she seeks.

It’s easy to feel guilty for things we haven’t done, like lose weight, finish that college degree, or find a mate. You’re establishing the rule Until I accomplish this one thing, I can’t allow myself to be happy!

The problem becomes a partner, and every time you find a tiny bit of joy, that problem reminds you it still hasn’t been solved. 

Sometimes the more you seek, the farther your goal seems to move away from you. When you look to someone or something else to complete you, you give your own power away.

Really, the “more” you seek is a sense that you’re on the right track. That your life has meaning. Hang your hat on hope and partner with Providence. Stop chasing after that nebulous “more,” and let your good life find you.

Squeaky and the Squirrel

Twice today, I turned on the microwave to heat up my coffee, only to realize my mug was sitting on the counter. 

Twice today, a squirrel slammed into the window, full-force, and rappelled his way into the bird feeder. This is the self-same bird feeder advertised on Amazon as “squirrel-proof.” Oh har! 

Is this a strange day? Heck, it’s a strange week. Month. Time in history. It’s hard not to feel discombobulated.

In this surreal era, people are on edge. It doesn’t seem to take much to set them off.

In these times, maybe the best we can do is not make things worse. That may sound like a low bar, but if these fraught days have made reasonable people become unreasonable, it won’t help to lecture them.

It surely won’t help to ram your grocery cart into them, as one mask-clad woman did when she crossed paths with another woman who refused to wear a mask. 

Some people are using the mask issue as an excuse to act inappropriately, and viral videos have taken on a whole new meaning.

It’s hard to believe that these words need to be said, but here goes: Don’t get into someone’s face because they’re putting your health at risk by not wearing a mask.

Did you read that line? Read it again. 

Have we all taken leave of our senses? 

The virus isn’t to blame for virulent ideologies and vile behavior. 

You can’t be the boss of everyone, but you can be responsible yourself. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Do what you have to do as a citizen — Pay your taxes. Don’t jaywalk. Post no bills.

And when you’ve done all you can, keep calm and leave the rest in God’s hands.

gray rock formation near body of water during sunsetOhhhh, dear. Let me rephrase that. Choose your “Yes’s” in life so you don’t end up with things you don’t want. If you don’t aim for a positive, “yes” goal, you can end up picking a negative, “no” goal by default. There. That’s better!

Aeons ago, when I was in school (in ye olden days, when we spelled “eons” with an extraneous “A”), my philosophy teacher was the first adult who actually listened to my opinions. 

He also gave sage advice. If we said, “I don’t think so,” he would correct us. “Don’t tell me what you don’t think. Say, ‘I think not.’”

The same thing is true in life. Say “no” to what you don’t want. By doing so, you say “yes” to what you do want. This might seem obvious, but is it?

How much of your life is frittered away by doing things you said “yes” to reluctantly, or to please someone else? 

Be clear about what you want. The map to your yes life is littered with wrong turns and detours. Those were defining moments. Now you know where your yes life isn’t. You can use that information to keep driving.

Don’t be equivocal about what you don’t want, or, as Mr. Kielblock would say, be unequivocal about what you want. 

So be sure to pick your no’s today — er uh, to choose your yes’s. You’ll save yourself from obligations you gain nothing from. Decide what matters most to you, and set your sights on that “yes” goal. 

And never forget to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. I mean, always remember to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. That’s what a prayerful, purposeful, positive life is all about.

selective focus photography of green succulent plantMindfulness is knowing where you are, literally, figuratively, physically and emotionally. If your body is sitting in a chair in the kitchen, but you’re agonizing about an unpaid bill or the broken fence, you’re not fully present. You’re neither here nor there.

Could it be that, when you woke up today, you didn’t realize that this is Everything-Goes-Your-Way Day?

The thing is, if you’re focusing on yesterday’s problems or tomorrow’s uncertainty, you might miss it.

Your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is this: get up, get dressed, and be blessed. As long as you don’t start to think, Okay, what’s the catch? you’ll be the recipient of grace today.

One might think: This is impossible in the time of COVID-19. There are protests going on about police brutality towards people of color. Nothing is normal at all! 

But this is a war on many fronts, and you’ve been through battles before. What did you do when things went haywire? When you lost a loved one or a job? When your child ran away or got hurt? Life doesn’t stop at the catastrophe. It’s where a new path creates itself.

If you’re at home right now and you’ve just had dinner, bask in the blessings. Experience the present. If the neighbor’s kid isn’t practicing the drums tonight? That’s a blessing. If the mail didn’t contain any bills today, bask and breathe. Bad news and big disruptions get enough press. Let’s give our blessings some attention.

Or as Someone said a long time ago: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Tomorrow will be here soon enough, with whatever the day brings. Just for today, be here, now.

red and white UNKs restaurantAs a lifelong homebody, the lockdown due to COVID-19 hasn’t changed my lifestyle much; I’m always home. As an introvert, I’ve been practicing social-distancing as a matter of course. As a person with very specific OCD habits, such as constant hand-washing, I seem to have been uniquely positioned when the pandemic hit. Have I actually been preparing for this period in our history my whole life?

I’ve watched as others go stir-crazy, saying they were “stuck in the house” and had nothing to do. I’ve seen tempers flare as people inexplicably fight over toilet paper, as if it’s the holy grail that will somehow get them through this wretched time.

Looking back on life pre-Coronavirus, there are concepts that didn’t make much sense anyway. 

Using paper currency as our method of payment? Why not just call it a “virus delivery device”?

Eating at a buffet in a restaurant? Anything requiring a “sneeze-guard” is sketchy in the best of times.

People want things to go “back to normal” and certainly, if that “normal” means that no one else gets sick or, God forbid, dies from COVID-19, then I agree. But there are so many things that really shouldn’t revert back to the status quo.

For example, if it’s possible for a job to be done remotely, that should be considered as an option for our new normal. Quality of life is just as important as a paycheck. Let’s cut the commute from a road full of tolls, potholes and trolls in other cars to a walk from your bed to the computer chair. 

Also, people have been spending time at home with their families. Eating dinner at the table together. Cooking and baking again. Finding crafts and hobbies that they enjoy. Staying connected with houses of worship virtually. Hopefully, when the country “opens up” again, these positive, personal experiences won’t fall by the wayside.

When your computer is acting hinky, restarting it can work wonders. Maybe restarting the world with a few lessons learned will do us all some good, too.

“How do you like them, ma’am”? the young man asked. “Do they fit okay?”

I was trying on my new glasses, and just for a moment, I didn’t know the answer to that question.

They didn’t feel like my old glasses, which were heavy, pinched my nose, and fit so tightly they etched a groove into the skin on either side of my head.

These new glasses were light, didn’t hurt my nose, and fit well without digging into my skin.

What’s more, I could see slightly better, but didn’t realize it yet, as my eyes were still adjusting to the new prescription. Huh. That’s something. I could see well enough to notice that the frames matched the blue-green color of my eyes. I still have low-vision, but this slightly-better prescription made a difference. 

“You know, I think these will do just fine,” I responded after a moment.

You can get used to things that really don’t fit or serve you well and not even realize it. It can take time to adapt to things that make your life better, like new glasses, Zoom meetings, and breathable face masks, but it’s worth the effort.

We’ve all got to change with the times, and maybe, if you’ll pardon the pun, life is all how you frame it. You can also use that fresh viewpoint to see the silver lining in a difficult situation.

When my dryer broke down, I was ready to break down myself. Not another thing that needs repair! 

Now, a month later, using a drying rack has led to a nice bonus — my electric/gas bill is lower because I’m not using the dryer. 

These days, change seems constant. But what you learn builds muscles inside you never knew you had. Keep the faith, and soon enough, we’ll all see better days.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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