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Book Sale!!!

Okay, shameless plug here. My middle grade fantasy fiction book, Traveler, is on sale this week on Amazon for $0.99!!! The link is here:

It’s only a dollar and can be downloaded on any device, so even if you don’t like it, you’re only out a dollar. Give it a shot and send some sales my way. Please feel free to share.

Longer blog coming soon.

Perception

I am fortunate in my job to be able to distribute food in our food pantry to people who need it. I have four or five regulars who are there once or twice a month and the occasional stranger who comes by unexpectedly. We don’t have established hours for the pantry, except the office hours that I keep, so while a couple of our regulars are, well, regular, many times it’s an impromptu visit. All but one of my regulars has a home but just can’t afford to buy enough food that they need for the month, or for the two weeks. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know these folks, to worry when they don’t show up for a while and, most importantly, I’ve learned so much from them. It’s easy to judge people who are in need from a TV screen and the comfort of a secure home, but putting faces to that need really makes one think about not only how blessed many of us are, but helps us to understand that those face could be any one of us at any time. Some of them need help because of past choices, some because of circumstances, but they all have a story to tell. I’m going to introduce you to a few of them here for the simple fact that everyone we meet wants to be understood, wants to be heard, not judged.

T (I’m only going to identify them by their first initials) is a kind, middle-aged man who stops by at the very end or the very beginning of the month. He has someone who helps him pay for an apartment, but sometimes the money doesn’t stretch for the entire month and he needs help with groceries. He very clearly has some issues, there are days when he’s clearer in his thoughts than others, but he is unfailingly polite and makes it a point to ask about my month, my holiday, whatever is in season. He keeps up on current events and tries to engage in conversation about them on occasion. He sometimes asks for magazines to read, so I save my old issues of Guideposts and Reader’s Digest for him to take when he asks. He doesn’t always pay attention to his hygiene, but he’s always very pleasant to talk to and I enjoy his visits.

D has kids. She’s young, Muslim, and usually calls before she comes by to make sure that I’m here or to see if there are new groceries. Her children sometimes come with her and they are all adorable and well-behaved. She makes sure that she sticks to coming only every two weeks and normally stretches it out longer. She looks for halal things that she can feed her family and likes it when we have had a Kroger card donated so that she can buy perishables or over-the-counter medicines that we don’t carry. As a mother, I can’t imagine what she must be going through, but it is so clear that her kids are her whole world. I don’t know her exact circumstances, but I can tell that it bothers her to have to come and ask for help.

K scares me a little, honestly. He’s gotten belligerent with me before and he is banned from many of the churches and businesses in the area because of his actions. I only let him return to our church if he promised to behave himself and made it clear that it was his one and only chance. Since then, he’s been on his best behavior, but I stay on my guard when he’s here and only let him in when I have someone else in the building with me. He’s been arrested several times, I saw it happen on my way home once, so it is sometimes months in between his visits. I’ve seen him sitting outside of restaurants on Michigan Avenue at times, but he never acknowledges me outside of the church. Whether it’s because he truly doesn’t recognize me (he has some substance issues, as well) or he just doesn’t want to associate with me, I don’t know, but I’ve chalked it up to just letting him be. As long as he keeps following the rules, as long as I feel safe, I’ll continue to let him get food because he is truly homeless and is hungry. He’s as thin as a rail and I can’t turn him away.

L is probably my favorite. She is disabled, having been hit by a woman in a beige minivan in 2015. August 2015, to be exact. She broke her femur and now has a leg full of metal rods and pins, requiring her to use a wheelchair. I’ve heard the story many times, almost every time she comes. She likes to stay awhile and talk, telling me the same things again and again. She tells me every single time, “I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs like those people in the apartment next door.” Normally, she rides the bus from that small apartment in the next city over, the apartment that has holes in the walls where the mice come in. She puts bricks in front of the holes to help keep them out but it doesn’t always work. She’s also convinced that someone comes into her apartment and moves things when she isn’t there; her complaints are starting to get on the landlord’s nerves. I’ve driven her home a couple of times when she can’t get back to the bus and I’ve seen the outside of her apartment. It’s a little frightening, the area is bleak. She won’t allow me in because she’s afraid that her neighbors will harass me, even fussing when I insist on at least carrying her groceries to her front step. She will tell, on occasion, of her time in jail or about how she woke up one day (February 2015) and God told her that she didn’t need to do drugs anymore. She is there like clockwork every month, usually around the 20th, but when it’s cold, she has to wait until she gets a ride because walking to the bus stop is too difficult to manage with her wheelchair in bad weather.

She has issues, lots of issues, but there’s something about her that makes me feel that God is with her. She has a mystical quality that transfixes me, even during her rambling speeches. There are times when I am standing in the pantry holding a food bag for twenty minutes or more, just listening, as she gets out all that she needs to say before I even put in one box of cereal. In the midst of hearing about her relatives and the children that she doesn’t see (I’m not quite sure how many she has, but there’s at least one son), there are sometimes profound statements that find their way out and make me wonder. I look forward to seeing her every month and worry when she doesn’t show.

These folks remind me every day of not only how blessed I am, but that humanity comes in all forms; we’re not all the same. Some humans are more difficult to love or understand than others, all of us are at times. But if we at least try, if we take that minute to listen, then we learn; not only about that person, but about ourselves and the world as a whole. We learn humility. I’m not always good at that, but the people who I’ve told you about today have opened up new places in my heart that make me want to listen more. I’m working on it.

 

(This post will have absolutely nothing to do with anything political, of that I can assure you, so any readers who have previously disagreed with my political views have nothing to fear. Or to fight about. Not that my feelings have changed in any way, but it’s very soul-sucking to have to argue and defend all the time, especially after the Christmas craziness and play rehearsals kicking into high gear. I need a break. Just wanted you to know before you started reading.)

I was inspired by a meme on Facebook today. It asked the reader to judge the year based on the difference in where you were as a person at this time last year to where you are now. I know, I know, it’s a Facebook meme, but this one got my attention because I made a major life decision at the end of last year and I’ve been asked a lot about it recently this holiday season, mostly by people I haven’t seen in a long time. Having to answer these folks has made me think about the place I’m now, as compared to last year, and this is what I’ve come up with.

At this time last year, I was kind of a mess, mentally and emotionally. I was at the end of my rope as a teacher; depression and anxiety were a daily struggle that I was having a tougher time fighting as each day passed. I made the choice to take a pay cut, leave the profession that I had acquired several thousand dollars in student loans to go into, and went to work as the office administrator for my church. At the same point this year, I can say with certainty that leaving classroom teaching was one of the best decisions that I could have made for myself. There were parts that I loved: interacting with the kids one-on-one, light bulb moments for the kids, some silly moments, my teaching assistant and friend, Nicole, the hugs and pictures. But the bad had outweighed the good for me. There were plenty of times that I cried all the way home or in the shower from certain interactions or from work situations that seemed hopeless, all the while putting on a brave face during the school day so that I wouldn’t be seen as weak or soft. I was cranky at home, snapping at the kids for small, stupid things, constantly on edge. I was always defensive, feeling like I always had to be on my guard. I felt constantly defeated, that nothing would ever be happy again. I felt trapped.  I know it sounds pretty dark, and my thoughts did get fairly dark, but that is a very common depression symptom and it was true for me then. I want you to see the state of mind that I was in, how ugly it was.

There are teachers who deal with those circumstances just fine, Mr. Marty Man being one of them. He can leave work at work, talk down any outraged parent, and deal with horrible behavior without so much as an eyebrow twitch. My parents-in-law were good at that, too. I’m just not built that way. I internalize the criticism, take it home with me, dwell on what was said, and dread having to deal with the situation again. Like for days and even weeks. Parent-teacher conferences and report cards were a nightmare. While I always gave the grade that the student earned, I knew which ones would turn into a big deal and what would be blamed on me with personal attacks on my personality and teaching ability, even though I always felt that I did my best, but it didn’t matter.

On the other hand, there were absolutely fantastic kids, parents, and extended families, some who still stay in touch. There were some good times, really good times. When I first started student teaching, and then for a long-term sub assignment in the same school (6 months!), I loved it. My cooperating teacher was amazing and the school had a close supportive staff. I enjoyed teaching for that first year and if it had kept going that way, I may have stayed in. For whatever reason, the circumstances changed and it all began to fall apart after that. I know that I was able to reach some kids, that there were kids I could help, but ultimately, I felt that I wasn’t an effective teacher. It’s a horrible feeling. Kids deserve the best, even if they’re obnoxious and difficult to like. I do believe that, from the bottom of my heart, but I found it really hard to put into practice another reason to leave the profession. I’m not good with sassy and difficult. Kids deserve a teacher who can see past that and there are some children who aren’t as easy to love as others. I hate typing this, admitting it to the world, but it’s true. Difficult kids need love, too, and being a classroom teacher isn’t for everyone.

My family has noticed the changes since I left teaching, my kids especially. Mama has a much longer fuse than she used to, the snappiness is much reduced, and I’m much calmer, less prone to black depression holes. The depression holes aren’t gone, but I have more energy stores to deal with them than I did before. They don’t last as long.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my beloved theatre this year and not feeling torn in five different directions with all of the work at home hours. There is a lot of guilt, I do admit, about the decrease in pay and I’m not sure quite how that’s going to pan out in the long run, but for this moment, this very moment, I’m okay where I am. Why is that a good thing? Because I hadn’t felt that way in several years.

So, on the occasion of this New Year, I toast to change. I toast to scary, freaking difficult decisions, and I toast to dreams that turn into goals.

Saluti.

 

I’m finding it difficult to get in the Christmas spirit this year. Actually, it’s been this way for the past few years, so I don’t blame any particular event of 2016. I still find the story beautiful and meaningful, the lights pretty, the cards welcome. I’ve done all the shopping, all of the wrapping (almost), and made a respectable amount of cookies. I’ve sung the songs and felt my heart stir with the beauty of the melodies and lyrics, but yet… I don’t feel it. The magic hasn’t been there.

I will love spending time with my family on Christmas Day, chaotic as it can be. I want to see my nieces and nephews in their joy, and even their eventual crankiness, with all of the excitement. I want to see my brothers and sisters (including the brother- and sister-cousins), parents, aunts, and in-laws that I don’t spend nearly enough time with. I will grumble when making dinner, as I always do, but it will be good-natured. I will drink too much wine, laugh too much, and get all of the dishes done Christmas night because I don’t want to wake up to a mess. I’ll crash into bed around midnight and sleep in the next day until 8:00 or so. (My younger self would have thought that pathetic, but she didn’t have kids.)

I know a lot of people feel the Christmas magic every year, but the last time I remember having the “magic” was sometime when my kids were smaller. I have such fabulous memories of dancing with Oldest and Middle Child around the living room to Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, watching them rock out over and over again in their Pull-Ups as Clarence Clemons belted out the saxophone part. They will disown me for sharing this memory, by the way, but it’s worth it. I miss the astonishment on Youngest Child’s face when Santa KNEW HIS NAME!!! I miss the looks of awe of all three of their faces when it was finally time to go downstairs and see what Santa had left on Christmas morning. I miss the absolute reverence of them putting Baby Jesus in the manger. They still do take turns putting him in, but that sweetness has left with their baby chubbiness. Decorating the tree was a BIG DEAL when they were small, now they’re doing me a favor. Their excitement fueled my own and as they got older, it’s still lovely, but not quite the same.

I don’t know if it’s “normal” to feel this way or not, but I don’t like it. I miss the magic. I want that feeling back. I don’t know if you have to be a kid or have a kid who believes for that to happen, but I want to feel Christmas again. Is it lack of time? Is it extreme busyness? Have I grown up too much, God forbid? Maybe it will come back when I don’t have so much to do, when I can focus on the mystery of the season. I told Mr. Marty Man that one year, I wanted to spend Christmas in Europe, just visiting ancient cathedrals, participating in local traditions, soaking in the feels. He’s not on board yet, but I’m working on it.

In the meantime, even without the magic, I will enjoy the next few days. I hope that all of my readers have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy New Year, or whatever it is that you celebrate. I wish you love and a prosperous 2017. Thanks for reading.

Salute.

 

I Choose Love

The ugliness has begun. Threats and assaults have increased towards mosques, non-European-looking Americans, LGTBQ folks, and women in general since the election; many incidents invoke Trump’s name. It’s exactly what we were headed toward, yet here we are.

I’m not playing a sore loser card, the Electoral College has spoken. Not the will of the people according to the popular vote, but according to the rules of our system. That’s how it’s written and that’s not the issue I’m taking on. Now is the time to deal with what we have and go from there.

I voted against that man, not against a party, not for a party, not for Hillary Clinton in particular. I voted against vulgarity, hate, and intolerance. I voted so that my gay family and friends wouldn’t have to worry about their marriages being dissolved. I voted to show my nieces that women should never have to put up with sexual harassment or assault, especially from men in power. I voted so that survivors of sexual assault and abuse, myself included, wouldn’t be triggered by the President of the United States. I voted to show my amazing boys that the behavior exhibited by Donald Trump is reprehensible and wrong. I voted so that my Muslim and Jewish friends can freely practice their beliefs without having to worry about being harassed and threatened because the freedom of religion, a Constitutionally protected right, is one that we should hold dear. I voted so that my Mexican friends know that I stand behind them. I voted against a billionaire who has never known a layoff or a hungry day in his life, but told the working class that he could relate to them.

Donald Trump won the election. God, help us. Those of you who know me know that I don’t take God’s name lightly. This is my actual prayer: God, help us. We are now seeing the very worst of many people in our country on both sides and so far, it’s not getting any better.

So what to do about it? For starters, I began wearing a safety pin soon after the election. In case you’ve been living under a rock, a safety pin is a sign that the person wearing it will stand up for you if you are being harassed by hateful actions. Thankfully, I have not had the occasion to do that yet, but I am prepared, even though confrontation makes me queasy. I will do it because I will be a part of the solution. I will do it because I am a Christian and we are called to love our neighbors. I will do it because this onslaught of sickening, disgusting, venom frightens me and I will stand up to it. It’s something small that I can do.

Not everyone is on board with the safety pin thing, though. There was a meme going around on social media recently that irritated me. It is a picture of that brave officer who shot the attacker at Ohio State this past Monday. It says, “Your safety pin didn’t save anyone, this cop with a gun did.” Well, yeah, and those two things have nothing to do with each other. A knife-wielding maniac is a job for police officers and I am so very thankful that we have dedicated, wonderful people to protect us in these situations. Our police officers and other first-responders deserve our respect. The pin that I wear is not a means of defense, it’s a sign that I will help you, however I can. What makes me angry about a meme like that is that it insinuates that wearing a pin equals weakness. It absolutely does not. Inserting oneself into a potentially hostile situation with the intent to diffuse it takes a lot of courage, the very opposite of weakness. There is nothing weak about standing up to bullies. The more people that stand up to the recent ugly events will make them happen less and less, whether they wear a pin or not.

What else can I do, besides wearing a pin? I can write letters to my representatives, I can donate to organizations that work for equality, I can blog. I can hope that people who voted for Trump also actively work to quell the bad things that are happening.

In short, I choose to deal with the outcome of this election with love. Will it make a difference? I hope so. I hope I’m strong enough to help my family, friends, and neighbors who may need it in the coming months and years. I hope that we, as a country, make it clear that hate is not tolerated, no matter who we voted for.

So, I choose to respond with love.

I choose love.

Disclaimer: I swore off political posts a few months ago and have stuck to that, but in that time, I have seen things get worse and worse in this election season. This is not a post about politics; I am not politically savvy and have never claimed to be. This is a post about humanity, not political issues.   There are only two days until the election and I can’t understand why Donald Trump still has any supporters at all. I’m so disheartened by the willingness of people to let him slide by for the truly awful things he has done in the name of a political party or because they don’t want Hillary Clinton to become the president. His words and actions make me sick. I simply have to get this off of my chest before I explode.

In raising my children and as a teacher, there is one thing that I have tried to teach over and over again, both by example and by helping them work through it: When you’ve made a mistake, when you’ve messed up in some way, admit what you did without blaming it on someone else, apologize to who you’ve wronged, and work to fix it. I think that’s an important life lesson, one that I learned the hard way growing up. The older I got, the more I realized that it was tough to earn the respect of others if they couldn’t believe you. It was hard, really hard to bite the bullet and admit the truth of things, especially when you really screw up, but as with many situations, the more I told the truth, the easier it got. Being honest is a quality that inspires other good qualities, including integrity, humility, and a heightened BS detector. I want my own kids and others under my care to grow up with this, instead of learning to skirt around hard truths so that they can grow up to be trustworthy people. I even had a poster hanging in my classroom for years that said, “What You Do Shows Who You Are” and we talked about it all the time.

Donald Trump is a man who has never learned that lesson. For almost two years now, from the time that we mistakenly thought he was a joke candidate until the frightening scenario before us today, he has consistently shown that he cannot tell the truth, even when confronted with the evidence from his own lips. He constantly deflects blame onto others, offers pathetic excuses for his own reprehensible behavior, and acts in a way that I would never have tolerated in my very youngest students, much less a grown man who wants to become my president, representing America to the rest of the world. Many of his supporters echo that behavior. Crude and crass t-shirts and signs are normal at any one of his rallies. He eggs it on, encouraging them, riling them up almost into a frenzy. This is the man people want to be the leader of the free world?

Think about this: Would you leave him alone in a room with your daughter, sister, or wife for half an hour? Five minutes? What is a good amount of time to leave a loved one alone with an admitted sexual predator? Even without the heinous allegations that have come out about him concerning groping and other forms of sexual assault, HIS OWN WORDS AND ACTIONS have shown what a rude, misogynistic ass he is time and time again. And he’s proud of it! If tweets or recordings of President Obama had come out like that back in 2008, he would have been crucified for it and his political aspirations would have been over. Done. Finished. Say what you will about his presidential actions and politics (again, this is not a political post), President Obama and his family have been nothing short of a class act from the moment they stepped into the national spotlight. It makes Trump’s behavior even more shocking and embarrassing on the world stage. How will you explain it to your daughters? How will they take that message as they grow into women?

Donald Trump proclaims, falsely, that he will “Make America Great Again”, whatever that means. Turbulent as these times are, we have achieved things that wouldn’t have been thought possible 50 years ago. Things aren’t perfect, but there are huge efforts to improve race relations and equality in the workplace. My family and friends who are gay cannot legally be discriminated against for their sexual orientation anymore. The old class structure is being shaken up and, sure, there are a lot of people who don’t like it, but it’s time. Equality for everyone should be a priority, not an afterthought, and we aren’t quite there yet.

His own campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, can’t answer the basic questions that are thrown at her about his disgusting words and actions without deflecting to Hillary Clinton’s emails or Benghazi. She absolutely can’t give a straight answer. To tell you the truth, I feel kind of sorry for her, having to defend someone like that. She’s someone that I would like to have a glass of wine with when this is all over with and talk about why she stayed in that job. She constantly looks exhausted, and no wonder. The woman has chutzpa, that’s for sure, trying to cover up for his stupidity on interview after interview.

This is not a post for Hillary. To this day, I’m not sure about her. I don’t trust any politician as far as I can throw them and that’s what she is. Politicians lie and stretch the truth to show themselves in a good light. The sooner you understand that, the less disappointed you’ll be. Politics being what they are, there is no way that we can know the absolute truth about any candidate, but this is what I do know: she has publicly admitted to screwing up with the email situation, many times. She has publicly apologized over and over and over again. She was investigated and nothing incriminating has been found. Is she corrupt? Maybe. She continues to be investigated, even now, two days before the election. If something criminal is found, she should be prosecuted, end of story, but so far, this has been a wild goose chase.

Benghazi was a terrible thing. A horrible thing. Americans needlessly died. But here’s what I don’t understand. This has happened before!!! American embassies and Americans have been attacked and have died under almost every other administration, under almost every other Secretary of State in the last 70 years, yet she is being blamed for this particular instance as if the entire thing was her decision. Where was the rage then? Every death, no matter the nationality, by terror is a tragedy, absolutely, 100%. By comparison, she’s done no better and no worse than those who went before her. But when Donald Trump openly criticized a Gold Star Family, his supporters excused it, no problem. When he claimed to know more about ISIS than our generals, his supporters stuck right by him. Lies, oh, my gosh, lies, one on top of another, and still they stay! (Oh, and by the way, Hillary cannot take your guns away. That requires an Act of Congress and many years of arguments, so just stop. Look it up instead of reposting Facebook memes.)

I’m afraid. I am truly afraid. This is not a normal election. This is ugly and scary. The worst of human nature is coming out to support Donald Trump openly and proudly. He’s been endorsed by the KKK. He admits to groping women, meaning that, if he wins, we will have knowingly elected a sexual predator, whether any other allegations are proven or not. As a survivor of not only sexual abuse, it sickens me that people are able to overlook that and make it no big deal. He claims to be a Christian but eschews any Christian principles. There is no amount of rationalizing that makes it okay for this man to be President., not on account of his politics, but on the basis of his thoughtless, disgusting, rude, sexist, bullying, and even criminal, behavior.

I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I am not anything. I think that aligning to a party is limiting and buys into the sheep mentality. I have voted for several parties in the past and feel no allegiance to any particular one. Hopefully, in the future, we will have more than two realistic choices. The closest we came to that was in 1992 when Ross Perot threw his hat into the ring. I would welcome that in a big way. This year, this is a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, that much is clear, and I will be voting for Hillary on Tuesday. Not in the name of politics, but in the name of decent people who should expect to have a leader that knows how to behave like a civilized person with self-control.

You have a choice on Tuesday. You may not like Hillary,  but I’m not asking you to like her. You may even hate her. But, really, look at them both. One of them will be the President of the United States. Voting for Donald Trump validates all of his bad behavior as normal, every bit of it. Who do you want representing you, an American citizen? What can your conscience live with?

Shameless Plug

So, I self-published a novel this week on Amazon.com. It’s a little scary to put it out there, but what the heck. I’m thinking of it as an audition. No pain, no gain, right? Besides, with no agent, I have to do all of my own marketing.

It’s geared toward middle-grade kids (4th through 8th grades-ish), but I think a lot of ages might enjoy it. It’s been a labor of love for the past few years and all four of my past classes that I read it to have really liked it. Right now, it’s only available as an e-book, but I’m checking into getting a printed version soon.

Give it a shot.