Happiest of Holidays to You!

Tree2Wow, it’s Christmas Eve already. My daughter has been home from college since the 15th and I’m enjoying every minute with her (when she’s not out with her friends!) I didn’t realize how much I’d miss her…she’s matured so much since August. Home for the holidays – what could be better than that!

Last minute shopping, LOTS of baking and cookie decorating and a little more cleaning and I’ll be finished – all ready for Santa to come. Visiting family tomorrow will be wonderful. Brothers and sisters and their families I haven’t seen in a long time will be there too! How blessed I am to have such a large and loving family!

Since the tragedy in Connecticut on December 14th, I haven’t felt much like writing. Too many thoughts were going through my mind and I couldn’t decide whether to write about the holiday season or just wait and treasure the quiet moments shared with my loved ones. Although school is finally over, I have much planning to do for the future. Sometimes, the thoughts of it can be overwhelming.

I did receive a surprise package in the mail this afternoon from my niece andGhost Hunters Book (2) goddaughter who lives in California. She, like me, enjoys reading about the paranormal; however she is also a paranormal investigator. It’s ironic that I never realized this until a few years ago. This afternoon, I received an autographed book in the mail by the author of “Ghosthunting Southern California.” Sally Richards is a friend and member of their “ghost group,” Roadside Paranormal.

Okay, so this gift may not be what you would consider bedside reading during the Christmas holidays, but it’s great if you enjoy reading about ghosts and everything paranormal by the fire on a cold, dark night. I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I find some quiet time when I’m not too exhausted from the holiday bustle.

To energize myself after the holidays, I have Chalene Johnson’s TurboFire workout to begin. That was a gift from my oldest brother who had great results from following the Beachbody workouts with Tony Horton. He’s 16 years my senior and in better physical condition than I am. That doesn’t say a lot for me and my exercise regime to date! However, what’s better than the New Year to begin a new routine?

My low-cholesterol eating plan has been working out pretty well. I’ve maintained a 4-lb. weight loss…not really too concerned about losing more until after the holidays. I just can’t resist the treats that are abundant this time of year. Moderation is the key and I’m permitting limited amounts of sweets while I continue eating lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in place of sugary foods.

White chocolate Cranberry cookiesI have to say I’ve made Teresa (Can’t Keep Out of the Kitehcn)’s White Chocolate and Cranberry cookies…and they’re delicious. Bringing them tomorrow along with a couple of others. My camera is so bad; can’t post too many pictures…but rest assured, dessert will be delicious!White chocolate Cranberry cookies1

 

 

My daughter, as tradition, opened one of her gifts tonight and loved the Vera Bradley travel case we bought her. It’s perfect for her little lotions and make up things and matches her purse. She was thrilled! Santa was good and we can’t wait till tomorrow.vera bradley

As long as we’re healthy and happy, what more could we ask? I hope everyone who reads this has a wonderful and peaceful holiday. My best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year! Thanks for reading!

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.  ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Burning the Midnight Oil (and a cookie too!)

Writers ClockThe semester ends December 15th.  I see my Professor for the final time on the 12th.  If I don’t complete the class, I can’t graduate.  Am I ready???

 Hell, yeah.  At this stage of the game, I feel I did my best.  Did I procrastinate?  Yes, well, sort of.  Did you ever get an idea for something you REALLY wanted to write about and once you began, decided you didn’t like the topic after all?  Hence the procrastination.

 I have books and magazines and copies and notes all over my desk.  Organized chaos!  I’ve been sitting at this desk for weeks amidst numerous interruptions. Marys Desk

 I needed a break…just a little one to clear my mind.  All I could see was the clock winding down…tick…tick…tick… What to do???  Bake some cookies, of course!

 cookiesBaking always inspires me!cookie tins

 I did something I normally don’t do, but in an effort to save time, I put two batches into the oven at once.  Halfway through I rotated them, top and bottom, so they would bake more evenly.  Big mistake.  The older pan on the bottom baked the cookies too fast.  So much for inspiration.

 When I removed the pans from the oven, I noticed a third of the cookies on the bottom tray were burned.  I don’t remember the last time I burned a cookie, it’s been THAT long.  And we know who always gets to eat the burned ones, don’t we??  It didn’t matter though because even the burned ones, albeit a little hard, tasted scrumptious.burnt cookie

 With that feat accomplished I was able to get back to the task at hand – finishing my assignments.  Dinner will take care of itself, meaning if my husband is really nice (and hungry), he’ll get take-out for us.  Steamed vegetables sound delightful!

 I’m getting sidetracked.  I have few more paragraphs to write, lots of editing and by midnight (nothing like pushing the envelope) I’m in the home stretch.  My fate will lie in my Professors’ hands.  Here we go!

 “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” ~ John Quincy Adams

Where the Heck Did I Hide Those Presents?

hmmmOkay, let’s face it.  Many of us (let’s be honest now) have a bought holiday gift, possibly even wrapped it, and when the time came to put it under the tree, we couldn’t find it!  Maybe we bought it a tad bit early, catching a great sale.  We stashed it in the perfect “hiding place” so the recipient wouldn’t find it until that “special moment.”

 Time for the unveiling.  Christmas Eve or morning…everyone eagerly unwrapping their beautifully decorated packages and… what the heck?  Where are the leather gloves I bought after Thanksgiving?  What happened to the monogrammed ornament?  Damn, I could have sworn I bought a new crossword dictionary, DVD, pair of earrings, state-of-the-art gizmo, body lotion set, sweater, cashmere scarf and on and on!

 I used to be the “Queen of the Hidden Gifts” and “Master of the Stash,” hiding gifts in the attic, in storage crates, in the garage, out in the shed, anywhere I knew prying eyes wouldn’t either think of looking or couldn’t easily get to.  For the more common placeshiding gifts like under the bed or in the closet, the gifts were so meticulously wrapped, I would know in an instant if that sneaky someone tried to sneak a peek.  I was a kid once too!

 Alas, it never fails.  There is usually ONE gift that gets lost in the shuffle.  Last year it was a pair of jeans for my daughter.  I hid the wrapped box under the bed in the spare room; I had other gifts under there too which I remembered to put under the tree.  But this box somehow got shoved behind an “under the bed storage bin” and escaped my vision.

While putting away a blanket in March, I discovered the package.  OMG, what is this?  I didn’t care that it was wrapped; I impatiently ripped off the ribbons and tore open jeansthe paper.  There in the box, so carefully covered with sparkly holiday tissue, was a pair of designer jeans I bought for my daughter.  Ah, now I remember…I bought them online in November after receiving her Christmas list, swearing it was the last time I’d ever pay that much for jeans again.  They arrived early so I wrapped them up in a hurry and carefully hid them w—a—y  under the bed so she wouldn’t find them.

A light bulb went off in my head.  Easter was around the corner, so why waste the gift by giving it to her now?  I’d wait until Easter and put the re-wrapped gift with her Easter basket.  Yes, I still give my teenage daughter an Easter basket, usually filled with “girly” things, maybe a CD or DVD, a gift card and, of course, a delicious chocolate bunny.

Sure enough, Easter morning, my daughter wakes and with bright eyes dashes into the den to discover the basket…and a box?  Of course, she ripped open the now pale yellow and green wrapped box first.  “What’s this?” she asked quizzically.   I confessed.  My daughter just gave me a look and then laughed.  “It figures” was her comment.  I asked her to try them on after breakfast.  A week later, she still hadn’t tried them on.  “I don’t really like these, please don’t be angry.”  Are you kidding me?  My sharp comment was “They were on your list; you asked for them!”  Stupid me; didn’t I realize by now teen girls are fickle and change their mind like we change our underwear?forgetful cat

Fast forward six months.  Now it’s autumn.  The jeans, with the tags, are still in her closet, unworn.  My daughter is in college.  I’m ticked.  That pair of jeans was expensive but I knew by this time they would never be seen on my daughter’s bottom.  I halfheartedly folded the pair and gently laid it on top of the rest of the clothes I had in a bag set aside for charity.  Normally I donate to a different charity each year and unfortunately have witnessed some less than charitable behavior by staff members.  On three occasions, I’ve seen my bags of clean, carefully folded garments being torn open and rifled through, with the individuals removing what they want for themselves before putting the other items on the table for distribution or sale.

 Well, I couldn’t worry about it now.  Did it really matter?  It was my fault I misplaced the gift.  I can’t blame my daughter for changing her mind and I couldn’t find the receipt.  Hopefully, some young girl is now happily dancing around in those beautiful blue designer jeans, feeling like she’s “all that.” 

giftsThis series of events taught me two important lessons:  First, learn by my mistakes; second, giving should come from the heart, not the wallet.  Would I really have minded if the jeans cost $10 rather than the ridiculous price I paid for them?  This year, I’ve made a decision.  ALL presents will be kept in my bedroom, wrapped or unwrapped.  If the recipient wants to sneak around, find it and not be surprised on Christmas morning, so be it.  I’m also keeping a list of every gift I buy so I’ll be able to keep track.  Funds are limited this year so there won’t be as many gifts anyway.

 More importantly, from now on, I’m buying a couple of extra gifts to donate to charity.  They’ll be wrapped in brightly colored paper with beautiful ribbons and given to those in need, wherever they may be.   After all, this is the season of giving.

 “For it is in giving that we receive.”  ~ St. Francis of Assisi

Why Not Brains, Beauty and Maturity?

In a few weeks, I will have met all the requirements to be awarded a Bachelor’s Degree.  I am very proud of that accomplishment as it was not an easy endeavor.  That may mean nothing to many, but it means a great deal to me.  After years of working and obtaining professional certificates in Business, Office Management, Retirement and Pension Planning and Insurance, to name a few, I decided to go back to school to get an official “degree.”  However, people continually ask me “why did I bother, at my age?”

The reasons are as endless as questions a toddler asks.  My primary objective was to break a familial mindset where “men should go to college and become professionals” and “women should have a job then raise a family.”  That thinking was so archaic and I resented it.

What I find comical are the responses by young people when questioned why older adults would want to go back to school. Here are some of the answers I found online (please excuse my laughter in the background…):

“Why do really old people go to college?”  (BTW, what do they consider “old?”)

 Answer 1:  “There is this lady in my science class who is at least 60 something.  Honestly, why do they waste their time in college, because all she does is ask stupid questions and make dumb comments that are normally racist.  Maybe its a goal of hers, I dunno, it just bothers me because all she does is disturb the class.”

Answer 2:  “Stupidity knows no age…”

Answer 3:  “Because they can for free.. and it gives them something to do.”

Answer 4:  “My mom is over 50 and went back to school about 4 years ago. She’s working towards a bacheler’s in history and should be done a year from May. Why did she go? She had never gone to college, but has worked at the University of Oklahoma for 10 years now. She was curious. She knew that there was a lot she didn’t know. She tried it out for a few semesters and she’s a great student. Doesn’t interrupt the class and doesn’t ask many questions. In my college career, there were a few older students that were annoying, but most were like us once they got into the classroom. They just knew more about life than we did, even though we though we knew everything. It becomes more humbling in retrospect.”

 I’ll be nice and not criticize the grammar, although it kills me.  These were some of the first comments I found in the search engines and although it was difficult to believe myself, they were found on a Subaru Impreza Owners Club Forum from 2004: (http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=488822).  Whatever.  I wonder what type of positions these individuals found after graduation.

Here is another response from Answers.com:  “Older people go to college usually to get more experience. Maybe they need a certain skill to get a position at a job, or they need more experience if they want to get a promotion. Especially after the recession people who got layed off need to go a different way and a different way usually means a different education.”   Besides the other comments, “LAYED OFF”…really?  Holy crap!  I’m tired of reading posts from college students who cannot write properly!  SPELL CHECK DOES NOT CHECK FOR GRAMMATICAL ERRORS.  $30k+ a year and they still can’t spell or write a coherent sentence.

 I wonder if my comments would have been that much different when I was younger.  What I do know is that I worked harder than most college students today.  I also have the benefit of having life experience.  I still have to come to grips that many employers might not want to hire an older individual in today’s marketplace for a number of reasons.  I’m not worried though.

 There isn’t anyone on the face of the earth who can halt my goals and aspirations.  I’ll know how to secure suitable employment if and when I seek it.  Wisdom of the ages is something you cannot purchase; it has to be experienced.  That is what I have going for me.  And soon, I can add a diploma to that; I earned it.

 “It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense.” ~ Robert Green Ingersoll

It Takes a Family to Warm a Heart and Heal the World

The word “family” reminds me of a beautiful, warm plush fleece blanket I received for Christmas several years ago.   It has come in handy on so many occasions as have they.  Recently, while re-reading The Glenstal Book of Prayer which my eldest brother gave me in 2002, I was once again reminded of the splendor my family possesses and how blessed I am to have them in my life.  I make my comparison of them to the blanket because when I’m not feeling quite right, I can wrap myself up in them (family) and suddenly, everything is good in the world.  If I’m frightened, I can pull them up to my chin and hide beneath their unceasing protection.  Should I feel tired or weak, they help comfort me on the coldest, darkest of days.  When something is amiss or if I feel wronged, they can either be put aside for another day or get refluffed to begin anew.

While this analogy may not be the most creative, it serves a purpose.  It brought me back to my childhood years, which weren’t always as pleasant as I envisioned they were.  After all, why dwell upon situations in your past you can’t change?  I prefer to embrace all the wondrous memories of my youth of which family was an integral part.  The holidays will soon be upon us, in particular Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s which always evoke a warm, loving feeling deep within.  Once again, I look forward to gathering with family; family which has significantly multiplied over the years. 

As the youngest of six children, three each, I was somewhat spoiled.  There is a 16 year age gap between my eldest brother and me.  Closing my eyes, I recall him studying in the room across from mine when he was home from college.  He seemed to always be reading and writing but at the time, I never gave it much thought.  My brother, who hitchhiked his way across Europe during his college years, became an English professor with degrees in engineering and linguistics, to name a few.  Intelligent yet unassuming, he’s extremely down to earth; my father’s son for sure.  I credit him with my love of learning and language.  Many nights, he would take time to read poems and stories to me from the likes of Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe and T. S. Elliott.  Some of my favorites were “The Jabberwocky”, “The Raven” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”  At the time, I was unaware of the meaning each held, yet I hung on the sound of every word from my brother’s lips, my eyes bright as moons, as he spoke with such emotion and passion:

“`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.” 

Lewis Carroll ~ “The Jabberwocky”

I still shutter every time I read that poem, maybe because it sounds so awesome when I recite it out loud!

Fast forward forty some-odd years; the memories of those glorious evenings consume me.  I can relay countless tales similar to this, where one of my other siblings shared selfless occasions with me.  Family is so precious, a gift to be cherished; a warm, fuzzy blanket that wraps us in eternal love.  Though it may occasionally fray here and there, the threads that bind it will endure forever.  

If wishes came true, my wish would be that the love a family has for one another multiply and extend to all corners of the earth so that some day, maybe one day, we can all live in peace and harmony.

 “I sustain myself with the love of family.” ~ Maya Angelou

Keeping Gratitude in my Attitude :D

I believe in miracles.  A decade ago, I suffered a heart disorder that, had I been alone would have killed me.  Fortunately, it was not my time.  After that incident, I thought twice about my life and the choices I have as well as the decisions I make.  My life is pretty damn good today and I will continue to be grateful for the opportunity of having a second chance at life.  My family is happy I’m still around too.

One thing I learned after that incident is never to lose gratitude for the things I have rather than suffer disappointment for those I don’t.  Right now I’m in a difficult position for a number of reasons; however I still have the proverbial roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back.  Being unemployed and not having an income are only temporary situations.  They aren’t as important as the love I share with my family and friends and my spiritual connection with my Higher Power.  I am content knowing I will be provided for as long as I put the effort in every day. 

My emotions may fluctuate but I never have a bad day.  Although you don’t have to believe in God to feel inspired, I find it helps greatly and keeps me grounded.  If I start thinking negatively, I find something or someone to help me transpose my thoughts.  Today was another eye-opener for me. 

I don’t ever recall reading CNN online.  For some reason, I clicked on it this evening and read a story about the enormous sanitation problem India faces.  After reading the article, my entire mood changed.  Frankly, I felt quite ignorant of the fact that more than half of India’s population does not have access to running water, something I don’t even think twice about.  626 million people defecate in the open in India…in the open; primarily by the railroad tracks.  Even in the poorest neighborhoods, residents have refrigerators, televisions and cell phones but no toilets.  Believe it or not, many feel it is unsanitary to have a toilet in the house, which is a cultural issue to be addressed.  The problems that arise from defecating outdoors, however, are very serious and pose greater health risks, especially to children. 

After reading the article, I just sat back as tears came to my eyes.  I had just finished a nice dinner, washed the dishes and was sitting at the table drinking a glass of nice cool water with a slice of lemon.  The plight of the Indian population would not have affected me had I not watched the video.  There was a reason I happen to visit that particular site.  I do not believe it was a coincidence.  Now I need to take action even if I’m not exactly sure where to start or what to do.  The miracle today is that I’m still alive and able to make a change, however small, in this world I’ll eventually leave behind.  And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”  ~Aldous Huxley

Role Models: The Good, Bad and Ugly – Are They Relevant?

I recently overheard someone on TV speak about a “role model” and mention a name I hadn’t heard before.  That phrase stuck in my head and I began to wonder who I would consider to be a role model in my life.  As a child, it was my mom but as I grew older the choices were not as obvious.  Where did that phrase originate and why is it important to have role models in our society?

I was not surprised to discover the term was devised by a sociologist about 50 years ago.  Generally speaking, a role model is someone children or young adults aspire to emulate because they possess something worthy of admiration or praise.  The best role models exhibit positive behaviors.  I agree with choices such as Oprah Winfrey, Princess Diana, Sally Ride, Amelia Earhart, Mother Teresa and Helen Keller or Neil Armstrong, Ron Howard, Dalai Lama, Tim Tebow, Martin Luther King or Derek Jeter.  These people worked hard, followed their passion and led/lead productive lives.  More important, they contributed to the welfare of others along the way.

We are all too aware of the escapades of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Tiger Woods, Roger Clemens or Chris Brown, to name a few.  These individuals were once put on pedestals either because of their acting, music, athletic ability or celebrity status.  Unfortunately, these personalities fell short of expectations.  Why then, is it still important for us to encourage the idea of role models?

The reason is this: children are easily led.  From the time they are old enough to understand, parents, teachers and other authority figures warn them of the dangers that lurk in society.  Without this guidance, children are left to choose for themselves what the right thing to do is.  Since their brains are still developing, they don’t always make the right choices.  Improper decisions can be dangerous.

Role models should possess the ability to inspire, promote tolerance, civic commitment, confidence, selflessness and persistence.  A parent’s role is to nurture the child, while letting them make guarded mistakes along the way.  Mistakes are a way of learning what not to do in the future and they are necessary for mature development as well as mental and emotional growth.  Learning the difference between a mistake and a poor choice is the key and not making the same mistake twice is the goal.

Everyone makes mistakes and that includes role models.  Some of our finest leaders have made mistakes that may have been poor decisions at the time but weren’t repeated nor did they cause irreparable harm to others.  They learned their lessons.  Some people never learn and are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.  It’s just a matter of time.  We are however, a forgiving society, so much so that in a remarkably short period of time, major errors in judgment are forgiven and/or ignored.  I could name a dozen offenders who are often cited as role models right off the bat.  What does that say about us and how are we expected to teach our children a better way if bad behaviors are not punished but casually disregarded?

With fewer prominent choices for role models today, it is important to teach children not to put someone on a pedestal; just try and model the positive characteristics and behavior that person possesses.  Don’t become someone’s follower; learn to become a leader.  I believe it’s important for parents and caregivers to teach children the difference between a “celebrity” and a “role model.”  For the most part, the first is short-lived while the latter is enduring.  We need more leaders in our world today. 

The most important role models in a child’s life should be their parents or caregivers.  As Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D. claims “role models can be educators, civic leaders, clergy, peers, and ordinary people encountered in everyday life.  Anyone can inspire a child to achieve their potential in life.”  It may be time to steer our children away from the celebrity track toward a train that holds passengers who make a real and lasting difference in the lives of others.

“Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.”  Rosabeth Moss Kantor

Reinventing Ourselves – Debunking Midlife Crisis

Oh, how I dislike the term “midlife crisis.”  Hell, my entire life has been made up of mini-crises over the years.  The only difference now is I am able to recognize and confront them in a more practical sense.  I’m not enticed to attend a male strip club, strut about in leggings or dye my hair multiple shades of pink.  After reading Xaviera Hollander’s book in the mid-70’s, Fifty Shades of Grey seems mundane.  I wouldn’t refuse a nice little red convertible though.

The phrase “midlife crisis” was concocted by a male psychiatrist in the 1960’s as a way to categorize men primarily, as going through a somewhat depressed, unsatisfied, self-reflective stage (think Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch or Dudley Moore in Ten).  Men and women alike experience significant life changes and go through moments of self-discovery.  It’s through these changes that we grow stronger. 

Caring for my family has been my main priority however I now give greater urgency toward examining my health status and earning potential.  I am more concerned with protecting my physical and financial situation than I am with getting a weekly mani/pedi or flirting with a buff personal trainer.  (Fortunately, I still embrace my spirited side!)  In an effort to properly secure independence as we age, we must take necessary precautions while we’re young.  My parents were from the old school where they believed it was perfectly fine for the boys to attend college, but it wasn’t necessary for the girls.  Our responsibility should be to our families (assuming all of us would marry).  After high school, I was employed full-time and took whatever professional training classes I felt would help me achieve greater success in my positions.  It was only in my late 30’s, with a toddler at home, that I decided to get my college degree which has been one of my greatest personal achievements.  Thankfully, many mature women are following a similar path today.

While I have managed to attain educational success, I don’t quite have what most would consider a career, yet.  This is why reinvention is important.  In the midst of coping with exorbitant food and gas prices, high unemployment rates and a weakened housing market, I’m taking time to examine my strengths and make them work for me.  Think about how to market yourself.  Everyone has strengths; they just need to be revealed.

The reason I find reinvention so essential is that I don’t want my family members to have to take care of me in my old age.  If my spouse passes, am I financially prepared to properly care for myself?  Between housing and living expenses, health costs and taxes, can I afford to live independently?  If not, I must make immediate changes.  What I would encourage all women to do, whether married or single, with or without children, working or unemployed, is to take an honest look at their finances.  While health is very important, sufficient income can help pay for operations and medications you might otherwise be unable to afford.  The future of our economy is tenuous.  If you haven’t already done so, challenge yourselves to get your finances in order, seeking assistance if necessary.  I’ve seen women dear to me suffer serious financial shortfalls due to insufficient planning and it’s heartbreaking.

The good news is there is an abundance of free information and assistance out there for those who need help with medical resources, financial planning, housing, continuing education, occupational training and so forth.  Those of us without unlimited funds, newly single, unemployed or in poor health can help one another achieve success without stress if we start adequately planning for our future TODAY.  Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s time to take action so we can hold our heads high and maintain our independence well into our golden years.  I for one am back in school and in the process of rediscovery as we speak.  I find it exhilarating.  The possibilities are endless.  What mid-life crisis?  I have no time to wallow in self-pity, frustration or disappointment.  Today is the first day of the rest of my life and it’s going to be great!

 “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”   Norman Vincent Peale